Wedding planning stalemate
December 13, 2016 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I hate wedding planning. Fiance wants a big (75 people) wedding for an unrealistic budget. This has resulted in a wedding planning logjam for nearly a year. How can we come up with a wedding 'plan'/budget that actually works for both of us?

Fiance wants entire wedding for 5-10k, and we'd have to pay for everything (no free backyards), airfare for some of his relatives, our clothes, our rings, etc.

His goal: have all the people he love meet and mingle. Which is lovely and laudable! The increase to 10k budget was after I actually listed out expenses and he realized 5k was literally impossible, even if we cut everything to the bone.

My goal: I just want to be married and, if we have a wedding, to have a nice photographer (currently not even included in the 10k budget). I'd prefer smaller (10-35 people) but sort of profoundly don't care about 'the wedding'. There ceremony, yes. But not 'the wedding'.

This has proven... difficult. Even compromising with a 'full meal for out-of-country/town guests, cake-n-punch reception for everyone' has made the budget tight.

Because I profoundly hated wedding planning, he agreed to take over. But... he really didn't believe me when I said 'wedding venues book a year+ out' and now we can't access most of the venues for the year we want (2017). Now he's just sort of paralyzed by stress about it, as I try to help out by making lists of possible venues and pricing things out.

Trying to find alternative venues for cheap has been difficult, especially as the wedding needs to be on a Saturday (most guests coming from a different country, and some coming from different continents). We can't do out-of-season for same reason: our city is notorious for freezing rain that prevents air travel in the winter (Nov-April), which could prevent 60-75% of the guests from arriving if the freezing rain hits on a bad day.

So my question is actually a few questions:
1. How can we figure out where to compromise? So far we're just... doing his wedding for his budget on his timeline, and it's resulted in nothing happening even as I help him out by doing all the research and contacting vendors. Nothing is booked or settled because nothing fits his needs.
2. What DIDN'T matter in your wedding? What DID?
3. Tips for finding nontraditional venues? Oh lord I have tried here. I've read all the guides. I have a long list of nontraditional venues that won't work for one reason or another (...generally budget). But I'm asking anyways.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Human Relations (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is the date already set? Have people already booked flights? Because the easiest solution for number one (and maybe number three) is to delay until 2018 and try to book that now instead.

It kind of sounds like the problem(s) are that 1) he doesn't want to do the massive amount of emotional labor that is wedding planning and 2) he has unrealistic expectations/an inability to compromise because he hasn't done any of the labor that would make it clear to him that compromises will be necessary.

If it turns out that no venues will work for what he wants, even with a year lead-time, well, then maybe he'll better understand that compromises are necessary?
posted by purple_bird at 8:56 AM on December 13, 2016 [34 favorites]

This isn'ta wedding problem; this is a communication problem. Even with him seeing the reality itself (good on you for insisting) he is still being rigid in his expectations.

Have you done pre-marital counselling? Because now would be an excellent opportunity. Keep in mind he is showing you how he will be attacking all challenges in your relationship. He needs a bigger tool kit to find solutions, and you both need to learn what being a team really means.
posted by saucysault at 8:57 AM on December 13, 2016 [74 favorites]

1. Stop planning until your fiance is ready to deal with the reality of money.

2. Plan for 2018 once he's ready, or use the time to save up for more.

If this is how he handles stress over money it's really worth dealing with this now. (Ask Me How I Know, see also: car, house, children, daycare, vacations...)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:59 AM on December 13, 2016 [35 favorites]

This sounds so stressful. I'm sorry.

My now-husband and I planned a wedding for 36 people and it cost us $5,000 (everything included). It was not traditional in many ways (No dancing! We got married in an unusual public art project that our friends run! We processed towards each other on a city street while our friends lined up along the sidewalk! My husband wore black jeans with a blazer and tie! The ceremony music was improvised by an experimental indie band that we're big fans of!) but it was also traditional in many other ways (I wore a white raw silk dress that a friend made. We cut cake that another friend made. I carried a big bouquet that yet another friend made. And so on.) For the reception, everyone ate a fancy meal together at the nicest restaurant in town and that was hands-down the biggest part of our budget. It cost about $4,000 for that meal. It was absolutely worth it for us to show hospitality in that particular way, but as you can see, it *was* most of what we spent money on for our wedding. We didn't pay for a photographer, he didn't rent a tuxedo, we didn't have bridesmaids or groomsmen in matching outfits, yada yada. And we had SO MUCH help from friends who work in the wedding/event planning industry. Like, SO MUCH help. Like, I really feel like the true cost of our wedding was a lot higher than $5,000 because so many friends did things for free or at cost.

I would recommend that you and your fiance take some time to read through the posts on They have a "Planning 101" section that might really help you guys out. In particular, I think you should sit down together, hold hands, and read this post. It's a friendly guide to creating a wedding budget in the real world and it might help deescalate this thing for your fiance.

Good luck!
posted by pinetree at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

Why does the wedding need to be on a Saturday? If you're having a lot of out of town people coming in for it, it doesn't really make a difference, they are going to miss at least a day of work coming to your wedding whether it is a Saturday or a Sunday. I'm having mine on a Sunday and it's saving me thousands of dollars. Also, it might mean that some dates in 2017 open up for you.

Your priorities matter too, but I'd think about ways to save on the "nice photographer." The website A Practical Wedding has a lot of good hacks for saving money, but almost everyone who recaps their wedding for the site says something along the lines of "our photographer cost $5000 and was worth every penny!" To me, that is highly impractical, especially because most wedding photos all look the same to me. I think maybe the ubiquity of social media and wanting good pictures for facebook is why those prices have skyrocketed to such an extent? I'd really look into seeing if you have a friend with a nice camera who'd take care of this for you.
posted by cakelite at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cut the Gordian knot. Elope elope elope elope. Semi-elope or destination wedding in a more tractable location if that's untenable. Get the most important people together for the ceremony and then go on a grand tour of visiting the out of town friends and relatives and celebrating your marriage.

To answer your question 2 - neither of us wanted to deal with the hard finicky work that is planning a wedding on a budget. We did a city hall wedding with our parents and siblings with dinner afterwards (ended up at about 2.5K including photographer because NYC) and talk all the time about how happy we are that we did it that way.

If the person who is good at planning is not the person who is excited about the "big party" aspect of the wedding, it's not going to work.
posted by permiechickie at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Realistically, everything depends on the venue and catering. That will be your biggest budget item, and will determine the date and time for everything else.

If you are literally unable to find a venue for the budget you have set, that means something will have to give. Either you'll need to increase your budget, or decrease your expectations. Not knowing your location, but $10k for that size of an event sounds underbudgeted for most urban areas in my opinion at least unless you are willing to make some extreme concessions regarding food and drink and venue.

I think you will need to reevaluate some of the restrictions you have set on yourselves:

- Mandating a Saturday-only wedding is going to severely limit your options. You have a lot of other considerations, obviously, but if people really want to make it to your event, and are given enough warning, couldn't a Friday or a Sunday work?

- You've ruled-out a huge amount of the "off-season". Is your city literally impenetrable during the winter months? Any event you hold is going to have some amount of non-predicatable risk, including weather. You may want to accept a little more risk in order to gain the benefits of off-season pricing and scheduling.
posted by Think_Long at 9:05 AM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

We might have had something like you'd like for a "compromise", if you had access to a "free" back yard. We had maybe 70 guests, we provided some food and drinks, friends brought additional food and drink (I made a large pot of chili during day-of prep).

Things that DIDN'T matter (to us): lack of DJ, lack of pro bartender, lack of pro photographer, lack of pro catering, lack of pro flowers/decorations. Turns out we had enough good amateur cooks and DJs and photogs, and we used some leftover decorations from friends' previous weddings.

Things that DID matter (to us): having many of our loved ones get together and celebrate with us. Having a place to dance and drinks and very short ceremony.

Total cost: ~3k, mostly on rental of tent, chairs, outdoor space heaters, all from the same vendor, only one we needed.

Tip: If you're down for very casual, and don't need everything to matchy-match for magazine-grade photo spreads, try to hit up friends to crowdsource decorations and food and drinks. My friends were happy to help out, YMMV.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:06 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Spring for a good wedding photographer. So so so worth it.
posted by chaiminda at 9:07 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I will point out that he's generally very good about stress in every other situation. Our first trip to see his family? Car got totaled by being hit by 18-wheeler while we drove on the highway, and he was a mensch. I lose use of my dominant hand for months and need surgery? Cool, he does everything. He's concussed and out of work/money for months? Yup, fine. Emergency surgery? We'll get through this. Vacations? He plans 'em without batting an eyelash. Cancer scares? Yeah whatever, we'll get through this together.

It's part of the reason why I'm not sure how to deal with his stress about this: he's generally very good with stress and planning. But for some reason wedding planning is super stressful for him so I need to figure out how to communicate and compromise about this one thing (the wedding).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:09 AM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

We were married in a beautiful hall on my college campus and had the reception in the alumni house (also quite beautiful). Minimal cost.

We did NOT have a meal at the reception, but just found a caterer who could do hearty finger food (such as mini sandwiches).

We served only champagne and scotch at the reception (and non-alcoholic drinks). Our cake was from a local bakery, frosted white, but otherwise not recognizable as a wedding cake. We put flowers around it (and didn't have the cake cutting ritual).

I wore a dress that belonged to his cousin, altered by a family friend.

Our organist was a dear friend. Our programs were printed by another dear friend. We had a pianist at the reception who could play anything and we had no dancing (rule of the building) but we all sang things like the Flintstones theme song.

For flowers, we had two bouquets (me and my matron of honor), two corsages (mothers) and three boutonieres -- groom, best man, father of groom, and we had two floral displays on the altar. Nothing in the aisles, etc.

For photographs, we did formal posed photos in the studio of a photographer a week or so before the wedding. We had disposable cameras on the tables (of course now you can just have people post to IG with your designated hashtag).

What you don't even know yet is how much the price goes up on anything the minute you put the word "wedding" in front of it. You would be 100 percent screwed if you said you wanted a wedding veil. I bought some tulle and sewed it to a comb and no one knew the difference. Same with the cake. Same with all of those bullshit favors that people give out that are personalized to your name and date. Just don't even think of that stuff.

You would be surprised how elegant and beautiful it turned out to be, despite being on a shoestring (and being planned in 3 months during my first semester of law school).
posted by janey47 at 9:19 AM on December 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

In that case postpone. Take the stress out. Reassure him how good he is at planning, because he is, and tell him to try again for the later date.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:25 AM on December 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Tips for finding nontraditional venues?

FWIW, we got married at a small ceremony in a National Park. The (spectacular) wedding venue cost us $185.

People have told me that catered food and drinks alone start at $50 per person. (We had a food truck, so we never really looked at this.) That's almost 40% of your budget, right off the top. I would postpone. I don't see any way you're going to do this on time, on budget or at a reasonable level of stress at this point.

This is your wedding. In my mind, if you're not enjoying your wedding, you're doing it wrong.
posted by cnc at 9:36 AM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like he's good with urgent/crisis stress, but not with the kind of everyday stress of "how do I choose when I can't have everything and the constraints are driven only by our larger goals" -- which is something that I'd say about half the population has trouble with.

If he's stuck, he needs to take in more information and clarify the problem a bit more. Step 1 is figuring out which kind(s) of information to look into: "how to plan a wedding" stuff, "how to prioritize" stuff, "how to get help" stuff, "how to communicate what's important in a relationship" stuff -- he can choose one or more of these, then figure out the best sources for that information, and then do a little reading, couseling, video watching, or talking with trusted friends. After a bit of time, he may get energized enough to really attack this problem.

It's a challenge! He sounds like he's good with challenges when they're just a little clearer than this one.

This is not to downplay the difficulty here. I'm trying to put a positive spin on it because a) it sounds like that might help, and b) you're getting married, which is ultimately a good thing.
posted by amtho at 9:38 AM on December 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ho, boy. I feel you. Wedding planning is a different kind of stress than some of the other situations you mentioned because there are so many stakeholders. Weddings can sometimes be about trying to make lots and lots and lots of people happy. (That list of people may or may not include the people actually getting married.)

In terms of figuring out how to compromise: I wonder if it'd be worthwhile to have a (fun! casual! perhaps wine-fueled!) conversation about weddings the both of you have been to, together and individually. What parts did you guys love? What did you not care about? What spoke to you? That might help you a) find more common ground and b) get at why certain notions are really important to your fiance.

Mr. Disaster and I had a tiny, outdoor ceremony at a state park and, a few months later, a big, blowout party at a local VFW. We were able to do it <$10k (this is in Boston). That said, we did a lot of talking about what was important to us and what wasn't, and it was easier to talk about it in the context of past weddings we'd been to.

I'd be happy to tell you what mattered and didn't matter for us but... everyone's list is hella different.
posted by ann_disaster at 9:48 AM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

We were married in graduate school, so we did not have a lot of money to work with. Some things we did to stay within our budget:
- Got married in a botanic gardens. I don't know what part of the year you're envisioning holding the ceremony, but we were able to get out of paying for almost all floral arrangements besides bouquets for me and my maid of honor.
- Eschewed bridesmaids/groomsmen and just had a maid of honor and best man.
- Had a somewhat casual dinner out the night before with our out-of-town guests and just had wine/beer and hors d'oeuvres during the reception.
- Hired a string quartet to play during the ceremony and reception. I don't dance, so forgoing the DJ wasn't exactly a hardship.
- Had an afternoon wedding.
- Had my Episcopal priest father perform the ceremony. I realize this suggestion won't work for most people.

We did hire a professional photographer and have some wonderful pictures from the ceremony. We also bought lots of disposable cameras and scattered them around the reception area for the guests to take pictures, but a) we didn't really get any good photos from our slightly tipsy guests who had better things to do and b) this was before ubiquitous camera-enabled cell phones.

I don't remember much about my wedding except being exhausted and having a good time. I can't imagine spending any more money would have made the day better.
posted by bibliowench at 9:53 AM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had a wedding in that budget range for about 60 guests. We were struggling with a venue, too, until we started asking about Sunday afternoons. Suddenly every venue had openings. Photographers are often cheaper and have more availability on Sundays, too.

There are plenty of non-traditional venues that will still be available - think Elk's lodges, bowling alleys, public parks. If you are just doing a meal for out of area guests, maybe there's a restaurant with a private room big enough to accommodate that. Our venue was a basement bar in a hotel.

We also did a rehearsal dinner type thing for out of town guests by booking a rec room at a local park and bringing in BBQ. I kept thinking it would have been a great laid back wedding all by itself.

We did like having a photographer there. It was nice because he helped us keep on track in addition to taking nice pics and helping us remember a whirlwind day.

I felt like the biggest waste of money was a florist. I don't like flowers and wasn't planning on having any, but my in-laws offered to take care of it. We had beautiful flowers, but later I found out they spent about half the cost of our wedding and it was mind boggling to me.

I hate to say it, but the Knot has a wedding checklist that I found very useful. It has a lot of dumb stuff on there, but can be a good starting point for prioritizing, assigning roles, and getting a plan in motion.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:56 AM on December 13, 2016

It's fairly simple to cut costs if you can jettison "traditional" wedding ideas and, as everyone says, focus on the part of the wedding that's important to you. What was important to us was everybody being together in one place having fun and the photographer, not a cake or dress or a catered dinner.

We had a small ceremony at a local botanic garden followed by a 75-person reception at a local brewery, with a food truck for the food. We skipped a cake and had our favorite restaurant cater miniature desserts. I made the bouquet and all the decorations. I found a dress that cost $750 and spent $300 on alterations. (We'd budgeted for hair and makeup for me, my mother, and an attendant, but my mom did an end run and paid for it without me noticing.) I made our invitations, too, but looking back I wish that either I hadn't or that I'd chosen a less elaborate setup, because they failed to live up to what I envisioned. No DJ or dancing, just a playlist that we put on an iPod touch and hooked up to the sound system, and the photographer kindly put together a slideshow of the ceremony that was projected on the brewery wall.

My brother-in-law got married last month in a hot air balloon, and had the reception the next day at a local cidery they patronize. It was similar to ours with a food truck for dinner and candy, cookies, and a s'mores making station instead of a cake, a laptop with a playlist hooked up to the sound system, and I'm pretty sure my sister-in-law made most if not all of the decorations herself (they were much better than mine were, but she's a pro interior designer so that's to be expected!).

I got a lot of ideas for cheaper stuff from the Offbeat Bride website, to be honest.
posted by telophase at 9:59 AM on December 13, 2016

The fact that he's usually good about dealing with stress makes me wonder if he actually wants to get married. I'd ask him in a low stress environment with the caveat that it's 110% okay if he says no.

If you can do the last weekend of April or the first weekend of November, in most cases (fingers crossed), you will still avoid bad weather and save a lot of money. Also, I know you said it has to be on a Saturday but what about a Sunday of a holiday weekend? Memorial Day is usually crazy but my husband and I got hitched the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We got the benefit of Sunday prices but people still had a day to travel. I've also heard of people getting hitched on Columbus Day weekend. We also got married in a public park that has a rose garden and a building for events. That said, if you try to find a date that is going to work for everyone, you WILL be disappointed. A lot of my friends could do Labor Day weekend but some couldn't because they had kids who started school the next day. I was told that you should anticipate that 10% of your guest list won't be able to make it, more if your event is on a holiday weekend. That was about right for us and we had our venue and date more than a year out.

My husband really wanted a band for the wedding. We had one and they were great but I think I would have been just as happy with a DJ. That said, I wish we had an MC for the wedding, or given the lead singer that job. It doesn't sound like a big deal but it would have been nice to have someone say "And now the bride and groom are going to cut the cake/have their first dance/do shots/whatever." And while I think we paid enough for photos, I wish we had taken them more seriously. We hired a friend and he was fine but I should have been more specific about what I wanted. For example, there were tons of kids at the wedding but he didn't take many pictures of them for some reason. This might be overkill but if you're paying someone to take pictures, you should try to get the pictures you want.

For what it's worth, I think if wedding planning is making you miserable, you should reevaluate what you're doing. I say that from the privileged position of someone who didn't have to deal with a ton of family drama and such. But to the extent possible, our wedding felt like it was "us," you know? I mean, it wasn't "us" in that we don't usually wear a big white dress and a tuxedo but it wasn't stuffy and it felt like "us."
posted by kat518 at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

But for some reason wedding planning is super stressful for him so I need to figure out how to communicate and compromise about this one thing (the wedding).

It sounds like he's very good at dealing with immediate and unavoidable problems, but problems that are "avoidable" (since theoretically you guys could elope, but he wants a wedding*) and are in the future cause him to freeze up. If you didn't have family travel to manage, you may have better luck telling him he has a month to plan a fancy party.

Also, is he generally an easy going person who goes with the flow? If so, it may be overwhelming for him to plan out what he wants, since usually he doesn't actually care. I can get like this on my birthday. I don't want to pick a restaurant that someone won't like, but I also want to do something I want instead of just going with the flow (which I'm usually happy to do). Fortunately, birthdays aren't so important and happen yearly so the pressure for perfection isn't there.

If that's the case, he may be trying to please himself and what he thinks others expectations are. So he's saying it has to be Saturday even though he personally doesn't care. Why does it matter if people are taking a day off to travel Monday instead of Friday? Sunday vs Saturday can make a bit of a difference for more local guests, but having it earlier in the day helps with that. Or the out of season wedding: an in season wedding still has a risk of delays (computer glitch, strikes, etc) if people are flying in at the last possible minute. Remind him it's your guys' wedding, so you two are the only ones who absolutely have to be there. Everything else is extra.

It sounds like you guys have discussed some possible compromises he's rejected. Maybe as a thought exercise have him pick a compromise and have him work through planning the wedding (so a Sunday ceremony or out of season), and have him note what the worst case scenario is, why that would upset him, how upset he'd be if that happened. Then pick another one and do the same. Maybe then he can start figuring out what the closest thing to his dream wedding possible in the face of reality. It may also help him figure out what he's shying away from because he thinks others will be upset about it (if that is part his mental block) rather than what is important to him personally.

Or, if you're Ok with it, assure him waiting a year is fine (if the problem was just him underestimating how quickly things book and not larger picture planning. If it's the latter, you'll just be here next year).

*I eloped, but I think wanting a wedding is reasonable, so I don't want sound dismissive of his desires by saying it's completely avoidable, since he'd miss out on something.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:11 AM on December 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Didn't read all of the above, sorry. It will cost more, but spring for a wedding consultant (or wedding planner if that's the term). They will lay out scenarios and clearly show what each one costs. You (or you and he) can pick a scenario designed by an expert instead of trying to sift through all the variations to invent one yourself.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:16 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

What if you got married in a small ceremony in 2017 and spent the next year planning for a huge reception/party in 2018 where he can invite all the people he wants?

This is assuming he steps up and does do the actual planning, because I don't see why you have to do all the planning for a big deal thing you didn't even really want.
posted by possibilityleft at 10:17 AM on December 13, 2016

I mean this with all kindness, but you need to stop doing his work for him. He agreed to "take over" but it doesn't sound like he read a single wedding planning book or website, nearly all of which scream to book your venue as early as possible? Strike one. YOU are now "helping" by.... doing all the research he didn't do, while he sits and frets? Strike two. Your question #3, why are YOU asking for this? Why isn't he posting here? Or reading the voluminous books and websites available on such questions? Why were YOU the one that had to scope out a reasonable budget and tell him his budget was not feasible? This is all "wedding planning" and it sounds like you're doing all of it.

Quite honestly, I would sit him down and say "Here is the budget and possible venues I scoped out for the wedding *I* want. I am happy with this. If you're not, you need to take the lead on figuring out what to add and cut where. Let's schedule a "wedding meeting" a month from now and we can go over what you've found out." And then drop it. If he has nothing to show after a month, I would say "so do you want to proceed with my wedding, set up a savings plan to budget more, or ????"

Also, couples counseling is not silly over an issue like this. It is about more than the wedding. I'm not damning him on every count, but he is dropping the ball here in ways that are probably going to come up again in your married life.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:28 AM on December 13, 2016 [28 favorites]

I wrote a long thing about how you probably really *can* have your wedding on a different day of the week or the off-season, but in the course of that, I had an idea that is going to change everything:

What this situation calls for, my friend, is a destination wedding.

Pick a time of year and a destination that is both easy enough for your people to get to and also where the weather is nice at that time of year.

Las Vegas is an affordable flight from almost anywhere in the US (as well as quite a few international destinations) and has great winter weather. It also has so many wedding venue options (yes, you can totally have a traditional and classy wedding there!) that it shouldn't be too hard to find something at relatively short notice.

Orlando seems like it ought to be in the same ballpark as Las Vegas, because yeah, cheap flights from everywhere and mild weather. However I'm not sure there is the wedding infrastructure unless you want to get married in a theme park or resort.

Mexico seems really popular for destination weddings both on wedding blogs and also among people I've known who have gone this route. Also fairly affordable to get there from a lot of the US, especially if you pick somewhere like the Mayan Riviera. There are a few Caribbean islands that are also good choices, if everyone is mostly traveling from the East Coast.

Is there one part of the world where all your international guests are coming from? Could you go to them? Some friends of mine ended up having a last-minute destination wedding in Italy after the groom got randomly transferred to Prague for work, ruining their American wedding plans which were already in the works when the transfer was announced. This may not work if your international guests are all in a very remote place that is difficult to get to or doesn't have much of tourist interest, and also there are a few countries that make it very hard for foreigners to get married there (notably France). So this might not be a home run. But it's worth looking into, or if there's an international destination that is closer to that place and yet possible to get married in. Which I think is how my friends settled on Italy, to be honest.
posted by Sara C. at 10:29 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wife and I got married at our Alma Mater's faculty club; the price was really good, especially when we opted for no dance floor (we both don't dance; no one missed the dancing). Our party was basically a tea party brunch. It was catered and was probably the biggest expense, ~$2000, but having the caterer do everything was lovely. Overall, I think we kept everything under $6000. We served pie instead of cake because we both love pie. Brunch is a cheap meal, but can come across as pretty fancy.

Another place we considered was a historical house in a nearby town, run by a women's club, but ultimately we chose the faculty club because they'd worked with the caterer we chose in the past and took care of linens and table settings (included in the fee) whereas with the historical house we'd have had to sort out rentals or use disposable (which was a big NOPE for us).

For a nice photographer, my now-wife looked up the local photography school's recent grads, looked up websites for those folks, we talked to a few of them, and hired the one we liked best. We booked over a year in advance and got an amazing price since she was just starting out. By the time our wedding rolled around she was charging at least double what we paid. Her photos were beautiful and professional and she even set up a kind of photo booth thing during the reception.

For music, we hired my wife's childhood music teacher's trio for a couple of hours.

I've had many friends and relatives say that it was the nicest wedding they'd ever been to--relaxed, low-key, lots of conversation and laughter and pretty much no pressure.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:33 AM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind that your legal marriage and your wedding party don't have to happen at the same time. If you'd like to enjoy the legal/tax benefits of being married, you can have a tiny ceremony (or none at all!) right away, and save the wedding "party" for when it makes sense to do it.

Note that if you do this, it may rub some relatives the wrong way, and they may whine. Some people are weirdly wrapped up in having the wedding and marriage happen at the same time. You can mitigate this by telling them to drop the subject as it isn't their marriage, or if you're the non-confrontational type (me too!) you can just not tell them.
posted by homodachi at 10:45 AM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

We spun our wheels in basically your exact permutation for 18 months, taking turns being the one who was delaying and the one who wasn't too bothered by the delay. How many times did I open 20 browser tabs with different venues and then just give up and go outside?

One day, we had agreed to sit down and do some hardcore research, and rather than do that yet again, we both instantly agreed to get married at the courthouse and have a reception at a nice restaurant with our immediate family.

We have 0 regrets.
posted by radicalawyer at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

*I should clarify that I didn't mean "OMG you need couples counseling!!!", just that counseling might legit help you get through the logjam and a lot of people might THINK it's silly to pursue counseling for "just planning problems", but you would probably learn things that could help you in future stalemates too.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:58 AM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Food is a big expense for that many people. What about:

1) a public venue - in my city, these are relatively inexpensive. In the hundreds of dollars rather than thousands of dollars. If these are largely booked up, start planning for 2018.
2) do a morning wedding with just coffee, mimosas, pastries, cake, cheese/veg platters sort of thing. This will cost much less than hot food at dinnertime.
3) then, in the evening, take your closest out-of-town people out to dinner

Also, if you were willing to do an AM wedding, maybe a nice cafe or bakery could be your alternative venue.
posted by vunder at 11:12 AM on December 13, 2016

How non-negotiable is the "airfare for some of his relatives" part? I can't imagine this taking up less than 15% of your entire budget.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:13 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Because I profoundly hated wedding planning, he agreed to take over. But... he really didn't believe me when I said 'wedding venues book a year+ out' and now we can't access most of the venues for the year we want (2017). Now he's just sort of paralyzed by stress about it, as I try to help out by making lists of possible venues and pricing things out.

The first thing that needs to change is a formalization of your duties. It doesn't have to be in writing or anything, but the two of you need to agree on who is "in charge" of what when it comes to this wedding. One option is for you to be in charge of booking a venue, and then he can take care of all of the details, since the venue really is the big thing.

Going forward, here are some things to think about:

What is putting the $10K cap on the budget? What sacrifices would the two of you need to make in order to make, say, a $15K budget affordable? Can one of you go carless for the year? Can you both take second jobs? Basically, I would price out what a wedding that ticks all of your fiance's boxes would actually cost, and see what it would take to get there, and then have the conversation of what you are/are not willing to do to make it happen. If it's just a question of "$15K seems ridiculous for a wedding"... welcome to the Wedding Racket. This shit costs.

Budget-wise: Why would you two be responsible for paying for the flights of overseas guests? I know it's a nice thing to be able to do, but it's not something that the couple is generally responsible for. I would consider limiting your "travel" budget to siblings and parents only. And even there, you should consider asking your immediate family members who have the means to help out with those who don't (i.e. Mom, Dad, can you help pay for Brother's travel? or Hey Sis, I'm worried that Dad doesn't have the money for a plane ticket, can you split it with me?).

I did some profile snooping, and I have a hint about where you're planning to to this, and I have a feeling that that city might have a busy 2017 summer planned, what with major historical events and the like. If that's true, that could be what is putting a damper on venue availability, and maybe it might make more sense to wait until 2018.

In addition, I think you may be catastrophizing about the weather problem. Yes, freezing rain sucks, and yes, flights get cancelled and all that, but what are the chances of that really happening? Right on the weekend of your wedding? And being so bad that no one can make it at all? Winter weddings are awesome.

Similarly, lots of international guests shouldn't necessarily force you into a Saturday night deal. There's no reason that people couldn't fly out on Sunday afternoon/evening after a Sunday Brunch wedding.

The destination wedding idea is a good one, but what if, instead of going someplace fancy and tropical, the destination was somewhere an hour or two away from your city? Are their any quaint little vacation towns that maybe have a resort that could work? Something on a lake, with a big banquet hall and a few dozen rooms? What about a ski resort that maybe is slow between March and the golfing season really getting going in June?

Good luck! You can do this!
posted by sparklemotion at 11:20 AM on December 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Set your budget first. Once you know how to set and adjust your finances you're a good part of the way there. Then, I would totally recommend hiring a wedding planner. They will work with the budget you set and are generally paid a particular percentage of that budget. They can help you locate venues, caterers, etc. that you would probably never be aware of. They're also really good at coming up with creative solutions and compromises to fit the things you want within your budget. They will be able to help you decide whether to try to go ahead and have the wedding this year or if it would be better to wait until the following year. It is what they do every single day, and they do it well.
posted by goggie at 11:25 AM on December 13, 2016

I've had a couple of friends recently save a lot of money on the wedding cake by doing cake alterantives: donuts, cheesecake, etc.
posted by gatorae at 11:28 AM on December 13, 2016

Basically, I would price out what a wedding that ticks all of your fiance's boxes would actually cost, and see what it would take to get there, and then have the conversation of what you are/are not willing to do to make it happen.

This is a good idea. Also, if you were thinking 2017 and wind up pushing it to 2018, you might be able to save up more money in the mean time.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:35 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

One more thought:

This is hard, and you are coming up against real problems that will involve people's feelings. They will feel better about whatever happens if they know just _how_ hard you are trying to make it work. Don't hide the difficulty while you are planning.

If, for example, your fiancé's Mother's aunt knows that you/he are spending hours trying to find a solution that works, that it's taking you months to figure out how to feed everyone and get everyone in the same place, it will affect how they accept the result. They know that you _care_ and that you aren't making whatever mistakes you make, or don't include expensive entrees, or don't put them up at your own home, or don't allow random +1's, or forget to send them an invitation, out of indifference. They will know that being invited at all represents a big gift of your time and attention, and that you love them as family, even if they end up sitting somewhere drafty.
posted by amtho at 11:35 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to get into him needing to learn to be flexible (he does), but since the delays are happening anyway, it seems like this is a good chance to start putting away money for the less-imminent-than-before wedding costs. An extra year to be mindful about your spending might make 10k (and maybe the 15k-20k it will almost certainly end up costing) less daunting.

Also: one thing I have noticed about a lot of men in our culture is that they balk at spending money on weddings in a way they would never do for, say, a work function. An office party for thirty people, or a board meeting lunch, can easily run 5-10k, but there is no moral judgement attached to those costs, whereas "we can't spend that much on a WEDDINGGGGGG" seems to be a pretty common reaction from future grooms. Does his workplace ever host functions? Does he have an idea of how much they cost? A lot of the sticker shock from modest weddings comes from people who are generally unfamiliar with event planning in general.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:02 PM on December 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

It's not clear to me (and there's no need to share) how much of the budget constraint comes from balking at the high cost of weddings vs what you can afford. You shouldn't spend more than you can afford of course. But if the issue is that you could (responsibly, comfortably) spend more but he feels weird spending that much on a "party", then one way to frame it is that spending more money on wedding stuff often relieves you of stress. It means you don't have to look at as many venues, it means that the place is set up for weddings, it means the vendors can guide you through the process. Again, you don't want to spend more than what you can, but it's ok to spend you relieving your own stress. You guys are worth it.

Something else I found helpful was looking through the "Real Weddings" section of A Practical Wedding, especially the ones in my (higher cost of living) city. All of the ones that were substantially lower budget than our wedding had either:
*significant free help in the form of free venues or family/friends who worked in the wedding/hospitality industry
* significant amounts of DIY (making the meal, making their own flowers, setting up the whole venue themselves etc)
* style tradeoffs that I wasn't willing to make (much smaller guest list, using a food truck, etc)
Most had 2 out of 3 even. It gave me a more realistic view of how much I'd need to spend versus what I'd need to do to have the wedding I wanted. It made me feel a lot better about expanding our budget, because I could say, well, I'm willing to pay $X to avoid doing stuff myself, rather than feeling bad that I was incapable of putting together a Pintrest-worthy wedding all on my own with no vendors.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:34 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nontraditional venues: We started at the last page of reviews for wedding venues on Yelp and worked our way backwards. We were able to find a cheap place that other people hadn't found yet.

Cheap food: You don't need a caterer. We ordered pizza and bought a couple kegs; we provided food and alcohol to ~85 people for under $3k.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 12:50 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I got married in a beautiful state park (redwood groves! sunbeams! a small river!) with 60 people there, on a large picnic ground that we rented for $100. It had tables and benches already, and a couple grills. I nominated 2 friends as grill masters, had everyone bring a dish and a bottle, and we had an awesome potluck BBQ. We rented a small speaker/PA and let a couple people take turns being the DJ. It was super fun! Our parents took us out to a nice dinner the evening before, so they got to meet each other and stuff.

We decorated a pop-up canopy for the actual ceremony, that doubled as a dressing room before the festivities, and I made my dress and the bridesmaid outfits.

We rented a large house for the wedding party (the groomsmen and bridesmaids), that everyone chipped in for, and had a blast hanging the night of the wedding and the next day. The parents and guests stayed in B&Bs or hotels nearby. We had a group brunch at the house the next morning for those who stayed (around 20 people), that 5 people helped cook.

I think we spent around $2500 on everything.

I'm not saying you should do this exactly, I'm just saying that you can do this on the cheap if you get creative :)
posted by ananci at 1:12 PM on December 13, 2016

One thing that helped us keep costs down (to, like, more than your budget for way fewer people with only friends as photographers) was to have our wedding at a restaurant at lunchtime on Saturday. So we had our ceremony and reception location sorted, and all of the food/drink/chairs/tables/servers were on the one bill.

I feel you guys, though. This stuff is incredibly difficult. Following the advice of A Practical Wedding we started with our guestlist (rough number), found places that could accommodate that number for our price, then found dates those venues could do, then looked at local confounders (weather, big events like graduations that would book hotels), then asked our VIPs if they could make our chosen venue date. But we were also pretty flexible with our budget and were offered help by friends and family. So my last bit of advice is that if you know folks who would like to help, let them.
posted by ldthomps at 1:38 PM on December 13, 2016

An office party for thirty people, or a board meeting lunch, can easily run 5-10k, but there is no moral judgement attached to those costs, whereas "we can't spend that much on a WEDDINGGGGGG" seems to be a pretty common reaction from future grooms.

Agreed. For work, I arrange an little event each year with a taco buffet and beers for about 70 people - $2,000.

Which brings me to my second point - wedding planning is complicated, and difficult. It was very complicated and difficult for me, and I already had some years of experience planning events for work.

If you want to go ahead, you need your priorities mutually agreed upon, you need the tasks detailed, and you need an organizational tool with tasks assigned and deadlines for each one. It's the sort of thing a wedding planner can really help with although I was too control-freaky and non-traditional to hire one myself.

For my husband and I, the planning priorities started with 1) a garden or outside setting, and 2) really, really amazing food.

You need to get down a few things to shape the discussion like this. Everybody wants to "celebrate with friends and loved ones", so I wouldn't include something like that. Our garden venue limited the guest list, and the desire for amazing food meant that's where we spent the budget. The planning was hard - no lie. You need to know what you want, and then get those tasks into a spreadsheet with a timeline.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:05 PM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Be very clear with how much of your relatives' expenses you will pay.
Airfare? Hotel? Those will be expenses no matter the venue.
Can you afford this for ten relatives?
for two?
Are you in sync with the priorities of the wedding?
Get that photographer into the budget.
Is it more important for your guests to be part of the ceremony or to be at the reception?
Do you agree on the size of the wedding party?
If it comes down to this venue or more flowers or cheaper food or fewer people--are you both using the same priorities?
posted by calgirl at 2:06 PM on December 13, 2016

My sister looked at licensed cafes. They often have the ability to do evening parties, but are normally closed on Saturday evening (at least here they are). Also renting a room at a pub. Another friend rented out a music venue and brought in food.
posted by kjs4 at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2016

Reading this was like looking back at a mirror to myself one year ago. I don't know if your fiance is like my husband, but my guy is pretty bad at making decisions that require trade-offs. He wanted to figure out a magical way to have the large wedding, on a Saturday evening, during the high wedding season, at a nice venue in the expensive city where we lived, pay for a few folks to come who wouldn't otherwise be able to come, have good fancy food and not feel like we were ungenerous with our family and friends, and all for $8000. And we didn't have time to DIY everything, couldn't afford a wedding planner, didn't have access to free stuff, and didn't want to make our families and friends pitch in a lot (mostly out of town, so ideas like potluck weren't a real option anyway). If I suggested, say, having a Sunday brunch wedding (which would be almost as good for the out-of-town guests, right?), he pushed back about why it wasn't as good or nice and didn't want to make the compromise. Of course it wasn't as perfect as Saturday night! That's why Saturday night weddings are so much more expensive!

Guess what? It wasn't possible. And faced with impossible desires, he (and I) stressed out and delayed making the decision. I felt like I was nagging to get anything decided, and he thought that maybe just maybe if he spent another week researching he would find some cheap alternative venue or plan that no one else had thought of.

We ended up having a smaller (~30 people) wedding for just our families in a park, with one of my best friends officiating, with a really nice dinner reception at a fancy restaurant. Although we decided we had to hold the line at family because it was the only way to get us below about 60 people, we had an informal get-together the day before for local friends who weren't coming to the wedding. We each picked a couple things that were really important to us individually: I wanted a fancy new hat instead of a veil; he wanted to wear a tux; I cared about having excellent food; he really wanted it to be dinner instead of lunch. And then we went on an awesome and long honeymoon in which we visited some of the friends overseas who otherwise would have come to our wedding.

I really envy the people who say they eloped or married and have no regrets. We both are still wistful (eight months later) about the fact that we didn't have the bigger wedding with out of town friends we rarely see because it's expensive to travel across the country or world. But I remind myself it wasn't the right thing for us at the time. We both had stressful lives already -- me working two jobs; him working and also taking classes. I was stressing every time a caterer called to try to sell us more food. Worst of all, most wedding conversations back when we were still trying for the big wedding ended in either an argument or tears. And I also remind myself we can always decide to have a big party some other time. I have a friend who had his big wedding reception a year and a half after he got married.

Anyway, good luck, and congratulations on being engaged! You'll get through this.
posted by alligatorpear at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is an indirect suggestion, but wedding planning was what got my wife and I to go to couples counseling (despite having a totally functional relationship) and it's been *super* helpful and stress-relieving in a year that has been horrendously stressful for both of us. I wouldn't have said that we needed it - and still wouldn't, really - but we've learned a lot and I am grateful we decided to do it.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:21 PM on December 13, 2016

Hi, you’re me…. and my wedding day was perfect in every way, satisfying my IDGAFness, his need to have a significant event and both of our budgets. I see other’s tendency to jump to “wait til he learns to money,” but I can relate – my husband is the duck, everything rolls off his back. He truly understands how to live for today and knows what’s important to him. I’m practical to a fault and a huge wedding/guest list would have been a nightmare to me. You sound similar and it's important to respect each other here. He sounds like an incredible sweetheart, and like him, my guy had lots of opinions and desires but not an ounce of get-it-done. Here’s what we did, to answer your questions:

1.) The “where to compromise” is the guest list. This is so different for every union, but for us it meant each choosing a set number of people and promising that the chosen # had to be enough, no regrets. This meant some aunts got left out while some BFFs got invited, but it ensured the people he felt strongly about celebrating with were included and didn’t pit my giant family against his giant social circle. As far as I know no one hates us for it.
2.) Again, different for every couple but I learned something I now love to share with brides /grooms to be – IF IT’S NOT IMPORTANT TO YOU, DON’T DO IT. Seriously! Just don’t! We had a stuck spot talking about cake, or a hip alternative to cake. We got one quote for a donut cake or something stupid, looked at each other and said wait… we don’t even like dessert. But we wanted the year-anniversary cake bite! Cue some ball jars, a bunch of dollar store confetti cake mix and some handwritten “add an egg/oil” instructions and BAM – take home cake mix that all of our guests could make themselves for our anniversary. It actually meant something to us, and cost next to nothing. This is just an example, but again – you can skip any part that doesn’t feel important to you two.
3.) Part of scaling down for us was my anxiety. But when my wedding day came, and I was surrounded by 25 people who I love trust and feel 100% comfortable around, I was able to weather a LAST MINUTE VENUE CHANGE without blinking an eye. We were all staying at a cabin in Tahoe, planning to just wed on the beach (free) and have dinner there while 5 guests from Reno drove in to join the festivities. Cabin jerks got fussy about ‘extra guests’ and I calmly told them to forget about it. I called the South Tahoe parks dept and paid $50 to get an open container license for a nearby park the night before. Bonus skate park adjacent resulted in the best wedding photos ever.

Which brings me to – definitely get that photographer. I did not and I regret it, truly the only one. We provided guests with flash drives and stamped padded mailers to send us what they’d captured over the weekend, which was lovely, but I wish I had some professional shots.
posted by le_salvo at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2016

The stressful thing about weddings is that they cost a million, zillion dollars. It's a lot of money for something that is essentially frivolous; I freeze up planning anything remotely wedding-related because I feel like I'm flushing my money down the toilet. Thus, I am like you, and would prefer a small, intimate ceremony; but I think a lot of men in particular haven't yet drawn the line from "beautiful wedding in the movies" to "actual wedding that is realistic to have if you are not rich/willing to dump money all over yourselves." It's kind of naively sweet that so many men are romantic about this, but definitely maddening when you've already done the cost/benefit analysis and they won't budge on it.

I say bump the date out another year, so he can get what he actually wants. If you're going to spend money on it, try to spend it on things that will actually make him happy!
posted by stoneandstar at 10:41 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

So armed with all y'alls advice, I talked to him and tried to figure out what was going on.

1. He does want to get married and part of the reason he really wants 2017 is because he wants to maximize our years of marriage. Aw. But if it comes down to it, he's open to a 2018 wedding, but he'd want to use the extra year to save for a cooler wedding. And he knows that next year is a crazy freaking year in our city and is probably making things harder.

2. Part of the reason he's so stressed out is that he got a sick earlier and 'slacked off' (his words) on wedding planning. Now he's going down to see his family and has no date and no plans and he feels like he's running way behind.

3. Part of his balking at prices is that he grew up on a very literal hippy co-op where weddings are a "go to common area, everyone pitches in, some people might even dress up" affair instead of "rent venue, pay for food" affair. (One of our 'afterparties' will likely be going down to the co-op a few months later for one of those very hootenanies, in fact. Unfortunately, we cannot get married in his country without a special visa for me, so just having the wedding down there is not really an option. Alas.) Part of it is that he knows I feel strongly about Saving for Retirement and he didn't want to touch our savings or adjust our retirement rate. We're thinking over feasible options here.

4. Before this talk even happened we had already cut cut cut -- 'budget' venue, cake-n-punch reception, wee tiny clothing budget, already was going to be a lunchtime/afternoon event, no flowers (we don't care), etc. Only tickets bought are going to be for his half-siblings, if they accept it, and his mother, who almost certainly won't accept the money. We also both just got raises, so hopefully that helps.

He's talked about options and we've become a more flexible about some things, including the possibility of 2018 and acknowledging that we will almost certainly run over budget. Given that about 60% of guest list is coming in from over 3000 kilometres away and will need to make at least two connections (from our experience flying down to them), we both think a winter wedding is still a bad idea. About 50% of his wintertime trips down have at least one serious delay and missed connection.

We both feel better after talking this over with the talking point y'all provided.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:48 AM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

You may not be able to get married in his country but you can have a non-legal ceremony there and do a legal ceremony here. Would a destination wedding to his country suit your side?
posted by saucysault at 5:11 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

You may not be able to get married in his country but you can have a non-legal ceremony there and do a legal ceremony here. Would a destination wedding to his country suit your side?

We've been advised by an immigration lawyer to do nothing that could be construed as Getting Married in His Country of Origin. The hootenanny will probably double as a general-purpose wintertime party/thanking the community for helping his family out during his father's final illness.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:26 AM on December 14, 2016

I would absolutely still do a destination wedding in your situation, with that many guests coming from so far away and the weather issue that puts huge limits on when you can get married. I get the immigration complications, but could you get married in, e.g. the country where one of those two connections has to happen? Another nearby country that is popular for destination weddings? Unless immigration laws require you to get legally married in *your country* specifically (and even then, would a warmer and easier part of your country be a possibility?), I don't see any reason why something like Mexico or the Caribbean or Bali or something isn't an option here. Especially if it's Late 2017 on the beach in Cancun vs. Mid 2018 in our home city, and the goal is to be married sooner rather than later.
posted by Sara C. at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2016

We have a venue and a date and will be paying a deposit soon! He handled it (we helped pick out venue shortlists together). HUZZAHHHH.

There was also a Cameron Esposito bit that was entirely too true: "We just kept on looking at each other, hoping the other one would suddenly Be The Wife."
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:20 AM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

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