As a wedding coordinator, one of the top questions I get asked is, "How can we keep our wedding budget from getting out of control, but still be great?" The answer is always going to depend on the couple, and to help sort out this complicated issue, I always ask the following questions:
1) What are you willing to do without?
2) What are you willing to do yourself? and
3) What are you willing to do to stick to your desired budget?
1) WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO WITHOUT?
First, make a list of your top 3 priorities or must-haves for your wedding. These can be concrete items like:
- A sit-down, served dinner
- Top-shelf liquor
- Award-winning photography
Or, they can be feelings or general ideas that are very important to you and your partner:
- "I want to make sure our guests have an incredible meal."
- "I want to ensure my fiancé and I don't stress over all the details."
- "I want to throw the party of the century."
Plan to not touch your top 3 priorities in the decision-making process-- we'll aim to compromise on them the very least unless absolutely necessary. Then, make a list of your top 3 unpriorities? Is that a word? Whatever, you know what I mean. Your can-live-withouts. For example:
- "Doesn't need to be a fancy, formal dinner."
- "I plan to strap a GoPro to my Best Man's forehead so I don't need a videographer."
- "I wouldn't care if there were zero flowers present at my wedding."
From here, start with your can-live-withouts. Either omit this item completely, or choose a lesser degree of the service or item to help save money.
You say don't need a formal dinner, so make a Process of Elimination List of alternatives in order of estimated cost (start from the end of the list if you need to), and see which ones you'd be happy with, and what is the lowest level you're most comfortable having at your wedding. It might look something like this:
You've narrowed your options down to three, and from there, you just have to do some cost analysis and figure out where you get the biggest bang for your buck. This strategy works in a variety of situations:
2) WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO YOURSELF?
Pretty straightforward, right? Generally speaking, the more you're willing to DIY, the more money you'll save. This will mean more work for you and the unfortunate souls you recruit to help you, however, so choose wisely. Here are some popular categories people choose to DIY:
You can rent audio equipment easier than ever these days, and for a fraction of the cost of a DJ or band.
All you need to do is hook up your own iPhone/iPad/laptop/digital music device whatnot, and give Pandora's "Hipster Cocktail Party" station a run for its money.
Make sure you consider all aspects of the day that might require music and sound (AKA a microphone) and ensure you have proper amplification (do a sound check!): prelude, ceremony processional and recessional, cocktail hour, reception introductions, dinner tunes, formal dances, special events like cake cutting and speeches, and party time. This article from Pitchfork gives some good inspiration for musical genres by event.
A word of warning: depending on your crowd and selections, you run the risk of the music flopping and the party ending early. Good DJs know how to read the crowd and adjust as necessary. Also keep in mind, you'll need to have someone well-versed on the equipment set-up, run, and troubleshoot throughout the night.
You can save a metric boat ton of cash by making your own centerpieces, floral decor, and personal flowers.
Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are two brand-name stores that tend to carry a variety of interesting flowers and greenery. Some local upscale or Farmers grocery stores may also have a good selection, but you should scout it out first and, if they take orders ahead of time, you could save yourself from panic mode if their regular inventory changes from what you were expecting.
You can even buy the pre-assembled "everyday grocery store bouquets," take them apart, mix and match, and reassemble them into an artful creation. The Every Hostess has a great tutorial that shows you how to take an everyday bouquet and elevate it to designer style.
Just as with your self DJing aspirations, though, comes a warning: this is one of those DIY projects that must be accomplished within a short window of time; cut flowers are subject to browning and wilting so the fresher the better. I would suggest not starting on your florals any earlier than 1-2 days before your wedding-- the flowers might be new to you, but may have been in the store for several days before you bought them.
This project can be extremely time consuming, especially if you're new to it, and they probably won't turn out like sculptural works of art so the simpler the arrangement the better. Plan to have plenty of people help you, do run-throughs ahead of time and watch YouTube videos and scour Pinterest for tutorials and inspiration.
If you don't want to completely DIY your flowers, ask your florist to create the personal bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages that your wedding party will carry, and do the rest yourself.
Also, consider alternatives to flowers to save some money. Include a lot of greenery, candles, lanterns, or other interesting vessels or items that will be eye-catching, but not wallet-draining.
Ok so obviously you can't DIY the photography at your own wedding. Well, I guess you could take a selfie stick everywhere you went... but this section talks about hiring a professional wedding photographer vs. perhaps just asking a friend that's camera savvy.
This is a tricky one for me. I place a high value on professional wedding photography because, barring any catastrophe that destroys them, your wedding photos will outlive you. They're probably one of the only remnants of the day that will remain on permanent display in your home, and skilled wedding photographers can capture tiny, candid moments that serve as beautiful representations of the love shared between you and your spouse. I have heard from many people who, down the road, have serious regrets about forgoing a pro photographer. You might not think it's important now, but think about 10 years from now when your memories of the day have started to fade.
Photographers can be expensive... yes I know. But before you hire your friend's cousin that just graduated from college with a degree in journalism, however, let's see where we can cut photography costs without cutting the photographer:
- Don't employ a second shooter. I know many photographers that work effectively without one. Find someone who shoots solo a good amount.
- Don't purchase any add-ons like books or prints. Receive your edited photos digitally and print them yourself. Sites like Shutterfly, Mpix, Mixbook, Montage, Miller's Lab, and White House Custom Color make it easy and much less expensive to display your finished photos.
- Find a photographer that you can hire hourly, or for the ceremony, some portraits and the formal part of the reception only.
- Happen to be getting married in the off season? Ask photographers for an off-season discount.
If you really and truly can't afford to hire a pro wedding photographer, ask someone you really trust, try out an engagement session ahead of time to check out their style, and have a very very detailed shoot list and timeline for them to follow.
3) WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO STICK TO YOUR DESIRED BUDGET?
Ahhhhh, the burning question.
Another question I get asked frequently is, "Can I throw a wedding for ____ amount of dollars?" To which I reply, "Of course you can!" The reason this rule is universal to any budget is because you could literally throw a wedding for nothing (except maybe the cost of a marriage license). You'd have to get super creative, but I bet someone out there in the world has had a wedding for zero dollars.
For people who have a lower, set-in-stone budget, you must be willing to set reasonable expectations for your wish list, bend on some things, and make it happen Cap'n. You'll likely have to shave down your Top 3's with a Process of Elimination List as well (see #1 WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO WITHOUT above). Another approach is to use the Value Triangle method to understand what aspects you'll have to compromise on if you have two fixed priorities.
Have you ever seen a value triangle? It looks like this:
Let's apply the idea of the value triangle to a few different examples with cost always being a fixed priority:
Pretty much the first thing you need to figure out after you get engaged.
Your guest count will help you determine the size of venue you need and will be factored into almost every other aspect of wedding planning. If you really want to have 200 people at your wedding and your budget is $15,000, your space size will also be fixed, so you must be willing to bend on aspects like the venue style/formality, date, or quality/amount of food and beverages you'll serve your guests.
Many times couples will have their hearts set on a specific venue and are willing to clip the figurative coupons to get it.
If a venue has smaller rooms, your best bet is almost always going to be to cut your guest list and hold your wedding in the smallest space possible. Trimming your vendor list and DIYing many aspects will also help refocus your budget, and most venues give discounts to fill Fridays, Sundays, or off-season dates.
Or, if you really really love a place but are struggling to afford holding your wedding there, consider hosting a brunch (and party elsewhere in the evening with your closest peeps) or even a cocktail reception with heavy hors d'oeuvres. Both options are becoming increasingly more popular, they're interesting because they're different, and can save you a ton of money.
HIRE A WEDDING COORDINATOR
Didn't expect that, did you? Or maybe you did because I am a wedding coordinator.
It might seem counterintuitive to hire an additional vendor in order to save money. But in reality, wedding coordinators and wedding planners who offer partial planning or consultation services can end up helping your budget in the long run because we perform the following money-saving functions:
- I work with vendors who may offer discounts to those working with a planner
- I can give you suggestions for vendors within your budget, and help keep you from accepting a bad deal
- I help narrow your searching down so you don't get frustrated or overwhelmed, which can lead to make rushed or Hail Mary decisions
- If you're interested in doing DIY projects, I can consult on how to complete them in the most cost-efficient ways
- I can give you advice about what you need and what you don't
- I have a small inventory of stuff you can borrow so you don't have to buy it once and never use it again.
Basically, I can help you with a bunch of little things that end up saving you a bunch of big money AND as an extra added bonus, you get your very own Wedding Assistant to help execute the details of your wedding day.
Hiring your own coordinator is not for vanity, nor is it for the wealthiest clients. Weddings can be logistically complicated events and since most people have never had to pull off a large-scale event before, having a trusted advisor to help you navigate the planning process is truly priceless.