This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.
Ming Wong is an art director at The Globe and Mail.
Though the listing was several weeks old, the seller got back to me and said yes – the off-white jumpsuit I’d been eyeing was still available and yes, she’d take five bucks off. And so I picked up what would be my wedding reception outfit, for about $118 less than the original retail price. One person’s closet cleanup became my windfall.
Weddings have always been expensive, but costs have ballooned in recent years. According to wedding planning site The Knot’s Global Wedding Report, the average cost per guest for a Canadian wedding in 2018 was US$142, or around $21,300 for a 150-person wedding. In its 2022 report, The Knot found that the average cost per guest had increased to $213, or $31,950 for 150 guests. Add in sky-high inflation rates, and it’s no wonder couples are feeling pinched.
Like others faced with rising costs, my partner and I decided not to rely on a wedding planner to guide our every choice, but to instead go the DIY route, navigating the process on our own and buying as many items as we could on the second-hand market. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy hunting for pre-loved goods.
One of my best friends, who was getting married the same year as me, invited me to join two local Facebook groups where people were posting their wedding bounties for sale: decor, glassware, centerpieces, you name it. It makes sense – most people only use these items for a few hours, so they are resold in almost new condition. I followed the group’s postings, as well as the wider Facebook Marketplace buy and sell group closely, ready to pounce with a cheery but concise, “Is this available?” direct message.
The savings were immediate. The Instax camera I wanted for my guestbook retailed for $90 plus tax; I got a secondhand one for $60. Big glass jugs normally used for brewing at-home beer became the vases I used for tall pampas grasses in my decor – much cheaper than the fancy oblong vases I had spotted online. An easel from an art school student for $7? Chef’s kiss.
Months in, I found my Marketplace side quests were more than a fun distraction. This act of DIY scrappiness made me feel like I was prevailing over the wedding industrial complex, which “profits from your dreams and expectations,” as personal finance author and financial planner Mary Claire Allvine told CNBC.
But it wasn’t all fun. In a 2017 essay for The Walrus, Sarah Barmak describes how she tried to plan her wedding on her own terms by “choosing the hipster DIY route.” But, as she writes, “I soon learned that the non-traditional, DIY wedding trend is not actually a way of opting out of the out-of-control Wedding Industrial Complex. Rather, it’s just another wedding style subgenre, with its own twee and adorable headaches.”
I had to agree – as much as I felt the DIY route gave me control, it does mean actually doing it yourself, something I felt acutely when I had to lug (or beg my family members to lug) all my secondhand finds from my home to the venue.
Barmak found some reprieve (and cost savings) in the Bunz online bartering community she eventually joined – where she was able to commiserate with other would-be brides. Despite some drawbacks, ultimately the feeling that prevailed in the group was kindness.
Kindness was what struck me too about the online groups. When I met up with a recent bride who was selling signage from her wedding that I thought would work at my own, I was irritated because she was late. But after we exchanged the money, she said, “Good luck,” and I softened. I could feel she really meant it.
Here was a stranger who probably had gone through the exact same process I was going through: getting a crash course on candle vocabulary (Tealight? Votive? Taper? Pillar? Floating?); panic-emailing when I discovered booking makeup artists even five months in advance is considered late; starting out the process as a “cool bride” before realizing how far I actually strayed.
I felt an unspoken alliance with this fellow Marketplace bride, in our attempts to have our happy day and maybe save a buck or two along the way. I hoped she felt it too, or at least relief that this item could finally leave her home.
Now being on the other side, putting my wedding wares up for sale, I’m imagining my third-hand goods getting fourth or fifth lives, dressing up another bride’s day. I was touched to see a listing for clear umbrellas, which have been passed down by four previous brides. They have yet to be used by any of the couples who bought them and, knock on wood, hopefully none to come.
How great would it be if those umbrellas continued to bring rain-free days to lucky DIY couples who happen to buy them? An endless, happy loop that saves their wallets some pain in the process.
What else we’re thinking about:
A recent article by Alix Strauss for The New York Times on “The Tempestuous Lives of Secondhand Furniture” echoed a lot of my feelings, both real and romanticized, about the connections we still have to the pre-loved goods we sell or give away to a new home. Before my wedding hunt, I sold most of my furniture on Marketplace and Kijiji during a cross-country move. “The furniture tango is always moving and constantly changing partners,” writes Strauss. I’m hoping my Ikea Kallax bookshelf is doing well in its new home and holding good books.
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