A fairy-tale wedding has never cost more.
It's a year of catching up — on weddings, travel, other business and entertainment that people couldn't do when coronavirus was at its deadliest. And prices for every part of a wedding are soaring.
"It does not seem like there's an end in sight with the highest cost increases our industry has ever seen because of the labor shortage and higher food prices," said Elizabeth Sherry, a founder of the Twin Cities Wedding & Event Professionals. "Not that it's going to keep climbing but it's not going to go down, not anytime soon."
Many couples are just absorbing the hit, embracing the you-only-live-once spirit that fuels indulgent choices. But three veterans of the wedding and events industry in the Twin Cities said there are still plenty of ways to save money — though they require compromise.
Trim the guest list
"Guest count is a big thing," said Reena Maheshwari, owner of Kahani Events, who's planned many elaborate South Asian weddings. "It's especially important in the weddings I do and can take the weddings from doable to crazy."
When family foots the bill, especially in the case of younger couples, frank conversations need to be had upfront.
"I wouldn't even look for venues until you have a discussion with your family about the guest list," Sherry said.
How to cut the list? "If you wouldn't give this individual $100, you shouldn't invite them because that's what it's going to cost to invite them, and that's at the low end," she said.
Watch the big-ticket items
The costs of the venue, catering and alcohol account for up to 60% of a wedding budget, Sherry said.
If possible, schedule the ceremony and reception in the same location to not accumulate the costs of multiple venues and transportation between them.
Go for less popular times of year and days of the week. In Minnesota, the most popular days are Fridays and Saturdays from May through October and the Sundays of summer holiday weekends.
Sought-after event venues often have their pricing listed online. Choose a venue with a choice of caterers or one that allows you to pick one. "It's economics 101," Sherry said. "If a caterer has a monopoly on the space, the prices will be higher."
"Have a cocktail-style reception with heavy appetizers and no seated dinner," Maheshwari said. "
Sherry warns to limit appetizers during a social hour if dinner is to follow it. Keep them to one or two passed appetizers. Or, skip them and offer a plated salad so guests can immediately eat after being seated for dinner.
To save on booze, forget the champagne toast and signature cocktails, Sherry said. She's poured many, many glasses of both down the drain working in catering through the years at the Van Dusen Mansion and Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Little steps that count
Think of the three most important things about your wedding and focus on them, Maheshwari said. Consider eliminating elements that add to the price tag.
Large wedding parties of bridesmaids and groomsmen involve additional costs, such as transportation, and thank-you gifts, Maheshwari said. Plus, some friends will be thankful not to have to splurge for a gown to be a bridesmaid. A special head table for the wedding party also involves more costs, she said
Buy a wedding dress off the rack, Sherry advises. The price will be cheaper. Even more importantly, a bride then can be sure to have a dress in hand in time for the big day. No nervous wait for a custom order that may be backed up.
Choose a micro wedding — or elope
Minne Weddings founder Gretchen Culver learned of the micro wedding concept in January 2020. By April, with the pandemic leading all her large weddings to be postponed, she launched her company with a goal of organizing weddings that met COVID-19 restrictions.
Micro weddings are under 30 guests. A couple books online an all-inclusive wedding package for 90 minutes at a scheduled time and venue with an average cost of $7,000. Added bonus: All the planning is done for the couple.
A venue working with one set of vendors can host four or five micro weddings in a day and generate the same amount of revenue that a single large wedding would. That's the math that leads to cost savings for couples.
Elopements are even smaller, stripped-down versions for around $2,000 with up to 10 people.
After these tiny weddings, some couples opt for a celebration afterward at a restaurant or their parents' home.
Culver was surprised initially at how many couples preferred a smaller affair. "I remember the first e-mail I got was from a woman who said, 'The idea of a large wedding scares me. I don't want to be the center of attention,'" she said.