How we did it: An On-Budget October Wedding in Virginia
Initial Goal: 75 / Budgeted For: 100 / Invited: 121 / Expected to Attend: 90 / Actually Attended: 71
$20,000 from Sharon’s family (this was not intended to cover expenses traditionally paid for by the groom’s family or the honeymoon)
$19,110 from Sharon’s family (we did not track whether or not Jay’s family expenses matched what they had budgeted for)
Where we were married: Hollin Hall in Alexandria, Virginia
We originally wanted to get married in the countryside of Virginia where we could get more for our money and have a rustic venue and festival feel. When our venue fell through, we switched to northern Virginia so that my parents could be more actively involved in visiting potential venues and caterers. Alexandria is an expensive city, so I am very proud that we stayed on budget even with the new location.
Where we allocated the most funds: Catering: $5,731 (included dessert, did not include alcohol); Venue: $4,200 (included ceremony and reception location for a total of eight hours); Photography: $2,111 (included about six hours for the photographer and her assistant with a guarantee of a hundred images per hour and ownership of the digital images)
Where we allocated the least funds: We saved money by cutting out a lot of things that were not important to us—no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no band or DJ (we played drums for music and entertainment), no makeup artist, and no wedding rings. In terms of traditional expenses that we cut costs on, we did DIT flowers and decorations for an estimated cost of $175. I enjoyed walking to the Whole Foods near the hotel to get flowers and making my future husband’s boutonnière. My sister and her friend made our bouquets with the flowers I picked out.
The Info—Photographer: Julie Napear / Venue: Hollin Hall / Sharon’s Dress: Maggie Sottero, “Zabrina” purchased from Lillian Lottie Couture in Scottsdale and currently for sale on PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com / Jay’s Suit: Nordstrom / Mothers’ Dresses: Nordstrom / Flowers: DIT by Sharon and Jay with flowers from Whole Foods Market / Catering: Amphora Catering / Sharon’s Hair: Beau Totale Salon
What was totally worth it: The photography was excellent and worth the cost. I knew that Julie would capture the event because she’s such a talented photographer. The bonus was finding out that she’s also a professional business woman who had a clear contract, was very fast in getting the images uploaded, and had an easy website to navigate and get photos from.
What was totally not: I still struggle with the cost of the van service we hired to take the wedding party and guests from the hotel to the venue. It was only a four-mile drive, but I wanted to make that option available and could not figure out an affordable way to do it. It ended up costing $680 to transport about ten people to and from. It seems like there is a business opportunity for someone to develop a better method.
A few things that helped us along the way: I had a meltdown early on in the planning process when we visited a venue I really hoped would work out and it totally didn’t. We were back to square one and I was so frustrated. We didn’t live in the area, so we had very limited time during visits to look at venues and make a decision. After that I sat down and wrote a strategic plan for our wedding including our mission, vision, values, and indicators of success. From then on when something would go wrong and we needed to go back to the drawing board, I started by reviewing the strategic plan. It was very comforting to me and helped me see the bigger picture.
In my professional life I am a volunteer manager, so I had no problem delegating to friends and family who offered to help. It was important to me to hire professionals to take care of the essentials: officiating, food, tending bar, driving, and photography. I believe in risk mitigation and felt better knowing that trained staff with food handler’s licenses were preparing dinner and a certified driver that was paid to stay sober and know the roads would get us home safely. We took care of the rest and knew that if someone did not come through with decorations, drumming, or my makeup, we would still be happily wed at the end of the day.
A few extra things I learned along the way:
1. Virginia is one state where you cannot have a friend officiate your wedding. The officiant must be an ordained minister with a congregation or a designated civil official. Research the laws where you will be getting married!
2. We used Google Docs to keep all of the information related to our wedding plans. The collection of documents was shared with both sets of parents, my fiancé, and me so that we could all have access to the same information and stay on the same page. We were living out of our car for the first six months of planning and our parents lived two thousand miles from each other, so this was essential.
3. We were informed that “October is the new June.” So be aware if you are looking for a fall wedding and want to save money. October is expensive.
Other tidbits: Using Google Docs, I created a shared spreadsheet that tracked the estimated costs and actual costs. One thing that was incredibly helpful for staying on track was adding a line item called “Unexpected expenses.” I read somewhere (maybe in the Book) that you should plan on 20% of your budget being swallowed up by unexpected expenses. This turned out to be pretty accurate and knowing that we were really only working with $16,000 of planned expenses kept us on track.
By the way, our budget included costs such as the plane travel to get us to the wedding, hotel rooms for us, and even a new laptop since our laptop crashed in the middle of planning and we needed to replace it.
Our guest list included friends and family from all over the United States and even one guest from the United Kingdom. The actual attendance was very difficult to estimate and it surprised us who was able to come (our UK friend) and who was not (my friend of over twenty years who had been planning on it forever). In the end we were very happy that the attendance matched our original goal for the size of our wedding.
We tracked the guest list using a shared Google spreadsheet and had columns to indicate whether or not we thought the guest would “probably come,” “might come,” or “probably won’t come.” We made estimates to the caterer based on the combined total of “probably come” and “might come.” We updated the lists as we heard from guests on their likelihood of being able to attend.
Favorite things about the wedding: I loved our ceremony. It felt intimate and personal. We cried and we laughed. All of our family and our friends stood in a semi circle around us. They were asked to pledge their support for our marriage, which they did enthusiastically. When it came time for the rings, I gave Jay the wrong hand and forced the ring onto the right ring finger before realizing that it was wrong. It took me a few minutes to work it off of that finger and onto the correct one. It was a great chance to laugh and take a break after the emotional, momentous process of saying our vows.
My best practical advice to my planning-self: Planning can often be lonely and stressful, look for opportunities to make it fun. The times I remember fondly from wedding planning are when we combined a venue visit with a distillery tour, or when I went to the Bridal Expo with my mom to eat free barbecue and give business ideas to the vendors. It was crucial to find ways to enjoy the process and keep a sense of humor.