Our $23,000 Big Wedding Reception

I thought a lot about how/when to write this post. Mainly, I had a hard time writing it without including any of our lovely photos. Beyond the fact that showing pictures would require attribution to our photographer, we agreed that sharing pictures unless I would Facebook friend a reader would go against our anonymity preferences. On the other hand, when I read wedding recap posts that are mostly pictures, this post is what I actually would have preferred to read! We didn’t have an incredibly frugal wedding reception, however, I feel like people who do have this kind of wedding don’t talk about or acknowledge the costs and to me, the first step in financial awareness is understanding where your money went.

We eloped last fall. While we hadn’t strongly intended to get married, we also planned to have a “big” party (by big, I mean more than parents and a small handful of close friends) when we did get married. Eloping is the perfect option for many people and I really don’t want to rail on that. Our elopement was an incredible, joyous day that we wouldn’t change for the world, despite it not being what our original plan was.

Pretty quickly after we eloped, we started planning our big wedding. We knew that if we didn’t do it this year, we would never do it. Our initial “budget” was that it would be great if we could have a 100 person party in the city with delicious food and drink for $10,000 to $15,000. A generous wedding gift from one set of parents would have paid for a significant portion of that sum. I laugh at that figure now, but it was not a terrible starting point.

A Practical Wedding, the blog, the book, and the planner, were all very helpful in us figuring things out. We built our budget consciously by choosing whether a line item was important to us or not and if not, eliminating it. That really helped us ignore items that we didn’t care about.

On rings: when we got married, we bought plain bands for each of us. My spouse is really happy with his still, but it was quickly clear to us that I wasn’t. I tried on some fancier rings at a jewelry store in person, before we bought an engagement ring and matching wedding ring from a reputable online jewelry store. I absolutely love them and am so glad that we splurged on them. I struggled for a while with how expensive and unnecessary they felt for a time before buying them and then for months after buying them. A year later, I love looking at them many times every day and am really glad we picked this particular set.

We spent just shy of $23,000 on our big wedding reception weekend. The Venue & Catering portion worked out to $140 per person, which is about in line with what you would pay at this level of restaurant for appetizers, soup, salad, dinner, and drinks. If you add in the costs of our elopement, our post-nuptial agreement, my fancy rings, and our 2016 marriage tax penalty less our 2017 marriage tax bonus, we spent between $36,000 and $37,000 in the end on “getting married”. We used wedding gift money to fund our three week European honeymoon. That said, we are both really excited for a more frugal 2018.

We spent a pretty solid month late in the fall touring wedding venues. We looked at three in person before we settled on the one we picked. We picked it for its space, food, and many of the features of their event planning. I would really recommend going the restaurant route if you can find one with a space that works really well for your goals! They only required a $500 deposit and then we were set. We sent out email save the dates soon after that.

Eight months out, we realized we needed to nail down some more details. We picked a photographer after a quick consult with one ($480 deposit or about 30%), went to a local wedding event to look for other vendors (about $35 for both of us), booked two cake tastings ($45-50 each), and went to another cake open house.

Seven months out, we booked our DJ (50% deposit = $1,100), had the two cake tastings, booked the cake (50% deposit of estimate = $490), and I bought my dress! I went to two stores and found this one dress I really liked. A friend directed me at a consignment store, which turned out to have that exact dress in my correct size! I paid $380 for the dress, plus taxes and a sash.

Six months out, I had a consult with someone about doing hair and makeup and we paid a $200 deposit. I don’t typically wear much makeup or do much styling with my hair, so this felt like a splurge. It was really delightful though as we ended up paying for both of our moms, our sisters, and my MOH to have their hair and makeup done at our apartment with me. The person was really great with the scheduling and even finished ahead of schedule!

Four months out, we ordered paper invites once we had finalized the start time with the venue. We were doing mostly online invites, so we didn’t need very many. We originally search for five, but eventually ended up buying twenty, so we could give some to people as an option. VistaPrint has some great designs. For $57.82, we got several sheets of return address labels (so useful for thank you cards!), 20 invitations, 10 invitation envelopes, 10 RSVP cards and envelopes, and some envelope seals. One lesson we learned was that anyone who gets an invite wants an envelope, so we ended up buying some more envelopes later… oops! Another lesson: send paper invites to anyone 65+. Even if they can send and receive email, they don’t prefer to manage email. Your parents also like paper invites. And sometimes a sister will too.

Three months out, we bought a cake topper with our initials that we found on Etsy for $37.50. I really struggled at finding one that allowed for the concept of the couple having two last names – we ended up with one with just our initials on it.

Two months out, we paid the final balance for our photographer (a bit over $1,000).

One month out, the charges started piling in. We bought a guestbook for $69 on Etsy. We went back on forth on this a lot. I’m glad we have it in the end, but it could have easily been scrapped. I did a hair & makeup trial for $205 which really helped me to feel comfortable with how things would go on the day. The stylist wasn’t sure this was necessary since we were just doing a reception this year, but I’m so glad I did it! We bought another 10 envelopes for $5.45. We paid $7.53 for coffee while interviewing a potential photographer. I paid for the alterations on my dress which came in at almost the pre-tax cost of the dress itself at $362. We paid the balance of the wedding cake cost which turned out to be $490.

Month of, was the most expensive month. Once we’d finalized our seating chart, we bought place cards from Minted for $115 because it seemed very worthwhile to not have to write everyone’s names and table numbers on them ourselves. We bought some stickers for the cards for $2 and some pens for the guestbook for $14. We paid the balance of the DJ cost ($1,100). We paid the full price for our new photographer of $3,325 all at once. That stung a bit to do the month of! We spent $66 copying and printing family wedding photos (we displayed parent & grandparent wedding photos, which was a surprisingly time consuming project to do the month of the wedding) and $48 buying six frames for them. We ordered appetizers ($145) for our cash bar pre-wedding drinks with out of town friends at a local bar with a separated area that we could reserve and spent $50 on our drinks that night (other people bought us drinks though). I do not recommend booking your Saturday night rehearsal dinner two weeks before your wedding. Our previous photographer refunded our last payment ($1,100). We paid $128 for one sister, my MOH, and the tips on mine and my mom’s to have all of our nails done the weekend of the wedding. We hosted a family dinner at our house one night which involved some unknown quantity of money out of the grocery budget. We spent $98 on transportation that weekend, which wasn’t the full retail cost as I got some Lyft credits from referring wedding guests. We paid the balance of the hair & makeup cost ($808) and the actual final DJ invoice ($450). My spouse got his hair cut the day of (~$45), but he paid for that out of his personal money. Lastly, we paid the balance cost to the venue of $11,300, which covered all of the food and drinks.

Month after, we bought photo thank you cards from Minted for $124 and printed guest photos for $7. This was again worthwhile because they address the envelopes for you! We successfully mailed them all within 2.5 months of the wedding.

We ordered wedding albums for each set of our parents as Christmas gifts this year and then used some wedding gift money to order one for ourselves. We can’t wait to get the one for ourselves after seeing the first parent album!

 

Some non-money thoughts:

After a lot of thought, we included non-teenage children with all invites. (Part of the logic there was that age 12 and below, it was cheaper to order them food.) It worked out to five children under five in attendance, which was fine. This worked out for our crowd. Had we been having a ceremony or had more potential children on the invite list, this could have gone very differently.

We hired our original photographer based on word of mouth, a quick meet, and enjoying her photos. When we realized it was a bad fit, we then had consultations with three potential candidates. That really helped us to make a better decision the second time around and we are really happy with the photos that we have now! The original one elected to reimburse us for our final payment and so we decided to not write a review at all.

It was really, really awesome to have many of our friends and family in one place at one time. Our siblings all met for the first time. I doubt that we will get that assortment of people together ever again and it was very fun.

We both thought it was atrocious for bridesmaids to endure so much costs, which is part of why we paid for all of the women to have hair and makeup done. We each only had one wedding party type person and we didn’t require them to wear anything in particular.

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19 thoughts on “Our $23,000 Big Wedding Reception

  1. As someone who is a personal Facebook friend and saw all of the wonderful photos, I can vouch it was worth the cost. BEAUTIFULLY DONE! So happy for you! Thanks for writing out the timeline for money and your thoughts. I think that will be very useful to me in the future when planning out costs!

    • Thanks! I realized as I was writing the post that no one talks about wedding costs this way. Usually they just write the final numbers! I didn’t realize when we started planning how much would get spent along the way. My mom was surprised when I said we paid everyone except the venue in advance of the day and them, we paid the week after. One venue we considered wanted a $3,000 deposit a year with a signed contract!

  2. Everything little thing adds up! Thanks for sharing your budget :) Congratulations! I’m glad you are happy with your ring set now, you will be wearing it for the rest of your life so you should love it :) I love mine and still look at mine with happiness (though less time to focus on it now because most of the time is focused on baby).

    I used Vistaprint as well for our place cards and our invites (and even thank you cards afterwards), I was very happy with them.

    • Thanks! I love looking at my ring set :) We didn’t use VistaPrint for place cards or thank you cards mostly due to the size of our guest list. We liked that Minted filled in the text for us! The VistaPrint invitations looked really awesome though. They even sent us a free sample before we picked the final design.

  3. I had a little PTSD looking at your numbers. It’s been almost ten years since I was married, and I had flashbacks to all of those little numbers adding up. I haven’t thought about that in years. It wasn’t as expensive as your wedding, but we could’ve maxed out both of our Roth IRAs that year for what we spent. Still, it was worth it to have everyone we cared about in one place. That doesn’t happen too often.

  4. I’m so glad you guys got exactly what you wanted. We did too, it just happened to be the exact opposite of what you wanted – planning all of that would have made my head explode! =)

    • So many people told us that we were “lucky” to elope, which was annoying because that’s not what we wanted! Our parents didn’t care if we had a big wedding – this was just for us. It did make my head explode, but it was very worth it :)

  5. Congrats on the wedding, and thanks for sharing. We’re putting together a similar post now for our wedding’s costs, so I can relate to some of things you wrote up.

    What kind of ring did you end up getting, if you don’t mind me asking? I tried to control our wedding expenses, but one of the many things we spent quite a bit of money on was her engagement ring. I ended up buying a diamond solitaire and told myself that it was worth it because she valued having a nice ring and it was something she’d look at multiple times a day.

  6. Thank you for sharing such a detailed and breakdown of your wedding! I read so many wedding budget blogs and their numbers always made me feel bad, like I wasn’t getting a good enough deal on everything. These costs seem so much more like the actual costs I was looking at in real life.

    • Happy to help! I feel like we didn’t have a particularly frugal wedding, through there are many things we didn’t pay for at all, e.g. flowers. The analogy I’ve heard is that if you feed 100 people an Olive Garden dinner of $50 per person, that’s $5,000 alone on catering. Sometimes it feels like people only post their detailed breakdowns when they have a very frugal wedding and not when they have a “normal” wedding. I’ve talked to other friends and many spent a similar figure to what we did.

    • My wedding came in a bit cheaper and wasn’t all that frugal, but I also live in a small city, and things just cost less.

      Here’s a rough idea of the ~$12k we spent in 2011 on our wedding in outstate Minnesota:

      $3k on photographer (flew in friends from Oregon — bonus, my friend also did my makeup! Two good friends happen to be pros now and did an amazing job, plus my husband was more comfortable because it was just hanging out with people we knew)
      $1k on a string quartet
      $350 on a house drawn carriage for an hour (couldn’t believe it was that affordable!)
      $200 on hair for me, my mom, and my bridal party of two
      $650 on rehearsal dinner for 40 at a local restaurant
      $5000 on open bar, sit down meal for 125 (yup, that’s the small town benefit), and the venue owner also decorated for us with the decor she had in her basement — I just bought a bit of stuff to supplement
      $500ish on flowers, but we just did bouquets and then cedar greens for the tables
      $500ish on misc decor
      $70 for two silver rings from etsy that we love — I worked outdoors at the time and teach science now, and I didn’t want to worry about any stones. Our rings match and look like wood bark. It’s the right fit for us
      Cupcakes — $500, I think. Totally worth it!
      My dress was free via A Practical Wedding — they used to do something called “sisterhood of the traveling dress,” so I got a dress from another bride. I paid $100 to have it pressed.
      bought a suit for husband that he needed anyway, so we didn’t count that

      And there’s a few other small expenses, but that’s about it. Oh, venue for the wedding — we work at a school, and we got married in the chapel for free. Our license was under $100. We got married around Christmas, so the chapel was already decorated beautifully.

      We did online invitations, and I can’t remember the cost for those. I printed out place cards myself that I had designed — no handwriting, but I did have to type everything up. We got help doing crafts from family members, and I did a lot myself. But those were all things we wanted to do and were fun.

      I think you can have a cheaper wedding without being crazy frugal, but you also need the luck we had of being in a less expensive place. We could have gone even cheaper if we had our wedding at the American Legion or a similar type venue.

      • Thanks for sharing, Leah! I love seeing detailed wedding breakdowns like this :) You guys must really value the photos – you spent so much of your budget on it! And gosh, $5000 on an open bar, sit down meal for 125 seems crazy to me! We paid just over double that for about 2/3 of the guests! And you got a horse drawn carriage (I assume “house drawn” was a typo?) for barely more than what we and our guests spent on Lyfts that weekend. I like that your rings match too! We both have the same color of gold and my plain ring from our original wedding was bought at the same store as my husband’s, to match. Love that you got a “sisterhood of the traveling dress”! I remember them doing that. It sounds like you were able to get a nice wedding with not too bad of costs by being in a cheaper area. For us, our solution was to accept that what we wanted was expensive and zero out line items we didn’t care about.

      • I was also planning a wedding in a small town, but it was a small town that had appeared as a great “Destination Wedding” spot in Martha Stewart Weddings so prices shot through the roof.

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