Thursday, November 6, 2008

Plan a wedding on a budget (Part 2)

Me on my wedding day. My husband is on the left, while his brother and my sister (my maid of honor) are on my right.

Part of the fun of planning a wedding is to personalize the details that make up your big day. Throwing cash at a wedding planner is an easy way to avoid the time -- and to some, the hassle -- of party prepping. But no one said "easy" would be the most cost-efficient. A few days ago I mentioned a few tips to have a snazzy wedding on a budget, from hiring your iPod to be your personal DJ to putting together your own wedding bouquet. Here's Part 2 of what would have been a novella if I had crammed it all under one post!

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

Table centerpieces. Bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces, oh my! It's seems like the glue that holds any wedding together (in the decorative sense, at least) are flowers, which, as the mainstay of any decadent party, will be most on display as the table centerpieces guests face as they socialize over lamb shanks and Pinot Noir. To many brides, these floral focal points can make or break a truly fabulous wedding reception. There have even been times in history when royal marriages failed only because the table centerpieces had been all wrong at the weddings. Okay, so that may have never happened, but you get the point: They set the theme for your reception's ambiance. But don't let the gravity of the matter deter you from constructing them yourself! I mentioned in Part 1 that you can buy all the flowers you want wholesale for a fraction of the retail price. Now imagine if you paid retail and had the arrangement done for you. Hint: It would definitely up the price. The total average cost for floral table centerpieces is $1,272, according to The Bridal Association of America (BAA). That's $1,200 you could potentially save by doing them yourself with wholesale flowers. (Ordering from a florist may cost even more than $1,200 depending on what style centerpiece you get and how many you need.)

And if you want more candles or other decor and less flowers, well that saves you even more! You can buy many decorations at Michael's or Jo-Anne's Crafts for cheap, especially if you use coupons. Floating candles, centerpiece dishes, ribbon and a myriad other table decor ideas await you in the wedding aisle. What are you waiting for?

Makeup and hair. Wedding professionals love to have you think that you won't look "your best" on your wedding day unless you have your makeup and hair professionally done -- for what usually ends up costing what could be a small home mortgage in some states. Guess what? The BAA reports that the average bride spends $183 on hair and makeup, and that number can double or even triple in larger cities, where beauty services are generally more expensive.

I get it: Part of the fun of getting prepped on the big day is that you get treated like a princess and have people dote over you, touch up your rouge, curl your hair, the works. I love being spoiled more than anyone I know (okay, almost anyone) and I think it's great to be pampered on your day, but I do think that makeup and hair is something you can do on your own. There are a plethora of YouTube videos on how to do both, and many are taught by experienced makeup and hair professionals. and are great places to start browsing videos.

If you don't trust yourself, but don't want to pay the high beautician fees, than you could always check out a local beauty academy. Academy prices are a downright steal and any wedding-day-related services you get done (like a hairdo or makeup application) won't be permanent in case it turns out not to your liking. Just make sure you have a "practice run" a few weeks before you walk down the aisle. That way you won't be crying tears of mascara-ridden frustration two hours before the ceremony, frustrated and surprised by the too-curly poodle coif you're sporting. (Word of caution: Do not get a haircut or highlights at a beauty school directly ahead of your wedding day!) Right before I got married I had my hair professionally highlighted and cut by my stylist (which I do every 3 months anyway), and did my own hair and makeup on my wedding day. It turned out beyond fabulously! It is possible, ladies.

Bridal veil. Ah the wedding veil, yet another project I undertook myself when, after seeing the price tags on bridal veils I was riffling through, half-choked on my Chipotle soda I had brought along for sustenance. Maybe it's because a needle and thread don't scare me, or maybe it's because I can hold my own in clothing design, but $200+ on what couldn't have been more than two yards of tulle sewn to a cheap plastic hair comb was shocking. Absolutely shocking. I pushed the "bridal veil priority" to the backburner of my mind (I had already bought my dress) and let it simmer there, knowing that I'd be able to construct a better veil for far less than what I had seen in the bridal shop. And guess what? In about one hour on a Thursday night, I constructed my double-layered veil out of two yards of a tulle, a plastic hair comb, and about 5 inches of satin ribbon to hide the stitching. (Check it out in the picture above). Total cost? Here's the breakdown (all bought at a local craft store):

* Two yards of tulle ($3.50)
* Clear plastic hair comb (50 cents)
* One foot of satin ribbon ($1.00)
* White thread ($1.00)

Everyone was impressed with the final product, including me (since I had been in a hurry while crafting it). And it only cost $6.00!

Even if you're not a designer at heart, bridal veils are INCREDIBLY EASY to make. I cannot stress that enough. I know I've repeated that everything is "so easy" to do yourself, but trust me on this. I've seen veils sell for between $150 and $500, which is a complete and utter rip-off. (I don't care if it was featured in last month's Bride Magazine.) Wouldn't you love to use that extra $200 you saved on a veil to pay down your debt or put away in savings? That's what I thought. Next time you're at the bridal store, study one of your favorite veils from the bunch and examine the shape that the tulle is cut and how it's assembled onto the comb. This is how I usually get my ideas. If you feel you're still a novice in the sewing department, there's a plethora of veil patterns online that are a cinch to use. Check out

Wedding Cake. When Love and I got married, our wedding cake cost almost $2,000. Yes, $2k on a cake is ridiculous -- especially when most of our guests were beyond full when the cake cutting rolled around anyway -- but my parents helped plan most of my wedding, and they insisted on it. If I hadn't been so lucky to have such great parents I would have had to come up with a cheaper alternative to spending a small fortune on the tiered confection.

Bake it yourself? OK, that may be slightly out of the question (especially for those of us who aren't the savviest in the kitchen), but you could get creative with what kind of cake you budget for. For example, if you order a three-tier cake in plain white frosting and NO decorations, you could decorate it with your own ribbons and fresh flowers before it's presented at your reception. And be sure to check out what the bakery at your grocery store has to offer over a stand-alone bakery. Since they are usually independent franchises and cater to the wedding demographic, bakeries tend to have over-inflated wedding cake prices even for the most basic of flavors.

For the adventurous brides out there, the "it" desserts these days are cupcakes. Why not incorporate them into an avant-garde wedding cake? That would be so 2008. And the best thing is that a cupcake wedding cake is very do-it-yourself friendly. Mix and match different sized cupcakes in any flavor on as many tiers high as you want your "cake" to be. (Check out the example pictured.) Not only is this a fun, quirky take on the traditional cake, but it will make passing out "slices" that much easier. You and our husband can still cut one of the large ones and feed each other for photo-ops -- or lovingly smash the dessert into one another's faces. Either way.

But if you're a classic single-cake girl and refuse to give up tradition, what if you rented your wedding cake for the day and sent (most of) it back after the party's over? Wedding cake rentals have been all the rage in recent years, mainly because the cost far outpaces any bakery-bought cake. Don't worry, if you rent your cake you can eat it too -- well, at least the bottom tier. The top tiers are usually made of poly-styrofoam and covered with real frosting and fondant, so no one will be able to tell it's made of compressed packaging material. And if they find out your little secret? Well, that may be downright awkward. For more info, visit

Wedding invitations. Pop quiz: What costs near $1,000 and is thrown away after about one use? Gold-plated toilet paper may be a good guess, but I'm actually talking about wedding invitations.

After Love and I were engaged, we went to a chic stationery store in the Santana Row are of San Jose. (Think a 4-block version of Rodeo Drive, minus the airhead socialites and fake boobs.). I went in enthusiastic and I left jaded. Inside, the sales woman thumped three giant binders of wedding invitation samples in front of us, which we silently gawked at after seeing the prices. With the flip of every page I became increasingly amazed that anyone would spend that much on, let's face it people, something the majority of your guests will probably throw away after they've marked the date on their calendars. Not only that, cards are a cinch to make, and are better done yourself in order to get every detail exactly the way you want. No "extra" charges for ribbon or special-colored card stock required.

Before you sit down to create your enveloped masterpieces, browse ideas online and in stores for how you want your invitations to look, paying attention to what shape and color is your favorite. The accoutrements -- such as tissue paper and ribbon -- are usually the icing on any invitation, and can be bought for cheap at craft stores, where you'll also find envelopes in every color sold in bulk.

To save money on postage for your RSVPs, ask your guests to reply online or by the telephone. Starting an email account just for RSVPs (i.e. is fast and -- key word here -- free. We made our own invitations (pictured above) with pink, brown and creme cardstock, and topped it off with a bow glued between the layers.

Videographer. If you're on a budget, choose between either having a professional photographer or videographer. (I would choose the photographer.) For my ceremony and reception, I bought an HD $499 30-gig hard drive camcorder that my friends and family took turns using throughout the day and night. (This saved us thousands of dollars that videographers would have charged.) At the end of the day we had tons of excellent footage that was beyond easy to edit in iMovie. If you don't have a Mac for video editing, most cameras come with a disc that includes free editing software you can download. The best is that you get to add in all your own music, transitions and favorite shots without the videographer's cheesy choice of having Michael Bolton's "When A Man Loves a Woman" play during the slow-motion cake-cutting scene. Yuck.

Things I wouldn't skimp on, but would budget for realistically:

Professional photographer. That's not to say a $10,000 bill from a wedding photographer is at all called for or necessary, but there should be a happy medium between the uber-expensive and doing it yourself. The best photographers are ones who allow you to keep all prints and negatives, over them selectively choosing which ones to give you. Wedding day pictures will probably be the most important shots of your life so I think it's well worth it.

Wedding Dress. If you've ever had a day where you've just felt blah (and really, who hasn't?), you probably wanted to curl up in your PJs and wait for it all to pass. This shouldn't be the case on your wedding day. Feeling confident and beautiful will not only help you enjoy your big day day even more -- if that's possible -- but it will also help you shine in your wedding photographs. Don't just buy the cheapest wedding dress you can find because it's cheap, but "splurge" a bit if you need to get that wedding dress you know was just meant for you. Hey, sometimes fate happens.

Just remember that the right dress isn't always the most expensive, though. Anything with the word "bridal" affixed to it automatically sees a jump in price (it's the nature of the game in the wedding business), so try looking for a white dress that isn't necessarily for a wedding. These can include a white evening gown, or even a bridesmaid's dress (nobody has to know). To give you an idea of the drastic difference in price, you can spend upward of $2,000 on your dress while a bridesmaid's dress made of the same fabric will cost around $200.

Superfluous extras that will break your budget:

Transportation for wedding party, guest shuttle and/or parking attendants. You're plunking down a pretty penny so your guests can enjoy pricey food, bottomless beverages and styrofoam wedding cake -- er, you know what I mean. I don't think you also need to play public transportation for the day, too. If your ceremony and reception are in different locations, I'm sure everyone can probably figure out "how to get there" with maps that you'd provide beforehand. Most convenient for guests? No. Most cost efficient for you? Check.

Gifts for bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents and welcome baskets for out-of-town guests. All these extras would be affordable if your last name was "Trump," but in the real world they are unnecessary and tend to push budgets even higher. Your wedding day is more about you and your husband- or bride-to-be, not about your guests. I know you want to celebrate and spread the love on your day, but I doubt your bridesmaids are ever going to use those fluffy monogrammed pink garters you specially ordered for the occassion.

Wedding planner. As a bride on a budget, I'm assuming you're an innovative, enterprising, roll-up-your-sleeves and do-it-yourself kind of girl. This alone nixes the need for a wedding planner. Don't worry, your reception doesn't need to be the second-coming of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, with big-budget visuals and breathtaking fireworks, although the latter would be nice. A wedding planner is expensive and hypes up the day as if it were a giant theatrical performance -- one that you could direct yourself for less.

Remember, it's a special day, so don't spend so much time squeezing the worth out of every last penny that you over-exhaust yourself and wring the fun out of your big day. Just be rational about the easy things you can do yourself, and try to find the best deals on everything else that should be left to professionals. Great places to start thinking of ideas for do-it-yourself projects are Target's "Club Wedd" wedding aisle and craft stores such as Michael's, AC Moore and Jo-Ann's. If you don't mind "recycled" decorations, etc., don't forget to check eBay for excellent deals.

When you do find that you need professional help with something, don't scream from the hilltops that it's for a wedding. I know, I know. Getting married is so exciting that you can't help but tell everyone about it, but many of these florists, bakers and others make a living off of inflating normal prices when they hear the word "wedding." Just say it's for a party; they don't need to know. Seriously.

Youtube is also an excellent place to research the best ways to do things yourself, from makeup and bouquets, to centerpieces and invitations, if you're clueless as to where to start or just aren't that crafty, Youtube is a goldmine of easy, do-it-yourself online tutorials.

In a day and age where you can book your own flight, car and hotel sans a travel agent and you can invest in the stock market sans any stock broker, then you can definitely plan and prepare your own wedding.

Happy planning!


Anonymous said...

As a new bride, I can say a lot of what it takes to save money on weddings is time.

Both my now-husband and I agreed a long engagement was good, both because we had a very short courtship and because neither of us wanted to spend too much on the wedding.

We still spent where it counted, but we were able to save a lot just through research.

I went to a bridal show (got two for one tickets online for my mom and I -- also available in the Entertainment Book -- and the groom gets in free) to get ideas for what shapes of dresses looked good. I intended to then do the eBay thing: you take your measurements, they custom make you a dress.

However, through no fault of my own, I found *the* dress and it was 50% off making it $500 -- more than I wanted to spend, ideally, but still a pretty fab deal. And that was in the first month of a 20 month engagement!

The Breast Cancer Society gets donations from brides (it's where I plan on donating my dress for a nice little write-off) so its dresses are cheaper than stores -- and you're doing a good thing. (But, no, it's not a write-off in any way to buy a dress from them.)

We got a free venue, thereby saving a ton, because his parents live in a community with a clubhouse. It even had a little kitchen. It was perfect!

But when it looked like they might have to move elsewhere, I got online and found some really lovely sites through the city's Parks dept. One was on a beach: big, industrial warehouse-y look inside, but some pictures showed that stringing some lights actually really made it lovely. It would have been around $750 (including deposit) for four hours or an extra $250 deposit if we'd wanted alcohol.

Frankly, even though Tim and I enjoy a drink and our friends certainly do, we were quite happy his parents' place didn't allow alcohol. Saved us a ton. I would really consider going without.

I know it sounds a little cheap, but frankly it's just not that necessary and it adds tremendous expense. Even without bartenders, you have to get insurance which is a minimum of $100, plus all the actual alcohol. Unless you're having a very small wedding (under 40 people) it's going to be a major drain.

We had Martinelli's for the toast (found it at Grocery Outlet for $1 a bottle) and everyone left happy.

As for centerpieces, we sort of put those off until the last minute. Almost literally, because it was the day before the wedding and I realized I'd never decided.

I had thought about floating small candles in bowls but then we realized how many small children might come. So that was nixed.

And my cousin was doing the flowers for us so we didn't coordinate with a florist to do centerpieces.

Since our colors were white/silver and royal blue, I had gotten a whole bunch of vases at thrift stores. One of the bridesmaids just stuffed some tulle into the vases, with a bit flowing out, and it looked stunning: kind of milky inside the vase and very minimalist overall.

Everyone who has seen the pictures remarked on the flowers -- which were from a grocery store. My cousin had some florist experience, so all I did was find some pictures of medium-sized bouquets I liked and then we went to see what the store with the largest selection had. In all, the flowers cost under $100 ($89, I think).

I got a great deal on Kmart tablecloths -- white cotton, very simple, $3 each on Black Friday. I think they're normally $5 each so still a great deal. And these were banquet-table sized.

I got some cotton napkins off CL which my MIL starched and ironed for us.

I got some lovely serving platters at estate sales for about $1-2 each.

Then I just went to a site and looked up how much food to provide for people. We had cut-up fruit (thanks mom & cousin & aunt), veggies, dip, cold cuts, cheeses, crackers, rolls and condiments so people could make sandwiches.

And since we're not terribly religious, we ordained my aunt on the internet for free. That alone saved around $100.

Emilita said...

I love the tips. Now I just need to get engaged...(but am in no hurry!).

My first set of good friends are getting married this winter. They're working (worked? not exactly sure how the progress is) on planning a cost-effective wedding, since they're both right out of undergrad and paying for much of the wedding themselves. Keep in mind, she's in graduate school while he's looking for full time employment in their new town, which is several hours by plane from where both their families live and from where their college friends live. So there's not much expendable income going on.

It's a financial undertaking I can hardly imagine dealing with right now, personally. By the time I tie the knot I'd like to be on relatively stable financial footing, enough that I can save up for even an affordable wedding without dipping into other, more pressing funds. (Oh, and be emotionally prepared to get married too ;)...)

It's definitely the right decision for my friends though. And I think they've really got their priorities straight: sure, the wedding is exciting for them, but they're more just looking forward to being married.

I'm going to pass your post along to them.

Crystal said...

Abigail: Thanks for sharing! :)

Emilita: That's so exciting about all your friends getting married! I'm interested to hear if they've stumbled upon any other great money-saving ideas for their wedding parties. At least when you're ready to get engaged, you'll have a ton of money-saving tips from all of us to refer to! :P You make a very valid point I should have included at the end of my post: Wedding planning is exciting, but it's just ONE day. The *marriage* is what people should be more excited about!

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