Economy is crashing weddings

Heather Greenwell has been dreaming of her wedding day since she was a little girl.

But with bills piling up and a smaller income, Greenwell will have to wait a little longer.

“Three years ago, I could have afforded a much, much bigger wedding,” Greenwell said. “But now wedding money is being used for necessities like putting food on the table and paying bills.”

Greenwell, 24, postponed her June wedding until September in hopes she and her fiance would have more to spend.

As of 2006, the average wedding cost $27,852, according to a survey by The Conde Nast Bridal Group – almost double the cost in 1990.

That's too much for many Charlotte-area couples who are sticking to tighter budgets or waiting until finances improve to marry. Area bridal vendors said they see a growing number of brides under the pressure of a tough economy.

“It's just too expensive to get married right now,” said Deborah Manning, 26. Manning, who works in child care, has postponed her wedding until next April. “It's my wedding. I don't want to have to budget too much.”

Greenwell said her and her fiance's commission-based incomes have been directly impacted by downturns in the economy. Her fiance sells end-of-life insurance to seniors, and she works for a local homebuilder.

Greenwell said the $20,000 her parents contributed to her budget won't cover the cost of the uptown wedding they want to plan for their mostly out-of-town guests.

“With everyone in survival mode right now, a lot of middle-class America is looking to scale back in a real way,” Greenwell said. “The extravagance of the wedding is going to reflect that.”

She said she cut back on favors, cocktail hours and flowers in an attempt to save. Her guest list has also shrunk to 100 guests from an original list of 250.

Smaller guest lists are not uncommon, said Bobbie Eller, social director for Myers Park Country Club.

“I haven't lost any weddings, but where they planned with me that they were going to come with 300 to 500 people, they are cutting way back,” Eller said. “And if they bring the people, they're not ordering the tenderloins, shrimp and the crab cakes.”

Kristin Vining, owner of Charlotte planning company Weddings & the City, said gas prices also have made the cost of attending a wedding too high for some guests. She said she expected 175 guests at a wedding to be held this weekend but now 106 are planned to attend.

Karen Wagoner, a customer service representative for David's Bridal on Independence Boulevard, also said she has had brides postponing their weddings for financial reasons much more often than in the past.

Wedding coordinator Sara Cockfield said she has seen more couples marrying on a Sunday, a move that could save $1,000.

Photographers, rental companies and caterers all said they have had to develop more offerings to fit the needs of those looking to stick to a smaller budget.

“We have noticed that brides seem much more in tune to making sure that there's value in what they're getting,” said Douglas Crowe, director of sales for Party Reflections, a rental company that offers three levels of products to fit an array of budgets. “They're making sure that they are getting as much for their money as possible.”

Karen Chase, owner of Mecklenburg Bridal Gallery, said she has had to rush-order dresses for more brides this year than in the past four combined.

“It's not necessarily girls that have decided to all of a sudden and rushed to get married,” Chase said. “The majority are just waiting hoping that money will loosen up.”

New York Bride Loft owner Tracy Burke said although business has not been affected, more involvement comes from parents set on sticking to a budget.

“People follow their hearts and do what they want to do when they're in love,” Burke said. “Sometimes it takes a mom or dad to rein that in.”