There are times in the wild and wooly roller coaster ride known as wedding planning when finding the sweet spot between what you want, what you can afford, and how much things cost can feel a bit like this:
Frankly, it’s not easy to find a balance, and the tighter your budget the smaller the window you have to try to fit through.
Still there are things you can do, both in allocating your funds well and in vendor negotiation, that will help you wriggle through with a minimum of misery, embarrassment, and red ink. Read on to find out what to do… and what not to do.
The first thing you need to do is prioritize. Figure out what you need no matter what, and where you can let go of an expense or three. Decide what’s most important to you and figure on spending your money there.
For Mr. Twistie and me, the things that got top priority were the venue, the music, and the food. After that, we figured everything could take a hit to the budget and we wouldn’t worry that much. But I was completely in love with the space, we’re both all about the live music, and we didn’t want anyone at all going home hungry.
After that, we looked for extra-good deals on things that didn’t matter as much to us, like flowers, decorations, invitations, and favors.
Your priorities may (and quite possibly will) be different from ours, but that gives you a good idea of the number of priorities you can safely have while working on a nearly nonexistent budget. We. Were. Broke.
Once you know what your priorities are, it’s time to figure out what you don’t need at all. If you don’t care about chair covers, frankly, that’s not something that’s going to make or break your wedding for most guests. If they don’t fit in the budget, forget that they exist. This one is really hard for a lot of couples. They get pressure to have the chair covers, give out favors, have fifteen different printed items for guests to take at the big event, and do a lot of other little touches that add up to a lot of bucks. Fail to bow to the pressure or find less expensive ways of compromising with your friends and families.
For instance, your parents may think everyone needs their own individual menu at the reception before dinner comes around. You may think this is a waste of your precious bridal bucks. But maybe you can save most of that money and your parents can still be satisfied if you have one menu per table, or have one large menu printed up and displayed nicely somewhere instead. Where possible, find middle ground everyone can live with… especially if you want a good relationship with those on the other side after the wedding is over.
While sourcing wedding items, remember that just because you are dealing with a particular aspect at the moment, that doesn’t make it an overall priority. It’s easy to think that since you’re dealing with invitations right now, they are the priority and so you should get the most expensive ones because they’re the nicest. And yes, nice invitations are great. But are they a priority in the wedding or merely in the moment? The priority of the moment is what you’re working on right now, but if it’s not a priority for the entire wedding, stick to your budget guns and don’t get sucked into how pretty the more expensive one is. Choose something you can afford. Nobody’s wedding was destroyed because they had the carnations they could fit in the budget rather than the roses others expected.
Get creative in your sourcing. Remember, you don’t have to shop somewhere that includes ‘wedding’ or ‘bridal’ in the name just because it’s for your wedding. Think carefully about whether there are other places you can get what you need for less. Now is the time to figure out if a couple well-considered DIY projects will save you cash while adding to the individuality of your wedding.
When it comes to vendors, there’s only so much you can do. The first thing to do is your research. Ask friends or co-workers who’ve recently married who they used and what their experience was like. Check out reviews on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List to see what other recent customers have to say. Take a look at the vendor’s website to make sure you like the general direction of the work beforehand and see if you can get a sense of the pricing. Remember, the better the vendor, the more likely you are to have to pay top dollar to get them.
Once you’ve whittled your list down to two or three candidates to interview, make a list of the questions you want to ask in advance. Really think about what you want and how much you’re willing to pay. And remember, the price of the raw materials will not be the entire cost of the finished product. You are also paying for time, talent, any other staff members, and the convenience of having someone else do the work. Don’t just look up what hydrangeas cost at the wholesale warehouse and expect the bouquet to cost that. Recognize the difference between a grocery store bakery and one that’s run by an individual pastry chef and cake artist.
During the interview, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything that can be done to sweeten the pot… but don’t let it phase you if the answer is no. If you don’t ask about possible discounts and extra goodies, they won’t happen, but asking for them does not guarantee that they will be forthcoming, either. If you buy the more expensive gown, the salon might throw in an inexpensive veil for free… and they might not. If you go for the higher priced fish dish, the caterer may or may not add an extra appetizer for your cocktail hour.
Oh, and that’s the other thing: these extras and freebies generally come only when you agree to something that spirals your budget higher or when you take something off the vendor’s hands they really need to move. When the stars align properly, it’s a beautiful thing. Thing is, it doesn’t happen automatically just because you showed up.
Most of all, when you ask about pot sweeteners be as nice as possible about it. There’s nothing that makes discounts and freebies go away faster than asking for them like you are entitled to them… unless it’s making an active threat. Don’t do that. Not that any of you would. It’s just I’ve seen it so often on Bridezillas that part of me is getting slowly brainwashed by the dominant cultural paradigm about getting married. I’m fighting it, really I am.
In the longrun, the goal is to have the nicest celebration you can on the budget you have. It doesn’t matter whether that celebration is going to cost a hundred dollars or a hundred thousand. What you have is what you have, and spending it thoughtfully is always a good idea.