Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Budget Hyperventilation

I consider myself a sane and reasonable woman when it comes to finances and budgets. I've also done a fair bit of corporate event planning in Los Angeles, so I felt like I had a good handle on pricing for a 150 person wedding.  I was also very willing to nix significant amounts of wedding froufery as unimportant.  So when I decided on a wedding budget comfort zone of around $15,000, I felt like it was do-able.  Hard, but do-able.

Now, I know $15,000 isn't a lot in the Los Angeles wedding world (though it's certainly a lot to me!), and I know that $15,000 necessitates some hard choices. I'm learning to put aside my "wouldn't it be nice" desires that don't add to our core purpose for the wedding and keep myself focused on what's important: we're getting married. (Lalalalala I don't need floral centerpieces - I'm getting married.)  I made explicit choices about the look-and-feel of the day that were supposed to help with the budget: we want a casual vibe, DIY decor, laid-back Sunday morning set up, and ceremony+party focus instead an aesthetically-focused event.  We're trying to keep our guests' comfort in mind for every step of the planning, which has required a few splurges like providing shuttles to the Malibu canyon hilltop locale, catering the event, and possibly hiring a DOC.  We're trying to put money on the lasting memories/expenses like pre-marital counseling, our ketubah, photos, and good food/drink/music instead of throwaway favors.  In other words, I figured that because we're chasing an overall casual vibe without a lot of "stuff", $15,000ish felt attainable and reasonable.

And yet, somehow it's not nearly enough.  My pared down budget spreadsheet is looking a lot more like $25,000 right now, and it makes me want to bang my head against the wall and scream.  $25,000 is more than my eight-month emergency fund. $25,000 is enough to pay for my entire dreamed-about grad school tuition. $25,000 is more than my annual take home pay from my first out-of-college job. And most importantly, $25,000 is about $20,000 more than we currently have saved for our wedding fund.

I just spent a week at home with H1N1 which gave me enough time to obsess and freak the heck out about the budget, trying to shave $100 here and $100 there and still not making a dent.  I feel like I've compromised a ton already and like I'm saying NO all the time: no - it costs too much.  no - we can DIY and save $1000.  no - I know you think x is important but x would cost $500 we don't have.We already have an overwhelming list of nos:
  • No ceremony decor
  • No large wedding party (or outfits/accessories)
  • No ring bearer/flower girl
  • No fancy or convenient wedding location
  • No blow-out bachelorette or bachelor parties
  • No sit down plated meal
  • No wedding cake
  • No salon dress
  • No fancy shoes
  • No hard liquor
  • No floral centerpieces or floral bouquets
  • No boutonnieres
  • No new suit or tux 
  • No band
  • No ceremony musicians
  • No high-end photography package
  • No limo
  • No letterpress or invitation suite
  • No guestbook
  • No out of town bags
  • No favors
  • No diamond or platinum rings
  • no no no no no NO.

I'm tired of no.  I have nearly a year and a half left and I don't know how strong I can be with the Nos between now and then. I've been trying to focus on the yeses, on all the beautiful amazing YES moments and items and memories that I'm looking forward to, but it's hard.  And just when I thought I had some elusive perspective on this madness, the $25,000 figure popped up and made me want to hurl, both because it's huge and because it necessitates a whole new round of No.  And unfortunately, we're done with the easy cuts.  This next round of No starts to get emotionally messy.  He wants a DJ, but I'd be okay with an ipod.  I want hair and makeup help, but he'd say why bother.  He has an amazing Theory suit already, so my attire/accessory options are weighing a lot more heavily on the budget than his, which is a strange power dynamic.  He wants nicer chairs than our site provides but my aesthetic priorities lean towards paper lanterns, candles, and a pretty dessert table.  Neither of us are wrong  in our priorities, but I am not looking forward to our next round of budget negotiations as we both make some hard decisions and tiptoe around the emotions regarding our individual wedding priorities. I know other people navigate these issues with weddings every day, so how did you address the budget issues?  What were your biggest cost-cutting measures?  How did you balance everyone's priorities?  What were your most challenging compromises and where did you put your foot down?


  1. Oh, I feel for you. My fiance gave me a budget of $25k and in reality, we are coming in at $36k. So I get it about the unexpected costs. Though I have to admit, we are not having to sacrifice as much as you are (I applaud your composure in the midst of the hard choices you are making). I totally get it though. If it weren't for the fact that I have been blessed with an amazing job, there is no way in hell that I would ever be able to have a wedding on the scale that we are - ever! Unless of course I went into debt to do so which we refuse to do. And my fiance is handling some big expenses (my e-ring, the honeymoon, remodeling his house before we move in, etc) but I am footing almost the entire wedding bill myself. I am a bit nervouse since an unforseen car accident 2 months ago led to thousands of dollars in medical bills that are now heavily cutting into my wedding savings! I just hired an attorney tomorrow to recoup my losses but who knows how long that will take. The one thing I definitely had to cut that was a budget splurge (but I really wanted) was Las Vegas style gaming tables I wanted to have at the reception. A ton of family and friends are huge card playing fanatics and it would have been such a fun addition to have the option for guests to play blackjack, roulette and craps in addition to dancing...and even though it wouldn't have been a huge extra cost (about $1800), we just had to cut it out completely. I know that seems really trivial compared to the many 'nos' you are finding yourself shelling out. My fiance and I disagree on the budget big time...but just remember to respect each other and try your hardest to compromise while not having to lose everything you want along the way. You'll get through it and it will be great.

    Btw, I totally applaud your thoughts of comfort and convenience for your guests...so important to me as well!

  2. I'm sorry you have all of these NO's :( It's so hard to get married in a high-cost-of-living area, isn't it? We were going to do $10,000 budget. Now it's crept up to $15,000. And we've just started planning, so I have no idea where we'll end up.

    For us, rather than saying no to things we really cared about, we decided to extend the engagement to give us time to save up. We also chose to get married not in NYC (where we live), but in Philly, where we went to school. I would say that was the "No" that made the biggest price difference.

  3. ALAL,

    Budgets suck. We are two months out and still over our alloted budget. So now two months to go we are calling the caterer for another round of cuts from the menu and rentals.

    Since you have so much time left to go, you should sit down with the boy and prioritize together what is important as a couple and then negotiate the things that are important to each of you individually. It is nice to agree on things before you get into the nitty gritty of what you both want.

    You cut most of what I did and in some cases a little more. It is definitely a tribute to how bloated prices are in LA. Keep up the work and focus on happy things, everything will work out in the end.

  4. Ugghhh...budgets. I feel your pain. The thought of spending 25K on a wedding makes me want to vomit (or hyperventilate as the case may be!) We're working on a much smaller budget than yours (like 4K) but I don't relish the hard decision discussion with him. We've already had one about a DOC. Its just not in the budget (obviously!) but he insists he doesn't want to do any work on the day. Still haven't resolved that one!! Ugghhh...again!

  5. Pick what you really want, whether it be the wedding cake or flower girl or fancy shoes and get it! Then let everything else go.

    What I really wanted was the photographer, so we are saving saving saving and not eating out.

    You could also not have a registry and just ask the guests if they would consider doing something for the wedding instead of buying a gift.

  6. Oh, hon. We are in one of the worst cities to try to save money. I definitely say to pick the things that are really important to you (mabye 2 per person) and then just make a decision to let other stuff go. Focus on the yesses instead of the nos.

    I think we all get wedding blog overload and we start thinking a wedding is all about the details. It isn't. It's about the big picture. You can let go of lots of those details and the wedding will still be perfect.

  7. What if you built the budget in the opposite direction, from the bottom up? Rather than starting with a figure, you could list all the things you'd like to do/ have/ experience on the Big Day, with actual costs, and then remove one by one, until you get to a number that you're comfortable spending?

    I had the same reaction to our initial budget: more than I made IN A YEAR as a grad student, way more than my first year out of college salary, enough to feed a Himalayan village for years, enough to buy a pony, etc., etc.

    But when I took it out of that context (what else could I do with it?) and put it into the context of what we wanted for our day, it began to make a lot more sense. We wanted an indoor/ outdoor venue that we could have for the entire day - called a bunch of places and found that that was a minimum of $5K in the Bay Area. Ok, $5K it is.

    Wanted delicious, local, organic food, negotiated our caterer as low as we could, removed table service, ok, that's the cost per head. Didn't care much about decorations indoors or out, so borrowed what we could, and left it at that...

    I guess this is pretty much what everyone else says: Prioritize. I would add decontextualize. I had to STOP thinking about how I could feed a Himalayan village for year, or save it, or renovate the house, and realize that this was the only wedding I was ever gonna have, so it better be a damn good party!

  8. I thought I was the only one who stalked everyone's wedding albums on Facebook ;)

    If you want to stay within your original budget, it sounds like you might be able to do it with all those no's you already have set out. Just do whatever you feel you can live with, and if you want to go cheaper, keep cutting.

  9. Our little budget started at 10K with help from both sets of parents. Slowly, it has been creeping up lately due to the reality of wedding costs. The only vendors we have are a caterer and rentals but I was naive, I suppose, about how much these things would cost (and I thought I had budgeted high!). We are doing the iPod route and borrowing a sound system but splurging (for my mother) on a ceremony musician. We are getting the invite design and photography free which is the bonus of having a blog. We are getting kegs and wine only (people can bring in flasks if they really need it). As far as decor, I like the little details...a lot. And I don't mind spending a little bit out of my own pocket every month for it. I've slowly been collecting things without touching the actually wedding savings and I don't feel badly about it. Hey, we're only going to do this once, right? So we might as well make the most out of it.

  10. Thanks everyone. I know we all go through this, but it's hard anyhow (though commiseration helps!) We've done our prioritizing list. We've done tons of budget cutting left and right already. And the current number is still higher than anything we'd remotely hoped to spend (let me say that $15K was a flexible number, a "goal" if you will). It's also hard because we both have different priorities. We agree on the photographers, the guests, the venue and and the Jewish marriage part. We agree on cutting lots of the details (and often on which details to cut). But man, this last holy cr*p part of the budget slicing and dicing is killing us. I'm slowly realizing we're going to have to come to peace with a higher number than we wanted, even as we keep cutting and reprioritizing. Man oh man.

  11. Oh honey. First thing I have to say? Talk of budgets on the blog-o-sphere are totally totally unrealistic. So there is that. And in a high priced city, you're screwed from the beginning. We spent more that your goal budget, I'll tell you that. But we knew we would... it's San Francisco.

    So. You're going to have to cut more for sure if you want to make the budget, and there is no way to fluff about with it, you just have to sit down and be realistic, and it sucks.

    I'd say - You need a photographer around the $1K-$1.5K mark, you probably can't do a DJ, I doubt you can afford shuttles, and you'll probabably have to cut getting your hair done, and keep your outfit affordable. And you know what? Everyone will LIVE. Most of the solutions we came up with because we had to (ipod, friend doing hair) ended up the best parts anyway. Swear.

    So do what Rachel said. Start from the yesses. There are so many no's in the non-traditional or low budget wedding process, but the power of the yesses ends up being much much greater. So look at that No list - that's all stuff people made you think you need, not stuff you really need, so in a way they are not really no's, just f* this's (which are much more fun). We had almost nothing on that no list but 1) We spent a good effing amount since our area is expensive, and we decided we could live with it and 2) Our yes list is SO much radder than that no list could ever be.

  12. Glad you're on the mend!

    Totally agree with Barefoot Bride and Meg. Step away, don't think of numbers, and try to list the Yeses. It can happen. Borrow what you can, look on ebay, glance around the house - can you use anything? I'm no graphic designer, but if I can help at all on the invites, I'd love to at least try.

    I can give you our suggestion of using an iPhone to control a computer to run the music if you want too. I've been meaning to get the Mr. to blog about that too.

    Anyway, our reception cost was over budget because the drinking was more than we thought. We had an unexpected generous gift that covered it. Things somehow work out. Otherwise, you'd be surprised at yourself and how much you can save if you really try!


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