Becoming a Bartering Bride

Budget brides, say I, consider becoming bartering brides. Twistie touched on the topic a while back, but I’ll admit that I’ve been kind of a skeptic when it comes to bartering for wedding services and accessories. Bartering suggests a more casual arrangement than one might typically have with a professional wedding vendor, and what if one doesn’t have that much to offer in exchange?


Kerry Coryell might say don’t sell yourself short. She put off her wedding a decade ago when her mom got meningitis and she became her mom’s full-time caretaker. Now that she’s finally able to plan her that long awaited wedding, she’s not going to let a little something like a lack of fundage get in the way of her dreams.

About a month ago, her girlfriend Rebecca Dever sent her an e-mail with a link to photos of a fairy tale wedding shot in Cabo by Lake Forest photographer Bob Ortiz. One of the photos even captured teardrops of happiness welling up in the eyes of the bride as she said her vows.

Kerry’s first thought: Why is my friend torturing me? Her second thought: Why can’t I have a wedding like this? But then Kerry had another thought. It was actually the same thought, but with a more positive spin.

Why CAN’T I have a wedding like this?

In a revelatory flash, Kerry recalled her dental victory. She went to her computer and banged out [a Craigslist] ad. It’s quite possibly one of the longest ads in the history of Craigslist (three pages printed out), but here’s an excerpt: “I am not at all superficial and my clothes usually come from garage sales. I never ask for anything for myself… but this day… just this one day, I want it to be mine, without limits, without settling. I hope you can help me.”

In exchange, she writes, she can sew you drapes, make you a homemade piñata, baby-sit your kids, organize your closets, mow your yard, put on your garage sale, walk your dog, cut your husband’s hair. The list goes on. The ad was posted nearly a month ago. To those who have sent her comments pointing out that the Justice of the Peace costs 50 bucks so get over yourself and your fancy wedding, she has a message:

“I would never tell anybody how little, or big, to dream.”

But overwhelmingly, the responses Coryell received have been positive. The morning after she posted her ad, a DJ wrote her saying that he’d be pleased to work her wedding reception for free, no actual bartering required. That DJ found her a videographer and a ceremony musician. Offers rolled in for tanning, teeth whitening, fake eyelashes, flowers, a caterer and a minister… and that photographer she loved so much?

Yep. He’s shooting her wedding.

It’s a sweet story, though a tad unusual. You see, Coryell had a heartwarming tale that moved a lot of folks to give away their vendor services for free. And Coryell had previous experience with bartering, having successfully traded office remodeling services for $8,000 worth of dental work.

If you’re thinking of becoming a bartering bride, keep in mind that you’ll probably actually have to work in return for catering or your wedding gown. Maybe that means cleaning someone’s house every week for two months or alter someone’s stash of old clothes or babysit or whatever. Make sure you actually have the time, energy, and skills to deliver on your side of the bargain. Barters between professionals tend to work best; for example, you’re a pro carpenter or graphic designer or editor offering your services to a pro florist or caterer or dressmaker.

And, as La BellaDonna notes in the post linked above, because here in the US bartered goods and services are taxable. Finally, be careful who you partner up with when you’re bartering for the big day. Only book a wedding professional you would otherwise book, all things being equal. Some less than savory people may take advantage of you because you’re swapping services or stuff instead of exchanging cold hard cash. Draw up a contract, just to be sure. There’s at least one site that is supposed to help bartering brides find vendors, but it’s not very active. Try Craiglist first.

I didn’t mean to make wedding bartering sound scary, because it really is a great way to work with people to have a wedding that might otherwise be out of your financial reach. I didn’t barter for anything — my pro skillset is that possessed by a zillion other writing and lit. majors — but I’d love to hear from those brides who did in the comments!

2 Responses to “Becoming a Bartering Bride”

  1. caroline says:

    I love to barter with !

  2. Twistie says:

    Barter isn’t always easy, but if done correctly it can save you a bundle, even with the tax obligations.

    Just remember that you have something to give (even if it’s manual labor or time more than skill) and everyone out there has a need.

    Oh, and as NtB says, only try this with vendors you would choose if you could pay them in more conventional ways. You really, really don’t want to spend three months scrubbing toilets or walking dogs for someone who does a lousy job on your wedding. OTOH, those three months of toilet scrubbing aren’t so bad when compared with the perfect wedding photos or a cake that looks and tastes exquisite.