The high price of love

“They say our love won’t pay the rent,” crooned Sonny and Cher in their 1965 hit seven-inch, “I Got You Babe.” In 1985, the average rent for low-to-moderate income families in Asheville was under $80, according to the annual report of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville. Last year’s conference of mayors revealed that, “Of North Carolina’s major cities, Asheville has the lowest median income but the second-highest average rent”—that rate being around $780, according to real-estate research firm Real Data. The point is, love is spread thinner than ever these days. Unfortunately, wedding costs (like rent prices) have only skyrocketed.

Photo by Scott Lessing

Web site www.costofwedding.com has a handy regional wedding cost estimator that calculates an average spending of an Asheville wedding between $16,216 and $27,027—before honeymoons and engagement rings—for the nuptials of Asheville couples. The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce posted a per capita income of $23,174 for Buncombe County residents last year; that means a local bride-to-be could sink a year’s wages into a single day’s festivities. That calls to mind the episode of Friends where Monica, who longs for a big fat wedding, learns her fiancé has, in his savings account, enough cash to turn her dream fete into reality. But the levelheaded groom points out that if they don’t spend the money they’ll have a nest egg for their new life together. The catch line? Monica: “I don’t want a big, fancy wedding … I want a marriage.”

This year, more than any other in recent history, is a good year to cut back (the economic downturn, job losses, pay cuts and shrinking IRAs – not that anyone needs reminding). Still, if a simple trip to City Hall seems a little too spendthrift when it comes to saying “I do,” here are some other ideas – many from local brides and grooms who found fabulous ways to pinch pennies—for celebrating big love on a small budget:

Virtual matrimony

My own sister’s long-term boyfriend bypassed the walk down the aisle and simply updated his Facebook status to “married.” Instant brother-in-law, no wedding gift required.

This might seem oversimplified. It is. But it’s also a sign of the times: Social networking sites can be a vehicle to share the happy news, send out quick (and free) invites to a wedding or reception, include others in a video of the vows or photos from the honeymoon, and receive instant well wishes from near and far.

Wedding Web sites are also an accepted means of planning, organizing and sharing a wedding. Where e-mail invites (not to mention electronic thank yous) were once a breach of etiquette, both are now kosher (thanks to sites like Evite.com and eWedding.com). Online registries have largely eclipsed in-store purchases, and honeymoon registries are following the lead.

Honeymoon registries (Honeyfund.com, Honeymoonwishes.com and Thebigday.com, for example) allow guests to donate to the couple’s nuptial vacation. That means no unwanted sandwich makers, no duplicate toasters. 

@subead:The venue less traveled

Recently, a story circulated online about an Illinois couple who said their vows at Taco Bell. (Total cost of the wedding, revealed USA Today: $200.) We’re not advocating fast-food marriages, but there is something to be said for holding the party off the beaten path.

Fries with that? Jennifer Pickering and Leigh Maher had a drive-through wedding. Ironically, Maher runs the couple’s wedding business, “So we don’t encourage everyone to take this quirky path,” Pickering jokes.

Melissa Baker remembers, “We headed to a beautiful mountain overlook at a state park and had my brother there as a witness and photographer.” After the ceremony—created with the help of a minister friend—the wedding party headed to Bob Evans for breakfast.

For couples not wanting to stray too far from tradition, there are plenty of options. Like the idea of an outdoor wedding but balk at the $200 to $500 fee at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville? A picnic shelter at a city-run park is $30 for a four-hour block (check out Ashevillenc.gov). Inspired by the urban elegance of a downtown venue like Celine and Company’s “On Broadway”? The Asheville Area Arts Council (Ashevillearts.com) also rents gallery space for events—talk about stylish.

A little help from your friends

Former Asheville resident Keri Parker is still wowed, years later, by the generosity of her inner circle. “We were fortunate to keep costs down because of friends providing real services at substantial discounts,” she explains. “A photographer friend took pictures at cost, my dad and other family and friend musicians provided music and a friend did the flowers at cost.” The reception was held at a camp where Parker had worked, so she and her fiancé were able use the facility free of charge.

Tausha McCarthy’s flowers were arranged by the mothers-in-law (“Sitting and bonding over a task kept them focused and avoided typical mother-of-the-bride and groom issues,” she muses), friends passed a camera around to capture candid moments, and the bride enlisted her bridesmaids in the ambitious making of a three-tiered cake. “It was wondrous fun,” she recalls, adding, “The purple was a legitimate mistake, the action-hero figurines weren’t.”

The end result? McCarthy says, “People can be surprising in their willingness to embrace the joining and to overlook the small things.”

Retro was never so relevant

Up to the early 19th century, weddings were small, private affairs held at home. Cakes were baked in the kitchen and flowers gathered from the yard. All of this changed with the boom of the wedding industry in the 1920s, which led to elaborate—if cookie-cutter—dream weddings. But the pendulum swung back, somewhat, during the 1960s’ and ‘70s’ push for greater individuality. Though the last 30 years have shown a trend toward increasingly lavish events, there’s no reason not to embrace the simple, homespun and heartfelt traditions of years past.

Stacy Lane-Romaine and her husband Joel got married along a hiking trail.

Online guides are cropping up with planning tips for at-home weddings. Styles run from formal champagne and hors d’oeuvres to informal barbecue or picnic meals.

Shane Conerty of Asheville-based band Now You See Them says his trio has played at-home receptions in the past. “I think a good way to bring down the cost is to hire a band like us who will play for half the price,” he adds.

Less is more

Stacy Lane-Romaine, an avid hiker from upstate N.Y., got engaged on a North Carolina section of the Appalachian Trail. Her thematically appropriate wedding was on “a local hiking trail by a beautiful waterfall by the town justice.” Because Lane-Romaine’s marriage created a blended family with eight children, the reception was “a big bonfire with all of our family and friends at our place, and then the next day we went for a weekend honeymoon to Splash Lagoon Resort in Erie, Penn. with all of the kids.” Total cost: $250.

Jenny Martin kept her nuptials indoors and in financial check. “My dress was a Jessica McClintock sample and was only $99. I found my four bridesmaids dresses on the clearance rack at Dillard’s for $34 each,” she explains. Martin reception was at a friend’s home: A BYOB party with ‘80s music and dancing. “For a joke,” she remembers, “someone brought over one of those giant sub sandwiches, which I would not have planned, but it ended up being funny and a good late-night snack.”

J. Clarkson, a groom, forwent a hired DJ by stocking an iPod with dance tunes. But, substantial savings aside, Clarkson warns, “The siren song of what a wedding is ‘supposed to look like’ always threatens to wreck the budget ship on the rocks of the wedding industry.” The lesson here is, a budget wedding will never mirror a full-scale traditional affair with all the bells and whistles. (But that doesn’t mean the memory won’t be every bit as priceless.)

Can elope without a ladder

The New York Times recently reported that, “In a time of tightening budgets, some wedding professionals have seen an increase in elopements as couples consider it a practical alternative.”

Eloping is every bit as old as romance (Romeo and Juliet did it, with mixed results), but the modern spin on the tradition manifests in elopement guides, destinations and, according to Web resource Letsrunoff.com, “elopement etiquette.” A poll on that site reveals that some 25 percent of couples elope to avoid the high cost of weddings. Twenty-first century eloping can combine the best of both worlds: An intimate and budget-friendly ceremony followed by a party with pals. One Asheville couple married at City Hall and then were joined outside by happy friends who paraded the newlyweds, Mardi Gras style, through town.

Photo by Scott Lessing

Of her own elopement, Lake Eden Arts Festival executive director Jennifer Pickering says, “We had a fabulous drive through wedding in Pigeon Forge … $104 and four minutes and you are laughing and married.”

Helen Powell-Busch recently got married the low-key way: “We eloped and did it at City Hall,” she says. “It’s the low cost, low stress, focus on being married (and not about the wedding), truly romantic and exciting way to go, in my opinion.”

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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