It was the big moment you’d been waiting for…he popped the question, you said yes! You’ve announced the big news to family and friends. You’re obsessed with the prismatic lights that reflect off your sparkly new ring. You can barely concentrate as you daydream about the next big moment: the slow, elegant walk you’ll make in your gorgeous couture wedding gown, the exchange of vows in front of everyone you know, the elaborate celebration to follow. Then you hear the record scratch as your visions of a celebrity-style wedding are slapped by reality…how are you going to afford all this?
It’s certainly no secret that weddings aren’t cheap. You could buy a car, a house or even a small plane for the amount that some people spend. Of course it’s natural to aspire to throw the biggest, best and trendiest wedding you’ve ever seen, but let’s be real – unless you’re fortunate enough to belong to the small percentage of the population for which money isn’t an option – you’re going to have to have a budget.
One of the first things you should do before you start planning anything is to determine the budget. It’s something that needs to be agreed upon by both you and your fiancé. And as tempting as it may be, you really shouldn’t over-extend yourselves. Sit down and figure out what’s comfortable, and stick to it. The last thing you’ll want is to put you and your spouse-to-be into serious financial debt before you even say “I do” and neither do you want the arguments and stress to take away from this very special time. So how do you manage to put together the wedding of your dreams? You seriously don’t have to spend a fortune. With some research, creativity and a good deal of effort you can produce an amazing and memorable event without depleting your 401k.
A huge factor in whether or not you can stick to your budget is the size of your guest list. Your mother may insist that you invite every single great aunt, uncle and second cousin, but really, it’s all about inviting the people you’re closest to. Having a head count of 300 guests is not only going to be extremely expensive, but you’ll find you spend the entire night trying to make rounds to every single table and it won’t allow time for you to enjoy yourself. Most likely you’d rather be out on the dance floor with your friends versus engaging in polite conversation with your dad’s Aunt Gladys whom you haven’t seen since you were twelve. You may worry that you’re hurting feelings by not inviting everyone you know, but in the long run you’ll be happy that you kept your numbers down.
One of the most important decisions you’ll make is where you’re going to host this shindig. The venue will determine the personality of your wedding. If you’re aiming for sophistication, the rod and gun club won’t do. The rental may be super cheap, but even if you spend a fortune fluffing it up with décor you’re not going to gain the elegance you were trying to achieve. On the other hand, if your style is more laid back and casual there’s no need to sink your budget on a Cinderella-like castle. A great way to keep costs down is to find an all-in-one location, where you can have both the ceremony and the reception. There are more options than you may realize, and a diamond in the ruff could be right down the street from you. Consider a winery or vineyard, farm or ranch, university facility, community center, theater or performance hall, a bed and breakfast or lodge, or an historic building. If you’re able to find a venue which offers a lot of warmth and charm, you have a great canvas to reflect your wedding’s personality. Dress it up for elegance, or keep it casual by allowing the building’s character to speak for itself. And by choosing a location not accustomed to hosting weddings you might be able to snag a pretty sweet deal on the rental. There may be more work involved, and the setup and tear down may be your responsibility, but it will be worth it, and more likely than not you’ll have plenty of loved ones eager to pitch in.
Speaking of loved ones, don’t be afraid to use their talents. Do you have someone in the family or a friend who is a photographer, a baker, a hair or makeup stylist, florist, musician or artist? Enlisting the people you know to help out in their given specialties is a great way to save some cash. Often they’ll offer their services at a deep discount, or better yet – free! You’d be surprised how many will tell you to consider their help as your wedding gift and they’ll feel quite honored that you asked them to have a part in your special day.
Food and drink can be another big expense. Don’t feel you have to serve your guests fillet and seafood. In fact, no one said you’re obligated to offer beef, chicken and fish. Neither do you need to give your guests a served meal. Buffet dinners are fine, not only are they usually less expensive than a seated meal they give your guests more to choose from. Shop caterers to find the best deal and don’t be afraid to negotiate! And don’t rule out grocery stores and restaurants, many of them cater too. If you’re planning to have an open bar, it’s not necessary to offer a full array of top shelf liquor. You’ll eat up a lot of your budget by doing so. Keep it to wine and beer. If you feel the need to have something else, consider a signature drink, such as margaritas, something fun and fruity, or your favorite concoction.
Flowers and centerpieces are other elements which can become costly. Here’s where you can evoke your creativity to produce something really cool. Your centerpieces don’t have to be towering four foot vases with flowers and ivy spilling out of them. Consider using a few glass cylinder vases and bowls filled with water and floating candles, bamboo, or twigs. Pillar candles of varying heights can be set on mirrors and decorated with ribbon or velum to match your colors (just be sure to find out your venue’s policy on candles, they may need to be contained in glass). If you have your heart set on using flowers, talk with your florist to find an inexpensive bloom and be sure to use something that’s in season at the time of your wedding (same goes for the bouquets). Another great way to save money is to incorporate the guest favors as the centerpieces. Mini lanterns, small potted plants or votives are a cool way to fill up the table and everyone can take one home at the end of the night. The options are aplenty! Do some research, be prepared to do the work yourself (have a centerpiece making night with your bridesmaids!) and get those creative juices flowing – you can produce something truly unique, fabulous and expensive-looking for a really sweet price if you’re willing to put forth the effort.
Many brides and grooms these days are opting to not have a band or DJ and are instead dancing to tunes from their iPods. You can rent the stereo equipment or find someone you know who has it. Ask a friend or family member to announce the wedding party and other parts of the reception such as the cake cutting and bouquet toss. Plus you’ll hear the music you really want, no more Electric Slide or Hokey Pokey – unless of course it’s your grandmother’s signature dance, in that case you may have to concede!
You can save quite a bit of money by making your own invitations. There are a ton of resources on the internet, or you can find some great DIY kits at your local craft store. You can also make your own place cards and table numbers. Anything that would need to be done by a printing company can be done at home with a computer and printer – it just takes some creativity, time and patience. If you know someone who is an artist or graphic designer you can ask them to help you create something really special, and your guests will think you paid to have your invitations custom designed!
Of course one of the most important things (in the bride’s opinion) that you’ll be spending money on is the wedding gown. You’ve probably had a vision in mind since you were a little girl. It’s your day to look more stunning than ever, all eyes will be upon you and naturally you want to be amazing. Unfortunately, wedding dresses aren’t cheap, and even though it’s something you’re going to wear only once for a few hours it’s natural to want to give yourself enough room in the budget to get what you want. Don’t expect to get something couture or a Vera Wang if you’re limited to a few hundred dollars, but you can certainly still find something that looks great on you. Luckily there are bridal shops such as David’s where you can find a decently priced gown, and they have a ton of options. Also, be on the lookout for discontinued styles which you can get at a discount. If you find a dress that you know is “the one” and the sticker price sends you into shock, don’t be afraid to search the internet for it. A lot of people sell their gowns on eBay, Craigslist or at consignment shops, and you just might get lucky. Even if it’s not the right size you can have it altered, which most likely you’ll need to do regardless. (Remember to allow some spending room for the alterations, having your dress fit to flatter your body will make you feel your best.) When it comes to accessories, don’t set yourself on needing new jewelry. Chances are your mom, grandmother or future mother-in-law will have something they’d be absolutely honored to have you wear.
If feasible, leave room in your budget to allow for a honeymoon, even if it means you need to cut corners in places you’d rather not. Many couples put off a honeymoon because they’d rather spend their funds on the big day. They tell themselves they’ll take a trip later, or on their one year anniversary, but most of them never do. There’s a reason for a honeymoon. It gives the newlyweds a chance to unwind from all of the pre-wedding chaos and time to celebrate their new life together. Anyone who’s been married will tell you the wedding day itself goes by in the blink of an eye. Once it’s all said and done, after the adrenaline rush is over, you’ll be so happy to have something else to look forward to. Even if you take just a few days to spend time at a local bed and breakfast, give yourselves a honeymoon, you won’t regret it!
Regardless of whether you’re spending $5,000 or $50,000 you can put together an amazing event with the proper planning, research, determination and a good attitude. Have fun with the process, don’t let the fact that you have budget get you down, consider it a challenge! Use the internet. (It’s a wonder how anyone planned a wedding prior to it!) You have so many resources at your fingertips. You’ll find page after page of wedding guides, tips and advice. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are great places to share ideas with other brides and also give you a platform to share stories and vent your planning frustrations with others who are going through the same thing. You can find awesome deals on favors, wedding party gifts, cake toppers, toasting flutes and cake servers by searching the web. The internet is a bride’s best friend, so take advantage of it…and remember that while you’re typing away it’s perfectly normal to be distracted by that new sparkly thing sitting on your ring finger!