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I was a recession-era bride

When my partner and I started planning a wedding for ourselves last summer, "recession" was still a word that evoked the early 1990s. And although I believed I was immune to the temptations and obligations hounding most couples, I figured choices to keep things frugal would be, well, choices rather than the necessity they've become.

We would have a simple, lovely and meaningful affair. "I just want to have an amazing party that is amazing because the food is tasty and the music is hoppin' and everyone is laughing and is happy, not because our centerpieces match the priest's robes," I said in an e-mail to a friend back in September. "That," my four-times-a-bridesmaid pal replied, "is what everyone wants."

"PS.," she says. "It's also what people pay the most for."

And although she had to endure my screechy follow-up call, my friend was right. I'm not the type to go in for chapel trains or monogrammed anything, and I carry a deep belief in the importance of not getting caught up in trends. But still, the eye-scratching desire for a mythical event on one's wedding day usually starts with the simple hope to share some love, a sacred moment or two, and some wine with the people you care about. Then you call a caterer to steal menu ideas because you're making all the food yourself and wake up a few months later, staring at a contract for a "simple, outdoor Italian feast" with iceberg lettuce and a $10,000 bottom line.

To cool my caterer-fevered mind, I turned to the wisdom of my elders -- people who got hitched during recent national or personal recessions. How did they do it, and what can they teach us, the recession-era brides and grooms of the 21st century, about how to save money?

It takes a village
Time was, a wedding meant guests got dressed up in their best clothes, cooked a special dish and headed to someone's home. Happily, the home wedding tradition is back, and it's a great way to save on a venue. But, if you and everyone you know live in a small house or apartment, even a small reception won't be comfortable. This was the situation Alison Hari-Singh and her then-fiancÚ, Jeff Nowers, of Toronto, found themselves in when they decided to get married in 2004.

Having decided against accepting money from Hari-Singh's parents, the couple, both Ph.D candidates with their own student-debt-induced recession era stretching out in front of them, found the venue of their dreams for free. Married in their church, the reception was held in a university library they frequented. Old, beautiful and full of books, they used their mutual student and employee status to rent the ideal space, free of charge.

Asking friends, family and co-workers to help out is Hari-Singh's best advice. "Your community is the biggest money-saver, and people are honoured to help." In this way, Hari-Singh and Nowers had a large, catered wedding for $7,000.

The wedding blogs agree with Hari-Singh's advice. Although it was dismissed as tacky a few years ago to ask guests to lift a finger for anything other than signing the guest book, the $30,000 full-service wedding is now being replaced by a warmer, community-involved version.

Friends who like to fool around with cameras become photographers. Brothers and aunts who bake amazing cakes become dessert caterers. The guy from work who loves to grill becomes the chef. This method requires an organized mind, so a friend or (distant) family member who is a perfectionist would be great as a wedding coordinator. Note: Parents of the wedding couple are not recommended for this role.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: June 5, 2009
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