Guest Post: I write a blog over at everylittlekiss.com which chronicles our adventures in wedding planning. Essentially, we are trying to coordinate 6 bridesmaids, 5 groomsmen, 3 families, and 110 guests who are scattered all over the country, stay in budget, and plan a wedding (and honeymoon!) that we will never forget. I’ve been interested in personal finance for several years, after grad school left me with a huge chunk of student loans. When I got engaged, I knew it was going to be an expensive 11 months. How on earth were we going to be able to afford a wedding without breaking our budget?
Have you ever heard of the television show Rich Bride, Poor Bride? It is a wedding show that follows couples to see if they can keep their wedding within budget. The tagline of the show is “No matter how big the budget, is it ever enough?” Some of you may have a heart attack reading this next sentence: couples on this show typically go over their budget at least 20% and I’ve seen some episodes where couples go 80% over budget. It’s rare that a couple actually comes in under budget.
Normally, couples will be creative with some “Do It Yourself” projects to help them save money. I got a “C” in art class in Middle School. A lot of couples have connections with people who are photographers, caterers, etc. We don’t have connections. We have about 6 months to go before our wedding, and all of our vendors are booked. We are slightly UNDER budget at this point and I’m going to share with you all how we’ve managed to do that
Set Your Budget (and Guest List!) Early
The first thing we did was to figure out what we could afford to put towards the wedding. Our parents offered us a certain amount of money, and that’s how we figured out the amount of money we had to work with. After all of this money is gone, NOTHING else will be spent. We price quoted vendors (venues, caterers, photographers, etc), to figure out what an “average” price was for these services before we booked anything.
The next step was for us to make a tentative guest list. We discussed the guest list with our parents to make sure we accounted for everyone who needed to be invited—we are having a small wedding, so the list was limited to family and close friends. The worst mistake you could make is thinking you want a 100 person wedding and then having the guest list climb to 300 after you booked a venue. that charges $150/person. Since we had our guest list determined, we were able to get proper pricing for the venue, food, booze, etc.
Have One Person Manage the Wedding Cash
I control ALL of the wedding money—all the cash goes to me, and then I distribute it as needed. I track who gave what money, on what date, and what we’ve paid our vendors. I track our expenses in a Google spreadsheet, so I can update it anywhere.
Look at Wedding Dates on the Cusp of “High Season”
We are getting married at a popular, somewhat expensive venue in Austin, TX. Surprisingly, this is where we saved the most money. In Texas, wedding season starts March 1st and runs until November 1st. We decided to look at the latest date we could in February, and picked February 19, 2011. By going with a date considered “off season”, we ended up with a 25% discount on our venue (ceremony and reception), and catering.
Shop Around and Always Negotiate
I found a wedding ring that I liked at a local jeweler. It was priced at $1240, and was able to get the price knocked down to $1120. I asked the jeweler to write down the name and number for the ring, and then I went home and checked online to see if I could find it any cheaper. I found the same ring on the designers’ website for $740!
Another example is when I was shopping for my wedding dress. Ladies, don’t buy a dress without checking the price online! My dress shop took $100 off of the price of my dress because I showed them that I had found the dress online for cheaper (they price-matched).
Price matching and negotiating should also be done with photographers, rehearsal dinner spaces, live music, etc. Since we are getting married in the “off season”, vendors have been very willing to negotiate.
Don’t Buy Stuff Too Early
Let me emphasize this—don’t buy ANYTHING until you are 100% sure you will use it. Just because there is a sale at Michael’s doesn’t mean you should buy a bunch of glass bowls because “it’s a great deal and you might be able to use them in the centerpieces”.
Currently, I have 250 crappy gray envelopes sitting in my closet because I thought they were “cool” and I could use them for “something”. They are ugly, small, and I can’t return them (I didn’t read the policies close enough) –$30 down the drain. Those “little things” that you don’t end up using can really add up.
Be Careful Not to Fall Into the “I have to have that!” Mindset
Do you need a photo booth? No. Do you need a chocolate fountain? No. Are both of these things pretty cool? Yes. Please remember that buying all the “extras” does not make your wedding great. Before we add any “extra” to our wedding, we discuss “will this really make or break our guests’ enjoyment of our wedding?” Usually, the answer is “No”, and we cut it. Our crowd is a “party crowd”, so we decided to splurge on the venue & food, booze, and a live band. We are a happy and fun couple—we hope that our marital bliss is contagious and people will remember how happy and fun our wedding was. I don’t think anybody is going to miss napkins with our names on them.
Put “Buffer Money” in Your Budget
If you or your kids are planning a wedding, there is no doubt that SOMETHING will go over budget. Take your original budget and add at least 10% to it—we added 15%. My dress was substantially more expensive than I had planned (I thought I could find something I loved for under $1k. DID NOT HAPPEN), but we used some of the “buffer money” to cover the difference because well, that’s what it’s there for. Our honeymoon and “extra” decorations like the guestbook are other areas where we have gone slightly over budget.
I could go and on about what we’ve done to stick within budget, but these techniques are what helped us save the most. Bottom line, you CAN have the wedding you both want and not completely blow your budget. Our wedding is far from a “low budget” event, but that doesn’t mean we can spend whatever we want on this wonderful occasion. We made a plan, have done a great job at sticking with it, and will not owe the credit card companies thousands of dollars after the wedding.
Come check out my blog at everylittlekiss.com!