Before I start, I have to acknowledge that in this wonderful, modern day and age there are countless blogs, websites, and forums (including this one!) that have smart, funny, beautiful women saying many of the same things I’m going to say. But I hope that something specific and unique that I share can reach at least one person reading and inspire them in the way that previous bloggers and brides have inspired me.
I’d also like to note that all professional looking photos shared below were taken by Jason Moonwell of http://www.moonsphoto.com/ . I have the release to use them, but want to share his name and give credit where it is due!
I think it is helpful to see a general outlook of where people spent their money in stark figures- one person’s budget wedding is another person’s annual income. It’s also important to remember regional differences in costs.
Our maximum spending amount was $10,000 in the Midwest; Des Moines, Iowa to be specific. We invited 140 guests and 97 people came. This is a general, rounded break down of how we spent our money:
Ceremony music: $350
Wedding Bands: $300
Groom’s Suit & Tailoring: $200
Miscellaneous (Bridal party gifts, license, other odds and ends): $500
A few things were outside of our budget and kindly funded by family, including he alcohol at the reception which was open bar (approximately $1500 spent, paid by consumption); my dress ($300 including alterations and pressing); and the family welcoming dinner (approximately $200 for around 50 people).
It’s easy to say I’ve saved a bundle if you look at the average costs as shared on consumer reports and bridal magazines. Although my husband and I could have easily dipped into personal savings or cut back on our daily living budgets to add additional funds to what our family generously gifted to us, we made a decision as a couple to stay flexible but try and stick within our initial budget.
I was very surprised by his proposal, and had never spent any serious thought or time contemplating what I wanted my wedding to look like. Immediately I turned to the Internet and quickly drowned myself in the beautiful recaps, DIY ideas, photographs, suggestions, and stories of hundreds of other brides. I had dreams of getting married in a local historical farm, then the next day I simply had to have our ceremony in a tiny little rose garden. I was ready to order kitschy red and white baker’s twine, adorable Martha Stewart paper punches in doily lace, and a birdcage veil before the first 24 hours had passed.
With a few deep breathes, my fiancé and I stepped away from the fun stuff and sat down to talk numbers. It is one thing to daydream but quite another to set your sights on a location that will eat up 75% of what you’ll be working with monetarily. The other numbers you have to worry about are guests. Not having planned any large events previously, I was unaware of how space limitations can affect options. With those two numbers locked down, we spent a few weeks checking out venues, picked out favorite, and set the date.
Once we had the ‘where’ and ‘when’ settled, it was time to prioritize. The barrage of suggestions, advice, inspiration, and options can quickly overwhelm so we hammered out what mattered most to us. I was excited about the photographs, so we not only allotted a significant amount of money to pay for the photographer, we focused our energy on finding someone to document our wedding before working on other aspects and tasks. We interviewed with several people, and once we chose three we were comfortable with I began negotiating. I saved a couple hundred dollars by talking frankly with our photographer about our expectations- his packages as stated were either too long or too short. We worked out a deal and chose him because he was the most flexible. I promised to recommend and review him online and pointed out, gently, that I was hoping for some flexibility because he hadn’t shot very many weddings. We saved money, and were very, very happy with our photographs.
Our caterer was tied in with the location, which didn’t upset us because their prices were competitive and their food popular. After doing a tasting, we chose a package and chunked away that sum of money for our estimated number of guests. The next big decision was entertainment. The clear choice to save money is to do an I-pod wedding. We hemmed and hawed and met with a few DJs before completely ignoring the entire concept, moving on to more fun tasks like invitations, table decorations, and bridal party gifts. Note, do not do this! We cared about our guests having fun, we recognized that it was an important decision, but I got sick of deciding and thinking and forgot about it. We did actually save money on this, but only by luck! I finally wised up and asked a coworker who she had worked with, met him once, and booked him on the spot. He was an independent contractor, so he cost half as much because we were only paying him, not the company’s owner, the DJ, and their overhead costs.
The other big ticket item was my dress. I browsed on Etsy, I browsed on Ebay, I checked out Craigslist but didn’t fall in love. I went to a local boutique with my Mom, tried on all the sample sale dresses
and picked out one that was both flattering to my frame but also inexpensive! I did not try on dresses I couldn’t afford, I did not ask for or encourage the salespeople’s opinion, and I didn’t get hung up on the little details that could be fixed or changed by a skilled seamstress. Then, I stopped looking. I’m sure I would have found several other great deals, perfect fits, and beautiful designs. But I stopped looking! Once I made a decision, I saved money by moving on and being excited about it instead of worrying or dwelling on what other people were doing or buying.
I could type a novel if I continued in similar detail about every other decision, but I’ll wrap up this part and offer other, smaller snippets below. The ways I decided and saved money in the big picture for everything after this, such as table settings, centerpieces, table numbers, favors, desserts, and decorations were similar. There were lots of things that cost very little for me to create, print, and make that made our wedding more personal and hopefully more fun for our guests. A personalized cake cutting set and handpainted seating chart were not either of those things- but mad libs and trivia fortune tellers were. I didn’t blindly follow check lists or “to-dos” as preached or shared from anyone, whether it is a blog, bridal shop, family member, or bridesmaid. I did my best to stop and think about the importance of something as it meant to me and my husband-to-be, and how it would affect our guests’ experience. This helped us cut back on expenses, get creative, and keep focused on the marriage part of the wedding along with the event and all its components.
Specific Ways that I saved Money!
-Doing my own makeup. I went back and forth about hair and makeup, and after a trial of both I decided that while I could do my hair, it had more potential to leave me frazzled or upset. So, I scheduled a hair appointment (on-site! More savings than having them come to you) and waited for sales to buy products that would be more glamorous and long-lasting than my everyday wear. I read opinions and reviews online, waited for sales, and did a final run through before the big day instead of hiring a makeup artist. I liked the results, and still have nice makeup to continue using until it runs out.
-Doing things myself. Of course, everyone does DIY projects- but in particular I saved money by making my own purse (bought a cheap white clutch from Target, hand sewed and decorated a flower to attach); programs (printed the front page professionally in color, printed nearby the other 4 pages on regular paper and assembled them myself); made my own centerpieces (planted African violets and ferns in thrifted apothecary jars and glasses to make terrariums); and assembled favors myself (inserted lotto tickets into cheap glassine envelopes and enclosing them, hand stamped and assembled small paper boxes with clearance holiday chocolate inside).
-Letting family help. My mom is very creative and enjoyed some of the wedding-related projects that I didn’t have time to do. Instead of insisting I do it myself, I welcomed her help and saved money (and stress! And time!). She decorated a wedding arch I bought off Craigslist, created pomanders for our flower girls, and assembled our moss ring nest.
-Not getting hung up on the W-word. Add “bride” “bridal” or “wedding” to anything remotely related and the price tag immediately goes up 50%! I bought my white shoes from Payless during a spring sale and my plain faux-diamond earrings and bracelet from JC Penney around prom season. I did my best to avoid wedding related stores online and in person for anything accessory or decoration related. We also bought my husband's suit from a local department store on sale, it was nice, cheap, and he'll definitely wear it again.
Take Away Tips to save a bundle!
- -Enter contests. Stop saying “I’ll never win!” and start entering! I entered online, local, and national contests as soon as I had the ring on my finger. Look on wedding blogs, newspapers, and twitter. I searched on Google, Twitter, and our local paper “Wedding Contest(or)Giveaway” every day and entered to win everything from veils to honeymoons. I won beautiful letterpress invitations from participating in an online bridal expo from Martha Stewart and my flowers ($500 worth) from a local newspaper contest that was for Valentine’s Day. Even if you win something you can’t use- trade or sell it to another bride!
-Start out cheap. Sign up for Freecycle- it is run as an email digest group in local areas where people give things away. No strings! You can send out ‘wanted’ ads as well, so if you’re looking for 100 curly willow branches, blue mason jars, or loads of river rock; there might be someone out there just itching to have their tree pruned, garage cleaned out, or gardens redone. Check Craigslist daily, things go quickly! Make a circuit of your local Salvation Armys, Goodwills, and other Thrift Stores regularly if you’re collecting something or looking for inspiration. I printed out my seating chart at Staples and glued it to a large brown easel I got off Freecycle, and decorated it with Dollar Store ivy vines.
-Always negotiate. I try to apply this to everyday life, and sometimes it is hard to ask but it never hurts. I offered bartering babysitting services, copyediting services, and dogwalking services in exchange for an officiant. No one took me up, and we ended up paying someone- but asking to pay less, exchange services, or add on extra perks in this economy is worth the extra effort or discomfort. We had quite a few vendors come down on price or throw something extra in.
-Use an online rebate site if you’re going to go online. There are several out there- Ebates is what I use (www.ebates.com) but you just create an account, log-in, and buy as usual. They don’t get any of your personal information, and you can get a check or Paypal every 3 months! Every little bit adds up, and most sites, even Ebay, are on there. We also booked our entire honeymoon (Seattle & Alaskan cruise) through Ebates via Priceline and got a nice chunk of change back when we got home.
-Consider resale value. This might be a stretch- but if you’re deciding whether to personally engrave your name and date into something that you’re not sure you’ll want to keep, err on the side of temporary or removable. I tied on instead of gluing the ‘cards’ sign for our birdcage in case I wanted to resell it-see if you can extend the same principle if you plan on reselling things after your big day.
-Use coupons. If you’re crafting a lot, get a hold of the Sunday paper and get the bi-weekly Hobby Lobby coupon and the weekly Michaels coupon. Search on Google for coupons for wherever you’re shopping online before you order- and then go through Ebates too!
-Don’t accept that you have to do, buy, or make something just because you are expected to. I touched on this before, but I’ll say it again. Just because a blog features or a wedding site sells personalized pens for your guestbook or diamond encrusted bridal slippers doesn’t mean you need them. If it is important to you, think about how to recreate it or buy it used or buy it with a coupon by all means. But don’t get caught up in favors, bathroom baskets, flip flop buckets, or photo booths if it isn’t meaningful to you. More than likely, your guests won’t notice if anything is “missing”! I left my cupcake tower plain and white instead of decorating it, but everyone seemed to eat and enjoy dessert regardless!
--Three weeks before the wedding I was suddenly convinced that if our ceremony had no music, or digitally run music, it would be horrible. In a panic, I contacted what seemed like hundreds of musicians, who were befuddled by my slew of “Idon’tcarewhatyouplay! CanyoubethereMay15th! Canyou! Tellmenow!” voicemails. One string quartet came through, showed up as scheduled, but didn’t have a sense of the ceremony and played the music at the wrong times. I blame myself and the rushed nature of the relationship, not them, but basically I paid over $300 because I freaked out. I barely remember them even being there now and I regret not calming down and being rational. Don’t do this!!
-Don’t get stuck on one “image”. While I had a vague sense of “nature” “moss and lime green” “purple hues and birds”- I tried not to get too hung up on having everything look exactly the same or exactly how I pictured it. Buying identical apothecary glasses for my centerpieces would have cost me hundreds of dollars ordering from a store. Thrifting for them cost me less than fifty dollars and added an eclectic flair. Being open to different wedding band styles allowed me to find one I loved for significantly less than the one that “matched” my engagement ring. Being flexible and trying different options instead of honing in on exactly.what.is.perfect will allow you to save money.
After looking at used bridesmaid dresses, sales, and boutiques I decided that if I were going to ask my bridesmaids to buy a $200 dress, I would feel guilty and end up helping pay for part of it. So, I found a color I liked at Target in their satin party dresses and let them choose their own cut and style. They had a cohesive look, wore whatever shoes they wanted, and hopefully were comfortable and happy. By letting go of the beautiful coordinated color schemes and perfectly matching outfits, I saved money for both myself and my dearest friends and family supporting our marriage.
-Compare prices, ask if stores accept competitor’s coupons or will price match. It’s easy to call if you have a certain wedding dress picked out and see if other boutiques in the area have it for cheaper. Keep your eyes peeled too. Things that are perfect for your wedding might already be in your house, or in unexpected places. I found moss balls at the Dollar Store when they were $6 at Michaels, saving me lots of money for centerpiece flourishes.
-Get creative. When choosing a venue, approach places that aren’t advertised as a reception space- I looked into our local Science Center, an architectural salvage shop, a local theater, the Zoo, wineries, farms, barns Performing Arts centers, community halls, and our Art Center before settling on the Iowa State Historical Building. It was a win win- the building was filled with exhibits that added a quirky charm to our reception, with a mammoth, antique fire truck, and dioramas gracing the edges of our dance floor. The more decor a venue has already means the less you have to decorate or fill space, and the more money staying in your pocket!
Check out prom dresses, bridesmaids dresses that can be ordered in white, or thrift stores for dresses to make-over. Ask around to see if you can borrow a purse, necklace, or bracelet that friends or family might already own.
-Be Flexible.Speaking as a somewhat control freak, it was very difficult for me to just let go and go upstairs to get ready. I considered hiring a day-of coordinator to relieve my stress- but I saved money by relaxing a little bit and deciding that if the centerpieces weren’t exactly how I envisioned the night would still be fun. And they weren’t! And it was. If your numbers still aren't adding up, try to add extra income if you need to. I regularly mystery shop, do online surveys, and babysit to supplement my income and it would be easy to start one of these hobbies as you plan for your wedding.
-Keep track of expenses. It is easy to grab something at Michaels one day and something off Craigslist the next, but if you force yourself to look at how the totals are adding up you will have more energy and motivation to creatively pursue your dreams while cutting costs. I saved all my wedding related receipts in one folder and tracked them in a computer document to hold myself accountable.
While I was sorely tempted at some points to throw my hands up and drag my fiancé to City Hall, at the end of the night I was overwhelmed with the sense of community and love that glowed from our family and friends meeting and celebrating our marriage. We did our best to stay within budget while meeting our priorities and having fun doing it. It was so, so worth the extra work and thought to come out the other side with our savings intact and the freedom to enjoy our honeymoon without fearing the credit card bills to come.
I hope my thoughts and ideas can help you plan well and save money as you think about your wedding! Best of luck.