Wednesday Wedding Day: A budget wedding in an age of excess

For anyone out there who has planned (or been involved in the planning of) a wedding in the last five or ten years, you know the woe that is the wedding industry. The WIC (Wedding Industrial Complex) thrives on telling people they aren’t good enough, and if they just spent money on this or bought that, their weddings would be better than all the other ones and ooh isn’t that pretty? Weddings these days are EXPENSIVE, no matter how you look at it, especially if you want to have an actual party and not just cake and punch. Large costs and small costs add up to a whole lot of cost, and people in big cities or popular destination sites (NYC, Boston, SF, Sonoma County (where we’re getting married)) get taken for a ride because everything costs even more there. When we first started talking about getting married (this was a good year before the official engagement) we did a little research into possible sites in both Colorado and northern California, and ended up with sticker shock. The ideas I had to keep things affordable in terms of site fee turned out to be just as espensive as or more than a hotel. Sites used as weddings can charge huge fees – for example, the winery where my sister used to work charged a $6000 site fee just for the privilege of getting married on site (this fee didn’t include tables/chairs/etc or any food – just the site fee) back in 2001 and I’m sure the price has only increased.

And that’s just for the site! You add in catering (dinner usually costs more than lunch, sit-down costs more than buffet, and the costs of renting things like linens and plates and paying for waitstaff), booze (usually you have to buy it through the caterer), and the wedding dress (it’s hard to get away with spending less than $700 on an actual wedding dress these days, and even bridesmaids dresses can be expensive if you ask for white or ivory), and that’s a great big chunk of change. Florals are spendy. Live music (band) is more expensive than a DJ, but even a DJ costs money. In order to have a wedding (meaning, ceremony plus reception) just a step up from making all the food yourself, you pretty much have to shell out some dough. And then there’s photography! If you want a seasoned professional who will take photos that don’t look like they were taken in a portrait studio in 1982, photography can cost many thousands, depending on location and how in-demand a photographer happens to be. All in all, just the basics for the reception (location, food, beverage, photography, music, flowers) often add up to huge sums, especially in places where the WIC has a firm grasp on What’s Done. And I haven’t even begun to discuss the costs of invitations or that of an officiant, church, organist, etc. for many people who want their nuptuals to take place in a house of God (even if it’s just for the pretty factor). Really, if you read the magazines or The Knot or any number of wedding-planning resources, you’ll discover that someone needs to shell out buckets of cash to have even a halfway-decent event.

Luckily for us, we’re not interested in What’s Done. When we truly started planning our wedding, we thought about what was important to us (our guests, and the comfort/entertainment thereof) and decided to spend money in those areas, and save money on the things we didn’t care about. We were really lucky in that my Oldest Friend/Best Woman’s parents offered to sponsor us at the neighborhood club where we’re getting married, and the member rates for what we get (ten hours time, including set-up and clean-up time, tables, chairs, dishes, glassware, flatware, picnic tables and benches, use of kitchen/grill, etc.) turned out to be a complete steal when you compare it to other places, especially other places in Sonoma County. Of course with that came the stipulation that we had to buy event insurance and have a licensed caterer (so no food trays from the deli, must have waitstaff and licensed bartender), which added to our cost. We both decided it was better that our friends/family not have to work, so we’re willing to pay people to do these things for us. Again, we were very lucky to find a caterer we loved, willing to make the kind of food we wanted at a price we could afford, and our only rental cost is linens. I thought about making them myself, but ultimately decided it would be worth the extra money not to have to worry about that (plus, buying fabric and making them might not have been much cheaper). We’re also paying for a tent to keep any possible bad weather from bothering our guests as the main room isn’t big enough for everyone to sit at tables at once. We decided it’s better not to tempt fate and be prepared for the worst, so were willing to pay for some peace of mind.

Our caterer is also awesome in that she has a lot of ideas for how we can save money. She was perfectly willing for us to provide our own beverages of all sorts (both alcoholic and non), for us to find our own cake, and where we might get wholesale flowers. We could tell from the first meeting with her that she understood the sort of wedding we were interested in having, and worked with us to come up with a plan that was agreeable for everyone. The cake(s) are coming from local bakeries and Costco, wine/beer may actually be purchased here and driven out to California, and we have a hookup with Glaceau products so people will be drinking smartwater and vitaminwater that we got for free. And flowers will come from my mom’s yard (if anything is blooming), Trader Joes, and/or the wholesale flower place.

I didn’t start out wanting a real wedding dress – I was trying to find a bridesmaid’s dress that would work, or really any other sort of dress, but couldn’t find what I was looking for (green) so settled on the next best thing (white with green). My dress was relatively inexpensive as far as “wedding” dresses go, and my mom really wanted to buy it for me. I’m not wearing a veil, bought my shoes for $30 at DSW last June, and a friend is making me some jewelry from pearls I bought in China. Dan has always wanted to get married in a kilt, so he found a place that rents full Scottish dress for a not-too-bad price in his family tartan, so we’ll be renting those for Dan and his best man and groomsman. Rather than make my bridesminions buy dresses they may never wear again, I’m making them and they can wear again or not as they choose.

Since neither of us was interested in getting married in a church, the ceremony will be at the same site as the reception and we don’t have to pay any associated fees. Music is ipod playlists and some rented/borrowed equipment. And our rockstar officiant was already ordained by the Universal Life Church. Dan designed/drew/etc. our invitations himself, and we printed them at my work so that only cost us postage and envelopes. And we found a photographer who is just getting started in the business, so we’re getting everything we wanted (plus an album!) for less than half of the low-end rate for decent photography in Northern California.

Really, in the grand scheme of things, our wedding is going to cost a lot of money – more than I’d initially wanted to spend, in fact. But when you compare it to the average cost of weddings in the county, our wedding pales in comparison (the average for the area is about five times what we’re spending). We could have done it for less – found a restaurant with a catering license and done setup/cleanup ourselves, made our attendants pay for their outfits, foregone the tent and just hoped for sun. But the areas in which we decided to spend money were what we felt are the important parts of a wedding – our friends and family are traveling (some for great distances, some not so much) to be there to support us and celebrate with us, so we want to make sure they had a good time. We certainly plan to do so.

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3 responses to “Wednesday Wedding Day: A budget wedding in an age of excess

  1. I think the invites were just a taste-can’t wait to see the rest of your hard work. The Ipod dj is a great idea-I pitched the idea to my sister but she didn’t want to make me work and we hired a guy who didn’t do much…beyond play the list she asked for.

  2. Hello! I found your site awhile ago (can’t remember from where, maybe agirlandaboy?)- and I completely agree with your assessments of the WIC. I recently got engaged, and I’m shocked by how much everything costs and how all of the little fees (or as my venue calls them, ‘enhancements’) add up. I researched a ton of places and accepting the fact that we’ll have to spend much more than we wanted to (and we’re not doing anything extravagant). There don’t seem to be any alternatives outside of eloping. Anyway, congratulations on your wedding – it sounds like it will be beautiful! Lisa

  3. I love that you realized how much having a wait staff will help your guests enjoy the wedding. I always feel a little weird at DIY weddings that feature the closest friedns and family members doing all the hard work and schlepping when they should be the ones enjoying the party and the company of the bride and groom. What a shame to miss all the festivities because you’re stuck in the kitchen arranging carrots on a plate.

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