What to Do When You're Engaged and Unemployed

Experts and real brides offer the best ways to navigate wedding planning.

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Photo Credit: iStock

While there’s never an optimum time to experience loss of income, dealing with a contracted cash flow just when you’re putting together a wedding budget can seem like an almost insurmountable challenge. But this budget shortfall need not signal the end of the wedding of your dreams. With some organization, creativity and small adjustments your wedding can still go on with nary a hitch. Help is at hand, ahead.

Manage Your Time

Career experts emphasize the importance of maintaining a regular routine when you're job-hunting, whether it be waking up at the same time every day or dedicating your afternoons to sending out resumes. Add in wedding planning and your days, evenings and weekends will fill up fast.

"My job hunt was priority number one," says recent bride Jennifer G. Yet she was able to put the upside of being jobless to good use. “In between resume edits, internet searches, job boards, LinkedIn connections and applications, there was time to call vendors or go to the craft store so I could execute that Pinterest-perfect centerpiece.” Jennifer, who threw a surprise wedding while unemployed, created her own centerpieces, ceremony pillars, easels, and marquee lights. Her husband even got involved by assisting with decorating invitations.

"Interviewing is like going on a bad date, so wedding-planning activities kept me sane and helped break up the stress,” explains Anne, who was unemployed at start of her engagement, only to find the roles reversed when she found a job and her fiancé lost his. He used some of his new-found free time to refresh skills by completing a coding boot camp while Anne immersed herself in the upcoming big-day details.

Getting together with friends for an evening of wedding DIY can help keep the mood light and costs down. Before you invite your crew over for a night of crafting surprise-ball favors and fun escort cards, "Keep in mind that just because you have time on your hands, that doesn’t mean your family friends and bridal party will be available to hang out with you,” reminds Shanholtz.

Make Connections As You Plan

In being open with people you meet on the wedding-planning front, you’ll find cost-cutting tips, advice and emotional support. You might even find a job! Think about it. Planning a wedding requires multiple meetings and loads of collaboration. That means lots of networking opportunities and a lot of people who may know about job openings in your area of expertise.

"Opportunity is everywhere. Take advantage of it," says Dara Lynn Smith, who was unemployed during the final months of her wedding planning. Dara didn't hold back when it came to discussing her job loss. By being very vocal about her situation she was able to score a few side gigs to supplement her income such as dog walking and reviewing local restaurants while searching for a new position. While the side gigs weren’t a career, they helped Dara fill financial holes and eventually made her realize her career calling was actually in... weddings! "I bounced ideas off vendors and kept in touch with my wedding planner after the big day,” Dara explains. With the blessing of her husband and wedding planner, she decided to create and make the operation of her wedding blog — The First Look — her career focus. While every vendor may not inspire a new career, your openness and honesty may help you find a familiar story.

Practice Self Care

Job loss can trigger feelings of inadequacy, emptiness and confusion. Be kind to yourself. If you are the one who's without a job, don't neglect your own self-care. If it's your partner, take care to underscore that he still adds much value to the relationship — with or without a job. Pamper yourself in between planning seating charts, designing decor and updating LinkedIn profiles. Anne found serenity in getting in shape for the wedding. “Working out consistently was key to my mental and physical well-being,”

And of course, pay attention to the health of your relationship. Think of this hiccup as practice for issues to come, says Vikki Ziegler, relationship expert and author of The Pre-Marital Planner, Ziegler suggests taking a moment to remember why you fell in love: "This is the perfect time to look to your upcoming marriage vows — whether you've already written them or have yet to create them. Let them serve as a reminder of why you love each other and the promise you're making to each other to sustain that love," she says.

Keep the focus on all the good that comes with weddings. Employed or not, getting married is such an exciting time. Instead of zoning in on the problems of juggling wedding plans, budget management and job hunting, remember the memories you’ll be creating together that will last a lifetime

Start at the Bottom

Those once-in-a-lifetime wedding memories may be priceless, but every single wedding line item comes with a price tag. Unfortunately, loss of income means having to take a fresh look at the budget. Big-day elements may have to be downsized, become DIY projects or jettisoned.

Sit down with your fiancé and analyze your finances. "It's unromantic, but you need to take emotions out of it," says Cindy Shanholtz, owner and creative director of Effortless Events in Chicago. "Then, get down to business and make it work."

Take a close look at the cost of needs, likes and wants and determine what money will be coming in from sources such as unemployment benefits or even help from your parents.

Shanholtz suggests taking your projected wedding budget and dividing by the number of guests. She says people are often surprised by the results once they realize the cost per person. Catering typically takes the largest chunk of the budget, making slicing and dicing your guest list the number-one way to cut costs. Says Shanholtz: “Invitations shouldn’t go out until you are six to eight weeks out from your wedding, so if the job loss happens earlier on in the planning, trimming your guest list is the fi rst and best place to start.”

Next, look at additional cost-saving measures. An easy one is to nix the favors. “Unless you can eat it or drink it, I don't recommend favors,” Shanholtz says. Hosting your wedding at less traditional dates and times can reduce budgets as well. Weekday weddings will be less expensive as will weddings held earlier in the day for brunch. "An omelet will always be cheaper than a fillet," says Shanholtz.  

Analyze Your Contracts

So you've revised your budget and have some cost-cutting ideas in mind. Where do you go from here? The next step is to analyze contracts you've already signed to look for wiggle room.

When negotiating contracts,, you want to sign off on the minimum number of guests possible, Shanholtz says. “It’s much easier to add guests to a contract than it is to subtract.”

Booking vendors far enough in advance should allow you to make changes as your planning timeline unfolds. But once the contract is signed your negotiating power will be diminished to a great extent. That said, explaining your fi nancial situation to your vendors can lead to price adjustments even on contracts that have been signed. Take for example Anne S., a recent bride who was able to work out a deal with her photographer to get a lower rate by paying for his services in cash. Some vendors may be willing to renegotiate contracted prices if you agree to pay in full at an earlier date than originally agreed upon.

If a contract is already signed, speak with your vendor about making adjustments as needed: be it working with a lower head count, shifting the wedding date or tweaking the food and beverage offerings. “Most people are understanding and want repeat business,” Shanholtz says, adding, “The majority of vendors are going to work with you.”