Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Real Los Angeles Wedding Budgets

I was emailing with Ms. Awesome Weds, and she mentioned this budget moment all big city brides can probably relate to:
"I have to admit that when we first started planning our wedding my attitude was "why the hell did "fill in the blank with couple's name" have to spend so much d*mn money on a wedding? How ridiculous!  My first email back from Marvimon pretty much answered that question." 
Um, yes. And our budget shock is compounded by the contrast between reality and those stunning photos of the charming DIY cost-saving options at Marvimon and Smog Shoppe, mixed in with our sincere goal to hit that elusive $10,000 budget mark (she nearly made it, right? I can nearly make it too, right?) We throw out these arbitrary threshold numbers like $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000, thinking it should be simple to stay within budget if we aim for a simple wedding, and feeling like spendthrift failures if we don't.

Eff that.  We should chose budgets because they're reasonable for our aims, our city, our guest list, and our pocketbooks.  And we should decide on our budgets based on real research and real prioritizing. And we should stop judging each other for the money we do or don't spend on these events. You know what would also be nice?  Cold hard numbers. Real numbers, not BS outright lie pie-in-the-sky numbers that make us feel like failures and give us unrealistic expectations.

Now, I know budgets and money are a tricky subject. It's culturally uncouth to talk about money, and I feel almost naked trying to attempt it.  It was hard for me to put myself out there last week and talk about our $15,000 goal and the looming $25,000 possibility.  But you know what, I want to know more about real budgets, real struggles and real choices and so I put myself out there too.  I want it to be okay to talk about real weddings and to expose the $10,000 wedding photographer fantasies up front so I can smile at the pretty and put them aside.  I want to find weddings with my budget level so I have a sense of a reasonable starting point and reasonable compromises you have to make in those situations.  I want to find descriptions of sites online that don't say it costs $, $$. $$$. or $$$ but say upfront that it will cost you $7,000 for an empty room so I can research and move on. 

So, let's stop tiptoeing around the numbers and talk about real Los Angeles budgets. And let's be nice about the woman who put herself out there with an honest assessment of her wedding expenses. Maybe you remember her beautiful wedding from Hazelnut Photography's photos and thought "I could do that."  Yes, you can, if you have about $36,000.  Because that's how much this sort of wedding costs in Los Angeles.  But you know what, the most important part is how she notes in her Weddingbee post that it was all worth it and she wouldn't change a thing.

That's the feeling we should be chasing as we grapple with budgets: that our choices are worth it to us. Of course pocketbook limitations help define our spending and constrain our wouldn't-it-be-nice visions, but couples of every budget can aim for the "yes, it was worth it" feeling.  Personally, I don't have $36,000 to spend on my wedding so it wouldn't be worth it to me, but it really helps to see that the weddings I've been lusting after are simply out of my price range. Period, end of story.  But you know what's great about the $36,000?  I can finally move on and figure out what does work for my price range without holding onto unrealistic hopes and expectations. And that's an incredibly freeing idea. We need more of this freeing budget info here in weddingland, for low, medium and high budget weddings, and I'm hoping to discover more honest assessments along the way.


  1. Well said on Cupcake's plus one post, by the way, I'm in the "we've pinched every penny we can to invite our huge extended families" boat, so I appreciated your wise words very much!

    I agree, budgets shouldn't be such a hush hush thing. I had a rough time when I realized that I couldn't afford a Forest Park wedding...I had no idea I couldn't when I first started planning, because no one ever talks about how much they spent.

  2. Hurrah. This is why I love when people talk numbers. It brings the whole fantasy wedding notion back down to reality. As in, I love your $5,000 dress. But I can't afford it, so now that I know how much it costs, I'm going to move on and not obsess over it anymore.

    It also irks me when dress sites list prices as $, $$, $$$, or $$$$. What the hell does that mean?

  3. i am in the camp of people who wish real financials would be discussed more often - not just in the wedding world but in the real world when i read about someone who opened their own business or bought a house, i'm always wondering how did you make that happen so I can figure out how or even if I can afford to make that happen?

    it also upsets me how wedding blogs discourage discussion of money and everyone tries to sound like they had a small budget and that their weddings are attainable. for example,i tried to comment on a recent once wed post to point out that although the bride said she had to "cut costs," she still bought two designer gowns rented a venue that cost $7k+ - so she was misleading readers. but my comment was not approved! way to perpetuate the WIC, once wed!

  4. Look at our wedding. We were exactly in your budget range. I can't/don't talk numbers, because that's the price I pay for a high online profile. I'd get trashed and it's not worth it.

    But. We had your budget pretty much. I never aimed for $15 though. I was lucky in a sense. I'd done events, I knew what they cost, and I knew right off the bat the number that would give us what we wanted, but not drive us to financial ruian. So we did that. Big city weddings are pricey. Period. We got an amazing deal of a venue (stunning venue) with rentals for $2,500. Online people will tell you that is alot. In the bay area? It's the single best deal their is for a 'traditional' venue (ie, kitchen, dance floor, ceremony spot). And everyone knows it, so it books up 1.5 years early. And that's when we booked it.

    So yeah. The unrealistic thing is awful, but people are so horrible about it, that it's a hard nut to crack.

  5. And @Julie
    I can't speak for others, but I know I discourage specific money conversation on my site because it gets horribly ugly and judgemental and competative in two seconds, no matter how I handle it. And it's just not worth it. Having an LA bride trashed from spending $20K by a Oaklahoma bride who had a *nicer* wedding for $10K is just stupid. Better to talk about how to make it work, no matter how much your spending. So anyway, that's just my thoughts on that.

  6. Meg -
    I think I should have been clearer that I have no judgment about people who don't share their budgets, I just get excited by people who do. I was horrified to see the sense of entitlement from Ten Thousand Only's readers about hearing her budget numbers and actual anger that she'd gone over her arbitrary (pre-researched) line in the sand budget. And I love the range of weddings you've highlighted and the ever-important CONTEXT you've provided along the way. And I completely understand your hesitancy to discuss your own financial decisions, particularly because your site attracts brides and grooms from across the spectrum who are looking for a general sane approach, not cold hard numbers. Numbers might take away from the message. Also, I feel a lot less naked talking about real budget numbers with my readership than I'd feel with yours.

    I'm trying to avoid some of the budget discussion devolution by focusing on LA/big cities. We (theoretically) earn more, but the cost of weddings is absurd and both the $10K and $100K numbers can drive us batty. I want context for real, non-Knot, non-campsite, big-city practical events. That's definitely what I'm aiming for here as I try to strip away the judgment and look at the realities. Like Julia, I'm someone who appreciates honest conversations about all finances, but I'm trying to tread carefully and be respectful of what those numbers mean.

    Also - $2500 for a beautiful site, rentals, dancefloor and a kitchen is A-Maz-Ing. And I know exactly how (nearly) impossible that is to find in LA.

  7. I can see Meg's point about budget competition and I think it is important to remember that spending more or less money doesn't make you better than anyone else. That said, I love seeing actual numbers because they feel real to me.

    My sister's wedding was in Orange County, not LA, and it took more work than I would encourage sane people to undertake, but we managed to have a really fun wedding for 120 - 150 people (we gave up on RSVPs as the date approached, so I have no idea how many people showed up) for under $5000. We had to cut a lot of corners, but it was possible and it was a beautiful wedding. Much more like our parent's generation of weddings than ours.

    Overview post here ...

    More details on other posts from that same week on my blog.

  8. Thanks for using my naivete as a jumping off point to talk about something that is always so hush hush, and not just in the wedding world either! The point that really resonates with me is that the amount you spend doesn't matter so long at it's WORTH it to you! (and hell it'd be nice not to go into debt too) Giving an artist money to take our photos is absolutely hands down worth it to us- hell we're already so excited about our photography and our wedding is still 10 months away. Having a big showy cake? Yes they're pretty (sometimes), but this particular line item has NO real meaning to me whatsoever. C really wants to cut a cake though- so I'm making a small, cute, and delicious cake. Cost will be low, meaning high. I think it's important to figure out what has personal meaning for you as a couple, or family and then if you need to shell out the dollars so be it. That's just my approach though...perhaps i'll explore it more over in ms. awesome weds world one day soon! :)

  9. All I have to say is that I chose an original goal based on the blogs that was completely unrealistic for what I actually wanted. This became clear within about three actual planning days. I just need to get okay with the amount it costs, because it's what we want. But realistically, I'm back and forth between sticker shock horror and feeling like this is something it's okay to spend money on. A difference of $3k now means a lot (I'm still a grad student), but it won't mean as much a few years down the road.

  10. @Rachel
    Ah, yes, but you had a *backyard.* What we would have given for a backyard. Almost 75% of our budget was the venue and the caterers (who were fantastic, don't get me wrong.) who we had to get because of the venue. We had some choice but limited choice. But all of our families are relatively urban, so we didn't have a yard big enough for the big family.

    I would say, for a big expensive city non-campsite wedding with say ~100 people, where you have to rent a venue, and you say, have a job and can't make every single thing from scratch, $15 is your LOW bar. Low meaning, possibly not possible.

    We had family who got married in Baltimore the year before we did, which is infinitely more affordable. I could have DIED when we showed up. We had the same budget, but they had a formal night time museum wedding. David's mom kept asking *us* to look into museums, and I had to break it to her that in SF, to get a 2 hour cocktail, standing room only, reception at a museum was $35K. And that wouldn't count clothes, flowers, the place to get married, invitations, and on and on.

    I'm rambling, but you get the idea. They are 'spensive, the events, no matter what. That said, if you do it right, and thoughtfully, and cut costs the best you can (keeping sanity), they are also worth it.

  11. I'm on the tell people the real numbers boat but can respect those that don't. I'm currently trying to figure out if there is any possible way I can do mine in Chicago for $12,000. I've already resigned myself to the fact that we are going to have to cut things — a lot of things. But that's OK with me, because there are a lot of wedding things that I'd rather not have. But I'm starting to think it may not work. We shall see...

    Oh, has anyone else had trouble getting a flat quote from caterers? I just want a straight up answer to figure out if a company is within my budget without them having to go through extra work. But they all want to sit down with me and create a custom menu before giving me any prices. I guess maybe the "custom menu" should be my first clue.

  12. Yes! I'm loving this discussion as I heartily agree that it is much easier to look and move on when you know the cost up front. But I think something else that often goes unmentioned on wedding blogs is the familial pressure the couple receives to increase their budget. I'd like to believe that everyone else's family is the kind of family that is super supportive and goes along with whatever cost-effective idea the pre-bride and groom come up with - but I kinda doubt it. True - probably for about 80% of people that is absolutely the case. But what about the rest of them? And do they have any tips on how to handle this?

    We're shooting for a $15K type of wedding in LA and haven't given up hope that we can actually get pretty darn close to it. I think a big reason why we are still believers is because we like what a $15K wedding means (at least for us): intimate celebration with close family and friends, less emphasis on the details and more emphasis on the marriage, and tailoring the ceremony and reception to fit "us" as a couple. But what I'm finding more frustrating than catering prices is the guilt and demands coming from my family on what "our" wedding should be. The demand of 300+ guests rather than the 175 we are shooting for. The demand for $100 a head catering because "you get what you pay for". How do sane, price conscious women come to terms with that kind of reality? How do you hold the line on your budget without feeling like you aren't accommodating your guests (and therefore being incredibly selfish with your wedding)?

  13. Holy cow there's a lot of thoughts on this. I commend you on your post (and all the comments). Money is and will always be a touchy subject...but as suggested, while not necessary, it's good to have honest open discussions about budgets to help brides with a comparison price point and see what is available and attainable at any budget level. My venue alone cost us $6,500 (18% of our budget) for just the rental - no tables, chairs, decor, food, nothing. But I only spent like $1.00 each on the though I went overboard on one thing, I went super duper cheapsakate on the's all a matter of taste and personal desire. So don't feel judged by whatever it is you do or don't do.

  14. @Beth You're totally right about the non-understanding family aspect. Unfortunately some people don't have families that "get it." I wonder how much resistance I'm going to face when they start to find out my plans. I've read advice that says to quietly listen to what they say, thank them for their advice, and the quietly continue with what you want. Anyone else have words of wisdom?

  15. @beth and @ bunniesnbeagles: I can say the best way to shut it out has been paying for it ourselves. If that's not possible for you, then I suggest a real conversation about everyone's roles and expectations with the wedding, apart from details or logistics, to get everyone on the same page. Conversations with questions like these might help:

    Unfortunately, if your folks are paying, it's going to be a compromise. And if they're paying, my guess is they feel a lot of pressure to reciprocate for weddings of THEIR friends' children that they've attended. There's a lot more social pressure and expectation on them, surprisingly. So the best thing at that point is to have honest conversations about the real purpose of weddings and your real life goals.

    I also suggest coming armed with photos. My mother nearly cried/shrieked when I told her about my love of picnic weddings. Months later, when I started showing her photos of what I was talking about (simplicity, elegance, joy) she started to get it. When we also started talking real numbers about her seemingly-reasonable-but-not-at-all desires, she also started to get it. We're not on the same page about everything, but she gets it.

  16. @los angeles love: Thank you for the advice!! (and for the link to your post - very helpful). In fact, the issues I am having with my family and money are the exact reasons why I won't accept money from them. (that and my fiance and I have discussed how much we value being able to pay for our wedding ourselves). Nevertheless, my mom has decided that she still gets to call the shots. haha - (shaking my head) - weddings seem to bring out the best and worst of family. But THANK YOU again for the words of wisdom! :)

  17. Thanks for bringing up this topic! I got married in Boston, after having lived in two other very low cost of living cities for my whole life. I was shocked at what was considered "afforable" here, in terms of weddings along with rent, food, blah blah, etc... My entire guest list was from out of town, so we couldn't move it out to the burbs, or a rural location nearby that wouldn't be accessible by cab or subway. That narrowed it down to very few choices. I was lucky, parents were chipping in and I had some savings to spend on a wedding, but it was very difficult to weed out the too expensive vendors right away (due to the $$, $$$, not talking about money at all on their websites). I was lucky I found my crazy low cost full service venue, otherwise I don't know what we would have done. I do agree that talking about bare bones numbers can bring out the best/worst in people when it comes to wedding blogs; however, it is nice to find other women in expensive cities that manage to pull it off for five, ten, or fifteen thousand, just so we know it can be done!

  18. Eh, I meant to say "affordable"! Afforable sounds like adorable and affordable.


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