When Heather Thornton started planning for her Sept. 10 wedding on Tybee Island, Ga., she analyzed her budget.
Should she pay $5 a chair for seating at her beach wedding? Focus her spending more on catering?
"When it comes to food and alcohol, I'm willing to splurge," Thornton said as she browsed the booths at the Georgia Bridal Show in Augusta on Sunday.
She estimated her budget is between $12,000 and $15,000 and said a sluggish economy hasn't weighed too heavily on planning for her nuptials.
Signs point to a better year in 2011 for businesses that provide wedding services after the economic downturn took a bite out of the budgets of brides and grooms.
Average wedding spending in the Augusta metro area is predicted to increase by 2 percent to $22,855, according to The Wedding Report Inc., a research company that monitors and forecasts wedding spending and trends.
With 3,165 ceremonies forecast, the number of total weddings is expected to be relatively flat.
Attendance at bridal shows has been rising this year, said Tommy Vaughan, the producer of the Georgia Bridal Show, which was held at Bell Auditorium on Sunday.
Shows in Athens, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., had record attendance this year, he said.
The number of vendors was down slightly at the Augusta show, but Vaughan estimated about 1,000 people attended.
Cindy Crawford, who owns Cindy's Catering in Augusta, said she has noticed the number of guests that couples book creeping back up to between 150 and 200. During the recession, it wasn't uncommon to see guest lists of fewer than 100, she said.
"We had to maybe two years ago redo some packages for groups that small," Crawford said. "We had never catered a wedding under 100 prior to the change in the economy. We had to prepare some packages that would be suitable for smaller weddings."
In 2009, average wedding spending in Augusta dipped as low as $18,015 -- down 32 percent from its peak of $26,505 in 2007, according to The Wedding Report.
In Richmond County, fewer couples applied for marriage licenses in 2010 -- 1,556 compared to 1,605 in 2009, according to the county Probate Court.
Susan Bone, the owner of Ladybug's Flowers & Gifts in Columbia County, said she believes wedding spending is heading back up. She said she booked floral arrangements for two weddings on Friday and one on Thursday.
All-inclusive packages for honeymoons are popular, said Kim Evans, who owns A-Way We Go Travel in Thomson, adding that she expected sales to improve 5 percent this year.
Even budget-conscious brides are willing to splurge on parts of the wedding day.
Marianne Watts, 27, said catering was a priority for her May 7 wedding to Kevin Duckworth at The Living History Park in North Augusta, though she added that her father had given her a strict budget.
Friends and brides-to-be Marcy Lagree, 26, and Kathryn Soule, 24, said preserving memories with photos was important to them but that they are doing other parts of their weddings on their own.
Soule said she was planning to buy her flowers wholesale and do the arrangements herself, and Lagree said she was doing her decorations.
Soule said she believes the economy is still on the minds of many brides.
"Everyone is struggling," she said.