What's worth spending money on for your wedding?
November 19, 2008 12:44 PM   Subscribe

My SO and I recently got engaged. We're pretty chill folk, and are looking to have a medium-to-large wedding (150-200 people) but constrain costs to well under $10K. We have flexibility on timing and location, but we're aiming for MA/NH/VT/ME/RI of 2009. The question I want to ask of the married MeFi hive is: of the things you spent money on for your wedding, what was most worth it? What was least worth it?
posted by Dzolali to Grab Bag (65 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
the most worth it is paying airfare or transportation or outfitting or whatever is needed for those friends of yours who can't afford it. the ceremony and reception and all will be forgotten in terms of trappings; in terms of fun had, it won't be forgotten especially if the right people are there.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:50 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

My wife and I were very poor and had a large wedding. Found a cheap venue, that was nice, did our own flowers, bought them from a local vendor at the farmers market, and here is the best thing we did....we made the reception an afternoon tea, we had snack style sandwiches, no open bar, a champagne punch, tea and coffee service, very low key.

The food and alcohol are what will cost you by far the most, and with some of my family and friends there is no way in hell I wanted the free booze to flow, the trouble would have been epic. As we did it in the early afternoon there was no expectation of a full meal. It reduced the costs and the angst. I can't recommend this strategy enough!
posted by Ponderance at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2008

The most worth it was spending on really good food. We were really glad we skipped a band or DJ and just had a nice outdoor meal with yummy food and good beer and wine. We got a cheap photographer because we didn't care that much, which was fine.

5 years later people still mention the delicious food from our wedding! Which is great for us because we're foodie people.
posted by miss tea at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2008

Well, for us it was worth it to get a good photographer (ours was moonlighting as his day job was as a police photographer.)

Decorations can be kept simple and elegant...And depending on your area expectations for food and drink differ but here in the South it is quite acceptable particularly for afternoon weddings to simply serve appetizer/finger foods and punch. I have also attended weddings with dessert receptions which were nice.

Really, a lot depends on what YOU want to do. Do you want dancing or not? Do you want a sit down meal or not? Everything is negotiable...it is YOUR day.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2008

Pictures, pictures, pictures. Moving and still. You will not remember much of the day otherwise.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:01 PM on November 19, 2008

We did our wedding for under $10,000 in 1997.

We skipped a limo, asked a couple friends to video tape it, saving on a videographer (does anyone actually watch those videos anyway?), did our own invitations (made out of birch bark taken from downed white birch trees), augmented a few florist-provided flowers with a lot of dried wildflowers we picked and dried ourselves, rented a very cheap location (YMCA camp in Sandwich, MA that was historically significant to our relationship) and generally skimped in other ways such as having a friend do my wife's hair, etc.

We spent the most on food, which was well worth it and everyone raved about it. We hired a photographer and also put disposable cameras on each table, though you'd be surprised how many people cannot take a decent picture to save their lives.

My wife was a member of a chorus so we had a bunch of her friends sing during the service, which was really special. We hired a DJ and a brass quintet as well, though the quintet really sucked and was one of the few things we regretted paying for.

She bought a used dress and we picked bridesmaid dresses that could be used for other occasions once the wedding was finished.

The place we rented didn't have a liquor license so we supplied our own beer and wine, with the caterer supplying a bartender.

There is nothing we skimped on that we regretted skimping on.
posted by bondcliff at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2008

We rented a large loft in our city centre location. In RI you can easily rent beach houses in the off season. Into this loft we put:

1. Ourselves
2. Our broke out of town friends we really wanted to come (some of whom we also bought airfare for)
3. A cocktail party the night before our wedding to which we invited everyone

This was without a doubt the best thing we spent money on. We got to hang out with our friends, we got to NOT bunk up with our families, we got to cater our own cocktail party (and with 10 friends in the house, boy that was cheap and easy!) and we basically got the relaxed "home" thing without the total annoyance and constraints of a hotel.

I cannot suggest IndieBride's forums hard enough for "chill people getting married on the cheap." You can totally do 200 people for 10K.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

First of all, congratulations.

One place my wife and I saved some money was not having a band or DJ. I'd recommend burning some set play lists or using an iPod.

I burned a series of CDs. One for the settling in period of the reception. Two for dinner. Three dance party mixes and one mellow disc to play as things wound down.

I loaded up a multi disc changer, hit play, and never thought about it again.

These days you can get away without a photographer, too. Encourage friends and family to bring their cameras. Sharing pictures is incredibly easy these days. Some friends of ours went without a paid photographer last month, and we saw all the pictures they received the other night. They were great. They felt very personal.

I hope this helps.

Best of luck to you both!
posted by YFiB at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

We spent a lot on amazing food (for about 120 people), and it was worth every penny. We also had an open bar with no regrets. We probably spent more than we needed to on our photographer, but we hired her long distance and could have done more research than we did. My husband and I did have very long talks as we were planning about what was important to us and what wasn't quite as important to us, and we tried very hard to make our decsions accordingly. These are all very personal decisions, so your choices will naturally be different, but maybe start having those conversations now. Congratulations and good luck to you!
posted by ersatzkat at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2008

Worst money we spent was on invitations. We could have saved $1000 pretty easily if we didn't get rushed.

We got a good cheap Polka band which everyone loved due the novelty and the fact they were a fun band ($800). Cheaper than a DJ and it seems people had more fun.

Food was meh, does anyone really remember the food at a wedding anyway?

We overspent on alcohol since we overestimated the drinking. We lost a bunch of money since the caterer pre-opened all the wine, a couple cases were wasted since they didn't get drunk. We could have gotten the money back for them if they hadn't.

We went for cheaper tux and dress, and I think they still looked nice.

I wish we got a better photographer since ours sucked. (biggest regret)

We spent money on a shuttle from the hotel since we didn't want to be responsible for any drunk driving, also good money spent.

We got a nice cheap big hall and put up some white bunting and got some flowers for the table, but didn't really have to go crazy there.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2008

Seconding DarlingBri's suggestion of a party the night before. We did that, too (rented a room at a microbrewery, not too pricey), and it was wonderful actually to be able to chill out with our friends and family, which you can't really do at the wedding itself.

We eschewed hard liquor and bought decent beer and wine (and homebrewed a beer), which didn't break the bank; everyone loved it.

I feel like we wasted money and time on table centerpieces, even though we did them on the cheap (little live plants in pots). Shouldn't have bothered with anything.
posted by gurple at 1:18 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

$500 on a taco truck - unlimited tacos for 200+ people, comedy and fun factor can't be beat.

Like others, I wish we'd gotten a better (not necessarily more expensive) photographer.

Paying for clean-up and a ride to your hotel/bed/airport is a great way to avoid dealing with the wedding aftermath.
posted by unclezeb at 1:18 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, and for the cake, we just bought a bunch of cakes and pies from local bakeries and had different people in the wedding party pick them up and bring them to the wedding. It cost maybe 20% of what a decent wedding cake would have cost, gave people more choices, and tasted great.
posted by gurple at 1:19 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

My advice, having recently done it, and been happy with the results, is this:

- Good photographer. Ours was awesome, and I look back on it as one of the best decisiosn of the whole event (even if it was mostly luck!). These days they shouldn't be nickle-diming you on whether you get to "keep" the originals - our photog gave us 3 dvd's full of the original jpgs from the camera, plus the agreed-upon # touched up and printed.

- Good music - whatever floats your boat. It's your party - you want your guests to have fun. Good, appropriate music and a DJ or band that can read the crowd makes for a fun time.

We made our own invitations. A few hours working together feeding cardsotkc into the inket and doing some layout was good quality time spent anyway. You get to talk about your friends. It's an invitation - not a work of timeless art.
posted by TravellingDen at 1:27 PM on November 19, 2008

Photography is the thing I'm most glad for spending money on.

We saved money by purchasing our flowers directly from a wholesale florist, buying floral supplies from a craft store and having a friend create the centerpieces and bouquets the day of the wedding.

We also saved a good bit on postage by making our Save the Date and RSVP cards as postcards that didn't require envelopes and keeping the invitation itself under an ounce so we didn't need more postage than a regular letter. We made our own invitations after seeing the price of having them done professionally. Remember, nearly everyone is going to just throw the invitations away, so there's no need to go overboard. It probably cost us less than $200 to do them.
posted by chiababe at 1:28 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

We skimped on:
Table decorations. I potted some annuals myself in cheapo (but nice looking) plastic pots.
Flowers: I kept the bouquets small.
DJ: the room we rented had a hookup for an ipod, so we made our own playlist.
Invitations: I found a print-your-own kit complete with envelopes and response cards, at Target.
Limo: we didn't have one. (although I did have his classic car fixed up as a surprise to take us to the reception. that set me back a bit, but if I hadn't done that, my Mom's Altima would have been just fine).

We spent a bit ($250) on having a professional cellist and violinist play for the ceremony. It was something that meant a lot to me, and they sounded wonderful and were very easy to work with.
We also spent a about 1,600 on an open bar for four hours. But, our reception was at a brewery, so that was kind of the point!

We also had a party the night before, a pot-luck open house. It was a chance for our out-of-town friends and family to see our home, and for us to spend some quality time with everybody who travelled in for the occasion.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:29 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

We saved by doing the following:

1. Cocktail reception (hors d'oeuvres, no sit down meal.)
2. Open bar on beer and wine, no liquor.
3. iPod, as suggested above.
4. No limo.
5. Bought our awesome wedding invites from indianweddinginvitations.com
posted by electroboy at 1:29 PM on November 19, 2008

Tips to save:

* Make your own invites
* Skip the open bar
* Skip the limo
* Skip the DJ: bring a laptop and rent a basic PA with a mic for speeches

Those four steps will easily trim $2,000 off a wedding of your size.
posted by Paid In Full at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2008

Oh, one more thing I was really proud of: I saved my bridesmaids a good bit of money by picking a dress from Amazon that only cost them $50 plus shipping. We got the chocolate colored ones.

There are tons of styles on Amazon that will be loads cheaper than getting the dresses at a bridal shop.
posted by chiababe at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2008

Obviously it depends on your priorities. We love jazz bands so spent a big chunk of money on a great one. Our friends are big drinkers so we spent a lot of money on booze. We were happy with how we prioritized our expenses.

Here is what we did not spend a lot of/any money on:
Flowers (just a bouquet for me and the female attendants)
Centerpieces (didn't have them - caterers provided candles and we got rose petals and sprinkled them around. looked pretty, cost next to nothing)
favors (really, they are just annoying)
programs (everyone throws them out, anyway)
invitations (made them ourselves)
car/limo (we got married in an art museum and walked there. was fun, waving to cars etc.)

hrm. There's probably more, but it was a while ago.
posted by gaspode at 1:39 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Least worth it - the whole damn shebang. Seriously. Save the cash and elope. Have a nice barbecue on the beach when you get back from your honeymoon.

That scenario would have fit so much more with the way my husband and I do things. It's as if our wedding (and the godawful year leading up to it) was the one aberration in our otherwise casual, "chill", move at our own pace lives.

But I am really glad we sprung for the nice dessert table.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:42 PM on November 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

No one cares about the decor or the reception venue. AT ALL. It's kinda sad, really.

The dress should be something the bride loves, doesn't necessarily need to be expensive, but the bride should feel like she looks good. Same with the groom--they need to feel confident.

Food is good, don't underestimate cold cuts (best decision we made).

Depending on the crowd, music and dancing are overrated.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:51 PM on November 19, 2008

We did a mid-day wedding and served a lunch at the reception at 1:00pm. That kept costs down a bit, plus we didn't have to worry about boozy-relatives-getting-out-of-control with an open bar all night!

Spending enough money to be sure the food is good was one thing we were adamant about. I can't tell you how many weddings I've attended that were picture perfect in every way and then suffered through dry chicken, bland pasta, overcooked/mushy vegetables... UGH!

It was worth it to spend enough money to ensure a quality meal - since it was lunch this was much more affordable than dinner. That and the cake.... no dry, flavorless wedding cake. Find a fantastic bakery, spend a few bucks more per serving and have delicious cake!

My wedding was nearly 7 years ago and to this day I still have people comment at family gatherings and other weddings remarking how good the food/cake was at ours!

Things I thought would be worth a lot of money, but in the end didn't matter as much were details like matching ribbons on the programs to the colors of my invites, a fancy decorated card basket at the reception, table centerpieces and (believe it or not) the dress! You're only gonna wear it once, don't invest your future kids' college savings into it!
posted by ktpupp at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2008

Oh, and I wish we would have spent more money on pictures.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:54 PM on November 19, 2008

I also recommend The Offbeat Bride. The name has to do with women who don't look like merangues on their wedding day, but usually people who think like that think like that about everything else to do with the wedding, and you can get great ideas there without The Wedding Machine propaganda.
posted by micawber at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

Mr. F and I went to Vegas; the money spent on just letting those people handle it was more than worth it for our sanity. We did buy a couple of nice kilts from Steve Ashton at Freedom Kilts for the wedding attire and accessorized with T-shirts (his: Kevin Matchstick's shirt from Mage: The Hero Defined; mine: Batgirl). Bonus points: reusable for occasions like Comic-Con, wrap parties at work, scaring his more conservative relatives.

Also, we got killer rings from the Arnell Workshop titanium-rings guys-- replicas of the ring from The Abyss, only smaller and with a special black coating. Definitely do not regret the expense involved; those are going to be with us for a very long time to come, and we're immensely pleased with the workmanship.

Mostly, we wanted to be comfortable and get it over with so we could get down to being married-- we were engaged for about six or seven weeks. My previous marriage was a planning nightmare, although pulled off on the cheap; my brother-in-law's marriage had been the year prior and, although absolutely wonderful, was also a planning deathmarch that left my MIL and FIL going "Er, you guys are going to Vegas, yes? Just tell us before you go."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2008

If you have that many guests, your job at the wedding will be making your way through the crowd and spending 5 minutes with each guest. You will be exhausted and will remember very little of the night.

*Everyone* I've spoken to about weddings said exactly the same thing - "dont' do it". Everyone except my wife, that is. She loved it, so it was totally worth it to me. But I remember very little of that night, and it was only 1.5 months ago.

We had an ipod instead of a band/DJ and were very happy with that decision. Don't put your favorite music on there - as I pointed out above, you're not going to be doing any dancing. The music should be something that your average guest will like and want to dance to - Sam Cooke was a big hit at ours.

Make sure that you get to buy your own alcohol. If you go through a catering service, it will cost a fortune.

We did our own flowers and invitations, but my wife was a florist and is a graphic designer, so I'm not sure how easy that sort of thing is for non-professionals.

I wore a suit rather than renting a tux and am very happy that I did it.

Places to spend extra:
We hired someone to manage the evening. A little clean up, deal with taxi's, make sure no one bothered the bride beforehand - best $700 we spent.

The correct number of tables for your reception is not (# of guests)/(how many can sit at a table)! Make sure to have at least one more table than you need or your seating chart will be a serious headache.
posted by bonecrusher at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2008

Oh, and don't hire a videographer. If you have that many people there, there will be at least one person videotaping the ceremony for you. We didn't hire anyone and still had two very nice recordings of the wedding.
posted by bonecrusher at 2:16 PM on November 19, 2008

Splurged on:
- Photographers - We got a husband-wife team, it was great to have two people taking awesome pictures. We had a very low-light venue and knew that amateur photography was not going to work.
- Great ethnic (German) food that was a specialty of the venue, open bar.
- Really gorgeous suite with a huge jacuzzi tub (at a different hotel from everyone else) for us the night before and after the wedding, even though we live in town.

Saved on:
- No cake - We had the venue bake pies and serve with ice cream. We're pie people.
- $99 dress from Nordstrom website that was technically an evening gown that happened to come in ivory.
- Limited bridal expenses - DIY silk flowers, no veil, no manicure, no professional makeup artist, no salon hairstyle.
- iPod plugged into the venue's sound system for music
- Flowers/decorations - Bouquet/corsages/boutonnieres from the grocery store floral dept. Candles from Michael's and candle holders from Pier One with some silk leaves on the tables as centerpieces
- No wedding party - So glad we did this!!
- Good friend (ordained online) as officiant - Saved $ but also very meaningful
- No video - Never had any interest in this
- "Save-and-send" style invites - No envelopes, tear-off RSVP postcards
- Only 60 of our closest friends and family. We felt like we had everyone we loved there, and was able to actually spend time with them!
posted by misskaz at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Correction: "Seal and send" style invites. Oops!
posted by misskaz at 2:27 PM on November 19, 2008

On the time thing:

If you have that many guests, your job at the wedding will be making your way through the crowd and spending 5 minutes with each guest. You will be exhausted and will remember very little of the night.

This is the beauty of the night-before-cocktail party. (We also did a Sunday brunch the following day but this really is not necessary.) You get to see people, hang out with them, say hi, etc. This takes a huge amount of pressure off at the wedding reception.

My husband and I also took a "divide and conquer" approach and each visited 1/2 the tables during dinner while everyone was seated. It took 20 minutes. They are big tables.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

We saved on booze by only having beer, wine, and margaritas. Something for almost everyone, but pretty cheap relative to liquor. Pay for a good photographer. Good does not always mean pricey, just shop around and look at a lot of their recent work. We spent a fair bit on food, but did it buffet style so it was much cheaper than a sit down 3+ course dinner. We got many comments on the great drink and food at our wedding, so those turned out to be good areas to spend on.
posted by entropic at 2:33 PM on November 19, 2008

I wish we'd had better music; a dj would have been nice. I recently went to a wedding with karaoke, and it was really fun.

Instead of open bar, tubs of ice with really great beer & root beer.

We had great homemade food, a great venue, lots of liquor, and somebody recently mentioned what a great party it was, and it was 20+ years ago.

If you want to do a home-grown wedding in Maine, MeFi mail me for a venue idea.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

spend it on food, entertainment and photography. and your honeymoon.
posted by gnutron at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2008

Great suggestions. You should have no problems. The advice I give everyone is: what's important to you? Think really hard about what you really want for your wedding. Pick three things. Dress? Food? Flying people in? Venue? Etc. Pick three. Make sure those three are exactly how you want them to be - hire the expensive famous band, splash out on the venue, whatever - and then just let the rest go. For me, I wanted to be able to invite everyone I wanted to invite. This meant 305 invitations went out. I knew many of those people wouldn't be able to come but I wanted to be able to invite them all. We held back planning food until we knew numbers, and then worked from there. Your three things will determine your budget for everything else, i.e. what's left over after you get what you really want squared away.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2008

oh, and my additional $0.02 is that attempting to save money on a band/dj by using an ipod or mix cds is a horrendous idea. even if you hate music, people may want to dance at your wedding. having someone control the flow of the entertainment and respond to the mood of the people makes it a party & not just background music.
posted by gnutron at 2:46 PM on November 19, 2008

How about a frequent wedding guest's point of view?

Good food and open bar. You can have the fanciest locale and finest flowers and decor, but if the food sucks and there's no alcohol, it's still bad.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2008

I think the range of great answers here points to one main truth: Figure out the one or two aspects of a weeding most important to you and concentrate on those aspects. For some, food and drink are a passion, so venue, flowers, and photo/video are cut back or eliminated, etc.

One other thing you may want to look at would be package deals. We got married at the Lenox Hotel in Boston, and took advantage of their wedding plans that offered a lot of flexibility in terms of price and vendors, and had the added benefit of transferring a lot of the logistics (flowers, etc) to someone else. We ended up with a great space, a DJ receptive to our tastes, amazing food that people still talk about 11 years later, a famous (if formal) Boston photographer, and a night in an amazing 750-square-foot corner suite for far less money then we would have spent for the same things separately.

Good luck in whatever you decide.
posted by jalexei at 3:04 PM on November 19, 2008

We did our recent (August) wedding for around $3,500. Had it in my parent's backyard, which forced us to limit the guest list to 50 people, which cut down on costs. Other than food, our biggest expense was the officiant. For us, the ceremony was the most important part of the the whole thing ~ not the after party ~ so felt that money was well spent.

How we cut costs:
- bought $3 pots at Walmart and planted with nursery flowers for centerpieces; gave as favors after wedding
- no alcohol
- ordered two sheet cakes from Costco instead of fancy ($$) wedding cake
- I carried 3 long-stem roses instead of a bouquet ($15!)
- MOH carried a parasol instead of flowers ($12 + shipping, online and it kept the sun off of her)
- MOH's Mom did invitations - designed and printed on decorative cards/matching envelopes I bought at craft store ($1.25 per card/envelope set). She also did RSVP cards using pre-stamped postcards. About $100, including postage.
- for favors, I designed a cutesy wedding newsletter using free trial of Publisher, and a free on-line crossword puzzle maker. Added paper fans in wedding colors, and heart-shapped lollipops (both bought online)...Total cost per favor, ~$1.25
- my dress was off-the-rack at Nordstrom, about $300 with alterations. No veil, $10 headband from accessorie store at the mall, $40 shoes, borrowed earrings.
- Did my own makeup, mani and pedi. My regular stylist is also a family friend and did my hair, MOH's, MOH's mom's and my mom's for free.
- MOH found her dress on eBay for $50
- Groom and BM wore suits they owned, just purchased new shirts and ties.
- hired photographers just starting their business...two photographers, two cameras. They spent 7 hours and took around 900 shots. Less than $500 including prints.

There are lots of ways to cut costs; you just need to decide what is really important to you. We didn't want to go into debt to throw a party, and didn't expect our parents to pay for it, either. We figured at our age, if we couldn't pay for a wedding ourselves without going into debt, we had no business getting married.
posted by socrateaser at 3:06 PM on November 19, 2008

Most worth it-- skipping the big wedding and spending the money to take a month-long honeymoon in France.

least worth it-- hiring a "wedding" photographer who took cheesy one-size fits all stock photos. Ugh. Go to a local art school and hire some senior photog student.
posted by nax at 3:14 PM on November 19, 2008

Oh, but pay the kid the full freight you would have paid the "real" photographer.
posted by nax at 3:17 PM on November 19, 2008

20+ years later and I'm happy I splurged on photography. I have no video and never missed it.
posted by Breav at 3:25 PM on November 19, 2008

Wow! Tons of answers already.

I did my wedding on the cheap, my own way. I read a lot of books about wedding planning and threw out everything that seemed silly to me. The wedding turned out exactly as I wanted it.*

Looked at professional invitations and felt none of them really expressed us as a couple - I made all of ours instead. Never even considered a wedding dress. I bought a beautiful red knee-length dress at Nordstrom instead. The dress was actually cheaper than my shoes (also purchased at Nordstrom.) My husband bought a light summer suit he stills wears. Didn't have a fancy rehearsal dinner and instead opted for a big back-yard barbeque. I had my hair and nails done at a salon but did my own make-up.

Didn't have flowers at the wedding (it was in a garden) except for my bouquet. No bridesmaids or groomsmen and no therefore no presents for those people. No gifts for guests at the tables, no monogrammed napkins, matchbooks, whatever. Tables were decorated with candles and we rented lights for dinner, as the garden was underlit. My sister got ordained on-line and performed the ceremony. My ring was from Sundance and my husband's was $14 silver band.

No DJ or band. We had CDs of music to play and my husband set up the sound system. The wine was provided by my father-in-law as his gift, and some family friends bought the champagne.

So, the bulk of our money was spent on amazing food, a menu hand-designed for us, from our favorite restaurant. That was our single largest bill, and included the food, the cake, the servers, the table linens and silverware. It was worth every penny though!

*My one regret is that we didn't have a photographer. I didn't want to be hassled for hours for stupid pictures of me posing with every possible variation of family and so on. I've always hated that as a bridesmaid and felt it really ruins the pace of a wedding/reception. Everyone who took pictures sent us theirs and they're very nice - but we ended up with very few of my husband and I together! I regret that.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:40 PM on November 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

We paid dearly for the best wedding photographer in town. We both think that was money well spent. Not only was she an amazing candid photographer, but she was also a help in getting us to think about all the little things that happen ona wedding day. We joked with her that it was like getting a planner for free ;)

We also paid for a fabulous florist. We were married at our Alma Mater, so having the flowers made those regal rooms we were to used to come alive in a magical way. Most might not appreciate such a touch, but it's one of the things that so many people remember from our wedding.

Everything else was done with little cost. We hand made our invites rather affordably, but they were little works of art. Many of them are still hanging up in homes of friends all over the world.
posted by advicepig at 3:47 PM on November 19, 2008

We had about that many people for far less than 10k (in 1994).

We got married in the morning in a church a block away from my in-laws' house and had a lunch afterwards in the church hall. (We didn't get in a car that day until we left on the honeymoon.)

Get an excellent photographer with good references (preferably from people you know) and good samples. We're very happy we did this. IIRC, this is the only thing we spent a "normal" amount of money on and we're pretty happy we did.

Forget about weddings for a moment and imagine what you need to just have a good fun get-together with 200 people. Use that as your starting point adding the typical-wedding-stuff you can't do without, rather than starting with the typical wedding and subtracting.
posted by winston at 3:53 PM on November 19, 2008

An iPod and a variety of playlists works fine if your social circle is of the "whatever, have fun" variety and not devoted dancers (and you're not musicians). That part is highly variable. If you do need to hire someone in charge of music, I would suggest finding someone who is not A Wedding DJ with all the goofy crap - harder to find, more worth the money.

Spend thoughtfully on your venue. It's one of those things that most of us need, most of us don't happen to have room for 150 just hanging around to use for free, with seating and bathrooms and stuff. But don't kill yourselves trying to buy the coolest or hippest or most-impressive-est location, and don't let yourself believe that the venue *means* anything. In part because even the most flash venue can fuck up your party, so you can't hang all your hopes on it, but also because sometimes the coolest location can be a real pain in the ass in actual functionality. You need places to sit, room to congregate, toilets, parking. Something to eat, and somewhere to sit to eat it.

My story: we were Teh Broke when we got married. Credit in the shitter, crappy jobs, family could only help a little. My grandfather had been pronounced terminal two months before we got engaged, he ended up in the hospital trying to die (it would take 8 more months) the Monday before the wedding and was still there that night. My grandmother (who put off telling us about the breast cancer because we got engaged the weekend she was diagnosed) was devastated, my mother and aunt were devastated. We'd picked the nicest of the Event Venues near my grandparents' house we could afford, got married on a Friday night because it was $1K cheaper (half off). I'm pretty sure the place had been a skating rink in a previous life. Our friends all drove an hour or more to get from Dallas to Fort Worth in rush hour on a Friday night. Our friend-officiant drove three hours, my Matron of Honor drove six. One of my friends had just had a hysterectomy and dropped by for a few minutes. Two of our friends made the wedding and groom's cake (which, instead of looking like a dead armadillo, had a spray of chocolate-dipped Twizzlers coming out the top). My husband's best friends drove from New Jersey to come bearing sound equipment and stand up for him. I told my two attendants to "wear black, whatever." We couldn't afford the liquor, only setup, so it was a discount cash bar. We couldn't afford sit-down, it was buffet (and turned out better than my wildest hopes). We used a discount photographer, she was new, it was all we could afford.

We had a wonderful time. People still tell us they had a wonderful time (and we were the last of three couples who got married in a 6-week period, so people had every right to be burned out by then). My parents had a good time. The catering manager came out with tears in her eyes to tell me it was the best ceremony she'd ever seen. My husband wanted to dance the Hora, so we did. I wanted a conga line, so we did. We'd promised ourselves (to take the pressure off) that if we didn't like our wedding, we'd do it again on our 5th, and that's coming in April and we're not booking any venues. I wouldn't change a thing.

The one completely off-hand thing we did that turned out better than I imagined was, since our wedding was on a Friday, a get-together at a favorite bar on Saturday. We brought all the leftover cake, the bar spotted us a happy hour for our guests, my husband sang our song to me, it was awesome. We weren't leaving for the honeymoon until Monday, and all these people had come so far, it was fantastic. I don't really understand busting out of town the moment the wedding is over, because once the pressure's off and you've picked the 70 hairpins out of your hair, it's really nice to just kick back and have a beer with all those nice people who just watched you get married.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:10 PM on November 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

We did our whole wedding for 100 for about $7000 just last month.

Our venue let us bring in our own wine rather than spend $26 per bottle to have them at the guest's dinner tables. They charged us a $5 corkage per bottle but it was still way cheaper to do that and get wine for $10/bottle. Also, having an open bar was surprisingly cheap. Ours was open from 5:30 pm - 12:00 am and we had 100 people and the bar tab ended up only being $900. That was worth it to me since it sort of sucks to go to a wedding with a cash bar or a restricted menu of drinks.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:34 PM on November 19, 2008

For me, the most worth it big expense of our wedding was our photographer. As the bride, I had so much going through my head that day that it all went by in a blur. We didn't have video, so I knew the photos would be the only thing I had to really remember the day. We hired a photojournalist to capture the moments as they happened, and he was worth every penny.
posted by geeky at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2008

Oh, sorry - I told you the thing I'm most glad we did spend money on, but not the best ways we saved money. Those are easy.

1) We hired a venue for both the wedding and reception that did not "do" weddings and was dead cheap. And glorious.

2) Because it was not "a wedding venue" there were no restrictions on outside caterers. We hired who we wanted and were delighted.

3) Because we could hire any caterer we wanted, we were not tied to one with an alcohol tie-in. We bought our own cases of wine and beer on a sale or return basis, and waited for a big ass sale to do it. The vendor picked up all the unopened cases the next day and we got back a big old bunch of money.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:00 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh and the best money saving tip of all, never tell them it's for a wedding.
posted by sondrialiac at 6:12 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I had an amazing wedding in May of 2007 for about the same budget.

Here's what I think was most important:

Photographer: This doesn't have to be expensive. We posted an ad on Craigslist and said what we were will to pay and got an amazing photographer who was just starting out, who now charges about 10 times what we paid.

Music: My husband was in charge of this and I was so pissed when I found out that he'd agreed to pay $800 for the salsa band at our reception. But it added such a unique touch to the wedding that I wouldn't have changed it. At the same time, though, one of my best friends had a wedding last month with an ipod hooked up to the speaker system and we all danced our butts off. It was better than a DJ, actually.

And least important?

My dress: I paid more for it than I had planned. And have I touched it since the wedding? Nope.

Put the focus on the things that matter to you and don't worry about anything else. People will remember the day, not the little details of what you spent money on and what you didn't.

Check out the photos from our wedding and I think you'll see what I mean: http://flickr.com/photos/littlemissjenny/sets/72157600982423032/
posted by missjenny at 8:03 PM on November 19, 2008

Response by poster: missjenny - I love the pictures from your wedding! WHat kind of venue was that -- was it a camp, or retreat center? And I love the idea of having people pose for pictures by themselves that can be goofy or whatever they want to do.
posted by Dzolali at 9:04 PM on November 19, 2008

Response by poster: sondrialac: if you don't tell people that it's a wedding while you're negotiating cost for venue or catering, and then the day arrives and *POOF* it's a wedding! don't they get mad and couldn't that affect the event? I'm just worried about throwing a wrench in the works by trying to get too good of a deal. What do you think?
posted by Dzolali at 9:06 PM on November 19, 2008

Response by poster: And thank you, everyone, for such wonderful answers! Mr soon-to-be-Dzolali and I are going to pore over all your responses together tonight and take copious notes....
posted by Dzolali at 9:07 PM on November 19, 2008

I just performed a wedding for some friends of mine. (and by the way I'm 3-0 for successful marriages). What they "cheaped out" on was the champagne. They got bottles and bottles of the best reviewed champagne out there for 8.95 a bottle. It was fantastic. And that, plus, some good house red and good house white filled the bill for the wedding, all in, for 500 bucks. It came out to three bottles of each per table and that was way cheaper than the 3k they wanted for a limited open bar.
posted by rileyray3000 at 12:27 AM on November 20, 2008

Although I think the venue was the most expensive part of our wedding, our best investment was someone to manage the event. I confess that it was a friend so we got a sweet deal - we would have been happy to pay more.
You've probably already figured out that the Wedding Manager route isn't the way you want to go. For what sounds like it will be a relatively small, low-key event, a friend who has experience putting on events, or even just throws great parties and can deal well with people might do. They should be someone not in your closest circle of friends, i.e. someone you would invite to the wedding, because you want them to be managing things ahead of all else (although for the love of god, let them have a little fun). We just needed someone to help us set up, keep track the gifts and the cake and the booze, know when we were coming in and when to turn the music on and off, and make sure that the place got cleaned up after we left (the hardest part).
We had no desire to get married in a church so the wedding and reception were at the same place. That way people didn't have to drive so much and we only payed for one venue. A friend officiated.
My wife got her dress from the sale rack at a department store and I got my suit off the rack at a western store. We both had our clothes tailored and they fit great. We had a friend's band play (unfortunately, I can't imagine you know anyone in a band as awesome as The Shut-ins) and used an ipod for music when they weren't playing. The band brought their own PA. My sis-in-law got sushi catered from her friend's restaurant. We got all our alcohol (beer and wine only) at Costco and hired a friend of a friend to bartend (she got tips, too). We got there earlier in the day and did the decorations ourselves (they were simple - mostly just twinkly xmas lights), and a florist friend gave us a deal on flowers. We asked for flowers that were in season rather than specific varieties, so we were able to have lots of flowers for a pretty reasonable price. We used disposable dishes and utensils, also purchased at costco, so we didn't have to rent dishes.
We didn't hire a photographer and I wish we had - we put disposable cameras on the tables and ended up with some cute snapshots, but it was our photographer hobbyist friend who actually got all the decent pics that night. I'd still put an event manager ahead of photographer in terms of services for the day, though. Afterward I would expect to spend more on prints than what an event manager cost.
I think we did our wedding for around $6k including our clothes.
posted by smartyboots at 12:33 AM on November 20, 2008

Mr. Red and I got married two years ago - our wedding for 125 cost less than $6K and was lovely, and about as low-stress as it possibly could have been, given the inherent craziness of weddings and the families involved.

Basically, I'll echo what was said upthread - pick the few things you absolutely care about and get exactly what you want, and for everything else get whatever is cheap/easy. You can save a lot by shopping around, ordering things off the net, waiting for sales, doing stuff yourself or accepting the help of friends/family to do it, etc. That said, a lot of this is a time/hassle versus money equation.

We spent on the photographer and it was well worth it- we got hundreds of fantastic shots ranging from posed to candid, delivered in straight-from-the-camera digital, and are now free to use them however we want. We got a pro Flickr account and threw them up there, and all the family and guests can print whatever they want for themselves.

The other thing we spent on was our honeymoon - we had a glorious week in a tourist-trap heaven beach town, doing every cheesy thing that struck our fancy (Cirque de Soleil clone! Medieval Times! Build-a-Bear! Amusement Park!) and had a fantastic time.

Rather than doing bachelor/bachelorette parties, we waited until after the rehearsal dinner and then took everyone bowling to an all-night, full-bar bowling alley. We had a complete blast. This was our chance to spend some relaxing downtime with our friends before the wedding-day madness started up.

We got really good food, but instead of hiring a caterer, we got some catering stuff from Whole Foods and one of my friends who is a caterer helped with the prep as a wedding gift. Friends of my parents' served, cut cake, did punch, etc., at the reception, also as a gift.

Ways we saved:
-My dress was a David's Bridal sale special. I used my mom's veil (sentimental AND free!) and bought a $10 discount-store tiara. (just as pretty as the $150 one at the bridal shop). I wore sketchers with my dress, as it was floor-length and nobody could see my feet anyway.
-We had the reception at the church hall, which had no room for dancing and didn't allow alcohol, so no spending on booze or music.
-My best friend's mom did the wedding party flowers and we got cheap, in-season flowers (tulips, irises, daffodils, etc, for an April wedding). We got big bunches of glads from a grocery store for the front of the church. My mom did the hall decorations using silks she got on sale at various craft stores over the year before the wedding.
-No wedding favors (does anyone REALLY eat Jordan almonds?)
-We did our own makeup and my sister-in-law did the bridesmaids' hair. One of my friends who is a stylist did mine for free.
-We got the invitations off the internet.
-I made the programs myself and we ran them off at Kinko's (at 1am on the Thursday before the wedding, if I remember right, after a celebratory dinner with my brother where we had killed a bit of booze - ah, good times).
posted by oblique red at 8:28 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Use your judgment. Our biggest savings from not mentioning the w-word:

Not going to a bridal shop, but getting a white dress and accessories elsewhere

The flowers for the tables/centerpieces--our friends picked them up (HUGE)

The venues for the pre-wedding parties and pre-wedding catering

Also check out indiebride's kvetch (their forum). The site itself is a zombie but the forums are active.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:06 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wish we would have spent less on flowers and more on photography. As a photographer I'm probably considered biased, but I look at our pictures now (eight years later) and really really regret not working with a better/different photographer.

It's one of the few things that you can look at several years later to remember the day.

Congrats on your engagement!
posted by dawnm at 5:08 PM on November 20, 2008

Echoing the advice about a photographer. Here's the best tip I got which served me well looking for a photographer -- when looking through their portfolio, do you get the sense that *you* know these people. Wedding photography is hard and a photographer that can step in and make people comfortable and get those shots is worth every penny. My wedding album has photos of friends and family which are the best photos I've ever seen of these people.
posted by amanda at 8:28 PM on November 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best: Honeymoon
Take care of yourselves first - it is your day.
posted by doorsfan at 6:49 AM on November 21, 2008

Another "photographer" recommendation. Neither my wife nor I are take-lots-of-photos kind of people and we considered not having a photographer at all. But now we are so incredibly happy to have an awesome set of pictures from the wedding. It's really the most lasting thing you can get from your wedding (besides, you know, your marriage).

Our photographer was a photojournalist who specialized in candid shots -- she ran around the wedding like a ninja (we barely saw her) taking shots. She did photograph the ceremony and some posed family shots, but using natural light -- she did NOT have to set up all sorts of lights, drag around cables, make a lot of noise, or generally obstruct anything (again, people barely knew she was there).

In the end, the fun candid shots of your family and friends are going to mean more to you than than posed ones, so make sure you find a photographer who can really capture moments.

Instead of having the photographer design an expensive wedding album (which our photographer didn't offer anyway), we took the digital pictures and made our own wedding album at mypublisher.com -- this is the only site we found that did large (11x15?) books with full bleed -- and it is absolutely beautiful. We also made smaller books for extended family as Christmas gifts, so the photographs got a lot of good use that year.

I wouldn't bother with a videographer. Photos are more versatile and you're more likely to flip through an album than sit around watching a video of your guests doing the limbo. If you want some basic video documentation, you might want to recruit a friend or family member to do it camcorder-style.
posted by Alabaster at 10:50 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Smarson and I got married a little more than a year ago up in AK and ended up having to make a lot of financial priority decisions for the occasion since the guest list included more than 130 people.

If you spend money on anything, have it be a good photographer. Some people will say to go with your friend from college who has a nice camera or the relative that used to do school portraits as a way to save money. That might work for some couples, but the honest truth is that 30 years from now your wedding pictures will still be how you remember what is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life. The difference between good photographs of your wedding day and breathtakingly beautiful ones that capture the most precious and intimate moments of the event is a trained wedding photographer with plenty of equipment and plenty of experience. Trust me, they are worth every dime hundred dollar bill.

Other than that it's all about what you want the wedding to be like. It was important to us to have friends and family be a part of our celebration so we went without a DJ (laptop hooked up to speakers + itunes playlist) and only served wine at the reception so we could fly people from the lower 48 up to Alaska and put them up in cabins.

Also, we bought blank wedding invitation sets from a craft store and printed out all the text on a regular printer and then added a little ribbon. In the end we each invitation cost us less than $1.30 including postage.

In the end it's about the memories you make and I'd say we made some pretty damn awesome ones.
posted by Smarson at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Smarson, thanks for the links to your beautiful photos from your wedding. Especially the one from above, in the field. Your images drive home the point lots of people are making, that the greatest value may just be in making sure the photography is exactly what you want.
posted by Dzolali at 4:49 PM on November 21, 2008

Glad I spent the money: Photographer and DJ. The dance floor was full all night, and I've gotten tons of comments on the pictures.

Wish I hadn't spent so much: Flowers and centerpieces. No one really cared, and what do you do with them afterwards?
posted by desjardins at 10:30 AM on November 26, 2008

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