Yenting Chen

Yenting Chen

Illustration by Yenting Chen

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re planning your wedding. Pinterest is abuzz with tantalizing ideas for décor and, of course, you want a delicious menu, a spectacular venue and vendors who excel at what they do. Still, you don’t want to start off your new life together with a mountain of debt. So, how do you balance your budget and still hold your dream wedding? We asked a couple of local experts to weigh in. 

Get Real

“If you start with a realistic budget at the beginning of your wedding planning, you can avoid unnecessary disappointments and stresses down the road,” cautions Genève McNally, principal planner at DreamGroup Productions in Vancouver. “Planning a wedding is not rocket science and there are usually two things that make it challenging: budget constraints and family dynamics.”

McNally always begins by asking couples about their budget. If it sounds too low, she’ll advise them to prioritize. “I’ll tell them, it’s not that you cannot do a wedding on that budget with that number of people, but rather that you won’t get the kinds of products and services you’ll likely want,” she says. “My favourite couples are those who have a realistic budget and room to move on it if there’s something they really want.”

Beyond the Minimum

Many couples start their research by contacting a reception venue and receiving quotes on catering. The term “minimum spend” comes up often and is easily misunderstood, notes McNally. “So many people get the wrong impression about that and think, ‘Great, I can afford that.’ But typically, no one wants the starting price, the cheapest centrepieces and the least expensive item on the menu. Starting prices are very misleading. What couples need to know is the actual average price per person at a wedding at that venue.” The most popular Vancouver venues charge between $150 and $225 per guest.

Do the Math

Starting out with venue quotes is putting the cart before the horse, says Tara Thorpe, wedding planner with Forever True Wedding Designs in Vancouver. First, you need to sit down and talk about how much money you want to invest in your wedding. “The bride and groom have to be on the same page when it comes to budget,” she says. “If they know that parents and grandparents are going to chip in for the wedding, they have to have those conversations, too.”

Once you have a clearly defined budget, you can discuss the length of your guest list, since your budget will dictate the number you can afford to invite – based on the kind of wedding you want. “Take the number of people you intend hosting, multiply that by your food and drink portions at your venue and that number should comprise 60 per cent of your budget,” McNally says. The remaining 40 per cent will be absorbed by invitations, flowers, dresses, favours, hair, makeup, the cake, photography, videography, transportation and the myriad other details involved. 

Your Top Three

If the numbers you calculate look unfeasible, well, it’s time to start trimming. Re-prioritize by either eliminating certain items or reducing the number of guests, McNally suggests. But first, sit down with your beloved and make a list of the top three things that are most important to each of you, both individually and as a couple. “Keep those things a priority, so they don’t get lost within the budget-crunching,” says McNally. “This way you’ll get what you really want in the wedding.”


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Trimming Tips

Time of year and time of day make a big difference to the budget, wedding planners agree. Avoid nuptials on a Saturday night and opt for a wedding outside of the peak season (October to April).

Reduce the time allotment for your wedding. For example, cutting an eight-hour span to six will reduce the costs associated with your music vendor, photographer, videographer, catering and reception venue.

Host a breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea reception instead of dinner, which is considerably more expensive.

Instead of ordering a large, expensive wedding cake, choose a smaller one for display and serve guests slices from a far less pricey sheet cake stored in the kitchen.

Printing costs for stationery can mount up quickly. Consider writing or designing your own table numbers, programs and menus. There are many innovative ways to communicate information to guests. Consider chalkboards, attractive mirrors or handwritten signs instead.

Wedding favours are extras that don’t always justify their expense. If favours are a must at your wedding, give one per couple instead of one per person. And consider making them yourself instead of purchasing them.