Wedding Beta: Save Some Money - Maximize Your Return
Hi all, this is a weird post for an outdoors blog. So good thing this is an Annie blog and not an outdoors blog ya know? I just went through the mayhem of planning a pretty big wedding. I did a few “non-conventional” things in an effort to save money and maximize the ROI (return on investment) for the money we did spend. I would like to give a super honest rundown of my wedding costs because no one talks about it and it makes it incredibly difficult to budget for a wedding or know what is a reasonable amount to spend on a given aspect.
First, we are crazy fortunate and spoiled- my parents paid for our wedding and Brent’s mom paid for the rehearsal dinner. So yeah, grain of salt. I wasn’t under the financial strain of footing the bill myself. If I had been, I wouldn’t have spent nearly as much (sorry pop!). Me, Brent, and my dad sat down and went through what we needed to pay for as soon as we found the venue I wanted to book. We came up with a budget of 33k and that totally allowed us to throw the best wedding we could imagine. 33k is a huge amount to spend on one day. Which is why I did my absolute best to maximize the ROI by having a 3 day wedding experience instead of just a few hours at a traditional venue. Still an insane amount of money. I am very very blessed. I still did some pretty slick money saving/maximizing things, you know, in my personal opinion. So let’s get into it. If you are going to have a somewhat traditional wedding where people gather and eat a meal, you are going to be spending quite a chunk of money. Throwing great parties for a lot of people is expensive - there is no getting around it.
First, I will break down what we spent on each of the big categories. Then I will go through the ways I cut down on the cost.
The venue was the bulk of our budget. We got married at Crestview Ranch which we actually found on VRBO. This is not a typical venue- it is a big house that sleeps over 40 people on 50 acres of land. We really wanted a place where the whole wedding party, immediate family, and friends could stay with us. And we wanted everyone to be there more than just a few hours on the day of the wedding. So we booked this place for Thursday-Sunday and told friends they could camp on the property. Our wedding party and immediate family stayed in the house itself. Basically, we wanted to have the weekend feel kind of like summer camp. We had the rehearsal dinner at the house on Friday night and did take-out BBQ. We invited all family that was in town and friends helping out with the wedding to come to the rehearsal to maximize our time with all our out of state relatives. We also invited everyone who was up in Granby on Friday night to come over after dinner for smores! It was a rager house party and a ton of fun and allowed Brent and I to see friends that live far away for 2 days instead of just one. Having a “welcome party” seems extra, but if people are flying in to see you, it’s amazing to get to spend more time with them and have actual conversations with them. So, yes 15k is a ton to spend on the venue, but it was also housing for about 70 people over the course of the weekend since people could camp and tent city was Liiiitttttt. I also get really sad when weddings end, I love weddings. So it was important to me to have a venue where the party could keep rolling even after the reception “ended.” After the band was done playing, Brent and I made an “exit” and went to the house to change. We came back out and kept dancing and partying until after midnight! It made the experience last so much longer to not get kicked out of a venue and gave me more quality time with people.
Our venue also provided all the chairs, linens, tables, and permanent decor of twinkle lights and hung tulle. Not having to rent these things or a tent was a huge money saver and made the venue price much more worth it.
So think outside the box when it comes to your venue if you aren’t dead set on everything being super traditional and want to save some money. Rental prices really do add up though, before we found Crestview I got a quote for 10k for a tent, chairs, tables, and linens… 10k to rent those things for 1 day.
Oops there goes the rest of our budget! We originally budgeted 7,500 for catering and obviously went substantially over. This is simply because my parents wanted to invite a lot of people. We ended up feeding 180 people and the original guestimate was 150. We had a local full service caterer provide the meal. Full service catering is expensive but it has a huge return in guest experience. They handle all the things you don’t think about like water and other non-alcoholic drinks, trash, clearing tables, setting up the food, etc. I think it is totally worth it if your budget allows. If you want to do something more casual like take-out BBQ which we did for the rehearsal that’s totally feasible, but gets more and more difficult the more guests you have. I can’t imagine hosting as many people as we did without a full service caterer- they made the evening so much easier and were worth the price tag in guest experience.
We did a completely open bar with 1 specialty cocktail, red wine, rose, white wine, bubbly, 3 kegs of beer, whiskey, gin, vodka, and limited mixers. Doing all that for under 2k??? No way right? Well, this is where choosing the venue strategically paid off. We wanted a place that didn’t require us to use them for catering or bartending and that was pretty non-negotiable. A friend from high school is a professional bartender. He and his girlfriend bartended the whole evening for $200 each. The rest of the cost was alcohol we purchased from Costco and the kegs our friend got us at a discount from the brewery he works at. Win.
Brent’s non-negotiable was a live band - my Dad was all about it. Our band killed it and I feel like that price is pretty reasonable, but obviously more expensive than a DJ. I will say, I think people really enjoyed the live music change of pace, especially the older crowd. We got some aunts and uncles out on the dance floor who “hadn’t danced in 15 years.” Win.
This is embarrassing. Like really hard for me to admit. I had this grand plan to buy a used wedding dress for under $500 and lord it over everyones head that I was so frugal with my dress. Then I started trying dresses on… and hating them. Like really not liking them. I tried on over 100 dresses. The only one I liked other than the one I ended up with was very similar but over $5k. Nope. I love what I ended up with and am glad I went through the process, but am a little disappointed in myself for being such a princess. Oh well, I am planning on selling it. UPDATE: selling a used wedding dress is hard. I have not been successful yet. Yikes.
Okay, now that we got all the big ticket items out of the way, let’s move on to the places I saved the moolah! The most important thing to realize, you don’t have to do anything. Don’t feel tied to having to follow traditions or make guest experience a certain way. But, know you will have to be confident in your choice to break the mold - the pressure is real to give people this over the top experience and I gave into it in a lot of ways. But, you don’t have to. Some things I/we opted out of:
no veil; no garter; no old, blue, new crap;
no bouquet tossing; no garter tossing;
no gifts exchanged between Brent and myself or gifts for the parents (I wrote Brent’s mom a note for the day-of);
no programs (totally unnecessary); no menus (again, totally unnecessary)
no feeling of entitlement to being served or pampered on my wedding day. You are hosting a party, you’re going to be working unless you have paid a planner and coordinator to do everything for you.
no hair or makeup services.
I did my own flowers and ordered them from Sam’s club. I wrote a detailed post about it here. This saved me thousands and I achieved the exact look I was going for! Very proud. You have to be willing to let people help you. They will offer to help, so say yes and have your squad involved in the whole process!
This one isn’t fair because one of my best friends is a professional photographer along with her husband and sister and they basically did our wedding for free. We just paid for her and her family’s Air BnB for the weekend. But, I will say they did an absolutely incredible job and their normal rate is $3000 for a full day of shooting. I know a lot of people who have spent double that on their photographers. Apparently you don’t need to because I couldn’t be happier with the pictures we got… or is Woodbox Studios just severely undercharging? Probably.
Day of Coordinator: $300
I don’t know what DOCs normally cost, but this was basically paying to have a 4th shooter for photography and compensate Rachel, Allie’s little sister, because Rachel was double dutying as the coordinator for the day. I have seem people list similar prices for day of coordinating. You need a day of coordinator. You just do. You’re going to be hiding in a wedding dress when important things need to get done. Just get one. Or if you can reallllllyyyy trust a friend who really wants to work on the day of your wedding, thank that friend profusely with cookies.
If you are bulk ordering flowers, that will be the majority of your decor, let the flowers do the talking. This line item includes the tulle I we strung on the gazebo, plastic salad and bread bowls so we didn’t have to rent them, all of the plates, forks, and knives, and the glassware. Think outside the box when it comes to table settings. We thrifted each water glass so everyone has a unique glass and it looked really cool! We also used bamboo plates, forks, and knives instead of plastic. Such a good option, way cheaper than renting, actually cheaper than plastic, and environmentally friendly. I loved the look too!
I bought my table numbers used for $20 (and then sold them for $30 hehe) from a facebook group called “Recycled Wedding Colorado.” Find the facebook group local to your area where people are selling their used wedding decorations and save yourself money and time- you can steal their ideas. I was also able to use this page to resell the glasses we bought for $75 for all of them, that didn’t completely cover our costs, but pretty close.
Again, the venue offered a lot of value here because we were able to use the wine barrels they have on site and let the natural beauty of the area do the decor for us. I think it is important not to sweat the super small details. I bought mirrors from goodwill for a few bucks and used them as the bar menu, I borrowed a floor length mirror from a friend and used it as the seating chart, I took the mirror off my bedroom wall and used it for the welcome sign. I bought a chalk paint pen off amazon and did all the writing myself. Do I have little boy handwriting? Yes, yes I do. Did anyone feel insulted that I didn’t pay a calligrapher to do all the writing? No, no they didn’t. Not everything has to be perfect, it just needs to get the job done.
Invitations and Save the Dates: $170
Use vistaprint. Print your save the dates as postcards (200 for $50), postcard stamps are cheaper. Use vistaprint. Print simple invites on one sheet of card (200 for $90) and send them out in envelopes. Include to RSVP on your wedding website so you don’t have to include a return envelope or postage and deal with people loosing them and “getting lost in the mail.” Make a wedding website with The Knot and do electronic RSVPs. It’s 2018 people.
Okay we are again cheating here a little bit. We were so lucky to have 2 family rings given to us. My engagement ring was Brent’s mom’s and my wedding ring was my great grandmother’s. We paid to get them resized for my fat fingers which as about $60. I bought Brent’s wedding band from Costco for $215. My point is, don’t be too picky. I lucked out with some beautiful rings, but what makes them special is the family history.
Do it yourself! If you want to look glam, learn a new skill and watch some youtube vids and learn to do your own makeup. Get a savvy friend to do your hair. Seriously, if you are trying to save money hair and makeup should be the first things to go. I really wanted a natural look (personal preference, I think it’s odd when people have a completely different look on their wedding day) so this was pretty easy for me but I still did some research and learned some skills from all the millionaire beauty gurus out there (my faves: Samantha Ravndahl; Tati; Lisa Eldridge). But Annie, if I do my own makeup, wont I spend just as much buying all the products???? NO! Watch the Youtube vids, get some product recos and go into Sephora and/or Nordstrom and get samples. If you feel awkward about it don’t. Be very clear that you are looking for the right product to wear on your wedding day and would like a few days worth of samples in multiple shades so you can shade match. I did this for my foundation (Mac face and body) and didn’t have to buy any and could custom match my skin day of. Also, chances are if you are someone who would want to wear a lot of makeup on your wedding day, you already have it so use it. Tati has great videos with her favorite drugstore finds that won’t break the bank if you do really need something new. I did buy some waterproof mascara for my lower lashes.
Don’t make the mistake I did of getting eyelash extensions. I paid $150 for this and still supplemented them with individual falsies. Not worth it. Just get individual, knot free, false lashes and they will look amazing. Watch this video so Lisa can teach you how to apply them.
I did my own hair and makeup and wore a pair of shoes I already owned. I bought my earrings on Etsy and they had special meaning for Brent’s family. They were $30.
I made my hair piece! I tried on something similar at the boutique I bought my dress and it was THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS. $325 for a glorified headband. I went to Micheals and browsed. I bought a spool of thin gold wire for $4 and a gold headband they had there for $7. I broke apart the headband and wired some stuff all together like a gosh darn artist and came up with the look I wanted. It took less than an hour. Be creative! Have fun with it! I loved my look so much more because I really created it myself. I also did a hair change for the reception and put it up in a voluminous pony tail- I also learned that on youtube.
I got my bridesmaids these adorbs matching PJs. I liked it because it was functional for wearing while we got ready, made the pictures cute, fit the theme of sleepover wedding (my ultimate goal), and was something they could use again. We had the house stocked with food and fed everyone for the weekend and everyone stayed at the house. Brent gave his groomsmen the ties they wore for the ceremony. We got these on Amazon for $9 each. I think it’s easy to go over the top with wedding party gifts because these are your favorite people and you are so glad that they are here with you! But you don’t need to, I really don’t think anyone cares about their gift. So keep it simple, cute, and practical.
We also kept it simple with asking our friends to be in the wedding party. Brent called them and I sent each friend a letter talking about how much they mean to me and asking them. I used plain cards I already had and watercolor painted each one with a color that reminds me of them. Simple, meaningful, cheap.
Saving Your Friends Money
I have spent thousands of dollars on friends’ weddings and it was totally worth it because I love them. But it was important to me to try to make our wedding as budget friendly as possible. We knew we wanted a venue that could house our wedding party, their significant others, and our immediate family so they wouldn’t need to spend money on housing. We also wanted our friends to be able to camp on the property for free since we were making people drive 2 hours out of Denver. Not everyone camped but a good amount did and tent city raged into the wee hours Friday and Saturday night lol. We also wanted to have the wedding in a spot where getting a hotel room or Air BNB wouldn’t be super expensive, Granby fit the bill because it is off the beaten path of resort towns. We loved that some friends were able to bring their dogs so they didn’t have to pay for pet sitters!
We also didn’t make our wedding party buy a certain dress or rent a tux/suit. I told my ladies to get a “dusty rose” dress (whatever the heck that means, I think they did a great job) and Brent told his guys to wear a light grey suit, white shirt, brown shoes. This meant that only one groomsman had to actually buy anything I think. Unfortunately my bridesmaids had to buy their dresses but they could hunt down a deal if they wanted and one of them actually has a rent the runway subscription so she just used that! I just said nude or gold shoes and didn’t care what jewelry they wore. I think it turned out great! If you are someone who really cares about details like that all being cohesive, you do you but just consider your friends’ money and try to give them some options.
I chose not to have a bridal shower. I couldn’t keep our sweet and generous friends and family from buying us wedding gifts, but I could darn sure keep them from buying two!
Big Bang for the Buck Details
When people say it’s all in the details, I think they are right. But not as in expensive invitations and a 5 piece string band during the cocktail hour. Think about what will make your guests have a good time. I focused on 2 things: having people watered and fed, and guest involvement.
Watered and fed: I had the caterer have water, lemonade, and iced tea out by the ceremony space so everyone would have a beverage during the ceremony. This wasn’t any extra cost, I just had to ask for it. We also had a cooler of beer on the porch so several friends were dipping into that too. We had pre-made signature cocktails waiting ready to drink when people walked up to happy hour. Of course there was still a line for drinks, but I think that helped. I had a hershey kiss on everyone’s plate so when they sat down they immediately had a little treat. I had the caterers do bread and salad family style so there were bowls of bread and salad on the table right when everyone sat down. That way no one was without food at any point even when they were waiting for their table to go to the buffet line. We didn’t do a fancy expensive meat. Instead we made sure to accommodate our vegetarian and vegan friends with options for both. Meateaters got chicken. I actually think only having one meat option was a good idea because there was no order regret of one meat being better than the other. We had an open bar, but made sure we could do so affordably.
Guest Involvement: 4 details that I am so glad we did. First, we had the people on the end of the aisles throw eucalyptus and aspen leaves on us as we walked out. So fun! Such great pictures and the people who were leaf throwers enjoyed being a part of the ceremony.
Second, we put disposable cameras on the entry table next to the guest book. People were LOVING the disposables. We got some hilarious pictures and selfies and it showed a more candid side to the night. I just put these in the guest book.
So, a few months before the wedding Brent grew a mustache. He decided he looked really good and thus proclaimed that our wedding would be mustache themed. He required all his groomsmen to grow mustaches and we got stick on mustaches for the reception. I went along with it and only slightly dragged my feet. It was such a hit! People were LIVING for the stick on mustaches.
So don’t be afraid to do something silly. Keep things lighthearted - it’s a party!
Lastly, I didn’t know what to do for an exit or if we should even do one since we were literally going to walk a few hundred yards to the house everyone was staying in and were going to come back. But I am so glad I did! First, it signals to people who are ready to call it a night that they are free to leave and the actual event is over (they missed out on some sick dancing and renegade bar tending, but you can’t win em all). Second, it was a ton of fun and we got the most amazing pictures. My idea was silly, but it had people involved so everyone was into it. I literally had everyone make a tunnel with their arms like we were in little league coming out of a tough but victorious game. (pretty much true). And we had a bunch of confetti poppers (guess where I got them) that we had people pop as we ran under them. I honestly didn’t think it was going to work. It was awesome! (note the hair change, pretty proud of myself).
And that was a wrap! Please feel free to leave any question in the comments and I will get back with you with any specifics I can offer. Two things I wish I would have done differently: 1) Jess, I should have taken that sunset picture with you. Pretty sure my wedding would have waited for me while we took a cute pic. 2) Gone around with Brent and talked to people while dinner was going on. Honestly, I was pretty stressed during the dinner portion and I don’t really know why. I was very concerned that we were off schedule and I should have just chilled out and walked around and talked to people. That was our intention but it was almost like a deer in headlights moment and I just totally spaced it. Because of that we didn’t get to talk to 3 dear friends who had to leave early.
The Best Thing We Did was write our own really personal and meaningful vows and focus on each other fully during the ceremony. Because that’s what really makes the day great. Love.