Bridal Bartering

Some couples are trading goods to get the weddings they want without a premium price tag

While planning their November 2008 wedding in Los Angeles, Leen Lim and Win Dong were eager to save money. As painters who have day jobs in creative fields (she's a graphic designer and he’s in the custom framing business) they knew they could use their talents to make sure the wedding was affordable and lived up to their aesthetic standards. But while Leen was able to sew the tablecloths and design the invitations, there were some services beyond her capabilities. So they decided to leverage their skills by bartering. They traded frames from Win's company for wedding photography, which worked out nicely for both parties. And the DJ, chosen for his preference for jazz and old standards, agreed to spin discs in exchange for business postcards designed by Leen. All told, she estimates they saved 30 percent of their total costs through these trades. Bartering, the exchange of goods and services instead of cash, has been around since one caveman needed something another caveman had. While it has always been a steady, if relatively unknown, part of United States commerce, the troubled economy has thrust it into the spotlight. The National Association of Trade Exchanges (NATE), based in Mentor, OH, estimates that trade activity in barter businesses has grown more than 15 percent since 2006. U-exchange.com, a free online barter exchange service, reports that unique page views jumped from 385,931 in July 2007 to 512,285 one year later.

Although no figures exist specifically regarding wedding bartering, a look through Craigslist and Weddingbee.com confirms that a significant number of engaged couples are interested in bartering for anything from invitations to engagement rings to honeymoons. Bartering for a wedding was once considered déclassé, but wedding experts say that there’s no longer much of a stigma associated with it. At a time when many budgets run $30,000 or more, "Couples are trying to get creative with how they finance their weddings," says Samantha Goldberg, a planner based in Chester, NJ. "We told anyone who asked that we bartered with our vendors," adds Leen. "Everyone said it was a smart thing to do."

When Newburyport, MA, wedding photographer Tara Gurry noticed that many of her colleagues were complaining that their businesses were slowing down, she created a Web site where engaged couples and vendors can exchange services and items. Bigdaybarter.com launched last February. Gurry believes couples will find that bartering often feels more satisfying than simply writing a check, especially if your budget is getting between you and your dream wedding. "People might not have the money to spend, but they often have skills to offer," she says. "That adds value and worth. If you can exchange talents, it’s a positive feeling."

That’s what Tom and Nichole Nynas discovered when they bartered Tom’s graphic design skills in exchange for photographs by well-known wedding photographer Liz Banfield for their 2000 wedding in Duluth, MN. Way ahead of the trend, they knew they couldn't afford Banfield’s prices and were delighted when she agreed to a trade. For her part, Banfield was early into her photography career and not only had time in her schedule but also happened to need some high-quality graphic design help. They drew up a contract in which Tom agreed to create a new logo and design for her business cards and stationery, and Banfield agreed to shoot their wedding.

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