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Ladies (and Gentlemen!)… Let’s talk wedding planning.

As you may have previously read, I am still a student and won’t have much working experience under my belt before Archie and I tie the knot.  With that in mind, we are planning our wedding on a budget. I have been “wheeling and dealing” for our wedding for about a year now, and I wanted to share some of the things I have learned along the way that may help you save money too. When I started wedding planning, my expectations about a wedding budget and cost of things were TOTALLY unrealistic. Prices of weddings are a lot higher than I could have ever imagined.  Despite my disappointment with the tremendous costs of anything wedding related, I was determined to find the best deals I could to fit our budget.

Here are a few things that I would definitely recommend.

Set a Budget

Archie and I have a budget that we made using concepts from this article he wrote a couple weeks ago.  We also track our spending using Personal Capital.  This helps us plan our month so that we can spend with a purpose.  When it comes to wedding planning, this is a must!

Depending on you and your family’s financial situation, there may be other people contributing to your big day. Having a clear understanding of who is paying for what is crucial.  Are the parents contributing or are you on your own?  No matter what the situation is, it’s important to talk about who is contributing.  While this is a big day for the both of you, this one day should not put you in debt.  You do not want to start your new lives with debt, paying off credit cards, and a boat-load of worrying.

Once we both talked with our parents, I made a spreadsheet with the list of items that needed to be paid for and my best estimate of what it would cost. We had a longer engagement than most couples, so I had plenty of time to wait for great deals on items that were on my list.  As things were paid for, I would highlight them in a different color and mark them as paid.  Using Excel was perfect for this because it has the ‘Sum’ function to automatically update total costs as I would put in the actual price paid.  I was thrilled anytime my ‘price paid’ came in under my estimate and using a budget like this easily allowed me to see the money that I saved.

Here’s an example wedding spreadsheet for you to start one for yourself!

Make a To-Do list

I am a huge fan of making lists because I feel satisfied when I get to cross something off.  Planning a wedding is a very large job, and having a list helps you keep everything in order, and at what point in time certain things need to be done.  Keeping track of dates is also super important to make sure you aren’t paying extra due to time constraints.  Many vendors realize that as the day is closer and closer, they are able to charge more and more.

After searching many websites and asking my married friends, I was finally able to establish a timeline of when people traditionally should get things done. I have created a “Wedding Checklist” on excel for my personal use, and thought it just may help someone else out too.

Feel free to download the Wedding Checklist and make adjustments to make it better fit your wedding timeline.

Pick a venue

Warning: Weddings are not cheap.  When I started looking for venues, this was the first thing to completely overwhelm me.

We looked at 5 venues before we found just what we were looking for and a price that we could afford. There are numerous ways to save money, you just have to do what within your means of spending.  Some options are:

  • Church ceremony + Church reception hall (cheapest option)
  • Church ceremony + Rental hall or hotel for reception hall
  • Ceremony + Reception at one venue (good option if there are going to be a lot of out-of-town guests)
  • Some venues will have the ceremony and then convert that same area into the reception afterwards
  • Some venues may have a chapel, and a reception hall within walking distance

The venue is likely the biggest part of your budget, which is why you start here. They also tend to vary quite a bit in what you get with venue. Some already provide tables, linens, and catering. However, some venues just provide “the area” and you have to rent the rest of the items (i.e., tables, chairs, linens, catering, flowers, DJ, etc). Make sure to ask about these details when shopping around for venues.

Decide on everything else

Wow, overwhelmed yet? I sure was. The first 3 steps are the MOST important, and the rest of the decisions should be the fun stuff. The checklist I provided above outlines some other things you may need to decide on for your big day.  Here are some resources for things I found most helpful.

Wedding Resources:

The websites below have an abundance of wedding information and also provide a free personal wedding website, where you can keep track of your guest list, registry, and to-do list.

Save-the-dates & Invitations:

A lot of people send out a save-the-date followed by an invitation. We decided to save money by combining our save-the-dates and invitations into one, and have our guests RSVP on our website.   I married a computer nerd, so he built our own personal wedding website, but the links above also provide this service for free if you’re interested in that route.

The 3 best websites for save-the-dates and/or invitations were ShutterflyVistaprint, and Minted.  Look for the site that offers the best promo code or free shipping, and be sure to stack these with whatever purchase reward tools you are using.

Also, don’t forget to think about return labels or stamps.  We decided to use Vistaprint because I was able to score 25% off of my purchase at a time when my credit card also gave me an additional 5%.  Again, the key is to stack as many deals as you can.

Alcohol:

This can quickly add to your wedding costs, but fortunately there are several ways to save money on alcohol for your big day.

  • Have a ‘Stock the Bar’ party: Throw a party at your house where everyone brings their favorite alcohol for the wedding night. This helps cut down on costs for the bride and groom, and guarantees that people will have their favorite booze at the reception 😉
  • Only offer beer and wine: Liquor is the most expensive part of the bar at a wedding, especially if you are having mixed drinks and/or specialty drinks. You have to add in the cost of the soda and mixers.
  • Drink tickets: Have 2 drink tickets at each place setting. How this works, is that guests can have 2 free drinks, and the rest of the night is cash bar.
  • Half & Half: You can have open bar for half the night and cash bar for the other half of the night. Or you can change the times to however fits your budget best. You can decide to have open bar throughout dinner, and switch to cash bar once dinner is concluded.
  • All cash bar: This is always an option if you have a tight budget.
  • No bar: Also another option that some couples choose.

Some venues will require you to hire a certified bartender and often times this opens an option for the bartender to provide their own.  Keep in mind this often is much more expensive.

We went to a liquor store and spoke with an ‘event manager’.  They plan parties year round and can give you a pretty accurate cost estimate for the amount and types of alcohol you want.  Most places will even provide you with a spreadsheet, so you can get a fairly accurate overall cost.  Also, if you choose this option, buy your soda and mixers in bulk at stores such as Sam’s or Costco.  This will help cut back costs quite a bit.

Photography and Videography:

It took me a very long time to find these services for an affordable price. DO NOT SETTLE!

The most cost effective ways are to have friends that are experienced in that field or find someone fairly new to the field. I started by going to a bridal show and talking to different vendors.  Most of the vendors have their work posted at their booth.  By going to a bridal show, you not only get to view their work, but you get to talk to the photographer or videographer to see if their personality fits with you and your future spouse’s. An engagement shoot can take a couple of hours, and you don’t want to spend all that time with a photographer who has a bad attitude.

Also make sure to check their website and customer reviews.  A lot of videographers will not post their prices on their website, and make it so you have to contact them for pricing. Most photographers and videographers offer various packages, so you just need to pick which one fits your needs and budget.

Don’t forget that you can bargain with some photographers/videographers.  There were multiple occasions where I would get a quote, and ask another videographer if they could produce what I needed for a better price than the previous person.  Don’t be afraid to ask, because the worst they can say is no.

The Dress

Some girls have known since they were little the style of wedding dress they wanted, but others have no idea where to start.  That was me.  A-line, mermaid, ball gown, sweetheart…WHAT ARE THOSE?

I started by searching on Pinterest for wedding dresses. Then when I found a designer I liked, I would go onto their website where I could search for their gowns at particular stores in my area.  This helped a lot because I didn’t know where to start shopping. When you first walk into most stores, one of the first things they will likely ask you for is the style you are looking for.  Just be sure to do some research before you go so you can narrow down your options, or the very first time you go shopping, you may want to try on all different styles to get a feel for what you like. Then the next stores you shop at, you’ll have a better idea of what fits you best.

My biggest piece of advice to save money: When you find a designer you like, try to see if they offer ‘Trunk Shows’.  These are when a designer sends certain stores some of their up-and-coming styles or dresses to see how they sell.  You can find deals for 15%, 25%, even 40% off normal prices.  You may even be able to order a certain dress if you know your style during the show for a promotional  rate.  Crazy!  I found my dream dress plus a great discount.  WIN – WIN!

beach chairs on a beach

I hope this article was helpful in your wedding planning journey. We are still in the midst of planning, and if I find other great deals, I’ll be sure to add them to our site.  Archie was in charge of planning the honeymoon, so he’s really excited to share how to travel on a budget.  In the meantime, good luck planning, and if you have found some great wedding money savers, please feel free to share them with us on Twitter or Facebook.