WEDDINGS: A memorable wedding doesn’t have to break the bank

 

An outdoor wedding provides for more beautiful scenery, nicer wedding photos and a more relaxed, casual atmosphere overall. (Photograph courtesy of Chris Sheridan and Lauren Achey)

Love may be free, but the price of sealing that love with wedding vows frequently is not.

Even a modest wedding, followed by an equally modest reception, can run into the thousands — or even tens of thousands — of dollars. The last thing most young couples need is to start their married lives deeply in debt.

Though tradition calls for the parents of the bride and groom to foot much of the nuptial bills, too often that’s not an option. But a lack of funding is no reason to have anything less than a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime wedding.

According to Elizabeth Allen, who works for a Grand Rapids-based wedding planning service, the quality of a wedding need not be necessarily tied to how much money is being spent.

“I lost track of how many weddings I worked last summer,” Allen said. “Some of them were high-end in the Ambassador Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza and others were in renovated barns with pigs, chickens and horse-drawn hayrides to the reception barn.”

Allen recalls one of her favorite weddings was one in which she was a guest, rather than a consultant. It was held in the Upper Peninsula and was what Allen calls a “destination wedding.” Only a few guests were invited to the actual wedding and bridal party; mostly close family members.

This saved the bridal couple a great deal of money in itself, but other guests still had a chance to join in the couple’s celebration at a large party held later.

“The rest of us who wanted to wish our congratulations to the bride and groom were invited to a reception, which was held in the lodge at Douglas Walker Park in Byron Center,” Allen explained. “The family pitched in and made soups, barbecues, salads and they even had chocolate fountain, which is all the rage these days.”

“The hall was decorated with wild flowers — no cost there — and stuffed in rummage sale antique jars and dishes — can’t get cheaper than that. It was quite lovely. It helps that my friend is very artistic. She also decorated with old windows, vases and potted herbs. You’d have to see it to believe it. It was beautiful.”

One of the largest reception expenses is the food; catering, particularly for a large reception, can be ridiculously costly. Alternative ways exist, however. Many families have at least one “auntie” or “grandmother” who can cook up a storm, even for large groups. Allen notes, however, relying on a single person to provide food for a large group can be a huge strain for the cook.

A better idea, she says, is to spread out the cooking chores over many family members, assuming they are willing and — perhaps most importantly — able to produce edible food. Potluck wedding receptions can also be a viable alternative to catering.

“I have Amish and Mennonite family members who cook very well,” Allen said. “Many of them will have a church wedding and the family members will bring a generous dish to pass. It works for them. The problem with Aunt Martha doing the cooking is that it is a lot of work for one person and the cost is not as cheap as you’d think.”

For evidence of this, Allen cites the recent wedding of her own brother and sister-in-law, who tried the do-it-yourself approach to food preparation for the reception. After paying for the food and renting all the things a caterer would have provided — plates, silverware, tablecloths, serving dishes and so on — it would have been less expensive to simply pay the caterer $20 per person and be done with it.

“They still had to buy the food and find people to prepare it since they were too busy being part of the wedding party,” Allen said.

“They did not have time to do any the cooking or serving of the food. Having family members or friends do the cooking only works if you have a lot of them that can — and are willing to — help.”

Though tradition calls for the parents of the bride and groom to foot much of the nuptial bills, too often that’s not an option. But a lack of funding is no reason to have anything less than a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime wedding.

Other tips for keeping costs down

According to the online wedding advice website sheknows.com, one of the best ways of keeping your wedding costs reasonable is to cut the guest list to “essential personnel only.” The site suggests inviting only close family members to the ceremony and dinner, then host a larger party later for everybody else. The savings can be enormous.

Another big “money sucker” is hall rental. Holding both the wedding and reception outdoors can save hundreds of dollars. Also, depending on the venue and/or location, an outdoor wedding provides for more beautiful scenery, nicer wedding photos and a more relaxed, casual atmosphere overall.

Smaller receptions may be held in a pavilion at a local park or even beneath a rented tent or canopy (though the rental costs can run as high as a hall rental). According to Allen, the expense depends, again, on the number of guests invited.
Be sure to make sure the reception venue will accept alcohol on the premises. Your home or renter’s insurance can be used to cover the liability issues that serving alcohol may cause.

Music for your reception is also another expense that should be considered. A live band can run anywhere from $500 to well over $2,000, depending on what sort of music you’re looking for. Also, when it comes to live bands, you definitely tend to get what you pay for. This is your wedding; don’t settle for your cousin Al’s garage band, even if they are willing to play for $200 and all the beer they can drink.Shop around for your band, ask for references and try to make it to one of the band’s other engagements and actually hear them before putting down your deposit. A professional band will be more than happy to work with you on special requests, events at the reception and so on.

A cheaper way to go is to hire a DJ. Though typically less exciting than a live band, a DJ has the option of playing at very low volume levels, which, depending on the venue, can keep your wedding guests around later into the evening. Remember, it’s likely your guests will be made up of friends and relatives of all ages. Find a DJ that understands the nuances of playing a wedding and is willing to give you exactly what you want.

As far as Allen’s No. 1 means of saving money on your wedding?

“That’s easy,” she said. “My one word answer is ‘elope!’”

If that’s not an option, however, she added, a good bet is to have a long engagement, during which reservations and plans may be made well in advance of the wedding. Trying to do any part of the wedding plan on a last-minute basis is going to drive the costs up exponentially.

“A long engagement gives you the chance to shop around for what you want and look for the best deals,” Allen said. “Honestly, I think people overdo it these days. I get it for the young and in love couples who are getting married for the first time, but they need to remember that the people who love them will love them no matter where or how if they decide to get married.”

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