Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The $10,000 Wedding... In Los Angeles

I am so excited about today's guest post from Liz Coopersmith of Silver Charm Events here in Los Angeles. I am a huge fan of Liz' sane approach to wedding planning and her range of quality resources for both high-end and everyday couples who are trying to navigate wedding planning challenges.  She offers top-notch wedding planning packages but, for those of us who aren't in the DOC or event planner budget categories, she also offers the Recession Bride Workshop and downloads, and her blog is chock-full of great local information and major deals (especially in her Wedding Wise Wednesday posts). She's even provided her readers with realistic information on a $10K budget breakdown in Los Angeles (and other major cities), which was such a breath of fresh air from a wedding planner that I reached out to her for more details in today's post. 

The best part about Liz is that she gets what's important about weddings. She had a $10K wedding herself but, more importantly, she had the wedding she wanted. In Los Angeles. She planned it in 5 months, went to the florist down the street, rented her dress (more on that later), had dinner at the Sunset Towers in 20's/30s art deco style, and even served a sit-down steak dinner. But best of all? She loved her wedding, because it was exactly what she wanted, and that's her approach to everyone else's wedding and joy too. 

Now, as a caveat about today's post, I'm still not sure how $10,000 became the wedding budget dream goal for so many of us. Perhaps because it feels splurge-ish but still reasonable. Perhaps because, once we acknowledge that our real desires for DJs and catered food and a dress are likely to cost $20,000 (or more), it makes us hyperventilate to realize that, while $10,000 is possible, it's won't remotely buy us the sorts of wedding celebrated in magazines and blogs and that we really truly want. And that's okay. There are ways to cut corners and expenses but, in Los Angeles, you'll rarely be able to achieve the sort of weddings celebrated in magazines or blogs (not that this should be your aim when you're planning a marriage) for $10,000.

Whether you decide to stick with a $10,000 wedding or recognize that it's worth it to you to spend more for a different event, you won't find any judgment from my $20,000 corner. My only problem with throwing out numbers like $10,000 is the unrealistic expectations that the $10,000 goal creates, and I think it's important to acknowledge what a $10,000 big city budget is and what it isn't so we can start to make better-informed decisions about our true wedding and budget priorities.

And so, Liz took her $10,000 budget for 100 people in Los Angeles and wrote us a post on some options for actually making that happen.  It's not a rundown of every inexpensive option in the city, but it's a starting point with numbers and suggestions that are realistic and manageable, if you're really careful and honest about your priorities. It's a reminder that this is possible, if you want it to be. And now, without further ado, Liz's tips for achieving a $10,000 wedding in Los Angeles (and elsewhere):

Venue ($1200 goal)
Lots of those will fit in the $1200 and less range for site rental, which is about the range you need for a $10K wedding
  • L.A. Parks and Recreation has finally broken down their list of what's available for weddings.  Some of these spaces are really pretty, some offer indoor-outdoor options, and all are affordable.
  • The California State Parks site has a list, too, although it's not as informative. 
  • There's also the Eagle Rock Arts Center, which is a very nice space, which doesn't need a lot of decoration, whose rentals start at $1200.

Catering ($3800 goal)
  • This breaks down to $38 per person, INCLUDING standard 9.75% tax and 20% service, $29.35 base without tax and service OR, if there is no site fee/only a charge per person for food, $38.50 per person.
  • Start with your favorite restaurant, and see what they have available. Many restaurants are less expensive than catering companies, which can't rely on restaurant clientele to keep their doors open.
  • Depending on where you're having the wedding and what your caterer can provide (chafing dishes? steno? Plates, etc.), you might have to bring in rentals. Provide the rental company with your menu, and work from there. As far as trying to find rental companies, google local ones. Use Yelp for referrals if you need to. 

Photography ($1000 goal)
THIS one is tricky, because that's about 1/3 of what a photographer usually costs.
  • Start by finding a photographer you REALLY like, and asking them if they have an assistant, or know anyone who is just breaking into the business, who would be willing to shoot your wedding for the pics, referral and experience. These days, every photographer has an assistant.
  • Think about cutting down your photography time - nix the getting ready shots, get the group shots, shove the big reception stuff (toasts, cake cutting, first dance) to the front of the evening.
  • My next-last recommendation is that old standby craigslist, but see if you can find a shooter that matches your style, and comes with referrals. There's the whole argument in wedding world that craigslist makes it harder for all of us, including craigslist vendors, to get paid what the work is worth, but a 10k wedding is a 10k wedding. Try an avoid the hacky shooters - you'll know them when you see them.
  • My last recommendation? Set up a flickr account for your wedding and put disposable cameras on the tables. Between the two of them, you'll get a ton of great shots.
  • If you REALLY want pro pics of you in your wedding dress, schedule a day-after or before shoot, which will cost you tons less.
  • Between/in a combination of all those, you'll make your $1,000 photography budget.

Attire ($1000 goal)
Tuxes are about $100 to rent, or perhaps he has a suit already, so that leaves $900 for your dress and alterations. 
  • I'm a see-the-dress-in-person kind of girl, so if you don't mind pre-owned or samples, I'd go for Glamour Closet  [LA Love note: Here's my review of Glamour Closet and Encore Bridal, which is similar and also local]. If seeing the dress in person is less important to you, there are a ton of resale sites online (like Recycled Bride, OnceWed, Preowned Wedding Dresses, Bravo Bride, etc)
  • I was just in David's Bridal and they had some really beautiful couture-ish gowns in the $600-800 range. Alfred Angelo also has some dresses in that range. Again, you have $10k and these stores offer a lot of affordable wedding gowns for women on a strict budget (but be VERY specific about not looking at the more expensive dresses)
  • When I got married, I rented my gown for about $800 at One Night Affair, so that's an option, too, AND they rent jewelry. Odds are, even though you could, you're NOT going to clean your kitchen in your wedding dress later. Renting a couture gown at an affordable price is a real option. 

Flowers ($1000 goal)
Keep it simple, stick to one type of flower. It doesn't have to be the cheapest flower, but you need to stick to one. 100 people =10 tables. If you keep it to $50 per table, that leaves $500 for the wedding party flowers, which is doable even without DIY. If you keep it to $35 per table, you'll have even more. I walked down the street from my apartment to the nearest florist and ordered mine, but again, ask your friends or vendors you've already hired for referrals. Venues are good places for these referrals.

Music ($1000 goal)
There's the ipod route, but you're going to need someone to monitor the music. Plus, make sure that you don't need to bring in a sound system. DJs can run twice as much as your budget for this is. My recommendation, again, would just be to ask around, starting with your venue.

Cake ($500 goal)
Keep the cake design simple. High end bakeries like Hansen's DO have cakes in the $3.50 - 5.00 a slice range, and their cake is delicious, it just won't be the fanciest cakes in their portfolios. Los Angeles Baking, Co. starts their cakes at $2.75 a slice. Fantasy Frostings just launched their Broke-Ass Cake Line which starts at $4.25 per slice. If you DON'T want cake (because that's okay, too), then just make sure you stay in the $3 per piece range, because you're going to need 2-3 pieces per person.

Invitations ($500)
Target has boxes of 50, complete with RSVPs, etc, for $24-35.00 per box. I just posted about a plantable invite company that has cards in the $2 - 6 range. If you do want to order online, get samples. At any rate, 50 invites, you'll probably have to spend $2 per invite if it's not from a Michaels or Target kit. And don't forget postage. 

Big Picture Tips:
  • Stick to your budget! You have $10k. You will be able to find what you need with a budget of $10k. You need to believe that, because it's true. Even when you get frustrated, you need to believe it, because it's still true. Knowing what you have to spend on everything will help you.
  • You have more time than you think. If you're talking to a vendor and they can't work with you, move on. The last vendor you meet is not the last chance you have.
  • ASK. If you don't know where to find what you need, post the question on your favorite wedding site/blog, etc, or ask whatever vendor you've already hired. Ask a vendor you really like, regardless of if you can hire them. The worst they can say is no, I can't help you, which means you're not behind, you're just where you started. Big girl panties are important here. If you're old enough to get married, you're old enough to ask direct questions so you can get what you need.

Thank you Liz for such great tips and, more importantly, the reminder that we can actually do this. We can actually plan a straightforward wedding with the white dress, pretty venue, flowers, and cake for $10,000, even in a city like Los Angeles. Go check out more of Liz' great information and inspiration at the Charmed Weddings Blog or at Silver Charm Events.


  1. Do I hear angels singing? Why yes I do.

    Effing brillant.

  2. Some great advice - even for those of us not in LA!

    Also, I wanted to comment on the 10,000 magic wedding number. That is about what we are going to spend and for me, 10,000 is a good goal. It is as simple as it being a easy, even, round number. Its also a good barrier for me. We are trying to stay at or under 10,000 and I feel like once I break that 10,000 barrier then I'll just round up and suddenly our budget will be 15,000.
    In other words, I'm crazy. and slightly compulsive about numbers. So the 10,000 mark is all mental.

  3. So clever!

    And I don't really know how ten thousand became the goal, but I do like it. It's in the range of do-able without feeling extravagant.

    We tend to think about weddings in terms of how much we can afford to spend, but that isn't the only part of it. I'm not comfortable spending a lot, even though I might technically be able to afford it. You have to be comfortable with your budget, wherever you've set it and then stick to your guns when people get all weird about spending too much or too little.

  4. It's easy to get caught up in the IMPOSSIBILITY of it all. Thank you so much for the glimpse between the lines. Sometimes you just need to look where you hadn't imagined to find what you need.

  5. Yay! I agree with Lyn- it's so refreshing to read a post about what CAN be done for a reasonable amount! And I just wanna chime in and say that on Easter I did flowers for our table for around $25...4 different types to be specific. So if you go the DIY route with your flowers, you can probably have more than one type and still come in under budget! :) Thanks!!!!!

  6. @ Ms Awesome - we didn't even touch on all the DIY/ alt centerpiece, alt catering, alt dress etc options here. Because I just wanted a basic, straightforward, don't-tear-your-hair-out wedding for 10K. Because it can be done. And it's easy to forget that and fall down the rabbit hole of alt-option cost-saving hunting. And some people just want a florist and bakery-made cake, darnit.

    And as for all the rest of the cost savings and independent minded alternatives, that's what I've got a year to explore/share here on the blog. :)

  7. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. THis is great and makes me feel great about our choices. I thought we went a little over on some things, but from this list we looks to be about right.

  8. @buhdoop - I'm glad it helped, but I just wanted to chime in and say this wasn't meant as a baseline for comparison. Although it can help put big city pricing in perspective. And it reminds us that pro photography really costs at least $3k on the low end (for example) in LA unless you super luck out. We're not going "over" on our choices for these things - we're just making choices. The local market affects our range of choices and what you can get for $500 vs $1k on any given item (quality, quantity, etc), but that's it.

    So of course your budget is right, if you're comfortable with your choices based on your options and desires. And if you got great value for your dollar, even better. Yay!

  9. I'm going to second Lyn's comment. It is easy to get caught up in the impossibility of it all, especially when you're in a higher cost area. You see what other people are spending and think, gee, I guess that's not unreasonabe. Case in point: I had a moment where I was convinced it wasn't unreasonabe to spend $1k+ on flowers, when I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE FLOWERS. Yeah. Got over that. I love pretty flowers, don't get me wrong, but I love not parting with $1k+ for them even more.

    In the end, that's what it's coming down to for me.

  10. Oh, good, I'm glad everyone seems to like this!
    I wanted to chime in on the DIY discussion - I am NOT a DIY girl. I would rather find it cheaper than have to build it myself any day of the week. If you can do it yourself and you're happy with the results, go for it. If you can't do it yourself AND be happy with the results find a way to get it done within your budget.

  11. It's good to hear it can be done and see some tips that are actually good advice, not just the same redundant "budget" talking points. I'm going to check out Liz's site.

  12. very practical, very do-able budget breakdown.

    i love this tool - thanks for sharin'.

  13. sometimes I'm jealous that you still have a whole year Becca! And sometimes I'm so happy to ONLY have five more months! LOL.

  14. First of all, I freaking LOVE the fact that we are in an era where people brag about how little they spend on the wedding while still throwing a sweet (and personal) shindig. I'm lucky enough to have wonderful and talented friends who are donating so much towards my wedding day. Our venue, rentals, music, photography, and cake are all being donated/ridiculously discounted by friends. Those are most of the big ticket items of the day and we are still looking at spending around $10,000. Even though I'm a bit north of LA, I will definitely be scouring these resources to try to keep it as close to 5k as possible!!

    Thank you ESB for turning me on to ALAL!

  15. Great advice for anyone around the country. Also, I note that depending on your priorities, you can shift this. We're leaning more toward a $15,000 budget. We're spending more on food/beverage (because we're foodies as well as wine and beer snobs), but we are nixing the flower budget entirely, and came in under on both the DJ and the photographer.

    Another good tip for photographers - PARTICULARLY if you live in a major city, as nearly every major city has at least one fabulous art school - hire a student. I knew there was a college near my venue with a ranked BFA program for photography, so I started with the school newspaper and went from there. I found someone with a fabulous portfolio who has experience shooting weddings (both as an assistant and as a freelancer), which we're getting for a song.

    If there are no art schools nearby, scout out the photojournalists at the local newspaper, who often freelance weddings. You also have the benefit of "wedding photojournalism" if you go this route, which gives you some really cool photos.

  16. Brilliant. Awesome. Inspiring.

    I love when I read a post and it makes me want to jump up and down... this did that.

    The big picture for me, is that different people have different priorities... some folks go all out on floral while some go all out on food. Different strokes for different folks.

    I've taken some great nuggets of knowledge and look forward to sharing some of your ideas with my readers!! Thanks!

  17. We started with a small budget (under $10K) but of course it ballooned as all the incidentals start to pile up. What about an officiant, a honeymoon, alcohol, wedding rings? Presents for the wedding party? Including everything, even the engagement ring, we ended up at $21K. And we split it halfway down the middle and got about 1/3 covered by monetary gifts and a honeymoon registry. I wouldn't change a thing and I can't wait to sell as much as possible, including my dress.

  18. @Bri - congratulations on your wedding and being happy with the wedding and budget you had. That's really the most important part of any wedding planning experience. But, just to point out, the aspects you mentioned were all choices that mattered to you, and don't need to be included (or cost much at all), depending on anyone's else's priorities. Officiant (friend = free), honeymoon (part of my annual vacation budget, not the wedding budget), alcohol (some people don't have any due to religion/cost/alcoholism, some do BYOB beer and wine, others could include that price in restaurant catering, others have a limited open bar, etc.), presents for wedding party (some don't have a wedding party, some write heartfelt notes, some handmake a gift or photo book), engagement ring (some don't have one, some manage to do a non-diamond or other inexpensive option), wedding rings (pawn shops, ebay, recycled gold options and other simple bands can run each of you well under $500 total. Some people who work with their hands don't wear wedding bands for safety reasons.)

    I'm not discounting what you say: that there can be more aspects to a wedding budget than those listed here and that, even if you go over your initial goal it can be worth it. However, I really wanted this post to focus on how we CAN achieve that $10K goal, if it's important enough to you, and that every budget requires choices that you should feel comfortable with.

    I've mentioned it here before, I was aiming for $10K at the beginning and it's a lot larger now. I'm not judging anyone's budgets, just offering some other perspectives on what often feels impossible.

  19. When I first got engaged (4 months ago) I thought "$5,000" but my future husband helped me realize that 5K just isn't realistic in the Bay Area (California) with our expectations. So after finding our perfect venue that cost $5,000 alone (completely killing my original budget on just the site fee), I've estimated $15,000 as a more obtainable budget. I'm budgeting another $5,000 for food and beverages, $2,000 for photography (the one area that I wish I had a bigger budget), $1,000 for rentals (tables, chairs, dishes, etc.), $500 for gratuities, $300 for gifts/favors, $200 for DIY flowers (we're getting married outdoors with views of the bay/beach), $250 for invitations and our website, $250 for guest transportation, $250 for the officiant, and about $250 for miscellaneous stuff.

  20. I am so sorry, but I completely disagree with the majority of this post. $1000 on flowers? Really? Flowers are a HUGE waste of money. They die quickly, are usually made using harsh chemicals, and most people won't notice or remember them. Be more creative with your centerpieces- pictures of you and your fiance in nice (cheap) frames, for instance. How about candles? Or if the venue doesn't allow that, peacock feathers in a vase? Carry a silk flower bouquet you make yourself or go to the grocery store on the day of your wedding a buy a bouquet then wrap it in ribbon. Voila, you just turned $1,000 into $200.

    You don't need to look on Craigslist or hire an assistant (which, btw, most photography assistants are NOT photographers, they haul and prepare gear without ever pressing a shutter, you want a SECOND SHOOTER, which... yeah, good luck getting your photographer to give up the names!). Try local colleges for free or cheap photographers who actually have some experiences or ask for referrals from other budget brides. Starting photographers usually charge $800-900 even in the LA and Bay Areas. You just have to find them! Google helps with this, too. Be sure to ask to view a whole wedding if they've shot one, don't just go off of the pics on the blog.

    $900 on a dress? Mine was free. Craigslist! Or how about looking at getting a white bridesmaid dress. Some are REALLY fancy, sometimes fancier than some wedding dresses, and look great coming down the aisle. You can get a nice bridesmaid dress for about $300. Add in $100 for the alterations and there you go- $400!

    Skip renting a tux and throwing away $100. It's a waste. Dress pants, dress shirt, and a sport's coat looks great. Or break away from the norm and get wear khaki pants with a colored button-down short sleeve shirt! Or buy a $75 linen suit!

    Music- get an iPod and ask a groomsmen to man it for you. Most DJs will also rent out their sound gear for a fraction of their regular DJing prices. Or if you are active in your church and have a good relationship with your pastor, ask them if they church has a sound system you can rent. Mine has a great one they let you use for a small donation.

    Cake and catering shouldn't be shorted on. Your guests may have paid to come to your wedding or at least they should come with a nice gift. It's your duty to supply them with a nice meal and a good time.

    But there you go... that's probably a $7,500 and yes, you can pull this off ANYWHERE! I had a $5,000 wedding and it was awesome! My guests still talk about it to this day as one of the best and most unique weddings they've ever attended.

    It ain't about the money. It's about what the purpose- you are getting MARRIED! If at the end of the day you are a wife or husband then you've accomplished your goal. Keep that in mind!

  21. @Eco friendly - you'll notice throughout this blog that I and a lot of readers are using a lot of the suggestions you're mentioning. *This* post was specifically for a different perspective from someone who DID have a $10K wedding in LA who didn't WANT to DIY (because really, I'm useless at it/have zero time too), who DIDN'T want to clean up at the end of the night, who WANTED the standard wedding dress and CAN'T get it for free/cheap (trust me, craiglist and used dress sites were impossible for my height) and whose husband WANTED the tux. What doesn't seem worth it to you is entirely worth it and important to someone else. Like Liz. Who shared her truly useful and appreciated advice here, as most of the comments indicate.

    Overall, this blog is chock full of comments and support for entirely out-of-the box wedding ideas. And what you think is necessary (cake and catering) I say oh well. I'm having delicious tacos and churros and saving a ton and feeding everyone. It's all about priorities. (And fyi, you can buy pesticide-free, locally grown flowers in CA pretty easily, so it's not really fair to slam people who like and want flowers and always dreamed of a bouquet. It's not my deal, but then again, other people probably think my homegrown succulent centerpieces are weird and ugly.)

    And no, for the record, there was no conceivable way I could remotely have had a $10,000 wedding with our guest list, lack of backyard, need for handicapped accessibility, and desire for food and alcohol in Los Angeles. And we're DIYing a ton. And my dress was $200. And my venue was cheap. And and and. Food, drinks and venue alone (not including plates, tablecloths, etc) is $10K for me. And that's a $1000 venue, tacos, and 2 buck chuck.

    My point is, we all make the choices that are right for us. We work with our budgets and make choices based on our priorities. It sounds like you had a fabulous wedding for you and Liz had a fabulous wedding for her, all on a small budget. It can be done, in vastly different ways.

  22. Its really pains me to see wedding planners advising clients to put disposable cameras on the tables. I speak to all of our clients after their wedding and with very few exceptions the rubbish shots they have got from the disposable cameras is what they consider the most disappointing and biggest waste of their money.

    A cheap disposable camera with a small film and very poor flash put in the hands of a wedding guest who has probably had quite a few drinks is the worst possible combination for getting good photos in what is usually quite low light conditions.

    Advising clients to get a photo booth from their photographer or from a separate company is a far better idea and they will be guaranteed much better photos from it.

  23. @Boundless - this was specifically advice for people who DON'T have money for expensive photographers (and their photobooths) and need alternatives. Liz has a host of incredibly talented photographers who she recommends when clients ask, but this was a post about budget wedding options.

    Personally, I'd probably go with the "please send me your digital photos/upload them to flickr here" approach, but that doesn't mean disposable cameras aren't an alternative that works - especially in poorer communities where lots of people may not have digital cameras.

    Also, just to play devil's advocate for the disposables, Feather Love Photography posted an amazing series of photos from disposable camera shots by her guests at her own wedding. And no, her guests weren't all artists and photographers and most were blissfully tipsy. Some of the photos are still great. They're not pro photos, but they have a real charm:

  24. I'm not going to approve any more comments that miss the point here. Liz didn't offer up EVERY solution for an affordable wedding in Los Angeles but she offered up options for people who don't have DIY time or an uncle who takes photos and just want flowers. Just because they do. It's not the most comprehensive list of choices nor will you be able to get a $20,000 wedding on a $10,000 budget. But the point was to offer *suggestions* for how to possibly achieve it, without judgment for people who do go the floral route or the craigslist photographer route or the tux route. Or for people who go none of those routes. Make your own choices based on what meets your values, desires and means. This article was about some limited options within more limited means in an expensive city, nothing more and nothing less.

  25. Has anyone found a caterer/restaurant under $5k for 100-120 people? I am having the HARDEST time with that! Any recommendations would be wonderful. Thanks!

  26. @Anon - the best luck we had was with the Border Grill Taco Truck (set up as a full, standard buffet and not served from the truck, and a lot more than just tacos.) You can easily put together a gourmet Mexican-fusion menu that will be delicious and plentiful for under $5K (that could include labor/bartenders/serving staff too, but not equipment rentals.) Lots of taco trucks (gourmet and old school) are even less expensive. Ethnic food restaurant catering is also a better bet for cost.

    Other options: reception AT a restaurant, particularly on a Sunday (no rentals, so cheaper there, you could probably get it to about $50 per person incl. wine/beer and set options, and you could throw your rentals money towards tips.) More casual (but still cute!) restaurants would be even cheaper, like the Bluebird cafe in Culver City (for one example).

    And try to get creative - we did our own appetizers (Costco) and cake (friend) and booze (costco) which saved us money, but was logistically challenging. I know other people who ordered gourmet pizza and made their own salads. Or others who picked up take-out catering (deli, salads, things that don't need reheating are best) and hired minimal service staff through a staffing agency. You can definitely make it work on $5k!


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