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Amid a wedding boom in Tampa Bay, here are ways to save money

We talked to a St. Petersburg wedding planner about wedding costs, and how to keep them low.
A wedding boom is happening, with costs on the rise.
A wedding boom is happening, with costs on the rise. [ STACEY NEWMAN | iStockphoto.com ]
Published Aug. 18|Updated Sep. 1

Know a lot of people getting married this year? You’re not alone: The U.S. is experiencing a wedding boom, fueled by couples who are going through with plans thwarted by the pandemic. Wedding planning website The Knot’s 2021 survey predicted that 2022 would be a record year, with the majority of couples planning to wed in the summer and the fall.

Tampa Bay is no different, especially given the amount of beautiful scenery here. But as inflation has led to rising costs everywhere, the costs associated with weddings have gone up, too.

St. Petersburg-based wedding planner Kimberly Hensley has seen costs rise since the wedding industry took a hit in 2020. For one, she has experienced higher minimums with vendors. Before the pandemic, she could get $300 worth of rentals delivered for a small fee. Now, those same orders run $600 to $800, and some companies are not willing to deliver them for small fees, especially because of the price of gas.

St. Petersburg-based wedding planner Kimberly Hensley is the founder of Kimberly Hensley Events and The Bridal Method.
St. Petersburg-based wedding planner Kimberly Hensley is the founder of Kimberly Hensley Events and The Bridal Method. [ Courtesy of Kimberly Hensley ]

Hensley said the cost of flowers and the cost to ship them is really high right now, and the industry is still plagued by supply chain shortages. In the past, her typical budget for a wedding with 100 guests was $30,000. Now, she said she has had to turn potential clients away because she wouldn’t be able to make that figure work.

According to the Wedding Report, a company that does market research, the average wedding cost in the Tampa Bay area in 2021 was $24,072. That was a five-year high, up from $17,700 in 2020.

“Things are very expensive,” Hensley said. “With inflation, the cost of living for all of us, coupled with what happened with the pandemic in the wedding industry, I think the two are just colliding right now. I think that vendors had to increase their cost to cover what the loss was.”

That includes photographers, whose rates have gone up, and caterers, who have to factor labor and travel into their costs. But Hensley also said it’s normal for vendors to raise prices as they gain more customers, and the current wedding boom will ensure that the industry stays busy.

While Hensley only works with couples who have larger wedding budgets, she knows that it is possible to do a wedding for less. She said she hears about all the ways people save on costs to have a wedding closer to or under $10,000.

“But it’s a different type of wedding,” she said. “It’s going to be beautiful and amazing, but I know that it’s different. It’s just different priorities. I think it’s very important that people focus on their priorities.”

During the pandemic, Hensley created The Bridal Method, a website that shows people how to plan a wedding with her expert tips for a moderate fee. Here are a few of her cost-saving tips.

Know how to budget

“I think one of the bigger things that couples face … is that they don’t know how to budget, period. That is one of the things that they’re facing when they don’t have planners. They get this dollar amount ... but they don’t know where it really goes. That is why most couples go over budget. They’ll run out and get a venue and then they’ll come back and they’ll start to budget themselves and realize now they don’t have enough money to plan the rest of their wedding. They didn’t allocate money into different areas and research. They need to do the work in advance.”

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Save on the bar

“I tell people to skip the glassware. If you want to add glassware it could cost you hundreds, up to over $1,000 depending on your guests. … Get high-end acrylic. ... Don’t offer the highest premium package. Your guests will drink what you give them. … There are definitely a lot of positive ways to cut back. Signature drinks are fun, but if you’re going to have to pay another $200 for a signature drink, it’s not necessary.”

Customize your menu

“Something that I do and something I firmly believe in is just hard customizing. A lot of … standalone caterers will just have package pricing on their site ... and a lot of the time it just doesn’t work for a client. They might not like the food that’s in there or the pricing might just not work for them either. Contact the caterer and say, ‘This is how much money I have, this is the food that we’re thinking. Could you … make a menu up for me?’ ... Honestly, I’ve never had a problem with a caterer not customizing for me. If they’re doing their research upfront, and they’re budgeting properly, they should be able to go to the caterer and have them customize and not have a mental meltdown over the cost of food.”

Save on decor

“Book aesthetically pleasing venues and you don’t need a lot of decor. Anything that you don’t have to overcompensate with decor, where you don’t have to bring in dance floors and draping ugly walls or ceilings. Those venues are automatically going to cost you more. But when it comes to flowers … reuse, reuse, reuse. When I’m thinking about my design for the ceremony, I’m thinking about how this can be designed to be moved into the reception ... I can save thousands of dollars because the wedding has been designed with that mindset. Skip the cocktail hour decor — it’s an hour, the tables are small, you don’t need it. Throw a candle on the table, call it a day. Don’t spend hundreds of dollars.”

More tips

Here are a few cost-saving tips from Tampa Bay Times staffers:

Consider heavy hors d’oeuvres rather than a full dinner. Think pasta bar and carving station.

Provide Champagne for a toast but have a cash bar. If people really want to drink, they will pay.

Shop online (try eBay) or at boutiques for wedding apparel. You’ll often find suits and dresses at a fraction of the cost of bridal shops.

Get flowers from Publix and look for decor at discount stores. Think HomeGoods and TJ Maxx.

Tap talented friends or family for services in lieu of gifts. Maybe you know someone who could make your cake, or take photos/videos of the wedding.

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