If you’ve been trying to plan your wedding in 2021, the experience has probably been somewhat challenging. Okay, very challenging. 

The pandemic has affected every aspect of planning, from where and when you can exchange vows to how many people you can invite to the reception. Want to book a venue for a Saturday night? Probably not going to happen. How about in 2022? Maybe, if you hurry. But that’s the roller-coaster, unimaginable world of weddings these days. “The pandemic has affected every industry and region differently, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all playbook for how to navigate these times,” says Jason Mitchell Kahn, an event planner in New York who runs the event planning company Jason Mitchell Kahn and Co.  “Couples would like to lock down as much as possible for a sense of security but many larger operations still don’t have their full teams [like waitstaff] in place. Some businesses have yet to be given the green light to book large groups.” 

What’s a couple to do? You’ll want to stay on top of evolving COVID-19 news since the guidelines keep changing. One bright spot: The number of vaccinated Americans keeps rising along with the size of the guest list in many states. Bright spot number two: Delaying your nuptials gives you more time to save for your dream wedding. Here’s what you need to do to make planning easier:

Find out how much things cost

Back in 2019, the average wedding cost $28,000, according to a Knot Real Weddings Study. That number took a nose-dive in 2020 and dropped to $19,000—not surprising since there were fewer weddings. As a result, some vendors have raised their rates “to protect themselves now from ever being caught off-guard again,” says Kahn. Other businesses have increased rates “to cover costs related to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment,”says Amy Nichols of  Amy Nichols Special Events, a Santa Barbara, California-based wedding planner. To find rates, do your research on what things cost in your area. “National averages are not going to be very accurate if, for example, you’re in an urban area where the cost of living is higher,” says Nichols. Talk to some planners. Many are happy to give prospective couples an idea of what realistic budgets are for their given area, Nichols adds.

Create a wedding budget

Once you have some current numbers to work with, you can come up with a budget. While it would be nice to have $28,000 to spend—or even $19,000—not everyone does; don’t let this deter you (or upset you). Figure out how much you already have to contribute, how much more you can save by the time the bills come in, and how much, if anything, your family members will contribute. Next, prioritize your funds—maybe you care more about having great music or incredible flowers and less about engraved invitations or top-shelf liquor at the reception. This should give you a true sense of how much you can spend for each wedding good or service.

Control costs

A few ways to keep wedding costs from spiraling: Substitute affordable blooms like baby’s breath, chrysanthemums, and carnations for more expensive flowers. Borrow as many things as you can from recent brides—a veil, tiara, vases, cake cutter. Order a simpler wedding cake.

Be flexible with the date

After being closed for much of 2020, many wedding venues are now fully booked for Saturday nights through 2021 and, for some, well into 2022. Many couples whose 2020 weddings were cancelled last year grabbed these coveted spots for 2021 already. 

Some brides and grooms, though, have had to go with Plan B—or C or D—when their original date fell through. When Amani Boudriga and Rashad Omar’s June 13, 2020, wedding at a Washington, D.C., hotel was cancelled because the hotel had closed, they picked a new date—September 5, 2020. But that date was eventually cancelled too because the hotel still hadn’t reopened. New date: June 5, 2021. It looked promising so Boudriga mailed wedding invitations to her 150 guests. But in April 2021, D.C.’s mayor banned dancing at large indoor gatherings, which didn’t sit well with the bride and groom. Their new—and last, they hope—wedding date is in June 2022 at a northern Virginia venue on a lake. “Virginia doesn’t have the stringent rules that D.C. has,” says Boudriga. “We pushed the date so far ahead because we didn’t want to lose all the deposits we’d already paid to vendors, and it took a lot of time to find a date when everyone was available.” Other 2020 couples have eloped or picked a non-Saturday night date. “If you’re determined to get married this year,” Nichols says, “think outside the box. Consider a Friday or a Sunday, or better yet, mid-week, and you might be able to recoup some savings as a result.” 

Pare down the guest list

With venues still sticking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines to ensure staff and guests’ health and safety, you may be hard-pressed to find a venue that could accommodate a large group. That means downsizing the guest list. Who to cut? Anyone you haven’t spoken to in the last year, feel obligated to invite, or those third cousins you’ve never actually met.

Be smart about charging expenses

Your credit card is a convenient way to pay for your dress, put down deposits, and buy favors. But don’t let these items cost more because of an interest charge or late fee. According to Business Insider, 28 percent of Americans go into debt to pay for their weddings. Whenever you charge a wedding expense, be prepared to pay for it in full the month it’s due; if you know you can’t, look for something similar in your true price range.

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