Putting the above statistics aside, let's get some stuff out of the way.
- Wedding events and receptions are a LUXURY
- Budgets AREN'T bad.
Wedding celebrations are like handbags. You can absolutely go to your fave big box store and pick-up a cute bag you love. Reality speaking, it's not going to last forever. But, you can enjoy every moment you have with it and that is extremely valid.
....But, you can also go to a luxury store and get an Italian ostrich leather bag (it's okay, I hear they're mean) and have it as an item to gift to your child at their college graduation. Or just to love and wear everyday for years. There will be a fancy box, dust bag, and certification. And wanting to indulge in a luxury you worked hard for? That's just as valid.
There's of course somewhere in the middle of the two (the Kate Spade or Polène of weddings?), BUT most importantly, there is never reason to feel judge or to judge others based around what they choose to devote their resources to.
I talked to Rachel Hampsey of Day One Wedding Co, Erica Baker of Baker Connection, and fellow cat-lover Mackenzie from Mack & Main to get the scoop on some of the myths and tips to best utilize your wedding budget.
Tip #1 - Change your view on the word "budget"
Budget is a dreaded word in a lot of communities, and the first step to maximizing your bang for your buck comes from shifting that mindset. Your budget ALLOWS you to do things.
Going back to the luxury bag example, I personally have a little savings account that I invest a small amount into a month, so that once I find that bag I just love, GUILT FREE. When I'm tight on budget (like in the off season) I reduce that amount. Now and then if I happen upon unexpected income, I put it into that fund. It's something I want and actively work towards. You could call it a priority.
It doesn't matter if you have a $15k budget, a $350k budget, or even a MILLION DOLLAR budget. It's all about how you allocate.
When you look at your wedding, Rachel Hampsey says making a list of your PRIORITIES should be one of your first steps.
Tip #2 - List out your Priorities
This is going to be different for every couple. I you want a killer party, you won't want to skimp out on the DJ or a wedding coordinator to handle all the details, so you don't have to.
But if you're not moved by invitations? Skip 'em.
User-friendly wedding websites like Zola offer free digital invitations to text or email to your guests. If you love paper invitations but sending out a suite with custom lettering, invitation, response card, details, and things to do (plus envelopes) isn't on the cards (see what I did there?) you can always opt for semi-custom and DIY- Rachel loves templates of Canva or Etsy. Pair them with a wax seal that you can DIY with your wedding party to add a special unique touch, like your initial, favorite flower, or outline of a building that looks like your wedding venue.
If you do adore the dreamy flat-lays and mood invitation suites make for your wedding collection, you can find creators who will make you a custom or semi-custom design in a small quantity- like three. Your photographer can use those, and then you can gift one to you & your partner's parents and keep one for yourself.
Tip #2.5 - Discuss your resources, expectations, and well, budget.
Yeah, it's not fun. It might test your engagement. But the reality is you HAVE to talk about the financial side of the wedding someday- and it's better to do that from the get-go versus the midpoint.
Tip #4 - Please, please skip the one-time use items.
I'm sorry. That means anything that says "bride, ms to mrs, bridesmaid, groom, ring security" or other similar items.
If you want to gift your wedding party a robe or pajamas to get ready in, I think it's incredibly sweet, and I don't want that to be overshadowed in this message. More so, think about things that your besties are ACTUALLY going to want to enjoy or use again. I have a feeling they're not lounging in their "bridesmaid" robe again. Your friends want to spend time with you. Instead of worrying about a Pinetrest trend from years ago, create memories together that you'll cherish years into the future.
(This isn't to say that I don't love matching pajamas for getting ready - just go with something they'll wear again.)
Honestly- forget favors. Skip having a rehearsal dinner AND day-after brunch. Cut those bach trips to islands. I love my squad, but I'd rather have an extra few days on my honeymoon and do something together locally than fly far off for a long weekend.
This principal can be applied to REUSING things too. One of Erica Baker's faves? Repurposing ceremony flowers to reception decor.
I adore over-the-top and stunning florals, but don't love how much there is to clean up at the end of the evening. You can use your ceremony florals in the reception in front of your sweetheart table, to make an amazing selfie station, or to enhance your cake or cookie display.
I personally think repurposing wedding party bouquets tends to go wrong- these bouquets go through the longest day without consistent water, get misplaced, or tossed around (please don't throw your bouquets.) It's better to not count on them as a for-sure item, but rather, reuse them if you can.
Tip #5 - Choose your venue wisely.
A venue that costs more but needs less will cost less than a blank space by the time you rent tables and chairs, flowers and decor, linens, plates, and all the other things. Does it have ample getting-ready space? That can be a huge benefit, too! Less group travel means less group transportation.
"Cheaper" venues often add up to cost just as much or even more. Lots of people love the idea of a backyard wedding, until they need to redo some of their lawn for parking, landscape the ground to be even, rent a tent, rent 300 chairs (ceremony and reception), tables, linens, a TENT INCASE IT RAINS (yes I'm saying it twice), a generator, portable bathrooms, and extend their homeowner's insurance to cover the event.
I'd start by looking at historic venues, botanic gardens, and river-facing parks, and skip over chain hotel ballrooms and event halls.
My favorites in Pittsburgh? The Frick, Phipps Conservatory (seriously, the whole venue is astounding), and Sewickley Quarter.
The Spa Lawn at the Omni Bedford Springs has this stunning wall of Evergreens- they plant the garden seasonally.
There was a vintage couch for this setup, but you could go big with a floral archway, or small with your best friends at your side.
Tip #6 - Use credit cards, but in the savvy way.
When I make a big gear purchase, I ALWAYS look for the best credit card to fit my needs, even when I plan to pay it off upfront. Why? Perks.
I opened a card (DiscoverIT, if you're curious!) to buy a lens last year. The card came with 0% APR for the first 15 months, rotating 1% or 5% cash back categories, and a 2x your cash back you earned during the first year. The category for 5% at the time? Payments made through Paypal. The lens was $3000, so I got $150 cash back immediately. Then, at the end of the year, I got another $150 from the promotion. I paid it off during the promotion time, meaning I got $300 back on a purchase I was going to make anyway.
Okay Anne, thanks for the personal numbers. What are you saying?
Find a card that works for you.
Want to go on a stellar honeymoon? Find a card with great millage rewards, and maybe even flier lounges or upgrades. If you'd rather get cash back so you can splurge on a special something you want for your wedding day (like Jimmy Choos?) It adds up fast with no additional work on your end- just make sure you're paying them off before interest hits.
(PS: Yes, you can use this type of card on my website when you're booking your wedding photography! And I highly advice it. Enjoy that extra day on your honeymoon ;) )
Tip #7- Point blank, this is the best way to keep wedding costs in check.
Look, every single planner I asked said this one thing.
If you want to make the most of your budget, you have to keep that guest list in check.
That average of $33k can immediately sound like a healthy budget! But if you have 300 guests, that's going to eat at it really fast.
To hold 300 people, you'll need a bigger venue ($$$)
To transport 300 people, you need more shuttles ($$$)
To feed 300 people, you need more $$$.
More chairs. More centerpieces. More everything.
(the cost per guest at this budget is $110- but remember that has to be food, your appeal, photog, DJ, wedding party gifts, etc etc etc)
With that same $33k and 70 guests, you can find a venue with incredible charm, and have roughly $470 per guest, pre-venue/gifts/photog/etc.
And if you took that SAME amount just twenty guests, you could easily get married at your dream destination, lavishly.
Only invite the people to your wedding who will be there for your marriage.
Read it again.
I'm sorry to your mom's coworker. I'm sorry to your middle-school BFF who hasn't made an effort to see you since pre-college. I'm sorry to whoever from wherever, but I'm actually really not sorry.
Now, let's dispel some myths, curtsey of urban legend, subreddits, and questionable blogs.
MYTH: Use baby's breath and filler, it's cheaper than flowers!
TRUTH: It CAN be cheaper, but it's probably not.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: Work together with your florist. Ask what's locally grown, and chose either your wedding flowers OR wedding date around seasonality. If you love dahlias, they're abundant in summer, but have to be flown in in the spring. Similarly, peonies only grow here in mid-spring, and are short bloomers. TALK to your florist, get their professional opinion, and be transparent with your budget. They know what looks similar (cottage roses and peonies?) but comes at a more in-budget price point.
MYTH: I can't afford a wedding planner or day-of coordinator.
TRUTH: They're shockingly affordable for the value they bring. I surveyed just under ten planners, and the average day-of coordinator takes over two months before your wedding day and rings in between $2000 and $3,500, and full designers can start at $5,000. Remember, they're handling all the things from those two months on. Stuffing invitations. Timelines. Organizing your vendors. Wrangling your families. Bringing physical goods you can borrow instead of buy and use once.
MYTH: I can DIY that. I can DIY everyyythiiiinnggggg.
TRUTH: Listen. I have the gay audacity to believe I can do it all. Landscaping, construction, urban farming, graphic design, you name it, I promise at some point I thought I could do it all by myself.
And yeah, you definitely probably might be able to. But you didn't yet, huh?
DIY takes time AND money AND energy AND it's probably your first time doing that thing. You need the tools to do it.
So hear me out: choose a few things to DIY, try them, and if you can do it without ruining your mental peace, then okay. Proceed with caution.
I LOVE gardening. I've spent hours on hours researching. But when I pick my gorgeous cosmos they flop after about ten minutes. My roses that I had filling vases in our home with last year barely bloomed this year. If I relied on those for an event, I'd have real issues. And you know what I'd have to do? Pay someone more to fix them at the last minute, a far higher amount than if I'd just booked them from the start. Maybe you've always wanted to learn to bake a tiered wedding cake. But for your wedding, when you haven't experienced how fast a hot and humid day can make a cake droop? It's probably not the time to learn that skill.
DIY is an amazing skill, and one I love. But remember you'll also be getting MARRIED. You'll have out-of-town guests, events, and responsibility everywhere else.
If you want to DIY, leave the stuff that needs to be done the month of the wedding day to the pros.
Reliable DIYs you CAN do: cookie table cookies, make a cool reception photo background, collect vases for bud jars, make your signage with Canva/Etsy Templates, write personal and meaningful letters to each guest/table.
(IF you really want to DIY your flowers, consider two things: #1 make your soon-to-be-wed party a class! Several florists, like The Farmer's Daughter and Sapphire and Lace, offer in-person arranging classes that are BYOB. #2. Order from an online shop that specializes in DIY wedding flowers. They'll know what flowers last long enough, will arrive on time, and even have instructions on how to build them. )
OKAY AND EVERYONE'S FAVORITE THING TO SAY ON THE INTERNET....
MYTH: They're charging more just because it's a wedding. Just lie and tell them it's a party.
TRUTH: Ok this is partially true, but also not. YES, I absolutely charge more for a wedding than a party. Why? Because there's no party that lasts ten hours in the heat, involves me not peeing for 6 hour gaps (sorry, it's true) or has bunches of events that need captured, on a strict timeline. Sure, a birthday party has a cake cutting, can have amazing details, and candid moments. But it doesn't have the birthday star getting dressed, showing themselves to their family for the first time, a first-look with their partner, a quick 25 minute drive to another venue, a ceremony that is literally made of irreplaceable moments, and honestly, need I go on? Weddings are extremely high pressure. They DO involve more behind the scenes, pre-event work. They DO involve more post work. They're incomparable for most vendors.
Let's talk for a minute about what's going to happen if you tell a vendor "it's just a party": I'm not going to multiple locations. I'm not showing up with a DETAILED timeline, just a rough time of when you want to do the key events, like slicing a cake or a quick speech. I'm not bringing a second photographer, or likely even staying for more than 3 hours. And honestly, maybe most importantly, I'm not going in with the headspace of telling your love story. They're different moods and moments that involve totally different preparations.
Not to mention, our contract would be for something totally different than a wedding contract, invalidating it, and giving us the go-ahead to leave on the spot
One people bring up a lot is wedding cakes. You definitely can replace your custom-made cake for sheet cakes, but when it comes to a styrofoam cake with a real slice point plus all those sheet cakes, you're often coming pretty close to just getting the cake. An alternate idea? Just do the cookie table and ask your favorite people to bring a few dozen. If the cake doesn't matter to you, just take it off the priority list instead of dancing around it.
(sidenote: I'm also just saying that "no one will know the difference" and "no one even eats the cake" isn't true, and that the BEST cake I've had has been at weddings. Everyone does know, at which point, why not skip it all together? It IS important to cut your cake before dinner though, so that your cake can be sliced and dished before people leave their seats for dancing! The more you know.)
BONUS TIP: Stop comparing your wedding to the ones you see in magazines. Yes, they serve as fantastic inspiration, but what's important to them may not be important to you.
And that's okay. Have the wedding that makes YOU happy. No matter if it's $150,000 or $25,000, it's yours to celebrate the people who love you most, and who you love most.
Well this was super down to earthLet's get our heads back in the clouds
I know, wedding logistics are TOUGH. But I'm here to hold your hand, every step of the way. With my fave go-to recommendations, hot takes on things to skip (garter toss), and cookie table expertise, we'll conquer that wedding day binder together and make a day that's not only beautiful, but YOURS.