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Courtesy of Caitlin Boland

Caitlin Boland financed her dream wedding by selectively saving on certain items.

The new normal for Chicago weddings is smaller and on a budget

by Anjana Sundaram
July 30, 2010


Data from the Wedding Report Inc.

The average cost of a wedding, once on a steady march higher, has been falling since 2007.


Courtesy of Caitlin Boland

Caitlin Boland and Ted Grossestreuer dance at their wedding reception.

Caitlin Boland's July wedding in Naperville's pristine St. Raphael Catholic Church was the culmination of 16 months of planning and mulling over the many tiny, stress-inducing decisions common to young brides-to-be: fresh flowers or fake, linens or not, chicken or beef? 

Boland, 23, and her fiancé Ted Grossestreuer, 24, decided that less is more. “We kept things pretty straightforward in terms of extras and upgrades. We didn’t get anything special apart from the standard,” Boland said. She made a point to set a fixed budget and prioritize her desires.
“I’m not super into the perfect flowers or really expensive flowers, so we [didn't] use flowers at the church, but we did end up spending a little more on the band instead of a DJ—that was somewhere where we could have cut costs, but had really wanted live music.” 
The great recession ushered in a new frugality among brides and grooms in Chicago and nationwide that shows few signs of slowing, even as an economic recovery is underway and the number of weddings this year has surged.  With frugality, smaller weddings and intense price negotiations have become the “new normal.”
According to the Wedding Report Inc., the total average cost of a wedding in the Chicago metropolitan area fell 10 percent in 2009 to $24,115 from $26,804 in 2008. That followed a dramatic 18 percent drop the prior year, the beginning of the recession, when average wedding costs decreased from $32,469 to $26,804. 
Kristie Sams-Faulkner, president of C&C Event Planning and Management Inc. in Chicago, says clients are savvier with price negotiations and actively seek out bundled deals where costs may be haggled lower. “Venues are partnering to provide more services. A lot of hotels are doing that through throwing in these services like hair designer, makeup, packages,” says Sams-Faulkner. 
Part of seeking and getting price breaks is the willingness to forget traditional seasonal trends, said Thelma Davis, wedding planner at the Embassy Suites Hotel on North State Street in Chicago. 
“June used to be the most popular month, but now any month is fine, and people are now switching individual days, going from a Saturday to a Friday…..and they’ve done their leg work, they’ll go to other facilities and come and tell you what XYZ is offering and they’ll say, ‘Can you match that or can you do better?’” says Davis.
The recession has definitely forced some cash-stricken couples to revise their dream weddings. But businesses are still able to manage due to a separate trend: wedding planners say the number of weddings this year is up -- a lot.  
According to the Wedding Report Inc., there were 1,203 more weddings in 2009 than 2008. Anecdotal evidence from wedding planners indicate those numbers are only growing for 2010. Ali Phillips, owner and chief wedding orchestrator of Chicago-based Engaging Events by Ali, says business is bouncing back. 
“Now things are sort of back to normal. Weddings are a little smaller for sure, but it’s not like people are doing what they did last year,” Phillips says referring to the severe cost-cutting witnessed in 2009. While the number of weddings has increased, she says the size of the wedding guest list has decreased to about 140 guests from 180 a year ago.
One area where local businesses are getting squeezed is in fresh floral arrangements -- one of the biggest cash-eaters for a wedding.
To keep customers satisfied and struggling businesses afloat, local florists have cut costs despite a rise in supplier prices. “People want to get more business, and will slash prices just to gain a little business and increase the profit line basically,” says Naznin Inamdar, owner of Belmont Blooms. 
They also face increased competition from larger discount wholesalers such as Costco Wholesale Corp, which often undercut a traditional florist's unit sales price. 
Diane Berube, owner of Tampa Calligraphy, says her daughter ordered flowers from the Costco in Lincoln Park for her upcoming wedding to save on costs.  “The floral kiosks in Costco are individually owned and operated and we can either purchase the flowers online or buy directly from the store,” Berube says. 

Inamdar puts the average price for a table centerpiece at about $50, or an average cost of $1,000 for the typical 20-table reception. She adds brides can avoid separate surcharge, setup and tax fees charged by florists by considering alternatives.

“Buy vases on your own and fly them to your florists. You can get vases at a cheaper rate through online deals, which is fine. Use keylight, candlelight -- those kinds of of things are much cheaper than fresh flowers,“ says Inamdar.
After all that penny-pinching, Boland cautions other brides to not fret over trying to retain a certain level of style and ambience for guests: “No one knows what you are planning or thinking. So whatever you end up with, everyone will enjoy. No one saw you pick between the best dinner and the dinner you ended up choosing."