Planning a wedding is one of those events in life that everyone believes they know exactly what to expect and how much they are going to budget, and then they discover details and expenses no one ever prepared them for. Oftentimes, it's the little things that add up and take you by surprise. So, before you get too far into your planning, take a few minutes and read through my top five tips to avoid some of the more common, and manageable expenses.
#5 Guest favors. Brides understandabley want to thank their guests for coming to this most important day in their lives. Once upon a time, guest favors weren't really a thing, but, over time they have gone from a simple tulle wrapped cluster of Jordan almonds or butter mints, to matchbooks, napkins, shot glasses, Christmas ornaments, jars of honey, just about anything you can think of. Many brides choose to personalize these gifts, which is great, except, you really need to manage your expectations of how your guests will receive that gift with your initials on it or your photo inside. Your parents, grandparents, and possibly some other close friends may find your personalized gift a wonderful keepsake, but, they also have pictures of you that they keep for the same reason. The rest of your guests will likely toss the favor in their garbage, or worse, they will just leave it behind at the reception, and then you are stuck with 50 or more coasters with your pictures on them.
If you are going to spend money on guest favors, consider something consumable, as these are the favors I see most often being happily received by guests. Something like a honey jar, or jam, or mini cakes, just about anything edible is typically very much appreciated.
My best advice is, look at your overall budget, taking out the larger expenses such as venue, food, photography, etc, and then, from what is leftover, determine how much you want to spend on guest favors and then choose something that fits that budget based on the number of people on your guest list. Most people have no expectation of receiving any kind of guest favor. It's a nice way to say thank you, but, they didn't come to your wedding to get a gift. They came to wish you well and share in your celebration. You are feeding them, entertaining them, and sending a thank you card for their gift. If you choose not to offer guest favors, no one that cares about you is going to judge you. Put that money to a good DJ, or a band, or some kind of experience that will be memorable. Put that money toward something that will matter to you. Or just put that money back in the bank to use on your honeymoon.
So, in my opinion, unless you have room in your budget, forget the favors and focus on the fun you will provide at the wedding instead.
#4 A Cheap VenueYes, you read that right. If you want to save money, avoid booking that cheap venue. What you save in venue fee you will probably spend trying to make it look like your vision. Sure, that church hall may be cheap, or even free, but, by the time you cover the ceiling, walls, floors, add lighting, etc, you may well end up spending more than if you booked a venue that needed no changes at all.
I've worked with brides that wanted to use their church hall because they were on a tight budget and then asked me to drape the walls and ceilings. When I quoted the least expensive type of draping they were very surprised. In trying to DIY the draping they found that the job was far beyond their ability, and everyone that said they would help for free ended up dropping out or just not showing up. It was stressful, and a hit to the bride's budget to pay a company to come in and do as much draping as she could afford. . In the end, the hall looked better than it started, but, it was no where near what she wanted.
There are ways to camouflage blank walls. Bringing down the hall lights and hitting the walls with up lighting can transform, but, only just to a degree.
My advice, do some research on what you would spend on those cover ups, and then, check out some venues that need no changes. Compare prices. You may find you will save money, and just as importantly, you will save stress. One less thing to have to worry about.
#3 Rent your wedding dressOnce upon a time, rental dresses were in limited supply and finding one you absolutely loved that actually fit was next to impossible. So, after being frustrated, brides then are forced to buy a dress they will wear only once, and then have to either store it or find a way to sell it.
That was the problem for such a long time that companies have sprung up taking advantage of all those dresses being sold after only one use. They have been building inventory all this time, and now, it's a rare bride that isn't able to find an amazing dress, in her size, that she can rent for a few hundred dollars, look fabulous in, and then return for another bride to use.
If a one time use dress is not a priority, and you would prefer to put the extra cost into another part of your wedding day, such as a venue or catering, then take my advice and find a rental company in your area and go try some dresses. I believe you will be surprised at how beautiful and pristine the dresses are and will walk out of there with the perfect wedding gown.
#2 Dummy Wedding CakeHave you ever tried to cut a wedding cake? I have, and it's no easy task. Many venues require you to have this in your catering contract as a separate cost because it is such a difficult job to do without ending up with a mess on the plate instead of a pretty slice.
Many brides choose not to serve their guests from that big cake for that reason, and opt instead for sheet cakes to be made and cut.
Multi tiered wedding cakes are expensive, starting at about $300 and going up from there based on flavors, icing choice, decoration, and total number and size of the tiers.
Save yourself at least a couple hundred dollars and still have the cake that looks exactly like the cake you originally planned to have by ordering all but one tier as a "dummy" tier. These are styrofoam tiers covered in frosting and decorated. The baker will not have to charge you for baking cakes, just for the styrofoam. Alternatively, you can forego a display cake entirely, and just have a couple of sheet cakes to serve your guests from.
#1 Streamline your guest listNearly every single item on your to do list will be impacted directly by the number of guests you are inviting. Caterers typically charge per person, so, you can imagine how quickly that fee will add up when you consider the average cost per person starts at around $11. Often guests will bring additional people such as dates, children, a companion. Then you have tables, chairs, napkins, etc etc, plus a space large enough to accomodate your guest count within fire codes. If you are having an open bar, that's going to be an equal expense to the catering, if not more. The best way to streamline that list is by having a limit on how many people your catering budget can afford, and then only invite that number to the reception. If you are concerned about hurt feelings, perhaps a pot luck buffet would work better, but, if not having guests contributing to the food is important to you, then you could consider a private dinner for close family and friends, and then a dessert or appetizer reception.
Be honest with yourself, and your budget. Fix an amount and plan the reception around it, instead of the other way around. Consider sending announcements to those guests you wouldn't miss, and invitations to those you would. Whatever you choose to do with your event, the number of guests will be your first question from every vendor. You can get away with a ballpark number at first, and they will quote you a ballpark figure, but, at some point, you will have to know pretty close to an exact number. Be careful about how many invitations you send out and try to only invite the people you have confidence will actually show up. That will give you a much better control figure to work with.
I recently planned a wedding for a couple that were sure only 20 people would come. In the end result there were over 50, and additional tables had to be added. Luckily, the rsvp gave enough time for that.
Final tip, start with your budget. Work backwards from there putting your largest expenses first, keep your expectations realistic, and remember, it's your day. It's nice to share that day with as many family and friends as you can, but, in the end, you will still be just as married if you invite 25 people and have an intimate party, as you would with much more.