You've probably realized it already: weddings are expensive. No matter what your budget is, chances are it's slowly creeped upwards from your original estimate — maybe by a lot. As a bride in the middle of planning, here are some realistic wedding budget tips that have drastically helped to keep the budget from ballooning out of control.
Be realistic about your goals
No matter if your budget is $300, $30,000, or anywhere in between, being realistic about your dream wedding helps to stop that budget from creeping upwards. Want that amazing designer dress? Or that cool gold leaf cake? Great! Do it, but if it's not in your budget, it's going to hurt elsewhere. It's okay to sacrifice to have a splurge in one area, but if everything is a splurge, you're going to have a problem with the bottom line.
Know prices for your area
Small town vs. big city? Tourist town vs. blue-collar neighborhood? It's going to affect your base price. Many budget “estimators” said that I should budget $75 for a hotel room for the night of the wedding. The average cost of hotel rooms in my city? $150/night. Knowing real life prices helps to set a realistic budget and not be upset at items that bust the budget.
Prioritize your wants
Sit down with your partner and write down, in order, what is most important to you. Pro tip: it can't be everything. Our list started with great food, good booze, and a good photographer. Other items like a limousine, four-tier cake, and expensive favors (that just get left behind anyway) got cut so we could put more money into our top three items.
Look at non-traditional venues
We've booked our ceremony and reception at a military officer's mess. Other non-traditional venues: police associations, art galleries, zoos, courthouses, public parks, office towers, etc.. The possibilities are endless and those options can be much less expensive. On the flip side, it can also be much more expensive to book a non-traditional venue, so look at several options before you decide.
Sometimes, DIY isn't cheaper
I know, I said it. The number one budget “saver” listed in so many “how to budget” lists are to DIY decor or flowers or other areas. I have a confession: I cannot DIY to save my life. That amazing centerpiece that you've put together with three twigs, a bit of string, and some bronze paint may look awesome, and I will spend 10X as much trying to re-create it. Every item I looked at for my wedding ended up being cheaper or exactly the same to have a decorator provide the item. Plus, time is money.
My wedding is not a family reunion
Spoiler alert: anyone who you “must” invite but “oh don't worry they won't come” will always RSVP yes.
Don't get me wrong, I love my family and my partner's family. When we first talked about getting married, we wrote out every person we could possibly think of to invite. That number was over 500 people. Our venue holds 90 people uncomfortably, which means we've made deep cuts on both sides. Sorry second cousin Sue three times removed who I have never met, you're not getting an invite. It's okay to say no. Our wedding is limited to immediate family and aunts and uncles, no cousins, no great¬grandparents, no random person we've never met who likely won't come but we “must” invite (Spoiler alert: anyone who you “must” invite but “oh don't worry they won't come” will always RSVP yes).
Avoid getting married on a popular weekend
I admittedly broken this rule. I've picked literally one of the busiest long weekends to get married. It means that a premium has been added to a number of services, such as DJ, officiant, photographer, and hotel rooms. I would have been able to save almost 10% of my budget of I had I been able to get married the following weekend.
Real flowers can be cheaper than fake
Another budget myth Is that real flowers are so expensive. I priced out paper flowers, silk flowers, flowers from a florist and DIY flowers from a grocery store. It worked out to be $50 more expensive for me to get flowers from a local florist than from a grocery store given my inability to DIY. The local florist ended up being the cheapest option for us.
Watch for those hidden fees
I priced out a venue that seemed to have a very reasonable $40/head price point. Add in $20/per person for cocktail hour and drinks, $3/person cake cutting fee, and $15/person for wine with dinner plus service fee (5%), required gratuity (18%), and tax (13% where I live) and that reasonable price point ballooned to over $100. Most venues don't include tax or gratuity so don't forget to ask your venue what is and isn't included because those hidden fees add up quickly.
Used is great and no one needs to know!
While DIY may or may not save you money, there is no doubt that buying used or gently used items can save you a bundle. That designer dress you want? Find it on a used wedding dress website for a fraction of the cost. Want a perfect veil, pick it up on your local Facebook buy/sell wedding group never worn but for $20 (regular price $200!). Scroll through Craigslist or Kijiji or other local online sales sites to find discount decorations. Grab that bridesmaid dress worn once for $50, cake cutting set for $5, or barely used aisle runner for $25. Used is great, and so far, has saved me hundreds of dollars and no one can tell the difference!
What hints or tricks have you used to help stem budget creep?