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Wedding costs surge as pent-up demand, inflation force couples to cut back

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Nicole Brandfon and her fiance Adam Alonso are planning a wedding in Colombia, rather than Miami, because it was more affordable.

Source: Nicole Brandfon

Nicole Brandfon and her fiance, Adam Alonso, will hop on a plane from Florida to South America early next year for a destination wedding. The international trip wasn’t their original plan, but it’s saving them money.

The couple, engaged since last June, had been dreaming of holding their wedding in Miami, where they both work and reside. But as they started to plan, the duo quickly realized prices were out of reach and venue availability was slim to none for their intended time frame, either in late 2022 or early 2023.

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

Brandfon and Alonso’s decision to marry abroad is just one example of how couples are getting creative to contend with the rising costs of putting on a wedding. Vendors are overbooked with pent-up demand created by the Covid pandemic. They’re also facing supply chain headwinds leading to shortages. At the same time, inflation is driving up the cost of everything from food to labor.

Read more: Surging prices force consumers to ask: Can I live without it?

As a result, many couples are making trade-offs and rethinking priorities — opting for the dream wedding gown or the open bar over the extravagant floral arrangements.

Brandfon and Alonso will say “I do” in February in the Caribbean coastal town of Cartagena, Colombia, at a fraction of the cost they were quoted closer to home. Now they’re able to have a wedding planner, and they intend to serve a variety of foods at a fully seated dinner, according to Brandfon. 

“Florida, or anywhere in the U.S., really,” she said, “if we wanted anything extra it seemed like it was going to be another couple thousand dollars.”

Cutting line items

Nearly 7 million couples in the U.S. are expected to tie the knot in the next three years, according to industry research firm The Wedding Report. The pandemic delayed weddings for many of them and accelerated relationship timelines for others, spurring engagements between partners who spent more time together — and enjoyed the extra company — when lockdowns persisted.

This year, couples are expected to host roughly 2.5 million weddings, a 30% increase from the prior year and a number not seen in four decades, according to The Wedding Report. In the next two years, the number is expected to taper off 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.

The amount that couples are spending to tie the knot keeps creeping up, too. In 2021, the average couple spent $27,063 on their wedding, according to The Wedding Report, up from about $24,700 per couple in 2019. In 2020, around the onset of the pandemic, many couples opted for smaller ceremonies with fewer frills and spent an average of $20,286.

As celebrations roar back, couples are finding line items they can cut.

More couples are choosing to host weekday weddings, said Kim Forrest, a senior editor at WeddingWire. That helps with limited venue availability, but it comes with a cost advantage, too: Some venues offer discounts for events to be held on less-frequented days in the middle of the week.

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

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