11 Tips For Cutting Costs On Your Wedding
Allison is an ABDPBT reader and an event planner from Toronto, and she recently asked me to share my thoughts on how best to avoid going into debt while planning a wedding. I told her that I hadn’t ever written on the topic before, but I’d be happy to do so because it’s a great idea for a post. Rather than addressing the topic of debt specifically, though, I’m going to concentrate on how to get a good wedding for less, and how and where to cut costs and stick to your budget, because, in my mind, the only way to stay out of debt, ever, is to make a commitment that you will not go into debt, no matter what. Without that commitment, it really doesn’t matter how frugal you want to be, because there will come a day where a problem arises and it just seems easier to pull out a credit card. When you’re planning a wedding, problems occur left and right, and the opportunities to try to throw money at the problem will just keep coming up. So the precursor to this list of cost-cutting tips for weddings is the golden rule of commit to never going into debt, no matter what because even if it seems like the world rests upon your ability to have the perfect wedding, the ugly truth is that it is just one day out of a lifetime, and that lifetime will be so much more pleasant if you don’t have debt.
- Take advantage of other people’s generosity, maintain your boundaries, and be considerate. Some people are luckier than others when it comes to financial assistance from their families with weddings. If your family is not able to contribute financially to your wedding, then you will need to realistically assess what kind of wedding you can pay for on your own, in cash, and leave them alone. Please do not ask your parents to go into debt to give you a storybook wedding: this is bad juju and not the way to start out a marriage. But if your family can afford to contribute, and they want to contribute, then by all means accept their generosity. Now is not the time for pride, but bear in mind that when people offer money, they sometimes think that buys them the right to have a say in decisions. This can, and does, lead to budget concerns — your family wants to invite more people, they want a different dinner choice, they insist on an open bar. It’s very hard to stick to a budget with too many cooks in the kitchen. So if you are going to get financial assistance from your family, make sure that everyone’s boundaries and expectations are in check before any money is accepted. It might seem cheap or tacky to talk about money this way, but believe me, you are going to rue the day you agreed to let your mom pick out your flower arrangements because she gave you a few thousand dollars. You would be surprised about how much flowers can cost.
Also, don’t forget that there are lots of ways people can help you with a wedding: maybe they have connections with vendors, maybe they can barter with people, maybe they have access to beautiful venue that they can help you get at a discount, or for free. Which reminds me, the above picture shows where I got married. That was an extraordinary example of how families can be generous with their time and resources — it is the view from my sister-in-law’s home. We had our wedding there — for free. Please don’t hate me.
- Your Budget Is Your Budget. Accept It And Move On. Everybody has a wedding budget. Within that budget are a set of choices. You have to decide where you are willing to cut things, and what you want to spend more on. Nobody can really help you with this at the end of the day. For my wedding, I spent more on my dress but I was able to save on the location fee and alcohol (since I don’t drink this wasn’t tough — we offered beer, wine, and champagne to guests, but no open bar. But more on alcohol decisions later, that is a big budget line-item.) For some people, photography is most important, and others want lots of flowers. It’s up to you. But you should start out with a rough idea of how much each budget item will cost. Even if you get really cheap food, you still have to have enough money to feed all of your guests.
- Beware of the Wedding Industrial Complex: It Eats Money Even When Its Already Stuffed. Any time you can keep the word “wedding” out of your negotiations, with anyone, over anything, you will save money. A white dress is just a white dress, until somebody says “wedding,” and then it’s 800% more expensive. The same goes for flowers, favors, cakes, bands, DJs, et cetera. It’s a scam. Stay away from vendors that talk about offering wedding-specific items — there’s no such thing as a wedding photographer. There are photographers. There are favors, not wedding favors. There are caterers, not wedding caterers. Just keep the wedding part out of your negotiations as much as possible, and keep the vendors on a need-to-know basis about this stuff. As far as the caterers know, they are providing food for a formal event with 100 people (or whatever). There’s no reason they need to know it’s a wedding. This may sound like paranoia, but it’s more accurate than you would believe.
- Simple And Elegant Goes A Long Way. My flowers were white tulips that cost $0.88 per stem from an online vendor, and by arranging them in an unusual way, I got a great effect for almost no money. (We put them upside down and right side up, alternately, submerged in water, in round vases.) For innovative ideas in flower arranging techniques that you can rearrange, check out the lobbies of trendy hotels or restaurants — they usually have ideas that you can grab and recreate at home for less.
- Crafting is your friend. The little details of a wedding can be really seductive when you first start planning a wedding, but it’s important not to go overboard on these little favors and other props, particularly if you have a tight budget. I did a lot of stuff for my wedding ahead of time since I like to do crafts, and if you’re going to do it I definitely recommend the DIY approach. I have no idea what it would have cost me to have all of these things made by a planner — I don’t want to know.
- Use Craigslist to Find Vendors. At my wedding, we had a chef who used to work at Nobu making the food. We found her on Craigslist, and she cost about 1/10th of the estimate we got from another caterer (not coincidentally, that vendor was a “wedding caterer.”) This will require a little bit more footwork on your part, but not a ton. Just post a notice on Craigslist in the area of your ideal reception location and ask for references. You can get a good idea of a reasonable price by asking for estimates from all of these vendors, and if you’re in or near a big city, this is particularly crucial because there are tons of very talented people looking for work that will give you a good deal. You just have to find them.
- If You Have Photoshop, Just Buy The JPGs From Your Photographer. We hired a photographer from Craigslist who had won a Pulitzer Prize for her photography, and she brought an assistant for the whole day, all for about $800. After the wedding, she gave us the CDs with all of the original photographs on it, along with some of her own edits. Since both me and my husband are pretty into computers, we knew we could put out our own photo edits that were as good as any that a professional photographer could do. We just needed a pro to actually take the pictures. This is more work, but in my experience it’s worth it because the markup on photographs is insane.
- No Matter What, Stuff Will Go Wrong. Let It Go Wrong Without Your Debt. It rained on my wedding day, at the end of June. This really pissed me off, and the week before when people said it was going to rain, I was very grumpy. That morning I was in a fantastically bad mood. But the thing is, everything worked out in the end — it turns out that cloudy weather is the perfect lighting for pictures. Everything that goes wrong on that day will have a silver lining, or will become a story that you tell your children. You will be much more at peace with this idea if you don’t go to into debt trying to make your day “perfect.”
- Professional Hair and Makeup Are Probably Optional. A bunch of people will disagree with me on this, but I think that getting professional hair and makeup is not a requirement for your wedding day. Hey! Stop hissing at me! Here’s the thing: when you put your appearance in somebody else’s hands, there is no guarantee you are going to end up looking the way you want. And yes, you want to look beautiful, and glamorous, but you also want your husband-to-be to know who you are when you’re walking down the aisle. In my case, I had a new person doing my hair and makeup since I was far from home, and things did not go as smoothly as they might have. In the end, I’m not sure that it’s always the best idea to spend money on hair and makeup.
- Consider a Destination Wedding. We did not have a destination wedding per se, but we decided to have our wedding at my sister-in-law’s house in New York, and we live in Los Angeles. Not only did this give us a free location for the wedding, it also allowed us to invite a bunch of people that we were pretty sure would not come to the wedding. This is a kind of sneaky way to get around the problems with guest limits and parental expectations for invitees.
- Remember What Is Important. Too many people get caught up on the wedding and don’t think about the marriage. Weddings are fun, and fun to plan, and lots of fun to obsess over. But no matter how little you want to hear it, the wedding is just one day! You have a lifetime to spend with your new spouse, so start it off right!