As a DC wedding planner, I spend a great deal of time advising our couples, so that their big day can be all that they’re envisioning and so much more. One area where initial questions come up a lot is the wedding budget, and what items to splurge or save on. The Knot reported in 2017, the average cost of a wedding was $33,391, with higher spenders (those spending an average of $60,000 or more on their weddings) spending an average of $105,130 on their wedding day. The study further reported that the average for Washington DC/Northern Virginia/Suburban Maryland was $39,465. Our sensational couples, on average, budget $35,000 - $100,000+ for their wedding, while planning for 75 - 200+ guests.
Navigating wedding budgets can be overwhelming for couples to do alone, especially when they have no point of reference for how much wedding essentials are on average. This is why I happily talk budget with couples during our complimentary consultations and of course throughout the planning process, so you can feel at ease knowing you have a wedding expert in your corner that can provide sound advice on your wedding investment. For many weddings, the biggest bulk of the budget is spent on the reception - more specifically venue/catering, with florals/design generally next.
For couples working with a more modest and specific budget and wanting to avoid going into debt as you start your marriage, the question then becomes what should you splurge or save on, in order to still have a sensational wedding? Well, I’m glad you asked…here are a few initial options to ponder:
SAVE - Food and Beverage options
Exploring different food and bar menu options is helpful to uncover possible savings. For example, choosing 3 versus 5 passed hors d’oeuvres for cocktail hour and a choice of entree for guests versus duet plates. Also, whether you have an alcoholic or non-alholic bar, it’s best to have beverages available for the entirety of the cocktail hour and the reception (with the exception of last call 30 minutes to 1 hour before the end of the wedding). However, options such as signature drinks, consumption bar, and BWS (beer, wine and soda) over a full premium open bar may be easier on your wallet, especially if your guests aren’t heavy drinkers.
SPLURGE - Your Top 3
When working with couples, I also ask them what are their top 3 priorities or must haves. For some it might be food, entertainment and florals. For others it might be venue, attire and guest experience. Whatever is most important to you two for your big day, focus the bulk of your budget there.
SAVE - Trim your guest list
The number one way to save is by starting with your guest list. While I’m sure your draft guest list may be 300 people, realistically if you’re working with a modest budget, feeding that many people alone is nearly impossible. I always encourage couples to think quality over quantity. Thus, envision sharing your day with the group of people who mean the most to you versus everyone you know.
SPLURGE - Calligraphy or typed guest addressing for invitations
Your invitation sets the tone for your wedding. Therefore, if you’ve selected a beautiful invitation, go all the way with it by ensuring you’ve selected a calligrapher to address the invitations or have the stationery vendor type your guests addresses.
SAVE - Utilize as much as you can that your venue provides
To achieve your wedding vision, there may be some rentals you want to bring in. However, definitely consider using some of the things the venue offers and ask questions about possible options they could provide that may not be listed in your package. For example, they may have chargers, china, flatware, stemware, linens, tables, toasting flutes, easels, staging/risers, cake knife and server, and more in-house or could acquire at an affordable rate through a third party, thus eliminating extra delivery fees and contracts for you.
SPLURGE - Hire a professional photographer and videographer
You can’t re-do this day, so don’t eliminate the 2 vendors who will capture these valuable memories for you, or worse, hire an amateur.
SAVE - Consider chatting with your florist about standard versus premium flowers and arrangements
Having a professional florist is essential for your big day, as flowers add so much beauty. When you have a smaller floral budget, being flexible with the type of fresh flowers can be really helpful. Also, alternating short and tall arrangements and incorporating candles is useful as well.
SPLURGE - Go for the elegant seating
If your venue doesn’t provide chiavari chairs, ghost chairs or other elegant seating for your guests, you may want to consider adding these to your rentals budget in lieu of chair covers. Elegant seating really does make all the difference in terms of wedding design.
SAVE - Things to have for the sake of having
Sometimes couples think certain wedding items are traditional staples that you must have, without realizing certain wedding staples have evolved. For example, who says you still have to have an aisle runner, cake topper, guest book, toss bouquet and garter, and the like. Many modern couples are shying away from these traditional items and adding more personalization to their day. Don’t do anything for your big day for the sake of doing it or tradition; instead incorporate only the things that matter to you most.
SPLURGE - Your attire
When you look good, you feel good! You should select wedding attire that you absolutely love, rather than settle for something that you don’t. Now, I will say, buying something that you love doesn’t mean you should buy something you can’t afford. I recommend setting an attire budget, and finding something you love within that budget. Save yourself heartbreak by avoiding looking at attire beyond your spending threshold.
SAVE - Transportation options
If your ceremony and reception are held at the same venue, you can save by skipping the fancy transportation. Many DC couples are using more economical and savvy options such as UberBLACK or UberSUV, which offers high end rides with professional drivers.
Last, but not least is a SPLURGE and SAVE regarding wedding planning. It pains me to hear a couple say they can’t afford a planner because essentially they don’t realize they can’t afford NOT to hire a planner. So I’ve detailed more about why you need a planner here. Now for couples who truly can’t afford a full-service planning option, you can save by choosing a partial planning or even month of planning package. While more work will be required on your part with both options, you’ll still get the expertise of a planner that you need and more guidance on the many more other items to splurge or save on.
I hope you’ve found these options helpful! Share below other things you’re considering splurging or saving on.