The Q:“I’m finding wedding planning so frustrating. I felt like I had a healthy budget (even by New York City standards) and yet it seems that everything that I’m looking at is a blowout cost and this wedding feels like it’s ballooning out of hand. Is it possible to have a dream wedding and stick to a budget (here in New York)?
The A: Yes… and no. It’s totally possible, but it involves 3 disciplines, Compromise, Restraint and Resolve.
As a planner, I often hear brides say that they really want to stay on budget, but often, when push comes to shove what they can afford at their budget isn’t necessarily what they would like. This is where Compromise fits in.
If you know that budget it important, it’s important for you to accept compromise as a part of your wedding planning process from the outset. Do I mean settle for less when it comes to your dream day? No. But I do mean identifying areas that are of the UTMOST importance to you, prioritizing those and maybe deciding where you can go “Loehmann’s” in other areas.
“Loehmann’s” wedding planning means that you don’t need to go highest end, most well known vendor and pay retail price for every single service. You should find areas where you can find “designer discounts”. For instance, let’s say you know for a fact that you want So and So Photographer. He is 12,000. (don’t gasp, its possible here in NYC) This is the most important thing for you. You also love the work of Such and Such graphic designer and stationer. They do the most interesting things and you are just in love with their designs. However, you realize that the Photographer is the MOST IMPORTANT thing and this is less so, and you have a strong sense of what you like and what you don’t. So instead, perhaps you visit a couple of stationers and look at some ready to order lines of invites or you shop around online for a line or designer out of the city that has more reasonable rates, but isn’t short on style. That is a Loehmann’s approach to wedding planning. It isn’t less fashionable, but it is less expensive and you pick and choose your “splurges”.
So, in addition to compromise of expectation, I think the other tip is to CONTROL your guestlist. If you can do this, you can splurge on what happens with each guest versus simply paying to get people to the table. This will involve some restraint. But if your dream day involves a 4 star meal and a fine wines and the best band ever, then you MUST control the number of people if you are on a budget. However, if your dream involves everyone the two of you have ever known being there, then you should re-think the need to have everything be really high end. In today’s tough love lesson, if you realize that you can’t afford to have (or don’t want to spend to have) everything that you want, it’s not a reason to be angry. You wouldn’t be angry if you wanted to wear Prada every day but instead recognize you may have to make do with some DVF sample sale dresses, would you? So don’t be upset if you can’t afford every single thing that you might want for your wedding, it doesn’t mean it won’t still be glorious.
And that really brings us to the final idea, which is Resolve. When on a budget, your worst enemy is indeciscion and uncertainty. If you don’t know what you like or what you want or what style of wedding you want, you will have NO guidelines with which to direct your budget. If you don’t know if you want a black tie, sit down dinner or a casual buffet, how will you set a catering budget and how will you know if you can afford 75 people or 175 people? How will you decide? You must decide the kind of atmopshere and style of wedding you want in order to make your life easier. For instance, if you are the couple I referenced above who wants everyone on the planet at your wedding reception and you look at your budget, you might realize “OK, I think that necessity is going to dictate buffet, so let me wrap my head around WHY I wanted everyone there- is my real dream to be dancing and partying with all these people that we loved? If so, then let me not stress out that we’re having buffet (because that’s totally acceptable) and let me focus on the entertainment and the drinks and making the large celebration the focus of the party.
So, yes, you can have an amazing wedding, but I think the real advice is to adjust your “dream” wedding around the things that are most priority to you and it will be much easier to find satisfaction in your wedding planning process.
The Q: I am so excited to say that I am engaged! (yay) Because I’m in graduate school and my fiance is in medical school, there is a really brief window that we can have our wedding in if we want to do it this year, and I’m really anxious to get started. I went to see 7 venues this past weekend!!!! That said, I’m not totally sure of what our budget is, as we want to ask my parents for help, but I feel weird having that conversation over the phone and I’m not able to get to see them for another few weeks. Do you think it’s a good idea for me to book my venue if I’m not 100% sure of our budget? I’m nervous that I won’t get the dates that I want if I wait too long.
The A:Yeah, NO. Don’t book ANYTHING unless you have a sense of what your total budget it. When it comes to money, and family contributions there is really no guaranteeing anything, and so it is simply imprudent to count your chickens before they are hatched.
I think unfortunately, when it comes to weddings, brides often see a BUDGET as a confining and stressful thing: “I’m on a budget” or “I can’t have what I want because I’m on a budget”. In reality, creating a budget before you do ANYTHING is one of greatest stress relieving tools that a bride can create for herself. And that goes for brides who can only spend $20,000 and for brides who can spend $200,000.
How can a budget be a stress reliever? Very simple: a budget acts as a road map for you to work on your wedding. Before you start looking around and checking people out and getting attached to ideas, locations, vendors and stationary that are beyond your reach, a budget can help direct you of where to look first before you begin to get into things that are beyond your reach. If you are on a tight budget there is nothing that can make planning a wedding feel frustrating than meeting with vendor after vendor and feeling that you can’t afford anything. Secondly, and this is particularly true with brides with a bit more wiggle room: starting with a budget will help prevent you from spending yourself into a corner. For instance, you are 150 guests and an $80,000 budget, but you spend $15,000 on renting your fantasy venue (without catering). That one decision is going to mean that you now are on a very tight budget for entertainment, floral and decor and all those other decisions that sometimes come a little later down the line. And, when the last minute unexpected bills come in (and they always do) suddenly you will go from feeling like you had a really nice budget to feeling like every decision is a stressful compromise.
So the next question, and this is usually why most girls don’t START with the budget, where do you even begin in creating a budget? Well, the first thing is to figure out approximately how many people you think you are going to have and then to have the “funny money” conversation where you talk to everyone about what everyone can actually contribute. It’s sometimes hard to lock people into numbers, but you have to be straightforward and let them know that you just want to get the best sense of what your realistically working with so that you can make the best decisions.
From there, I usually recommend calling a few venues to get a sense of pricing in your area. My rule of thumb that will give you a good sense of what is a “realistic” budget or the “actual” cost of weddings at a particular location is to take the cost of venue, food, beverage, service, tax and gratuity and to double that cost. For instance, for a wedding of 100 guests, a venue that is $90pp including all of the costs above is likely to yield a wedding that comes in around the $23,000 (not always including gown and attire stuff that is more subjective). For some reason things tend to scale out… i.e a venue that is about $250pp is feasible for someone with a budget of $65,000 for the same 100 guests. Knowing that, it’s easy to see which venues will come in around the right price point to make your budget work. If you are still feeling tripped up, or dealing with things like tents, off premise catering, etc, it’s a good idea to get a professional on board to help you out.
I have a dear friend, and we nicknamed her Captain Crunch, because when we were younger and carefree (aka, silly), we’d all make these elaborate plans for big nights out on the town or weekends away and she’d always say “Let me crunch the numbers, and see if I can join you.” Needless to say she’s about to buy her 2nd beautiful home and I have a large collection of lovely handbags.
I mention Captain Crunch because when she was a bride, she was the most calm and chill bride I’ve ever seen. She decided on a budget, and was very clear when something was beyond that budget, no matter how appealing it would be…. “Thank you, that’s lovely, but not withing my budget” and she would go on to the next vendor to see if they were more in line with her line item. We aren’t all able to be so strong willed, but if you use your budget as a tool instead of a chain, I think you’ll be a much happier bride-to-be in the long run.
The Q: I’m operating on a tight budget with a big guest list (350 invited, we’re hoping closer to 250 on the day) and was astonished at the cost to rent a dance floor! To get one the size I keep reading we need (approx. 24×24 for 250 people) the rental company is charging about $1000 to provide it and set it up.
We’re getting married in the conference center of a state park so it’s indoors but carpeted.
Do I really need a dance floor or can we mark off an area of the room? I want a rockin’ dance party!
The A: I know, these things get expensive. If you were on a marble floor or a hard wood floor or even a concrete floor, I would probably tell you that it isn’t a necessity at all. However, the fact is that carpet is a little tricky to move on, particularly to dance on. There’s a reason why grandmas say "Roll up the Rug and Shake a Leg", it’s not that easy or safe to dance on a carpet. Indeed, heels can get caught, people can trip and you can create a little bit of static. :-) Additionally, there is something about a clearly delineated dance floor, separated from the carpet, that does invite people to cut loose a bit more than walking onto a clearing in the room.
If you don’t have the money to do the dancefloor, I totally get it, but you might want to consider this as something skeletal that you should shift money around to do. See if you can cut out a dessert course, make some floral pieces smaller or nix your favors to come up with some of the extra cash. Not ideal, but you might want to consider it.
The Q: Is there a major benefit to getting my hair and makeup done at a salon vs. having someone come to where I’m getting ready? I can save a lot of money by going to a salon but I’m wondering if there are major pros to having them come to you.
The A: If you set budget aside, I would say yes there are major benefits to having someone come to you. First, you eliminate traffic/ delays if that is a factor where you live. The most stressful part about the early portion of wedding days is keeping things on schedule and moving around always adds in time. Additionally you should probably think about season. In summer, with humidity and rain and such, it’s sometimes better to keep inside for as long as possible. So in terms of time and comfort, it’s a bit easier and often more relaxing. It’s usually pricier for a reason! But don’t fret. If you opt to head to the salon, bring bagels and coffee and make a morning of it! You’ll have as good of a time anywhere you go on your wedding day. What are other people doing? Hair on site or heading out to the salon?
The Q: I just came across your site and am so thrilled to finally get a chance to ask a professional advice on weddings in NY. My boyfriend and are heading in the direction of getting engaged in the next couple of months and have so many questions and decisions to figure out.
I’ve been reading up on as many blogs as possible and just recently started buying bridal magazines for the first time, but am still in the dark about where we should even start looking if we want to keep within our budget. I don’t have an exact figure yet but our wedding budget will most likely be around 40K and we would LOVE to get married in Manhattan and have around 120 guests. I think I may be delusional and this may be TOTALLY unrealistic but I must ask you anyway if we really can have our cake and eat it too? Do you have any recommendations or guidance for us?
The A: Hmm… It’s possible. It will be a challenge to make choices that won’t blow the budget, but it’s possible. (To readers who are in other cities, please don’t think I’m obnoxious, since I realize 40K is a lot of money, but sadly in NY, it just doesn’t go that far…)
First things first, people often talk about budget, but they don’t always know what it means or how to get started spending it and making it work. I know a lot of websites give you templates, but that doesn’t always translate regionally and it doesn’t always give you a guideline.
Basically, if you want to spend 40K on 120 guests, your most important decision is your reception location. It will set everything else in your budget in place. You should assume that location, furniture, food and beverage for the reception (the most expensive part) will cost you about 50% of that. When shopping for venues that translates to between $120-126 per guest. IF there is a location fee, then think no more than 120, b/c with tax and tip, you’ll have spent 20K of your money. Where does the rest of the 40K go? Well, Photography in NY is a big ticket item, as are flowers and decor (probably, easily another 8-10K for floral and decor), Music, ceremony site fees if you have another location, transportation, cake, etc, etc etc .
So, where can you go to make such a wedding happen? Luckily, there are a few options, but I would NOT advise you to have a loft be one of these options. It’s a common assumption that loft spaces are about the same as a location with catering or a restaurant, but they simply aren’t. What you may save on alcohol, you spend on rentals! If you want something traditional and a bit "Old New York" consider the Manhattan Penthouse off of Union Square. They have flexible and reasonable per person packages and I’ve found the food to be really consistent.
For something more modern and maybe a bit less formal, the private room at Thalassa is a great find. The food is amazing, Taso takes great care of everyone there and they have a wine cellar that I think is great for a ceremony (but might be a little bit tight). For something more rustic, the New Leaf Cafe is a well known "secret" location.
Hope that helps and congratulations! This part is so exciting. Other bride’s out there, if you feel comfortable letting me know, what is your target budget and what part of the country (or world) do you live in?