Wedding's off! Now what?

Jilted brides and grooms turn nuptial leftovers into cash

(Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
July 28, 2013|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco | RedEye

Charlene Zomaya bought her white wedding dress, shoes, jewelry and plane tickets for her destination wedding in Lebanon. Her fiance was tasked with booking the venue and ordering the flower arrangements.

Then came a phone call that lasted only 30 seconds but changed everything.

"It was maybe two weeks before the wedding that he called and said he didn't want to get married anymore. He didn't explain anything and just said, 'I don't want to.' And none of that stuff was refundable," said Zomaya, 26, a social worker who lives in Ravenswood. They never spoke again.

Canceling a wedding can leave a would-be bride or groom heartbroken—and just flat-out broke.

With the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. pegged at $28,427—and more in Chicago at nearly $50,000—jilted parties are looking to recoup the costs for those dream weddings that weren't. And while there is such a thing as wedding insurance, it covers events such as extreme weather conditions but not changes of heart.

When her fiance broke off the engagement in November 2010, Zomaya fled to New York for a week to avoid further embarrassment. When she returned, she didn't want to venture outside her home for fear of running into friends or family and having to explain that she didn't make it to the altar.

"While I was sitting in my room and looking at all this stuff, I was trying to think of the best way to get rid of it all," she said. "Everything was right in front of me every time I looked in the closet, and it's a lot of stuff and it's big stuff. My apartment's not big enough to hide everything and get away from it."

She started looking online for advice on how to deal with what happened as well as ideas for where she could sell her unused wedding items. (She had spent $4,000 on her wedding.) While there were plenty of options on sites such as Craigslist and eBay, Zomaya was looking for something more—a place to unload her stuff and her feelings.

So in 2011 she created myweddinggot

cancelled.com, a small site that is part social network, part online marketplace.

Another site, bridalbrokerage.com, popped up in May 2012 to provide an option for would-be couples to get back some money that they put down on the venue and other vendors such as photographers.

The site estimates that more than 250,000 weddings are called off every year, based on research that approximately 2.5 million weddings occur per year and roughly 10 percent to 15 percent get canceled.

"If you cancel a wedding, normally you're out that money," said Heather Gates, the chief operating officer for the site. "There's a chance you can get some of their money back."

People with canceled weddings register as sellers on the site, providing information about their wedding purchases such as the amounts they've put down for deposits, the balances remaining and the dates of their events. The brokerage firm acts as a liaison between the couples no longer getting married and the ones who are willing to pick up the balances on already scheduled venues. Buyers get a discount and pay a fee that goes to the selling couple and the site.

There are more than 10,000 registered buyers looking for weddings mainly in California and New York, Gates said. Since April, there have been more than 100 sellers who have canceled weddings all over the country, she said.

While it is upsetting to cancel a wedding and part with what were supposed to be sentimental items, buying and selling those things may not be as taboo as one would think.

The benefit to selling items online is that consumers get a discount and the sellers quickly can get rid of the reminder that the "happily ever after" didn't happen, said Jamie Miles, editor of theknot.com, which has a "wedding woes" message board to talk about such topics.

"At the end of the day, you returning a couple things or selling things is better than you making the wrong choice and regretting it down the line," she said.

CELEBRITY BREAKUPS

Celebrities seem to have it all: fame, career and love. But even they get cold feet or dumped. Here's a look at stars with broken engagements so far this year.

>>Britney Spears and Jason Trawick called it quits in January.

>>Alison Pill and Jay Baruchel called off their wedding plans in March.

>>Kat Von D and Deadmau5 ended their engagement in June.

@lvivanco

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