Wedding costs rise as pent-up demand, inflation forces couples to cut back

Nicole Brandfon and her fiancé Adam Alonso are planning a wedding in Colombia, instead of Miami, because it was more affordable.

Source: Nicole Brandfon

Nicole Brandfon and her fiancé, Adam Alonso, will board a plane from Florida to South America early next year for a destination wedding. International travel wasn’t her original plan, but she’s saving them money.

The couple, engaged since last June, dreamed of celebrating their wedding in Miami, where they work and live. But as they began to plan, the duo quickly realized that prices were out of their reach and there was little to no availability for their anticipated timeframe, either late 2022 or early 2023.

“We spent three or four months looking at a lot of different places and realized we weren’t going to be able to afford Miami,” said Brandfon, a 29-year-old account manager at a public relations agency.

Brandfon and Alonso’s decision to marry abroad is just one example of how couples are getting creative in dealing with the rising costs of planning a wedding. Suppliers are overburdened with pent-up demand created by the Covid pandemic. They also face bottlenecks in the supply chain that cause shortages. At the same time, inflation is driving up the cost of everything from food to labor.

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As a result, many couples are making compromises and rethinking their priorities, opting for the wedding dress of their dreams or the open bar over extravagant flower arrangements.

Brandfon and Alonso will say “I do” in February in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena, Colombia, at a fraction of the cost quoted closer to home. They can now have a wedding planner and intend to serve a variety of foods at a full-seat dinner, according to Brandfon.

“Florida, or anywhere in the US, really,” he said, “if we wanted something extra, it looked like it was going to cost another two thousand dollars.”

Cut line elements

Nearly 7 million couples in the US are expected to marry in the next three years, according to industry research firm The Wedding Report. The pandemic delayed weddings for many and accelerated relationship terms for others, spurring commitments between couples spending more time together and enjoying the extra company when lockdowns persisted.

This year, couples are expected to host approximately 2.5 million weddings, a 30% increase from the previous year and a number not seen in four decades, according to The Wedding Report. Over the next two years, the number is expected to drop slightly, the national trade group says, but not by much. Americans are projected to plan 2.24 million weddings next year and 2.17 million the year after that.

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The amount that couples spend to get married also continues to rise. In 2021, the average couple spent $27,063 on their wedding, according to The Wedding Report, up from $24,700 per couple in 2019. In 2020, when the pandemic began, many couples opted for smaller ceremonies with less frills, spending an average of $20,286 .

As the celebrations return, couples find order lines they can cut.

More and more couples are choosing to have weekday weddings, said Kim Forrest, senior editor at WeddingWire. That helps with limited venue availability, but it also has a cost advantage: Some venues offer discounts for events taking place on less-frequented days in the middle of the week.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, for example, charges a $10,000 setup fee for the property’s Deerpark venue for a Saturday wedding this fall. For a Friday or Sunday, the fee will set you back $8,000.

The number of guests also increased, and that will cost more money.

Shane McMurray

founder of The Wedding Report

Forrest also noted that weddings held in the South tend to be less expensive than those in the Northeast, with cities like Boston and New York rising above the national average.

Prices for key wedding expenses are expected to be “much higher” this year than they have been in recent years, largely due to rising food, labor and transportation costs, said Shane McMurray, founder of The Wedding Report. In addition, providers that are seeing an increase in booking demand now have the ability to name their price, he said.

“These are the things that matter most to people: the food and the bar, the photography services and, of course, the venue,” he said. “The number of guests has also increased, and that is going to cost more money.”

That means couples could make sacrifices in other parts of the planning process, he said, which would be a loss for some providers. Couples can stop prioritizing paying for a wedding planner, for example, as long as they don’t mind doing the extra work themselves.

Couples spend less money, on average, on beauty and spa services, a ceremony officiant and party favors for wedding guests, according to data from The Wedding Report. There’s more flexibility with these items to find less expensive options that will still get the job done, McMurray said. Add-ons like a photo booth or videographer are usually turned down altogether to stay within budget.

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‘We’re going to have to raise our prices’

Vendors feeling the squeeze they are trying to be more accommodating, knowing that many couples feel drained by time and money.

The 2022 wedding season is in “full bloom” on the heels of a pandemic-driven recession, said Samira Araghi, founder and owner of WildBride bridal boutique in San Francisco.

That means more business for WildBride, which offers a selection of bohemian-inspired wedding dresses from brands like Pronovias and Willowby through its website and its only physical store on Fillmore Street.

There were times during the pandemic when it seemed like society was opening up again and couples were free to hold larger gatherings, he said. But it has been a bumpy recovery thanks to new virus variants causing periodic spikes.

“When the delta [variant] arrived, things were canceled again. And then when omicron came along, things got canceled again,” she said. “Right now we’re definitely seeing a shift to full-size weddings.”

The most pressing problem facing WildBride today is receiving finished goods in the mail, Araghi said, noting that many suppliers have closed and several fabrics, dresses and styles have been discontinued. “Supply chain issues are a big issue right now,” he said.

WildBride, a San Francisco-based bridal boutique, is experiencing an increase in demand for its gowns along with increased supply chain complications.

Source: Buena Lane Photography

Seeking solutions, WildBride began offering an “out of the box” selection during the pandemic. The dresses in the collection are older styles or ones that can be easily purchased in bulk from designers. Some of the dresses are discounted, depending on the condition.

It has become an attractive option for women planning a last-minute walk down the aisle or facing logistical challenges while trying to secure another dress before the big day, Araghi said. It’s also an option for more price-sensitive customers, so they don’t go shopping elsewhere.

Araghi said she has not yet been forced to raise prices on items amid widespread inflation, though she knows it is happening at other vendors, such as flower shops and jewelry stores.

However, as shipping costs continue to rise, he said it is inevitable that the company will have to make adjustments, possibly before the end of the year.

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“I think it will happen that, yes, we will have to raise our prices,” he said.

Post-boom recession?

David’s Bridal CEO James Marcum doesn’t think the wedding boom or consumer sensitivity to higher prices will dissipate any time soon. That’s why the company has been investing in its digital loyalty program and vertically integrated supply chain, so it can offer more benefits and make more dresses, he explained in a recent interview.

Marcum said she has begun to notice that some brides are reluctant to splash out thousands of dollars on a dress. The retailer has a pretty wide selection, with prices ranging from $70 to $2,000.

“You’re starting to hear rumors about the sensitivity of the budget,” he said.

Of course, that does not mean that the bride will completely give up a dress. She could opt for a less expensive option, Marcum said. “You’re still going to see a robust, brighter [wedding dress] business, but it’s really spreading through 2022 and 2023,” he said.

Brides spent, on average, $1,499 on a wedding dress in 2021, according to The Wedding Report. That figure is expected to reach $1,527 this year, according to the report.

By 2024, The Wedding Report projects that the number of nuptials celebrated in the US will be closer to 2018 levels, at 2.14 million. Couples can be sure that some places might be easier to find by then. But it is unclear where prices will stay.

Victoria Cela and her fiancé Ricardo Goudie plan to get married in 2024.

Source: Victoria That

Victoria Cela, a 27-year-old account executive at a public affairs firm in Florida, is betting on a recession.

Cela and her fiancé, Ricardo Goudie, got engaged in March. Instead of rushing down the aisle, the couple is planning a wedding for early 2024 to give them enough time to save money to cover expenses, Cela said.

“Our parents will help us, but obviously we want to help as much as we can,” he said. “It’s a luxury because we have more time.”

They plan to hold their ceremony at a family member’s home in Coral Gables, outside of Miami, an option that will allow them to spend their money on things other than the venue.

Cela hopes that sellers’ prices will not be so high by then.

“Every time I go to a website and look at their prices, I think, ‘Okay, maybe we need to budget a bit more,'” he said.