As inflation drives up wedding costs, couples get creative growing flowers and bartering

Engaged couple Theo Markou and Laura Payne water their garden bed, where they sowed various flower seed that will be used for their upcoming summer wedding, at their home in Caledon, Ont., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Tijana Martin/ The Globe and MailTijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Nicola Hancock and Brad Stewart are getting married this July at the Halifax Club. When they started planning last fall, their original budget was $12,000. It’s now nearly doubled to $23,000, “and we’re still going,” said Ms. Hancock.

As with most weddings, their largest expense is food and drink. Last November, they met with the downtown Halifax venue to figure out their menu and settled on a cost of $65 a person – for a buffet. But after meeting with the venue again this March, they received an adjusted quote of $80 a person. “That was definitely a shock,” she said.

She’s nervous to ask what the new costs for alcohol will be. “I’m not ready,” she said. But the couple has come up with a plan – they’ll give the venue an expense limit for the bar, and once that’s reached the venue will switch over to a cash bar.

As the wedding industry gears up for one of its biggest seasons in 2022, Canadian couples looking to finally tie the knot after years of pandemic-related delays will be forced to dig deeper than ever because of a surge in demand, soaring inflation and rising transport and freight costs.

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It’s a chain reaction of sorts. Jenny Serwylo, a wedding and event planner with Toronto-based Three Lights Events, is hearing from food and floral vendors that the sheer number of weddings this year means they have to hire more staff for every step of the process. “Flower farms need to hire staff to grow, harvest, shop,” she said – so labor costs are up, which pushes wholesale prices higher.

Sarah Nicholson, a florist for weddings and events through her Toronto company Sarah Melissa Designs, said prices are rising week by week. This week, she’s paying $2.25 a stem for roses that last week cost her $1.75 a stem. Her suppliers say the reason for the increase is cost of transportation. “It’s hard to give proper quotes to clients on product these days,” she said.

According to Wedding Wire, a marketplace for couples to connect with wedding professionals, the average wedding in Canada costs $29,450 – with food and beverages accounting for roughly half of that total – but those numbers are from May, 2020, before inflation reached its current 31 -year high. Now everything from bouquets to chairs, to dessert to DJs comes with a higher price tag. Couples on a budget are faced with big decisions as prices have jumped as much as 50 per cent.

Ethan Gill, a wedding designer with ECG Wedding Events in Toronto, is working on more than 80 weddings this year, many held over from the past two years – one of which has a budget of almost $300,000. “I think people need to be more realistic about their weddings and the times that we live in,” he said. He sees clients spend on lavish weddings despite the budgets not matching their day-to-day lifestyles.

“The best advice I can give is, be yourself. When you are yourself you’ll be able to showcase what kind of wedding you want – and more importantly a wedding you can actually afford,” he said.

Engaged couple Laura Payne and Theo Markou, pose for a photograph at their home in Caledon, Ont., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. The couple is finding ways to save money for their upcoming summer wedding, including growing their own flowers from seed . Tijana Martin / The Globe and MailTijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Some couples are finding creative ways to keep costs low as prices continue to rise. Theo Markou and Laura Payne got engaged this January and are getting married in late August. The couple set an upper limit of $15,000 for everything wedding related.

When they first began looking at venues they were getting quotes for as high as $14,000 – almost their entire budget – so they opted to rent out a community center in the Township of Mono, near their home. The cost: $1,695 (with insurance and bartending fees it will come out at about $2,100).

Ms. Payne is doing the decor herself, much of it sourced from dollar stores, and after planting a successful home garden last year, is even growing her own flowers to avoid that expense. “I’ve never actually tried to grow cut flowers, so this is really new to me, but I’m going to attempt it.”

Kelowna, BC-based couple Lindsay Kusy, an esthetician, and James Alton, a videographer, are getting married this fall in Armstrong, BC “I was really worried about the amount of money that would have to go into the wedding, and we ended up coming up with a plan quite quickly to trade with all our vendors,” said Mr. Alton.

They are trading their services for the venue, flowers, photography, and hair and makeup, either outright trading or swapping services at cost. As a result, they’ve been able to keep costs to $10,000. “It would actually have been $25,000 to $30,000″ without the bartering, Mr. Alton said.

For couples still finalizing plans and costs, there are ways to save money. Karen Cleveland, co-author of The New Wedding Book: A Guide to Ditching All the Rulessaid that the wedding budgets available online that couples often work with are problematic because they’re based on the assumption that the couple has that money available.

“You should be worried far less about your wedding budget and more about your overall life budget. Spend wisely and in line with your values. If you’re looking at a wedding website that says you should spend $5,000 on your dress when you only have $5,000 to spend on your whole wedding, it’s a moot point,” Ms. Cleveland said.

Future brides and grooms should “stop thinking about getting married as a capital W wedding and think about it like you would any other event you might plan in life, like a milestone birthday or your parents’ retirement party,” Ms. Cleveland said.

“Find an outfit you feel great in. Who cares if it’s a wedding outfit? Find a photographer whose work you really like. They don’t have to be someone you found Googling wedding photographer.”

Prioritizing costs is essential. “For some people, hiring a band is the most important thing, and flowers they don’t care about,” said Three Lights’ Ms. Serwylo, whose clients have an average budget of $50,000. “If everything is important, then you need to spend more money, quite frankly. So look at where you can save.”

Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.


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