What You Want From How We Did It

Since my early days of reading wedding blogs (which were, in fact, the very early days of wedding blogs), I’ve spent a lot of time wondering: but… how did you do it? And I don’t mean this in an, “Oh, I see that you have listed links to your vendors, which totally does not help me since none of those vendors list prices and/or explanations of services on their websites,” but in a nitty-gritty, logistical, “How did you really put it all together?” kind of way. This question hits me the hardest when I’m looking at non-traditional weddings. Like, okay. The amazing wedding from which the photo above comes. I know they: rented SF city hall on the weekend, had a food truck reception at an art gallery, had a custom wedding dress made. But… how? How did they go about finding the art gallery? How did they go about find the person who made the dress? What did it cost, and were there other major trade offs or decisions they could have made to make it a significantly different cost? What was worth it? What really wasn’t?

I know I’m not the only person with these questions, because every time one of my friends gets engaged, they end up asking me questions like, “But. How do you even go about throwing a beach wedding?” or “What steps do you have to go through to make a city hall wedding happen?” And the problem is I don’t even have a place I can point them for resources. Ninety-nine percent of blogs out there are focused on giving you a glut of pretty pictures, with no real way to replicate them except hire the (expensive?) staff that worked on said weddings. And ninety-nine percent of wedding websites just want to sell you crap/make you crazy (hey The Kn*t’s to-do lists). Since APW has historically been focused on the emotions of the thing, aka getting you through wedding planning in one sane piece… I don’t have anywhere to point people. I mean, the book. You should really read the book. But that’s still not going to tell you how to find an art gallery in your city that you can afford to rent.

So, last week we introduced a new series: How We Did It. The idea is that, like Wedding Graduates and Wordless Weddings, it’s a way of sharing your wedding with APWers. Maybe you don’t want to talk about what you learned emotionally (Wedding Graduates), or show us lots of pretty pictures (Wordless Weddings), but instead you just want to tell us how you put it all together. Well guess what? You’re in luck, because we totally want to hear about that.

As we develop this series, we want to know what questions you want us to ask. This is our starting list, but let’s break it down. When you look at a wedding, what do you want to know?

Favorite Things About the Wedding
Planned Budget
Actual Budget
Number of Guests
Where we allocated the most funds
Where we allocated the least funds
What was totally worth it 
What was totally not 
A few things that helped us along the way
My best practical advice to my planning-self 

** Caveat: As APW begins to delve into wedding budgets, I want to be very clear that our rule here is No Budget Shaming. I have volumes to say about this practice (but that’s another post), but suffice to say, APW is not a place where, “Seriously? You call that budget practical?” is any more tolerated than, “Ugh, I can’t believe you spent so little, how cheap.” Reader budgets go from…what’s the cost of a marriage license? That much. All the way up to $60K or $80K or more. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re spending $1 or $1,000,000, you’re just as much a part of the community as anyone else, and deserve just as much respect. **

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  • Julia

    What was the most time-consuming part of the planning and prep process? What was the least time-consuming? What did you compromise on (and how)? Where did you stand firm and NOT compromise?

    • Liz

      Exactly! What did you / was worth you digging your heals in and refusing to budge on, and what did you / was worth you letting go and compromising on?

    • And also, was that time-consuming thing worth your time? Or would you do it differently in hindsight?

  • Jess

    The legalities of things….friends officiating, which vendors have to have insurance, if that insurance comes with a staffing company, etc?

    Similar to the timing posts, if you do have a food truck wedding, how to you regulate guests and vendors so you don’t have epic lines but everyone feels fed?

    For cocktail style receptions, how do you encourage the mingling, while providing places to sit, but avoid people camping out near where ever they threw their purses and coats, and caring for your older guests in a setting like that who do need a place to camp out and help with the food-getting?

    I’m sure I’ll be back later with more questions.

    • Caroline

      Oh my goodness the cocktail party questions. Yes! We don’t have space for a sit down dinner, so a cocktail-ish party it is. But… How? Do we still need tables for everyone? How do you encourage people to mingle? If your space is several rooms how do you get people together for toasts, or let them know food/dancing/cake cutting is happening?

      • Melise

        Yes, yes, yes to how to wrangle people with a spread out space. We’ll have people mingling in the (pretty small) reception hall, but also outside, around the pool, by the creek, etc. How do we get them all together again when we want to do toasts or cake cutting? That might be a better question for the timing posts, but it would be great to hear from someone who’s done a wedding like that!

      • Jess

        We have the space for a sit-down dinner, but not the inclination. If we were only inviting our core group of friends/people our age/coworkers, I wouldn’t worry about the cocktail thing at all. We all go to enough work parties and house parties to figure it out. I’m concerned about the (large) family and older generation who might not want to mingle all night. Or at all. We’re hoping to set up some tables and some lounge areas, but I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to call a spot at the beginning of the party or risk standing for a bunch of hours…

      • YESSSSS. I just want someone to explain how it is supposed to work!

    • emmer

      Dancing: How do you encourage dancing? And how do you talk to your band/dj/select your playlist to promote dancing? Basically, what are some great tips for making a rocking dance party more likely?

      Food/Menu and Restrictions: And for food, (how) do you address food allergies/other dietary restrictions (like vegetarians, lactose intolerant folks, people who don’t eat pork, etc), particularly if you’re not having folks select their menu ahead of time (like if you are having, say, bbq)?

      Seating: And any tips for seating arrangements (for those who had them or didn’t have them)? For ya’ll who had them, any tips on how you did this? Were you trying to have people make new friends, or just stick with the old? And do you have any strategies that helped you visualize this (did you make a big post it chart or something?)? If you didn’t have seating arrangements, did you give guests any guidance, or do you have any snazzy tips to make this flow?

      RSVPs: How did you deal with these? Did you send out all your invites at once, and then make plans according to responses? Or did you do this in waves (ie invite your first tier, and then invite more peeps if you have room later)– and what did the timeline look on this? Did you follow up with non-responders (if so, how– by phone, email, etc? individually contacting folks, or contacting a group at once?)? Did you set a “must RSVP by deadline”, and if so, how did that work– any tips for timing/encouraging responses?

      What’s one piece of advice that would have been helpful, or one thing you would have changed in hindsight?

      I feel like these are crazy specific, but this is what bops around in my head :)

      • meg

        These are all good questions and good posts. They’re not things we’d ask in the How We Did It feature, but they are things we’ll try to cover for you in independent posts.

        That said, I can tell you how to have a good dance party: if you dance your ass off, it will be a good dance party. People won’t leave a bride alone on the floor. If you don’t… well… good luck. So get out there first and alone, and shake your ass (but watch yourself).

        • emmer

          Thanks, Meg! haha, and for some reason I didn’t click the link to the rest of the post, because when I did it became more clear what you were looking for in the comments. Whoopsie :). And I’ll plan to dance like crazy– because that’s the most fun!

        • Yep! This exactly. If the one (or both) of the newlyweds are dancing, others will dance too.

          We just had an iPod/amp set up in a not very festive room with a friend/family group of reserved WASP-types, and the only time the dance room was empty was when I wasn’t there. The instant I decided I wanted to dance again, ZOOM– at least several girlfriends were right there with me.

          • Amy

            Oh, I wish this were always true! But I’ve seen many a bride dancing along with the four year olds. (And presumably enjoying it, so there’s that.) Some crowds aren’t dancing crowds. I think it comes down to knowing your friends/family and having realistic expectations. After that, put on some good music, dance away, and enjoy whatever transpires.

      • Laurel

        I’m a big fan of assigned seating. I never thought I’d say that but it’s AWKWARD to be the person who doesn’t know anyone and have to scramble to find a table and hope you picked people you’ll get along with ok. We assigned tables but not seats, so we just had table numbers (drawn on graph paper by a friend with nice handwriting) and had a chart of who sat at which table. We waited til the day before to make the lists — convenient for having an accurate guest list, but I had NO desire to sit down and do it that day.

        How we put people at tables: we wanted to sit people with their friends — that’s half the point of going to a wedding — but we also didn’t want tables where 7 people were besties and 1 person was like, um, no I don’t remember that one costume party with the mermaid because I JUST MET YOU. So some of the bigger groups got split up between tables. I think we assigned all the older people first and then filled in the younger people.

        We also had an extensive online RSVP form (we were coordinating everyone’s lodging, because I am insane but also that’s just how it had to be) which asked people for their food allergies. The caterers got a list of who got gluten-free and who got vegetarian and took care of tracking those people down and getting them their food. RSVPs in general require some hassling but there’s no way around that.

    • Caitlin

      I actually have a couple great rules of thumb on how to set up a cocktail party whether its a reception, an engagement party, or anything. My grandfather always taught us to have too much food, too many drinks, and not quite enough places to sit. Over time this has turned into the easier to follow lines of have enough chairs for about 75% of your guests to be sitting with at least half of those by a table. Make sure the food is either being passed or is scattered with different food stuffs in each area. Finally, put all drinks in one (or two if you have to) spots, separate from the food, and keep them well manned to prevent lines. Finally, if you have the space, have a designated place for coats and purses. This will need someone manning it if your venue is a public or easily accessible place. I have had parties ranging form 20 to 200 people set-up this way and also used it for both my engagement cocktail party and wedding reception cocktail hour. It keeps people moving and mingling by enticing them with food and drink while assuring them that there are enough chairs to sit but not so many as to be too comfortable to get up. Hope these are helpful to someone. My (ridiculously large) family has been using these rules of thumb for …well… longer than I’ve been alive. :-)

  • Rachel

    How did you decide where to have the wedding, especially if you and your fiancé(e) came from different cities/states/countries? If you had the wedding in one of your hometowns (where you no longer live), how did you handle the long-distance planning?

    • Martha

      Long distance planning is totally doable – I speak from experience – but be prepared to be completely consumed by wedding stuff when you are home. Most vendors have websites, love phone calls, and are willing to work with your schedule. I have just found that every time I am home (about a 13 hours drive from where I live) all I do is wedding stuff, and that can be kind of exhausting.

    • One More Sara

      Long-distance planner here! One of the hardest things for me was remembering the time difference between me and potential vendors. My trips home are few and far between, and when all is said and done, we will have planned this wedding in 3 trips. 1) one week by myself soon after engagement, 2) 3 weeks-both of us- ~one year before W-day and lastly, I’ll be heading back into town for 2.5 months before (and fiance is coming about 1.5-2 weeks before) W-day.

      Maybe we could make a wish list of wedding types and modifiers that could be paired with budget ranges?
      Types: City Hall, Country Club/Hotel Ballroom, Park, Beach, Destination, Camp, etc.
      Modifiers: Long Engagement (>12 months), Short Engagement (>12 months), Long-Distance-Planned, Friend/family officiated, Surprise Wedding, Green, etc.

      Even if these labels are only used as tags, it would probably improve searchability for future brides/grooms to find weddings (and budgets) similar to what the have in mind

    • Long-distance planning! Yes! I’d love to hear more about this. My Mister and I are going to be getting married in our hometown, but he lives 300 miles away, and later this year I’m moving out there with him. And it’s killing me, the overplanner, to figure out how I’m going to do it all from across the state.

      (And, really, it’s only a 5-hour drive, but I don’t want to be making that trip all the time just to do wedding things. If I’m coming home, I’d like to spend time with my people.)

    • Alison

      We planned semi-long distance, I guess. My husband is from Long Island and I’m from a suburb in NJ outside of Philly, and both places were WAY out of our budget for the kind of wedding we were envisioning. We chose to have our wedding in Lancaster, PA because we found a venue there that we loved (and more importantly, could afford!) but neither of us had any family or friends from that area, and we live 2.5 hours from there. Now granted, 2.5 hours isn’t a HUGE distance (like… cross-country or international) but it still wasn’t just down the block.

      We spent most of our weekends for the months leading up to the wedding driving up to Lancaster and trying to cram in as many vendor meetings as possible, especially when we were choosing vendors. That got to be kind of stressful, but we knew (sort of) what we were getting into. I would choose our venue (and vendors) again in a heartbeat, but it definitely complicated things a little bit.

      A lot of our vendors were great with phone and Skype meetings, too. That worked really well for our photographer, day-of-coordinator, and videographer… not so great for cake tasting, haha. The day we did cake tastings, though, one of the vendors couldn’t accomodate meeting with us that day, so she let us come by and pick up 2 boxes of cake and frosting samples to take home, so that really helped! Definitely use technology to your advantage as much as you can, but be prepared to spend a lot of weekends/time at home doing wedding things. Good luck!

      • Hey Alison,

        I’d be really interested in hearing specific venue and vendor recommendations from you, if you’d be kind enough to share them. My partner is actually from Lancaster, and my family is in the next county over. I’d mainly like to know the venue you chose, your caterer, and your photographer. We’re not wedding planning yet, but we’re starting to save up, and we’ll probably be planning long-distance, as he’ll be in grad school for three more years yet. Could you share them here or email me at sarah [at] fusecoworking [dot] com?

        Thank you!

        • MIRA

          Dude, Sarah, if you need Bucks County recommendations, I have some to add to the pile.

          And please don’t get too anxious about this — I’m planning as a grad student, and there are great wedding elves in that area! We’ve planned our shindig in two visits, each for only a weekend (one long, the other involving two redeye flights) and we’re planning to show up four days ahead of time (just in time for a marriage license). We have some heroic family members that live within a couple hours of the spot who are pitching in when they can, but it’s mostly on us.

          The secrets for us have been
          #1, letting go of the fantasy and focusing on the feasible (for me, the fantasy was a laid-back picnic shelter and croquet kind of event — any picnic shelter that allowed a champagne toast would have been more work and at least as expensive as the inclusive venue we ended up in (hello portable bathrooms!) and — oh by the way — the shelter I loved loved loved is in a flood plain. Our wedding is in May. Nope.

          #2, Throwing a bit of cash at help from a professional. See above. Also, our amazing photographer. Or alternatively, our food — which needed to be safe for loved ones with a diverse collection of allergies and dietary needs. For us, the less expensive and still lovely caterer who kept saying “oh sure! I can do vegan-free things!” was not really an option. At home, we would have contemplated self-catering, but some things are just not feasible when you’re planning from a distance and showing up 96 hours ahead of time.

          #3, accepting help, even if it means going with something you wouldn’t otherwise choose. Sometimes you just have to take a step back, and ask, “is it really worth hand-tinting 25 glass vases to the proper shade of turquoise and then shipping them across the country?” If a future in-law offers to pick up clear glass vases from a thrift store and to store them until the wedding, the proper response (at least for me) is “that is so thoughtful, and I would love your help with that. Thank you.”

          • Thanks for the tips! The spending decisions are still in the foggy future, but I appreciate being prepared in advance. I have family in Bucks County, too!

            I’m definitely not a detail person, but it will definitely take a lot of family help to find venues and vendors that suit our values.

    • Suzzie

      That was the hardest part for us was planning a wedding in a city/country that wasn’t familiar to either of us! My husband had been living overseas for a few years and I eventually joined him. So we decided to get married in our new country. For me that was the hardest part of planning was just doing it in a new country to me where I wasn’t used to the prices, how to find things, etc!

    • Edelweiss

      To answer the other part of your question “how do decide where to have your wedding?” That was one of the hardest parts of wedding planning for us, and the most strictly planning related stress-inducing time period.

      1. We spoke to the matriarchs of both families extensively, got their dream guest lists early, and mapped out multiple wedding options (as in contacting venues and understanding the general budget breakdown for about 4 different options – and being ready to mourn the ones you end up letting go of).
      2. As part of mapping out our potential weddings we looked at 1 in each hometown, 1 at a major city half-way in-between (that we both had a personal connection to), and 1 about an hour from my hometown but in a small city that people could fly into and get by without having to rent a car. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t go with any if these options, and we loved 2 of them and could have afforded it, but it was so helpful to have done due diligence causing us to be confident in our final choice.)

      3. Weigh your major considerations.
      Major considerations included:
      – health concerns impacting travel
      – financial concerns of guests
      – how much the group of guests tend to vacation/leave their home area, how far they travel when doing so, and what method of travel they take (ie a large portion of my extended family does vacation once every 2 years, but they drive 45 minutes to a cruise ship – so expecting them to fly or drive long distances might not have been realistic)
      – percent of guests that we’d be unsure about (ie that same extended family may or may not travel if it involved a long drive but no flight. However they were 40% of our guest list. It’s hard to meet vendor minimums when you’re guessing about 40% of a guest list that is likely to RSVP yes or no as a block and wait to make the decision until 6 weeks before)
      – stress on other people (so we probably could have counted in most of my in-laws’ guests making the flight to the small city. Many have actually told us since making our final plans that they would have flown. But my future mother-in-law would have been anxious about it until the RSVPs came in and felt bad they all paid for plane tickets. This was a genuine stress on her – we have a fantastic relationship. And in the end we decided it wasn’t worth causing her months of anxiety.

      4. Let go of your minor considerations. For example, we started trying to find a place that would have an “added” travel benefit (Sasha’s from the East Coast, so if she’s flying from LA at least she can also visit her family). We had to let go of those ideas real fast. There’s only so many factors you can balance.

      5. Accept you can’t make everyone happy, and so make sure the two of you are happy. This was the hardest part for us, and what led to tears. We started out with our number one priority being make sure our families felt respected and number two make sure our guests feel loved and cared for. Bringing in those priorities in a situation like this, where everyone told us to do “do what makes you happy this is your day” yet expressed disappointment in any of our location choices because those were tough calls, was too much to embrace. (I might argue those priorities are too vague and challenging to meet anyways, you can’t control other people- but I’m a year older and wiser now).

      Sorry for this marathon response, but I was desperate for advice here when I started. I felt very much alone in this problem.
      We ended up choosing a 35 guest wedding with an after party in each hometown. There was/is disappointment from family and guests and judgement from some strangers about “multiple weddings”. But we’re 6 weeks out and thrilled with our choice, our families have almost come around completely and I think they will when they see it in action, and now I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It took a lot to get there, but if you LOVE your final decision, all that other stress and conversations where people feel let down melts away. Your guests will adjust, especially if they love you and see you’re happy with your choice.

      Good luck!

  • Kelly

    Along with budget and number of guests – where geographically was your wedding?

    How long were you planning for and how did this impact your planning?

    • Yes in terms of geography a lot of the wordless weddings/wedding graduates can be hard to pin down (in regards to the WHERE IN THE WORLD IS THIS). Where of course HUGELY impacts “How Much.” Also, how did you decide on “where” and what percentage of that was “well this place is meaningful” vs. “well this place is affordable” (and of course combinations are possible). Same with “when” (since right now I am looking at some gorgeous places in Florida that are cheap cheap cheap in July/August because no one gets married in July/August in Florida–but, really, that’s what air conditioning is for guys!)

    • Stalking Sarah

      My answer to this is that we were engaged for 1.5 years, so the work took 1.5 years. We had months where we did nothing and months that were busier. I think you can successfully plan a wedding in 1 day (if it is “go get a license, have it witnessed”) or 10 years. Work expands to fill the space allotted.

    • meg

      Totally. Geography is the number one thing on cost. Nothing makes me crazier than someone from a small town judging a New Yorker on “how much they spent.” STAB. You can rent a picnic site in NYC for what you can get a hotel for somewhere else…

      • Suzzie

        Amen to that! We got married in New Zealand (we live here now) and for the price of doing a wedding here (small, intimate one), we could have had 100-200 guests at the venue I loved back in my home state in America. It’s crazy how much location really drives the price of what people will spend on a wedding.

      • Class of 1980

        Whether it’s an episode of House Hunters or a wedding, it’s all about location, location, location.

        Regional price differences are like living on different planets.

  • Martha

    How did you tactfully say “no” when someone offeres help? We’re doing a lot of things ourselves and I have people from every direction offering to help. But sometimes, I don’t want the help. It’s my wedding (well, our wedding, but he doesn’t care about table numbers) and I chose to do things myself because I want too. Not just to save money, but because I enjoy it. So how do I politely tell someone “it’s my wedding and I want to do it myself so back off!”??????

    • KC

      “Thank you so much for your generous offer, but we’ve already got that covered!” (or organized, or done, or “that part of the wedding is going to be a surprise!”) If it’s something that’s important to the person, then acknowledging the importance of their role in your life (so that you’re not rejecting *them*) or saying “it was so nice of you to do that for friend’s wedding, but…” might also be decent additions. But generally, short and sweet is the way to go.

      Note: if people are willing to help with X, and you don’t want them to do X, it may be worth seeing if they might be willing to help with some area that *does* need help. Weddings almost always need help with transport [gifts; flowers; elderly friends/relatives; collecting people from the airport; “stuff”!], setup/teardown/cleanup, and it’s often helpful to have extra hands if you’re doing any mass invitation-stuffing or other DIY things. And yes, the control of doing everything yourself is soothing, but only if you don’t get crushed under the weight of the to-do list, so looking out for any ways to delegate in advance can be really, really helpful. So, this would change the script to “Thank you so much for your generous offer, but that part of the wedding is already covered. I understand if it’s not your thing, but we’d love it if you would be willing to help with Z.” (or “but can I call you in later if we run short of help in some other area?”)

  • If your actual budget ended up significantly higher than your planned budget, how did you deal with that?

    What steps did you take if your planned budget and actual budget were nearly the same, to ensure that would happen?

    • irene

      We are at 2-3 times our original (very modest) budget. I am trying to be more of a bigger picture about this… The amount we are now spending is what our families have spent on funerals within the last year. It made me feel better to at least think along those lines… While (X) is a horrendous amount of money to my fiance and I, we aren’t shouldering the burden alone, and: if (X) is what a reasonable celebration of someone’s life and passing costs, why should an event that celebrates the joining of two lives and their future not be at least the same amount?*

      *Caveat: no one has engagement insurance.

      • Rachelle

        OMG, yes. Engagement insurance!

    • Moe

      I’m a month away from my wedding, we’ve been planning for a few months. I first started out with what I thought was a very frugal tight budget of 10k. My very economical and even more frugal husband slashed it to 7k and I nearly died.

      Which led to a lot of conversation about What Was Most Important.

      Then there were things that happened to us beyond our control like work hours getting cut and then the budget was cut even more.

      We are having a wedding for 100 people in LA for 4k. I made some cuts that were painful (bye bye floral centerpieces), accepted help (my brothers took up a collection), and got creative (DIY 5-gallon sangria)

      • DIY Sangria? I would love to hear about that! Yum.

        • Moe

          You can google “party sangria recipes” and get a number of different results, there really is no wrong way to make it. This is the variation I’m going to use and if you can it’s best to mix it all and refridgerate for a few hours so that the flavors have a chance to mingle.

          1 bottle red wine *Fresh n Easy Tempranillo wine by the case is about $2 a bottle here in CA.

          Lemon, lime, orange slices & cut strawberries

          1/4 cup orange juice (I will use frozen juice from concentrate)

          3 ounces triple sec for added orange citrus flavor

          4 cups ginger ale (optional) I haven’t decided if I’ll use it or not, I don’t like fizzy sangria but some people do.

          I’ve also substituted rum for the triple sec. If you’re not careful it can easily knock you on your butt if you drink too much. I’m serving it from a large 5-gallon plastic barrel that is typically serves Mexican fruit juices. With a ladle you also have some of the fruit floating in your cup.

          If my budget allows, I’ll also make a sweeter white sangria with Moscato or Riesling wine.

          • Moe

            1 gallon of sangria = 128 ounces= roughly 21 6-ounce servings

            add ice and you can stretch it even more

    • As a follow up to the first, higher-budget question: Why did you end up spending more than planned?

      Was it naivete, thinking you could have a sit-down dinner for 300 in NYC for $2000? Was it priorities shifting? Was it an infusion of cash from a generous source which allowed for more spending?

      (for us, it was “being way too lazy to stick to a budget or DIY. We could have done it, but effff the effort involved in doing so”)

      • Keakealani

        For us, it was definitely the latter. Our budget was *very* modest to start out with, because we’re students/musicians and… kinda broke. The original plan for a reception really was just punch and cookies, but my dad very generously offered to fund a more serious sit-down reception and is actually really excited about it (which is saying something, because he’s usually a pretty understated dude), so we really couldn’t turn him down. Easing the burden off of the reception opened us up to be a little more spendy elsewhere, especially since we are (thankfully!) getting our ceremony venue for free (yay for FH’s family being active with the church!) and happening to have a lot of time on my hands to DIY. But, it was a little bit naïveté, too – when I conceptualized some of our decoration aspects, it really didn’t occur to me how much those costs might add up over time (PSA: Legos are expensive!) and we definitely have spent more on those than I initially projected. So yeah. All of the above for me, in some ways…

    • Suzzie

      Our budget ended up being higher than what we originally wanted to spend. But this came about because due to family health problems and other things out of our control that we had to reschedule wedding dates. So dealt with nonrefundable deposits having been paid out, having to find a new venue, finding a new celebrant, and basically having to start over from scratch. But, we still didn’t have an “exact” budget. We more so went by what money we knew we would have available, spaced out payments, and if we didn’t have funds to do something extra then we didn’t do it. Just wanted to make sure the absolute essentials to us were taken care of.

  • Another Meg

    How did you manage an alternative venue (ie a campsite)?

  • Copper

    What portions of your stuff was comped or donated so not included in the budget? I’ve had so many people tell me, “well we did it for only $10k!” but then it turned out that it was held on a family estate (no location fees), and their BFF is a photographer and donated services, so it’s hard to compare when that stuff isn’t taken into account.

    And also, how long did you get to be at your venue for? Was there any special accomodations for setup/teardown? We had a really hard time comparing venues in an apples to apples way because some had a low rental rate but only included 5 hours and made you pay extra for setup/teardown and any overages, while other said it’s yours for the whole day.

  • Rebekah

    If this becomes a regular feature, here are the things I would hope to see in each post (you know, for continuity)

    Where the wedding took place (and if they planned it there or from a distance)
    When (weekend, weekday, holiday, season)
    Original Budget (roughly)
    Final Budget (roughly)
    Number of guests
    [if any of these things were big struggles, please tell us how you maintained sanity!]

    What did you DIT and what did you source to vendors?
    Compromises that were worth it (chairs, time of day, music, etc)
    Best decision you made
    [I’d personally love a little explanation of these as they relate to you as a couple, since we’re all paired up in different dynamics]

    How did you navigate some “non-traditional” aspects of your wedding (location, time of day, food, officiant, etc)
    Vendor recommendations
    Overall tips you would give to Past You.

    Oh, and (if you’re willing) your favorite photo from the day.

    • Hannah

      So much “Exactly!” to this list. Especially the parts about the where/when/how many guests because that makes a huuuuuuge difference! Along those lines I’d also add:

      What kind of food did you serve? Cake and punch? Sit down dinner?

      Because that makes a big difference too.

      • Stalking Sarah

        And, to echo someone else’s comment, what did you have at your wedding that had a zero or donated cost? (In terms of dollars — obviously if you quilt a canopy out of old newspapers, there is a cost of DIT labor, but it is a zero cost in terms of dollars.)

    • meg

      It *is* going to be a regular feature, and it *is* going to have continuity, so well played.

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      Oh! I like the compromises question. Requesting that one.

      Also, inspired by Meg’s post, may I suggest:
      How did you find your location(s)?

    • Flamingo

      I like this list! I would add a couple:
      Did you use a wedding planner? What kind (full thing, month of, day of?)
      Biggest logistic worry and how you dealt with it? (as opposed to other kind of worry more related to a graduate post)

    • that Jenn

      And as part of navigating the “non-traditional” aspects – how (if at all) did you communicate with your guests about these things and manage their expectations? How did you make sure they were comfortable even if the wedding wasn’t exactly what they might expect?

  • Carisa

    I would LOVE to know more about long distance weddings. How pick a venue without visiting, or did you visit in advance? I’m really confused about distance planning in general.

    • Martha

      Are you planning in a town someone else lives in? (i.e. a parent, friend, or otherwise trusted relative). How important is the venue in general? I planned my wedding in PA and live in MO (about a 14 hour drive) but it’s in my Mom’s town, so she went to look at the venue after I had spoken with management and booked it for me. But for me, the important parts are the food, dj, and our date. The best advice I can give is to figure out what your ONE BIG THING is and plan from there. Generally I have found vendors very helpful via e-mail and phone communication. Also, we have a year and a half engagement on our hands – knowing we would be planning from a distance, we picked a date that would allow us ample time to plan (only 67 days to go!).

    • One More Sara

      I interviewed our DJ via Skype. For vendors whose personalities will have an impact on your day, I highly recommend either an internet/video call or phone call interview/meeting if you can’t meet in person. And also the ONE BIG THING advice above is really smart. The long engagement has also been serving us (and our guests! a lot of them are travelling too, so they had to save up as well!) very well.

      • I’m skyping with a potential client this week whose wedding is 2 time zones away. Technology is so crazy awesome!

        • Brittany

          I did almost everything either trough Skype or I sent my mom, dad or in laws to do it, with list of questions and things to take note of. Also- my dad photographed EVERYTHING (possible venues, food at tastings with caterers, my sister in her bridesmaid dress, possible vests and ties for the guys, practice versions of centerpieces- if a picture could be taken he did) and then we shared them on google docs. Though I think a big part of successfully doing a long-distance wedding (and mine was 1200 miles) is accepting that you can’t manage everything, and then trusting others to take care of things. .

    • Emily

      We’re relying a lot on my folks, which is great sometimes and infuriating other times. I was home in December (just me, not my partner), and looked at a few places then, met the officiant; the rest is over skype, as we won’t be back until a few days before the wedding. Since I’m from there, I at least have a better idea of the general lay of the land, but it is challenging. There are many things that would/will go more smoothly if we got married where we live, but I can’t give up the idea of having a wedding and showing off where I’m from.

  • Caroline

    I definitely have been wondering how you find a dressmaker. Most of my searching online has only turned up people for alterations not custom dresses.

    Also, what types of things did you ask for help with? Everyone says delegate, and here at the very begining of the process, it seems like there really won’t be anything to delegate, which I’m sure is untrue.

    If you aren’t doing a lot of crafting pre-weddig, what takes up so much time? What didn’t take much time?

    Were there thigs you needed to do that surprised you/ weren’t on any checklists?

    How do you pick a caterer? It seems terrifying to trust someone with your food when you’ve not eaten their food before, and you don’t know if they are flaky and such.

    Also, more advice for getting people dancing during the day. I know there has been some, but I would love more.

    • Copper

      ooh, and on the ‘delegate’ theme, if you opted not to have a planner or day-of coordinator, how did you actually get things to happen the way you meant them to on the day of? Did you designate a family member or friend to basically play coordinator, or run the show yourself, or just hope it happens magically?

      • KB

        Also – if you didn’t have a coordinator/central person, who did what? If you did X things yourself on the day of (like set up ceremony decor and flowers, for example), how much time did it take?

  • Just wanted to say that I’m really excited about this series and that there might be more practical budget talk! I know it’s such a sensitive area, but personally, when I’m looking at something pretty, I want to know how much it costs. I don’t want to kill myself trying to replicate it (or finding a pro who can) if the secret sauce is really a huge budget.

    Something else that I desperately wanted when I was pre-engaged was a “How we did it: ring edition.” Eric and I had NO clue how most people did rings. Do they save up and pay in cash? Borrow some money from the parents? Put it on a credit card and pay it off over a couple months? Shop first and then set a budget or vice versa? Rings are such A Thing but they are discussed in such vague, romantic, fantasy-land terms. And I TOTALLY get why no one wants to talk about the less romantic side, but I’d love to see some personal stories on how APW-ers did the ring process.

    • Rachel I can speak to this as someone who used to work at a high-end jewelry store (but not anymore, praise, retail is HARD and no fun, although shiny things are nice)…

      We saw a combination of all of the above at the store but it was 90% the man paying it himself, even when the man and the woman (or the man and the man or the woman and the woman) picked out the ring together (obviously for the woman and the woman one woman paid, heh, not a magically appearing dude). Only once can I remember a guy borrowing money–he called his future mother-in-law in front of me to get her CC number to charge, but this guy was a student and it was clear that he didn’t feel too great about the borrowing thing and was going to pay it back once he was out of grad school with gainful employment. Most people put it on their credit cards–whether they paid it off at once or not I don’t know. We also had a layaway plan where you paid in installments that we let some people use (though at least 50% of the ring had to be paid off before we let it out the door–we were a small business, not a big chain, so the owners made their own rules). Most people seemed to go by the three months worth of paychecks rule. Just in terms of general life finances I’d say have the majority of the ring amount saved up in cash (I mean, I’m someone who likes to pay off her CC balance every month so I don’t spend outside my means) but, obviously a lot of people don’t do this. So I’d say that the answer to your question probably depends on how people do finances in general, which is a bigger issue.

      For wedding rings, the couple would buy each other’s rings.

      Or, people could just drop $45,000 on the whole engagement like these folks…


      • KC

        I… uh… wouldn’t choose to use that amount of money that way. But a) their money, and b) it sounds like most of it was travel or ring costs, and c) different things are important to different people? (but, obviously, “proposal inflation” should not happen any more than wedding inflation; the level of love/commitment is really not a function of the money spent or showiness accomplished)

        The part of that article I found most entertaining was “According to a recent survey on HowHeAsked.com, 75 percent of women want their proposal caught on tape.” Because I’m sure that visitors to a website which is entirely about publicizing proposals (caught on tape or photographed or whatever) are *totally* representative of women in general. Right. I’d be curious as to how the APW numbers would stack up against that!

        (says one who was definitely glad that our proposal was not caught on tape, and who firmly believes that “romantic and appropriate” often doesn’t mean “impressive to the general public” or “expensive”.)

        • I’d classify it under the GRAND ROMANTIC GESTURES issue, naturally, and 100% agreement on the statistic they pulled from the proposal video site–naturally, the target audience would want their proposal captured on film!

          As someone who is going to get engaged pretty much any minute (seriously, the ring has landed, and the manfriend is now doing that thing where he waits until I am out of the house or in the shower to get on the phone/check his e-mail/unpack things from his car so I am suuuuuper excited to see what he has planned–how he is going to ask is the only thing that is a surprise at this point, since we picked out the ring together, so he’s being very protective of it) I am 100% against it being captured on (planned) film or it happening in the presence of people I know (strangers in a park are fine). Some things should be left to memory, you know?

          Sort of a related story…Last summer a friend came to visit from out of town and I took her to Duke Gardens, because they are pretty and flowers and such. While we were in the rose terrace, we witnessed a proposal take place in a very public place in that part of the gardens…and it was a sappy proposal (my friend and I are cynics so we were definitely snarking). And as we were watching this proposal unfold we saw, crouching in the bushes and trying to be inconspicuous, a photography–clearly hired by the man doing the proposing–snapping professional shots of the newly engaged couple as she wept and ogled her ring. The photographer came off as mostly creepy and weird (I mean, random dude skulking around in the bushes, what do you expect?!?) so the whole thing struck me as unusual.

          Still, the bride-to-be was so happy and so was the groom-to-be, so ultimately that’s all that matters (no cameras for me though, stay away creepy bush photographer!)

          • KC

            Congratulations in advance! :-) I hope it all goes awesome for you both! (for whatever your definition of awesome is!)

            (and yes to the “no photographers hiding in shrubbery” thing for me, either. But some people would want that, and that’s okay. And I suppose you could always burn the photos if they were really terrible [super-surprised faces: not always the most flattering photos], as long as they didn’t escape onto the internet first.)

          • Thanks!!! It will be awesome (he’s just all nervous because SOCIETY BLERGH has conditioned us to believe in GRAND ROMANTIC GESTURES and so he feels he needs to pull out all the stops whereas I don’t need all the stops, just a couple of them!)

          • SHANON

            I definitely get about it being professionally photographed. My FH proposed on Christmas morning right after I had carelessly remarked “Eh…I’m not so fond of Christmas proposals…”—a statement I recanted once I saw his face and realised that “some” Christmas he may want to in fact, ask me to be his wife. Le duh. Besides, on Christmas morning as I realized what was going on and I had a dawning sense of “oh this is really happening to me/I have waited SUPER PATIENTLY (six years)/I feel remarkably old…” He opened the ring box and nestled inside was a lovely vaguely-vintage ring and I said “Oh SHIT.” So. I’m glad THAT wasn’t captured on film for posterity. Besides, I then proceeded to cry solidly ugly happy-tears…

          • My fiance hired a photographer to capture our proposal, and I am incredibly grateful for it. I remember vaguely seeing the down on the beach guy over his shoulder when he got down on his knee and thinking, oh isn’t that nice, someone decided to take pictures! Totally to into the moment to process it. Those pictures are so beautiful, and capture my every moment of complete oblivion, slow realization, shock, and utter joy that I love looking at them and reliving it, especially since I was so surprised and overwhelmed that my actual memories are very fuzzy. He came up and took a few happy couple pictures after the actual proposal so they are not all of my mouth hanging open in shock. We’re not doing an engagement shoot, those pictures came out so good, and I don’t see how proposal pictures are so different from those taken during wedding vows. Maybe some people feel that should all be private too, but to each his own.

        • We were both naked during ours, so I’m pretty sure if it were “caught on tape” I’d be having to change my identity and move to Amish country.

      • Samantha

        Wow . . . WIC anyone . . .

    • Caroline

      Not sure if it’s helpful, but here’s how we did the engagement ring. I would show him a lot of pictures and say “I like this bit but not that bit, I’m not sure exactly what I want but it’s super specific” and he would respond “Don’t worry, I know what you want.” He went home to visit his parents maybe a year after we moved in together, and his mom asked him if he would like a family ring to give me. He said yes. She showed him 3 different rings he could have (each of his grandmothers’ and her’s) and he picked one he liked then sent me a pic to confirm that it was the one I would pick too. I loved it. He brought it home. It waited in a ring box for 3 years before we got engaged, except the last year where I would wear it in secret (he knew, no one else did) around the house. His mom also gave him the matching wedding band which I won’t be using (it has stones, can’t use stones for a Jewish ceremony). I’m trying to decide what to do with it. We will probably give it to his sister when she is older.

      • Yep, Jewish ceremony, it is a good way to shoo away jewelers trying to upsell you on a band with diamonds around it (I personally want a plain band because I like the look of a lot of metal but I find that people look at you funny when you say that, so I just say “HAVING A JEWISH WEDDING” and that makes them understand).

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Jewelers – or nosy “friends” passive-aggressively hinting your engagement ring isn’t impressive enough: “Oh, it’s lovely! Will your wedding ring have more stones so the set is more substantial?”

          • KC

            I am glad I did not have any of those “friends”; I didn’t even know that was a thing. Yikes!

          • I’m already foreseeing some of this–my ring is very modern: simple, clean lines, no diamonds around the band other than the solitaire, solitaire set into the ring, basically everything I like. I’m foreseeing some people being all: “Where are the diamonds around the band” or like “are you going to get a diamond band” blah blah blah. Super duper annoying.

    • mari

      Yes!! While we were pre-engaged I had a lot of stress about what the right way to do the ring thing was for practical, modern-ish couples. Lesson learned: however you can swing it is the right way.

      We’d tried to “save up” for the ring he had in his head, but that money kept having to go to life problems (emergency vet visits, flights home for the holidays, a flash flood sale at Asos.com, oops!) So after months of waiting we just decided to use the money we had ($200) and go buy the prettiest thing we could find. Ended up at a 2nd hand shop and found my perfect ring for about $150.

    • Leah

      We didn’t do a big proposal, but me wearing an engagement ring was important to my fiance. Peer pressure/expectations, in no small degree, but I also like sparkly things.

      We picked out the rings and paid for them together. We already live together and share joint expenses, this just seemed like another one of those. It’s also a non-traditional ruby engagement ring which I *really* like, but most people seem confused/underwhelmed by (cute is a popular response).

      We also bought our wedding bands at the same time from the same jeweler and saved 10%. Total cost was very close to $2500, so we had enough money saved.

  • Kate

    I’d love to see some very exact budgets, like exactly how much was spent on what. The total planned and actual budgets are great, but the numbers gal in me would love to see a lot more detail.

    • meg

      That’s something we may do, but we’d do it anonymously, probably. And to be honest, we’re easing into it, to see if we can start engendering civil budget conversations. There was some rudeness with the first go-round, which tells me we’re not there yet. So. We’re working on it!

      • H

        I’d be willing to do a semi-anonymous budget post in the future, and I’m getting married in April. I honestly couldn’t give a crap what people think of how much we spent on what. Truly.

        • I’d do a semi-anon budget post or even include the nitty-gritty in a How We Did It post (after it actually, um, happens in September)! I’m glad Meg & co. are being protective of everyone and trying to ensure discussion is civil, but I have no problem wading right on in there. Hopefully the higher the volume of concrete details, the more normal it will feel to talk about this stuff.

          • meg

            Ok you guys, noted. And I have no problem SQUASHING the first person who says some passive agressive shit.

      • We got married a bit ago now but it was a park wedding. And I would definitely be willing to do a budget post if it was anonymous as well.

      • Suzzie

        One way to get around doing the figures if there is some negativity in the peanut gallery, is to have percentages posted. Like how much of the overall budget was spent on food, how much on entertainment, how much on venue, etc. That way no one gets slammed for spending what someone else thinks is too much or too little. And maybe an explanation on why someone chose to spend 60% of budget on food versus someone who spent maybe 20% on food. Because that gives an idea of what is important to the person who was planning. Our biggest spends were food and photographer because those were the two most important things to us as a couple.

        • Laura

          Pie charts plz thx!!!

        • ElisabethJoanne

          We used recommended percentages in developing our budget, but percentages don’t tell our priorities. The best example is that the church was top priority to me, but it was free. (I’ve Exactly!’d all the posts about how any budget talk meant to help others with their budgets should name free or donated goods and services.)

          • Suzzie

            There’s always other factors that play in, but like others have mentioned those could be talked about. If they got something for free and that’s why it didn’t factor in to the budget or how they found something for a lot less than expected. Was just throwing out a suggestion if they didn’t want to post actual figures. I honestly don’t think either numbers or percentages help out from looking at other people’s weddings given that every couple is different and each situation is different. I died laughing when I picked up a wedding planning book and the suggested percentages of spend.

            We took the approach of “what do we want”, “what are our options for what we want”, “what does each option cost”, “would we be willing to spend that much and if not what would an alternative be”, and “is this something we really want if it’s out of our price range and no other viable alternative?”.

          • If we used percentages to talk about how we spent money on our elopement my husband’s attire was THREE TIMES as expensive as any one other single thing which would suggest we care a lot about him being snazzy and not so much about other things. Probably half of our total expenses, actually, went to his clothes.

            But of course explanations do so much … there was a two-for-one suit sale and so he got clothes that he can wear at fancy occasions for years to come, as well as a wedding suit. Then of course we eloped so a lot of our other expenses were super low and while we had other splurges dinner for two is always reasonable compared to dinner for two hundred.

      • One of the reasons that this blog *and* the comment sections have stayed such an excellent place to read is your robust comment moderation policy. I approve and applaud.

  • emmer

    ooh! And how short is too short in planning a wedding?

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Some California counties have civil officiants in the same offices where you get the license, and you can make appointments less than a business day in advance. So, sometimes less than 24 hours.

    • Amy

      This would be great to include in the submission form, since it can affect the final cost so much. If you have 2 years to plan you might have plenty of time for DIY but if you’re on a tighter schedule, not so much.

    • meg

      Ah, you mean, how long did you plan for? That’s smart. We got a good deal on a budget… because we booked 1.5 years out. If I had to do it over, I’d have a way shorter engagement, but it might have been harder, budget wise.

      • And, from an emotional POV, is a long engagement worth it?

        Because I can tell you from my own POV, the answer is a resounding NO.

        • meg

          Me too. That’s the one thing I’d change. The rest, imperfect or not, I wouldn’t change.

  • Melody

    I’d like to know more about how budgets come together. How much/how long do people save? If you get engaged and figure out what kind of wedding you want, how do you create a budget for that wedding and then save for it? Or do you figure out what you can spend and plan that wedding?

    Also, I’m baffled by the minor costs of things like linens and centerpieces and serving-ware and all the small little things that add up… seeing an actual breakdown of those costs would be really useful.

    • Breck

      Totally second this. As a pre engaged gal who is fresh out of college… how does anyone do this? I have some (read: SO very little) savings, and my boyfriend (who’s had 5 extra years in the workforce) has a solid chunk, but most of that money is already spoken for (trip to France this summer, hopefully a house in the next couple years). Do people start saving way in advance? Do you pay as you spend/as payments come up? Are people putting this stuff on plastic and paying it off later? I’m not sure if this is too personal, but I’d love to know how people coordinated the actual logistics of financing their weddings.

    • meg

      I suspect that’s a whole different conversation. I touch on various strategies in the book (p. 87, for those of you following along at home). But in reality, that is 100% variable based on the couple. And everyone is nice here and all, but I don’t think anyone’s going to be willing to say, “Well, I had XX in credit card debt, and XX in student loans, and XX in retirement funds, and my salary was XX, and our long term financial goals were XX, and my families detailed financial situation is XX, so we did it this way.” And that’s pretty much what goes into those decisions.

      • Anon for a minute

        …I’d totally be willing to have/kick off that discussion with our own painfully specific details. I’m not sure why, but financial discussions/situations are super fascinating for me, and I’ve never felt the same ooginess as others when it comes to discussing them.

        Of course, I’ve been pretty proud of the way I’ve handled finances since I got my first job at 15, so our story might not be as gritty and realistic as required for a nuanced hard-look at this sort of thing.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I can share, but it won’t be helpful to very many people.

      When we were pre-engaged, we talked to both sets of parents about who-pays-for-what expectations. We also had a really clear “vision” in terms of how many people, kind of venue, and what food and alcohol to serve.

      When we got engaged, we priced our “vision.” We got the numbers from vendors who posted prices on their websites, even if we didn’t like the vendor, just to get an idea. That came to XX. We put all this into a presentation for the parents. (My husband has a background in financial services; all this was fun for us.) They thought about it for a couple weeks, and came back to us with an offer of YY, which was 20% less than XX. The 20% wasn’t enough to make us adjust our “vision,” so we just started booking vendors, knowing we’d have to cut somewhere.

      As it turned out, we got GREAT deals on photography and catering, and spent most of our planning significantly under even the YY budget. I never crunched the final numbers, I think we were 10-15% under the YY budget.

      • The way we did it is we first estimated when we would get married (eg, we knew it was going to be the following summer, either June or August). Then, we took a long hard look at our budget and figured out how much we can save per month without cramping our lifestyle too much or completely derailing our other financial goals (although some compromises had to be made). Then we multiplied that amount by the number of months left till the wedding (we used the earliest possible month for estimate), and that was our wedding budget. In this scenario, we paid for everything ourselves (a decision we made because we wanted to be in charge of wedding decisions), so we didn’t have to factor in family contributions.

    • Anon for budget talk

      When we were pre-engaged, we talked a put a vision, and a budget. When we got engaged, my parents both offered to help. My mom and I talked about what we wanted, what it might cost, and either input, I put together a line by line (like: x dollars for attire) budget that I sent to my family. My parents each sent us back a dollar amount that they were willing to contribute towards the wedding. His family said there are a few line items they would like to contribute towards if they can afford to.
      As it turns out, our pre-engaged budget and vision were wildly out of line. The budget is much more than we could save anytime soon, and it wasn’t even close to enough to accomplish our ( what feels pretty modest) vision. Our budget is now a lot less than the avg cost of weddings here in the Bay Area, but almost the national average. (Our budget now is 2.5-3 times our unrealistic pre-engaged pay for it ourselves budget). It will be a 65 person, at home, Sunday daytime in August wedding in the Bay Area.
      This sounds like an easy process but took about 2 months and was emotionally exhausting and difficult. We were originally hoping to marry this summer but this process was so difficult we pushed it back to next summer.

      • Rachelle

        Wow, $65/person in the Bay Area? BRAVO, that’s incredible! I just booked our venue and catering after four intense months of long-distance researching and it’s working out to $118/person even though so many services are donated.

        Can we start an entire blog on low-budget Bay Area weddings? Seriously painful.

        • Anon for budget talk

          No, definitely not $65 per person. 65 people on the guest list. I’m hoping to spend $65 per person on the food (not including rentals, cake or alcohol) but I expect it will be hard to do a full luncheon for that. We’re going to try though. Food is already about 1/3 of the budget, budgeting $60 a person. I wouldn’t consider our wedding low budget. My parents are generously gifting us the money, which is more than our ( admittedly meager, early 20-something student ) combined annual incomes. So for us, it is a lot.

          That said, I so agree the challenges of keeping to any kind of budget in the Bay Area is challenging, as costs are so very high. I figured we would save a ton of money by having it at home, but I have no idea how, but it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Or at least, we are spending more than I ever imagined on an at home wedding and if we also had a few to many more thousand for the venue… Holy crap.

          • Rachelle

            Oops! Definitely read that wrong! If you are looking for reasonably priced catering and don’t want to go the food truck route, I have a few suggestions:

            Salt & Honey
            A Tasteful Affair
            The Pleasure is Mine
            Small Thyme Catering

            They’re all based in the east bay, but I’m sure would be willing to travel within the area! Hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck!

          • Anon for budget talk

            Thanks Rachelle. I think because of the location, a food truck likely will not work. Catering is actually what I’m working on this week, so it’s very timely.

    • MIRA

      So, I actually have answers to these questions for our part of the country, if people are curious — because I extensively priced out three possible weddings in the first couple months of planning

      1. Mostly-inclusive “Fancy Venue”
      2. “Engaged Couple as General Contractors” (Cheapest DIY-iest Not-Quite-Possible)
      3. “Engaged Couple as General Contractors” (Much More Reasonable Guesstimate of Cheapest DIYiest Possible)

      I initially thought Option 1 was SO CRAZY EXPENSIVE and my mom and future MIL thought was Worth It. The spreadsheets basically showed that Option 1 = Option 3, and Option 2 was slightly less but would have involved a floodplain in springtime and/or port-o-potties.

      We’re planning this thing from thousands of miles away, and both have very busy jobs, so we picked Option 1. Mommas know best.

      I’d add that although pricing it all out made the first couple months a little rocky, it was worth it for me. There were a lot of strong feelings all around about general location, inclusiveness of the guest list, and serving a full meal, and those priorities came with a price tag. It was extremely helpful to have that real data for the budgetary conversations with my parents, but even more, it was helpful for me. I am very aware of how lucky we are to have substantial parental support with this, but I don’t feel guilty for how much it’s costing (or for only DIY-ing a few things). That’s just how much *this* wedding costs, and I’m not going to go around mourning for a wedding I’m not going to have.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I think dollars nitty-gritty is really interesting. Here’s what I would have liked more examples of when planning our wedding:

    *What parts of planning were stressful, and what went smoothly? [Examples from us: The first stage of planning, which was choosing a venue, and the 4-weeks before the wedding after RSVPs were in, were stressful. Everything else was pretty smooth.]

    *What vendors were easy to find, and what was hard? [Examples: Photographers all had good websites. Caterers and dress stores were really hard to find online.]

    *Just like the budget v. actual for money, I’d like a plan v. actual for decision-making. We had some bumps in planning due to illness and indecisiveness, and I would have liked stories with actual dates about how you can adjust the recommended timelines.

    *Also, how did you both work full-time and plan the wedding? I always rolled my eyes at people being “busy” because they were wedding-planning, and for 14 months of our 15-month engagement, we could do wedding-planning around all our other responsibilities and priorities. But, again, those last 4 weeks – I don’t know how we’d have done it if my now husband didn’t work from home. And I still resent the parents and clergy who threw us the curve-balls that created that stress.

    • This is interesting. Like, for example, I had been a bridesmaid about nine times before I got married. I LOVED planning other people’s weddings. Turned out it was a lot harder for me to make decisions about my own wedding. We ended up with a wedding planner to narrow down the choices (and make phone calls) for me. That helped, but before that and before I found APW the first month was sheer horror.

  • Zoe

    For people who are using DJ iPod, how do you get people out on the dance floor? How did you put together your playlist? Also, how did you handle other tasks a DJ typically takes care of, like announcing cake cutting, special dances, etc?

    And for folks without a wedding coordinator, how did you make sure everything came together at the rehearsal and on the day of? Did you coordinate? A family member? Magic elves?

    Also, did you plan an after party, or just call it a night after the reception? If you planned after-festivities, how? What did you do?

    • Copper

      ooh also, if you’re iPod DJing, what do you do about ceremony music? That’s easier if it’s indoors, but if it’s outdoors how do you make that work?

      • emmer

        YES! for outside I’ve wondering if we should have some kind of quartet/harmonica player/ music something, because I haven’t really had a clear idea of how to do this with an ipod.

        • Suzzie

          We had indoor/outdoor option for our ceremony and was going to use a portable speaker that was able to plug in to my iPod. Alas, our day was a bit drizzly so it was inside and didn’t have to worry about the outside option! Or, there might be places that rent out larger outdoor speakers. We rented a video camera for the ceremony from a guy who had tons of AV equipment to rent for a really good price.

    • Natalie

      I’ll try to answer this one. For the dance party, I think the most important thing is to intersperse songs that are universal dance tunes, Thriller, Twist and Shout, etc.– songs that make guests of all ages go “I HAVE to dance to this.” My other tip is to have the first song after every slow song be a super upbeat, rockin dance song. This is so people who were slow dancing immediately start fast-dancing and others join them and the slow song doesn’t drag down the party vibe.

      We also had an emcee who was a family friend for the other DJ tasks like announcements.

      For the ceremony, we hired two guitarists. They were great. Since we only needed them for an hour, it was inexpensive.

  • Jenny

    I would also be interested in the following
    How much time did it take to find/make/decide on X and did you feel like it was time well spent (aka, I wanted to save money on a dress and I just wanted something simple so I spent time meeting with dress makers looking for patterns, meeting and trying it on, it took 4 fittings and I a. got just what I wanted for $800 and the time it took was totally worth it, or b. after all that I got what I wanted but I could have found something slightly more expensive in half the time, or I could have just bought the paper lanterns/invitation/ instead of making them).

    What were the trade offs for some of the decisions (aka we wanted to hike up a mountain, but we knew our older relatives couldn’t do that, so we decided to a. do something else so they could join us, or b. say our vows on the mountain and through a reception where we showed the video).

  • BB

    When and where did the wedding take place?

    What do you wish you had spent more time on? What do you wish you had spent less time on?

    What did your guests seem to comment about most/least after the wedding? i.e. I know someone who is providing board games at the wedding for those who don’t like to dance; is something like this worth it?

    How did you decide how many guests to invite? What influence did money have on this number (for instance if one set of parents are paying, do they get more people)?

    A little info about the bridal party. How many? What roles did they play? What did they wear and how much did it cost? What did you do for thank you gifts?

  • Schwink

    Exactly HOW does one self-cater one’s own dessert bar? And all the other questions; these are great :)

    • meg
      • Claire

        Now that’s super helpful. The lazy-girl version is what I went with for my wedding. Each of our mothers and sisters baked a dessert (cheesecake, lemon bars, chocolate cake, etc.) and set it on the dessert bar before heading to the wedding. Delicious, if not expertly styled.

    • KC

      I’ve had friends who did potluck-style (friends and family each made a pie or cake or plate of something, with instructions to label the underside of the dish clearly or retrieve it before you leave the wedding if you want it back), but it’s helpful to have someone sort of supervising the organization of the table to reassure people that yes, this is where the desserts go, and no, this is not where gifts go, etc., so things get spread out attractively (or have weighted, labeled circles so people know exactly where to put their plates/cakes/pies, or just have slightly perfectionist design-y friends who will optimize the table layout automatically).

      Plates/forks/napkins at one end (weighted down if outside for minimal flying away), then desserts (provide a few cake stands or put textbooks/phonebooks under a tablecloth if you want multi-level presentation). You’ll probably also want to provide a few extra serving utensils (thrift stores! or there are plastic ones, too.) and will need someone assigned to clean up the leftovers and collect any leftover dishes from people who might have had to leave early (cleaning dishes without erasing the names from the back – sometimes tricky!). Then the great dish-and-serving-utensil returning effort comes later, if applicable; the easiest way I’ve found to do this from other massive potlucks is to take a photo of all abandoned serving utensils afterwards lined up, and email to the whole group so they can claim “third from the left!” or whatever.

      If you want to totally self-cater and not potluck a specific kind of dessert bar (ice cream sundae bar? cookie bar? fruit bar?), a lot of what day-of help you’ll need will depend on the kind of prep/storage needed. Exclusively jars of stable-at-table-temperature candy/cookies with cork lids? you can personally set that up 12 hours before and just let it be if you want, no help needed. Something that needs to be heated, or something that needs to stay frozen until exactly X time, asking a friendly someone with a timeline in hand be in charge of it makes sense. Something that just needs to be uncovered (like bowls of fruit for fruit kebabs maybe?) can have a punctual friend assigned to get to the reception first and uncover them. If you get long tablecloths, you can hide coolers or boxes of resupply ingredients under there and have someone assigned to hover over the table and refresh things when they get low.

      Pre-day-of, it’s ideal to find either things that are definitely going to be available in the quantities you want and things that are shelf/freezer stable so you can collect them gradually (order from Costco or from restaurant supply stores if quantities are an issue; this is where you get summer-camp-size packages of Red Vines or 300 waffle cones). If home-making anything, either have a backup plan you’re okay with or only home-make things that are sane to hand-make in your quantities (finicky woven-crust individual tartlet pies for 100 people, some of whom will want more than one? Adorable, but probably not going to be fun. Brownies for 100? Freezable, *and* faster/easier to make, although it’s still advised to have at least one person assisting for awkward moments and for entertaining conversation while things are baking.). Also make sure ahead of time that you have the equipment (multiple pans can be borrowed) and the necessary storage space available (and that your banana pudding is not going to be sharing the fridge with uncovered garlic butter…).

      Source: assisted a lovely caterer for a number of years with weddings and with concert desserts, some of which were buffet-style, some of which were “plated”. If you’re just doing a dessert bar for the same number of people as you might have over for a party, then do whatever you’d do for a party, but assign someone else to manage the setup/hovering/cleanup. If it’s larger than your average party, you primarily want to think through the logistics of a) sourcing ingredients [if you need more of something than one grocery store would be likely to stock; do a dry run for pricing and how much of X a grocery store usually carries, and have a backup store in case they happen to be out of cream or in case all your chocolate melts in the car and you need more or something; Costco and restaurant supply stores come in here if your quantities are really big], b) time to make/prepare [plus a “glitch” batch or two] and equipment [pans, cooling racks, mixers, dishes]; your oven can only hold so much at any one time, ditto for counters/tables, d) place/method to store finished product(s) until wedding, e) getting things from storage spot to reception location, f) presentation/setup, and g) cleanup/disposal of extras. e, f, and g are especially good things to delegate; there is enough going on at any given time on a wedding day that the less you have on your plate, the better. :-)

      You may also need to instruct wedding guests of the appropriate time to attack the dessert bar (“The dessert bar is on the left – please enjoy customizing your ice cream sandwich!”) or have some friends/relatives pre-recruited to get a line started at the right time (since no one wants to be first…). :-)

      Hope whatever you do goes really well!

  • KB

    Mistakes and reversals – what went wrong and how did you fix it? How could you have prevented it? Was there something that you wanted made/done and had to just say “eff it” in the end?

    If you include fun detail photos, a brief explanation of what inspired it, where you got the materials, and how much it cost, etc. Example: Paper flowers, saw it on Pinterest (link), bought paper for $20 at Michaels, took 3 hours, I set them up while my hair dried, wish I used glue instead of tape (or something like this).

    • Brittany

      Paper flowers make me laugh. I saw beautiful ones on Martha Stewart. I bought all the supplies necessary. My friends and I tried to make them for about three hours. They looked like death and torn up paper and we only managed to make like 15 of them (and we are a crafty bunch- product package designer, teachers, event planner). Then we put them in a vase, as a monument to failure, opened a bottle of wine and watched a movie.

  • ZOO

    – How did you go from the wedding to the honeymoon? What were the logistics?
    – How did you find a counselor for pre-marital counseling? How many sessions was it and how close to the wedding did you do it? What was the cost?

    • Caroline

      Premarital counseling is with our couples counselor and probably our rabbi (at our congregation. He is not marrying us, because my fiancé isn’t Jewish and he’s a conservative rabbi.)
      We found our counselor through my mom. She also sees him. So ask for recomendations from friends and family. He costs what feels like a ton but I think is a common amount for a private counselor not part of a clinic or paid via insurance:$185 for 50 minutes. We go to him to work through issues when they pop up.
      I think we may do some more classic marriage prep type counseling with the rabbi at our congregation. That would be free, as members.

    • Laurel

      I very much wanted to do premarital counseling. Even in the Bay Area I just couldn’t find a secular version. You can talk to a therapist, but they usually focus on emotional issues and communication — I wanted to talk through big life decisions and issues with a facilitator, and there was nothing like that out there. Even the workshops focus on communication, emotional intimacy, that kind of thing, instead of life plans and medical directives.

      • Rowany

        Same here, there’s plenty of marital counseling and financial planning available in my state, but not only are they insanely expensive but there’s no secular premarital counseling. We’ve been buying relationship books instead and going through the surveys and exercises together from them and also what I can find on-line.

  • Other Katelyn

    How did you handle the planning stress?? I’m dying here.

    How to decorate a room given variables like windows, long and narrow, etc– I am clueless on this.

    Cosigning above on cost of bridesmaid dresses, I had major conflict on people’s expectations here.

  • Teresa

    I love all of these suggestions–I would also love to read about what each partner’s priority was and how they compromised with each other to make those things happen. I would venture to say, if people are willing to share this kind of information, knowing how their budget came to be would be helpful. By this I mean, before I got married and into the first couple of weeks of my engagement, I was convinced that we couldn’t afford anything. That it seemed so easy for everyone else to make it happen and that we were going to be able to afford nothing. It works itself out, but I would have loved to hear how it worked itself out. Did your parents offer to give you X amount of money? How did you shift your own personal budget priorities to sock away money? Did vendors allow you to pay in installments? Did you start saving before you even got engaged? I really had it in my head that it was going to be so impossible for my husband and I to every make a wedding happen, it would have been such a comfort to see this over and over (I know it has been talked about here…but for me, the more I see it, the more it actually sinks in!).

    • meg

      Partner’s priorities. Such a good question.

      See above on how budgets came together. I think that’s just way to detailed personal financial information for people to share.

    • Rowany

      Yes! I would also love like a top 3 priorities at the beginning of wedding planning, and then what it looked like the week or days before the wedding.

  • Jess

    Cost of rentals. This is definitely the biggest up in the air totally unknown thing for us. Whenever we ask for information, we’re told ” oh well it totally depends on what you pick.” OF COURSE it does, but a range of say btwn $x-y per table and linens start at $z and up. Also, if you are renting, what is the epic list of things you should think about renting….I know it’s far longer than the list we’ve come up with. And if you have to rent dishes and glassware, how make glasses does a wedding need. I know that the caterer can help with that, but we can’t pick a caterer til we know what we can afford, and part of that is based on rentals. Also, it’s just always good to have more information going into a negotiation than less

  • Destination/International How We Did It would be awesome! Possibilities are endless…

    And Cake. I always wonder about what a cake REALLY should/does/might not cost if you don’t have one. I want to know if anyone, ever, does not have enough dessert and slashed it out of their budget.
    What are rates for decorating? Did you get hit with a cake cutting fee? Did cupcakes get markups for wedding?

    • Amy

      We wrote not having a cake cutting fee into our original contract with the venue and got them to knock the cost of cake ($3/head) off of our pp/catering cost since the venue supplied a dessert and we’re not big cake fans. Turns out it was a good thing I wrote it in as our venue changed ownership and they wanted to charge us $5/head fee for “cake cutting”(which was for a small slicing cake just for photos that we made and supplied ourselves). Hence my ex-event planner advice to get everything in writing. You just never know.

      • Suzzie

        Exactly, always get things in writing from a venue! We went through about 4 event co-ordinators before our wedding (and we booked about 7 months before the wedding!). Neither of us likes cake so we went with french pastries. And good thing we had it in writing that the venue was ok with us bringing in a few outside items (ie sparkling cider for the non drinkers, outside dessert, etc) because when a new co-ordinator came in they at first were like “what? we can’t do that”. And since we didn’t have a traditional wedding cake we didn’t get hit with the cake cutting fee. But many venues do work with you on costs. I went in saying how much I would like to spend and what we can do to get things done around that price.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My parents ran out of cake. They got married on a record-hot day, and though the venue had air conditioning, I think people were suspicious of the cold cuts and cheese buffet, but heat doesn’t make cake dangerous, just slippery, so everyone ate cake. [This is my theory, anyway. I wasn’t there.]

      OTOH, Most of our cake was left-over. We ordered for 100, and 80 people showed (invited 220). Then about half that 80 left before cake-cutting (which was about 6:30pm, but on a work night).

      As for the cost of cake, here’s what happened: The lowest price for cake we read in WIC guides was $1.50/slice. We’re in an urban coastal area, so we budgeted $3/slice. We looked at 3 specialty bakers (as opposed to, say Wal-mart bakery), and they all were around $6/slice for a regular cake. (One was 2 or 3 times that for gluten-free, so $12+/slice.) By then, we were way under-budget in bigger areas, so we ordered a really yummy cake for $600. It was what we got the most compliments on.

      Our venue was a hall; we just paid the rental fee. Our catering was all-inclusive, so, no extra charge for cake-cutting, picking up the cake, serving the cake, etc.

      • We are planning on doing a mix of regular-sized (9″, two-layer) cakes and pies, and hiring friends to make them. I was asking one my baker friends about it, and she suggested having enough for a lot of extras, since people would want to try more than one flavor.

        My thought on that is No Way. Im happy to make sure there is enough cake or pie for everyone to have a piece of something, but I don’t think I am up for figuring out several pieces per person. Especially considering that some people probably won’t end up wanting any. The math would just get too confusing.

        So, I am hoping we can work it in such a way to have neither too much nor not enough dessert.

  • Samantha

    This is absolutely fantastic. I love this new series!

    I have one super general piece of advise for everyone out there, especially those particularly budget conscious.

    Try to stay away from wedding vendors.

    The second you attach the word wedding to something it is marked up, so search out local, smaller vendors that are not necessarily wedding related. I.e.: we had So. Much. Trouble finding a caterer. Finally I threw up my hands and said let’s get a food truck (because that’s what the cool kids are doing these days). We ended up with a cool, young couple who run a food truck but also do regular catering. So we are getting our cocktail style reception with hors d’oeurves still (not a drive up food truck) for HALF, yes HALF of the price we had been quoted my multiple vendors.

    BLAIR’s cupcake mark up question made me think of this. Why do your cupcakes have to be for a wedding? They can be for a family reunion, or you are just ordering 100 cupcakes for your event. I think it helps to keep the wedding part out of the spotlight sometimes. Or just search down the off the beaten path . . . (obviously this is easier/harder for some people depending on where your wedding is being held – major factor.)

    • Corrie

      FOOD TRUCKS! I love the idea but am completely stumped by the logistics of a hors d’oeurves plus food truck wedding and would love to get some info from you or anyone else who has done/is doing that. How does it get priced out and is it based off a limited, pre-agreed upon menu? How do you work the timeline so the dinner is still semi-structured and followed by dancing? Were there kids at the wedding and how did you handle that?

      Speaking of kids….In this series, could there be a question where people note if there were children at their reception and how they did or did not accommodate them (food, entertainment, timeline wise)?

      Semi-unrelated to this series…has anyone included kids at a cocktail and hors d’oeurves/’small plates’ reception? I gravitate toward this type of reception, executed more casually, because I am adamant about including kids (my partner has 5 nieces and nephews, plus I’m close with my cousins and their kids), but also want to have an evening reception for our party-animal families, and probably can’t afford a sit down dinner. I’d love some ideas.

      • Samantha

        Disclaimer: we haven’t had our wedding yet.

        We aren’t having the food truck roll up to the wedding and feed people that way. I think it is totally rad to do that kind of wedding but since we are doing ours at an inside location we didn’t want people to have to go outside constantly for their food. The food truck we are using does catering outside of the food truck so we are doing an entirely hors d’oeurves reception and they are making all of those for us and setting up inside on a few tables. We are having this food set up and left out/ replenished all night so there is no set “dinner time” and people can eat and drink and dance all night – but that is specifically what we wanted.

        The food truck did have an option to bring the truck up though and you could pick from a variety of packages that were limited menu or full menu depending on what you wanted to do and your price point. I didn’t look into it too much because that isn’t what we wanted to do – but a good question would be can people come back for more or is it a one serving deal.

        All of our guest are going to be highschool age and older (except for our flower girl and two ring bearers – but they will probably check out at some point), and since our wedding hasn’t happen I can’t really speak to that part of your question. I always loved the idea of a cocktail style reception too though – my fiance and I both agreed that dinner was our least favorite part of weddings so we nixed it. I would say that it’s not necessarily cheaper depending on how much food you want to serve – i.e.: we want our guests to leave full like they’ve had dinner, but you could do a later reception and a light apps and drinks if you let people know not to expect a whole meal which is a good option too. It also allows you to maybe supplement with food of your own (or family’s making) BUT check with your caterer first if they will allow you to bring any of your own food. Our caterer didn’t want us too, but we are doing our own dessert bar.

        I hope any of this rambling reply was helpful to you . . .

    • Keep in mind, there are a lot of “wedding vendors” who also post on this site, and they aren’t the way you describe. They are the sane, small local businesses.

      (That being said, I was at a bridal show in January, and I get what you mean. I keep mentioning an “event” when I talk to folks for the first time.)

      • Samantha

        No no no. I certainly didn’t mean it that way. Our caterers have done weddings before – but rather I should say non-WIC wedding vendors. I’m such a huge supporter of small businesses because it gives the opportunity to mean and work with people who are invested in their clients in a more personal way. That is more what I meant. Many of the “generic WIC vendors” we had previously been stuck searching out were killing us with prices is what I meant. Sorry if that was offensive. Obviously there are super cool wedding vendors which you see all the time on APW. We are getting married in a super small town where we grew up and the nearest “city” doesn’t come packed with all the hip fun vendors you can find in places like Brooklyn or SF, etc.

        • Samantha

          AT least this has been my experience – not everyone’s I’m sure.

    • that Jenn

      Agreed! We are calling our event an anniversary party for nearly all purposes. It helps that I don’t want to wear a big white dress or have much of a ceremony, of course, but yeah, even for the venue we’re not calling it a wedding!

    • Leah

      Just be careful and do the already-mentioned get it in writing thing. My brother-in-law’s friend avoided the word wedding for their planning (called it an event) and got a really good price. When the bride showed up in a big white dress and venue realized that it was a wedding reception, they slapped on an extra $2500 charge to bring them up to the wedding minimum.

  • C

    Second the question about after-wedding festivities!
    – If you had an earlier wedding (brunch / afternoon / etc), what did you do with the guests later in the day and how effective was it (i.e., how many people came to the post-party bash? were they mainly friends in your peer group, out-of-towners, in-towners?)
    – How did you estimate what percentage of your total group would come to an after-party event, and how effective was it?
    – Did you pay for that?
    – What lessons did you learn?

    Also second, how did you get to the honeymoon. Did you go immediately or wait a few days / few months? If you waited, would you do it differently?

    Also, how did you delegate a “day of” point person (assume just a friend / family member, not a wedding planner)? How did you indicate to other family members with (ahem) opinions that your point person had authority? How well did that work? What would you do differently?

    Lastly, how did you do photography if you didn’t want to completely DIY but also didn’t have a budget for a complete wedding package. Did you only do an engagement session, only a reception session? How did you find a photographer willing to do that?

    • Sarah

      I know my answer isn’t usually the perspective you get on after-wedding festivities… we had an afternoon wedding (11:30am ceremony, reception followed immediately, all over by 5pm). Between the emotions of the day and being “on” for so many hours, I was literally exhausted to tears by the time we got back to the hotel. I’m so glad I had quiet time with my husband after our wedding instead of an after party.

  • APracticalLaura

    Things often forgotten when working within a budget such as:
    – Tipping Vendors!
    – Rehearsal Dinners!
    – Brunch!

    Things that took much longer to do than you expected and how you handled them.

    Processes that were much easier (or more difficult) than expected and how you handled them.

    • Amy

      The plus plus (tax + service charge) is another big shock for people not used to renting catering halls/dealing with caterers. So, if a venue quotes you $105/head they are likely not factoring in the plus plus, which depending on your location can easily be another 25%, bringing you closer to $130/head.

      • We found that the service charge was included in the catering fee and was listed in the final BEO. This way were able to immediately calculate what it would be per head for a buffet style dinner. I would feel no shame in asking up front if there is a service fee.

  • A thing I am trying to figure out is the most reasonable way to deal with table settings, and what we will actually need. Our venue will be providing all the tables and chairs, but someone is going to have to cart the place settings and any linens in and out.

    Our plan is to order pizzas for the bulk of the meal, so we won’t be in a situation where the caterer will be providing everything. Our first call is to figure out if we need to rent china or if paper plates and napkins will be ok. (Part of me says yes, it goes well with pizza. Part of me things it would look tacky and be extremely wasteful.) The second thing is to figure out how to pack in, set up, and then take down all the rented plates, silverware, etc.

    *Especially* the tear-down. I assume you have to wash everything before returning it? So, for people who have rented table cloths, napkins, plates, glasses,, silverware…how did you get it hauled out and cleaned up before returning it?

    • Honestly, the “what will people eat and drink with” and “how do we get those things there and back” are the parts that are going to give me kittens.

      • KC

        On the first one, rental china/silverware/etc. from party supply stores is actually sometimes surprisingly cheap (and often you can send it back without washing it, which seems gross but is a huge sanity saver). It is also okay to go paper/plastic/bamboo, especially if the wedding is not super-formal; this is one day, the Earth will not kill you. If working with a smaller wedding, there’s also a chance that the cheapest place settings from Target or somewhere will work out to be decently cost-effective (and then, hey, you’ve got stuff for parties), or thrift stores if you like thrift-store-hunting. It’s also sometimes-sometimes possible to borrow stuff [from friends, or from a private school or daycare or religious institution you’re closely affiliated with] or, if your reception is in a church hall or community hall, to use their dishes if they have them (the silverware will almost certainly not all match, but who cares).

        On the second one, do you know anyone or multiple anyones with SUV or a minivan or a station wagon? Because if you have lists-of-things (potentially with photos, always with numbers if there are multiples of items), times, and locations-to-pick-up and locations-to-drop-off, this is the best-ever delegation bit, although you may want to add one person at the “receiving” end with a list of all the stuff that’s supposed to arrive and the phone numbers of the people who are ferrying each segment. :-) Organize it once, update it as things change; then, the day before, print it out or email it, hand it off; and then your receiving sergeant is in charge of making sure stuff has arrived and calling the appropriate people if it hasn’t. :-) (remember to do this for the “ending the reception” stuff, too and make sure the right people have keys if applicable)

        Good luck, and I hope your kittens are only tiny and adorable and not alarming!

    • Jen

      from experience (catering events in Montreal), you don’t need to wash the dishes that you rent. This is something that could be different with different companies, so talk to a few and ask them these kinds of questions!! The way it works with the companies I’ve worked with is that you can either pick up and drop off your order yourself, or they’ll deliver it and pick it up (for a fee) the following day.

      Everything comes wrapped in plastic wrap or plastic bags, and packed in milk crates. After your meal, plates should be scraped clean, but not washed, and then you put them in clear plastic bags and back into the milk crates! Make sure you’re sending back the same number of items that you received (you’ll get charged for anything missing)!!

      make sure you think about any potential side plates/dessert plates, and extra forks for dessert, extra spoons for tea/coffee if you’re having it! If you’re doing buffet-style, and people will be able to go back for seconds, make sure to have a substantial number of extra plates (not just one plate per person)!

  • C

    One more idea…If you went over budget on a particular item, what factors went into making your decision, and how did that work out? Was your initial budget unreasonable? Did you change your priorities?

    (Kudos: Ashley addressed this issue in the first How We Did It – re: wedding dress alteration disaster!)

  • Shelly

    The biggest head-scratcher for me during planning was Invitation/Program Design & Printing
    – If invitations aren’t a big priority for you, or you don’t need something elaborate, where do you go?
    – If you or a friend design an invitation, how did you find someone to print them? And how do you know what kind of budget to assign this?

    • Amy Hawkins

      Any place like Office Depot, Kinko’s, Minuteman Press, etc will do printing for you if you provide a file that has your design. There are downloadable design templates available many places including etsy where you customize it with the correct names, date, etc.

      Printing costs aren’t too crazy, but it depends on many factors such as what paper you use, whether your design is 2 sided or 1 sided, etc. For mine (nice cardstock but not top of the line, one sided, color, 30 invites + 30 RSVP cards + envelopes for each) it was about $60 to have everything printed. Don’t forget to budget for stamps — that’s an extra $1 per invite assuming you put stamps on the RSVPs.

      There’s an APW post about how to print your own, and I imagine you’d save some money going that route. But to me the money saved vs the amount of work it sounded like didn’t seem worth it. YMMV of course!

      One thing that surprised me: for some reason I expected there to be a fairly long turnaround time for having things printed (days or even a week wouldn’t have phased me) but at the place I went the turnaround was more like a couple hours. Sweet!

      Hope that helps!

      • KC

        One note with places like Kinko’s is that sometimes they don’t uncheck “resize PDF to fit page” (aaargh!), resulting in a slight shrinking and offset all around, so make sure to tell them to check that (or look closely at the proof page they often give you) if you’re doing return address labels or other finicky things. Also, give them a PDF if you can, since sometimes your fonts or spacing won’t appear quite correctly otherwise; the PDF format basically prints the same everywhere (as far as I have seen). (to continue on the “budget” theme, CutePDF is a free PDF creator; you install it, and then “print” your document to CutePDF instead of your printer, and it lets you save the PDF, and I love it.)

        But, anyway, it was hands-down easier than trying to deal with a finicky home printer and cut them ourselves, and very little more expensive. Not the look of letterpress, no gorgeous ombre watercolor effects, but effective and sufficient and it worked. :-)

        • Louise

          I just want to add one thing regarding Kinkos, and probably any other printing place: the person you are working with has a HUGE impact on your experience. I actually try to give myself a little window of time so that if the employee isn’t really able to help me, I can try again at another time or location. Don’t feel bad about leaving without getting the work done. Don’t waste your money and don’t feel like you have to spend all day explaining what you are trying to do to someone who doesn’t care or doesn’t understand. Walk away, take a coffee/tea/wine/cake break and go back later. It will still get done. I have had so many frustrating experiences because “it just has to be done NOW!” or because I felt awkward saying, “no thanks, I don’t think I’m quite ready to do this right now.”

          ALSO: For those of you who are printing things at home– Kinkos has a magical paper cutter and they will make all your cuts even if you don’t print it there. I think its less than $2/cut and its the best money you’ve ever spent to get 100s of papers flawlessly cut at once.

          • KC

            YES on the magical paper cutter. I worked out in advance how to arrange and stack things so it was the fewest cuts possible (at ours it was theoretically $3/cut, I think?), but oh it was glorious to have those clean edges and have things all be exactly the same size, etc.

            I did deliberately go in at times I expected things to be “slower” when I had a slightly more complicated order, but when I got the sole mildly recalcitrant/eye-rolling/screwing-up employee, I kept pestering them until they did what was necessary, which they eventually did. If I’d thought of the whole “different employees work different shifts or in different location” thing (genius!), I might have gone back later upon hitting the less-helpful employee to see one of the fantastic employees and had an easier time of it. (or possibly not; my transport was walking and bus, so you get a bit more “invested” in making each trip do what you wanted it to do)

    • Suzzie

      My sister designed our invites and I got them printed with vistaprint.com. And signing up for their mailing list, always got tons of offers for up to 50% off. This route isn’t for everyone. But it sure saved us a lot of money and designing the invites was my little sister’s wedding gift to us. Their site also has a stock of wedding invites where you just put in the details as well.

      My brothers wedding we bought paper at a paper store and then found a local printer who was reasonable in price to do the typesetting.

      • I got a Vistaprint Groupon ($25 for $100 worth of product) which I am going to use for my save-the-dates. I was very excited about that. I’m hoping something similar will come along when it is time to do the invites.

        • Suzzie

          I find they do deals all the time. Keep looking at the groupon site in different cities as well! I got several groupon deals doing that for Vistaprint. Our invites actually came out gorgeous and several of my friends have used Vistaprint as well for their invites. (I did end up making my own inner envelopes because their envelopes are a little see-through).

    • Anon for budget talk

      I’ve used Minuteman Press for business before and found them amazing. Maybe it’s just business services but they delivered the proofs and the final project to my office, via courier/delivery person, they picked AMAZING quality paper for our project that made it look so professional, and all I had to do was upload a PDF to their website. It was easy, not too expensive, and overall really awesome and easy.

  • Ana

    I’d like to know, for everyone’s wedding, whether they used a wedding planner, a day-of-coordinator, stage manager, whatever, and whether they were paid or unpaid. We have a “planner” for our wedding, and she is so NOT JLo (nor is our wedding like the ones in the movie) but there are plenty of wedding things that are easier because of her, that an untrained eye might think we did ourselves.

  • Kats

    What went wrong in your wedding planning? How did you adjust for it or change plans? What stressed you out that you didn’t expect? What went more easily than you contemplated?

    For example, as I plan for my September wedding, I was surprised by how unstressful finding my dress felt (once I got past sticker shock). I’ve been surprised by how stuck/lost I feel on things like decorations, colors, DIY stuff, things-to-Make-My-Wedding-Feel-Special.

    • Anon for budget talk

      Yeah, decorations are not my thing. I’m completely daunted by the idea of decorating. Luckily our venue is stunning but stuff like chuppah poles and tables surely need decorating.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        This made me laugh, because I didn’t want the chuppah poles decorated, but Mom insisted it be done. She bought tulle and ribbon, and the canopy was 2 tallises from ebay. Total cost: maybe $50, more if you include the PVC pipes that were the poles.

        • Caroline

          Oops that was me, the anon above. I don’t think that the chuppah poles need to be completely decorated persay, and we’re using my tallit, but I don’t want just plain hardwarestore wooden poles either. Plain bamboo or something would be fine, but not just plain wood poles (you know, the ones that are like thick dowels?)

          • Rebecca

            I wouldn’t expect bamboo to be difficult to find, but if it is, there are also decorative finials you can screw into the ends of plain wood poles to spiff them up. These are very fancy, but you could also do something simpler (and cheaper- in a quick search the price range for all sorts of finials was about $0.85 to $850- a price for every budget!)

      • Sarah

        We used my family chuppah, which came into existence because one of my cousins got married in Oklahoma, where there are no chuppahs to rent (at least where he was). It’s a sturdy, self-standing one… the poles are made from the posts you’d use for a canopy bed and dowels form the top frame. We used some wood stain on them so they weren’t just unfinished wood, but that’s it.

  • I’d like to see what overall breakdown there were for your guests, and how that informed your wedding reception (for instance, i would love to have nothing but cocktails, apps and a giant hip hop dance party, but we have a lot of older relatives/friends of family coming and they wouldn’t enjoy that). So I guess I mean, how many of your guests were older; how many were contemporaries, how many were kids, etc. And what could you do/couldn’t you do because of it?

    Also . . . what ended up being worth the budget spends (percentage). I feel like this changes for every couple but I guess what I am wondering is what you spent your money on and why.

  • Oh! Also!

    When you were making your budget, did you sit down and say “Here’s what we can afford to pay, total” or did you say “here’s what we can afford/think is reasonable to pay for catering, flowers, photography, etc?”

    I feel like it can be really hard to price these things out so far out. For instance, I’d like to have some vintage furniture for a lounge-y type area – but none of the area rental places do prices online, you have to submit for a quote. So it makes it hard to be like “well, I’m willing to spend 1000 dollars on this, if it nets me three couches, two tables, five chairs and a dresser” (or whatever” without having any idea if that is logical or not.

    I guess my point is – we have a lot of “it would be nice” ideas, but I’m not really sure I want to invest time, excitement, and, in my case, a lot of energy cold-calling vendors (my biggest fear) just to find out the idea isn’t doable at all, you know?

    • Samantha

      This is interesting because every time we talk about a particular part of our wedding we are asked either by family or friends well what is your budget for this and we never have anything to say. We started saving 1 year before our wedding. We each decided to put X amount of money in our wedding joint account each month. At the end we will have Y and we are saving a portion of that for our honeymoon. So Y – Z = Wedding budget and that’s it. So we just decided what we could each afford to save each month for one year and it added up to a budget that we felt was reasonable to us – we definitely are more in the there are so many better ways to spend our money than on one day, aka honeymoon, camp. We never budgeted out each thing – we just keep spending whatever we think is reasonable and will add up to our overall budget in the end. Here’s to hoping it works out! But I always wondering how other people do it!

  • Nic

    This would be a great series!!! I was so lost through most of the planning – despite having over a year and getting a number of things sorted really early, we still had last minute (well, last month) issues… I think one of the most helpful things would be to see how people timed their planning/in what order people tackled issues – we had 15 months to plan and a lot of the main things were done within 8 weeks or so, but I had no idea when to do a number of the smaller things once the venues was booked, which did lead to a few avoidable panics quite late in the game.

    • ElisabethJoanne


      Are you me? We had the same timeline – 15 month engagement, only really stressful in the last weeks.

      • Nic

        So glad I’m not the only one with that experience! Everyone kept saying how organised we were and then I had a complete panic about table decorations, my hair, guests’ dietary requests, etc that until then were things I wasn’t really fussed about.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Ours were: the Priest wanting an image of the ketubah, parents submitting playlists, late-requested invites, not being able to translate the ketubah, parents insisting on assigning seats, and the Priest delaying programs (so we couldn’t select music or get an order of service to the photographer). Things that others procrastinated but didn’t have to be last minute were: parents writing blurbs for the programs, and parents designing the chuppah.

  • Jenny

    I’d like to know more about set up/how to organize the day of and the day before. How much time will I have to set up tables myself before an afternoon wedding? How hard is to wrangle help when I don’t have a wedding party? We’re doing our own dessert, Ipod music, and decorations/hair/make up. Am I insane for trying to do this on our own in the hours beforehand (myself, partner, sister and mother can be counted on to help)?

    • that Jenn

      Yes, I’d like to see a more general question on who helped – in planning, in setting up, etc., whether it’s paid people or friends/family. This is actually my second marriage, and the first time I really had zero local friends or other interested parties (perhaps should have been a red flag to me about how much my loved ones supported my marriage…) and this time I have a number of friends who are totally willing to help. What’s reasonable to ask of them? What can I get done when I have extra hands? What should I pay someone to do? Knowing what others have done with volunteered labor, goods, etc. would be really helpful in managing expectations.

  • Suzzie

    My wedding has come and gone. But one of the big things that I had a hard time finding any sort of advice on was how to deal with the stress/disappointment when you ask others for help and they say “no”. For me this was hard because most things I asked on were small things and to people who told me to ask if I needed any help at all. And just handling emotional aspects of wedding planning. How do different people cope with the stress? Do they go for long walks? Get a massage? Meditation? Scream their head off in a remote area…..

    • Moe


      I was so encouraged by the people who said “Let me know if you need ANYTHING.” Now I’m scrambling looking for help to pick up flowers, dog-sit the chihuahua, deliver ice, etc.

      Friends of the Bride: please don’t volunteer yourself and not deliver. It’s stressful for the bride and it kind of hurts too.

      • Suzzie

        It was so frustrating! And it really hurts because I knew I would have helped out however I could if I had offered to help someone. Made me really wonder about some people as well. My biggest thing (sounds silly now) was finding someone to press the play button on my iPod at the beginning of the ceremony, at the beginning of canapes, and at the beginning of dinner (I had the playlists ready and all they had to do was press the playlist and play – no iPod babysitting necessary). I had already arranged many things with vendors and venues to handle instead because the help was a bit lacking.

        Thankfully through it all my wonderful husband listened to me through tears, calmed me down and then actually messaged some of his friends to see if they would help (and one of his guy friends actually stepped in and helped out and was excited about helping us out!).

  • Laura

    Two of the most most helpful recent APW posts on planning were the posts by Elizabeth of Lowe House Events on sample wedding budgets and timelines. I emailed both of these (oh and the one on booze, even though we’re not self-booze-catering) to my mom to give her an idea of what was normal.

    So, in addition to all of the great questions listed on this post about budget, I’d like to request a brief timeline of the event – at least start times for:
    Getting ready
    Posed photos (and maybe the time frame when the photographer was there)
    Cake cutting??
    (After party??)

    And maybe info on what did/did not go according to schedule, or what helped keep things on schedule.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I feel like our situation was so rare, it’d be pointless to ask, but your timeline question reminds me of the advice that would have been most helpful on our wedding day:

      What do you do if you’re ahead of schedule, especially at the reception (and people are leaving)?

  • Ali

    So I read a bunch of comments but then just scrolled to the bottom, so some of this had already been said:
    I would love to hear about wedding planning from a distance. Granted, I’m only 1.5 hours away, but I’m still not physically there, and I am a control freak so I don’t like that.
    Also, my parents are verrryyyy traditional. So even though my fiance and I are prepared to pay, my parents are paying for the entire thing because they feel like “that’s just what you do.” We’ve gotten past the budget talk, and made a few compromises about things we want/need, but still have tons of hoops and hills to get over/through. So how did you deal with parental guidance, wanted or unwanted? I have been reading some things about how to turn down help, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything about how to deal with help when you already have it.

  • Aero

    I’d like to see added to the list
    1) One thing you did to help keep you same?
    2) How you managed family (both including them or keeping them at bay as appropriate) ?
    3) Things (esp WIC things) you said No to? ( it is helpful when in the midst of planning to know what’s not in the photos and when is it time to stop)

    • Suzzie

      Number 3 especially! We actually said no to a lot of the WIC industry hype and did our own thing. Plus because we were trying to blend our two cultures we kind of had to do our own thing anyway! That’s what I love about this site is that everyone seems to have such different weddings and yet they are all so lovely from the courthouse weddings to the big, fancy weddings!

      I did a lot of walking to keep me sane =)

  • theemilyann

    So, I’m half asleep right now and don’t have anything majorly constructive to add, as I haven’t even combed through the huge thread, but – OMG!!! As soon as I saw the inaugural post recently I immediately emailed my ladies and said: THIS! This is the APW post I want to do when I finally become a graduate. So thanks. And get ready for a rockin how we did it!

  • Louise

    I am actually already married, but the Louise of last year would be SO excited about this new feature! I just wanted to say “great idea!” and I can’t wait to pay it forward and submit a post!

  • katy

    How was your wedding organized, or what wedding events did you have? Photos, Ceremony, cocktail hour, receiving line, dinner, speeches, cake, dancing, lawn games, visiting, boardgames, bouquet or garter toss, send off, first dance, father daughter dance, other awesome things people do?
    What time was your wedding and how long did it last?
    unique or favorite detail or experience?
    Size of the wedding
    general location (big city, small town)
    ceromony and reception venues? (Some people have great ideas! Oh! With links to apw venue listing!)
    Day or coordinator/ who set up/ cleaned up?
    what did you do for your wedding night? (Hotel, slept at home, went straight to honeymoon, etc)
    what about for your honeymoon? Did you have one? Whered you go?

    • katy

      Also, a ton of these questions look like great ideas for guest posts/ writing interns, rather than a continuing series… I’m sure it helps the apw ladies know what your readers are looking for! The open threads are great, so many new faces!

  • Lily B.

    I really want to hear from Midwesterners/Southerners (my state is considered to be in either, depending on who you ask) as to their budgets and process. It seems that you can get a lot for your money in my part of the world, but I still have (almost) no idea how to find those nice vendor people to throw some money at! None of the “cool” non-WIC blogs seem to have anything geographically close to me as far as vendors go :( and it’s hard to estimate budget line items when most of what I see is for a Cali or NYC wedding.
    Then again, maybe it’s because most people in my area do “traditional” weddings??

  • april

    Who helped you and how?
    How did you delegate tasks?
    Did you hire a wedding planner and (if so) what was he/she specifically in charge of?

    These are the questions that always run through my head when I hear or read about people’s weddings. It’d be helpful to know where couples turn for help with bringing everything together- whether its a planner, vendors, friends, or family.


  • Rachel

    How, when, why or why not to negociate with vendors!

  • I’m interested in the manpower logistical hows of weddings that aren’t a wedding venue or catered reception. Who sets up, cleans up, organizes,? Did you have a wedding planner who oversaw everything or was it a team effort? Did you hire people or enlist friends of friends.

    I’m planning on having something relatively DIY at my parent’s farm, but want to make sure everyone is enjoying the day rather than running around to make sure things happen.

    • Louise

      I could go into a ton of detail about how this worked for us (backyard wedding, FEW professionals), but here is what I experienced: people want to help and do not take “no thank you” for an answer. So let them help! Do not worry about them not enjoying the day. They want YOU to enjoy the day, and I think they mostly feel happy to be included and like they have something to offer. The biggest thing you need to think about is how to manage your impromptu, temporary workforce. You have to be able to be really clear and answer lots of questions that seem incredibly obvious because NO ONE wants to assume what THE BRIDE will think. If you don’t want to manage them all, ask an organized, assertive friend to do it and then *tell everyone who is in charge.* I know it will sound obvious, but people will not believe this person is in charge unless you make it clear to them.

      Most importantly, do not feel guilty for all the help you’re getting. Feel grateful, but not guilty. Write long, thoughtful thank you notes, but don’t apologize for asking too much. Like Meg says: your guests are grown ups. So are your friends and family.

      One tip for an at home wedding: schedule a hair or make up or massage appointment on the day of and LEAVE the venue for a few hours. We were practically living at my mom’s, working to put everything together, and it was so healthy to leave and not worry about answering questions or making last minute decisions for a bit.

  • Emily

    I’d like to hear about backup planning (e.g. for weather, huge change in # guests, potential disasters) — how much you planned for this, and how you executed on them if need be. I know I’ve seen in many posts (e.g. Hurricane Sandy) that “We just dealt with it and it worked out just fine and was more exciting,” but more specifics would be great.

    How to incorporate honeymoon planning would be helpful, too.

  • Liz

    For the non-religious-minded brides, how did you find your officiant? Did a friend of the family get ordained online? Did you use a justice of the peace/judge? What about humanist organizations that perform weddings?

    • Suzzie

      We met with a lot of officiants to see what their views were and what they thought of the type of ceremony we wanted. We eventually chose the celebrant who was super excited about our ideas and started throwing some really excellent ideas we hadn’t thought of but loved at our initial meeting. We live in a country where friends/family can’t get ordained online to do weddings, they actually have to go through a big long application process to be able to perform legal weddings (and many don’t get approved).

      This is a great question because many times it’s hard to find someone who will do a great job with the type of ceremony you want.

  • Rachelle

    So excited for this feature! I want to know:

    time of year, day of week and time of day
    how many guests were invited/RSVPd/actually showed up
    budget breakdown of some sort on whatever level they feel comfortable disclosing

    I don’t want to know about budgets because I’m nosy or interested, it’s just so hard when you’re first starting to come up with a number for what a wedding might cost. An overall budget doesn’t mean much without knowing what all it included, how many people there were and where/when it was. I also agree that it’s nice to know what services/goods were donated.

  • Christy

    At the time I’d have liked to know:
    1) Did you provide transportation from the hotel to the venue and was it worth the money or would there have been some cheaper way to get everyone there if you have a concern about parking but the hotel is within walking distance for healthy people (e.g., a van or pre-aranged taxis for just those with mobility issues, carpooling….)?
    2) If you had transportation, how did you find your transportation company, and is there one type or another that tends to be less expensive? Is it fair and practical to ask people to walk a few blocks to your wedding in high heels/nice clothes?
    3) How specifically does catering tipping work? There’s a lead person, how much more does that person get? Do you do it based on a percentage of the bill but give a higher proportion to the lead and then split the rest up among everyone else?
    4) How did you find your band, and do you think it was necessary to go and see them in action? Was their video accurate?
    5) Is it really OK to just have jazz/standards/swing or will people get bored with that?
    6) How did you tailor your vows in such a way as to say as little as possible in case you broke into nervous, uncontrollable, inappropriate, laughter during them.
    5) What are some tips for making the seating chart/escort cards less crazy-making in the face of the inevitable last minute attendee changes due to illness/flight problems, etc.

  • Lauren

    Who were your most crucial allies? Mom? Fiancee? MOH? Or somebody totally unexpected? Did you plan it alone or did you have loads of help?

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