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11 Tips For Cutting Costs On Your Wedding

11 Tips For Cutting Costs On Your Wedding

If there had been a sunset, well, then, we would have walked off into it.

Weddings are way too expensive.

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.

I asked for hair like Debi Mazar in <i>Good Fellas</i>. This is as close as my hair gets to that.

I asked for hair like Debi Mazar in Good Fellas. This is as close as my hair gets to that.

  1. 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.

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    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.

  2. 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.
  3. placecarddetail

  4. 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.
  5. The tulips bloomed.

    The tulips bloomed.

  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. I still love that damn cake.

    I still love that damn cake.

  10. 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.
  11. Oh sure, in pictures the weather looks perfect.

    Oh sure, in pictures the weather looks perfect.

  12. 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.”
  13. My hair looked better before the ceremony.

    My hair looked better before the ceremony.

  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. We danced into the proverbial fire.

    We danced into the proverbial fire.

  17. 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!

Comments (10)

  1. Nov 9, 2009

    That cake is amazing.

    We got married in a tiny historic chapel up north (“up north” is the pretty part of Wisconsin) with just immediate family. Then, later, we had a Sunday brunch reception on one of those dinner cruise boats. Many of our attendees were from a rural area, and every wedding up there is exactly the same: same hall, same menu, same decor, same DJ. We wanted to give them something different. Also, Sunday brunch is a time when even people who tend to drink a whole lot will drink less, and that was a concern with a couple of family members (for behavioral reasons, not financial ones).

    We actually got thank-you notes from a few of the rural attendees, who thought it was a very big deal to have a champagne brunch on a boat. They’re still talking about it…and we got married with no debt at all.

    Also, I got a $1000 wedding dress for $137 because it was a sample size. To this day it’s still my best bargain ever.

  2. Nov 9, 2009

    Ooh, brunch is a great idea!

  3. Becka
    Nov 10, 2009

    As a pro photographer I disagree highly with this. Most people can not do the same work as seasoned professionals even if the photographer they work with will allow them to purchase the files (which more legitimate businesspeople will not allow).

    I have had so many brides call me in tears after their wedding asking if I can do an anniversary shoot for them just so they can have some good photos because they hired someone off craigslist who was uninsured, unprofessional, new, and had no idea what they were doing.

    With photography, you very much get what you pay for.

  4. Nov 10, 2009

    Hi Becka,

    Fair enough — in every profession, there are people who are experienced, cost more, and are worth it. But I am talking about ways to cut your budget, if you decide that photography is an area where you’d like to cut. From what I understand about photography, there are technical skills and then there is a kind of artistic “know-how” that cannot be taught, exactly, like an instinct — much like writing, I suppose. I think if photography is a priority for a bride, then she should by all means seek out that professional with technical skill *and* that artistic gift. But that still doesn’t mean that she has to pay for more than the pictures being taken — in my mind, that is what the photographer does that cannot be done elsewhere, capturing the moment. My point was about paying for that capture, and then using tools available to you to edit pictures because you don’t absolutely have to have the photographer do that for you if you know how to use photoshop well.

    It’s like my dress, I spent an unholy amount of money buying a Monique L’huillier dress. I’m sure a bunch of people thought I was insane, but it was important to me, however silly, that I buy that dress, and not a knock-off or whatever. Some people will feel that way about going to a photographer, and that’s cool. I just want to try to get people thinking about what they are buying, because although I totally believe there are expensive photographers who are worth it, I also believe there are expensive photographers who are NOT worth it. People just have to learn to look at things critically, particularly if they are on a tight budget.

  5. Nov 11, 2009

    12. Cupcakes!

  6. Nov 11, 2009

    First off, I’d like to say I love reading this blog! But this is the first time I’ve commented. I too am a professional photographer, and I unfortunately disagree with your advice. In recent years the art of photography has been devalued and degraded with everyone and their mom starting a “photography business”. You’re not just paying a photographer for the time they are at your wedding. I estimate I have at least 30 hours into one wedding. I also have a lot of business costs to keep up with. And I would like to make enough to put food on the table and pay my bills, but I can’t do all that charging $1000 for a wedding even if I’d have one every weekend. It seems like there is a lot of advice out there to try and find a “cheap” photographer off of craigslist, but this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, unless you truly don’t care about having quality photos of your wedding, and in that case why hire someone at all? There is a mentality now that photographers who actually charge enough to make a living are ripping people off. That is not the case- they just want to make enough to live. *stepping off my soapbox* (I hope you don’t take anything I said the wrong way, it is not my intention to offend anyone )

  7. Nov 11, 2009

    Hi Shannon — thanks for commenting! I know how hard working as a photographer is, actually, since my husband has done it a few times (this is not his job, but he’s done it on the side as a hobby). It’s exhausting, demanding work when you’re shooting, and time-consuming when you’re editing. And people don’t really understand what a pro photographer adds to a picture. I think my post came across as dismissive of the value of a pro photographer, which is unfortunate, because I do highly value and admire the work of professional photographers. My point was more of the “you cannot afford a pro photographer” variety . . . it’s just one of many choices, and some people have different priorities, don’t really get the value of a seasoned professional, etc. And I also know that there are people who do pro photography who have inflated prices, which is not to suggest *in any way* that this is true all the time, just that it does happen. The unfortunate reality is that the general public does not look at their purchases critically. They might want to have gorgeous wedding photos, but they just cannot afford them. In the case of that, I have to give them the option of Craigslist, just because it’s a way of getting a photographer there when you’re on a very tight budget.

    I do think that the amateurs with new camera technology have contributed to a misunderstanding about what talent it takes to be a pro photographer. And I also think that people are not particularly skilled at assessing work — you can hit the saturation button in Photoshop and fool some people into thinking you’re a good photographer — I know, because I do it all the time! 😛

  8. Nov 12, 2009

    lol….Maybe you could do a post about pro photogs someday 😉

  9. Nov 18, 2009

    Hey Anna!

    I too have never commented but I’ll go ahead and chime in on this one! I completely understand where you’re coming from with the advice of finding a talented photographer on Craigslist. In the situations where you simply don’t have the money for another solution, this is the kind of advice that makes sense in many ways. You just have to be that much more critical about who you decide to hire off of Craigslist – it can go either very very good or VERY VERY bad with these kinds of things, which I think is what you’re getting at.

    The part of your advice that I do feel uneasy about is the part about buying the original digital negatives. My husband and I are pro wedding photographers and we give each of our couples a copy of the final edited images from their wedding. This is something that I feel the couple should definitely have for many reasons. However, if a photographer is willing to give you the original files, I would be extremely hesitant to even hire them. This is not a legitimate business practice in any way shape or form and really is a red flag for me. Most photographers don’t shoot on JPGs files anymore (they’re too small to edit correctly – especially if you don’t know what you’re doing), but we shoot on much larger files that a consumer can’t even view, much less process, on their computers without certain professional programs (not Photoshop – we use different software meant for professionals only), so this advice (I don’t mean to offend) can’t even be done with most situations.

    I could go on, but the bottom line is please, please, please don’t edit your own images! Its not worth it. Let a pro handle making you look fabulous, even if that pro is from Craigslist. 🙂

    Again, this is just my 50 cents from years of experience with working with brides, vendors, and images. I always love reading the blog and really appreciate how its so thoughtful!

    Erin

  10. Dec 2, 2010

    This is such a wonderful post, I really like how you added pictures from your own wedding to demonstrate. You are right, so many think about the glamour of the wedding that they forget to focus on the marriage. While you are budgeting and saving for your dream wedding, have you considered who will manage your finances during your wedding? We have a few questions that will help brides and grooms to-be create a financial plan before the wedding date. This will help save a lot of tension and frustration later in your marriage.

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