Everyone will tell you that you need to have a budget for your wedding, but it’s tough to come up with a budget when you’ve never had a wedding before and you have no idea what anything costs. Most people will comb through Pinterest and bridal magazines looking for inspiration, and will find an endless list of fabulous must-have’s. But once into the process of actual planning, they’ll realize that a lot of those things are beyond the budgets of ordinary folks. But that doesn’t mean your wedding can’t be fabulous and Pinterest-worthy. You just need to know where to spend and where to save.
1. Get a Planner. GET. A. PLANNER. No really, get a planner! A good wedding planner is not only worth the money, but they will probably save you money. They will certainly save you from stress and big mistakes. They know what everything will cost and how you can have that fabulous wedding but stay within your budget. They know what’s worth spending on, and what isn’t. And finally – experienced planners know the local industry and they know the vendors. This will work to your advantage (this author is a vendor and knows this for a fact). Planners offer a range of packages, so before you decide you can’t afford one, at least take a look at some websites and make a few phone calls. Be sure your planner is experienced, and ask carefully about what services they provide and don’t provide.
2. Food. This is not the place to cut corners. Unless you are entertaining 150 foodies, you don’t need the food to be fancy; you just need it to be good, and more importantly, to be enough. The number one complaint from unhappy wedding guests is lack of food. Remember that there will be a delay between the ceremony and dinner, so make sure guests have plenty of hors d’oeuvres to tide them over – especially if you’ll be providing alcohol during that time.
3. Entertainment. Whether it’s a band, a DJ, or a photo booth, bad entertainment is worse than no entertainment, so make sure you choose carefully and find an experienced, well-reviewed vendor for entertainment. If you’re going to do a photo-booth, do one that gives your guests something special, like a vintage camper to pose in or a fun backdrop, and make sure your vendor has a good reputation for reliability. Check out videos from live entertainers and DJ’s and make sure their sound and style is suitable for your event.
4. Photography. Like entertainment, it’s better to spend enough money to get a good photographer than try to save money on someone inexperienced or whose style you don’t like. The quality and style of photography varies greatly, and you will notice the difference. If you’re swooning over wedding blog photos and have your heart set on something similar, choose your photographer wisely.
5. Professional Childcare. If you are having a significant number of children at your wedding, say more than 10 that are old enough to run, then you court disaster if you neglect competent childcare. Trust us, we’ve seen the disaster up close, and we are still in therapy. There are companies now that specialize in childcare for weddings, so you’ll have no problem securing your wedding against this existential threat.
Save: (Put down the Pinterest and step away from the computer!)
1. Fancy Table Settings. Look, we love a good tablescape around here, but if vintage floral china, oversized floral centerpieces, and specialty linens for 25 tables aren’t in your budget, don’t despair. You can get a great overall look with simple table decor, too, and if you absolutely must have an over-the-top tablescape, try decking out just a sweetheart table. If you are using a florist for a ceremony arbor or other large flower arrangement, it can often be re-purposed for the sweetheart table. (If you need another reason to hire a wedding planner, that’s the person most likely to do this for you after the ceremony. Many will even have a set of vintage floral china in their personal inventory.)
2. Small Guest “Stations”. Think guest books that aren’t books, Kodak instant camera stations, little displays for guests to fill out this or that fun game, baskets of flip flops or sunglasses. This is the stuff of Pinterest, but in reality it often goes unnoticed and unused. Even DIY-ers will be surprised at how fast these items add up once you hit up your local Michaels for all the craft supplies you’ll need to make them. Decide what you absolutely need and keep it simple and functional. Hint: You don’t need a guest book. Most people don’t even sign them.
3. Wedding Favors. Yes, they are super cute. But most of them are going to be thrown out as soon as guests get home, and many are left behind. If you feel compelled to do favors, choose something consumable, like candy. If you don’t take our earlier advice and spend on hors oeuvres for the cocktail hour, guests can eat them while they wait for you to finish your photos.
4. Programs. Just don’t do it. Most guests aren’t interested in them, and you’d be surprised how many family fights erupt over what is in or out of the program that is going to end up on the floor anyway.
5. Champagne for Toasts. This was a must-have back in the day, but these days it’s perfectly fine to have a toast with whatever drink people happen to have. And if you feel you really need to have champagne, it definitely doesn’t have to be expensive. People are literally going to take one sip, and trust us, they aren’t going to be looking at the label on the bottle.
To sum up, staying within your budget means choosing what is important to you and your guests, and forgetting about what isn’t. Resist the “cuteness” attacks that browsing blogs and magazines (and Etsy) will bring on. Just because it’s adorable doesn’t mean you should buy it. Guests at weddings don’t stand around ooh-ing and ahh-ing at cute wedding favors. They will not remember your chargers. They want to be comfortable and fed first and foremost, so spend your effort and your money where it counts.
Oh, and get a good wedding planner.
Cover photo by Erica Wilcox Photography