Monday, June 22, 2009

Save/ splurge

After seeing the firestorm around Ten Thousand Only's reluctance to reveal her final wedding costs, and sera's comment at broken*saucer: "I don't need or want your wedding total. I want how to make mine cost less, and still get what I want," I decided to share what I've learned about wedding budgets after six months of planning.

All the usual caveats apply: trained driver on a test course, do not mix with alcohol, your mileage may vary.

Talking about money is the last taboo, especially for WASPs (high or not), but I feel strongly about sharing information to help each other out and not go broke.

The initial budget
It's nearly impossible to jump into a new world - where you don't know the parameters, what's available, how things are done - and come up with a reasonable initial budget. Our very first budget was $12,000. That seemed like a huge pile of money when we'd never spent more than a couple hundred dollars for wine and snacks from Trader Joe's for a party. Surely, we could wine and dine 100 of our nearest and dearest for that much. (Especially when I've been in grad school for the past nine years - hardly the road financial security - and both of us have buckets of student loans that we'll be paying until we retire.)

We knew we wanted a Saturday evening party, as about 2/3 of our guests would be coming from out of town. We knew we wanted to be outdoors, in a place that had some special meaning to us. But the cold truth about where we live: it's EXPENSIVE! Especially if you want a venue where you can hang out all day, not just for a few hours in the evening. Fortunately, our parents offered to contribute just when we were getting that horrible sinking realization that our initial budget might cover food, wine and location, but not much else. Our revised budget is at the lower end of the "average" cost of a wedding where we live, via wedding cost estimator, but much much more than the initial budget.

Networking
Most of the best ideas for the wedding - from the venue to the photographer - have come through connections. We are not people with tons of crafty artisan friends. But we do have fairly large networks, and have been blessed with lots of good suggestions (and fortunately few of the kind that question our taste or sanity).

Figure out your Values
The best wedding advice I received was to think about three aspects of the wedding that were most important to me, and to focus time/ money on those.
For me those were:
location
food/ wine
dress*

For Mr. Barefoot they were:
location
food/ wine
cake

Ceremony would be up there, too, as a fourth - but the thing that is important to us about the ceremony is that it is simple and community-oriented, mainly in ways that don't cost money. It was important to us to get married outdoors in a place that had personal significance, so our options on places were immediately limited.

*not that I wanted to spend a ton of money - I most certainly didn't - but finding 'the right' dress that made me feel really special was important. My initial dress budget was $800. I hoped to find a sample sale dress, or one at Brides Against Breast Cancer (even considered driving Portland for the weekend, to go to a sale!). Neither of these panned out, and I ended up 50% over budget, but I'm thrilled with the dress that my sister-in-law and I both independently picked out online for me. (Now, if I could just get over to SF to try it on...)

Catering
Our venue has a designated caterer, so that decision was made for us. Fortunately, she is the amazing former chef at one of my favorite restaurants in SF. From the start, we were clear about the limitations of our budget, and she has worked with us. Serving mostly vegetarian food and having stationary, rather than passed, appetizers has saved us some money. And, much as it pains me, we'll probably do a buffet rather than family-style dinner. The venue requires that we bring our own wine and beer - purchased for half price at the BevMo 5 cent sale. (We need to stock up on champagne or cava at the one going on now.)

Bargaining
With all of our vendors, we've been clear on our budget, and asked what they could do within it. (It helps that Mr. Barefoot went to law school!) A few have not been interested in discussing the terms, so we have just moved on. Most have been willing to develop a package that meets our priorities and needs. Photography is one place that we went way over our initial budget of $1000. After looking at tons of photos on the web, I realized that I wanted an artistic photojournalist who could capture the spontaneous moments of the day, not just the formal portraits. We also wanted someone with lots of experience, on whom we could depend completely. Ok, no way we were going to get that for $1000. Our photographer came up with several a la carte proposals that would cover shooting time at the wedding, processing, and the digital files, but none of the add-ons that come with a package (engagement session, wedding album, etc.). These were still above our initial budget, but allowed us to spend our money on the aspects that are important to us.

The budget crisis
Last week, we had a budget pow-wow. We reined in a few areas that were ballooning, and added a bunch of non-obvious, but necessary, costs that we'd overlooked:
  • babysitters (most of our friends have toddlers);
  • day of coordinator (after seeing all the work Mr. Barefoot put into my graduation party [a casual picnic affair] we knew we needed someone to handle the day of details);
  • rings (ok, totally obvious, but more costly than initially presumed)
  • rentals (chairs and tables for the cocktail hour)
  • rehearsal dinner/ welcome party
  • curtain to segregate the bathroom into male/ female sides (our site is a former military building - apparently there weren't any women around back then...)
  • tax and gratuities

Where we've saved
  • Music: DJ ($100 under budget for four hours of music); Mr. Barefoot's grad school friends will jam during part of the cocktail article; my uncle will help us compile a CD to use during dinner
  • Flowers: cut budget in half, bought vases at the Dollar Store & cribbed some from a friend's wedding, asked florist to work within budget, just read that Whole Foods does flowers - may get boutonnieres (or follow this DIY) there; will probably get extra filler flowers from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, or one of the local flower markets (on target)
  • Save the Dates: handmade/ reused vintage postcards (maybe $30?)
  • My shoes: half-price at Nordstrom!
  • Wine/ beer: half-price at BevMo (a couple hundred over budget, because we don't want anyone to go home thirsty...)
  • Favors: none, other than the fruit and flower centerpieces that guests will be encouraged to take home
  • Decor: scored reusable paper lanterns and vases at friend's wedding, will use seasonal fruit, and white lights that we already own. Still in the market for some inexpensive votives...
  • Invitations: local print shop does letterpress for the cost of flat printing (on target)
  • Cake: on target
  • Transportation: our own cars, lots of folks will stay on site

Where we've splurged
  • Photography (2-3 times original budget, seems totally worth it)
  • Dress (1.5 times original budget, ditto)
  • Venue (not included in original budget, but significant cost)

Getting ahead of the curve
If, like TTO and a.mountain.bride, you begin your wedding planning blog before you are actually engaged, you can get ahead of the curve. I've learned so much from other blogs. Those clever girls can build relationships with vendors before they actually have to write deposit checks. TTO has mentioned that the generosity of vendors who found her through her blog helped with their wedding budget... I'm eager to hear more. Blogging helped us get a free engagement photo session, with the sparkling Rosaura Sandoval,who gave away a few free sessions to so that she could build her portfolio, I was the lucky recipient of a free plan-your-ceremony book, given away by a blogging bride.

To sum up, the main budget lessons I've learned are:
  • Start a blog
  • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize, and network
  • Let the rest go
Ya know, that's also pretty good advice for life.

1 comment:

Krista said...

great advice :)