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
- Bride's Dress
- Groom's Suit
- Bride's Ring
- Groom's Ring
- Food (including cake)
- Drinks (including alcohol)
- Picture-taking of some kind
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.