But in these tough economic times, not everyone wants to spend that kind of money for what is—after all—just one day in the life of a couple that’s embarking on a lifetime together. So, how do a bride and groom have both fun and elegance on their special day without breaking the bank?
Since 2002, Ela Ambrozewicz has been the events and wedding planner at Hills Country Inn in Callicoon Center, NY, and in the last three years, she’s started doing weddings and other special events offsite as well. Because every bride deserves to have a special day for her wedding, I asked Ambrozewicz to offer some strategies for how to achieve affordable elegance.
“The number one thing is to set priorities—for the bride and groom to decide what’s most important to them.” For Ambrozewicz, this involves getting to know the couple and finding out what matters most to them about their wedding day. Maybe it’s being married at home. Maybe it’s having all of their friends there to help them celebrate. Maybe it’s serving fresh, local food from a nearby farm.
If a couple wants to do something special to create a “wow” factor, Ambrozewicz believes, “it should say something about the couple. Say they love ice cream; then, why not have a big ice cream bar for dessert and put out 25 delicious toppings in interesting containers? It can look beautiful. Do something that is special to the bride and groom.”
Make a budget
Making and sticking to a budget is the other most important consideration when affordability is a consideration.
“First,” advises Ambrozewicz, “decide how much you want to spend, and then, if you have limited resources, the most prudent way to go is to stick to a strict budget that will hold you to that number. Because you have a budget, if one aspect of your wedding day is most important to you, then you can make cuts in other areas to make that one priority work for you.”
One word of counsel—the reception is the most expensive element. “Always, half of your budget goes to the reception, for the hall and the catering,” she said. “Most other pieces of your budget fall into the 10% range.”
Keep it simple, she urges, and don’t hesitate to ask yourself, “Do we really need all of this?”
Is a wedding planner necessary?
Fully aware that I am talking to a wedding planner, I nevertheless ask if having a wedding planner is really necessary. “Planners help in a lot of ways,” Ambrozewicz replied. “A wedding planner should be able to save you money, to work with you and say, ‘Let’s figure it out and keep it simple.’ Usually, a wedding planner will have relationships with vendors in the area and will be able to help that way, too.”
A wedding planner not only knows what kinds of decisions need to be made, but also can help the couple put things into perspective. “Maybe you don’t need the most expensive silverware at the tables, for example. Maybe you don’t need flowers on every table; maybe just one big flower arrangement is a better choice. In that way, a wedding planner knows where to get the most bang for your buck.”
To my surprise, Ambrozewicz has a definite opinion about “the dress.” “I don’t think it’s important to put so much money on the dress. Beautiful, yes. Something you like, yes. But keep in mind, it is for only one day.”
Keep it simple
So, what other tips did Ambrozewicz have? “If you’re really looking to keep the budget low, limit the number of guests,” she said. She suggested categorizing the guest list. “It’s okay to say, ‘Sorry, but we can’t invite our work friends,’ for example. You can also limit the number of people in your wedding party. Having one or two close friends is fine. You don’t need to go overboard. In fact, nowadays you even see couples getting married without a wedding party, where just the couple is standing there getting married.”
As for saving on food, Ambrozewicz’s recommendation again is to keep it simple. “You may want to serve family style,” she suggested. “It’s not as expensive, but it doesn’t look like you’re cutting corners if you’re passing the food in a beautiful bowl. Also, there’s nothing that says you have to have a big Saturday night thing. Have a tea party, have Sunday brunch—the options are endless.”
And what about the cake? “Wedding cakes don’t seem to be the trend these days,” she said. “There’s often just a small cake for the bride and groom.” Other options include serving a variety of homemade desserts or cupcakes, or “maybe your mom makes the best lemon bars in town. If she made them for dessert, that adds a nice personal touch.”
Then, Ambrozewicz offered a word of caution about the bar. “A bar can be very expensive,” she reported. “Remember, it’s just one day and one party. It’s okay if you serve just beer and wine and a signature cocktail. That way, everyone will have a choice.”
DIY: the pros and cons
And what about the idea of having your friends do things—say for example, taking the wedding photographs? “This could be a formula for disaster,” Ambrozewicz cautioned. “Using your friends for their skills is wonderful, but you need to know your friends well. Some may have the best intentions but may not be able to pull through on the big day.” But she added that, in deciding on a professional photographer, you don’t have to hire the most expensive one. “There are a lot of photographers just starting out, and hiring someone like that will cost less. Make sure you see samples of their work, and make sure you like their style. If a young photographer is clearly experienced with a camera and knows what to do in bright sunlight as well as in a dark spot, then probably it will be fine.”
“And what about music?” I asked. “DJs cost less than live bands,” she pointed out. “Or get a band that’s just starting out—one that’s not so well known. Or save by using music on your iPod, with a play list, to go with cocktail time, and have the band play later.” (Bands generally are hired based on a five-hour time period.)
I asked if, in this day and age, it was acceptable to send an electronic invitation by email, which would save money on paper and postage. “Well,” she said, “you’re talking to a person who loves paper. There’s something to be said for receiving a beautiful personal invitation in the mail. To me, it’s more special and elegant and personal. These days, you can go to one of those craft stores or party stores, and with your computer, you can make the invitations yourself at home.”
When I wanted to know if she had any last thoughts about affordable weddings, Ambrozewicz raised the issue of gifts. “Many couples, because of tough economic times, opt to live together before getting married. So, they may already have things like plates, or a coffeemaker or other things. Increasingly, couples are asking for money for something—say, to help pay for a honeymoon, or to buy a piece of land or to buy a house. I think that’s smart because that’s what they need to start their life together.”
Ambrozewicz added another word of caution and a suggestion for the DIY bride. “One pitfall of doing everything yourself, if you don’t have a wedding planner, is that she’s not here to do the worrying for you on the wedding day. So then, assign someone to worry for you and to take care of the emergencies and the details. The day of the wedding is very intense—physically, mentally and emotionally. There are so many pieces to be put together.
“The bride and groom need to be able to relax and enjoy their big day. Your friends and family will be happy when they see you’re happy.”