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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Frugal Wedding

If anyone noticed, my recent lack of posts was mostly due to getting married. The wedding went off without a hitch and now it back to work :) But before I put the wedding completely behind me, I'd like to share a few tips on having a nice wedding without going into bankruptcy.

The 'average' cost of a wedding now exceeds $20,000 according to this chart on wedding costs, although I've seen estimates anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000. There are three things to keep in mind when looking at these stats: (1) they are all researched by wedding professionals, people who will benefit if couples spend more money, (2) they include wedding from people with far, far above average incomes who are far, far more willing and able to spend crazy amounts of money, (3) $20,000 is way, way too much money to spend on a wedding.

Expanding on point three - a wedding is ONE, day. Your marriage is (ideally) for the rest of your life. Quite frankly, there is nothing about a wedding that should make anyone spend that kind of money, even if you're Bill Gates. Don't believe all that malarky about 'the wedding is the happiest day of your life.' It shouldn't be. You're going to be married for a long time (again ideally) why bother if the next 50 years are all downhill. Your wedding should be the beginning of the happiest period of your life. Which it won't be if you spend more money than you can afford on your wedding. Money troubles are a cause many divorces and I wonder how many of those couples started out their financial lives together spending more than they could afford on a wedding. Never, ever borrow money for a wedding. If you truly cannot afford anything consider a private ceremony (religious or civil) with just your two sets of parents and then go out to dinner. Have the big party later, when you can afford it and when you can truly enjoy it.

Ok. Enough with the preaching and on with the tips!!

  • SIZE - this is the single most important factor affecting the cost of the wedding. Always go small. Even if you are able to spend a lot of money. Consider the hypothetical $20,000 wedding, with 100 guests you can spend $200 on each guest - imagine how nice that wedding will be! Or you could invite 350 guest and spend $57 on each - and catered food is expensive. Also, the fewer people you invite the more time you'll have to spend with them - and if you don't want to spend time with them - why are they at your wedding.

    Of course the tricky part is whittling down the guest lists - here are some suggestions: (1) Don't invite children. They won't have much fun and you'll be able to give their parents a night off. The only person under the age of 21 at our wedding was my husband's brother. (2) Start small and build up. Start by limiting your list to 10, then expand to 25, 50, 75, and finally 100. This works much better than making a huge list and eliminating. (3) Don't invite 'and guest'. This is your wedding and you're paying the bills, you have the right to invite only people you already know. We made it our policy to only invite significant others if we had met them and the relationship was long-term (several months when we sent out the save-the-dates). (4) Don't invite relatives you don't talk to. I have a huge family (My mother has 8 siblings and my father 6, plus the extended families) if I had invited everyone one of my relations the guest list would have been over 400. As long as you are consistent with your policy (we didn't invite any of my cousins on my father's side or any relations more distant than cousin) people shouldn't be offended. If you get questions it is perfectly legitimate to explain that you are short on funds and are having a small wedding, if someone doesn't understand then they probably care more about the free meal than you.

  • Limit Transportation. Limos, etc. are expensive. Moving everyone from the ceremony to the reception is a hassle. Making sure that everyone has directions is a pain. Renting two sites is more expensive that just one. It's worth the extra effort to find a location where you can have both the ceremony and reception (as well as a place to get ready). Your guests will thank you. We had our ceremony outside in the garden of our reception site. The ceremony fee was $125 and that included setting up chairs, ushers to direct the guests, and a coordinator to help with the rehearsal and ceremony. Plus we didn't spend a dime on transportation. We arrived in regular cars early in the day to get ready (get ready onsite - you don't want to worry about the florist delivering to two or three locations nor do you want to forget the flowers) and borrowed my Dad's GTO when we left.
  • Don't buy a 'bridal' dress. The mark-up on gowns marked as 'bridal' is ridiculous. I spent less than $300 on my off-the-rack dress. Every single person at the wedding commented that it was the most beautiful bridal gown they had ever seen and wanted to know where I purchased it. I also didn't need to spend any money on alterations because it wasn't made in a weird non-size to force alterations (which all bridal gowns and bridesmaids gowns are). Shop around during prom season - there are many white prom dresses now if you're dead set on white - or you can go with cream, beige, or very, very pale pastels (white's not the most flattering color anyway). Look at upscale dress shops - ones you might not consider for a prom dress due to cost - Jessica McClintock often has very nice things.
  • Smaller wedding party = fewer headaches, easier planning, fewer attendants gifts, more quality time with each attendant, etc. And if you end up chipping in for some of the cost of the dresses (which I did, my cousin was in three wedding this summer!) that will be cheaper as well. It also helps in achieving a smaller guest list because you'll have fewer significant others to invite. And the point is to highlight people that are special and important to you, not possible if you ask everyone you've ever known.
  • Make your own wedding desserts. Not the best tip if no one in your family can bake, in which case I'm very sorry for you - nothing beats homemade cookies! My mother made a small cake for cutting, and I asked some of my aunts and cousins to contribute 2 dozen cookies each. There were plenty of desserts, people were able to choose what they liked (You will never ever have a wedding where everybody likes the flavor of cake you choose - there are people who don't like chocolate - I'm one) and it was very cheap. It also lets other people participate which they enjoy. Much, much cheaper than wedding cake. It also gives you more of a chance to personalize your wedding - you could make a cake entirely out of cupcakes (don't pay a baker to make cupcakes - just buy the boxed mixes and make it yourself!) or out of Pepperidge farm cookies, or donuts - whatever.
  • Photographer. My first bit of advice is to nix the videographer. Not only are they expensive but you'll either end up with photos full of the videographer or a movie full of the photographer. We decided just to hire a photographer for the formal shots and for the ceremony. We figured that most of the reception shots are just candids and there are enough people with cameras already at the reception. (Plus my parents used to do wedding photography as a side job so we would get at least one set of photos without thumbs.) Now that more people have digital cameras it's also very easy to get copies of their pictures. With 60 people taking pictures of us cutting the cake we're virtually guaranteed at least one good shot. Also, don't be afraid to negotiate with the photographer - if there's something in the package you don't want tell him/her and see if you can get a markdown - we did.
  • Decorations. Do NOT get floral centerpieces. They are extremely expensive and won't last long. If you want flowers go to a garden shop and buy a potted plant with flowers - they you'll have something afterwards as well. If you are dead set on roses - consider buying mini-rose bushes - very cute and original. We had an herbal theme and used potted herbs for our centerpieces - about $5 ea. including pots. Consider making your own favors - I made candles with scents to coordinate with the centerpieces. They were about $1 ea. and I got many complements. Plus they were pretty easy to make. Also consider decorations when selecting your location - one of the reasons I selected the Butler Mansion was the fact that I wouldn't need to decorate at all.
  • Have a casual rehearsal dinner. We went to the Anchor Bar (invented the Buffalo Wing). It was cheap, fun, and the out of town guests got a chance to visit a Buffalo landmark. Generally speaking, the more casual the restaurant the cheaper the meal.

Figure out what aspects of the day are most important to you (for us it was the food, personalizing the ceremony text (free!), and the location) and slash the budget on everything else. Try comparing wedding costs to other things you'd like to spend your money on - a nice honeymoon, paying off your debts - and try to decide if it's really worth it. For example, $55 ea. for floral centerpieces - if you have 10 tables that's $550. If you went with $10 potted plants instead you could pay off $450 of credit card debt and (at 17%) save $76.50 in finance charges!

Hopefully these tips are helpful!

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