Budget brides cut their lace to suit sackcloth times

Toorak boutiques are yielding to Salvos Stores as bridal couples nod to the recession, leaving a little extra for life post-wedding, writes Claire Halliday.

WHEN Michelle and Brad Johnson planned their March nuptials, romantic dreams of a sumptuous wedding with all the bells and whistles were far from their minds.

Annette Rowlands helps her daughter Cheryl try on a dress at the bridal department of the Salvos Stores’ Abbotsford branch.
Annette Rowlands helps her daughter Cheryl try on a dress at the bridal department of the Salvos Stores’ Abbotsford branch. Photo: Meredith O’Shea
Faced with an economic downturn, Michelle, 28, and Brad, 31, let pragmatism override romanticism and set a strict budget of $10,000.

They bought the engagement ring wholesale for $2000, saving $4000; sourced Michelle’s bridesmaids’ dresses from Target for $18 each; found a retired florist working from home to do the floral arrangements for $200, and Michelle made the three-tier chocolate mud cake with fondant icing herself at a cost of $120.

A tough hand in tough times
Her wedding dress, a white strapless gown with a beaded bodice, was bought online through a wholesale manufacturer for less than $500. The groom and his groomsmen hired their suits for $160 each.

All up, the couple’s bill came to under $9000 — less than a third of the $28,000 the average Australian wedding costs, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, and less than a fifth the amount respondents to a national survey by Bride To Be magazine claimed as their average spend ($50,000).

“I think the average spent on weddings is horrendous,” Mrs Johnson told The Sunday Age.

“I understand that many women have been dreaming and planning their wedding since they were little girls, but realistically I’d rather spend that money on a deposit for a house.”

With findings from a study by online classifieds website Gumtree.com.au revealing that money worries have forced 53 per cent of engaged couples to cap their wedding budgets at under $10,000 and 26 per cent of couples to put their marriage on hold, the flow-on effects to the wedding industry are beginning to be felt.

“I think the current global economic downturn will start to have an impact from now on in the wedding industry because of the long lead-time in planning,” says Rita Feldman, 35, who has already noticed a changing pattern in inquiries to her Blooming Brides florist business.

“I’m noticing an increased number of bridal flower-only inquiries, and inquiries from people who are shopping around for the cheapest price,” she says.

Social analyst David Chalke, of AustraliaSCAN, says many Australians view an extravagant wedding during tough economic times as being “in bad taste”.

“People are actually taking pride in doing a wedding on the cheap,” he says. “It’s more a moral shift, a return to traditional values — prudence, frugality, moderation. They’re happy to have it in the backyard or in the park and think the money can be spent elsewhere.”

Budget-conscious wedding trends included backyard receptions and serving finger food instead of sit-down meals — decisions that can ensure it is the costs that are trimmed rather than the guest list, Mr Chalke says.

“You can invite all the cousins and aunts if you don’t have it catered at $250 a head.”

For Cheryl Rowlands and John Amiridis, both 38, the defining principle of their November wedding is to keep it simple. As the mother of a nine-year-old son, Ms Rowlands says allocating money on a honeymoon to give the newlyweds a private getaway is more important than a lavish ceremony.

The total cost of their reception for 50 guests — a cocktail party at a Yarra Valley winery, including food and alcohol — is $3500. She is hoping to find a dress for under $500.

Her search for an “evening-style, flowing, mushroom pink or coffee-coloured” creation has been online and in second-hand stores. This week, she visited the Abbotsford branch of Salvos Stores, perusing the racks in the bridal department launched three weeks ago to cater for budget-savvy brides-to-be. Dresses in the store range from $200 to $500.

“I just don’t see the point in spending a fortune,” Ms Rowlands says. With the number of bridal dresses sold at Salvos Stores up 200 per cent on the same time last year, it’s a sentiment shared by an increasing number of women who will wear the dress only once.


THE FLOWERS “In selecting flowers, go with the season, rather than what is in the latest bridal magazine,” says Blooming Brides’ Rita Feldman. “Freesias are available all year, yet can be one-third of the summer price.”

THE RECEPTION: Avoid peak wedding season and days. A winter, autumn, midweek or Sunday venue will be cheaper than a Saturday in spring.

THE DRESS: As well as second-hand clothing outlets, websites such as eBay and gumtree.com.au advertise a range of bridal services and products — second-hand, new and often at much cheaper prices than traditional retailers.

Role: By Claire Halliday
Client: The Age