Get hitched on a budget

Like thousands of Canadian couples, six of my smitten friends are taking the matrimonial plunge this summer, in the midst of the only recession that generation Y has ever faced.

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TORONTO — Like thousands of Canadian couples, six of my smitten friends are taking the matrimonial plunge this summer, in the midst of the only recession that generation Y has ever faced.

But my friends have decided they’re not going to let the state of the economy interfere with their dream weddings — even if it means living apart for a time or getting married while jobless.

Demographers formerly deemed this an entitled and spoiled generation that grew up in a time of plenty. But now, it seems they have to adjust to growing debt loads, shrinking job markets and making personal and career sacrifices.

In 1973, the average woman was married at 22.8 years. In 2003, that average was 28.5 years, meaning the first wave of gen-Yers has reached the nuptial stage.

The delay in the marriage age can be attributed to a focus on developing career, travel and other personal goals before settling down, and more adult children living at home longer, says David MacDonald, vice-president of consumer research at Environics.

Like many gen-Yers, Wendy Cacilhas, my best friend from high school, and her fiance Rob Grande both lived at home into their 20s. With their parents’ nest providing a financial buffer, they’ve saved enough to pay for a chunk of the wedding themselves.

Wendy thought that during her first year of teaching, they’d both live with their parents, get married, and buy a house in Hamilton.

But plans changed when Rob was offered an insurance job with a significant pay increase in Kelowna, B.C., last summer.

They debated leaving behind friends and family, and for Wendy, entering a job market she was not yet certified in. But they decided the money was too enticing — especially if Wendy wanted the swanky wedding she envisioned, one complete with filet mignon, a martini bar and a midnight buffet.

Rob moved to Kelowna last summer. Like many long-distance couples, they counted down lonely days until their Aug. 1 wedding and planned details while thousands of kilometres apart.

“It’s weird because people say ‘just get your fiance to have a look and let me know,’ but I can’t do that. Wedding planning loses some of its lustre when you’re doing it yourself,” Wendy said.

After the wedding, she will move to B.C. for a few months, but then return to Hamilton in January and live with her parents while she teaches until she’s built up enough time to take a leave of absence.

When she told her fiance about the plan, he responded: “Well, it sucks that I’m going to have a part-time wife, but we did what was good for my career and now we have to do what’s good for yours.”

According to researchers at Youthography, many gen-Yers share Rob and Wendy’s willingness to just “go-for-it.”

“We thought about the recession, but we threw it by the wayside,” Wendy said. “We had saved since our first jobs, so recession or not, why should that stop us from having the wedding we want?”

But savers Rob and Wendy may be the exception to the gen-Y rule. Many gen-Yers are not changing wedding plans, but creatively scaling down their weddings, scrapping planners, and doing much more themselves, says Mike D’Abramo at Youthography.

I am maid-of honour in Jen Waters and Alan Cherneski’s wedding, which is fitting since I was the third wheel on their first date four years ago. After two years of living together, Alan proposed last Thanksgiving, in the eye of a financial storm.

Alan ordered Jen a replica of a Tiffany ring she had not so subtly pointed out last July. But he had not forked over any money yet when he received the worst news a guy on the brink of a huge diamond investment could hear — he was being laid off.

On a rainy walk home Jen lamented, “I guess this means we’re not getting married?” Alan said “no,” but talked it over with a friend who convinced him he shouldn’t let his former employer affect his decisions.

He went ahead with his plans and paid for the ring.

“I was definitely pretty stressed out about it, because I didn’t work for all of August and September.

“I wasn’t going to propose until I got a new job. I thought it’d be very anticlimactic to give a multi-thousand dollar ring and be jobless.”

So when he bent down on one knee that autumn day, she was so surprised, she dropped the f-bomb before accepting.

Intent on keeping their dream wedding intact, Jen and Alan are in the final throes of budgeted wedding planning for their August wedding.

“I could have pulled the chute on the ring, but who knows what’s gonna happen after that — I may as well jack up a huge debt and go for it.”

They agree the first few months of their engagement amounted to the toughest challenge they’d ever faced.

“Laid off and planning a wedding, we had more fights than ever,” Alan said.

He used the time off to volunteer at an elementary school and go back to teachers’ college.

“I have a huge tuition payment and still don’t have a job. I’m still worried but I’m happy we’re making the next step,” he explained.

With Alan back in school, the couple, paying for as much as they can, is cutting costs along the way.

Planning a wedding on a budget means you have to be patient and persistent. Jen once dragged me on a fact-finding shopping trip to compare the price of vases for centrepieces she’s assembling herself.

Fuchsia Gerber daisies will be sitting in $1 dollar-store vases that are indistinguishable from overpriced vases.

She’s getting married in her hometown of Strathroy, Ont., where she can save on halls, photographers and flowers.

Her sister-in-law is making a ring bearer pillow.

She picked out her dress, but shopped around after and saved $250.

Getting alterations in her small town saved another $350.

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