Rachele Palmer won't be getting married until next May, but she already has started planning the big day.
The full-time graduate student at Augusta State University and part-time worker says she is glad to have the time to plan it out.
Paying for formal attire, flowers and the big bank-break -- the reception -- adds up. A wedding is a hefty investment in a time of economic instability and rising oil prices -- and price tags.
"It does make you nervous," Ms. Palmer said.
Brides still want to have a memorable, elegant wedding, but they seem to be more aware of the costs, according to local wedding consultants.
"We have seen people be a little more conscious of what they buy than before," said Margaret Scott Penix, a bridal consultant and wedding coordinator for the past 18 years at House of the Bride bridal shop in Surrey Center.
She also is the wedding guild director for St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
They're shopping around longer, she said: "They're not just jumping into something."
Connie Deloach, one of the two wedding coordinators of Cordially Invited, says the wedding industry is mostly recession-proof.
"Families want to make this once-in-a-lifetime event memorable," she said.
Spending on weddings was going up for a while, she said, but it has leveled out. Now, it's a matter of prioritizing.
For Ms. Palmer and her fiance, Chad Ferons, the priority is the honeymoon.
"It's the trip of your young life," Ms. Palmer said.
She is trimming costs in other areas, having a friend take the photos and another cater. She is also keeping the numbers down -- they're planning for 70 guests.
Mary Fowler, who is set to wed Brian Boyce on Sept. 6, will have help from family friends in her hometown of Waynesboro, Ga. The Medical College of Georgia students say their wedding will be "big, but simple."
They will have 300 guests but will have the wedding at a church and the reception at a family friend's house, with another family friend providing the food.
It is not because of a budget -- her parents saved money for her wedding to be able to finance it; rather, it is what Ms. Fowler wants: "I always knew I wanted to keep it personal."
The symbol of a wedding, the shades-of-white dress, is also an investment.
Ms. Penix said most bridal companies have increased wholesale prices 10-15 percent.
The biggest trend Ms. Penix has noticed is that bridesmaids' dresses are being bought from stores such as Banana Republic, J. Crew or Ann Taylor, where they're more likely to be found on sale.
"They're looking, as always, as something they can wear again," Ms. Penix said.
Ms. Deloach said that out-of-town vendors are increasing fees and that delivery charges have increased. Rentals can include tents, tables, linens and glassware; anything the facility doesn't have.
Pat Miller, the director of sales at The Partridge Inn, said she has noticed a trend in that wedding parties are trying to cut down on reception alcohol costs.
"There are a number of more beer and wine or cash-bar opportunities," she said.
Some brides have elected an open bar during the hosted hours and switched to a cash bar after that hour, she said. Sit-down dinners have been less popular than serve-yourself stations.
Flowers are another cost of the wedding celebration. Pam Johnson, the owner of Rainbow Floral in North Augusta, said she has added $1.50 to delivery fees because of gasoline prices. Ultimately, though: "They're going to order what they want."
No matter what the economy, there will always be weddings and funerals, Ms. Penix said.
Ms. Palmer said she is most looking forward to having all of her family get together for her day.
"I think that's why I'm planning something like this rather than going to City Hall," she said.
Moreover, she said, it is the tradition. It is a day that she, and most women, think about "that's supposed to be the best day of their lives."
Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.