Friday, December 30, 2011

Budgeting: The Dress

So, a budgetary set-back right at the start, but a counter-balanced budgetary win!

I'm going to start with the set-back, because this IS a blog, and I want people to know how my fiance and I worked through things (real-time). So, the groom's attire - that's worth putting in here at the start.

Groom's Attire - Warnings and Helpful Tips

It turns out that my fiance's dress blues are going to cost approximately $700 when all is said and done. Oh, dear. Now, I realize that we'll need to get these whether or not there's a wedding, so maybe it's not an expense I factor entirely in (say, $350? Is that cheating?), but still, when all is said and done, it's money we're spending. So take note, women (and men) in military weddings!

For those of you NOT in a military wedding, a piece of advice:

  • Instead of renting a tuxedo, try buying one used. Chances are, a used tux will, first of all, be cheaper, and will, second, fit better. Cheaper and classier, what could be better?

The Dress - My Story

Now, on to the dress. I had honestly hoped to come out of this with a dress under $500. I saw prices online, I looked at David's Bridal and other such stores, and I looked at consignment bridal shops.

After my first run through, I came out with a front-runner - a $700 dress. Yes, that was consignment. And I would have to have the dress altered. And then pressed and cleaned. And then shipped. And then probably cleaned again. I was now running about $1000 on the dress, double my budget, and with the aforementioned $700 dress blues showing up to the party as well. I had no idea what to do.

In my case, the pain passed relatively quickly - I simply decided that no dress was worth $1000 to me. With that in the forefront of my mind, I started looking again and found an amazing dress for $450, very well-made, new, and something that I can hopefully dye and use again later!

The Dress - Cautionary Words

For what it's worth, here is my advice: beware of reference points. It's a principle of economics, but it's very applicable to non-academic spheres of life, and you've probably already noticed it. Here's how it works: you see an item, and a price, and you measure every similar product against that one, and this can work either for you or against you.

How, you ask? Well, if you wander into a store and look at the clearance rack, seeing rows of $150 dresses, and then the saleswoman shows you a $4000 dress, you're likely to feel that one in your gut when you look at the price tag. But if the first dresses you see are $4000, and then you look at $2000 dresses, you may end up feeling like $2000 is a relative steal, even if you had sworn you wouldn't spend more than $800 on your dress.

"Oh, god, how do I avoid this?" Pretty simple. First, look only at dresses in your price range, and make very sure that the first few you look at are all in the same price range. Second, before you buy anything, go home and take a day to consider it. It's easy to get swept up in things! Take the time to clear your head, and make the decision when you're not surrounded by sparkly ballgowns.

Some Other Advice (Not All Budget-Related):

  • Set your dress budget first! Before anything else, set your dress budget. This may be a range. Think (and talk to your fiance) about what will happen if you absolutely, positively fall in love with a dress that's out of your budget.

  • Shop Consignment Before Boutique - search for well-reviewed consignment shops in your area. These shops have dresses that may be used, sample, bought-but-never-worn, or liquidation from other stores. A good consignment shop will be picky about what they take, and will have had the dresses cleaned; they will also probably have their own alterations staff.

  • Take Suggestions - at the first shop I went to, the saleswoman picked out a few dresses for me to try on, and one was the quintessential "princess dress," ballgown skirt, embellished bodice, and all. I had really not wanted this type of dress, but I tried it on and I have to say it looked good. Did I go with it? No. But you may look absolutely stunning in something you thought you could never pull off. Knowing that the final decision will be yours, let people suggest things - you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

  • Consider the Cost (and Effect) of Alterations - almost any dress you try will need to be altered. Consider this at the start, and factor it into your budget. Ask the saleswoman what type of alterations she thinks you would need, and ask for a rough estimate of cost for those alterations. Most of mine were in the $100 range. Also consider the effect of these changes: I will be adding a sash, bustle, and seam tuck to my dress - it will look different in silhouette and effect than the dress I tried on.

  • Sleep on It - if your dress isn't a one-of-a-kind (or if you think you can live without it; more on that below), go home and consider it. Ask if you can take a picture. Think about the cost, think about what it means to you. Whether or not it's in your budget range, it's a big purchase. Chances are, it will still be there tomorrow and you will have a clearer head.

  • Consider That You Might Not Find "The Dress" - my friends told me that I would find the perfect dress and burst into tears and instantly know it was The One. Let me share my feelings on this, and as with all advice, know that you don't have to take it! You might not find that dress. Or you might, but you might not be the type to get emotional over a piece of clothing. Or you might be so stressed you can't think straight. But, honestly? There are many dresses that will look wonderful on you. You will be glowing with joy on your wedding day, and you will look beautiful! It may be worth it to you to say, "This dress looks wonderful on me. There may be one out there that looks better, but it's worth it to me to know I have the dress and I don't have to worry about it anymore." (And yes. I did get a bit teary-eyed right before I decided on my dress. I didn't see that coming.)

  • Also, are you sure you want a white dress? Consider other options! You are in no way obligated to wear white, or even a dress at all!

  • Look In Unexpected (High End) Places - after all that budget hunting, I found my dress at Nordstrom's. Did they have expensive dresses? They sure did. But I picked dresses at random from the racks and ended up with 5 under $500 and one over $1000. The dresses were well-made, of better fabrics than I saw at boutiques, and Nordstrom's arranged to find one of the only THREE in the U.S. in my size, and then have it shipped to me at no cost. How amazing is that?
You will see other lists exhorting you to try vintage stores, bridesmaid gowns, etc - listen to these, too! Remember to be patient - it is highly unlikely that only ONE dress will look beautiful on you, and, as my mother reminded me, "you could wear torn jeans and a sweatshirt and your fiance would be starry-eyed."

In short? Pick something that makes you feel beautiful and won't fill you with guilt. "Guilt-ridden" is not the optimal wedding emotion!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reducing Cost: Hair and Makeup

I'll be the first to admit that I am blessed in my highly-creative friends and family. Almost all of them write, or sing, or do graphic design of some sort. Your friends may not care at all for crafty pursuits, but I strongly encourage you to ask around - some of them may be hiding a passion for doing makeup, hair, or manicures!

My amazingly creative, talented maid of honor (hereafter known as "C") had been hiding just such a passion. (Well, not "hiding," per se - but when does that come up in conversation? Yet another reason to ask around!) We've started trial runs of hair and makeup for the wedding and, in addition to having something wonderful to squee over, we're having a lovely time chatting and hanging out together. What could be better?

So, maybe you've always dreamed that your wedding would be the day you could hire a professional makeup artist and look red-carpet worthy, but before you splurge, at least take time to consider the talent among your group of friends or acquaintances, and know that you may end up looking just as wonderful!

Consider: your friends are likely to know what kind of makeup you wear, how you like to present yourself, and they will also know your face well. Over time, your friends have seen you on your good days and your bad days, and they may have a good idea of what makeup to use to help you feel your best on your wedding day.

Do you need to cut your professional hair-and-makeup artist? No, of course not. But if you're looking for areas to cut, this is definitely one to consider. The internet is full of tutorials, and your friends are full of talent!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Inexpensive Wedding + ? = Gorgeous Reception

NOTE: I wrote this a while back, when I thought my wedding was going to be in the winter. The exact details have changed, but I wanted to post this anyway for an insight into the planning process. And I reiterate: don't let anyone tell you that you absolutely need someone to design your centerpieces for you. That's hooey. If you want to design them, go for it!

I admit it: I want a gorgeous reception. I really mean gorgeous. I mean "everyone walks into the room and goes, 'Ohhhhhh....'" - that kind of gorgeous.

Except, wait - I want an inexpensive wedding. Oh, dear.

But I will admit that, from the get-go, my attitude has been, "I get to make things!" I love making things! I love designing things, and creating things, and crafting things (there's something very relaxing and satisfying about making something with one's hands). And I've looked at several very classy, very elegant wedding centerpieces and gone, "I could do that."

So, let's look at a (hopefully) gorgeous table design that I can make fairly easily and inexpensively, and how that can be done. We assume 25 tables, oblong.

The look I want to evoke is the softness of falling snow, with gently-glowing light, and an edge - just a touch - of the sharp-and-still coldness of a midwinter night.

How to go about it?

  • First, the white of the snow - white tablecloths with a layer of white gauze/tulle and piled tulle along the center of the table (snowdrift)

  • Second, soft-and-glowing - white paper lanterns at the center of the table, nestled into the "snowdrift," and two clusters of frosted-glass votive holders to either side, also nestled into the tulle

  • Third, sharp-and-still coldness - what comes to mind when I think of this is a deep midwinter night, sky like blue velvet, a few stars flickering, the black of bare branches and the red of winterberries, all above glittering snow. Well, the snow we've taken care of. But I think accents such as cut-crystal votive holders and wreaths of hollyberries would really add the sharp aspect of winter.

And ... how much would this cost?

For the first item: white tablecloths, white tulle. Unfortunately it looks like the tablecloths will be around $10 apiece at best (this is from a buy vs. rent search in my area). A google search shows tulle at $40 for 50 yards. Say 3 bolts. So:

  • 10x25 + 3x40 = $370

For the second item, we're on better ground. You can get an assortment of votive holders at any Goodwill, and combing one through gave me 12, averaging $0.75 apiece. If we assume clusters of 3-4, so 7 per table, we'll need 175, which gives us $132.25. Frosting spray is about $15. Paper lanterns can be bought for about $1 apiece, so $25.

  • .75(175) + 15 + 1(25) = 172.25

For the third item, well ... Clear votive holders are fine (see above - we can just NOT frost some of them and mix those in, so there's no extra cost), but winterberry wreaths may be difficult. I found 16" sprigs of faux winterberries online for $3.75 apiece, though, and I'm betting that I'll be able to work those in, maybe in amongst the tulle snowdrift or in one of the clear votive holders. Say one per 5 tables, in that case, and thus:

  • 3.75(5) = 18.75

What does it all come to?

  • 370+172.25+18.75 = $561

Clearly, there's some planning still to go! But we'll work on that. Nothing is set in stone yet!

Thoughts? Objections? Advice? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reducing Cost - Wedding Date (and Day)

The most popular months for weddings are May through October. It makes sense, it absolutely does - those months span what tend to be the clearest, most beautiful weather of the year. But what if you didn't have to get married then?

"Wait!" I hear you cry. "This isn't feasible for me! I live in Alaska/North Dakota/Maine! It gets really cold and snowy, you have no idea!" I really do sympathize. I grew up in rural New England and I now live in the midwest, so I am no stranger to unpredictable weather. I'd like to encourage you to consider, however, November or April, or keep your eyes peeled for a bargain date in late October or early May.

Some things to consider:

How much do you really care about getting married outside?
Really, honestly. Ponder it for a moment. Picture it in your head. If you are firmly wedded ( to being married outside with the wind in your hair and the sun shining down, this whole November-April thing may not be your cup of tea. But if you've been wavering between outside and another setting, read on ...

This would be a real chance to stand out!
Honestly. How many weddings have you seen that have a beach/summer/wildflowers/pastel colors theme to them? Those are lovely, of course. But imagine how striking a fall or winter wedding could be, working with rich, warm colors, and evoking the natural drama of winter weather. I've included some eye-candy from photos of a Minnesota winter wedding to drive this point home:

You could go elegant, snow-themed and glowing...gourds and leaves, could evoke the first signs of spring, tulips and crocuses! The possibilities are endless!

Last, but not least, for those of you who are reading this for the frugality, I present the numbers:

In this article from MSN, a few key pieces of information can be extracted:
  • only 5% of the weddings in the U.S. take place in January
  • fixed costs per guest at banquet facilities can drop 20-50% between January and March
  • Example: the Meeting House Grand Ballroom in Plymouth, Mich. has a $2300 discount (for a 200-guest wedding) between January and March, $2000 from the switch to "Friday prices" and $300 from the ceremony fee
This article in the Telegraph shows that saving money with a winter wedding is not just an American thing:
  • Couples can save up to 50% - I don't know where they got this figure, so it makes me twitchy, but I'll quote it anyway!
  • Beware Christmas weddings! No, not Christmas-themed weddings - weddings right around Christmas! Their expert notes that this can drive the price right back up. Also, consider that many churches may have decorations up in the sanctuary or fellowship halls, and altering them could raise the cost!
Last but not least, think about getting married during the week. The rates you see listed on websites are usually Saturday evening rates. If you have the vacation time, consider the middle of the week! If you want to stick close to the weekend, consider a Monday or Thursday wedding - as you saw above, switching even from a Saturday to a Friday rate can save $2000!

Thoughts? Comments? Questions?


Welcome to A Simply Elegant Wedding!

I am a 20-something in the midwest, looking to plan a wedding that is beautiful and elegant, but does not go much over $5000.

Impossible, you say? Yes, even a brief time spent poring over webpages and sample budgets will tell you that weddings are regularly much, much more. In fact, there was lovely chart published recently about the cost of weddings in the United States (included at the bottom of this entry). First of all, the numbers made my blood run cold. Second of all, consider this quote from Carly Roney, who is editor in chief of The Knot Inc:

"Brides remain committed to planning a luxurious, memorable event and are willing to spend despite the state of the economy."

I could go on (and on, and on) about how I feel about the cost of weddings. But I won't, because it's probable that very few of you reading this blog are here for a discussion of economics, sociology, and psychology. You're probably here for the DIY and budget-y goodness. (And if you are here for the academic discussion, well, leave a comment and we can start an email chain!)

So! Wedding Budget: $5000. How much can I save by making things on my own? What can I make on my own? How can I save on venue, decorations, food? What about dresses? Flowers? Each entry will contain as much cost detail as I can find, to help you estimate how much I'm saving and how much I'm spending.

Let the games begin!
Oh, and because I promised this: