Bride on a Budget: Setting Priorities

Stephanie breaks down the most important considerations of preliminary wedding planning.

The time Matt and I spent in Mexico right after he proposed turned out to be the perfect opportunity to lay the foundations of our wedding game plan. During all that alone time, we focused on how the two of us envisioned the big day. A bridal magazine suggested that, with so many things to consider, setting priorities would be the best way to navigate the planning process. With drinks in hand and the ocean lapping at our feet, we settled on the things most important to us:

Location: While I grew up in Chicago, I went to George Washington University for college and have lived in DC ever since. I love both towns, but DC has become my home. Lucky for me, my mother and older sister are supportive and excited to help plan a Washington wedding.

Date: Matt and I both love autumn, but a wedding would’ve been hard to schedule at that time—Matt is in law school, and both of us have teachers and college students in the family. Instead, we picked an early-summer date—June 11, 2011—to avoid the treacherous heat of DC and give us time to be newlyweds before Matt starts class in the fall.

Venue: Matt and I are both pretty big history buffs: we love visiting old homes, battlefields, and towns. With that in mind, one of our main priorities became finding an historical site for our ceremony.

Photographer: I love that the trend in wedding photography is moving toward the photo-journalistic style.

Budget: Even though we’re paying for part of the event, Matt and I are fortunate that both sets of parents are contributing. Without their support, pulling this off would be nearly impossible. We’ve since cracked figured out what we can realistically save and contribute while also paying student and car loans and mortgages and trying to avoid the Ramen-noodle lifestyle for the next 18 months. The final budget (more on that later) may be on the low end for a city wedding, but I’m confident it’ll be a lovely ceremony nevertheless.

Guest list: This part was tough! With so many factors to consider, we went with a medium-size ceremony. Since most of our guests will travel to DC for the wedding, we want to make sure they have a lovely time. For us, this means finding great rates at hotels and possibly setting up tours.

Preliminary planning tips from the Budget Bride:

• Don’t assume all of your guests will make it. According to caterers and sales managers at various venues, a general rule of thumb is that at least 20 percent of the people you invite won’t be able to attend.

• Organize yourself. Use an Excel spreadsheet to break down your budget—lots of wedding Web sites provide ideas on how to do this. Matt and I are adapting their suggested percentages, but the guidelines are still helpful. Be realistic about what things will cost, and don’t forget to account for details such as your marriage license, attendant gifts, and postage. The small things can really add up.

• Don’t rule out bridal expos. More than one or two may be unnecessary, but they offer lots of helpful tips and vendor information. I attended one expo that helped me gauge what photographers, videographers, and DJs in the area cost, which really shaped our budget. These events also offer a ton of freebies, such as engagement-photo sessions, bridal-magazine subscriptions, and food.

With a general game plan, Matt and I are ready to start in on the specifics. First up: searching out the perfect venue. It was a doozy of an experience. Catch up next time for talk of meeting some not-so-nice vendors and our (almost) never-ending list of places to see.

Read more Bride on a Budget posts here

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