How to Plan a Wedding During a Recession

Say "I do" to the marriage but "I don�t" to the debt

There are some things you still need to spend money on, even when the economy’s bad. Weddings are one of them. I think many couples feel the way my fiancé and I do: we want to be responsible with our wedding budget, spending an amount that is appropriate during these uncertain times. And we want to make sure that when all the wedding bills are paid, we’ll still have an emergency stash plus something set aside to get us started on our goal of buying a home. But we also don’t want to look back on our big day in a few years, when the economy is back on track, and feel like we settled for choices that didn’t make us happy just because we were worried about the recession.

wedding-budget-5How to plan the biggest and most expensive bash of your life when you’re not even sure you’ll still have a job by the time you make it down the aisle is one of the biggest challenges facing engaged couples. In the last six months, at least five Black Enterprise employees have popped the question … or said yes. One got married at city hall, one is eloping, and two are having destination weddings-all of which are choices that considerably cut down the budget. So of the bunch, I am the only one planning a “traditional” wedding, in that it’s a local, Saturday night affair. And that’s a sign of the times.

“I am trying to push alternative reception styles to my lower budget brides. If you cannot afford the sit down dinner, why even try?” asks Lisa R. Nelson of Elegant Event Planning and Design in Maryland. “What about a very classy dessert reception, maybe a signature drink, or just a dessert wine and Perrier? And I try to get them away from a large metropolitan area. Often the suburbs offer more possibilities. I try to push thinking outside the box.” Nelson even has ideas for pulling off a wedding on a $5,000 budget.

But the No. 1 tip experts give, almost unanimously, for cutting costs is to cut the guest list. “The cost of the wedding is directly proportional to the number of guests that the couple invites,” Nelson says. “The total of the catering bill goes up with each guest that attends the wedding. And it’s just not the food, but also chairs, tables, linens, alcohol, silver, glassware, china, etc.”

If you’re like us, having a more intimate wedding just might not be doable. We both have large families, and an equally large circle of friends we wanted to include in our celebration. So we found other ways to save. In my next blog, I’ll share some of those tips plus Nelson’s advice for what to do if your wedding budget is suddenly slashed because of a layoff.

Alisa Gumbs is the managing editor of Black Enterprise magazine.

Other posts in this series:

When Your ‘Something Blue’ Meets The Pink Slip

Love Don’t Cost A Thing

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  • Sakina

    Great story Alisa. I planned my wedding on a $10K budget. We did incur debt for half of it but I set out a plan as to how we could pay it off in one year. We did it! I should say I did it (that’s another blog, lol). But its 8 years later and I still feel very good about the wedding choices we made.

  • Sakina

    BTW- I guess this means you will no longer be my ‘single cool roomie with the great fashion sense.’ you will soon be just like me…married with two kids wondering what is the latest fashion for a LA party, lol. Don’t worry, I know a great stylist 🙂

  • Yes, thank you for this story.

    Nowadays, we’re all having to become reccesionistas and this comes in to serious play when planning a wedding. My fiance and are coming up against the same challenges, while planning our affair(Congratulations, BTW!!). Moving out of a metropolitan area is a great tip. We both live in NYC but have moved our nuptials to upstate New York and that alone saved us over $6K. Although it’s a little inconvenient, it allows us to have the “traditional” sit down dinner wedding that we always envisoned.

    Looking forward to your other tips! Good luck 🙂

  • So happy to see Lisa spotlighted here. We have money-saving ideas every week on our blog and she has great tips!
    I’ve been married five years now, but I was a budget bride even then. Add me to the list of people who moved their weddings out of a metropolitan area. I was living in D.C. when I got engaged, but we had our wedding in the deep South. The difference in cost was tremendous. We also had a limited bar serving just champagne as the alcoholic beverage. Just my personal preference, but I SO don’t believe in paying a huge bar bill. Happy planning to all the brides-to-be!


  • Michael

    My wife and I got married about a year and a half ago. We had a traditional wedding that added up. My wife did a lot of the planning and we saved money by not shelling money out on things that we could do ourselves like such as invitations. I feel that weddings can be overpriced, but most women dream of this day snce the first time they saw Cinderalla. I tried to find a happy meadum between my wife’s dream wedding and the realization of a budget, since we were mostly footing the bill. We were able to pay for it without going into debt and without depleting our savings. Ultimately, I think that a celebration of togetherness is important, but being more financially sound for the future is more important. Good Luck in your planning.

  • Hyacinth

    AG, this is great but ummm…must we be teased? However I think it is great….I am eager to come back next week to hear what your tips are. you go girl, I’m following.

  • Lovely blog! Thanks for the useful information.

  • Jessica

    Great advice. I agree cutting the guestlist will have the biggest impact on saving money. Another way we saved some money on our wedding was to buy a trio wedding ring set. The set includes a matching engagement ring and the two wedding bands. They are cheap and easy to find on sites like: or

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