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Planning a Wedding on a Small Budget
The exciting time has arrived for you to plan your wedding. If you find yourself in a less-than-ideal financial situation to have the wedding of your dreams, you are not alone. If it looks like you might have to take out a second mortgage (or have your parents do so), it is time to start thinking of a budget. Most weddings run $8000.00 minimum and skyrocket from there. But I am here to tell you from experience, you can have a nice event for under $2000.00, if you can remember the “three C’s”: Compromise, Creativity, and Cooperation. Here are a few big areas that combined with the three C’s, can help cut cost without cutting style.
The Venue: Choosing a venue is the first thing you will need to do. Decide on a general location, then narrow down the spot. You may want that castle on the hill and red carpet, but you could buy a new car for that! Compromise those fairy tale fables and consider a church with stained glass windows. These churches have a natural charm, instant color, and good focal point. If the church has bells, what could be more romantic than having them ringing joyously as you make your exit as a married couple?
Also consider nature as an option, such as a garden, park, or forest. My brother got married in our parents’ garden–no decorating required–and the photos were stunning. Your City offices will have a list of parks available, many times with buildings or pavilions you may rent out as well for a reasonable fee. Getting married on the beach is always romantic, if you do not mind a little sand between your toes. Outdoor weddings make a statement and require little of the the traditional decorating, if any. If choosing an outdoor venue, remember to have an alternative in case of bad weather, such as a tent, home, or facility to move to should the need arise.
Another way to save money concerning venue, is to have your wedding and reception in the same place. Most churches have an additional area where they gather for food or activities. Setting up your reception in the church hall or gym is convenient for you and your guests, and ensures more of them staying.
Having the reception in the same location is not always possible. In these cases, it is important to be creative. A friend of mine rented out a barn – yes, a barn! With the low lighting and natural character, decorating was not an issue. Christmas lights, tulle and balloons can go a long way. The barn was spacious enough for a large dance floor and long tables, making the guests feel comfortable and relaxed. When I first heard she was choosing a barn for a reception area, I could not fathom how it would work, so I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. It was unique, spacious, comfortable, and memorable. In fact, out of all the weddings I have been to, the barn idea was by far the best.
Local community lodges (e.g. Lions Club, Masonic Lodge, Veteran’s League) will often rent their hall inexpensively as well and have ample room to boot.
You might also consider having the reception at someone’s home (or your own if you are up to it). You can make use of the yard for extra space and everything you need is already there. This also ensures you will not go over a time limit, as is possible with formally rented places.
The Wedding Dress: This can be a huge area of expense, with designer dresses potentially running over one thousand dollars. The important thing to do is to keep things in perspective. Choose a dress style that is appropriate for your location. A full cathedral train, heavily beaded dress will not fare well on the beach. Neither will it fare well at the local courthouse. You might consider going semi-formal or cocktail for a courthouse or very small wedding. Be practical when it comes to style and try different types of dresses to get a feel for how they move. If you plan on dancing, you will want a dress with a train that can be pinned up or removed, or opt for no train at all. You will also want a dress that you can move in fairly easily without the circulation being cut off at any given place.
Once you have decided on a style, postpone buying it off the rack immediately. Instead, look for similar styles in major department stores. Many department stores have a wedding section and carry a small line of wedding dresses for a much lower cost. Also look in the prom/formal sections for less expensive and more creative alternatives. A growing trend is to have a wedding dress full of color, as opposed to the traditional white of the past.
Internet auction sites have a large selection of bridal gowns made to order, most of them inspired by popular designer dresses for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to take into account shipping costs when going this route, and method of payment. Also check out the seller’s history and satisfaction level, to ensure you are getting a quality product.
You could also go local by searching ads and consignment stores, although this method certainly requires more luck and patience.
If you realize that you will probably never wear your dress again, and might choose to sell it one day for a fraction of the value, you may want to consider renting or borrowing your dress. Check your local listings for formal attire rental places. Ask your friends and family for contacts who might be willing to lend their dress out for your special day.
Another alternative is to have your dress made. Find a pattern you like, buy the materials and sew it yourself or have a friend or family member do it. Chances are, if you already know them, they will do it as a gift to you. Do remember to allow plenty of time for this! This can be an especially rewarding route to take, because you can customize your dress exactly to your liking, down to the type of material used.
Veils can also be an expensive part of your dress. A few options would be to opt for a tiara off an Internet auction website, or silk flowers or ribbons in your hair. If you are the creative type, or know someone who is, you could make your own veil. Kits and materials are available in crafting supply stores.
Not many people will see your shoes if you are wearing a floor length gown. Go for comfort over glitz. You will be standing and possibly dancing in those shoes for a while. Your feet will thank you after standing for ages taking photos if you opt for comfortable shoes.
Favors: Etiquette says that favors are a must, but it does not say what the favors have to be. Favors are a small way to thank your guest for sharing in your special day. These can be a big expense with all the options available today. You can pay as much as $2.00 or more per favor. If you are ordering enough for 300 guests, this comes to an expense of $600.00! That is over 1/4th of the $2000.00 budget we are working with. So even though the personalized miniature sparkling cider bottles are appealing, they will break the bank if you have more than 50 guests. No one will miss them when they are not an option. Choose instead chocolate covered almonds or another treat, wrapped in tulle and tied with a ribbon. This is something anyone can do and the cost is minimal and practical, especially when bought in bulk.
Decorating: As mentioned before, never underestimate the power of Christmas lights and tulle. They instantly lend an elegant and soft touch to a room and come in a variety of colors. You can also spruce up a table with confetti flower petals, or leaf assortments available at crafting supply stores. Candles automatically say romance and you can always find them at reasonable prices.
An instant design trick is to use boxes to make elevated places on the reception table (covered with a tablecloth). This will add more interest and professionalism in your display. You may also try decorating with flowers or fruit. Using silk flowers as opposed to real is an easy and effective way to shave costs as well.
The Cake: This is one area to be cautious in when trying to shave dollars. The first alternative is to have a friend or family member make the cakes, but unless they are a professional, I recommend a different option. Reason being, if something goes amiss, you do not want your friend or relative thinking they ruined your wedding.
A reliable option is to have your local super market make the cake. You can find nice, traditional style cakes for half, or even one fourth of the cost of an independent bakery.
Another idea is to step out of the cake box and do something different. Cupcakes, also called Fairy Cakes, are becoming a popular trend and can be made to look elegant. This also gives your guest more of a variety when choosing their delicacy. A pleasant solution I found was to have an assortment of cheesecakes as opposed to a traditional wedding cake. People are still talking about those cakes seven years later, and there was hardly any left over. The price was considerably less expensive than buying a traditional wedding cake.
Food: Skip the caterer and incorporate the help of family. Unless your wedding is feeding more than 200, this is completely doable. If you are planning on having more guests than that, consider combining efforts and only partially catering. You could also take into account the time of your reception. If it is mid-afternoon, light snacks are acceptable. But if you plan a noon or evening event, when most would be eating, etiquette says a meal is in order.
Music: Music is an important part of both the ceremony and reception. It is what sets the mood and puts people at ease, so naturally you want to take great care in this area. The least expensive route to go would be to use a CD, but there are other alternatives that are much more pleasant, elegant, and will not burst your budget.
Have a single musician play during the ceremony and/or reception. If this is a family member or close friend, they will likely give a great deal, or do it at no charge. Whether it be a piano, guitar, violin or harp, a single instrument has a certain charm you will not find playing the Hallelujah Chorus from a CD. You could also contact your local college for willing students. They will usually play for a low rate because they are interested in the experience and exposure. I have also found that many local musicians/singers have the same attitude, if you go with individuals as opposed to a group.
DeeJays can be expensive. Live bands can be even more so. If your reception does not call for dancing, opt for some favorite CD’s or compilations as background music, or use the same musician hired for the wedding. If you must have a DeeJay or band, network around and see what deals you can find. Perhaps your second cousin has a friend of a friend who is just starting out and will cut a deal!
Alcohol: This is a huge expense, and best to be avoided altogether if you want your budget intact. If the thought of not breaking out the bubbly is too much to bear, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Have each person issued bar tickets with a limit of two. After they have used their two free drinks, they will have to pay for any additional drinks. You could also limit your tasty beverages significantly and buy in bulk where possible. Your guests may not like a keg of beer over a bottle of fine Merlot, but put a pretty ribbon on it and call it good! If your reception is very informal, you could always have your guests bring their own, although that is not in recommendation with proper wedding etiquette. Keep in mind that alcohol affects each of us in different ways, and the last thing you want is a less than pleasant scene during your reception because someone could not hold their liquor.
Photography and Videography: If you do not already have a friend or family member willing, your local college will be yet another good resource. There are many students willing to expand their portfolios, if you are willing to give them a chance. Do not be afraid to ask for examples of their work, and have them take a few photos on the spot. Show them the venue beforehand so they will be prepared for any lighting or obstacle challenges. Be sure to have a written contract of the agreement.
Just Married: Riding away in a limo might be luxurious, but riding away in your own decorated-by-your-friends car is more fun! Who does not want to be honked at by people passing your tricked out, soda can dragging, streamer billowing car? And friends might even write something nice on the windows if you promise them an extra piece of cake.
Remember, the more guests, the more expense that will be involved. More people means bigger spaces, more chairs, tables, decorations, and food. It will also mean you will need more help for it run smoothly, not to mention cleaning up. Keep your guest list on the small side and refrain from inviting the third cousin once removed of your mother’s best friend who you have never met. Expect about half invited to show. For a budget of $2000.00, having up to 200 guest show is near the limit. A marriage is about two people becoming one, not about showing off a beautiful dress.
Make your budget and estimate the cost of each thing you would like to buy, then be creative on alternatives. Do your homework when comparing cost and recruit help wherever possible. With some compromise, creativity, and cooperation, you can have a nice, elegant wedding without borrowing from your retirement fund.
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