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April 6, 2013

20130405_Wedding
Provided photo

Jill Mulkern and Nate Presby of Saco

Gay or straight, marriage is budgetary challenge

By Eric Russell
erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Andrew McLean and Kyle Bailey are busy planning their wedding, and like most couples who are doing the same, they are finding that money is dictating their preparations.

McLean and Bailey, who live in Gorham, say they don't want to break the bank. They have set a budget of about $11,000.

"We don't want to put any (wedding expenses) on a credit card," McLean said. "We want a nice wedding, but we also want to be able to do other stuff, like travel."

They are watching their wedding costs at a time when spending for weddings is on the rise again.

After four years of declining spending, couples are starting to spend more to get married, according to a recent survey by the wedding website TheKnot.com.

The increase comes at an opportune time for Maine, where same-sex marriage became legal on Dec. 29. The survey showed same-sex couples tend to spend slightly more on their weddings than heterosexual couples.

According to the survey, the average wedding in 2012 cost $28,427, up from $27,021 the previous year, including engagement rings but not honeymoons. The amount varied considerably by location. For example, the cost of a wedding in Manhattan averaged $76,678; a wedding in Alaska cost $15,504.

Maine couples have been relatively frugal. The average wedding in the state costs about $10,000 less than the national average.

Jill Mulkern, 25, and her fiance, Nate Presby of Saco, say they have been budget-conscious in planning their wedding for May 2014. They have settled on a total budget of $7,000, with $4,000 of that to pay for the venue, including all the food and decorations.

"We could spend more, but we want to buy a house," Mulkern said. "We're still going to have a wedding we love. We'd rather spend less and not feel guilty about it."

Maine wedding planners and vendors who make their living helping plan others' special days say Maine couples aren't spending any more on their weddings than they have in recent years. The trend here is to spend money on specific things and cut back on the rest.

"The biggest change I've seen is the number of guests," said Katherine Jameson of Portland, who has been a wedding planner for the last 13 years. "It used to be 150 or 200 people invited. Now, it's much smaller. But people are spending more per guest."

Diane York, who has been a Portland-based wedding planner for 10 years, has noticed the shift as well.

"People are decreasing the number of guests and offering a nicer meal or more entertainment," she said. "It's no longer rubber chicken for 200 people that we used to have."

Even if couples are spending less, Maine's legalization of same-sex marriage means more weddings will almost surely be planned in the state.

GAY MARRIAGE DRAWS BUSINESS

This month in Portland, two wedding expos aimed at same-sex couples will put brides and grooms in the same room with florists, wedding cake bakers, jewelers, dress retailers and entertainers.

The first Maine Gay & Lesbian Wedding Expo will be held from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Italian Heritage Center.

Another expo, The Way Weddings Should Be: A Wedding Expo for All Couples, will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 14 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Jill Barkley, who organized The Way Weddings Should Be, decided to start a wedding planning business in response to her own experience. She and her partner visited a vendor who was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a same-sex wedding.

"That can be upsetting," Barkley said. "Couples have enough to worry about without having to deal with negative experiences."

By law, businesses cannot discriminate against couples because of their sexual orientation. Barkley said plenty of businesses are eager to do business with same-sex couples.

McLean, 27, and Bailey, 29, have not had any uncomfortable situations in their dealings with wedding vendors. They started planning their wedding about two weeks after November's election.

They had been engaged since Christmas morning 2011 but delayed their wedding plans for two reasons: They didn't want to tempt fate before Maine's voters decided on same-sex marriage, and they were really busy. Bailey was the finance director for the marriage equality campaign; McLean was running what proved to be a successful campaign for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives.

As they plan their wedding in early August, Bailey said, "We really are trying to support vendors that supported the marriage equality campaign, and we knew a lot already."

McLean said, "I don't think anyone wants to use a vendor who doesn't make them feel included."

Their venue -- the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport -- has been reserved for a champagne brunch, an event that will cost less than a traditional sit-down dinner.

The couple said they probably have about 50 percent of their wedding planned, but they plan to attend Barkley's expo to get ideas for decorations.

McLean and Bailey have priorities that they want to accommodate within their budget: Flowers are not important, but a good photographer is crucial.

Mulkern and Presby have priorities, too. They plan to invite about 130 guests to their wedding but expect the number who attend to be closer to 100.

Their wedding will be outdoors, at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, with a reception at the nearby Purpoodock Club.

"It's the off-season," Mulkern said of her May wedding, "so the venue is much cheaper."

The couple also will save money by scaling back on flowers, invitations and photography. Mulkern said they will take a honeymoon -- if the deal is right.

"I'm kind of obsessed with Groupon (an online coupon website), so I'm keeping an eye on getaway trips," she said.

ADHERING TO A BUDGET

Maine has long been a wedding destination, and is likely to get more popular, now that same-sex marriage is legal here.

Barkley, who moved to Maine from Michigan about nine years ago, said it's easy to see why.

"I feel like I get to live in the place where people vacation," she said. "Who wouldn't want to have a wedding here?"

York said about 90 percent of her clients come from out of state. Those are the couples who are more likely to hire a wedding planner, but that doesn't mean their budgets are unlimited.

"I always bring up budget. I don't want to make a silk purse from a sow's ear," she said. "People have their expectations but they don't always know how much a wedding costs. A fellow called the other day who couldn't afford me, let alone the wedding he envisioned."

For the most part, Jameson said, brides spend money to have their hair and makeup done and don't skimp on their dresses.

Mulkern said she originally planned to spend $1,000 on her dress, but has cut that cost in half. Her mother is contributing $300.

"I want to buy something that's elegant but can last a lifetime so if my daughter wants it at some point, she can use some or all of it," she said.

Beth Fitzgerald of the Maine Wedding Co., who also has been a wedding photographer for 20 years, said the amount of money couples spend on weddings is often tied to the economy, but there is typically a delay.

For instance, although the recession began in 2008, Fitzgerald said it wasn't until 2010 that wedding budgets began to shrink.

"People plan their wedding one and a half to two years out," she said.

That means there could be a trend in Maine toward weddings with bigger budgets. But Jameson said she thinks the amount that couples will spend on weddings may stay low.

"It won't ever be what it was," she said. "You just have to make adjustments."

One adjustment for wedding planners, she said, has been offering wedding day organizing services. It's less expensive for a couple than hiring a planner from the beginning of the process, but it provides peace of mind on the actual day, Jameson said.

Mulkern said she doesn't think that she and her fiance will regret the amount they spend on their wedding.

"There is a temptation to have this extravagant thing, but in reality it's only one day," she said. "The best part will be seeing our (almost-3-year-old) daughter, Madelyn, in a flower girl dress."

 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell



Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Kyle Bailey, left, and Andrew McLean have been planning their wedding since the passage of the same sex marriage law in November of last year. Photographed outside their Gorham home on Friday, March 29, 2013.



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