Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Driving Miss Daisy

In the midst of all the list-making, a very clear problem emerged - I had lots of little ideas but nothing to tie them all together in a way that made sense.  There needed to be some cohesion of the different elements - the colors, the centerpieces, the favors, the place cards. I didn't want them to be super matchy-matchy, but I didn't want them to look totally random, either.  What I needed was a theme - not an in-your-face kind of thing, but a little bit of inspiration that I could weave throughout the event to make it all gel, and something to use as a foundation for choosing the various decor and gift items I would need to buy.

The obvious starting point was our chosen colors, white and orange. Regardless of what theme we chose, the components would have to match the color scheme. I started searching by color on wedding websites and retail sites to see what options were out there for centerpieces and other decor. I knew the favors would be the easy part, because really, the sky is the limit - there is so much available and so many creative ways to personalize and customize them.  They can be simple or extravagant, you can buy them or make your own, you can find something in every color and style and size and shape imaginable, and all you really need to make it look sharp is the right packaging.  It's the other details that are more challenging - flowers and centerpieces and lighting elements, the real "showy" stuff.  That was where I needed to start.

Oddly enough, that is not where my search proved most fruitful, but it gave me enough information so that I wasn't so overwhelmed with choices - it helped me to clarify my options and narrow my search.  I had a list of lighting options, possible plants and flowers, pictures of real weddings to reference, and most importantly, I now had knowledge of what was available and realistic for my situation.

The whole atmosphere of our wedding is going to be casual but elegant, with a side of playful. The decor also had to match that tone.  Nothing too fancy, nothing too elaborate, nothing too traditional.

Oh, and nothing too expensive. Let's not forget that.  

I started doing general searches of wedding websites and vendor sites that included our colors and some of the items I had come across during my initial searches. Suddenly, the most amazing thing happened: I found everything I was looking for in one adorable (and affordable!) item. It took all the ideas that were swimming around aimlessly in my head and gave them shape and focus.

These little favor boxes solved all of my confusion. I must say, they are cuter in person, the picture doesn't do them justice. I got 120 of them for $85.90, including shipping, which works out to about $0.72 per box (I got them here). When we get closer, the idea is to fill them with orange and white candies. Easy!

At this point, the orange gerbera daisy became my theme. It has all the elements we need: it's sweet and vibrant and fun, but still classy, and definitely affordable. And of course, it matches our colors! 

Once I had come up with a starting point, all the other little details became so much simpler. I was able to tweak some of my random musings and abstract ideas into specific plans and designs. I came up with a centerpiece idea and starting shopping for the various components that would go into them. I was able to make decisions regarding attire, bouquets, ceremony and reception decor, and stationery.  All the little pieces began falling in to place and it actually started to feel like a real put-together wedding instead of a bunch of messy concepts on paper. I still had a long way to go and a lot of decisions to make, but it was definitely nice to have a solid foundation and finally have that feeling of accomplishment.

Driven by a daisy... I know there's a joke in there somewhere.

Friday, November 11, 2011

There's a List for That

I am a huge list maker.  Always have been.  I am first and foremost a big proponent of the classic pen-to-paper list, at least initially, but the convenience of certain software and internet programs cannot be ignored. 

As I've mentioned before, I use some of the free online tools offered at TheKnot.com and similar sites to organize things like my guest list and my seating arrangements, mostly because it's a pretty sizable list and there a lot of details to manage, and a database like that makes it so much easier to keep track of, add and edit information.

I also use Microsoft Excel to keep track of budgeting and expenses because I can input formulas that will automatically tell me information like how much I've spent in a certain category and our total expenditures so far.  Seriously, anything that can keep track of numbers and do the math for me is a worthwhile endeavor.

NOTE:  Sites like TheKnot.com do typically have free budgeting tools as well, but I have found that most of them work off of a very specific set of assumptions in terms of what your wedding will include, average prices and "typical" budget allocations for each aspect of the event that do not necessarily fit in so well with a more "frugal" approach.  Basically, their capabilities and usefulness seem to be a bit limited and don't adapt well to different scenarios, particularly planning on a highly limited budget, so I have not found them particularly helpful for my situation.

But for most other things, I still kick it old school with a legal pad and a clicky pen. The first list I made was a very broad, abstract list of pretty much every idea in my head - possible themes, favor ideas, first dance songs, color schemes, etc.  I then broke this list down into categories:

  1. "Basics" - This would include date, colors, themes, and approximate size.
  2. "Ceremony" - This would include location, officiant, music, rings and decor. 
  3. "Bridal Party" - This would include names of all bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower girl and ring bearer, and any pertinent information like dress and shoe sizes.
  4. "Attire" - This would include all the dresses (bride, bridesmaids, flower girl) and tuxes (groom, groomsmen, ring bearer) and accessories (head pieces, shoes, bags, etc.).
  5. "Stationery" - This would include save-the-dates, invitations/response cards, guest book, escort cards, place cards and table numbers.
  6. "Reception" - This would include location, food and drink, rentals (tents, tables, chairs, etc.), decor and centerpieces, music and cake.
  7. "Gifts" - This would include favors and bridal party gifts.
  8. "Other Services" - This would include things like transportation rentals, hair and make-up, tailoring, photography, etc.
  9. "Etc." - This would include anything not covered by the above categories (i.e., honeymoon, wedding night, marriage license, etc.) 
This pretty much became the basis for all my other lists.  And there we a lot of them, at first. I had so much information floating around in my head that I just had to write it all down or I'd never be able to keep track of it all.  There was so much comparison shopping and number crunching and brainstorming going on, I started to lose sight of what I was actually doing - planning my wedding! It was quickly becoming a very robotic, logical process and I realized that I was taking all the whimsy and excitement out of it.  I needed to take a step back and gain some focus.

I really believe that the key to a successful budget wedding is a combination of patience, persistence and organization, but also a sense of humor.  Always keep in mind what the day is about and what really makes a wedding great.  Maybe it would be nice to have the fanciest caterer and the most decadent desserts and the biggest floral arrangements, but it's really about the people and the vibe and the love, as corny as that sounds. 

Lists are important.  The numbers are clearly important.  Just make sure that you don't take the joy out of the equation.  No one is going to care how great their prime rib was if they didn't have any fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bare Necessities... for 150 People?!?!

When you're working with a budget (especially one as tight as mine) the easiest part is being able to quickly eliminate certain vendors, certain indulgences, and certain "extras" that just won't fit into the equation. Ice sculptures will not be part of the decor, lobster will not be on the menu, and U2 will not be performing at my reception.

The first question, then, is simply - what things do I absolutely need?

Not every wedding is the same, but there are basic components that nearly all weddings are going to have, in some form: a location, invitations, bride-and-groom attire, rings, an officiant, refreshments, decorations, seating, photography, music, gifts.  Even in its simplest form, these are going to be some of the unavoidable expenses. 

For me, the necessities consist of:
  • Ceremony Location
  • Reception Location
  • Invitations
  • Bride's Dress
  • Groom's Suit
  • Bride's Ring
  • Groom's Ring
  • Officiant
  • Food (including cake)
  • Drinks (including alcohol)
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Picture-taking of some kind
  • Music
  • Favors
  • Decorations
Before I could go any further, I needed to make a preliminary guest list to see what I was going to be dealing with in terms of size.  Of course, this was not solely my task, but my fiance's as well.

And here we ran into our first problem.

I was envisioning a guest list of maybe 75-100 tops, with the final number hopefully falling in the lower end of that range.  But when we got done with that first draft, we had close to 175 people on the list.  My future husband was initially not willing to budge on this issue, but there was no way we could afford to host that many people.  I left it alone for a few days and then approached the list again.  After a few go-betweens, the lowest I was able to talk him down was about 150.  Now, 150 people is actually a pretty average number for most weddings - but ours was not most weddings.  Still, I thought with some serious savvy and creativity I might be able to pull it off.

After taking a closer look at the list, I was able to determine that there were a fair number of "unlikely" guests there, meaning people I thought were unlikely to attend - out-of-towners I didn't think would make the trip, elderly relatives who rarely left the house, cousins whose first names he couldn't even remember, childhood friends he hadn't seen in years (plus, I was hoping I could get him to knock a few more off the list before it was time put the word out).  Of course, I couldn't assume that all of these "unlikelys" would be no-shows. I had to plan for the possibility of at least a few deciding to join us, but when all was said and done I decided to start planning with a working number of about 120-130 people.

There's a little danger in this decision, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.

Now that I had an idea of the size of this soiree, it was time to look at locations. From the very beginning, my instinct was leaning towards trying to do this thing ourselves at an off-site, outdoor location.  I thought that the more control I had, the better I could manage the costs.  When you rent a venue, lets say a banquet hall or a restaurant, you are at the mercy of what they make available to you - a set menu to select from, tables of a particular size and shape, color schemes, structural limitations, lighting, scheduling, sometimes even certain vendors the venue requires or "prefers" that you use.  Plus, there is the obvious detail that you are paying a fee to rent their space, on top of food and other costs.

My fiance has an uncle who has this gigantic, gorgeous house (let's just say it: it's a mansion, really) with an amazing backyard. We had gone to several events there, including a fundraiser and a graduation party, and I thought it would be the perfect place.  I felt awkward suggesting it (since he wasn't my uncle, after all, and I had only met him on a couple of occasions), so I just threw it out there, sort of as a joke, in conversation one day to gauge my fiance's reaction. He totally took the bait, and was quickly on board with the idea.  He went to see his uncle and just like that, we had our location.

So, our very first expense - the Reception Venue Fee - was a success at a big fat zero.

However, you will soon see that this sense of accomplishment was surprisingly short lived, and the road we had chosen was not as easy as we originally thought.  If I had done my research beforehand, as I would normally have done, I would have discovered that our outdoor, family-sponsored venue comes with a whole host of other considerations and (understandably) a lot more work. But we'll get to that part later.

Our chosen date was May 19, 2012.  This allowed me to start researching our first true expense, our Save-the-Date cards.  At first, I felt that this was not a necessity and almost did not bother with them.  But after speaking to a number of family members who really wanted them, and browsing the internet for prices, I ultimately decided that I could get them cheap enough to make it worth it.

NOTE: I highly recommend using a free online guest list tool (I use the one at theKnot.com but there are plenty out there) to keep track of everything related to your guests - names, addresses, RSVPs, seating arrangements, etc. I mention this here because, although our guest list consisted of 150 total people, many of them live in the same household and therefore require only one Save-the-Date and one Invitation. The online guest list tool summarizes all those kinds of stats for you - I was able to see very easily that I actually only needed to buy a total of 88 Save-the-Date cards, which undoubtedly saved me a lot of money in the very possible instance that I had not considered this detail myself before ordering.

I briefly considered making them myself, but I found a deal on VistaPrint.com for 100 full color Save-the-Date magnets, envelopes and matching return address labels for around $80, including shipping.  I liked the magnet idea and they were really cute for the price so I went for it. I'm glad I did because I had a lot on my plate (and on my mind) those first few weeks and I was able to focus on other details instead.

The exact cost of the Save-the-Dates came to $83.08 (which comes out to $0.83 per item, and I had extras) - postage to mail them was $33.32 (postage is one of these tricky hidden details you often neglect but it is noteworthy - we handed out a lot of them to people we see regularly and only mailed where it was necessary), so altogether it was $116.40.

Simple, but sweet, right? And it's a magnet - who doesn't want another magnet?

So the word was officially out.
This was really happening.

I needed to get my ass in gear.

At this point, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. For as long as we had been discussing this day, we had very few of the details actually worked out.  It was time for me to do what I do best: make lots and lots of lists.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For Richer or Poorer...

Let's just say that I'm really looking forward to that "richer" part.

Trying to plan a wedding with limited resources is an interesting experience.  Here's the thing: there are just so many details to consider that it's hard to know where to start, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. 

If I had the money, I would absolutely pay someone to plan the whole thing for me.  I would give them a list of certain ideas and requests and then let them go to town.  If money were no object, it wouldn't matter how many little details were lurking behind the scenes that I had never considered, and I could choose a caterer based solely on the quality of their food and not based on the price per person, and I could have floral arrangements that were out of season and a custom-made designer gown that I will never wear again and a gigantic three tier cake covered with diamonds and dripping in gold.

But alas, my bank account is far from bottomless and my budget is not my friend. So, an inexpensive wedding is not just a goal, it's a necessity.  I can't afford to just look at what's available - I need to find what is possible.

This is where the story of my "budget" wedding begins.

My goal: $8,000 or less.