Having officiated at scores of weddings and helped plan a dozen or more or those, I have come up with a few ideas and plans to produce a wedding that feels and looks good without breaking the bank. I also have paid for the weddings of my two daughters and have complete sympathy with those who have to foot the bill.
Wedding plans should start with the place. Churches make excellent venues for traditional weddings and are often the place of choice for first marriages. One big advantage of using a church is that except for the decorating, there is usually little set-up to have to worry about. The heat or air conditioning, lighting, and sound equipment are almost always taken care of by someone affiliated with the church. If it’s the church you attend regularly, the cost is generally free or greatly reduced. Typically, churches cost less to rent than other private facilities.
Looking for the place also includes the reception location. Several factors enter at this point. Do you want dancing or alcohol? Either of these may eliminate the church hall for the reception depending on denomination. How long do you want this party to last. If it’s past midnight on a Saturday night, make sure your location will work with your time frames. Book both locations or both parts of the location as early as possible. Double check cancellation requirements and fees just in case you need them.
Leave the booking of the location and go straight out to find a photographer if you intend to use a professional and your uncle isn’t one. The price and work of these professionals can vary an unbelievable amount. Some shoot pictures and do limited special effects, but give you a hundred or more 5×7’s included in the price to use as proofs to pick from and charge about $5-900 for an album full of wedding pictures. Others consider themselves artists and will try to sell you about 15 or 20 pictures for double that amount. There are a few dozen gimmicks to inflate the price. I recommend interviewing at least 5-8 different photographers. Watch for those who will only allot 1 or 2 hours for the event and will miss half of your reception because of it. If the studio employs multiple photographers, insist on a meeting with yours well before the wedding to make sure that they understand exactly what you are expecting.
Next, you need to pick out a color scheme. If you’re challenged in color coordination, get some trusted friend or family member to help. Once the colors are picked, you can begin to look for your decorations, flowers, invitations, and attendants’ clothing. Look for closeouts and deeply discounted items. Try to be a little flexible here and you can save hundreds and maybe thousands.
At least 3 months in advance and longer is better, book your official. Many pastors book several weddings during the busy summer time and try to limit the number of commitments on their calendar. They do have a job and often a family, and this adds to their weekly workload. Inquire about fees when you book them.
Shop for the wedding gown at least 3-6 months early. It may take you a month or more to find the right one that mixes look and price. Ask about alteration costs. Just because your paying more than $500 or $1,000 for the piece doesn’t mean alterations are included. Make sure they can complete all of the fittings at least a week before the wedding. Sometimes you can get a discount if you purchase your bridesmaids’ dresses at the same shop, but don’t get too sweet on this idea. There are bargains elsewhere if you have time to look.
If you have not given thought ahead of time to the attendants, you will find this to be one of the more difficult decisions to make. Resist caving in to everyone’s demands. Get creative and assign some of the also-rans other jobs like the guest book (two people can be used here), maybe an extra usher or door attendant. You may want to consider someone outside to guide people to parking spaces and to the correct entrance.
You will need someone you can trust to help pace the bridesmaids, flower girl, ring-bearer, etc. as they go down the aisle. You may need to make sure that someone can play your CD’s or provide live music during the ceremony. Unless you’re just dead set on a certain vow, I would let the official handle the wording of the ceremony. Some churches don’t allow input here anyway.
Food for the reception must be selected. With a tight budget you may want to consider a meat and cheese buffet with several bread selections and interesting condiments. You can put this together without a catering service for a few dollars per guest. If just cake and punch are provided, you still have to make certain that adequate supplies of each and someone to serve them are arranged. Make your baker talk to you about what they can do to give you a better cake at a lesser price. Some wedding cakes rival gowns for cost.
Remember that more attendants and larger guests lists cause exponential rises in the cost and work of a wedding. My experience is that a low budget posh wedding will hit you between $3,000 and $5,000. Leave off a meal and shave off several hundred to a thousand dollars. Keep flowers to a minimum and save about the same again. If you find someplace that sells decorations for a bargain, just keep going back there for as much as you can.
No wedding that is more than standing up before a preacher or justice of the peace is cheap. With some planning and due care, you can at least keep it tolerable.