Wedding Budget Can Marry Style and Thrift
Bride-to-be Toni Agius found the wedding gown of her dreams: an off-the-shoulder sheath covered with beads, sequins and lace. But the $1,000 price tag was going to blow her wedding budget. Instead of going into debt — or just giving up on the gown — Agius, who lives in Detroit, did what experts say too few brides do: serious comparison shopping.
“I got the style number and the name of the manufacturer, then I opened up a phone book and started calling around,” said the 25-year-old newly graduated nurse. With thousands of couples getting engaged over the holidays, this is a busy time for the wedding industry, marketing their wares at bridal shows and in magazines such as Modern Bride.
The hype is huge, with the industry pushing couples — or parents — to drop thousands of dollars because, they insist, only the best will do: designer dresses, expensive flowers, huge cakes, limos, bands and luxury honeymoons. But bridal couples can learn to be savvy and get the most for their money. “People need to realize this is an industry. This is a very big business — $ 10 billion in weddings and receptions alone. So it can be cut-throat,” said Alan Fields, who along with his wife, Denise, became the Ralph Naders of the wedding world with their brutally honest books “Bridal Bargains” (Windsor Peak Press, $ 11.95) and “Bridal Gown Guide” (Windsor Peak Press, $ 9.95).
Certainly not everyone is out to rip off bridal couples. But they are in the business of selling. Bride’s magazine estimates that the wedding industry generates $ 32 billion in annual retail sales, when the costs of gifts and honeymoons are added to those for the wedding and reception. But buying wedding services should be just like making any other major consumer purchase, the Fields warn. “When you walk into a new or used car dealership, you’ve got your defenses up, you’ve done your research, you’ve read Consumer Reports,” Alan Fields said. Yet most consumers blindly buy wedding services not within their wedding budget — and all too often encounter unpleasant surprises, he said. “There are delays with bridal gowns; problems with photographers; lots of problems with limos — delayed limo, no limo, nasty limo, limos with Dorito bags all over the floor,” said Carmel Weems of the Better Business Bureau of Detroit and Eastern Michigan. “The big problem is that people plan and plan for their wedding, but ultimately they have little control,” Weems said. They are at the mercy of the companies they hire and the contracts they sign, she said.
The biggest surprise for brides, Grace said, is that most wedding gowns cannot be bought on the spot; they must be ordered and can take four to six months to arrive. “That’s one of the main reasons the average engagement is now a year,” said Alan Fields. While manufacturers ship many wedding dresses on time or early, too often others come in weeks or months late.
“I’ve been really stressed. I’ve been waiting for this wedding dress. It just came in last night,” Danielle Karrick, 22, of Redford, Mich., said recently as a seamstress hemmed the gown for her wedding. “I ordered it in August. It was supposed to come in in November. “Wedding gowns are the area we get the most complaints about. . . . We don’t hear nearly as many horror stories about flowers and wedding cakes,” said Denise Fields. “This is the most emotional purchase for most women. We are trained from birth to fantasize about our wedding dress.” Trying to keep emotions to a minimum is the key to staying within a wedding budget, experts say.
“At some point you’re going to have a complete nervous breakdown,” Denise Fields said. Avoid problems by comparison shopping, getting everything in writing and being a tough consumer. “Just remember this is like buying anything else,” Alan Fields said. “You wouldn’t buy a can of green beans without reading the label and knowing who made it,” so don’t buy wedding services without checking them out.
Shop around and stay within your…