Hey you. I see you. You’re so excited to start planning the day you’ve dreamed about for what seems like forever, chalk full of fairy tale visions and modern day Cinderella tastes; yet unprepared or simply unfazed by the challenge of not not only bringing your fantasy to life, but more importantly, being able to afford it. While some of you may be fortunate enough to have parents with the financial stability to handle all of your wedding expenses, regardless of price, the reality is, you’ll be forking over a lot of your hard earned cash (or credit) to make this happen. A few quick calls to your first locations or vendors of choice, and you realize you may have Harvard expectations on a Community College budget. What do you do now?
Don’t panic. First of all, it’s human nature. The primary principle of sales is that most people buy what they WANT, not what they NEED. So any salesman, aka, location or vendor, WANTS to give you what YOU WANT. Yes they want it at their price, but that price is more often than not negotiable. Depending on any number of factors, sometimes more negotiable than others. So, in no particular order, here are my suggestions for planning your dream wedding on a reality budget.
Make a list.
Which aspects of your dream wedding are MOST important? Before you do anything else, decide on this. Is it the location(s)? Is it to have ALL of your family and friends there? Is it to have the most amazing wedding video or film ever created, so you can relive the moment again and again? Is it to have an In and Out cater your dinner. (Okay, that most likely would only be the case for a Los Angeles wedding, but hey, I’ve filmed two weddings where they did just that, bringing the mobile In and Out onsite. Yeah, it was pretty awesome.) Like everything in life, you must prioritize, that way when push comes to shove, you’ll be able to make the tough decisions that will inevitably come up as you balance your budget along the way.
Decide WHEN you would like to have your wedding, and then scrap it!*
I can’t speak for all vendors, but I know by and large, discounts can be found if you are willing to be as flexible with your date, as you hope they’ll be on price; particularly with locations, but also with DJs, photographers and videographers. In east coast and mid west cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and more, winter wedding are much less common, while summer dates fill up fast. In California cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, and really most western states/cities, weddings happen year round. In fact, a common trend I’ve noticed is that weddings during the heat of summer in Los Angeles have decreased, while April, May, September, and October have become prime months for a lot of couples. So while you used to pay a premium for summer dates, it can possibly be advantageous price-wise to battle the summer heat. At least ask.
NOW, how does this information help you? Well, since location is generally the first choice for engaged couples to decide on, and if it’s high on your priority list, you A) Need to book AS EARLY as possible, and B) Pick a date that will garner you the best value in price.
In Los Angeles, while weddings occur year round, there are still prime times. Here are a few tips to saving money when selecting your wedding date- which will vary depending on your location.
1- How many people are you inviting and where are they coming from? Is this a vacation for them? If so, Have your wedding during the week! Friday weddings are becoming a more common occurrence, but even Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday weddings happen all the time! Well, maybe not all the time, but they happen; and they are just about ALWAYS on a significant discount. Who knows, maybe this decision eliminates some people from your invite list; maybe doing you a favor? (I didn’t say that.)
2- What time of day do you want your wedding? Morning weddings are less common and can often be discounted, as they allow venues to have a second event at night. This is a nice option for conservative families that won’t have an open bar or alcohol, and fosters a brunch style feeling. A morning wedding in Los Angeles during the summer also lends itself to an outdoor ceremony (before it gets super hot), followed by an indoor reception, protected by the wonder of air conditioning.
3- If you are having a small wedding with close friends and family, and they are mostly local, scheduling your wedding around a holiday can save major cash. While some vendors may not be available, or may even charge more, there are others who will offer discounts, simply because they have a different cultural background, or perhaps share different beliefs that make it just another day to them. I know of wedding before and after Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving. While some people are shopping on Black Friday to save money, you could get married! 😉
(The first week of May in the Presidio, San Francisco)
Now, other ways to save money…
Vendors, especially a wedding photographer, videographer, or DJ, thrive on reviews, so if they think you’ll be someone to shout their greatness to the rooftops after working together, because of course you are only going to hire the best of the best, they may be willing to drop their prices for you. A great way to bring this up without ASKING for a discount, is to mention that’s how you found them. Just say that you are a big yelper, so that’s how you researched vendors; if a friend referred them, just add that, being the huge yelper you are, you checked them out to back up that friend’s claim. Appreciation is a HUGE factor for everyone in life, regardless of occupation, so wedding vendors being no different, will love you that much more having the belief that the extra effort they put in on your behalf won’t go unnoticed. If not in a huge discount (there will definitely be more wiggle room if you’ve conveyed this properly), you will definitely get more bang for your buck. I can’t stress enough how respect and appreciation will always be rewarded with much more than you’d ever expect. (Again, for your wedding AND in life).
The above also holds true for wedding sites like the knot, weddingwire, and more, but Yelp is mainstream and becoming more and more popular among wedding vendors.
Do it yourself!
Now, doing everything yourself is simply not a good idea or possible. The stress would turn your dream day into a nightmare. That said, there are some thing you can and SHOULD do. A great wedding planner will always be a huge asset in helping you through the process, and they may even be able to tell you what the best things you can do to avoid having to pay someone else for. Just in weddings I’ve covered, I’ve seen amazing 3D Couple’s Initials with lights outlining it as wedding table, seashell picture decorations for gift and sign in tables, personalized center pieces made of pictures, abstract art, or anything else you can think of. Flowers are nice, but there are surefire ways to are money there too. Bottom line, anything you can do yourself, do it, and allocate the saved money to areas that will require it.
Find vendors that WORK TOGETHER.
If you have a dream photographer or dream videographer, ask them who they recommend. Often times you’ll find places that do both. That can save you money simply because vendors are more willing to negotiate price based on two things, the level of package you’re getting, and the ease of which your wedding will be to “work.” I quote the word work because while we are being hired to do a job, it doesn’t usually feel like “work.” Hot sunny days in summer, yeah, it can feel like work; but it’s more of a joy than laborious to spend the day with a couple celebrating love; so capitalize on that! A few personal ideas on this note…
Perhaps video or photos are more important to you. Well, screencaps can always be pulled from the video. Disposable cameras can always be placed on tables for candids. Your bridal party can use their phones for bridal prep. I’d actually suggest hiring a photographer for the wedding ceremony through the grand entrance into the first dance. Take “formal” pictures after the ceremony, which is where a professional photographer is extremely important in not just coordinating the shots, but getting everyone aligned, kids smiling and eyes open, with the right light and exposure for a nice family keepsake. The ceremony, grand entrance, and first dance (and maybe the toasts) are also the prime moments you may prefer to have a professional capture, in order to preserve them in the best way possible. Quite honesty though, technology has evolved to the point where I think it’s also time to reassess the value/cost of what is paid for services.
Photos are photos. At the end of the day, in thirty years from now, are you going to look back any differently on a photo of you cutting your cake that you paid thousands of dollars for any differently than you look at the one Grandma Gladys took? Photos are more about capturing singular moments in time, so that our brains can have a visual reminder, to take us back to that place, should we ever forget. You can help your budget a great deal by negotiating with photographers and videographers on optimal times for covering your day. And remember the DO IT YOURSELF tip. With online sites and apps, you can create your own wedding albums and books combining all of your favorite photos from your friends, family, AND the professional. So you can ask for nothing but the proofs from your photographer, cutting out all print production costs, and album costs, which are often extremely high.
Full disclosure, I, being a Videographer based on Los Angeles, have a very particular perspective on the aforementioned suggestions. Video can be supplemented with friend footage as well, but editing them together isn’t really as do it yourself friendly as creating a photo album is, and you can’t turn still pictures into video, the way you can turn video into still pictures. Video also adds live audio, which brings the ability to truly re experience the moments from your big day all over again. I say this just to illustrate the value in professional video over professional photos (knowing full well they are BOTH important, but that photography is often higher on the priority list, despite being more replaceable/supplementable in a cost/value effect way.
DJs can even be replaced by a family member or friend with an iPhone and DJ app. I don’t necessarily recommend this, and if my Photographer and DJ friends read this, I may get some angry text messages but it’s true, and I’ve seen it done. Having a Master of Ceremonies is very important though, especially if you don’t have a wedding planner, so a DJ/MC combo is always a great idea- BUT, if your priorities are elsewhere, this is an area money can be saved. If having a wedding day that goes smoothly and on schedule is a priority, having an MC will be one as well, and/or coordinator.
There are countless other way to save money while planning the wedding of your dreams, but there are no shortcuts. You will have to put time and energy into it, so be prepared. I’m sure this is just one of MANY stops on your google hunt for ideas of how to pull it off. I have no doubt you will, and I’ll make sure to update this post as more ideas come to me, and try to be less long winded in the process.
As with anything, feel free to contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m happy to help push you in the right direction on any of your wedding related questions. If you happen to be looking for a wedding videographer in Los Angeles, even better! 😉
Good luck. I’m sure your dream wedding can happen on your reality budget, if you put in real time and effort.