Barter Your Way to a Better Wedding

Once upon a time, back through the mists of history, there lived a caveman. We’ll call him Og. Why? Because we will. Now stop asking questions and listen up.

Anyway, Og was a Terribly Clever Caveman who had managed to invent himself some fire. Alas! He had nothing to cook over this lovely fire. This made him hungry and grumpy.

Down the road a way, there lived another Terribly Clever Caveman called Zog. He had found a foolproof way to trap one of the giant sloths that lived in the area (just stay with me, okay?) and had a lovely huge giant sloth to eat, when he realized he had no way of cooking the meat. This made him hungry and grumpy.

All of a sudden, Zog smelled Og’s lovely fire and got an idea (I told you he was Terribly Clever). He dragged his sloth down the road to Og’s cave and said that if Og allowed him to cook his sloth over the lovely fire, he would gladly share the meat in exchange. They feasted that night on roast sloth, and in the morning they made superfantastic coats out of the hide.

Thus the barter was born.

Over the centuries, human life evolved into more complex (and often far more silly) communities. Rich people started carrying around bits of gold and silver to represent how much wealth they owned. They exchanged these bits of gold and silver for goods and services and thought to themselves how clever they were for not having to scratch anyone else’s back to get a good back scratching themselves.

Other, less rich people often lacked the little bits of gold and silver needed to get good and services. They took a page out of Zog and Og’s book and bartered. For instance, Titus the weaver had more cloth than he could conveniently sell, but lacked bread for his family to eat. At the same time, Andronicus the baker had bread coming out of his ears, where he had stuffed it so as not to hear his wife complain that all twelve children needed new togas because they’d outgrown the old ones. Titus offered Andronicus some cloth he couldn’t sell in exchange for some bread with only a tiny bit of earwax on it, and all was well.

Barter continued on and off over the centuries until an intrepid young vet called James Harriot (not really, but in his books he called himself that) accepted wheels of cheese, homemade pickles, and slabs of bacon in exchange for making peoples’ farm animals healthier. He and his family ate. The farmers kept their livestock healthy. Everybody won.

All of this is just a really elaborate way of saying that barter is a great system when you can use it.

Over the holidays, I spent some time with some good friends. They had piles of relatives staying at the same time, including the wife’s brother and brand-new sister-in-law, who were sharing the photos of their recent wedding.

This couple (we’ll call them Alex and Bobbi, because those are their names) were faced with a dilemma when they set their wedding date. It’s not an uncommon one, either. The simple fact is their bank account couldn’t support the wedding they wanted to have.

At this point, they had two choices. They could either accept that they needed to cut back, or they could find a way to finance their preferred celebration. They chose the latter, and they chose to do it through bartering.

Alex designs websites. Some of the vendors the couple wished to use needed new websites. In the end, they managed to get a free cake, and drastically reduced costs on photography and flowers in exchange for Alex doing some free web design. They saved several thousand dollars, the companies got new and improved web presences, and Alex and Bobbi got the wedding of their dreams without going broke.

A quick Google search later, I learned that Alex and Bobbi are far from alone. Big Day Barter is a message board set up to connect couples who have something to offer with vendors who could use a favor or two. A quick glance showed couples offering everything from computer equipment to landscaping in exchange for photos, reception halls, and catering. There were also plenty of vendors signed up offering their goods and services in exchange for something other than bits of paper or plastic, which are the new gold and silver.

Then I found this article about a British couple who saved roughly $23,000.00 on their wedding through barter. Services offered ranged from housekeeping duties to installing lights in the church to manual labor on the place that would eventually serve as their honeymoon site. It was clearly some hard work on their part, but they had the wedding they wanted and wound up debt-free to boot.

So if you’re looking to save a bit of cash and aren’t good with DIY or cutting back on your wedding day, take a look at what you have to offer other than money. You might be surprised at what you can get in return.

9 Responses to “Barter Your Way to a Better Wedding”

  1. Pat says:

    Thank you for sharing that tale of old 🙂

    A great way to same some money on your wedding is to invite less people to the main reception after the ceremony, which means the Bride & Groom can still be elaborate in other areas. This and other wedding trends for 2009 can be seen at:

    Add bartering to that and you could save yourself even more.

  2. nicole says:

    the other way to save money is better don’t buy too many unnecessary things. Most of the time you will find yourself prepare too many stuffs, and later only realized that most of the stuffs are not really needed.

  3. 7nina says:

    Sorry Pat, but I don’t think that’s a great trend-I’d call it rude. If you’re going to invite someone to the gift-giving portion only and not entertain them, I don’t think it sends a great message. I think it sends the message, I don’t care about you, just what I might get from you.

  4. Twistie says:

    I’m with 7nina on this one, Pat. A guest is a guest is a guest, and I’d be pretty offended if someone invited me to only half the affair so they could have a fancier party for those deemed more worthy than myself.

    It’s one thing to hold a smaller, more exclusive affair. It’s another to hold a large one that suddenly becomes half the size.

    Besides, as Miss Manners et al will happily tell you it is perfectly correct to have a private ceremony followed by a larger reception, but it is not considered at all the same thing to have a large guest list for the ceremony, a large number of whom are then refused dinner.

  5. La BellaDonna says:

    I will make it three – I think it’s working its way up to Highly Offensive to suggest inviting people to only HALF the wedding. If you had suggested “a smaller guest list”, I would have no quarrel with THAT. However, suggesting an “A” and “B” list for the wedding and the reception is an appalling display of bad manners.

    I also wish to provide this Barter Alert: you might want to keep some very careful records, if you’re bartering $23,000 worth of services in exchange for the wedding of your dreams, at least if you’re in the U.S., because the IRS says that bartered goods and services are TAXABLE. Yep, the IRS actually expects to see some taxes, in cold hard cash, on both the bread and the cloth swapped by Titus/Andronicus*, and also on YOUR swaps, Gentle Reader. I don’t know how often the IRS actually pounces on and audits people who barter for goods and services, but the possibility does exist. I’m not suggesting that folks NOT barter – just that they should be aware of a potential fly in the ointment.

    (*Titus Andronicus?!?! Interesting choice. Oh, Twistie, not NtB. Okay, that explains it!)

  6. Twistie says:

    Thanks for that important heads up, La Bella Donna! I must admit I hadn’t thought about that aspect, but it definitely behoves us to cover our butt bows, as it were, just in case of audit.

    Yeah, I know that was an interesting pairing of names, but I couldn’t resist working a good Shakespearian reference into a tale of the Classic World. Or maybe a bad Shakespearian reference. It’s not a play I care for terribly much.

  7. Melissa B. says:

    When my matron of honor got married, her mother-in-law wanted to put a notice in the church bulletin inviting the members of the congregation to attend the ceremony. But my friend’s family was horrified at the idea of inviting people to the ceremony and not the reception (and inviting the whole church to the reception simply wasn’t an option, they’d already booked a venue and were at their maximum as it was) and nixed it.

    My own take on the large ceremony/small reception idea: it’s not my favorite. But I think it can be pulled off gracefully, IF:
    * There is a multi-hour gap between the ceremony and reception (i.e., it won’t be obvious that some of the guests have somewhere else to be), and the ceremony and reception are held at different locations.
    * You offer ALL guests who attended the ceremony some sort of light, simple refreshment afterwards — punch and sheet cake, nachos and beer, cheese and crackers with wine, whatever floats your boat and doesn’t break your budget — and visit with ALL of your guests in the fellowship hall or the lawn of the church.
    * Invite only immediate family and the wedding party to the more formal reception later that day — include no more than 1/4 of the ceremony guest list at the reception dinner.

    I can understand inviting some guests just to the ceremony if you really want to include your whole church congregation but can only afford dinner for 30 people. But if you’re just trying to score 300 guests’ worth of presents while feeding and talking to only 150 of them? That’s rude.

  8. I bartered our wedding services in an even exchange for a new patio and driveway in stamped concrete. I think bartering is brilliant. We always have something we need and clients might have that expertise.

    I need to blog about this!

  9. Kathy R. says:

    Wedding bartering is catching on! I am all for anything to save money these days. You have to be creative and do some negotiating but it is well worth it, you can save thousands. We are using and we placed an ad on craigslist.