We have a set budget. A dollar number given to us by my parents that we can spend, or keep, our choice. During the first few months of our 16 month engagement I thought that we would be able to allocate half of our budget to our new-house fund. After meeting with several caterers I found that it would not be possible. After many discussions we decided to use the money as my parents intended and throw the biggest and best party for all of our friends and family, we expect to have 150-175 guests.
We made a pact that we would make every effort to take our pennies and stretch them as far as possible to make our special day fabulous. We've focused on our guests and making sure that our guests are comfortable and having the best long weekend ever.
Here is how we're taking every penny and trying to turn it into two:
Caterer - we hired a woman just out of culinary school who was starting a catering business. I did a ton of research, ate her food, made sure she was financially secure, and then hired her. Because she's just starting out her prices are low-low-low and her service is amazing. She's so amazing that I've sent her three referrals already. Her food prices are so low that we're able to include a seafood, meat and veggie option with enough so each guest can have some of each. We're having a mid-night sandwich station for our guests who stay late for a bonfire. And on Sunday she is returning with a brunch for 75.
Alcohol - we're providing our own and our caterer is providing the bartenders with $0 corkage fee.
Ceremony Venue - we chose an old church that is owned by the town and run as a non-profit. It's a beautiful location with a crazy-low suggested donation.
Reception Venus - we chose my parents' home so we could extend the party long into the night, have a venue for a Sunday brunch, and so we could have plenty of time for all our DIY decorations.
Rentals - home receptions are not inexpensive, but we did our best to shop around for the best prices on rentals while keeping in mind that a good quality tent was a priority over the cheapest. At the end of the day the rental costs are still less than if we were doing a similarly lengthy reception and brunch elsewhere.
Photographer - this was our splurge, but we will receive all of the digital prints so we can print them ourselves. Our photographer comes with an assistant who will run a mock-photo booth for us.
Cake - I'm making cupcakes for our guests, which will double as favors. I'm also decorating a fake cake for us to cut into
Lighting - we're going to hang paper lanterns in the tent and in the apple orchard. Rather than pay for strands of lights, etc. we made our own LED lights with materials purchased off ebay
Flowers - I'm ordering them online and hired a friend's gardener for a nominal fee to arrange them
Attire - I bought my dress as a sample on ebay for $125 after trying it on in a store where it cost $4500. The alterations were extensive, but a good seamstress can work wonders. Go to someone who specializes in bridal alterations. Shoes, veil, jewelery, etc. are all purchased on ebay or etsy
Bridesmaids - I chose J.Crew dresses and the stalked the site daily until the dresses went from $295 to $110. We bought all of the dresses the day after Thanksgiving when everything was on sale.
Invitations - I found a design online that I liked and then through weddingbee found a designer just starting out who would do the layout for free in return for a letter of recommendation. I took her layout to a local print shop where I was able to choose recycled eco paper and had them print everything for a fraction of the cost of a true wedding print shop. The meticulously cut each invite to size and we assembled them on our own. Because we didn't pay for the layout or for an expensive print shop we were able to include much more information that we originally thought. Our pennies were stretched six times here!
Guest Transportation - We wanted to make sure that our guests could enjoy themselves late into the night. We'll have a bus running from the guest hotels to the reception until 1:30 am. I asked for quotes from five bus companies and took the lowest quote to the company with the best reputation. They matched the price.
Favors - in addition to the cupcakes, we assembled s'mores kits for our guests to use during the evening's bonfire. In addition I bought a few dozen pairs of flip flops for our guests to use on the dance floor, and 50 mini flashlights on ebay for pennies each.
The list goes on, but so far these are our big stretch-the-penny areas. We've spent hundreds of hours working on projects and planning, but in the end it should be worth it. We'll be able to have what would otherwise be a $75k-$100k wedding at a fraction of the cost.