Here comes the…bill. Here comes the bill. The average wedding will run you just shy of $28,500 these days, so it’s understandable if the poor soul who gets stuck with the tab finds him or herself singing the wrong tune as the ceremony gets under way. But is it avoidable? That’s the real question.
In other words, at a time characterized by a lack of financial literacy, trillions of dollars in consumer debt, and a fetishism of reality TV that has somehow made being a “bridezilla” seem like the norm, is there any way to throw a dream wedding without spending as much in a single day as you would when buying a pretty decent car or putting a down payment on a house?
There is indeed. And that’s important to note up front because the following numbers will probably give those of you who are currently planning nuptials a bit of a scare.
- The average wedding dress costs $1,444 (including a headpiece and dress accessories)
- The average engagement ring is $3,239 and wedding bands are $1,186
- A full-service wedding planner charges about $3,448
- The average reception costs about $12,759
- Vendors are known to tack a 20-25% wedding markup onto their standard prices in order to take advantage of expectations driven by reality TV
- 59% of brides use Facebook and/or blogs to get wedding planning ideas, and 46% use Pintrest
(Statistics courtesy of The Wedding Report, David’s Bridal, and MarketWatch)
It’s therefore no real surprise that the business of weddings has been doing quite well lately. This $50.6 billion industry is also expected to see 2.3% growth through 2018, according to the research group IBIS World, which projects that profit increases will be especially pronounced for photographers, limo services, caterers, florists, bridal stores, and purveyors of lingerie and swimwear (anybody missing?).
But enough with all the projections and statistics. Cue the wedding planners. Really.
We consulted a panel of industry professionals who now teach the art of wedding planning collegiately (yes, many colleges offer wedding/event planning courses – often as part of an overall major in business). We asked them about what will be hot this season and into the future as well as how couples and whatever benefactors they might have can pull off a dream wedding all the while saving along the way. The floor is theirs.
What Tips Do You Have for Couples Looking to Plan a Wedding on a Budget?
“Reduce their number of guests. If that’s not an option, they should consider a Friday or Sunday wedding. Or, an early Saturday wedding, then they don’t have to provide a full meal.”
– Angela Parker, Certified Wedding and Event Planner; Owner of Angela’s Elegant Events; Instructor at The Wedding Planning Institute, the University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth University
“There are some creative things people are doing to save money. Having receptions rather than dinners, having functions in the afternoon rather than evenings, having it on Fridays or Sundays rather than Saturdays – these are some of the things people are doing to cut back and save money. They still are saving and making this the ‘wow’ event. Some of them are downsizing in having destination weddings, which you think would cost more money, but really since they’re going to be going on a honeymoon anyway, they take a smaller group with them and they have a more intimate affair so that the numbers involved have decreased.”
– Deborah Curtis, director of the Hospitality Training & Research Center at Niagara University
“First of all stick with your budget. When you set aside a certain amount, make sure you can afford it and stay within that frame. This also means that you need to be prepared to walk away from a particular vendor if you feel this is not working for you financially. Another suggestion is to cut down on the number of guests, which allows you to focus on the quality of your wedding. It is ok to invite fewer people if that allows you and your guests to have a fabulous time. By reducing your guest count by just 15-20 people, you will save money on food and beverage bills, as well as find more economical venues that can hold your size wedding. Finally, know that there are certain days and times of the year that will be discounted. Just like hotel nights or airline tickets, you can find bargains depending on your date. For weddings, Saturdays will never receive a discount; however, why not plan a “walking dinner” on Sundays with some fun finger food stations, or create a brunch style wedding to significantly reduce your venue and catering bill. What also becomes more popular are Thursday weddings, which gives family members an entire weekend for shared activities that can be enjoyed.”
– Patrick Cornelissen, Director of Operations/Restaurant Manager for the School of Hospitality Management at Endicott College (Mass.)
“When I work with couples on a budget wedding, I recommend that they do a Friday or Sunday event because they can get cost reductions. I also advise watching the guest list, remembering that heavy finger food can go a long way, and if they want a bar, doing beer and wine with a special drink. The largest expense is the reception.”
– Annette Hoover, Owner of All About Brides and Events; Instructor in the University of South Carolina’s School of Hospitality, Retail and Tourism Management
How Can Couples Get the Most Out of a Wedding Planner?
“Ask the hard questions! Some couples are extremely busy and need a planner to do everything. Other couples get ‘stuck’ and need guidance. They should honestly consider their needs and find a planner that will closely match want they need to get accomplished.”
– Angela Parker, The Wedding Planning Institute; University of Richmond; Virginia Commonwealth University
“Not every wedding requires a wedding planner, as some venues already have a planner and coordinator who will be on site the day-off: check beforehand, so you are not paying double for something that is already included. However, if you decide to hire one, it is very important to get a good sense of who they are as a person: a good wedding planner listens more than they talk, as the event is about you and not them. Pick one who you feel comfortable with, yet be specific and critical in your questions. A good wedding planner is someone who is down-to earth and realistic, has good contacts with vendors and knows who to select based on your preferences. (And no, your friend who got married last year, unless a professional, does not fall in this category). Once you have determined that, always verify references and ask for feedback.”
– Patrick Cornelissen, Endicott College
“The objective is to use a wedding planner who will use their connections to negotiate for the best price for service without cutting quality. The planner can and should work with the budget and needs to know how to present the need to show the couple what needs to be cut or taken away. This is the hard part, but a budget bride can have a beautiful wedding.”
– Annette Hoover, University of South Carolina
What are the Most Common Wedding Planning Mistakes?
“Hotels can work for certain people, but you may want to think outside the box and look at venues such as college campuses. Frequently, these locations can offer better rates, have a wide variety of opportunities for taking pictures, have ample parking, already work with local hotels or can offer accommodations on site. Websites such as www.uniquevenues.com or www.campusconferencesolutions.com focus solely on some of the most scenic properties around and can be a good starting point. And don’t forget to check with your own alma matter, as many offer alumni discounts.
In addition to choosing the right venue, there are two other expenses where people often make mistakes. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, don’t invite just to invite. Setting a clear goal of the number of guests is by far the biggest help for your wallet. All too often I see weddings where a quarter of the guests does not know anyone, or simply leave early after the main course is cleared. Think again about if you really need to invite that uncle you only see once every three years, or that colleague from work who happened to say hello to you. Discuss this with both parents and in-laws and make it clear that you wish to keep this both economical, yet social for everyone. Secondly, never skimp on food and photography, as your guest will remember the first, and your memories will cherish the latter. Whether you have a reception style wedding, a walking-dinner or a sit down affair, make it the best you can afford. That doesn’t mean you need to serve oysters and lobster, but make it so people feel they had an amazing time with great food, as that is what they will be talking about (besides the dress of course). Talk to your caterer about options, yet remain realistic of what works. When it comes to photography, those are the memories that will last forever. A great photographer makes all the difference, especially in this age of digitalization and funky wall-print options. With that, pick a memorable location as a wedding venue that stands out and ask the photographer for suggestions!”
– Patrick Cornelissen, Endicott College
From trimming your guest list and scheduling the big day on either a Friday or a Sunday instead of the traditional Saturday – which is both more popular and more expensive – to offering appetizers as well as a select list of drinks rather than a full meal and open bar, the wedding industry professionals we consulted were able to provide a variety of great savings ideas. But now it’s our turn. Because while they know event planning, we know personal finance, and there are certain steps you can take to reduce your matrimonial financial burden even more.
- Leverage a 0% Credit Card: You can now find credit cards that will not charge you interest for up to a year and a half. Using one of these cards to make the majority of your wedding-related purchases or transferring what you owe to one after the fact will enable you to pay for the event over time without seeing finance charges augment your ultimate expenditure. Just make sure to devise a realistic debt payoff plan using a credit card calculator because the high regular interest rates that take effect at the end of the 0% term will quickly negate your savings if a large balance remains at that time.
- Take Advantage of an Initial Rewards Bonus: Credit card companies have also taken to offering lucrative rewards bonuses to new cardholders who spend a certain amount within the first few months their accounts are open. Since you can score $500+ in free flights, hotel nights, and statement credits with this strategy, it’s a great way to pad your wedding budget or even get a head start on that honeymoon.
- Use a Gift Card Registry: A gift card registry enables you to create a list of your favorite stores, share said list with guests via Facebook or e-mail, and ultimately receive better gifts. You won’t have to worry about receiving duplicate items since you’re picking stores rather than specific goods, and you can also pool your gift cards to cover the kinds of big-ticket items that newlyweds need but would be rude to ask for (e.g. a refrigerator, bed, or sofa). Plus, it will be easy for guests to buy at a discount through an online gift card exchange and therefore give you a more valuable gift than they would otherwise be able to.
Keep these things in mind as we enter wedding season 2013 and both you and your wallet will be signing the right tune when all is said and done. Now let the planning commence!