Budget Wedding Planning 101: What To Skip (and where not to skimp!)
Another wedding planning post? What is going on?? Well, some of you might not know this, but I’m an event planner by trade (10+ years! yikes…). Since it’s engagement season, and tons of couples are getting hitched (My friends included! Yay!), I wanted to dive into the wonderful world of wedding planning, just for a second, so I can help you save THOUSANDS of dollars on your wedding without sacrificing style, glamor, fun, or whatever else you’re after.
My husband and I just got married in June, and even though I’ve been planning events for years, I learned a LOT from planning our 100% DIY wedding on a 6 month time-line. Now I’m here to answer your wedding planning questions, and point all you newly-engaged couples in a financially-responsible direction.
Do you know someone who is planning a wedding? Pass this post along and save them thousands of dollars. Best wedding gift ever! Let’s dive in.
Budget Wedding Planning for Beginners
This is a funny headline, because, guess what?… pretty much ANYONE who plans a wedding is beginner, unless you’re a professional. You typically only get married once (or at least, that’s the plan), so you want the day to be the most magical celebration possible.
Yet, you’ve never done this before. When was the last time you pulled off flawless logistical acrobatics on the first try?
The expectations are through the roof, thousands of dollars are at stake, EVERYONE is watching and expecting you to pull it off, all while you are also the star of the show! …You ARE Superwoman, right?
These crazy expectations can cause a lot of stress – and you don’t need more financial burden on top of it. Keep your priorities straight and deliver an unforgettable wedding by focusing on the pieces of your event that will stick with your guests the most. In the post below, I’ll show you how to invest in the high-return areas of your wedding, while ditching the necessary stress than comes with excessive details.
Weddings Aren’t free – But you don’t have to go broke either
Unfortunately, we don’t all have heaps of cash lying around to spend on a giant party. Some do, and that’s cool, but I don’t want to dump my life savings (or my parents’ retirement money) into a 6-hour party. The average wedding costs over $30,000……. Yuck, I just felt my brain cringe.
Sometimes the price tags are so big, they seem fake. The same way the earth is 93 Million miles from the sun, and you’re like uh-huh, because you don’t even know what that number means. Sometimes I think wedding vendors conspire to drive prices up, inventing new traditions that require more things, and charging way more than something would otherwise cost – just because it’s for a wedding, and they know you’re feeling spendy.
But this is REAL money. Don’t forget that. Do you know what you can do with $30,000? I’ll break it down for you:
Things you can do with $30,000:
- Travel the world for 6-months as a couple
- Buy an H&R Block franchise
- Pay off your student loans
- Rent a private jet for a weekend
- 20% downpayment on a $150,000 house
- Take a cruise around the world
OR you can spend it on a 6-hour lavish party full of frills and traditions. If that’s your thing, that’s great. At least now you know your options.
The good news is that you can spend well-below the average $30,000 and have a gorgeous wedding that everyone will be talking about. Your biggest expense will likely the be the Venue. Broadly speaking, this includes: tables, linens, china, bathrooms, lighting, space, tent, dance floor, staging, sound system, kitchen facilities. Sometimes they also include the food and maybe even the bar! One-stop-shops can be a great way to keep costs down and avoid any “surprise costs”, if you find the right venue.
Your next biggest expenses will be your bar tab and your food. I outline how to cut costs on these items, below. There’s no need to run up an outrageous bar tab and you should seriously consider this aspect when choosing a venue based on their rules on outside alcohol or purchasing bottles at-cost. More on that below.
While decorations and your dress might take up the majority of your time, these things should be your smallest expense. Keep your eye on the big picture: It’s easy to get weighed down (and stressed out!) by all these little details – many of which will go unnoticed! Prioritize function over fashion in the details department.
I would caution against thinking your 100% DIY wedding would be cheaper than an all-inclusive package because you need to purchase each thing a-la-carte that would otherwise come standard with a venue rental. The benefit of a DIY wedding is you get exactly what you want, but in the end it may be more expensive than a package deal, and it’s a LOT more time-consuming to hunt down all those vendors. No matter what direction you choose, always shop around and negotiate.
Skip these 12 money-pits at your Budget Wedding
Some things that seem important at your budget wedding, could just be “traditional”, or convenient, and won’t really be missed if you skip them. This will save you big-bucks in the process.
Think about the most recent wedding you went to.
OK, now think about the centerpieces?
Wait, you don’t remember what they looked like?
Don’t sweat the stuff that no one will remember.
1. Skip the Expensive Dress, “Dance outfit”, and Shoes
My advice for brides is to wear your wedding dress all night. You don’t need a second outfit for dancing – just buy a dress you can dance in and save hundreds of dollars. And about that wedding dress: I wrote an entire post about how you can have a perfectly gorgeous wedding dress for under $200 (including alterations!). There is absolutely no need to spend more than that. Your bridesmaids can also have a dress for under $100. Just be smart about your choice for them. Also choose shoes for yourself that are comfortable, over fashionable. I made that mistake at my wedding and needed to go barefoot for most of the dancing… even though my shoes were FABULOUS. No one could see my amazing shoes under my long wedding dress anyway.
2. Skip the Fancy Cake
If a cake is important to you, you can get a great one at your local grocery store and add a topper. Otherwise, the caterer can provide another dessert for your guests, or you can have a candy buffet. We had the caterer serve strawberry shortcake at our wedding. Cakes are frivolous, and are an afterthought for the guests – if they don’t see a cake, they wont miss the cake. Even if it’s gorgeous, most guests will only see the cake when it’s cut up and in front of them.
3. Skip the High Season
Many popular wedding venues and locations have a high season, when prices for a venue and vendors can be double what they are in the off season. You can have your dream wedding in the off season for half the price. If you need to have your wedding during the high season, avoid Saturdays. A Friday night or Sunday afternoon wedding can be just as fun!
4. Skip the Favors
Half the crowd forgets to bring their favors home anyway. Skip the favors all together and no one will notice. If you really want to send your guests home with something, offer a candy buffet or give out koozies or crazy straws at the bar.
5. Skip the fancy save-the-dates, invitations, paper RSVPs, and personalized thank you cards
This will save you a LOT of money and headaches. A basic save the date and invitation is all you need – all the extra frills will end up in the trash. Luckily, we live in a world where the internet exists and it hasn’t turned on us yet, so you can capture your RSVP’s using a URL and passcode that you include on the invitation instead of waiting for the mailman everyday and carefully cataloging your RSVPs by hand (leaving much too much room for human error!). We used theknot.com for RSVPs, but lots of other sites offer this service as well. This lets you run easy reports and save a bundle on postage. You also do not need custom thank you notes either, these super cheap ones from amazon work just fine.
6. Skip the lavish Centerpieces and fancy Table numbers
If your caterer offers free table numbers, centerpieces or candles as part of their package, accept it, and leave it at that. No one remembers the centerpieces or table numbers. Obviously you don’t want clashing colors or bare tables, but opt for a simple, inexpensive option since no one will remember it anyway.
7. Skip Fancy Plated Dinners + Passed hors d’ouvres
Plated dinners and passed hors d’ouvres require a lot more staff (and a lot more $$ in tips!) which drive up the prices, and guests are perfectly capable and willing to get their own food. Speaking of food, you don’t need to serve your guests caviar and oysters from the finest chefs – your guests will be perfectly happy with quality food, whatever it is. I opted for a highly rated caterer and opted for a pig roast along with their pre-packaged “BBQ menu” – their cheapest option. The food was excellent and at $58 per person, all inclusive, it was the best deal I found.
8. Skip the High-end Dance floor.
Opt for the budget dance floor. If you play your cards right, it’ll be covered with dancing party people all night and it wont even be visible.
9. Skip the Instagram-famous Photographer
If you hire a $5k photographer, you will get beautiful photos, but after you look at them a few times, they will live forever on an external hard drive or in a dusty photo album in your closet. What you really need is one perfect shot of the couple and some nice family shots for the parents. Those will be the photos in frames and that’s all that you really need. A low-cost photographer can snap these pictures for you, even if they don’t have thousands of instagram followers.
10. Skip the Hair, Nails and Make Up
This is another wedding money-sink that no one – except you – cares about. Obviously you want to look good, and if you really want to invest in these things, by all means, go for it. I had my hair done for my wedding because my hair is a curly frizz ball and my wedding day had 100% humidity. You are perfectly capable of doing your own make up and nails. If you don’t know how to get the look you want, there are plenty of YouTube videos dedicated to make-up tutorials.
11. Skip the menu cards and ceremony programs
While they are nice-to-have, it’s definitely not worth the investment. They are going right in the trash as soon as the even is over.
12. Skip the Expensive Florist
Flowers for a wedding can cost a FORTUNE if you’re not careful, and this is yet another element of weddings that no one – except for you – will be taking a close look at. Check with your local grocery store floral department about having flowers delivered the day of your wedding. I ended up going with a family friend’s friend, who is a retired florist. She foraged around my parent’s yard and garden for greenery and flowers, and made the most beautiful arrangements for my wedding at about 1/10th the price of a commercial florist! Plus all the materials were free and were super personal since they came from my family’s house!
My beautiful foraged bouquets:
9 Essentials For an Unforgettable Budget wedding
These budget wedding basics really apply to any good party – and they go a long way. Guests will remember how the event made them feel, not how perfect your decorations looked. Unless your decorations are MIND-BLOWING – like having a hologram of your aunt who couldn’t attend – don’t worry about it. Invest in these party-starting details instead.
1. DIY bar
This is a DIY bar — not a cash bar and not a hosted bar. Buy your own alcohol and hire bartenders to serve it. Make sure your hired bartenders also come with licensing and insurance. This is how you and your guests wind up saving a bunch of dough. Not all venues will let you do this, but some will let you buy the bulk alcohol through them at cost, instead of paying per drink. If you buy the alcohol at a large chain store (like Total Wine) make sure they let you return any unopened leftovers — and make sure your bartenders know to only open what they are serving. If you need to have an open pay-per-drink bar at a wedding due to venue restrictions, you can estimate a bar tab of $60+ per person, depending on the crowd.
2. DJ or a Band
If you only have one vendor, have a DJ. They are the life of your party. Obviously, food is important too. But you can have pizza delivered and have a great DJ, and everyone will be happy. Here are a few tips on choosing a wedding DJ: Always get a DJ’s sample playlist before you hire. Start searching for a DJ early in the process so you can find the right fit and have first-dibs. The DJ will set the vibe of the party and it’s critical to have a good one. You’ll have a better selection of good DJs in the off season and prices are much lower. You can also get creative and see if your favorite radio station offers DJ services, instead of going through traditional wedding vendors — you might find the perfect DJ at a great price! A good DJ in the high season might cost $2k+ so be ready for the price tag, and don’t skimp on this.
3. A good, short Hashtag
This is a little cliche, but it really helps motivate and remind your guests to take photos at your wedding. The unique hashtags lets you find them easily the next day. Pick something unique, easy to type and remember, and is short – you don’t want guests on their phones longer than necessary!
4. Good coffee
People love coffee. Make sure you have a coffee bar or coffee service after dinner to keep the party alive – and make sure it’s good coffee. When it’s bad coffee, people will remember it, and you don’t want to be the “wedding with bad coffee”.
5. Clear Directional Signage
Don’t forget that you need to be the star of the show, while also herding cats. Make sure you have clear signage throughout the ceremony site and the venue telling people where they need to go, where they need to be, and where the bathrooms are. You don’t want people wandering around, confused.
6. Day-of Help
This might be the most important of all. Have someone in charge the day of your wedding when everything needs to get set up. As the bride, you will be full booked with your bridesmaids, getting ready. Without someone in charge of set-up, things can fall through the cracks and all your hard work can go down the tubes. I asked my rockstar intern from the office to be my day-of point person, and she absolutely killed it with the help of the groomsmen. I didn’t have to worry about things getting done and my husband and I had the freedom to focus on ourselves on the big day.
7. Getting-ready Snacks
If snacks aren’t right in your face on the day of your wedding, you wont remember to eat…It’s a very busy day. Make sure you have snacks ready to go and make sure you eat, even if you have a tight dress. Also make a point to eat dinner when it’s served.
8. Parking and Exit strategy
Make sure you think about parking and shuttles. Many taxi companies have affordable shuttle vans that you can schedule to bring your guests to the venue from their hotels. If you think people will drive, make sure there is adequate parking in the area. Don’t forget to plan how and who will breakdown the event after it’s over. Many venues have restrictions on this and you don’t want to be staying late into the night breaking down your own wedding!
9. Photos before the reception
Donald and I were SO happy with this decision. We were wedding-ready by 1:30 in the afternoon and took photos until 3:30 when guests started arriving. It’s tradition and superstition that couples take photos after they’re married. But if you look at the day-of-timeline objectively, you’ll have much more time – and location options – to do pictures before the wedding, and then you won’t miss any of your reception!
10. Wow factor
What do you want people to remember about your wedding? Invest in one wow factor element. This doesn’t need to be costly. At my wedding, we had a bonfire after-party with s’mores that went until 1:00am. Step out of the box and give your guests something to talk about for years to come.
No matter how much you plan in advance it will never go perfectly as planned. Remember to accept the bumps and keep your big day in perspective! As long as everyone is having a great time – and you both say I DO! – then it’s a success. 🙂
What do you think? Are you ready to plan your budget wedding?
If you have questions or comments, leave them in the comments below! Maybe I’ll write a follow up post in the future. 🙂
For more tips on wedding planning, here are 100 wedding dresses under $100, and a list of head-turning non-traditional wedding rings.
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