Planning a Marriage that Does not Kill Your Budget

If you’re planning a wedding and you’re concerned about your wedding budget, there are several ways to save. The keys to successfully planning a budget-conscious wedding are having the abilities to be creative, flexible, and opportunistic.

Think of this scenario: You wake up in the middle of the night with a craving for ice cream. All grocery stores are closed, so you run through the options in your head. You can go to the all-night convenience store or coffee shop and pay a premium price for this craving or you can settle for the granola bar in the back of your pantry. Then the thought occurs that you could have planned ahead while grocery shopping earlier that week and had your ice cream at a fair price. The same shopping options exist for every part of your wedding. Do you pay premium prices? Do you plan ahead? Or do you simply do without? There are no wrong answers, but planning ahead can almost always offer the most bang for the bucks.

The key trick in saving money for your wedding is flexibility. Think about your wedding date. It’s probably a mild Saturday evening in late Spring or early Fall. I’m no Nostradamus, it’s just a fact that the vast majority of couples choose the same dates for their weddings. You can slash your overall wedding costs significantly by changing your wedding date away from Saturday evenings in May, June, September, or October. Go crazy and avoid Saturdays altogether and have a raging Friday night wedding or a relaxing Sunday afternoon wedding. You might not think these date/time adjustments matter, but vendors’ schedules are much less likely to be full on a Sunday afternoon in August or a Friday night in March. This availability can translate into staggering deals if you shop around. I’ve seen $10,000-$15,000 weddings (combined vendor cost) reduced to $2,000-$3,000 with every component of the wedding staying exactly the same, including the venue. The difference? An 11am ceremony time on a Saturday in June versus a 5pm wedding the EXACT SAME DAY. An unexpected perk to avoiding Saturday evenings goes to your guests who can now plan a weekend after your Friday night bash or before the Sunday nuptials. That Saturday night wedding breaks everyone’s weekend in half. Having schedule flexibility is huge for all vendors, but specific savings can also be found for each part of your big day.

Wedding venues: The venue is usually the costliest of the wedding investments, but that only means it is also the biggest opportunity to save money. If you want elegance, maybe avoid the country clubs and golf courses and find a shady park or beach and spend a fraction of your budget on elegant tables, string lighting, and candle-lit centerpieces. If you’re quirky and fun, bypass a regular venue and rent an old theater or local art gallery. Think outside the box. Depending on the size of your guest list, you can find venues that aren’t considered traditional, but will more than fit your needs. Private residences and local restaurants might fit your needs perfectly. With any non-traditional venue, be sure to get all the details. Some places may require additional insurance or have restrictions on attendance, food/drink, etc, so be sure to be thorough in your interviews. If you are looking for a traditional venue, many times finding a location that can host both the wedding and reception is ideal. For both convenience and cost, this option almost always is preferable to separate locations. If you opt for a church wedding, keep in mind that some churches offer weddings a low or even no cost. Call around and you might find a great deal

Caterer: The ideal way to cut food/drink costs is to time your wedding between traditional meal times. Having a 11am or 2pm wedding allows you to escape providing full meals and instead serve small appetizers, sandwiches, desserts, etc. If you opt for this cost-cutting schedule choice, be sure to indicate to guests when type of food/refreshments will be served. Most people will grab a bite to eat before or after the wedding if they know in advance that only snacks will be available at the wedding. If you must serve food, shop around. Some venues require you to use their preferred caterers, so know this in advance. Sample each caterer’s menus and ask them how savings can be found. Many times a limited menu with more appetizer options works well. If you decide to serve a meal, buffet style usually costs less than plated meals. And keep this question in mind: How was the food at the last wedding you attended? Most people don’t remember. Find a balance between quality, service, and price.

Cake: There are reality TV shows dedicated to cakes. Amazing, beautiful cakes are everywhere. Now for the life-changing reality: Its still just dessert. I know, that sounds harsh and emotionless. But its sugar and eggs and flour, and you’re in a market than can charge thousands of dollars for a, yes, dessert. Think about your reasoning behind the cake. Its fun and you want photos of the cake-cutting and subsequent cake-smashing. You can accomplish the same thing with a small but still elegant cake. The photos look the same, and the crowd still gathers around. And when the smashed cake is wiped from the groom’s face, all the guests are served cute little wedding cupcakes or pieces of sheet cake that have been cut and are ready to serve immediately. Buy a pretty little cake for the two of you, or for the bridal party, and ask your baker to make a sheet cake or two, or cupcakes, of the same flavor as yours. Everyone enjoys the cake and you enjoy cutting your cake budget by 50% or more.

Photographer: Many couples make the mistake of forgoing a professional wedding photographer and hiring Uncle Harry because he always has a camera, and he’ll be at the wedding anyway. Or a niece in high school just bought a really expensive camera and took photography in high school. Remember that your photographs are likely going to be the only tangible reminders of your wedding. When the cake and songs and flowers are long gone, you’ll have your photography to enjoy and share for years to come. You want a photographer with wedding experience to ensure all angles are covered and all poses are ideal. This doesn’t mean you have to blow your entire budget on photography, however. Search photographers’ websites, and only contact those whose photos fit your style. When speaking with the photographer, request a quote that excludes prints, albums, or other photo products. Get the edited photography on a disc or flash drive with a copyright release that allows you to print your photos. Most photographers’ profit lies in the printing, so you can save that money and print economically at your own convenience. If a photographer doesn’t offer this, move along. There are plenty that will offer a no-prints option.

DJ: The DJ is the vendor that some deem unnecessary and others regard as invaluable. I think both are true depending on the type of wedding and reception you want. If you want a quiet, relaxed ceremony and reception with soft music in the background throughout, just find a venue with a sound system and plug in an ipod playlist of soft grooves. If you want your reception to be a party, then hire a DJ. DJ’s styles and levels of interaction vary, so keep this in mind. If you want someone to keep the guests dancing, get someone outgoing and fun. Like the photographer, don’t skimp too much and hire the high school tech geek down the street with the loud sound system. Weddings are unique, and you want experience. Ask for deals and compare prices. No real tricks here other than shopping in advance.

Florist: Flowers are beautiful and can enhance any wedding. They also sit in vases and soak up water. Each couple needs to decide whether a little color is pretty or more elaborate floral arrangements are necessary. If you find a venue that is attractive on its own, consider skipping or reducing the floral decorations. Many florists advise boosting the greenery in arrangement and using the actual flowers strategically, which makes a lot of sense both artistically and financially. Some couples are now opting for artificial flowers in lieu of actual flowers. This can be cheaper and offer the advantage of preparing months in advance. They also last forever, so your investment doesn’t end up in the compost pile the next day. If you decide to go with real flowers, check independent florists first, as they can often work with your budget with more flexibility than a larger retail chain.

Videographer: Have you ever visited a friend and been subjected to watching their wedding video? It’s painful. Now, with the development of high-def and superior editing, today’s wedding videos are more like Hollywood features than handheld camcorders of the 80’s. they can also be very expensive. The real question is need. After the first few weeks of being married, will your wedding DVD ever be seen? Aside from distant relatives visiting or an anniversary viewing, it likely sits on the shelf. Most budget-minded couples skip the videographer, but if you really want video then find a company that uses multiple cameras and edits in a style you enjoy. Be sure they know the style you want and ask them to work with your budget.

Other: There are several other ways to save that simply didn’t fit the other categories:

Wedding favors are cute, but often sit in the backseat of your guests’ cars and ultimately get tossed. If you have a budget for them, find something personal (a small framed photo of the wedding couple, a small package of candy or mints, etc). Find something fun or quirky, but cheap. Search online for many creative options.

With any wedding, avoid placing disposable cameras at guest tables. The idea is great, but the execution is horrible. You’ll spend hundreds on these outdated cameras, and hundreds more to develops photos of kids’ feet and empty plates. Don’t even consider this for your wedding!

Limousines: Beautiful and elegant, but really only use if transportation is needed. Hiring a limo to drive you three blocks doesn’t allow you to relax or save money. If you’re travelling across town and want to splurge, go for it. Ask for wedding specials, and find a service that will allow you to use the minimum amount you need. Don’t get locked into a six-hour minimum when you only need three.

Honeymoon: If you’re wanting a honeymoon but don’t have a big budget, consider registering for your wedding with a travel agent instead of a retailer. Your guests may gift you a vacation instead of cutlery! If you’re considering a small wedding, think about a destination wedding for the two of you (or small family), and combine your wedding and honeymoon instead of a reception. Sometimes this is more economical than couples think and provides a romantic and less expensive wedding option.

Craigslist: OK, this isn’t a wedding component. But Craigslist can be your best friend. You can find vendors, dresses, wedding locations, and much more in one convenient site. If you have a particular skill, service, or item, consider using the site’s barter section to trade for wedding services. Trading your unused timeshare for a wedding photographer or bartering your automotive repair business to obtain catering can be empowering and budget-saving. Read through the section and find ideas that may help you save.