Expert Wedding Budget Tips: Skip or Splurge?

Local pros suggest where to go big and where to go without when it comes to wedding day expenses.

Photo by Katie Stoops Photography

Want to know what wedding details you should splurge or save on so you can start planning your budget? We reached out to some of the top vendors in the area to hear their advice on what wedding services you should put your money towards. From specialty cocktails to beauty products, here’s what some area experts have to say about going big and going without. This article was featured in our latest issue, which you can check out here.

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➸ Splurge: Great service. It doesn’t matter how good the food is if it is late or cold.

• Skip: Obscure, overly complicated specialty cocktails. They slow things down.

—Danielle Couick, Magnolia Bluebird

➸ Splurge: Fake eyelashes—they make a huge difference in photos.

• Skip: Expensive perfume or a garter—which isn’t in many photos anyway.

—Astrid Woltering, Astrid Photography

➸ Splurge: Two important vendors: First, your videographer. Saving voice memories of your parents’ toasts and friends and family dancing and speaking is invaluable! Second, a great photographer: Your photos are a tangible takeaway from the day and important for years, generations, to come.

• Skip: Wedding favors! My team ends up begging guests to take favors at the end of the night.

—Kaitlin Przezdziecki, Cheers Darling Events

➸ Splurge: A big floral entry installation—something really grand and romantic to greet guests as they arrive to a venue, or a tent, or a garden.

•  Skip: Smaller floral elements such as corsages, boutonnières, pew markers, and flower-girl petals. They are fading in popularity, and you can often save a good chunk of change by skipping these smaller details.

—Lauren Anderson and Rachel Bridgwood, Sweet Root Village

➸  Splurge: Lighting can transform your reception. If you want guests to feel a certain way walking in, you achieve that through creative lighting schemes. Creative lighting can also afford more opportunities for unique photos.

• Skip: Fashion tape! It doesn’t work. Instead, make sure you have your outfit tailored properly. Fashion snafus will make you self-conscious and less able to relax in front of the camera.

—Jennifer Domenick, Love Life Images

➸ Splurge: On a planner or coordinator—the cost of being stressed out or disappointed on your wedding day is far too high.

•  Skip: Don’t feel like you need to go overboard with decorations or little touches that your guests may not notice—use that money on an extra hour of dancing or something fun.

—Evan Reitmeyer, MyDeejay

➸ Splurge: Your getting-ready area. If at a hotel, splurge on a suite that has great window light for photos and a room that is large enough for family members or the bridesmaids to take fun photos (e.g., robes/pajamas).

• Skip: Adding extra hours of reception photography coverage. By the end of the night, many of the dancing photos start to look the same. If you’re doing a special exit (sparklers, for example) we can grab a group of guests to do a faux exit and then get you back to the party.

—Terri Baskin, Terri Baskin Photography

Photo by Terri Baskin Photography

➸ Splurge: Upgraded chairs. They’re going to be the most repeated piece of furniture in the room and can make a big impact. Splurge on a style that better fits or elevates your overall design.

• Skip: The over-the-top dessert table. One or two options (e.g., wedding cake and passed sweets) is plenty.

—Sarah Kazemburg, Sarah Kazemburg Events & Styling

➸ Splurge:  Prioritize a beautiful bridal bouquet and head-table details. As photographers we’re able to maximize a few beautiful florals in photos.

•  Skip: Elaborate centerpieces on all the tables—sometimes simpler arrangements with candles and greenery can do the trick.

—Audra Wrisley, Audra Wrisley Photography

➸ Splurge: Highlight the venue! Find the unique feature you love about your space and accent it with flowers—like floral wreaths on beautiful double doors, or dramatic greenery on a fireplace mantel.

 •  Skip: Aisle decor, like the runner or pew decorations. The aisle is the focus only for a few minutes—and eyes will be on you! Also: Cocktail hour is often so bustling that guests don’t see the tables. I recommend minimal decor—a simple bud vase or a few votives—or skip it altogether, and leave more room on the tables for drinks!

—Elizabeth Town, Helen Olivia Flowers

➸ Splurge: Guests love to feel taken care of, and providing transportation for everyone makes the day seamless.

• Skip: A getaway car at the end of the evening. After a long night and a lot of merriment, it doesn’t make as big an impact as it does earlier in the day.

—Amanda McCabe, Beacon and Berkeley Events

➸ Splurge: The photographer you connect with and who takes pictures you love. Placing 100-percent trust in that person will allow you to ride the wave of your big day and truly be present.

• Skip: If the photographer you love is out of your price range, can you pare down the package? Maybe you don’t need those heirloom albums, or for the photographer to stay to the very end.

—Abby Jiu and Lisa Ziesing, Abby Jiu Photography

Photography by Abby Jiu Photography

➸ Splurge: Dress and tuxedo tailoring. Your comfort and confidence in a perfectly-fitted bodice or custom-cut tuxedo will come through in photos.

• Skip: Day-of accessories. That monogrammed clutch on your vision board is adorable—but will it ever leave the bridal suite on the big day? Curate your “something borrowed” with a meaningful piece of jewelry or heirloom handkerchief. This adds a layer of sentimentality that money just can’t buy.

—Alexa Lucas, Beacon and Berkeley Events

➸ Splurge: Extending the band. If you know that your crowd loves to dance and the floor will be packed until the very end.

•  Skip: The formal afterparty and allocate those funds toward a longer reception. Keep the energy (and money!) in the already-decorated venue. This will affect service and bar packages, so planning is key.

—Emily Butler, Karson Butler Events

➸ Splurge: A beautiful ceremony backdrop. This is often the first impression for guests and in all your ceremony photos. Whenever possible, we have the ceremony decor repurposed for the reception.

• Skip: The cheese board at cocktail hour. Stationary appetizers have their place, but cocktail hour is a time to mingle with passed appetizers flowing.

—Margo Fischer, Bright Occasions

➸ Splurge: The most important part of the day is the ceremony. Setting the tone with live music as you are joining your lives together creates elegance and class.

• Skip: The drone flying overhead. It’s called a drone for a reason—the sound is very annoying.

—Kevin Olivera, Olivera Music Entertainment

➸ Splurge: I love when the couple really takes care of their guests. For example, for an outdoor summer ceremony, one couple provided cold towels. For a late-fall outdoor ceremony, one couple provided stylish, warm blankets. If you are offering valet parking, have the attendants put bottles of water in cars as guests depart.

• Skip: Ceremony programs. I cannot tell you how many programs I’ve collected and returned to my clients. Guests read them during the ceremony but often don’t keep them.

—Vicky Choy, Event Accomplished

➸ Splurge: Creating an atmosphere. You want guests to remember the feel of your wedding, so splurge on things that make an impact in function (tent floors, lighting, paper goods), fun (band and bar), or eye appeal (displays, tablescapes, florals).

• Skip: Anything that’s not original. If you find yourself doing something just because it’s trendy and not because it’s a reflection of you and your partner, skip it.

—Kari Rider, Kari Rider Events

➸ Splurge: A moment that leaves a lasting impression. Dancing under a canopy of greenery and twinkle lights to a well-chosen song is a memory that will stick with guests (and you!) for years.

• Skip: Expensive centerpieces. When the focal point is the dance floor, guests will hardly remember what was on their tables.

—Sophie Felts, Sophie Felts Floral Design

➸ Splurge: Signature drinks for cocktail hour. This doesn’t have to be an actual cocktail, but maybe a craft-beer bar for the home-brewing type or a rosé station for the couple who is rosé-all-day.

• Skip: The full bar if your crowd isn’t a liquor-drinking crowd. Instead serve the signature drinks, beer, and wine. Or skip the Champagne toast. Instead make sure wine service is included and have guests toast with what is in their glass.

—Julie Vieira, Kruse and Vieira Events

➸ Splurge: Entertainment during the first course, such as an aerialist or fire dancer. It’s fun and sparks conversation for the entrée course.

• Skip: Live music during cocktail hour. Guests are more focused on food and conversation.

—Tabitha Roberts, Roberts & Co. Events

➸ Splurge: A pre-ceremony sip or bite. Nothing is more welcoming to a guest upon arrival than a passed beverage or a little nosh. In the summer, consider something refreshing; in the winter, a spiked cider or a modern version of mulled wine.

• Skip: Fancy glassware. I don’t know a single person who ever sat down at a 200-person, plated-dinner wedding and said, “What?! This isn’t German crystal?!” The standard wineglasses the caterer provides will be just fine.

—Teresa Antonucci Lee, Rex & Regina Events

➸ Splurge: A great band.

• Skip: The plated dessert course. The best celebrations have people up and dancing as soon as possible!

—Anne Kelley, Anne Kelley Events

➸ Splurge: Outside-the-box dessert. Splurge for something personal and interactive—a doughnut wall, popsicle stand, tiers of different pies, sundae bar, s’mores station, or even a dessert food truck.

• Skip: The elaborate wedding cake.

—Lisa Boggs, Lisa Boggs Photography

Photo by Lisa Boggs Photography

➸ Splurge: Your Instagramable moment. Whether this is an escort display that doubles as a backdrop, a hanging feature in the reception room, or a photo booth adorned with smilax and roses, having a place for guests to take selfies will not go unappreciated.

• Skip: Trying to cover up eyesores or boring corners. Sometimes there are features at a venue that are less than perfect, but why spend money drawing more attention to them?

—Ashley Greer, Atelier Ashley Flowers

➸ Splurge: Your bouquet and the head table are in 90 percent of your photos, so I would make them both super-full with tons of flowers.

• Skip:Make the other table centerpieces smaller so you can go big on the head table and make a statement.

—Liz Fogarty, Liz Fogarty Photography

➸ Splurge: A thoughtful, creative escort feature that can serve as information for guests getting to their seats, a backdrop for photos, and a talking point for cocktail hour, as well as a favor or keepsake.

• Skip: Too many tchotchkes. Monograms are great, but putting your name or wedding date on everything can be overkill. What seems like a steal on Etsy can add up to a lot of money and boxes of things no one really cares about. Choose one or two things and make them really lovely.

—Laura Ritchie, Grit & Grace

➸ Splurge: Going all-out to ensure that guests feel valued for their presence. This can be anything from personalized welcome notes to personalized gifts and place settings.

• Skip: Inviting your entire address book. A lot of brides who have really large weddings say afterward they wish it had been smaller. Keep it intimate and personal.

—Shile Bello, RAE Affairs


Assistant Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Jacqueline comes to Washingtonian with close to five years of digital content experience and SEO best practices. She previously was a senior editorial associate at WeddingWire, specializing in wedding fashion, and before that, an assistant at Vow Bride. Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, she now lives in Columbia Heights.

Amy Moeller
Fashion & Weddings Editor

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.