Yay, you're getting married! Time to plan THE MOST EXPENSIVE DAY OF YOUR LIFE! Seriously, attach the name wedding to anything and watch the price skyrocket, it's madness I tell you. Sometimes I've wondered why I'm not using the funds that will be spent on ONE DAY to put a nice down payment down on a house but then I think of all our family and closest friends witnessing the big commitment, of them praying over us as we enter our sacred Union and I remember why we hopped aboard the crazy train. And full disclosure - I'm going to be 32 this year but I've dreamed of dancing in a big group with my sorority sisters at my wedding since the day I accepted my bid. Point is, the wedding is happening.
Any experienced bride will tell you that controlling guest count will control your costs. Everything from the tiny incidentals like napkins to the largest singular expense of food has a per head cost so duh, less people = less cost. However, the guest count is a very personal decision. I know people who had their immediate family only and others who invited their entire Facebook friend list. To me, weddings are for family and close friends and it's best to get an idea of how many people you would like to have before planning anything and see if it's reasonable against your budget. I'm actually inviting less people than I budgeted for because as I was finalizing my list I had to think about those last few spots and I figured if I had to ponder it than no matter who I came up with they weren't close enough to warrant an invite and I'm not filling spots for the sake of it, but that's my preference. Point is, guest count is very important towards wedding costs but it's not part of my money saving advice and my "saves" are based on what our guests would have costs with other, more expensive options.
I tend to be a pretty formal person so I knew from the get-go that I wanted the wedding to have a formal feel; however many of the people we are inviting are coming from across the country so we also want to have a warm, welcoming vibe - ie not black tie. A word to the wise though, increasing the formality of an event increases the cost so keeping your princess desires in check with non royal bank account realities requires a lot of work and with that is my first cost saving tip . . .
1. Plan Your Own Wedding $1,500+
I'm one of the last of my friends to get married and for years when a friend mentioned stress and wedding in the same sentence all I could think was wah wah, so hard planning a big fancy party but WOW, I get it now. First off, there are so many options for weddings so sorting through all of them takes time - one big time suck is a lot of vendors don't publicize their price so you have to reach out to anyone you're interested in to see if they are a match or not. So, it's very tempting to hire a wedding planner to do some of this work for you and it's pretty sweet for them too because a lot of it is work they've already done. For example, when we first got engaged I looked up about 40 wedding venues, made up "info sheets" with the price, pros and cons and a picture of about 14 of those to discuss with my family and fiancé and physically visited four. Meanwhile a wedding planner would already have this info and doesn't spend hours looking it up for each bride. Based on the planners I've met there's approximately $1,500 difference between planning and coordination packages (do spend on a day of coordinator so you can enjoy your big day). In addition to saving I just like the idea of doing it myself. Yes, a pro could have probably directed me toward my venue but I'm not getting married there because Jane Doe wedding planner said oh, based on your budget and style this is the place - I'm getting married there because I looked up what all is out there and this is the place I fell in love with. One venue we toured including planning in their rental and said basically all I had to do was tell them colors, get the officiant and show up - no way! Maybe that appeals to some brides but I don't want to be part of some wedding factory thank you very much.
2. Location, location , location $2,000+
I used venue in my previous example because it's a pretty big deal. The venue is in itself a large expense but also different venue rules will dictate the types of vendors you may choose. The venue sets the tone for the wedding and also you don't have a date until you have a venue so locking one down is a pretty critical first step. Of the venues we were interested in they ranged from $1,800 to $9,000 and you don't have to be a math wiz to figure out that the budget venue costs $7,200 less than the most expensive one we considered but picking a venue isn't just about price point, it's about ambience. Ultimately we narrowed it down to three spots that would allow us to host a "southern glam" wedding as far as ambiance and wound up with the one that costs the middle between the three and costs about $2,500 less than similar venues.
3. Let Them Eat Cake (and real food too) $3,000+
If you're new to wedding planning brace yourself, I'm about to let you in on the financially saddest parts of the process: think about your favorite restaurant, visualize their menu and think of the price next to the filet, got it? That's how much it costs to serve your guests plain chicken when instead of going to a restaurant you want the food brought to you . . . Oh and that's served buffet style with "nice" disposable plates. Yeah, take a minute to cry about it, I sure did. This is one area where referrals are great. Think about it, advertising costs money so the business you think of first because they have a big ad in the society magazine each month yeah, you're paying towards that ad. However, there are lots of really great, know them through word of mouth caterers out there. Also, don't forget that the caterer is coming to your wedding venue, who cares if their facility is in the fancy (high rent) part of town, as long as they run clean, professional kitchen who cares if they are in the middle of nowhere or somewhere you'd never go alone at night. Catering costs is something you need to consider when selecting your venue - some require the use of the in house caterer, this is common with country clubs and many venues are "all inclusive" but be sure to get the menu price before think the $2,000 facility fee is a bargain. Other venues require you only use vendors off their preferred list, which is great but only if those vendors are within your budget. And yet some vendors allow any licensed vendor you want in their facility - this gives you the most flexibility in vendor selection. There is of course plenty of other ways to save catering - serve buffet style, limit food choices, have appitizers only at an off meal time. Personally, I think your guests came a long way and took their time to come support your marriage - you owe them a nice meal that doesn't involve juggling a glass of wine, their purse, food plate and trying to actually eat while huddled with nine other people around a cocktail table but again, that's a personal preference. A lot of caterers offer wow factors or focus on artfully displayed food - we're not having that. To us, offering three entrees was more important than ginger rosebuds on each plate.
4. Get your drank on $4,000+
Another way venue can play into your total costs is off they require alcohol purchased in house or if you can bring in your own alcohol and bartender. Our venue allows us to BYOB as long as a licensed bartender us serving. This factor alone put the venue that aesthetically was our top choice out of the running. The price to serve our guests just beer and wine for our five hour reception by paying per head to the venue would have costs us over $4,000 more than what we'll spend on alcohol buying it directly from the liquor store and hiring bartenders through our caterer. $4,000 y'all!!!! And guess what, the stuff the other venue was going to serve wasn't fancy, we're talking Bud Light. No freaking way.
5. Let the music play $2,000+
Once your guests are properly fed and have fun adult beverages to enjoy you'll probably want to have some kind of entertainment - typically that involves music and dancing. Unless you have personal connections to a band or can find ones just looking their name out there a DJ is always going to be a more affordable choice. But if you really have your heart set on live music try looking for a duo or trio in your town that plays with limited instruments vs a full band set up. For my wedding I was really interested in hiring a duo where the husband plays the guitar and both sing but got vetoed they would have been only a few hundred dollars more my DJ but thousands less than a traditional band. We did wind up going with a DJ, which does have many pros such as flexible music vs a set list, different music styles , and came with lighting. We did wind up hiring a live musician for the ceremony and cocktail hour because I personally just didn't want to walk down the asile to a CD recording.
6. Pretty as a Picture $1000+
Aside from food and beverage, photography tends to be one of the big expenses. In my opinion it's also one of the most important as it's the most tangible service from your wedding - the food will be eaten, the flowers will die but the photos will last forever. When I first started researching photographers I was crushed - many charged $4,000 or more and I just didn't have that in my budget. Many people in the wedding industry will tell you you get what you pay for and to just suck up the expense of a photographer it I personally have found that just because a photographer has a lower rate doesn't mean they suck - they may just be harder to find. Here's my shortcut for finding them - look up some of the more lower priced venues in your town, chances are the couple's at those venues also didn't have a large photography budget, and see what vendors have been tagged on their social media as doing weddings there and find one whose work you enjoy. Also, keep in mind that while on your immediate circle wedding budgets may tend to run the same but in your city there will be brides with a wide variety of budgets and bridal shows will attract vendors at a variety of price points. We actually met our photographer at a bridal show and loved the idea of having two shooters but before we met them I was about to be perfectly happy selecting an exceptionally talented lady that photographs frequently at a value-priced venue in our town.
7. Smell the Roses (and peonies) $500
One of the details you'll want you photographer to capture are your flowers. I found my florist using the vendors at lower priced venues sleuthing method I mentioned above. Selection of flowers is going to be a big part of the cost - did you know peonies cost $9 each??? Personally I'm a huge fan of hydrangeas and they happen to not only be a large flower but also a budget friendly flower. Another cost saving method is to alternate arrangements of guest tables, or have all guest tables have smaller arrangements with some statement arrangements at the head table. Try to be multi-purposed in your arrangements as well - for us the table centerpieces are also being used during the ceremony and my bouquet and all of my bridesmaids bouquets will be on the head table. For my 10 guest tables I'm doing two statement arrangements, four tall arrangements and four short arrangements. Of course, some brides simply DIY their flowers and that saves even more but you need to take your time, skill and sanity into consideration when going that route as things cannot be put together more than two days before the wedding.
8.The Dress $1,000+
Another "detail" of the wedding day is the brides dress. Personally I think there's way to much emphasis on this. You do not need an expensive designer gown to get married in. Yes, wedding dresses in general costs more than other formal gowns but there are plenty of lovely options in all different styles available for under $1,000 I don't care what the people at Kleinfield's say. If you are really on a tight budget don't be afraid of a used gown - remember it was only worn for eight hours. And the whole 2nd dress trend. . . I can't even!
9. Ride with me $400
A lot of brides also have a transportation budget. Unless you live in a city like Chicago or New York and you don't have a car this is a completely ridiculous waste of money. No one cares if you show up to your wedding or leave in a limo and most have a minimum time to book. Don't be the assholes making your guests wait on you so you can go joyriding around in your rented limo.if you really want the experience it would make a really fun first anniversary outing!
10. Invitations $600
Ever since I received my first invitation I dreamed of sending out cream colored engraved invites of my own as I LOVE stationary and the fancier the better. But when my local stationary shop quotes me over $1,000 for invites and response cards I was crushed - I really couldn't justify spending that kind of money and what will ultimately wind up in the trash. I turned to online and considered all types of printing options (check out my video on invitation types) and while don't get me wrong, many were quite lovely they weren't the engraved invites I dreamed of . . . Until I found out about a small printer in NC - Reaves Engraving. The same set that would have cost over $1,000 through a stationary shop costs $410 buying directly from the printer. They are elegant, classic and everything I ever wanted . . . And well within budget!
With weddings it's so easy to get sucked into the "have to have" mindset and it's also easy to get overwhelmed and just sign with the first vendor you meet and I get it. One thing that saving over $10K won't save you is time but in the end it was worth it - I got to have a wedding that was pretty damn close to my pinterest dreams, my Dad is happy we came in pretty close to his budget (which I'll admit when we started I thought was going to be impossible) , my guests had a good time, were well fed, had plenty of drinks to choose from, and said everything was beautiful and my groom and I didn't have to put expenses for a day that has come and gone on our credit card. I wouldn't change a single vendor we selected or do it differently. I was a fun day but seriously, a lot of work - thank goodness I never have to do it again!
Happy Wedding Planning, and don't worry - it's only a short period of your life - you will survive ; )
Happy Wedding Planning, and don't worry - it's only a short period of your life - you will survive ; )