From Inspiration to Execution

Event Design and Production, Floral Design in Los Angeles California 

Notes from a Wedding Planner Friend - The Inside Scoop

Dear newly engaged friend,

 Photo by Julie Shuford Photography

Photo by Julie Shuford Photography

When I got engaged I was determined to throw a budget-friendly wedding (like sub $20k) for 100 plus people, in Malibu, with all the standard bells and whistles that a modern wedding has (catering, entertainment, florals, guest gifts...).  Oh, and remember that view? I was absolutely determined to have an ocean view.  Everything I read and everyone I talked to (including my betrothed) said it was impossible. But when someone tells me I can't do something, well, you know the rest...

It wasn't easy, and I will tell you that in order to make this goal into a reality, it took me a year of painstakingly detailed planning (we're talking daily work), lots of research and negotiation and a ton of DIY projects. The results: a successful event that lacked a "budget wedding" feel. 

malibu california bluff

After that I couldn't understand why so many brides struggled to meet their budgetary goals. Turns out most didn't have the time, patience or desire to go through what I went through to stay on budget, but I digress. I decided to make my one-time accomplishment into a full-time career.

Today, when brides come to me with their wedding goals, I often cringe knowing that their budget just doesn't seem to match up with their vision. But when you announced your engagement I felt compelled to tell you the truth...the real-deal facts about planning a wedding on a budget. It can be done. But you have to be ready to accept some realities.  So here goes:

Reality #1: You need a planner.  Yeah yeah, obviously I want to sell myself.  I'm not going to deny that, but the thing is whether it is me or someone else (that you've heavily researched) PLEASE hire help. My planner wasn't so great, and even though I handed my wedding to her on a perfectly organized, perfectly labeled platter, her not-so-amazing skills caused more stress than necessary. But I have to be honest with myself.  I didn't pay her much.  I was one of those "Dear wedding planner, I've done all the work already so I really only need someone there the day of to make sure it goes smoothly."  And in my deepest, quietest moments I know that she gave me the value I gave her. She walked us down the aisle, she made sure my music was correctly timed, and that the day progressed as it was supposed to.  Did she set my tables up? No. In fact, I think it was you who pointed out noticing my mother running across the lawn in curlers as you arrived.  Did she decorate my dessert table? Nope. It looked exactly like I left it the night before with the platters and cake stands just left out. She didn't even move or place them.  But guess what, I hired a day of coordinator, not a designer.  Those two things are different.

Even if you have a simple elopement, a planner is worth her weight in gold. She'll help you get deals with vendors with whom she's built relationships. She'll make sure your day is orchestrated correctly and when the crap hits the fan on the day of the wedding (which it will) she'll be there to make sure it doesn't splatter all over your face. Other than a good photographer THIS is where you invest in order to protect your overall investment. A good planner starts at $2k. Probably seems high, right? Well, she's going to spend at least 10-14 hours at your wedding, and another 1-2 at your rehearsal. She'll spend 3-6 hours calling your vendors and discussing day of timelines with them and then another 2-3 hours returning their follow up calls, emails and texts the day before your event (yup, they'll wait until the day before). Then there are calls from your mother, your bridesmaids and your sister's best friend who wants to bring her baby to the wedding. She'll spend 2 hours constructing your wedding timeline, going over your rental details and reviewing your contracts and that's just the beginning of it. Divide all those hours by $2000 and see if you feel the rate is fair. Oh, and don't forget she has to hire and pay an assistant. If your planner doesn't offer an assistant, run. Even the best wedding planners can't be in three places at once. 

Reality #2: The more people you invite, the more money you spend. Seems obvious right? Okay then why do so many brides not understand that increasing their guest count from 80 to 150 is going to result in a huge increase in costs? We're talking thousands. Not only do you have to feed all these people but you have to rent a chair for them to sit in and a plate for them to eat off of and those 10 bridesmaids you've decided you need in your wedding party (trust me, they won't be upset if you don't include them) have to have flowers and gifts and champagne in the bridal suite. It adds up. Cut your guest list to your immediate family and closest friends and don't assume that your fiancĂ©'s cousin is clocking hours with her therapist because you didn't ask her to be your 18th bridesmaid. In fact, don't assume you need bridesmaids at all. 

Reality #3: Food is expensive. Hey I know you. You love good food. I also know your chef of a mom would be a little upset to sit down to a warmed piece of chicken.  If the situation allows for it, call a food truck and call it a day, but remember that feeding even just 20 people isn't cheap. How much would it cost to take 20 people to a fast-food restaurant? Ok, now think about the fact that at your wedding you have to bring the entire restaurant to your guests.  Many of my brides ask me why food is so expensive. Well it's not just the cost of the piece of chicken and the sauce that goes on top; you're paying for the chef, the service, the cleanup and in many cases the rental of various items needed to prepare the meal. 

Reality #4: You can't have everything. Unless you have an endless budget (and girl let's be serious, even if you did I would be advising you to be reasonable. Your future is filled with house payments and children and vacations and college educations).  So, you can't have an endless wish list. You have to make sacrafices somewhere. Now, a good planner can help you choose where to save and where to splurge so it doesn't look like you made sacrifices. Just remember that the brides who end up going over budget often can't draw the line. You don't NEED Swarovski Crystal encrusted napkin rings. 

Reality #5: Pinterest is lying. I'm addicted to Pinterest like the rest of our friends; I think it is incredibly inspirational (I freaking loved that "mommy on the go tote" you made me for Christmas), and I tell all my brides to start a wedding board as soon as they begin planning. I've secretly been stalking yours ;)

However, you have to keep in mind that most "Pinterest" weddings are unattainable on a budget and in many cases, aren't even real weddings. Gasp, I know!  The wedding industry is filled to the brim with what we designer/planners call "styled shoots." We vendors all get together to create beautifully detailed table tops with luxurious linens, elaborate florals, stunning rentals and decadent place settings. Sure, it's affordable to pull this off for an 8 person table, but multiply that by 12 tables and you've officially spent your entire life savings. Use Pinterest to pick concepts and hone in on a detail or two that you really like rather than an overall look.  

Oh and side note: be kind to your photographer.  When she is doing a styled shoot the attention is 100% on her goals.  At your wedding, the attention is 100% on you and the wedding. Some shots that are captured at the perfect magic hour in a styled shoot simply can't be captured at your wedding while also maintaining your schedule. 

Reality #6: Plan for the end

No silly, I don't mean prenups. I mean the end of the wedding reception. It's a common mistake.  I was guilty of it too.  I didn't plan for cleanup and my poor mother (you know, the one running across the lawn in curlers) and my cousin had to go back the morning after the wedding to clean everything up. I was lucky enough to have a location that allowed for this, but let me tell you, four hours later my cousin was chain smoking and practically in tears from all the work she had to do. Plan for cleanup. Some planner packages include this but make sure it is outlined in the contract.  Some venues also provide assistance with this. Just keep in mind that if you're bringing DIY projects (like the giant photo booth wall I built myself), someone has to break that down and take it home. Same goes for your centerpieces, your bar (and the alcohol you thought would save you money if you brought yourself), your gifts, and everything your bridesmaids left in the bridal suite. 

In the end, don't get caught up in everything society tells you a wedding should be. Make it about the two of you, plan carefully, and stick to a budget and it can still be amazing. 

I've said it before; I'll say it again.  The wedding industry may have you dreaming of a beautiful wedding, but we want you to have a beautiful marriage.  Start it off right, for the right reasons, and out of debt -- your marriage will be better for it. 

Wishing you all the best!