After fifteen years of planning weddings, I have grown familiar with the glazed look on the faces of the bride, groom and parents when I first ask them: “What is your budget?” It’s a look that tells me they don’t even know where to start.
Well, to coin a phrase, “I do.”
There is romance, and there is realism. They make a great couple. Here are my tips to joining these two together.
Pick a number that won’t put you into debt. I always cringe when couples want to overspend for a lavish day that then puts them in a position to start their lives together in debt. I don’t recommend it and often try to find suggestions of how to bring the budget number down but still give them a day they will love and cherish forever. I call this approach romantic realism.
Identify your priorities. If you love flowers and want them to be a main focal point of your day —great! Let’s offset that expense via a less expensive menu. If you are foodies and fell in love over sharing favorite restaurants or a couple’s cooking class, then let’s create a feast guests will talk about for years to come. If you are music people, let’s find a great band and make that your highlight. Choose where you want to splurge.
Factor in food and beverage right away. Why? Because it will ALWAYS be at least half of your overall budget. So it’s a good place to start to keep things reasonable elsewhere. Consequently, it’s smart to nail down these costs first and then work with what you have left for everything else.
Try using an Excel spreadsheet. Run your wedding like you’d run your business. A budget on a spreadsheet is the best way to make certain you don’t overspend and find yourself in a position of financial strain. I create a line item for each expense category, and the spreadsheet automatically tallies subtotals and grand totals. I create one for every one of my couples so they always know where they are in the planning process financially.
Rely on trusted vendors for advice. Don’t be too proud to ask the experts for creative, money-saving ideas. You can reduce your floral costs by replacing large flower centerpieces with a variety of low and high candle arrangements or try a dramatic tall glass vase with one or two tall flowers submerged in water to make a contemporary statement. If you need to save a bit on dinner for your guests, talk to your caterer to see if you can reduce the portion sizes of your proteins to save money. With appetizers, main courses, sides and desserts, guests won’t miss out if you reduce a six ounce filet to a four-ounce portion, but you’ll definitely see a savings.
Really like your photographer and videographer. Good photographers and videographers can range in price from $2,500 to ten times that amount or more. Make sure you find their personality, their visual style and their price range attractive. And make sure a DVD containing all your photos and video will be provided to you after your wedding. You, not the vendor, should own the images.
Let them eat cake! But bear in mind what that cake will cost. It can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, depending on the size of the guest list and the style of the cake. Consider, believe it or not, a wedding cake from your local grocery story bakery like Publix. They are delicious, they are delivered for a minimal fee, and the simplicity of their design allows for you to work with your florist to decorate it to suit your theme to for a fraction of the cost.
Home or away? You would think that hosting a wedding at a private home would be a less expensive option that hosting it at a venue or a hotel. In reality, it can actually cost more because most homes are not set up for entertaining large groups of guests so all of the elements need to be brought in such as a tent, dance floor, tables, chairs, linens, china, bars, a place to stage the catering, extra staff, even a generator for additional power.
Look out for the ++ - It’s really important to understand the “++” after each number in a contract, especially food and beverage. The “++” means plus tax and gratuity. So if you are looking at a $100++ per person plated cost for a hundred dinner guests you are looking at $10,000, right? Nope! Most venues have a 24 percent gratuity/service charge and 6.5 percent tax. So you are really paying $100 plated cost + $24 (24%) gratuity/service charge = $124 x 6.5 percent tax = $132.06 x 100 guests for a total of $13,206 and a difference of $3,206 in your budget.
Hire a wedding planner. A good wedding planner can save you both money and friendships. Sadly, I could share some unfortunate stories but suffice to say that relying on friends and family to help set up, clean up or manage vendors puts a strain on both sides of that equation. Having a professional wedding planner allows you to focus on spending time with your guests rather than worrying about all of the many details such as managing vendor arrivals, load-in schedules, set-up needs, power needs, decor, rentals, guest arrivals, parking and more.
Be true to yourselves. Feel free to combine or incorporate elements of your respective heritages, to do something ultra-traditional or completely off the wall. Incorporate some of your favorite things that you love such as warm chocolate chip cookies and shot glasses of milk as dessert rather than a large wedding cake. Your wedding is completely about the celebration of the two of you so do what you feel is right, what makes you happy and what represents the two of you in planning your day.
Tricks of the Trade in Food and Beverage
- Open Bar vs. Consumption-Based. Assess your group and be honest about if they are a big drinking crowd or a light drinking crowd. Although sometimes the open bar cost per person can seem like a large overall number, if you have a large drinking crowd and choose to pay per drink consumed you may end up spending more than the open bar cost and end up with a shock of a bill at the end of the night! You can additionally look at cost saving options of what level of alcohol you offer: Call Brands, Premium Brands, Super Premium Brands. The caterer or venue will have pricing for each so take a look at those options and see what may work best.
- Beer, Wine, and Soda Bar - If the open bar and consumption per drink costs are still out of reach in your budget, consider a Beer, Wine and Soda Bar Option. It significantly brings the cost down but still allows you the ability to offer your guests alcohol during the celebration.
- Specialty Drink - Specialty drinks can be a great way to add in an alcohol option with a beer, wine, soda bar without the full cost of an open or consumption bar. Another great tip is to look at options that can be pre-made and priced in gallons versus per drink.
- Buffet vs. Plated - The cost isn’t necessarily that different between the two even though we are conditioned to think that the buffet is probably lesser in cost. When a venue or caterer prepares a buffet, they have to prep more food than plated because they will be unsure as to who will eat what where with a plated option, the kitchen knows exactly how much to prepare. I usually recommend considering the personality of your group, the flow of the event and space in the venue for set-up as more prominent consideration points between buffet and plated rather than cost.