As wedding season approaches, I thought I would share some pearls of wisdom with bubbling brides-to-be; ) As some of you may or may not know, I was a wedding and event planner for many years. And as of a few months ago, I planned & put on my own wedding! I took what I learned over my years in the biz and put it all together with our limited budget to host the most eco-friendly and affordable weddings I had ever planned. If I do say so myself, it was quite beautiful and I missed none of the elements that come with a large and expensive event. So I figured I would share some insider tips and secrets with you in the case that you or someone you know is headed down the aisle and is frantic about finances and/or their carbon footprint ; )
- Plan Ahead & Be Flexible - I've planned many weddings within all kinds of time frames. From a couple of years to a couple of weeks. Depending on the size and style of your wedding, you may only need a few months but I typically advise on a year. Especially if you are looking for a specific date or venue, in which case I advise 18 months. This is why I say, be flexible. More often then not, the perfect date and/or venue will not be available at the same time so be sure to have options. And a lot of times, getting 1 and or both come at a premium cost. Consider an off day like a Friday or a Sunday, as well as an off season date. Many venues have lower rates on off days and seasons so try to plan around those dates to get the best possible rate in your dream location. Also, think outside of the box. Traditional venues come with many rules and stipulations that can either jack up the cost of your day or force you to use vendors that aren't at the top of your list. In my instance, we chose to do our ceremony at a park overlooking the ocean. We had our guests stand, created an aisle with flower petals and let the scenery be our decor. Price tag - $0. Afterward we had some champagne with our guests, sent them on their way to dine and freshen up while we took our photos, making it back home just in time for our backyard reception. Lucky for us we have a fun patio complete with a tiki bar but if you're looking for affordable, consider asking a friend to use their house or yard for the reception. It can be their wedding gift to you. Stringing up some market lights will do wonders to a backyard, making it look simple and elegant for the cost of dinner & a movie, if not less. We saved time, a ton of money, frustration and added to our eco-karma by not renting chairs or having anything delivered. So again, be flexible with your times, dates, themes, etc. because you may be surprised at how great it turns out if you give yourself some options ; )
- Pool Your Resources & Get Creative - There are many elements to a wedding: flowers, music, dresses, food, photos, videos and on and on. And having been a part of the wedding world for almost a decade, I will tell you that as soon as you mention the word wedding, vendor prices sky rocket. What makes a regular portrait session any different then an hour of wedding photos? Or why is a wedding cake boatloads more then a birthday cake? Because it's your "special" day and why shouldn't you have the best, right? Wrong! You can totally have the best and save money too! Get together with your honey and see between the two of you, who might be able to cover what. Do you have a buddy who is a an amateur photographer or budding film maker? Do you love your aunt's cupcakes? Is your neighbor a phenomenal seamstress? Put your heads together because you might find out that you've got a handful of vendors within your circle of family and friends! Fill in the blanks with vendors you don't have covered but do it wisely. Don't have a dj? Consider making your own play list, adding it to your ipod, renting a speaker system for $50 and hitting shuffle. Rent a microphone for an additional $20 or less for toasts and announcements & you've just saved yourself a good $2k or more! Know how to sew? Make your dress or find one at a second hand store and tweak it. Do your own hair &have a fab friend do makeup. Have the guys wear suits they already own, not tuxes. There are a number of ways to get the same result for a lot less, just get creative and don't be afraid to ask.
- Make a list of "Must Haves" & "Could Do Withouts" - As I mentioned above, see what you've already got and what you don't. You may have a few photographers in your contact list but you may not like their style. No worries, make a list with your sweetheart of what elements have to be perfect and what don't. You may find that all you really care about is what your dress looks like and the cake, everything else can be average or even be left off the itinerary entirely. We opted to not have seating the ceremony and asked a friend to marry us. We decided to have cake and cocktails instead of serving dinner. We hired DJ Ipod instead of a real dj. For us, we chose to skimp on certain things that for us, didn't make or break the wedding. For some, getting a friend ordained may not cut it so be sure that a church wedding makes it in the must have list. But if you can do without printing programs, do so. If you do want a program but can't afford to print up 150, print one big one and display it at the ceremony site. Make a copy for you to keep in your scrapbook but don't worry your pretty little head about what the guests take home (it usually ends up in a landfill). There are many things that make up a wedding but it is important to choose what makes up YOUR wedding. Just because a wedding check list says you need x,y and/or z, doesn't mean you need the entire alphabet. Customize your wedding the way you want it and don't feel guilty if you don't have wedding favors, open bar, a chocolate fountain, etc - it's ok!
- Reuse, re-purpose, recycle & re-imagine - Here is where you can save some serious cash ; ) There are so many ways that you can be green and save green while wearing white! For instance, making your own centerpieces, sign-in book, favors and more. This may sound like a lot of work but really, it's a snap. If you're crafty, you will enjoy it and if not, have your girls over for some wine, snacks and Martha Stewarty time. What I chose to do was make my own card drop box, favors, and sign-in book. I gathered some cardboard boxes, in different sizes, and wrapped them in wrapping paper that matched my wedding colors. Instead of buying a card box for $50 that I would never use again, I cut a slit at the top of the box, wrapped the whole thing and printed the label on my computer. I decided I didn't want a traditional sign in book so I used an old photo album and decorated the pages with wedding themed stickers & scrapbook goodies. I used recycled construction paper to have people write their wishes & messages on and stuck those to the blank pages of our book after the wedding. I wrapped a tea canister with the matching wrapping paper and voila, a cute pen holder! Lastly, we didn't have favors in mind but I had plenty of neat construction paper left over. So I created a recipe that reflected Dan & I's fave combined dessert and printed them up for our guests to take home as their gift. All of this cost us about $15 total, if not less, and I did it all in 1 evening ; ) You can create your own everything from your invitations to your bridesmaid jewelry. It's all a part of the must have vs. do without step along with a touch of being creative, green and budget conscious. I will add that my dress was 100% green and made by my one of my closest friends, Anna of Annatarian - we bought no fabrics to make the dress, just what she already had in her incredible eco-studio!
- Have a potluck meal or a cocktails & cake reception - For many, this might not fly, but again, consider it. To be frank, most guests don't care about what their eating, they are there for the party & the couple. A lot of the times, wedding food is less then average and if it's not, it cost more then half of the wedding budget. If you're spending a third to half of your budget on catering, it's time to re-think it. You can still have a beautiful, sit down meal if it is a buffet style, potluck. You would be surprised how many people enjoy potlucks because of the variety of foods as well as the feeling of inclusion that they have been able to contribute to your celebration. You cut out a big chunk of the budget so that you can put it towards a better photographer or a few more days on your honeymoon. Again, what do you really want and what can you do without? In our case we opted for cake and cocktails. We bought booze and mixers at Costco and had some chips, salsa, guac and hummus to nosh on. We offered our favorite cocktail choices (Margaritas and Jack N' Cokes), serve yourself style, as well as beer and wine so we didn't have to spring for stocking an entire bar. Remember we had a few hours in between ceremony and reception so folks could grab a dinner of their choice and meet back up with us for the fun part. In addition, we had people voluntarily show up with trays of food so we were more then covered. Because of this, we didn't need to rent table and chairs so we saved ginormously! Because we didn't have to squeeze in a meal, we had more time to spend with our guests, dance and enjoy all the reception events (first dance, garter & bouquet toss, slideshow, toasts & cake) without rushing.
- Borrow - I'm a huge fan of borrowing items for weddings. Even though it is your special day, you really only use things once and afterward it takes up lots of space if you choose to hang on to it. I've been hearing that a lot of brides are renting their gowns which is a smart choice. This way you get the designer gown of your dreams without the hefty price tag that goes with it. I've also seen brides borrow each others dresses because chances are, there will be very few overlapping guests and no one will know the difference. Share the cost of the dress and enjoy it 100%. If you're having a home wedding, borrow furniture from friends and neighbors, don't spend money on rentals. Create neat spaces like loungy areas, standing areas and seated table areas with mismatched furniture. Tie it all together with a common theme like candles, lighting, centerpieces, etc but ultimately you can save thousands of dollars by borrowing seating while making it feel more personal and quaint. We made a few fire pit seating areas around our patio which lent itself to some fun guest interaction and spread the crowd out so as to not have everyone crammed next to the food or bar. Conserving resources and cold hard cash!
- Make it a collaborative effort - One thing you will learn is that many people want to help you with your wedding. You will also learn that what is meant to be YOUR day isn't yours alone, it's everyone's, especially close family. So instead of resisting because you want things just so, take them up on it! If you delegate well, you will have a stress free, beautiful day that everyone involved can rejoice in. You can have plenty of your own days with you wedded partner on your honeymoon ; ) Think of it, how much more fun would it be if Aunt Tilly made the flowers instead of an overpriced florist who has 5 more weddings that day? How much would you love to have your uncle Joe's lasagna for dinner instead a plate of wilted lettuce and bland pasta? Wouldn't you like your detail oriented best friend setting up your reception just the way you want it instead of handing it over to a catering manager who might not get your vision? This all ties back in with planning, flexibility, must haves and not cares. If you are willing to let go of the gold encrusted linens for handmade table cloths made by your grandma and the 5 tiered castle cake for a tower of your favorite cupcakes, go for it. Bringing friends and family into the planning and execution of the wedding day not only makes it more personal and unique, but all the more memorable. 10 years from now you might not remember the name of your caterer but you will remember your family crammed in your kitchen, prepping for the big day and having a wonderful time ; )