Weddings reflect the individual personalities and priorities of the couple getting married. The focus of this special day need not be about how much was spent or saved. But, with the average cost of weddings running more than $27,000 nationally, according to a survey conducted for the Conde Nast Bridal Group, it’s no wonder couples get antsy when they think about coordinating a wedding.
But does it have to be this way?
“Absolutely not! There is no need to spend tons of money on a wedding when the most important thing is to make it personal,” says Kathleen Kennedy, a chef, stylist and event planner with more than 18 years of experience in the hospitality industry.
Whether your budget is $500 or $5,000, Kennedy’s book, “Priceless Weddings for under $5,000,” offers budget-savvy strategies for making your special day memorable.
Before you begin planning your wedding and reception, sit down with your partner and make a list of your top five priorities.
“This will help to determine where to go all out, and where it’s fair game to cut corners,” says Kennedy. “For instance, if it is important to you that the wedding and reception be held at the restaurant where you had your first date or you know you must have a specific designer gown or a certain DJ that you really like — then you can fit that into your budget and decide to save money in other areas.”
2. Limit the guest list.
Keeping the guest list as concise as possible will drastically reduce reception costs. Most caterers, restaurants and banquet halls charge per-person, so the difference between 100 guests and 150 will be significant.
Rev. Roger Coleman of Clergy Services Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., who specializes in small family weddings, has a good rule of thumb for deciding how many guests to invite. “Don’t invite more guests than you can spend one minute of time with. If you invite 300 guests, spending one minute with each would take over five hours.” And that doesn’t include the actual ceremony, eating or dancing!
3. Cuisine costs.
Food can be the biggest expense at a wedding. Research your options. You may want to consider a buffet instead of a sit-down meal; or host a high tea; a dessert reception; brunch or luncheon instead of a multicourse meal. Another possibility for holding down expenses without sacrificing fine cuisine is “drop-off catering.” The caterer delivers already prepared food and sets it up. Or if you are really adventurous, cater all of part of the reception yourself.
4. Location, location, location.
The world is truly your oyster. There are many options for low-cost or no-cost locations, including local and national parks, forest preserves, your own back yard or that of a friend or relative. Or you can make it easy on yourself and find an all-inclusive package in which the wedding, reception and even the honeymoon are all included in the deal.
A great way to celebrate your wedding at a special spot without the high cost is to plan your wedding during an off-season. Remember too, a wedding on any day but Saturday will reduce the expenses.
5. Wedding attire
Here’s where you have many options for stretching your bridal dollars. You don’t have to buy at a traditional bridal salon. You could purchase a gown at an outlet or from a department store in the special occasions off-the-rack area. Other cost-conscious options include buying a vintage or once-worn gown, wear a designer suit, purchase a traditional gown through a discount gown retailer, rent a gown or check out an online auction to find your dress. Or go for the “something borrowed” by redoing your mom’s or mother-in-law’s bridal gown.
6. Set the mood with flowers and decorations.
If you choose to wed in a location that is already decorated, you’ll see big savings. To set a stylish mood without much work, plan the wedding to take place in a garden, art museum or a beautifully furnished home.
Or consider doing the flowers and decorations yourself.
“One bride I interviewed for the book planted 200 bulbs months before their wedding, and then married right in the middle of the fully-blooming cheerful yellow tulips. Another bought 13 dozen roses at a great price from a warehouse store, ” Kennedy says.
7. Getting the word out.
Invitations are definitely an area where do-it-yourselfers can show off their skills and pocket the difference in costs.
Kennedy and her husband-to-be printed their wedding invitations on their computer, and no one would ever have guessed! They also prepared a newsletter that they sent out a few months before the wedding. “This helped to alert out-of-towners to make reservations in advance and plan a mini-vacation if they wanted to,” Kennedy explains.
8. The magic of music.
For some couples, a band is an absolute must, for others a disc jockey. The advantage of a DJ is you get a master of ceremony to move the reception along and they usually are much less expensive than a band. If your hearts are set on live music, look for bands that have day jobs and “jam” for fun. Don’t rule out high school-aged bands. Or hire a child violin virtuoso to perform for the ceremony — there won’t be a dry eye in the place. A rock-bottom budget option is to set up a playlist on your mp3 player and rent an amplifier and speakers..
9. Picture perfect.
Weddings tend to go by so quickly, and each moment is so precious that having a photographer chronicle the event is the only way to really capture the moment for posterity.
It doesn’t have to be over-the-top expensive. Kennedy says, “When we were married, we knew that photography and videography, were important to us, but we also knew that we did not want to spend top dollar for the services. We hired a friend of a friend who was an art school graduate. She gave us a package deal of a full day of shooting, a wedding book, the proofs and the negatives for a very fair price. Another friend videotaped the wedding in lieu of a present.”
10. Bar service adds up quickly.
Eliminating or limiting a traditional full bar to one or two hours will really cut costs. Alternatives include serving beer and wine only, not serving alcohol at all or only pouring a champagne toast. Depending on the local laws and the rules at your reception hall, if you are able to buy the liquor yourself and then hire someone to pour it — the savings potential is enormous.