Green Cheap Wedding

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Finding services for cheap December 1, 2010

When Jeremy and I decided on our budget, I thought it was pretty lavish.  It is really close to the median price that people spend on weddings.  If you read the book Bridal Bargains (which I highly recommend) you will learn why a median is a more accurate way to judge what most Americans spend on weddings than an average is.  Basically, an average can be easily thrown off by one or two big or small numbers.  So, imagine you want to figure out the average amount a group of ten couples spend on their wedding.

  • Couple 1 – $10,000
  • Couple 2 – $12,000
  • Couple 3 – $2,000
  • Couple 4 – $10,000
  • Couple 5 – $9,500
  • Couple 6 – $10,000
  • Couple 7 – $1,000,000
  • Couple 8 – $9,000
  • Couple 9 – $50
  • Couple 10 – $10,500

What would you say the average couple spent?  Well, probably around $10,000, because that’s right around what most of the couples spent.  Sure, you have two couples who spent way less, and one couple that spent way more, but on average, most spent right around 10k.

But that’s not how a mathematical average is figured out, and when you read that the average American wedding costs $24,000, you’re looking at a mathematical average.  The mathematical average that this group of couples spent on their wedding is $107,305 (this is determined by adding up all the numbers, and then dividing by the number of numbers added up, in this case, 10).  Would you say that in that group of people, the average amount they each spent on their weddings was 100k?  Of course not.  That’s why the current figures that The Knot puts out for wedding cost averages is misleading (also, The Knot surveys mostly people who tend to spend more on their weddings, so that throws their average up as well).

A more accurate way to determine what most Americans pay is to look at the median.  You determine the median by lining up what every person pays in order from least to most, then finding the number right smack dab in the middle.  In the case of my hypothetical group up there, it would work like this

  • Couple 9 – $50
  • Couple 3 – $2,000
  • Couple 8 – $9,000
  • Couple 5 – $9,500
  • Couple 1 – $10,000
  • Couple 4 – $10,000
  • Couple 6 – $10,000
  • Couple 10 – $10,500
  • Couple 2 – $12,000
  • Couple 7 – $1,000,000

And $10,000 is the median.  Ta dah!

So I thought it would be pretty safe setting the budget at what the median cost of the typical American wedding is.  Now that I am looking at vendors, I’m not quite so sure.  It seems to me that most vendors must look at The Knot’s average to determine how much they should charge.  Using The Knot’s budget calculator, there is no way I’ll ever be able to afford any kind of reception hall, professional photography, alcohol, food and a DJ, for example.  Here’s what the budget gives me

  • Reception Venue and Rentals – $800
  • Food – $3000
  • Beverages and Bartenders – $800
  • Music – $600
  • Photography (including all prints) – $700
  • Dress (including alterations) – $600

This didn’t seem so nuts to me, until I started looking into average prices for these things.  I couldn’t find a reception hall under $1,500.  I can’t find a photographer under $1,200 (and none that I actually like under $2,000).  I can’t find a DJ for less than $150 an hour.

I’m getting my food for significantly cheaper than the budget, probably around $1700, so that frees up some money.  I can probably keep my dress costs close to $600, since my grandma will be making it for me.  And since my reception hall (which costs $1800, including linens and set up of tables and chairs) lets me bring in my own alcohol, and I only plan on serving beer, wine and margaritas, that means I can keep that tab down to the budgeted price too.  But I have a feeling I’m going to go over on DJ by at least $120, over on photography by $1,600, and I know I’m going over on my reception hall by $1,000.  Not to mention all the other little things (invitations, flowers, hair styling, accessories, gifts for bridal party and parents) that I can’t see keeping within their miniscule budget either.  Even my ceremony fees at the church I grew up in are going to go over what The Knot has budgeted for me.  Thank God I’m not hiring a professional videographer (no matter how much The Knot keeps telling me I’ll regret that choice, I think they’re just trying to scam me out of money!)

Seriously?  Is a low five figure budget not enough to throw a one day party anymore?  What the hell has this world come to?  Its enough to make me want to drop a big F bomb on the whole wedding industry and elope.  I know photography is hard work (I was a photojournalist in the Army, for God’s sake), but $2400 for six hours of work is $400 an hour!  HOLY GOD!!!  Okay, fine, say they spend four hours photoshopping, that’s still $240 an hour.  Who makes that much?  Who, I ask you?!?!  Lawyers and doctors, that’s who.  And not your every day, shine a light in your mouth and tap on your knee general practitioner.  More like heart surgeons and OBs.  I’ve done photography work and I’ve attended births, it’s not worth the same pay, I promise you.  Don’t get me started on $180 an hour to play music and announce cake cutting.  Holy crap!  Can someone pay me $180 an hour to play music?  Because I do it for free every day.  Okay, fine, they have to cart all that equipment around and set it up, and it does take a lot of charisma to be a good MC, even for an event like a wedding, but I still don’t know if I really think it’s worth $180 an hour.  I’m just sayin’.

Compare this to doula work for a minute.  As a doula, I do three meetings with my clients before the birth of their baby, about 1-2 hours a piece, then I’m on call for them 24/7  for five weeks before their due date until they go into birth.  I then stay with them throughout their entire birth, on average 12-18 hours.  I do one or two post birth meetings, 1-2 hours long, on average.  This about 16 to 28 hours of work, most of which cannot be scheduled.  And it’s hard work, anyone who’s ever been a birth partner for a laboring woman (most of my clients do not use pain medication, either), knows that it’s pretty demanding work, both physically and mentally.  You know the going rate for doula services?  About $400 to $700 dollars, in the Denver area.  That’s for EVERYTHING.

A wedding photographer gets paid for an hour and a half of work taking pictures what a doula gets paid for 20 hours of strenuous work.  This just doesn’t seem right to me.  I mean, I appreciate fine art, I do, and I’m willing to pay a photographer more than what a doula charges, I am.  But that much more?  That’s just insulting, really.

So I think I’m going to look into what I can do to customize packages and barter for services.  I posted an ad on Big Day Barter that looks like this:

I’m getting married in October, 2011 and I’m looking to barter for various services and/or goods.
My fiance and I can trade:

  • raw honey and bees wax from my backyard bee hive
  • home made cheese
  • kefir grains
  • kombucha mushrooms or fresh home made kombucha
  • home made vinegar
  • home made hard cider or hard cider starter
  • doula services/child birth education
  • lawn and garden work
  • various home repair
  • help with DIY projects
  • baby sitting
  • copy editing/help with English homework
  • baby clothes
  • old Army uniforms
  • excess produce from my garden (come summer time)
  • Home chemical safety evaluation (basically, I go through your home when you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or have a new baby, and help you identify the presence of chemicals that might inhibit fertility or cause developmental or health problems for you and your family)
  • I can serve as a day of coordinator for your wedding, to help get things set up and put away
  • Photography – I was a photojournalist in the Army, and I can certainly take photos of an event. The problem is that I don’t own a very nice camera, so I’d probably be using yours. You probably don’t want me for a wedding, but a less formal event I can totally do.
  • Designated driver for parties – You provide the car, I’ll stay sober and drive you some where.

Or make me an offer

We need

  • Photography
  • DJ
  • Bartender (we’re only serving beer, wine and one signature drink)
  • Day of coordinator
  • Hair and makeup
  • Transportation

I’ve also posted ads on Craigslist for a photographer and a DJ and gotten lots of responses.  I’ve not liked 90% of the photography responses I’ve gotten (since I’ve worked as a photographer myself, and I was raised by an artist, I reserve the right to be snooty about wanting my wedding photos to be artistic), but I’ve gotten so many that a few gems have been in there.  Still outside of budget, but if they’re willing to negotiate a custom package (say, give me a few more hours of coverage instead of the custom album and prints), and maybe barter for a reduced fee, I might be able to swing this.  I’ll let you all know how it goes.

 

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Success! Venues and other news November 23, 2010

So, I’ve found a reception site.  It’s nothing special, beauty wise, but it has plenty of space, is handicapped accessible, it’s open until the wee hours of the night and it allows me to bring in an outside caterer and my own booze.  Score!  Really, it’s not nearly as important to me to have a beautiful venue as it is to make sure my guests have a really, really good time.  That’s just not possible in a beautiful but small space, or a place that makes us be out by 10:30 (as my runner-up choice did).

It does some nice features for a reception hall.  A fire place and a large, pretty patio space chief among them.  It’s next to a golf course, which doesn’t exactly thrill me, but you know what?  Who cares?  We’re going to have yummy Mexican food, open bar (well, only beer, wine and margaritas will be served, but that’s enough) and good music.  That’s all that matters.

The reception venue is also just a few miles away from my church, so I’ve decided to go ahead and do the ceremony there.  I got all the paperwork and now am overwhelmed with options I hadn’t even thought of before.  Do I want my guests to sing hymns during the service?  Do I want our mothers to light the unity candle for us?  What order will our attendants be walking down the aisle in?  Will we be serving communion during our services?  Hmmmm …. probably not, that sounds kind of cool, I don’t know, and maybe?  I didn’t even know that was an option in a Lutheran service.  We do serve some kick ass yummy communion bread at my church.  Not those lousy wafers Catholics eat.

My church offers the services of two wedding coordinators to help me with these planning issues, which is awesome.  They’re also cool with interfaith marriages, which, if you count non practicing Catholic / vaguely agnostic as a faith, our wedding will be.  But it’s costing more to do a church wedding than I thought it would.  We have to pay for our pre wedding counselling, which I didn’t expect, and I don’t know how much the donation to the church in thanks to God for our union is expected to be.  Even if we didn’t get married actually in the church, though, we’d still have to pay these things if I want to use my pastor.  Which I do.  I don’t want some stranger to marry us when the guy who confirmed me and baptized my son is right here.

So now I have to start thinking about decorating and vendors.  My mom works with a photographer who does really cool work, and I totally planned on hiring her, until I looked at her prices.  She’s about $1000 over our budget.  So now I’m looking for someone else and feeling pretty disappointed because I’ve already fallen in love with her stuff.  I also found a DJ I really like, but she’s kind of expensive.  She had two home births though!  I know, that’s not a good reason for hiring a DJ, but she also has an extensive collection of indie music and that’s hard to find.  I promised I’d look at other options before hiring her though.

As far as decorating goes, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this wedding.  If I could add a Mexican flair to this type of decor, I’d be all over it.  Don’t know how my family would feel about such a shin dig.  They’d probably think it was cool, for any other event but a wedding.  Why does everyone think a wedding has to be so super formal?  It doesn’t have to be.  Why can’t it just be a big, fun, comfortable party for everyone involved?  I mean, if I’m going to be spending this much money, I want my wedding to be really enjoyed, not just appreciated aesthetically.

Something I really love about this wedding is that the couple made almost everything all by themselves.  It is my instinct to DIY as much of my wedding as I can, but all I hear from everyone is “Don’t do too much DIY, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”  Well aren’t you equally as likely to drive yourself crazy trying to control every little detail that you’re depending on someone else (who you ultimately cannot control) to provide?  Doesn’t it make more sense, if you’re going to drive yourself crazy, to do it on your own terms?  This couple inspires me.  I don’t think I want to be building my own dance floor, or anything, but I would love to make my own napkins and thank you cards.  Come on.  I have a year.  I just need to time everything.  I’ve already plotted out a timeline for cheese making (which reminds me, I need to buy the stuff I need to make the gruyere – I’ll bet Jeremy could make me a cheese press for cheap!)

In other DIY news, I harvested honey and wax from my bee hive over the weekend (and got stung once!  It’s the first time I’ve been stung in 8 months of bee keeping!  I have a welt the size of my palm, and it’s super itchy).  I have so much wax, I’m going to attempt to make my own unity candle out of it.  It might be the ugliest candle in the world, but it will be super meaningful, having come from the bees that my mom and I raised in the hive Jeremy built.

 

The Vision October 20, 2010

I have a general idea of what I want my wedding to look like.  I want one of the pastors from my church to officiate it, for example.  I’d like it to be very bright, cheery, and colorful (I went to Home Depot and snagged some paint chips in the colors I want, they’re called Pumpkin Patch, Red Carnation, and Sunflower, with an accent color called Cool Cobalt).  I want to do things with as little environmental impact as possible.  I want to serve Mexican food, and I want to just serve beer, wine and a signature drink (margaritas) for alcohol.  I want to make my own cheese to serve before the meal with other snack/appetizers.  I’d like it to be a little casual, fun, and unique.

Apparently everyone wants unique.

Which, as I’m coming to understand it, is the driving force behind the wedding industry, which, the more I read, the more I dislike.  But oh, the draw is irresistable.  I’ve only been engaged a few days now, and already I’ve gone back and forth between being excited at the prospect of spending several thousand dollars on a single day, and being horrified.  There is a chunk of me that just wants to buy a pretty dress and elope.

But I’m not going to do that.  For one thing, there’s this other chunk of me that does want to be a princess for a day (even if it’s not a super traditional princess).  I love weddings, they’re so much fun (except for those rare occasions in which you don’t approve of the wedding, in which case, at least they’re ironically humorous).  Why not throw one of my own?  Secondly, I really do want to share this with my family and friends.  They have done so much for me in my life (especially helping me to grow as a single mother), the least I can do in return is buy them a meal, a few drinks, and give them a place to dance and socialize for a few hours.

I just don’t want to spend $10,000.

So this has got me thinking about what’s really important to me when it comes to throwing this party, and what’s not.  When it comes down to it, if guests could only say one thing when they leave my wedding, I would rather it be “I had a blast at that wedding” than “That was a beautiful wedding”.  I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on details that the guests probably won’t notice and won’t do anything to contribute to the amount of fun they have in the end.  I want to keep it simple, and cheap, and low impact.  How exactly I’m going to do that is still a mystery to me, but as I work it out, I will share what I discover with you.