I’m thirteen-years-old and sitting down on the couch watching “Say Yes to the Dress.” After this, “Four Weddings” will come on and I’ll daydream about my special day and all of its splendor: the fancy food, the fun colored lights, my future husband, and of course, my dress. Happy thoughts cross my mind as I get excited for the huge party that will one day happen for me and my future husband (who unbeknownst to me, I already knew at the time). My mother egged on the fun, promising me when I was getting married, she would take me to Kleinfeld.
Flash forward eight years later, and the man of my dreams and my best friend asked me to marry him at the same place we had our first date four years ago. I was on cloud 9 getting excited for the amazing life we would build together and all the people we had to tell about our engagement, when suddenly, about two hours after the proposal, I said to Brandon, “Oh my God…we have to plan a whole wedding.”
I had grown up watching these wedding shows, and I don’t think I’m the exception of little girls who dreamed of what their big day would look like without any care in the world about cost. But suddenly, when you’re 21, working part-time as a barista, finishing school, and trying to navigate your professional path, you realize these wedding shows set you up for a rude awakening when you realize amazingly, you don’t have 35k to drop on a one day party. Of course some aspects are really fun, but let me be perfectly candid in what wedding planning is actually like, especially if you’re on a budget like me. Hopefully this gives you some tips for planning your own wedding one day! I’ll preface with letting you know I’ve been saving for my wedding since I was 16, and my parents are helping us out with the majority of costs; between my savings and help from my parents, our budget is 10k (but admittedly, we’re going to end up going over).
- The Venue
After announcing your engagement to all your family and friends, the very first thing you’ll want to do is pick a date and venue. Venues fill up very quickly and especially because many places only do one wedding a weekend. We went to a bridal expo about a month after our engagement, and honestly I’m still not sure if I recommend this. On one hand, it’s very helpful to know what all is out there and to get price reference points. On the other hand, those price reference points are HIGH. We left the expo feeling more discouraged about how we could afford all of this rather than excited for our wedding. We ended up only touring two of the places at the expo that seemed significantly cheaper than all the rest, but after touring we found all the costs were in hidden fees and rentals for any and all “add-ons.” Another frustrating thing about venues is since many of them are very expensive, they try to bring you into the venue to get you to fall in love before they tell you the price. You may need to be a little direct (which I’m terrible at) and tell them you’re on a strict budget and if they can’t tell you the price you won’t waste your time coming in for something you can’t afford.
My recommendation: churches are usually pretty cheap, but if that’s not your jam, look into local community centers or parks, places that “do” weddings but that’s not their sole purpose. Also, find what’s most important to you for your venue first. Our top “must haves” were: affordable, outside space for the ceremony but backup “rainsafe” spot in case of inclement weather, and tables/chairs included in the price as well as set up and tear down done for us. We ended up booking at the community center on the Army base near my house. This was exceptionally great because being primarily for military, it’s not taxed and they do their own in-house catering. Some venues have their own caterers and some allow outside catering, but honestly I’m glad it was one less thing for us to worry about. For perspective, we’re doing plated meals and most of the “wedding venues” we looked at were $60/plate, and at our community center it’s only $25/plate; when we’re talking 125 guests, that’s legitimately saving over 4k.
- DJ & Photographer
When we first got engaged, we had so many great ideas of ways to keep costs down: getting family who had related/useful skills involved rather than accepting presents from them, using a Spotify playlist rather than hiring a DJ; but ultimately, we didn’t want our guests to feel like workers and figured a DJ would make the night run a lot smoother.
Unfortunately, my best recommendation is literally just to do your homework. To me, this is one of the not-so-fun parts of wedding planning, just searching online for good prices. Ask friends and family who they used. Our photographer is a family member of someone we know from church, so she’s relatively cheaper than most photographers because photography is a side gig to being a stay-home mom. Again, for perspective, most photographers were about 3,500 and we spent 1,000. Also use The Knot! They have vendors rated by users and you can filter by price. We found our DJ on The Knot, most DJs were about 2,000,and ours is $850 (but don’t forget to add in tip for both DJs and photographers)! With all vendors, make sure you always know what all they include; some are more generous with “add-ons” than others.
- The Dress!
I admit, I probably shouldn’t be speaking on this, I went a little higher than the budget I had planned for myself ($500-$1,000, I spent just over $1,000). However, this was one of the best parts (with exceptions). I went shopping four times, and my mom did keep her promise and took me to Kleinfeld just to look (I accidentally fell in love with a 3k dress, but I don’t regret going). First I went to David’s, the most affordable option, but they really didn’t have what I wanted at all; I tried on pretty dresses, but none of them were really me. Then I went to Kleinfeld just to look, and like I mentioned, though I could never afford the dresses there, it was still an awesome experience. My assistants were so nice (Brandi, for all my “Say Yes to the Dress” fans), and I even met the owner Ronnie, and he took my picture in a new Hayley Paige dress and sent it to her! Anyway, then I went to a boutique in the NYC fashion district, but that was right after Kleinfeld and to be honest, I was just really tired. Pretty much all the dresses I had tried on, minus at David’s, had looked very similar so I knew what I wanted. By the time I went shopping the fourth time, I was ready to make a purchase. I found my dream dress, and though it was a little more expensive than I had hoped, basically all the dresses that I had tried on were about the same price, so it was clear I needed to pay that for everything I wanted. I got it at a mom and pop boutique called J & B Bridal; they’re so friendly and helpful, I even got a handwritten card in the mail thanking me for my business.
My recommendation: Don’t be afraid to try dresses not in the style you’re looking for, I ended up getting what I had imagined, but I did try on other dresses that were gorgeous as well. Don’t bring your whole entourage. The first time I had my mom, my grandma, my maid of honor (and her son), and my fiance’s mom, in New York it was just my mom and my aunt, and when I finally made my purchase it was literally just my mom and my grandma. Remember, with all due respect, your opinion is the only one that actually matters.
- The Guestlist
I will be honest, this is literally the worst part of planning a wedding. I want to include everyone, but everyone there needs to be paid for, and not everyone can make the cut. One of my bridesmaids actually just sent me a helpful graphic of who should be invited to your wedding, but it can always get more complicated (and it does). If your parents are paying for the wedding, they may have some friends they want to invite and honestly you really can’t fight that. Another issue I’m currently dealing with plus one’s, who should get them? Is it my relationship to the plus one, or my guest’s relationship to the plus one (if they’re married, engaged, etc.)? It’s hard to decide who to invite, and honestly this is probably the one area of a long engagement that is not ideal. All together, our engagement will be 22 months, and a lot can happen in 22 months. It’s extra tricky because I would advise to just not send the save the dates until later, but in order to get them out before all the other couples so people have the wedding on their radar is also very important. Also, it’s hard deciding what to do with new impactful friendships who didn’t make the cut at first but after knowing them for a while decide that you want them there, how many people can you feasibly add?
My recommendation: Families should be invited, but friends is where it gets tricky. If you haven’t talked to them in awhile or you don’t think you’ll maintain close contact at the time of the wedding, it’s probably a no-go. If they’re a newer friend, if you think they’ll be a positive impact on the wedding, invite them. I try to think long-term, will it be awkward in the future if they weren’t invited to the wedding? Unfortunately, I have more questions than advice for this one, but hopefully I’ll figure it out.
I know there are many other parts of a wedding but I’m still in progress planning mine so I don’t have experience with quite everything yet. Though planning a wedding is no doubt stressful, I try to imagine all the fun we’ll have. People always ask me what I’m most excited for, and to be honest, I always say, “When it’s over, and Brandon and I are married.” It’s easy to get caught up in all the stress, but when I do, I stop and just think no matter what, at the end of the day I can laugh about it with my new husband as we start our legacy together. And that is the part I am most excited for.