Last week I shared some tips on Overall Wedding Savings, to help when getting started in planning your big event.  Once you have a clear idea of your budget and savings plans, the biggest piece of advice I gave is to have a prioritized, itemized list of expenses.  

Most likely, the items at the top of your list are a venue, food and drink.  This will also wind up being the majority of the cash you spend.  Try to keep all three to around 65% of your budget and you'll have a good amount of wiggle room for everything else.  

Location, Location, Location... 

Whether you're dreaming of a formal princess-worthy affair, a chic city-girl soiree or a laid back beachy celebration, the venue will help you define your theme.  

A garden ceremony means very little needs to be done for decor!

Think Outside the Wedding Hall Box
Country clubs, fancy restaurants, museums or vineyards are great but can be pricey.  Consider locations that are a little off the beaten path: a bed and breakfast in a small nearby town, a beautiful campus hall, a friend or relative's yard, or a public park or beach (you still need permits).  Another one of my favorite ideas is to rent a big house and use it for the venue, after party, prep space, bridal party accommodations and/or honeymoon locale.  However...

Sometimes "Cheaper"... well ... Isn't.
When you start looking at spaces, remember that you're not just looking for a roof and walls.  YES, a garden or a theater or a funky old warehouse may SEEM like a bargain, but does it include everything you actually need?  If you wind up needing to rent chairs, tables, linens, running water, a generator for power, lighting, bathroom facilities (definitely important) (etc.), that cheap venue will turn in a giant price tag.  Look for a venue that includes at least SOME of what you need.  Places that host events on a regular basis will be prepared with at least the basics.  

Consolidate Sites
Consider venues that allow you to have your ceremony and reception in the same place.  Not only does it prevent two rental fees, but it's easier for guests AND allows you to move your ceremony decor into the reception easily.  

Pretty Pretty, Please
Many wedding sites are blank slates.  This allows you to bring in any sort of theme or design details that your little heart desires.  On the other hand, a more charactered locale might cut back on some of your overall decor costs. 

My husband and I got married in a fantastic historic Parisian inspired mansion.  The site fee was slightly more than what we might have paid at other locations, but because the mansion was so ornate and the grounds so lovely, we didn't have to worry about adding decorations or flowers to every square inch.  Frankly, we could've walked in there with nothing and it still would have looked fantastic.  


Feed Me, Seymore


Beyond Dinner
Though a dinner is traditional, it's not the only way to go.   Dessert and champagne weddings are super chic.  (Think late night, cocktail dresses and suits, rooftop venue, live music...)  A daytime wedding with a brunch reception would be so elegant and also cut costs on venue.  Quiche, fruit, salmon, salads and mimosas exude class and can be cheaper.  A mid afternoon wedding with passed hors d'oeuvres and wine is another posh-without-the-price-tag option.  Plus, you have more time in the evening to go with a few special someones (parents, bridal party) or just your honey for a lovely dinner.  

Laid Back Vibe
If you have a venue without caterer restrictions, your options are endless.  In addition to being able to shop around for the best prices from caterers, you can also take things into your own hands.  Potlucks are informal but also intimate.  Make it special by asking family members to cook a specialty and include a little card in front of each dish about who made it.  Or have a local restaurant make the main dish and then just provide the sides. (Just remember that if you're providing the food in any way, you have to take into consideration ways to keep it warm or chilled)

The Play at the Plate
If you have your heart set on having a catered dinner, keep in mind that plated is often cheaper than buffet.  Chefs have to prepare a larger quantity of each dish to allot for seconds and larger portions when creating a buffet.  The trade off  is that buffets MAY save money due to fewer wait staff needed.  It's good to check both and keep an open mind.  

Honesty is the Best Policy
Be honest with your vendors about your tight budget.  This worked for me, but I realize it may not be for everyone.  My venue had a list of preferred caterers.  I wrote a very honest email stating that my fiance and I were funding the wedding ourselves, we didn't have a lot of money and we were wondering if any of them could work with us.  I then sent it to each person on he vendor list.  Most of them sent a general reply back ("We work hard to keep our prices low! Blah blah blah...") but one of them did respond personally.  He said he appreciated my candor and they would see what they could do.  They worked with me on budget and food options and even threw in some extras for free because they liked me (Chivari chairs, linens).  

Let Them Eat (Sheet) Cake 
Wedding cakes are stupidly expensive.  Instead of paying big bucks for a tiered treat that's more pretty than practical, have a small cake made for you and your spouse to cut and keep a sheet cake in the kitchen to be cut and served to guests (cakes from the grocery store or Costco can be excellent).  No one will be any the wiser.  If you still want the grandeur of a traditional wedding cake, ask your bakery to create a cake with two fake icing covered layers at the bottom and a real top layer for cutting.  

Just Desserts 
Cake one of your low priorities?  (It was for me.) Use other desserts to pacify the collective sweet tooth.  A table filled with family baked cookies and shots of milk; a sundae bar; a plethora of pies, mini or otherwise; a guilty pleasures theme with rice crispy treats, donuts, brownies... there are so many amazing ideas out there that are not only cheaper but far more memorable and unique than cake.  

wedding cake alternative, pie, tart, dessert, ceremony
Who says there has to be cake?  A pretty dessert can also double as a centerpiece and encourage mingling as guests start sampling.

Bottoms Up 

Set Some Limits 
Most people would prefer to have an open bar.  Most people would also prefer to be marrying Ryan Reynolds, but this world ain't perfect.  An open bar gets expensive quickly.  It's not just the bottles of alcohol, but all of the mixers, glassware, garnishes...  And, by the end, when some bottles only have had a drink or two made with them, it winds up being a bit of a waste.  Instead try...

Wine, Beer & a Signature Drink 
Tap a keg, buy several cases of red and white wine and find a signature drink that you can name something cute.  Limit your alcohol to these and the necessary ingredients will garner serious savings and still seem chic.  

Presentation is Everything 
I am completely unashamed to say that, among other things, I served some Charles Shaw wine at my wedding (purchased for $2 a bottle at Trader Joes.  Also known as 2 Buck Chuck or 2 Dolla Holla).  Wine snobs may turn up their noses at the idea, but the California based company has won multiple prestigious awards, and I like their wine (their Merlot, in particular).  As we didn't really want to advertise the ridiculously low price tag, we asked our caterer to serve the wine in decanters.  The decanters looked elegant, and didn't cost us any extra.  And, believe it or not, we got so many compliments on our wines, even from some of our...ahem...pickier friends and family.  

 Return the Unused Portion
Part of having any kind of party is having more than enough food and drink.  It's annoying, but a necessity.  With alcohol, you can return unopened bottles of wine and recoup some of that cost (and opened bottles can just get added to your home bar).  

Also, make sure that your waiters know you want them to finish pouring empty bottles before opening a new one.  Some wait staff are trained to open new bottles when the open ones reach about 1/4 full (to keep the wine looking fresh). 

Champagne Doppelgangers
If you'd like to have something bubbly to toast with, there are a few alternatives that are much easier on the wallet than champagne.  California sparkling wine, Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco are the closest relatives of the French region's fancy-pants libation.  If you're okay with something a little sweeter, Asti and Moscato d' Asti are the way to go.  And speaking of the toast... 

Toast with What Ya' Got 
Not everyone drinks champagne.  Not everyone drinks.  Have champagne (or whatever sparkling wine you choose) available for those that want it, but don't feel the need to pass out glasses of the stuff pre-toast.  People can toast with their wine, cocktail, Diet Coke (looking at you, mom and dad) or juice box, and you won't waste glasses on people who would only take a sip anyway. 

Some Helpful Links: 

Unique Wedding Venue Ideas
What to Ask About Potential Wedding Venues
What to Ask Potential Caterers
150 Best $15 and Under Wines
7 Creative Signature Cocktails 
Cheap Cocktails 
10 Money Saving Appetizers

Whew. That about does it for this week.  
Check in next week for more money saving tips in the Budget Savvy Bride Part 3:  Decor & Paper Goods! 

Weddings are big business.  According to, the cost of the average wedding last year was $32,641.  And that's an average. That means that while, yes, some people are spending significantly less, another [crazy] portion are spending significantly more.

Why so high?

Thanks to movies, magazines, tv and the internet, we've all grown up with this idea of a huge, sparkling, fairy-tale day complete with dancing, candlelight, an abundance of flowers and a dress that makes us feel like a glittery cupcake.  And there's nothing inherently wrong with that.  But the truth of the matter is that it's a cornered market.  It's a once in a lifetime event that companies know you're not going to want to skimp on, so the rates for all of the pieces go sky high. (Sadly, this is also true of funerals, but that's another rant for a different day.  Also, there tends to be less dancing there.)

For those who are budget conscious (read: strapped for cash), those wedding costs are no where near acceptable.

I'm currently in the process of planning another budget wedding, and as I sift through notes and ideas, I thought I'd pass some tips on to the rest of the Do-Not-Pass-Go crowd.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll outline some of my best ideas for ways to save while still turning out a spectacular event.

So, without further ado...

Money Talks...

Create a Savings Plan
This kind of goes hand in hand with setting a budget.  These both may seem obvious, but in the excitement of All Things Wedding, they both often get overlooked til later in the process.  If you do that, you may find yourself having to make some major changes to plans you already had in the works.  So to start...

How much do you already have in your savings that you're willing to put toward your big day?  What changes can you make to your current lifestyle to increase that number?  Are you planning to add to that savings with odd jobs or yard sales (etc)?

A year before our wedding, we made some major decisions on how much we would spend for bills, how much we would spend on going out (trust me, that's still important), and how much we would be putting away for our wedding.  I also took on a few small jobs in addition to my full time one to increase our savings.  And that leads into...

Set a budget
Much like losing weight, having a very specific number in mind when you start planning makes meeting your goal much more attainable.  You know how much you have and/or will have in your account - so how much can you realistically afford?  What is the max you can pull out of your savings and still feel comfortable?  What is the max you can put on a credit card without putting yourself in a tough position later on?

Once you have this number, stick to it.  Revisit it on a regular basis and match it against all of the decisions you're making and going to make.  Make sure all of the key players (financiers) are on the same page.

Making a List; Prioritizin' It Twice
Okay, it's not as fun as trying on dresses or crafting something but the single best thing you can do for yourself (after setting a budget), starts by creating an itemized list of all of the expenses associated with a wedding.  Include everything - from the invites to the DJ to the place cards to the cake - and then, spend some real time prioritizingWhat are you willing to scale back on?  What can you nix completely?  Be brutal.  The costs add up quickly.

For our wedding, the limo, live music and other assorted things like aisle makers, a runner and tschotchke favors were among the items axed.  On the other hand, the location and food were very important to us, so we allotted more money to those categories. 

Plan to DIY... In Moderation 
Pinterest is a B****.  Don't get me wrong - I love it.  But when it comes to planning anything, it has the magical ability to make you feel like you A) Must create a Martha Stewart worthy affair and B) Should be capable of doing it all yourself.  Do Not Get Sucked Into This Trap.

Your wedding does not need to have every little detail ever thought of incorporated into it.  The wedding is about you and your honey and celebrating a beautiful promise of a life together.  Do not overbook your time, resources or sanity.

That said, doing some things yourself can be a great way to save money.  I saved a ton of money by doing my flowers, programs, invitations and favors myself.  But more on that later...

wedding venue money saving  site fee
We were able to save over 75% on our site fee by having our wedding on a Thursday night before a holiday weekend.  That means we got THIS gorgeous venue for far cheaper than smaller, more run of the mill venues!

Out of the Box 

Saturday's are Over-Rated Priced
Have your wedding on a weekday or a Sunday night.  Generally, the price structure from most expensive to least goes: Saturday night, Saturday afternoon, Friday night, Sunday Afternoon, Weekday.  If you can have your wedding mid-week it will drop your price significantly (it also may cut down on the available guests, which will cut down on your costs as well...) 

Gift It
Consider registering for some parts of your wedding.  There are sites that allow you to register for anything you find on the web.  Add items that you could use for the wedding (tablecloths, gift cards to a bakery or wine store etc.).   Be prepared, however: some people (particularly older generations) may find this tacky - like you're asking for money.  

I personally feel that in an era where many people have established an arsenal of household goods pre-nuptials, registering for something a little less mainstream can simply be more practical.  That said, if you choose to go this route, make sure that you still have a more traditional registry for those who are uncomfortable with this avant-garde direction.  (FYI you can also register for honeymoons and house funds.)

If you're a photographer, a writer, a tax specialist, a graphic designer, whatever, consider offering small businesses a trade.  I WISH I had done this.  Sure, some people might say no.  But if a new business sees it as an opportunity to get their name out there or acquire a service they need, they might be very willing to create your bouquet or give you a tux rental (or whatever) for free! 

Charge People Admittance
Totally kidding.  But wouldn't it be nice...? 

Some Related Sites

The Knot has tons of great information and resources, including a free website builder and a free Wedding Cost Calculator
Simple Registry lets you register for anything on the web
Honey Fund is a honeymoon registry first and foremost but has several other unconventional registries

Check here for more money saving tips in the Budget Savvy Bride Part 2: Venues, Food & Alcohol 

Just over a year ago, when I was looking around for finish touches for the nursery, my mom suggested I get a growth chart to mark Annie's progress as she grew.  I loved the idea and went on a hunt to find the perfect one. Despite my best efforts, I came up short - underwhelmed by the selection and quality. 

That's when my DIY brain kicked in and said, "if you can't find it, make it." 

Over the past few months, I sketched out a bunch of ideas and finally settled on one that fit my daughter's Parisian themed room: A glittering Eiffel Tower with colorful, old-world hot air balloons, set against a sunset sky and the words "Up, Up & Away" on a scroll beneath. 

Dreaming it up and sketching it turned out to be much easier than actually creating it. 

The first step was to purchase a roll of painters canvas that was already primed.  The effort of doing so completely exhausted me and I had to leave the canvas rolled up in its packaging for months on end while I recuperated.  Or, I suppose there is the slightest chance I was simply overwhelmed by the project and procrastinating like a champ.   

Finally, as the scrunchkin's birthday drew near (and I couldn't take the roll of canvas staring accusingly at me every time I passed it...), I heaved a sigh, collected supplies and broke the process down, step by step. 

I knew I wanted to mount the chart about 1 foot off of the ground and for it to measure up to 5 feet with a few extra inches at the top.  I also had to allow 1 extra inch on each side for hemming and 2 inches on the top and bottom.  After measuring 20 times to make sure I wasn't screwing it up, I cut a length of material 4' 10".  (The width didn't matter so much to me, so I didn't bother cutting it down). 

Hemming the canvas was not the easiest task ever.  I purchased heavy thread and an upholstery needle for the sewing machine and bumbled through the first side before claiming defeat and requesting help from my oh-so-patient mother.

The additional two inches of material at the top and bottom was hemmed to create a small pocket that would eventually hold a dowel.  (The idea with the dowel was to add some structure and heft to the chart, though, after finishing it, I don't know that it was entirely necessary.)  I also gave the hems a quick coat of paint just to decrease the chance of them unraveling.

Once the canvas was ready to go, I laid it on the floor and began painting in the background. 

I should note here that I am NOT an artist.  In fact, other than walls, I have never painted anything  in my life.  I can't teach anyone technique or style or method or theory... I can just tell you how I went about this process.  The one thing that I CAN tell you unequivocally is that Brushes Matter.  The first set I got were crap and wound up leaving hairs in all of the paint.  Very annoying.

Using a wide flat brush dipped in water, I swirled pinks, blues and purples onto the canvas in varying degrees of opacity.  I added some pearl white in soft swirls for clouds, and then left the whole thing to dry.

Once the background was completely set,  I used a pencil and a ruler to carefully mark out the measurements on both edges.  I used a stencil for the numbers and only marked up to 5 feet.  Instead of using paint, I traced over the pencil measurements with a silver Sharpie.  It gave me a much neater line, and I like that the silver doesn't look too harsh against the rest of the pastels.

 Again, using light pencil strokes, I transferred the images from my sketch onto the canvas.

After that, the work became all about painting.  As I said, I'm not an artist, so the process was a bit of trial and error: a deep navy for the Eiffel Tower; lavender, slipper pink and sunny yellows for the flowers; vines of fresh green and brightly hued balloons... everything sweet and light and wonderfully girly.  

To do the lettering inside the scroll, I utilized a simple technique I've used for other projects.  I found a font that I liked online and enlarged and printed the words "Up, Up & Away."  I flipped the print out over and used the side of a pencil to shade a solid block over the back of the text. 

Then I flipped the printout back over, placed it where I wanted it on the scroll, and traced over the words with a ballpoint pen.  As I pressed down, the pencil on the back of the paper marked the canvas, and, once I was done, it was an easy job to remove the paper and paint in the outlined text. 

Once everything was completely dry, I added a few finishing touches.  I hot glued pink paper mache roses to one balloon and made a small flag banner out of washi tape and baker's twine for the other.   The Eiffel Tower got a wash of clear glitter paint as well as a stippled border, and I was going to leave at that...until I found strips of rhinestone adhesive.  I mean, I would have been a fool to pass that up. 

In my wanderings through the craft store, I also came across some tiny pieces of canvas stamped with French themes - I thought they'd be adorable as height markers (I'll use a fabric pen to write on the back the date and the exact height).  I actually kinda like that they have a old world charm but tone down the babyish-ness of the project.  I burned the edges a bit to underscore the vintage look and will eventually create a pocket on the back of the canvas to store the extra pieces.

I cut down a dowel to fit in both the top and bottom pocket of the canvas and stapled a satin ribbon to the wood in order to hang it.  Satin and gossamer bows were another last minute addition but they somehow make it feel more finished. 

Last but not least, I turned the project over and added a small, handwritten note: "No matter how big you get,  you'll always be my baby."  It seemed like an important reminder.

I have to say, I'm really pleased with how it turned out.  No, it's probably not the finest example of artistry, but it's something that took me a lot of time and effort to create.  It's something that can go from house to house with us.  Something that Annie can roll up and keep, even when she's too big for hot air balloons and glitter and rhinestones.  Maybe even something she can share with her little munchkin.  And hopefully, every time she looks at it, she'll know how very much she is loved.

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