Let's talk weddings

My gf and I have started casually discussing the idea of getting married. Let’s not turn this into a discussion about marriage vs. non-marriage, but instead let’s focus on specific ways one can save money on the wedding itself.

GF has a huge family and a lot of friends. I’m estimating that the total number of guests will be ~150.

Venue and food seem to be the two largest costs. Are there any good ways to save on these costs specifically? I’m not talking about renting the local VFW hall, or hosting it at a public park. I don’t think either of those suggestions would fly with the gf.

Secondly, what do you think the effects of COVID will be on the wedding industry? Personally I think weddings will become much more expensive over the next couple of years, as there is a huge backlog of couples who are looking at getting married.

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For everything from venue to caterer to flowers, book it as a family reunion or other more casual event. Merely saying it is wedding-related will be your single biggest cost.

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There can be ways of saving on wedding expenses. With covid-19 around & groups coming together…
Big problem.

I’ve always been money conscious from way back in my life. But when marriage was discussed with my parents, my Dad said this… You can have one of two ways to go. We’ll pay for a large wedding for you or we will give you the money & take you to Las Vegas.

I choose to take the money. My parents drove us to Las Vegas & it was wonderful. A beautiful room at one of the famous hotels & a couple days of fun on our own. My Dad then gave us the nice check… :relaxed:

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Based on my experience of 1 wedding, if you want to pay for booze, buy the all inclusive package and not the per drink package.

We made a few mistakes along the way, some of which could have been avoided with better communication, others were just bad luck. But when it came to the booze package, we agonized over it and I analyzed as good as any accountant could and came to the conclusion that the per drink package would save us money over the all inclusive. Even if the venue didn’t screw things up (they screwed them up royally), it still would have been better to get the all inclusive in the end I just didn’t factor in how much people like to drink when the drinks are “free” to them. LOL

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Geez, our wedding was 6.5 years ago now… but as a cheapskate, I will offer you the following advice:

  • Quality over quantity. You are correct, venue and food are the two most expensive. However, these are the two things that we splurged on as we’re foodies and it was really hard to find a good venue in the area we were looking in. My advice here - find a caterer without minimums and keep your guest list small - 150 is a lot of people. We had 50 people with a fully customized menu, and could afford it because our guest list wasn’t in the hundreds. We still get compliments on the food to this day - our entree choices were duck, risotto, and mahi.
  • We did not do a cake, instead going for a scratch-made sundae bar that the caterer put together. This saved us some dough.
  • Skip the liquor, which drives up the cost, and go with an all-inclusive beer/wine package. Nobody is going to complain about free alcohol because you don’t happen to have hard liquor.
  • Saturdays will always be the most expensive. Fridays and Sundays will often be cheaper, although as you allude to, the backlog of weddings might increase demand for these days.
  • DJ was the easiest thing we saved money on. We got close to 50% off the asking price just by asking and pleading poverty. The guy was perfectly fine and played what we wanted him to play.
  • You can save money on flowers if you make things like centerpieces, etc by hand. These don’t have to be floral arrangements.

Also, word of advice - don’t skimp on the photographer. After hearing enough horror stories from friends, we got one we felt good about and the pictures were great. We actually didn’t end up spending a lot of money here, either.

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Great advice.

I’ll also add:

  • Don’t bother paying for lighting. Anything affordable will go essentially unnoticed. If you look at wedding venue photos and think the lighting looks nice, it probably cost 5 grand or more. Insane. We went with the cheap colored LED pot lights that the venue said they could supply and would save us a ton vs. having a lighting company come in. Yeah it saved us, but the color was pretty much non-existent in person and in photos. I guess if your venue is just a room with nothing but white drywall, cheap lighting might help. But that’s not most venues.

  • Sign up for stuff you will actually use for your wedding registry. Throw a few expensive things on there even if you don’t think anyone will get them for you. Some people are just generous. My wife put a nice Nespresso machine on thinking we’d never get it. Someone got it for us and she has used it every day since the day we unpacked it. Also wish we would have put a nice vacuum on there. We got a nice vacuum from a generous aunt, but it wasn’t the one we would have picked at that price point, but of course we couldn’t return it because it was very nice. If you sign up for China, be prepared to shell out the money to complete the set when only half of it gets purchased for you.

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Hah, I didn’t even know this was a thing! We paid some cheap amount for colored DJ lighting but our venue was on a historical piece of land (Samuel FB Morse’s estate) and the non-profit running it purpose-built a large event space as a way to earn revenue, so it came with a kitchen, dance floor, etc. The lighting was fine, and we didn’t even think of needing this.

Which reminds me - venues often include things like rentals, so it is really important to include these freebies things when comparing. For instance, our venue included tables and chairs. We still had to shell out for dining rentals, silverware, etc. Another piece of advice there - nobody in their right mind will remember your place settings or the coffee urn you picked the day after the event. Find the cheapest, reliable event rentals place you can and get the base stuff. Some brides get really picky here, select very expensive, super-matchy dinnerware, and at the end of the day, nobody cares.

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Also good advice. And on that end, depending on how much time you have, think about this. Anything you have to rent, look it up and figure out how much it costs to buy. Then figure out how much you could get selling it used (if you think you can sell it). The rental cost of some stuff is actually really close to the purchase price sometimes. And if you have the time and patience to sell it to the next couple that’s even cheaper than you, you could end up spending less in the long run than renting.

I’d like to make my statement clear. My family & me agree on the beauty & memories of weddings.

My sister, 2 years younger, choose the beautiful church wedding with all the trimmings. Now she has the memories & photos to cherish.

There have been some really good money saving ideas posted here.

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We also did not do a traditional cake – they’re pretty, but ridiculously expensive and 99% of them taste like cardboard (I hate sponge cake). Instead we got a whole bunch of amazing sheet cake from one of our favorite bakeries and just had the caterer cut & serve.

While the rest of your advice is spot-on, I strongly disagree with this one. Unless all the guests are a bunch of prudes, open bar is the way to go. In the grand scheme of things it is not that expensive, and more fun will be had by all :smile: :dizzy_face:.

Or skip the registry entirely and unofficially / covertly inform your guests to just bring themselves, and if they insist on a gift that cash will be appreciated. It may be considered crass in some places but it’s standard practice in others. The idea of buying gifts is wasteful / inefficient, especially for an older or better financially established couple.

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Agree with sullim, consider not skimping on the two most expensive items. We splurged on the venue and food, but said no to basically everything that was brought up that we said “I didn’t even think about that” to. The craziest thing I remember was whether we wanted to spend like $300 on “designer” disposable napkins. It seems small, but if you actually cut out those small things, it’s a lot better than cutting out alcohol in exchange for designer napkins.

We had a photographer. I’ve never looked at the pictures after they were sent to us initially. Personally, that’s the one thing going back that I would’ve cut out. For some though, this is very important. Just for my wife and I, or our families, it wasn’t. We got one because we were told we “had to.”

In full disclosure, we did opt for a signature cocktail (a mojito) in addition to the beer and wine. We are both wine snobs and so were really picky with what we served guests.

TBH, the open bar was only a few bucks extra, but we preferred spending the money on better wine. We’re definitely the exception to the rule though!

The style of wedding / celebration seems like such a family / religion / ethnic / part of the country sort of thing that it is hard to comment on how to save money without deciding on the specifics - and then getting the money saving advice for that type of wedding.

Examples of what I’m thinking: Shoulder season / peak season, indoor / outdoor, beer+wine vs everything vs top-shelf everything, BBQ or fajitas vs. fois gras and prime filet + lobster, Bud-light vs. Moët & Chandon, dancing (zero vs. constantly), etc.

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I still believe a good registry is better than just asking for money (no boxed gifts). I have a few reasons for this:

  1. I think people are sometimes more at ease to buy a nice gift that cost more than giving the equivalent in money. This means you should have some nice items on your registry.
  2. Most registries have very generous return policies so you don’t lose the value of the item if you don’t like it/return it.
  3. Especially if you are doing okay financially, getting monetary gifts seems tacky.

On the wedding itself, you just have to accept the cost is not a good financial decision. Once you get past that and accept it as a very expensive party for memories, it may be easier to setup. Sure, you can save money in many areas as mentioned, but I do see a trend here in some of the feedback.

  1. Make sure the food/drink/dessert are really good. Even fancy bakeries do the sheet cake plan for what you actually serve to guests all the time. I find the do it yourself dessert tables are not very equitable and mostly done just for the social media pictures. While caterers are very professional and get the job done as they have done it many times, you might find it more interesting to pick a favorite restaurant and do something different.
  2. I think as we pass this pandemic, it will be even more attractive to not do a June or Saturday wedding. It seems strange, but these few days are still how many plan.

And I believe it’s tacky to ask for gifts, especially if you are doing okay financially. If you want/need something, why not get it yourself? Don’t go through the trouble of making a list and then telling your friends and relatives “here’s what you can get for me if you don’t want to feel any negative emotions you may have associated with gifting cash or coming empty-handed”.

The whole thing was probably created by retail marketing people to increase sales. They’re also the ones who continue to perpetuate the idea that cash is tacky. The whole gift card industry is based on this silly notion (and its only redeeming factor is that many GCs can be acquired at a discount).

Though to be completely honest I don’t feel the same way about a baby registry for new parents, which is just an extension of a wedding registry from my “silly marketing” standpoint. New parents might not know what they need/want or already have some things, and the related events (like a baby shower) may be organized by their friends, so it makes sense to coordinate purchases and avoid unnecessary duplicates by using a registry. Cash is great too, but a purchased gift is also a gift of time, which new parents may need more than money.

This is true, but it’s also wasteful. There is one good thing we haven’t mention yet – wedding registry completion discount. An extra discount for the registrants to buy things that others didn’t.

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Put yourself in the shoes of a wedding guest. It’s custom in the west to give the couple a gift regardless of their means. If I am a guest, and a couple tells me “no gifts”, it puts me in a weird situation. Some will honor the request, while others will just give them a gift anyway. It’s like the wife that asks for “no gifts” for Valentine’s Day, but expects a gift and gets you one too… so to cover your behind, you end up getting a gift just in case. In the case of a wedding, you usually know either the bride or the groom, and in many cases, particularly if they are family, you haven’t seen that person in quite some time. That’s often not enough data to judge how they might react to gift/no gift.

I view the gift as the “price of admission” so to speak, to show my appreciation as a guest for the invitation, the meal, and the party they are putting on. The registry helps me to pick something I know they will want.

To your point – why buy them something off their registry? Because many folks put things on there that they’d never buy themselves, but would still get a lot of enjoyment out of. For instance, I’d never buy a $70 ice cream maker myself, but we use the one we got from our wedding multiple times every summer.

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I’ve never bought anything off a registry and always brought cash (new, crisp bills of the largest denominations) in an envelope with a nice card and a thought-out hand-written congratulatory note (not just signed my name next to the pre-printed message like some people).

There are ways to hint at not wanting “traditional” purchased gifts, but cash is acceptable. Many wedding related websites provide suggestions and examples.

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One way to limit the number of guests, without the rudeness of omitting them from the invitation list, is to have your wedding out of town/state/country, with less than 3 month’s notice.

Also, I think a sure-fire way to limit the number of guests is to hold the ceremony and reception at a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ church. In fact, include a copy of the Watchtower with your invitation.

At my last wedding, as a way to dissuade gifts, we asked attending guests to donate to “The Human Fund”. Although we didn’t expect many guests to attend, as it was out of the country, a surprising number showed up. We also have a nice picture surrounded by dozens of cards saying “In lieu of a wedding gift, a generous donation has been made in your name to The Human Fund”.

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My friend that was extremely traditional and I would have always assumed would get married in a church and have a traditional reception with 50-75 guests instead got married on the beach in Mexico with about a dozen attendees (mostly the wedding party). Sadly, I had a job at the time which made it difficult to travel so I missed it, and I was cheap. Looking back, I wish I would have tried harder to go. It would have been a great time and that money seems like peanuts now.

Then a few years later, I got married and did the traditional church/reception/100ish guests. Man did I wish I had done the Mexico thing with a dozen or so people. Skipping the big expensive party was way smarter. But I really only understood that after the wedding was over. Oh well. My wife would have never gone for it anyway.