As we were reminiscing about that sweet day in April, so many emotions flooded my heart. I hope I never forget how special that day was, how much love and support we received, and how the simple yet complex words, “I do”, changed my life in the absolute best way.
But along with those sweet memories, came the not-so-sweet memories… of wedding planning. Of course, I have some very happy memories of wedding planning, but if I’m being honest, engagement was a very difficult season for me. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. In fact, just the other day, I was talking with two friends who are battling through engagement. They’re counting down the days and highly considering “just going to the court house”. Oh sisters, I’ve so been there. You are not alone. Between the inevitable family/friend drama, endless logistics, and trying to stay within the dreaded budget, it’s hard not to want to pull your hair out at times. And it all seems so conflicting as you’re supposed to be planning the “best day of your life”.
BUT because I know how much you will want your beautiful hair still attached to your head on your wedding day, I’ve decided to make a list. A list of the 6 ways we were able to save money at our wedding and 6 more things we decided to just cut out altogether. Bye, Felicia. My hope is that this list will comfort those of you in the trenches of wedding planning. Those of you trying to figure out how to make your fairytale day, a reality AND within your budget. So here you have it…
The 6 Ways We Saved Money At Our Wedding:
Long story: The reception music was important to us. William LOVES to dance and he had a certain type of band in mind. Little did we know… wedding bands cost A LOT of money! Like average $1,000 PER BAND MEMBER kind of money. PLUS hotel rooms and meals if they aren’t from the area. PLUS an extra $25+ per song they do not already know.
After finding out the bands we originally had in mind were going to cost $5,000-$10,000 (ouch), we decided that if we really wanted a band, we would need to find a small one. And they needed to live in Atlanta. Same feel but less people and accommodations to pay for… Yes, please.
On top of that, we needed someone to play for our ceremony… because we weren’t getting married in a church. We quickly realized this was going to cost us another $300-$500 (that we hadn’t really planned for).
Luckily, we ended up finding a local, 3 person band, that didn’t charge anything for songs they needed to learn, and that would play the ceremony for free. Hallelujah. This ended up saving us a ton of money BUT we did not feel like we had to settle at all. Win, win.
Short story: Look for local bands with 2-3 people. Make sure to ask if they charge additional fees to learn any songs and if they have any ceremony music deals.
A Fine recommendation: 7Sharp9, Atlanta, GA (Total: $2,250)
Long Story: We never wanted a big, formal sit down dinner with different courses or selected entrees but we did want a yummy dinner people would be full and satisfied from. Either way, wedding food is tricky because everyone has different preferences. It’s stressful trying to plan a meal that 250+ people will all enjoy.
I looked into many popular catering companies in Atlanta and was blown away by the prices. Most were going to be anywhere from $8,000-$15,000 ($30-60 a head) for a simple meal of salad, chicken, potatoes, green beans, and a roll. SAY WHAT. I mean we loved our guests and wanted them to have a nice meal… but that would have been ½ of our entire budget.
We ended up deciding that a true southern wedding in a barn wouldn’t be complete without one of our favorite foods: barbecue. And luckily, barbecue fit the bill. By going with a local barbecue restaurant that offered catering, we saved SO much money. Mainly, because they did not charge by head, but by tray of food. This way we were able to have many food options — without the high price tag. We were also able to hire our dinner staff and bar tenders through the restaurant which we found also saved money. Many caterers have hidden fees such as: cake cutting ($2-5 per slice), corking fees ($5+ a bottle), delivery fees, etc. We were able to avoid all of these extra fees by working with a friendly restaurant that simply charged for their labor/time.
Short Story: Try to find a favorite restaurant that will cater food in bulk/by tray and not per head. Make sure to ask if they charge additional hidden fees.
A Fine recommendation: ‘Cue Barbecue, Milton, GA (Total: $3,700 — Appetizers/Dinner/Non-alcoholic drinks for 250 people — Avg. $14/person) *not including labor
Long Story: Honestly, the wedding cake was never high on my priority list. I don’t really care for cake and I’ve never understood the big hoopla about overpriced flour, sugar, and eggs. I would have been happy with just doughnuts or cupcakes BUT because it’s a wedding tradition and it was important to my mom, Granny, and wedding coordinator… we had one 🙂
So I called around and had a few estimates… that were all OVER $1,000! For a cake, people! I just don’t get it. Until I heard of a 1940s bakery called McEntyre’s that was known for their amazing cakes with even better prices. So we went for a tasting! And it was delicious! But the price?
Although it was better than our previous $1,000+ estimates, our cake estimate still came to $750. When the sweet lady saw my look of discouragement she let me in on the BEST secret: “You know, about 75% of the cakes we do here are… fake. Which would probably cut your total in half!” “Um… I don’t even know what that means but where do I sign up??”
Turns out they were able to make the exact same cake I wanted … out of foam… but then iced to look real. Genius. Then, instead, you just order the (buttercream) cake you want in sheet cakes (and obviously have that served as if it were the pretty stacked cake all along). And she was right… this made our cake price go from $750 to $300 which was so worth it, in my opinion. The best part is that with this new price, we were able to get the 120 doughnuts we wanted as well (for $90). YAY.
Short Story: Try to find a bakery that will make a “fake cake”. Remember to ask about additional charges for cake platters, décor, and delivery.
A Fine recommendation: McEntyre’s Bakery, Smyrna, GA (Total: $468 — for fake cake w/topper + 2 sheet cakes + 120 doughnuts + delivery)
*(The top tier of our cake was real so that we could cut into it… but other than that, I don’t think anyone even noticed their cake didn’t come from the “cake”)
Long Story: As you know, alcohol adds up… quickly. And trying to estimate how much you will need is a pain in the rearrrr … BUT we were so thankful our venue allowed us to provide our own … huge budget saver! Side note: I remember one venue I had originally looked at (that required you to use their caterer/bar) had a MINIMUM bar tab of $5,000 (regardless of the amount of people you had)! For real? No thank you.
Anyways, with the help of my parents, we searched for the best beer and wine prices in town and came up with this: Total Wine for Wine and Costco for Beer. (And we decided against liquor.) Easy. The staff at Total Wine was so valuable in helping us figure out how many bottles we needed of everything, based on our guest number, guest preference, food selection and reception hours. The best part was that for every 3-6 bottles of wine you buy, you get another 15% off their already decent prices. So when buying in bulk (as we were) … we did even better than planned. My mom was very worried we wouldn’t have enough and they assured us we would. And they were right… we even had leftovers of both!
Beer and Wine for 250 guests:
Short Story: Try to find a venue that allows you to bring your own wine & beer. Cut out liquor. Buy your wine and beer at wholesale stores like Total Wine and Costco. Check around and see when they are having sales/discounts on certain brands and try to buy then! THEN, make sure you find bartenders that will just charge for their time and don’t have any additional fees for each bottle they open, etc.
A Fine recommendation: Total Wine + Costco (Total: $750 — much better than a $5,000 bar tab!! )
Long Story: Although flowers were definitely important to me… they weren’t the most important thing to me. Yes, they are beautiful and enhance pictures and the overall setting, but since we were already getting married outside, I didn’t think we needed much. With the help of my very creative, talented and patient 2nd mother, we were able to buy all of our flowers wholesale and put them together in her dining room the week before. Of course, she did most of the work, and I was just doing my best to support her working… but those were special memories I will NEVER forget. To be involved in the entire floral process and literally watch my floral vision come to life was something most people cannot say. There are so many ways to make affordable and easy centerpieces these days. Get creative and do things yourself!
All that to say – if you know someone who is gifted in this area, or even if you just have a bunch of cousins who are willing to help… don’t be afraid to enlist their help and do the flowers on your own. I think you’ll be amazed at what you can create. And how special it is to see how much love was put into each piece created.
Short Story: If possible, buy flowers and make your bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces yourself. You will avoid paying someone else for the labor and you will look back and be so proud of what you helped make beautiful.
A Fine recommendation: Grace’s Garden Floral Design, Marietta, GA (Total: $730) *for flowers only
Long Story: I had no idea how much invitations would cost. Not a stinkin’ clue. But I did know I wanted something simple, pretty, and not very formal. When I first went to look through invitations, I was very overwhelmed by the many options (still unsure of the price tag at that point). I finally decided upon one and was very excited about it… until I was informed it was going to cost $1,300 for 225 of them. Woah. For paper? (I’m aware that some of you are starting to think I’m cheap/unrealistic now… 🙂 )
After making it clear that we did not have $1,300 budgeted for invitations, I was advised to pick a different paper. Apparently, the invitation I had picked was on a very expensive quality and heavy weighted paper. But I had never even noticed the paper (as it was glued to a page in a book). I had picked the invite based on the layout, font and colors. (Shows how little I knew about them.) My assistant laughed and said that we could easily get that exact same look on a different paper and it would cut the price in half. GREAT.
I picked another paper, that was still pretty and not extremely thin, and sure enough… it cut the price in half. For essentially the exact same look! Obviously, if paper, design and/or detail are your passions, you might disagree… but in this situation, I was very happy to save $600+.
Short Story: Find an invitation look that you love and then see if you can have that exact same look done on a less expensive (but still nice) paper. This will most likely leave you extra money for things like… double envelopes, ribbon, or stamps. Cause yall, postage ain’t cheap!
A Fine recommendation: Naomi’s Paperie, Sandy Spring, GA (Total: $666 — 225 invitations with RSVP cards & 3 envelopes) *before stamps (I couldn’t even make them online for that price!)
AND… The 6 things we said ‘NO’ to:
1)Wedding Favors – There wasn’t anything we had in mind that we REALLY felt our guests would need as they left our wedding. And honestly, there are very few weddings that I even remember to grab my favor. So we cut it out.
For 250 guests, this saved us an extra $500-1,000 depending on the favor. (Averaging $2-4 a favor).
2) Hotel Gift Bags – Our hotel charged $5 per bag they needed to hand out to guests. That alone would have been an extra $200 BEFORE buying the things to go in the bag. To our guests: We’re sorry if you were disappointed when you didn’t get a water bottle and a bag of cheezits or cookies upon your arrival… I hope you will forgive us.
For 40 rooms, this saved us an extra $300-400, estimating that each bag would cost $3-5 to make + delivery fee.
3) Liquor/Champagne Toast – As you read above, we decided to cut out liquor, because it saved on money and we didn’t feel it was necessary. We also cut out a champagne toast … for the same reasons. No regrets.
For 250 guests, this saved us… a lot 🙂
4) Wine Glasses – Because we got married at a venue that didn’t provide anything and we were having a restaurant cater, there were many items we needed to rent. Such as: flatware, plates, serving trays, table clothes, etc. Wine glasses were another item that we were encouraged to rent but decided against. Bringing in another 400 rented wine glasses just didn’t make sense, logistically or financially. Especially when we already needed to get other cups for the water/lemonade/tea/coffee stations. We ended up buying a pack of 1,000 plastic cups (for $60 online) that we were able to use for all drinking purposes (except coffee) and it was perfectly fine.
This saved us an average of $250.
5) Bride/Groom Gifts – Giving each other gifts is a tradition that I find so interesting. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, I just think it’s funny. When you’re spending so much time and money planning a wedding and preparing for marriage… how do you have any extra time or money to get a gift for your future spouse?? I sure didn’t. And honestly, I’m not even sure what I could have given William that would have been significant enough to represent that day. We joked that our gift to each other… was each other! … and that was FREE! Oh, and our honeymoon… which wasn’t exactly free.
This saved us … money! Would depend on how nice of gift you & your spouse decided upon.
6) Save The Dates – Last but not least… and probably one of the hardest decisiosn… we decided against Save The Dates. Man, Save The Dates are so stinkin’ cute these days. People get very creative with them… sometimes just for the purpose of sending out a cute picture of themselves. Which I totally support, don’t get me wrong. But when it came to things we could cut out, we decided this could be one of them. I mean really… it’s 2015, everyone who knows you well, probably knows the date you are getting married and what your engagement pictures look like. Both are probably on social media somewhere. We didn’t feel that by not sending them out, there would be people who wouldn’t be able to make it. Or that would be very surprised they were invited. And that was proven true. In the end, we didn’t feel anyone missed out on our wedding due to cutting out this step. (We also just made sure to mail our invites out a bit earlier than the “suggested” date.)
For 225 Save The Dates… we saved $700ish (including postage). Booya!
As much as I hope at least one of these “tips” helps you, as you plan for one of the best days of your life… the most important advice I can give you is to: spend more time and preparation planning for your marriage, than your wedding. Although this feels very difficult at the time, it’s essential to starting your life together. And it will be one choice you make while engaged, that you will never regret. Although… you might not always be able to say that about your bridesmaid dresses 🙂
Our wedding pictures: http://graceology.client-gallery.com/#/one-fine-wedding (Graceology Photography)
Our wedding highlight film: https://vimeo.com/128207770 (Alex Smith Videography)