Wedding Bills

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You know your wedding day is the best day of your life, right? Well, that’s what they tell you anyway. At a minimum, it’s a day you will never forget. Is it worth it though?

Is it worth the cost, and when I say cost, I don’t only mean money. It will cost you time, stress, and maybe even a friend or two. When you add it all up, there is a good argument for alternative solutions. In order to do a thorough investigation, let’s use my wedding as a quick case study. Keep in mind this was from a previous life, before FI.

The Proposal

It all began when I proposed 5 years ago. We knew it was going to be a long engagement because I never wanted to go into debt for a recreational event. So, the only option was lots of saving.

For all intents and purposes, we started at $0. The money I had saved after we bought our condo went towards the engagement ring. I won’t go into too much detail on that, because it really deserves its own post. To touch on it briefly though, I spent months finding the “perfect” diamond and the “perfect” band. $10,000 later I had a beautiful ring for my future wife.

Planning the big proposal was next; Another topic that deserves its own post, but needs an honorable mention here. In my case, it didn’t cost much, no vacation, no skywriting, no musical appearance, but I know not everyone takes that route. I’ve heard of some grandiose gestures that must cost a small fortune. I chose the sensible route, a nice dinner at a meaningful restaurant and kneeling in a meaningful location. All in all, it cost me around $200 for the entire night. So, although there was room to cut the cost, it was totally worth it. She was happy, I was happy and that’s all that matters.

The Planning Begins

Next came the serious part, the meat and potatoes some would say. Like I mentioned above, we determined quickly that it was going to be a long engagement. We were on a similar timeline with D and N, so my fiance and I decided we should try to spread the weddings out a reasonable amount. That coupled with the fact that we were going to have to save up 10’s of thousands of dollars made it an easy choice to push back the wedding.

Like I said, this was all pre FI. Mr. Money who? Choose F what? I knew nothing about it. I was a peripheral Dave Ramsey follower at most. I knew credit card debt was bad and followed his rule of paying off the largest interest credit cards first to get out of debt.

In that respect, I probably had a head start on most. I didn’t have any student loans or credit card debt. We did, however, have a mortgage, a car payment, and all the monthly bills that follow suit. On top of it all was our terrible spending habit.

With the goal of starting off our marriage debt free, we went to the budget. Take a look at D’s post from a couple weeks ago on the sinking fund, that’s basically what we did here.

The number we ended up having to save will prove how far from a FI mindset we really were. We had basically $0 in savings. We had good steady jobs that afforded us the ability to save. Unfortunately, our discretionary income was going to eating out and entertainment instead of into the bank. With all that in mind, looking back 3 years later, the fact that our wedding budget ended up at $70,000 is mindboggling.

The process of planning and saving for our wedding was sort of an unintentional introduction to FI. We stopped going out multiple times a week and even when we did go out, there were changes. If we went out with a group, we would ask for a separate check. This gave us the ability to manage how much we spent without feeling guilty about not evenly splitting the bill. Also, our drink consumption dropped dramatically and sharing meals became the norm.

All of those little changes are typical today, but at that time, in that circle, we were strange.

Making the budget

The 70,000 dollars may be a sticker shock to some, but understand, we live in close proximity to NYC; everything is more expensive here. On top of that, we have large families and an extensive group of friends. So, we needed to find a  wedding hall that was large enough to comfortably accommodate all of our guests.

There are a couple items you can easily get estimates for, like the wedding hall, the photographer, the videographer, Music, and Flowers. Conversely, there are plenty of items that are more difficult to budget. One example is the Bride’s accessories. You would be surprised at how expensive they can be. I suggest doing extensive research and using a friend’s budget as a guide. That’s what we did and it was the only way we were able to get a feel for what it would really cost.

I am going to go through some of the big ticket items in this post, but before I do I want to show you the final list. This will be helpful for you when you start planning your big day:

1. Wedding Rings
2. Ceremony Venue
3. Reception Venue
4. Maitre D tip
5. Photographer
6. Videographer
7. Florist
8. Entertainment
9. Transportation
10. Invitations
11. Postage
12. Bridesmaids Gifts
13. Groomsmen Gifts
14. Hotel
15. Hair, Nails and Makeup
16. Dress and Veil
17. Bride’s Accessories
18. Shoes
19. Tuxedo
20. Rehearsal Dinner
21. Party Favors
22. Save the Dates
23. Photo Booth
24. Place Cards
25. Table Numbers
26. Menus
27. Religious Classes
28. Hotel Gift Bags
29. Bathroom Baskets
30. Envelope/Gift Box
31. Ring Bearer Pillow
32. Sparklers
33. Votives
34. Cake Stand
35. Honeymoon

Unfortunately, not all of the items listed above were part of our original budget. We simply didn’t know about them. I mean, who would have thought our photographer would entice us with a sparkler photo? Granted the sparklers were only $30, but there is always something. The shot didn’t even go as planned, which is a good rule of thumb for the day. Not everything will go as planned and you need to be OK with that.

The Ceremony

Let’s start with the ceremony. This is an item where you could easily limit the price. Unfortunately, Pre-FI M saw a picture of a cathedral at a wedding expo and fell in love. After seeing that picture, I simply decided that was where we had to get married, and it cost us. $1200 to be exact. Getting married at the reception hall is a way around this. Also, if you “have” to get married at a church as we did, your local parish is likely cheaper. In the end, I wouldn’t add the cathedral to the regrets column, because we have some breathtaking photos.

The Reception

Next is the reception. This is where things can really get out of hand. Do you dream of a beautiful spring wedding, with birds chirping and flowers in bloom? I’m sorry, that will cost you dearly. If the time of year is a box you absolutely need to check off, be ready to pay up. For us, the venue was more important than the time of year. We wanted an elaborate cocktail hour, a beautiful front entrance, and most importantly, quality food. Picking a less desirable date was the only way to afford that. We found an available Friday in December and locked it in. Fortunately, it worked out for the best. We ended up with clear blue skies on a relatively warm December day.

Another thing to keep in mind when selecting the venue is you will have to haggle. We had a fairly large invite list at around 180. The venue we were booking was $155 per person after tax and tip. At first, I tried negotiating the price down as low as possible. My tactic was to use other comparable halls as examples and push them down as low as I could. Throughout the process, I realized this is not necessarily the best strategy. You may end up taking things out and get pennies back on the dollar. I found it’s more beneficial to try to get more for less.

Start at your base. Go in and find the package and date you are happy with for the price you can afford. Try to chew them down on the price by shopping around and picking a date that not everyone is going to be running to book. For us, it was that lovely Friday in December. Also, picking a day within the current year or on a holiday is a sure FIRE 😉 way to get a good deal. Keep in mind, if you go that route you can expect a lot of your invites to decline. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you stay above the minimum number of guests you will save money.

Once you feel comfortable with a date and a price, go for the extras. Before you sign anything start asking for more. See if they’ll throw in an extra cocktail station, or maybe extend cocktail hour. If desserts are your thing go for the Viennese hour. If it’s a date that has potential to not get booked, you will be surprised how much they are willing to give you.

The Photographer

The next most important booking is the photographer. For the rest of your life, those pictures will bring back the wonderful memories of your special day. A friend of mine told me this is one vendor you don’t want to skimp out on. I have to say, I do somewhat agree. I didn’t pay for the best, because that is just not me. I did, however, pay more for someone I felt I could trust, which is most important. Fortunately, this photographer was D’s friend and D used him for his wedding, so I had the benefit of watching him work first hand. By the time our wedding rolled around, his rates had increased. So this turned out to be another place where haggling came in handy.

I had already gone through the fun (#sarcasm) of haggling with the wedding hall, so my experience level had increased a bit. I’d say I was at least a level 2! My approach here was to get him locked in for the full day and the albums we “needed”, for the best possible price. Tip: don’t leave items out that you know you’re going to need later. They will cost much more after you sign the contract.  I got him to throw in the parent albums as part of his base price. My intent was that the parent albums would be listed on the contract separately so we would have the ability to get them cheaper somewhere else if we wanted to. That is exactly how it happened, the parent albums were listed at $500 a piece. We never asked for them after the wedding, so never had to pay that additional $1000. We still haven’t made parent albums to this day and I don’t think our parents even notice.

As I mentioned above, trusting your photographer is very important. That is really true for all vendors but especially for your photographer and your maitre D. They have the ability to make or break your day because they are involved in so much of it.

The Videographer

Next vendor is the videographer. I go back and forth on whether or not we really needed this. On one hand, I absolutely hated the person who shot our wedding (there was a last minute change because the owner’s wife was about to go into labor).  On the other hand, the video is the only way to physically see action from that day. The pictures are great and arguably way more important, but the video captures what the pictures can’t. If the owner would have shot our wedding day I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be on the fence about this.

When negotiating your contract, make sure you get them to include the raw footage in the package. If you’re not happy with their cut at least you have the ability to make a different cut in the future. Even though you can give them feedback, they will only be willing to edit it so many times and the first cut you see is already tainted by their vision. There is only so much you can change.

The Music

The last vendor I want to mention is one I truly regret. For music, we decided to go with a DJ. I went through a friend and got an amazing deal. That was a tremendous mistake. I worried too much about getting the fancy speaker stands with the lights and the big screen TVs. I should have worried more about getting the best MC. You need someone that will read the room and get everyone into it. Our DJ played mostly new music which kept most of the young guests entertained, but that’s it. Truthfully, my family is more likely to flood the dance floor for the chicken dance than for Bruno Mars. A good MC would have recognized that and made sure to mix it up to get everyone on the dance floor. Also, he kept switching songs before they ended, that drove me nuts! This is the only vendor I can confidently say I would change if I did it all over again. I would have spent more money on our other option, I think it would have made a huge difference.

The Bridal Party

The last thing I am going to touch on is more important than any booking you make. You need to make sure that only the people who truly care about you are part of your wedding. If that means you don’t have a wedding party, then so be it. The wedding party is meant to brighten your day and make it a little bit easier. If you involve someone that doesn’t care about you, or needs to be the center of attention, they will cause problems throughout the whole process. Some people may get offended for not being asked, but just remember, there is a reason you don’t want to ask them.

Sometimes less is more, only include people that have your best interests at heart.

The End

In the end, I can’t say I regret going the traditional route for our wedding. But, now that I’m aiming for financial independence, I definitely would consider scaling it down a bit. From what I understand, destination weddings are a great way to have a beautiful wedding and not break the bank. An added bonus is, only the people that really want to be there for you will attend. Not only will they need to pay for a plane ticket, but chances are it will take a significant amount of time out of their lives. It’s a fairly easy way to cut out those distant relatives you feel obligated to invite. I’m not sure how much it actually costs, but I’ve heard it’s pretty affordable to have a wedding at an all-inclusive hotel.

The final cost for our traditional wedding turned out to be $65,000, including the honeymoon. We went to Maui, which is far from a budget vacation, but we were gifted the plane tickets and I booked the hotel with points. The gifts from the wedding totaled to about $30k. So after two years, a tremendous party and an extensive vacation we went from $0 to $30k in the bank.

Whether or not you decide to go the conventional route, hopefully you find this post useful when the time comes to plan your own wedding.

-M-

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