Saying "I do" is costing less these days as Americans are slashing their wedding budgets. Just two years ago, the average American wedding cost around $28,000. Early figures from this year show the average at about $19,000 for 2009.
Analysts in the wedding industry say they think those numbers will fall further as American spouses-to-be continue to shave everything from professional photography to professionally designed and printed invitations from their overall wedding budgets.
Other belt-tightening wedding trends include smaller weddings and an ever-growing do-it-yourself market, says Shane McMurray, chief executive and founder of the Wedding Report Inc., a Tucson, Ariz.-based research company that tracks and forecasts number of weddings, spending and consumer trends for the wedding industry.
"Part of it is the recession," Mr. McMurray says, "but I would also say that the wedding industry is changing bad economy or not."
Sharon Naylor, author of "1001 Ways to Save Money Have a Dazzling Wedding," agrees and says we're moving into a more "modest wedding cycle" compared to the opulence that started in the 1980s and meant couples were spending the equivalent of a down payment on a house on their wedding.
"At the same time, everybody is concerned about not losing the magic of the day," Ms.-requested- Naylor says. "But they also know they don't need a 20-tiered wedding cake ."
In fact, says Cho Phillips of the Roseville, Calif.-based Wedding Planning Institute, which offers accredited courses in wedding planning, the tiered wedding cake increasingly is being replaced by its cheaper cousins: cupcakes and cheesecake.
Other cost-cutting measures: more and more couples are engaging in DIY as it relates to everything from wedding invitations (in fact, about 48 percent of brides do their own invitations - including various online versions - according to the Wedding Report) to using an iPod as musical entertainment instead of a DJ or live music.
But, says Ms. Naylor, don't go too far in the cost-cutting frenzy or yours might be the wedding people remember as the one with the boring music, bad food and expensive booze. (Ms. Naylor strongly advises against having a cash bar: "Guests are already spending so much just to be there.")
No one wants that for their special day. Instead, Ms. Naylor says, look at ways to save money where it doesn't show.
"What impresses people are creative, unique weddings," Ms. Naylor says.
For example, pick flowers that are local and seasonal or just unusual. How about begonias instead of roses for a June wedding?
How about doing a cocktail reception at a marina overlooking yachts instead of a pricey sit-down dinner at a hotel ballroom without a view?
As for the booze, pick two or three wines and two or three signature cocktails for the guests' choice and then limit the open bar to a certain - smaller - number of hours and make sure you don't pay a corking fee.
Another great cost-cutter, Ms. Naylor says, is to pick a time and date that is not in the peak popularity zone, meaning anytime between October and May.
"Timing is everything. You could save up to 40 percent on the reception by picking a Saturday afternoon in April instead of doing a Saturday night in September," Ms. Naylor says.
Another big trend is in-kind help from family and friends. For example, someone with great handwriting offers to do the invitations and a superorganized person deals with the vendors.
"Tap into people's talents and skills," Ms. Naylor says. "It can be their wedding gift to you."
All this means one thing for vendors, Mr. McMurray says. "They have to rethink their strategy."
For example, he predicts that DJs and photographers the hardest-hit wedding vendors will take on more of a consulting role as opposed to doing all the work themselves.
Some segments of the wedding industry are doing well, however, including spa treatments, live music and honeymoon travel.
In the end, there is no formula for right or wrong when it comes to weddings, Ms. Naylor says.
"Build your own priority list," she says. "It's a game of math where you get to splurge where you need to."