Sunday, November 2, 2008

The $30,000 question: Plan a wedding on a budget (Part 1)

If you had $30,000 would you spend it all in one night?

Unless one too many margaritas have clouded your judgement in Vegas, I'm going to assume your answer would be "no." (The small amount that would consciously spend that much in one sitting can probably afford to anyway.) But what if you were neither rich nor impaired by inebriation, and were instead getting married? Would your answer to the $30,000 question change?

The wedding industry in the United States has been trotting along at a sprightly pace with its head held high for many decades, regardless of how the economy is doing. Recession who? Subprime what? Exactly. A total of $125 billion -- about the size of Ireland's GDP -- was spent on 2.1 million weddings in 2005, according to the "American Weddings" study conducted by The Fairchild Bridal Group. estimates the average U.S. wedding costs about $30,000 -- not including the engagement ring or the honeymoon. A breakdown of the $30,000 looks something like this:

Reception: 50% (Site fee; rentals; food; beverages; cake)
Ceremony Site: 2% (Location; officiant; marriage license)
Wedding Attire: 10% (Gown; accessories; groom’s attire)
Photography/Videography: 10%-12%
Flowers: 10% (Bouquets; boutonnieres; d├ęcor)
Entertainment/Music: 4-6% (Ceremony; cocktail hour; reception)
Stationery: 2-3% (Invitations; programs; thank-you notes)
Wedding Rings: 2-3%
Transportation: 2-3%
Gifts: 2-3% (Attendant gifts; favors)
Tax/Tips: 5%

Before I begin, a may-juh (or so Posh would say) congratulations goes out to Cali Bar Girl, who jut got engaged!! She asked if I had any ideas on how to plan a wedding on a budget because she felt that she and her fiance's income could go to better use than on a one-night wedding party -- perhaps paying off loans, or saving for retirement. I agree that when rationally examined, the money can definitely be put to better, planned-out use, such as a downpayment on a home. That being said, I feel like weddings tend to sap all rationality out of a budget, so no judgement on those who plunk down $50,000 to $100,000 on their wedding. (I've been to a $100,000 wedding and have to say, it was downright fabulous.) Most of us don't have $100k laying around, though, and probably wouldn't spend it all on a wedding if we did, so where to start?

First off make a real budget. Seriously. There are so many extras and details in the wedding planning process that if you dive headfirst into the riptide without a budget, you will most certainly be swept out to the sea of overspending. Statistics show brides tend to outspend their budget by about 15% on average when all chaotic planning is said and done.

So grab a cup of coffee and make a list of all details that will revolve around your big day. The list will probably look a lot like the bulleted breakdown mentioned earlier. You probably won't know how much is "realistic" to spend in certain areas, such as food, flowers and wedding favors (I know I didn't!) so do some research online to see how much on average things cost.

Once you've set your budget, the challenge for you savvy savers will be to get as much as you can done for far below what you have budgeted for. Consider your price points as "maximums" (i.e. the maximum amount you would pay for each thing). The less you spend on wedding details, the more you'll have left over from your planning budget to use elsewhere in your life, such as putting aside in savings, or paying down debt!

Right off the bat, there are four steps you can take to save loads of money:

Completely forego renting a traditional venue and have your wedding and reception at a state park, beach, or public garden. These days even a seemingly "lavish" wedding on a beach in Malibu is possible, since the state rates for public sites are a pittance (think a couple hundred dollars), and many sites have historic "clubhouses" or "mansions" that you can use to take photos, set up tables and get prepped in. (As an example, check out these state park wedding sites in California.) This will save you tons of money, since the cost of the ceremony/party venue can be upward of 30% of your wedding budget. For more information, google your state's official website and see what your region has to offer.

If you insist on celebrating in a traditional venue, say a local winery, then plan to have your wedding during an off-peak season. Spring and summer are the most popular seasons for weddings, so plan on paying top dollar for a wedding site if you get hitched during this peak period. If you're flexible with dates, check out prices between late October through February. The cheapest months to hold your wedding are January, February and March, according to In many places, such as the California coast, you can still have a "garden wedding" in the fall and winter because of the moderate climate.

Have your wedding and reception on any other day than Saturday. Saturday night is the most popular time of week for ceremonies and receptions. Try booking a venue for Friday night or early evening on a Sunday.

Choose flowers that are in season and easily attainable. I'm sure you really need that rare, eggshell-hued exotic genus of hibiscus ... or do you? To drastically cut down the cost of your wedding, research which flowers are both common to your area and are in season. Gerbera daisies, traditional daisies, chrysanthemums, statice, Queen Anne’s Lace, freesia, baby’s breath and gladiolas are generally the best-priced flowers year-round, while spring is best for irises, violets, daffodils and tulips. Lilies are abundant during the summer, and sunflowers and orange blossoms abound in the fall. For a list of all flowers by season, click here. I'm a classic girl and wanted roses (my favorite flower) at my wedding. Roses are notoriously one of the priciest flowers you can buy, but with a little research we were able to buy roomfuls of roses at wholesale prices in the colors I wanted at a local nursery. Research nearby nursuries and ask about special wholesale rates, even if they don't specifically advertise for this.

Part of the fun of planning a wedding is to personalize all the little details that make up your big day. Throwing some cash at a wedding planner is an easy way out, but no one said "easy" would be the most cost-efficient.

Things you can do yourself, contrary to what any wedding planner will tell you:

Why hire a DJ when you have an iPod? Enlist your husband's best man or your favorite charismatic relative (ideally before they've had five glasses of champagne) to announce the bride and groom's entrance, the father/daughter dance, first dance and toasts. No long-winded speeches by your "stand-in DJ" required. For the rest of the night let your iPod "wedding playlist" (which you planned in advance, of course) run on its own throughout the night for free. Music never sounded so good!

Wedding favors. Ah, the wedding favors -- yet another way the wedding industry suckles every last penny out of your wallet. There are many vendors out there who'd love to capitalize on your anxious desire to buy 150 boxes of personalized M&Ms at $5 a pop, or 200 boxes of heart-shaped "Love Beyond Measure" mini-measuring spoons (yes, they really do exist) at $3 each, but if you're on a budget don't give in! Wedding favors are one of the easiest things to do yourself. For some ideas: One of my friends burned CDs with songs they knew they'd play at their wedding, and personalized each with sticky labels and cases they printed out themselves. Or you can buy candles in bulk and cover each with a square of tulle and ribbon, which my mom did for my wedding. Target offers a bevy of favor box options (such as these or these) that you can fill with candy bought in bulk and adorn with ribbon. (One spool of ribbon, which is probably all you'll need for these, can be bought at any craft store for cheap.)

The wedding bouquet. Having a special wedding bouquet made for you by a specialist can cost anywhere from $100 to $250. Sometimes even more, depending on what flowers you choose and what kind of an arrangement you want (cascading versus hand-tied, etc.). A charming old Italian florist named Bepe made my wedding bouquet for about $100 in the Tuscan town of Lucca where Love and I got married. Stateside, though, it generally costs more, depending on where you live. Don't forget your bridesmaids and groomsmen will also need bouquets and boutonnieres. These extras can cost between $50 and $125 each and definitely add up, so if you're feeling creative or know someone in your family who is good with flowers and can help, make them yourself. There are a myriad of videos on YouTube (such as this one) that you can learn from and many professional florists even teach the tutorials!

Phew, that was a long post. Log on next time for cost-cutting ways to plan a wedding on a budget, Part 2!


Sunflowers said...

I think I would feel bad even spending a couple thousand on a wedding, let alone 30k!! :\

Anonymous said...

I'm getting married in Feb, and while we are doing some of the things you say - like getting married on a Friday and having in-season flowers (even though that means I can't have my beloved peonies - sob!) I have found that there's only so much you can do to lower the cost. So many things just become more expensive as soon as you mention the word 'wedding'! We're spending an outlandish amount of money mainly because in order for everything to be as stress-free as possible, it means paying up. Lots of people with more energy and determination could certainly do it cheaper, but it would take a lot of time and energy! At least we're not going into debt for it, but sometimes when I look at the spending spreadsheet I want to gag!

Frugal in Virginia said...

Great post!

We got married on a late Saturday afternoon in August, just over two years ago for a little less than $8000 , and we received so many compliments on what a beautiful wedding it was. We had about 150 guests and served a full dinner, so it could have easily been very expensive. We learned a lot of ways to cut costs to make it happen though. Some ways we saved money...

We didn't have floral centerpieces. Instead we used candles, small vases, and rose petals. It just took a little more creativity and work.

We bought a lot of our wedding decorations one item at a time using the 50% off Michael's coupons that come in the Sunday newspaper. Yes, it's time consuming, but we had a 12 month engagement and found the effort to be worth it.

Many of our wedding items came from eBay. What a money saver. There are plenty of people looking to sell their once-used wedding items, so take advantage of those bargains! (After our wedding I resold many of the items on eBay, recouping some of the money spent.)

Finally, if anyone reading this is in VA, there's a great bridal shop in Lynchburg that I encourage you to check out. It's run by the YWCA, and bridal shops and designers donate dresses. The money goes completely to the charity, and all the dresses are less than $300, I believe. I scored a designer dress that usually would sell for about $1600 for only $300. It's called Church Street Bridal if anyone is interested.

Crystal said...

Sunflowers: I know, but weddings always end up costing more than you think!

FruGal: I agree that there is only so much you can do, but then to go above and beyond and *really* start saving it takes time, energy and determination (putting centerpieces together at 1 a.m. with my mother, father and fiance proved that to me!). Paying a lot to have the details taken care of does make everything easier and less stress-free, but it ends up inflating the wedding budget by a lot. P.S. I love peonies!

MrsAdams06: That's fabulous that you were able to throw such a beautiful wedding under $8,000! I'm very impressed! :) I love all your ideas, thanks so much for sharing them. Great deals can be found at Michael's; your weekly 50% off coupon idea is an excellent example of how those deals can be harnessed!

Cali Bar Girl said...

You are amazing! Thank you so much for your tips! We had already decided on a Friday night wedding; it's amazing how much it cuts costs.

Also, apparently some vendors immediately raise prices when they hear the word "wedding." One of my friends just said that she was having a large party and the prices for some things went down. It's ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this - some truly terrific ideas!

My sister is getting married next year, and is flying in to NYC in a few weeks to go dress shopping because there is only one bridal shop within 3 hours' driving distance of where she is, and the cheapest dress is $4000. She'd like something with one less zero, so it totally justifies the $360 she just spent on airfare.

As for the rest of it...that might not be so easy because she lives in the Winter Playground for the Rich & Famous.

jill said...

We have a wedding budget of $20,000 though we might be increasing it since the wedding has now been pushed forward. Anyway, we're still hoping for it to cost as little as possible but we're afraid that there might be only so much you can do before it blows out of proportion.

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