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Wedding Investments December 30, 2010

As a former photographer myself, I like the way so many photographers talk about what your investment in their services are going to be, rather than the cost.  Photographs are an investment.  They are physical preservations of your wedding memories.  You’re going to be spending a lot of money on your wedding, and all of it is just going to be hazy memories in a few years without photographs.

This is partially why I’ve been so picky about choosing a photographer.  Yes, I am on a budget, but I still want something nice (despite the belief some people have that unless you are forking over 30 grand or more for your wedding, you don’t deserve good pictures).  This is an investment.  The rest of my wedding is going to end up in either the recycling, the compost, sold/donated or in storage, and I’ll never see the most of it again.  But I’m going to look at my photos frequently, I’ll probably have some on display.  I want them to be good.

Photos don’t have to be the only part of your wedding that is an investment, though.  Probably the number one thing you can do to have a green and cheap wedding is to make as many aspects of your wedding permanent or reusable.  In other words, more aspects of your wedding should be long term investments than not.

How can this be done?  Well, for example, since I am holding my wedding in my back yard, a good deal of my decorating budget is going to be spent on fixing up my back yard.  I will be investing in some grass seed, to reseed my yard and make sure it is extra lush, organic fertilizing service for my lawn, and lots and lots of flowers for the borders of my yard, to make not only the yard pretty, but to provide the flowers for arrangements on my table, and maybe even a good portion of the bouquets.  All of these things are investments in my mother and mine’s property (even though after the wedding I will be moving into Jeremy’s house and this yard will no longer be mine, I will still be spending lots of time here, I’m sure).  We will be able to enjoy this money spent for many years to come.  Furthermore, all the extra flowers will provide more food for our bees and hopefully boost our honey production.

We will also be decorating with LED Christmas lights, which we will of course reuse for holiday decorating in the future.  I plan to use mason jars for vases, which I will then be able to use for canning for years to come.  I have done what I can to make sure that my bridesmaids will pick out dresses they will wear again, and I will be reusing as much of my wedding attire as possible.

Many women choose dresses that they will wear again, which I think is awesome.  I however, chose a princess dress that would not be very practical anywhere but walking down the aisle, or perhaps costume events.  However, dresses can be donated (for a tax write off), or used to make new things in the future.  On Offbeat Bride, a bride told the forums how she intended to make prayer shawls for herself and her husband out of her wedding dress when she was done.  In my family, we have discussed making christening gowns for babies out of my mother’s wedding dress (which didn’t happen for Elijah, but hopefully it will for the next baby), and I suppose the same could be done with mine.  Or, as another woman on Offbeat Bride said, there’s always the option of being zombie bride and groom for Halloween next year.

Parting with money for a wedding isn’t quite as painful if you feel like you’re making a long term investment, and not just blowing money for one day of frivolities.  Even if you could care less about the environment, it’s worth considering making more of your wedding purchases into long term investments.  Unless, of course, you really hate money, and are looking for whatever way you can find to part with it (in which case, you can make checks out to Jessica Stone, and my address is …. ).

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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.