You are not alone! Every bride and groom wants the perfect event. They want it to be fun, unique, and memorable and they want it to complement their tastes and impress their guests! The more each of these areas is covered the higher the bill for the event goes. With today’s financial world the last thing a couple wants is to empty the savings they have accrued or even worse start out in debt. We want you to have that great time and we want you to have your memorable day. After over 25 years in the wedding industry we understand what areas are going to truly enhance the day and what areas are going to pad the bill for that event without much return.
Before you begin reading this we need to get your mind focused properly… This is a list of options, not a step by step procedure. Something I mention may not be something you are willing to cut from your budget. That is fine, however, at each step, you must consider, what is your definition of a successful event and does this item play any crucial part in achieving that goal.
Let’s start thinking practically for your budget. Most money spent at a wedding is on the wedding reception. If you look at US expenditures for Wedding Budgets you will see that your venue, food and decorations team as most expensive, but let’s examine that first. Is the fun… the party … the memorable time… really affected by the room? If it is a great party could you move it to another room and still have it be great… Be honest, yes you could move it! Next… Let’s start really simple… You are serving your guests dinner. Does the food need to be the most amazing experience they have ever had or does it need to be an attractively presented, edible, filling meal that satisfies their hunger? I would side with the latter… You can serve adequate food that nourishes and fills and still have a great party. Yet everyone gets tied up on these points. Let’s take it to the RIDICULOUS… What is your favorite fast food restaurant? I’ll pick Wendy’s, maybe you pick, McDonalds, whatever. Now let’s be clear, I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT YOU HAVE FAST FOOD AT YOUR WEDDING! But if you had to have your favorite combo meal would that be such a bad thing? Well it costs $5 to $7. Why does your menu at the resort need to start at $40 to $80? So the point is; choose a decent meal that nourishes (and is not embarrassing – i.e NO HAPPY MEALS). So… go with the Pasta and Chicken choice instead of Filet Mignon, or choose a place that is not hiding all costs in the food price!
So what is important… Decorations? Well, when the lights dim and the party gets going are they going to enhance the fun of the celebration… Think about it…NO! I’ll point out 2 areas I feel are important. Day of your celebration, what vendor is going to control the flow of the events, make the announcements, help you to choose and play the correct music, setting the right mood and ambiance. That is your DJ – Emcee. They can make or break your event… So maybe you want to place a little more emphasis on the budget for the one vendor that will be crucial. Next, memories; you want someone to capture that great time you are having so you can relive it and rejoice in it for years to come… So that would normally be your photographer or in today’s age possibly a videographer. Once again, this comes down to what you can afford and how tied you are to having a professional versus a committee of friends. So, look inward and get in touch with your own priorities! You must examine each thing you are budgeting and decide if it is contributing to the priorities you have set. Keeping all that in mind let’s get to our list:
1. Biggest money saver: Venue and Menu: Choose a venue and a menu that gets the job done, offers food you are comfortable with and does not use up all your dollars. Let’s be honest… for many, a wedding is a showing of status. If you have to drive the best car and live in the best neighborhood, you are probably not reading this article, but if you are reading but still want the best of the best as far as status is concerned, then this item is probably not your savings area. Remember, many respectable restaurants have a private room for bigger events and they will let you use it for free or very inexpensively if you have a large enough group eating. Don’t forget Club halls like the VFW, Kiwanis, Rotary, Elks Lodge, etc… Many of them offer great discounts to members and great prices to the general public to offset costs. I am in the Phoenix Market and many beautiful resorts have square sterile rooms to hold your event in… You are paying to be in that great resort! Typically these places run menus from $50 to $90 a plate and that covers food, room, linens, and some decorating. Say you have 150 guests at $60 a plate.. That is $9000. Say you find a very nice restaurant with a very nice room. They offer a buffet at $17 per person and you can use the room for free. That is $2550 and you just saved $6550. Remember, most of the resorts have fairly pricey minimums to use the facility.. I can name a pile of venues where the minimum is over $7000 for an event… I can name you over 10 venues where you are paying over $6000 just for the facility… and your reception is on a concrete slab in a tent. If you go outside the tent for a moment you can actually see the beautiful mansion, garden, golf course, etc. There are many facilities that are absolutely beautiful all the way around and they will cost a premium. If that is what you want that is what you should have. But even if you are spending there, do not forget to look at the menu options, for more savings…
2. Menu and Appetizers: - OK, you examined your priorities and picked the venue that fit… Is that the end of possible savings.. NO, it is not! Switch from Filet Mignon at $80 a plate to the Chicken Marsala and Pasta at $60 a plate. 150 guests… You just saved $3000. It’s still a good meal. Even if you picked the restaurant choice… Say they have the same options and the difference is $5 per person (Filet Mignon or Prime Rib at $22 or Chicken Marsala at $17)… Saved $750 in that case. Now, appetizers. You need to have drinks available to your guests during the cocktail hour while you are getting pictures done… They will offer you appetizers. Decide if you need them at all. If you do want some sort of appetizer, choose wisely. Assume they offer a vegetable platter choice at $9 per person or a deli meats and cheese platter choice at $12. Shrimp Cocktails might be $15 per person. But they have a chips and Salsa bar that is $3 per person? Drop the appetizers from $9 to $3 and you just saved $900 during cocktail hour($6 per person X 150 persons)! If you eliminate the appetizers and just offer the bar then you are looking at a savings of $1350. Once again… is it a necessity and how much does it translate to the overall success of your event.
3. Chair covers: – I will admit that covering chairs in wedding colors is very attractive. Typical cost of chair covers $5 to $7 per chair. Do you really need it? Probably not! 150 guests X $6 per chair = $900 in savings. It’s your day.. Prioritize!
4. Wedding Planners: – Ever since Jennifer Lopez showed us how cool it could be, wedding planners have become more common to use. From day of assistants, Full service Wedding Planners that cover it all, and planners that just consult to help you find vendors, prices range from $500 on the low end to $10,000 on the super high end.. Average is probably $1500 – $2000. Let me give you some ideas.. Most vendors have a professional organization. DJ’s – NAME, Photographers – PPA, Videographers – WEVA. Use these organizations to help you select vendors. Once you’ve selected a pro, ask them for help… I personally have done over 1500 weddings and I know many great vendors and will help in the drop of a hat. Now, if you chose a truly professional DJ.. they are going to do somewhere from 50% to 90% of what a wedding planner will do, if you involve them, ask them, and allow them to! They will help you immensely. Ask what online planning tools they offer that are available 24 -7. Ask if they have other resources that can help you.. You will be amazed. For about the average price of the Wedding Planner you can get a DJ that runs your event and offers all the same services, as well as guiding you through your special day. Assign one of your close friends or relatives to be your “go-to” person day of the wedding, so the DJ can work with them and not bother you and make sure everything happens. Talk to your photographer. They do not offer all the same services but they can offer great insights as well.
5. Flowers: Flowers can be expensive and typically by the next day they are mostly getting thrown away. Here are some floral tips. To save on flowers, use lush greenery in your centerpieces. Buy in-season flowers wholesale and then pay a florist to do simple arrangements (or if you’re crafty, then you could DIY!). Think about using some silk flowers… Visit a dollar store.. they normally have quite a few fake flowers in vases at $1 per vase. Many of the restaurants we recommended already have decorated their meeting rooms, so no flowers needed there. If you are having an outdoor ceremony you may not need to decorate anything but your wedding arch which would be very inexpensive. If you are getting married near a major holiday and getting married in your church, you may be able to use decorations already supplied for the holiday service. Acting wisely on these issues could leave you only taking care of flowers for your wedding party and your bouquet!
6. Champagne Toast: Not everyone wants or likes champagne, and it is expensive. Consider doing toasts with whatever drinks guests have in hand instead of champagne. Usually a facility will charge $3 to $8 per person for a toast. This will save you from $450 to $1200 for 150 guests.
7. Bartending – Many facilities will require you to use their bar services. At a resort it is not unheard of to charge $500 to $800 for a keg of beer. Try to avoid that if you can. If your choices are limited consider hosting beer and wine and letting guests buy any mixed drinks they choose. If you are in a facility that allows, you can use a bartending service and literally get the bar and bartender brought in for under $200. You buy all the mixers, alcohol and drinks and they work for tips for the evening. Services even rent out frozen drink machines as well. Having a bar is often a key part of making the event fun and people will not like it if the bar is over-charging on drinks! Consider your options carefully here as this will affect your event’s success.
8. Trim Your Wedding Guest List – Sometimes people don’t want to hear this, but it is the easiest and most effective way to trim the budget. If you cut your guest list from 150 to 100 and have a more intimate affair it opens up more option on halls, it allows a DJ to bring a smaller set of gear (saving you money). Fewer guests, less photos, save on photographer… But let’s talk food. Budget wedding at $17 per person.. 50 guests save you $850. Resort wedding at $60 per guest… 50 guests saves you $3000. It’s common sense.
Small intimate kickin’ party versus larger party with less frills or just less money left afterwards.
9. Shop Demo or Sample Sales (or use the internet) for Cheap Wedding Dresses: –
If you wear a common sized dress (6, 8, or 10) check out sample or display sales, which happen generally once a year. This is a great opportunity to get a designer dress at rock bottom prices. Try discount clearance stores. There is a large one at Arizona Mills here in the Phoenix area. You can also look at websites like EBay, Craigslist and many others for internet deals on used wedding dresses. Remember, cleaning delicate fabrics on a wedding dress may cost several hundred dollars, so avoid the cheap dress that needs cleaned.. Many towns have shops where you can rent a wedding dress. This could also save you hundreds of dollars.
10. Wedding Invitations: Don’t go for engraved invites – regular printed invitations work just as well. Buy your invitations through a mail order catalog instead of going to a stationery store. The prices in these catalogs are extremely competitive and there are many of these catalogs to choose from. For a casual wedding, consider printing your own invites on your computer. Stationery stores sell printed paper meant to use in home printers for inexpensive wedding invitations. Forgo the inner envelope and blotter paper; these are leftover relics from the time when ink needed time to dry, and people desired a beautiful envelope. Rather than having a reply card, ask guests to reply online or by the telephone. Provide a map on the bottom of the invitation, instead of on a separate card. With all these small changes, you not only save on sending postage, you save on return postage!
Remember, it is your day! Spend money on the things that you need to make you happy and on the things that directly contribute to a great event.
About the Author: Eric Godfrey has been DJ’ing weddings for over 30 years. He has served on local and national boards of the National Association of Mobile Entertainers and the American DJ Association. His company, Starz Entertainment has won countless awards and even been honored as the top Wedding Vendor in the State of Arizona by poll of brides and grooms. He writes for Mobile Beat Magazine and The National Entertainer Magazine. He teaches DJ’s via the FAME DJ Academy.