Wedding Wednesday: Guestbooks and Guestly Stuff

I’m aware that guestly is not a word (so is the predictive text on my iPad).

But I wasn’t sure what else to call the various activities that you might want your guests to participate in at your reception, i.e., everything that isn’t eating and perhaps dancing.

Even the most unusual weddings have some form of a guestbook, but nowadays brides and grooms seem to be taking it a step farther with more personalized traditions.  And since most of these can be relatively inexpensive, I thought this was good cause for a round-up.

First off, our wedding:  Aside from the traditional guest book, we also had a “Wishes” jar.  We took a simple glass apothecary jar, attached a sign made from super fancy (not) printer paper, then cut about 200 pieces of paper and fanned them around the table.  Guests were encouraged to write a wish that they had for our future, then place them in the jar.

Aside from the fact that I was able to incorporate our wedding colors (orange and green), this activity also made for some interesting reading later.  (Wishes ranged from hopeful and sweet to hilarious and naughty.)

Since I already had the jar and the paper (and even still, I used very little paper), I spent zero dollars on this project, yet it had a big impact in that it occupied our guests while the catering staff changed over the room and got the food out (and like I said before, it made for some very interesting reading material later).

Ok, enough about us.  I prowled the Internet, as I often do, and came up with a few more cost-effective options for your wedding guests’ pleasure.  The image is linked up to the original website, where it was available (many of these have corresponding tutorials to help you with the tricky details).


Guest polaroids {Source: Girly Wedding}


Guestbook Tree {Source: Chanelleaxis Flickr}


A Letter for guests to sign and display in your home
{Source: So into Weddings}


Guest fingerprint balloons
{Source: Oh Amanda}


Picture matte for guests to sign
{Source: Exclusively Weddings}

wish tree :  wedding Wish Tree

Wish tree
{Source: Wedding Bee}

Wish tree!

Wish tree
{Source: Pinterest page}


Wish tree
{Source: Here Comes the Guide}

Check out the previous posts in this series…

Setting a Date

Finding a Venue

Picking a Caterer

Saving on Invitations and Save-the-Dates

Photography & Videography

Bridesmaids’ Dresses

Wedding Flowers

Ceremony Decor

Reception Decor

Wedding Music

Travel Registries


Wedding Wednesday: Reception Decor

As I approach the end of this series, I’m starting to get into the stuff I really enjoy: the decorating part!  I mean, I like planning and choosing and making lists as much as the next gal (actually, I probably like making lists more than most people I know), but the fun part comes in the personal details.

Last week, we discussed ceremony decor; this week, I want to address reception decor.  Regardless of your individual choices, most receptions have the same, general components, and usually the biggest money-sucker of all of these components is the dreaded centerpieces.

Even the penny pinching-est out there would say that $10-15 for a centerpiece and table cloth isn’t so bad.  But when you do the math, the dollar signs add up pretty quickly.

Ready?  Math time:

200 guests @ 8-10 people a table = 20-25 tables

20 tables @ $15 = $300

25 tables @ $15 = $375

And that’s just if you have 200 folks.  Woe to you if your wedding is bigger (ours was).

If you have ugly tables at your venue and must cover them, factoring the cost of buying or renting table cloths or runners is very important (in fact, this can be one of the biggest expenses for the tables).

Then if you want flowers in vases, tea lights in glass votives, and some other clever nonsense decorating your table, well… you can see how all this stuff adds up.

Fortunately for us, we were able to negotiate a great deal on these fancy schmancy table cloths, and because of their color and sheen, they dominated the table and our centerpieces were simple in comparison.

photo by jk Dallas Photography

For the centerpieces, we ordered orange roses and some cool berry thing I can’t remember the name of, then took green filler from my parents’ backyard.  Each arrangement was placed in a silver pitcher (my mother used her own then borrowed the rest from every aunt, neighbor, friend, and suburban lady we know).  The effect was elegant and simple, but not exactly the same at every single table (we like variety).

photo by jk Dallas Photography

So, here are some cost-effective options I have found on the interwebz.  And I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that a lot of these involve Upcycling.  (I mean, aren’t these the things we have come to expect by now?)

Daisies, mums, and zinnias in empty cans {Source: Rachael Ray via Something Green}

cheap and easy to make centerpieces

{Source: Interior Design}


{Source: Bronze Budget Bride}

Party Table Numbers for Wedding Party Centerpiece Handmade Chalkboard Message Charms  Custom Order by TreasureAgain

{Source: Treasure Again Etsy shop}

DIY Tin Can Vases centerpieces

tin can vases covered in scrapbook paper {Source: Ruffled}

Paint dyed mason jars {Source: Bride Finds}

{Source: Martha Stewart}

An ombre effect with carnations {Source: Martha Stewart}

Ultra modern branches with handmade paper flowers attached {Source: Martha Stewart}

Ribbons on the backs of chairs {Source: Wonderful Day Weddings}

Sharing time.  Tell me your ideas, whether realized or imagined, for some cost-effective reception decor!  Don’t be shy.


Check out the previous posts in this series…

Setting a Date

Finding a Venue

Picking a Caterer

Saving on Invitations and Save-the-Dates

Photography & Videography

Bridesmaids’ Dresses

Wedding Flowers

Ceremony Decor

Wedding Wednesday: Ceremony Decor

***To check out my other wedding related posts, go here.


Continuing the wedding series, I wanted to discuss ceremony decor today (we’ll talk about reception decor next week).  Obviously, the reception is the big, fun celebration, but the ceremony is definitely the more intimate part, regardless of what type of ceremony you have.  It is a wedding of two people, after all — that’s serious stuff!

When trying to plan the decor for a ceremony, aside from going the thrifty-but-fabulous route (of course I’m going to say that), I think it helps to put yourself in the shoes of a wedding guest:  What will they see when they first walk in?  What will they see as they are sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin?  What will they hear?  (There will be a music post in a couple of weeks, but it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and consider that as part of your decor, too.)  With this perspective, you are able to consider all of the details, with hopefully no last minute surprises (last minute surprises = last minute expenses = gross).

So, I thought I would put together a round-up of ideas for ceremony decor — because sometimes the best money saving ideas comes from real life inspiration (I know this helped me more than anything when I was planning my wedding).

First up, here are some aisle decor ideas…

I know I’ve posted this one here ad nauseum, but this was what we did for our wedding (this is the last time, promise).

Green lanterns {photo by jk Dallas Photography}

We ordered the paper lanterns from Oriental Trading for about $20 and bought the ribbon with a 50% off coupon at Michael’s.  The whole thing was less than $30, which is a huge savings when compared to the usual cost of floral aisle arrangements.

These tissue paper poms could be made or even less moolah:

Tissue Paper Pom Poms

{Source: Koyal Wholesale Blog}

Or take the same idea, but make smaller flowers out of the tissue paper and attach to a foam ball:

tissue paper pomander

{Source: Intimate Weddings}

Here, Asian paper lanterns are used to decorate each aisle chair:

Paper parasols used as wedding aisle decorations

{Source: My Wedding Reception Ideas}

Cheaper still, mason jars with one hydrangea (or any inexpensive floral or non-floral), tied to the aisle chair with a pretty ribbon:


{Source: We Be Girls}

Here’s another idea that promises to be frugal — a single daisy and a lot of ribbon:


{Source: One Fine Day}

Tulle wrapped around each aisle chair.  You can buy this stuff at the Dollar Store.  Crazy cheap.

I am in love with these chair decorations!  Braid some tulle in your wedding colors around the sides of the aisle chairs and walk down the aisle surrounded by bright, creative decorations.  Also, a very cheap substitution to those expensive traditional flowers.

{Source: The Love of Weddings}

Then there’s the focal point of every ceremony: the altar.  It’s basically the stage you set your wedding on, so make sure you consider what it will look like both with and without the bridal party standing on and around it.  Especially factor in what colors your bridal party will be wearing so the picture isn’t a clashing or monochromatic mess.

This first one is definitely more modern than most, but since this couple used Ikea frames and fabric, it is definitely a thrifty option:

{Source: The Knot}

When I first saw this next idea, I was sure it had been painstakingly (and expensively) made with real flowers, but as the tutorial says, it is made entirely from faux flowers and a leaf garland:

DIY do-it-yourself easter lilies altar ceremony decor backdrop

{Source: Ruffled Blog}

This altar is similar to the one above, but in this case, they chose to evenly space the strings of flowers:

Wedding Decor :: Floral garland Kathy Beymer, Photograph by PenCarlson

{Source: Merriment Design}

I love this next idea, featuring a wall of flowers and medallions — that could all be handmade:

{Source: A Beautiful Mess via All You need is Love Events}

This next altar was made from receipt paper — yes, receipt paper.  I looove the ruffled look of this, but I’m sure this could easily be achieved with another thin type of paper.  I love this in white, but it’d look great in color, too…  I’m thinking an ombre effect…  Mhmm….

{Source: Glitter Weddings}

And here’s a closer shot:

{Source: Glitter Weddings}

Venturing into shabby chic land — emphasis on the chic — here are a few ideas using old doors… This especially appeals to the penny pincher in me, because I see these kinds of doors on the side of the road or on Craigslist all the time.  All they need is a little bracing action, and that ain’t no thang.

For this first one, I’d nix the letters and use flower garlands or bunting:

{Source: Intimate Weddings}

Flowers… pretty…

{Source: Intimate Weddings}

What’s better than one shabby chic door? Three shabby chic doors!

{Source: Intimate Weddings}

Ok, I’m thrifty-ceremony-decor spent.

Your turn!  Share any ceremony ideas you might have seen (or have dreamed up).  The more the merrier!

Check out the previous posts in this series…

Setting a Date

Finding a Venue

Picking a Caterer

Saving on Invitations and Save-the-Dates

Photography & Videography

Bridesmaids’ Dresses

Wedding Flowers

Wedding Wednesday: Saving on Wedding Photography and Videography

***Check out the previous posts in this series, “Tying the Knot without Breaking the Bank,” including posts on saving money when setting a date, picking vendors, and choosing invitations and save-the-dates… emphasis on the saving money part.


So far I’ve doled out some of the tips and tricks I picked up while planning my own 250 guests-winter-time-orange-and-green-money-savin’-machine wedding.  I feel that I’ve been more than a little budget conscious in my advice, almost to the point of cheapskated-ness.  Today is… well, not so much the case.

Wait.  Keep reading.

At the end of this post, I will absolutely provide you with ways to book photographers and videographers on the cheap (and there are plenty of ways, let me tell you).  However, if I’m going to be completely honest with you fine GPP readers, I did not go the traditional GPP route with the photographer.  (Gasp!  I actually spent some money!)

Here's a tip: place disposable cameras at each reception table and encourage your guests to take pictures. (Expect for some of them to be blurry and/or borderline offensive.)

Rewind… Story time:  Right after I got engaged, my mother and I decided to go to one of those bridal expos (which I actually do recommend — it’s a great way to meet local vendors).  We saw a lot of stuff that was interesting, picked up a whole slew of brochures and goodie bags, sampled waaay too many salty hors d’oevres and too-sweet cakes…  and we met a fabulous photographer.  Needless to say, this last part was the highlight of our day (and totally worth going just to meet him).

I’m not sure what it was — fairy dust, ideal star alignment, a wedding cake induced sugar high, something— but as soon as we saw jk Dallas Photograhy’s display booth and met the founding photographer, we were smitten… well, as platonically smitten as you can be with a potential photographer who just emanates “I am exactly what you want in a wedding photographer.”  Not to mention, it’s a family business, so there was not just one, but three fabulous photographers (though we didn’t meet the other two that day).

Some people make their #1 priority their wedding dress, or the venue, or the date; we made our number one priority booking jk Dallas Photography, come Hell or high water.

All of my bridesmaids had fabulous legs. It was a requirement. (Photo by jk Dallas Photography)

And just so I dont mislead anyone:  jk Dallas Photography is not the most expensive company out there.  Nor are they the cheapest.  The average person would have no internal struggle over choosing them.  But you know, I’m super cheap.  And for those of you who read this blog, you know that anything more than the cheapest option is usually not a typical Courtney choice; my style is more like… getting a photography student to do it for free for the purposes of … portfolio building… or getting a good friend with a DSLR and a steady hand.  However, we decided — even before we met the Dallases — that getting a professional was a must.  And since there couldn’t be a wedding day do-over, we had to get it right the first time.

While everything felt perfect with the Dallases, we did explore other options — just to say we did — however, we kept coming back to jk Dallas Photography… Nothing else felt right.  So we caved.

And we never looked back.

Except when we look back at pictures of our wedding… And then we do figuratively “look back” so…


Photo by jk Dallas Photography

We were practicing standing-sleeping like the astronauts do. (photo by jk Dallas Photography)

One of our personal faves (by jk Dallas Photography)

Another fave (by jk Dallas Photography)

Our very own American Gothic. But less pitch forky. (by jk Dallas Photography)

(Check out their website!  They also submitted our wedding photography to a couple of publications and they were published!  Check ’em out here:  The Knot and the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers.  Yeah, jk Dallas Photography is kind of a big deal.)

***For all of those inquiring minds out there, though jk Dallas Photography is based in Columbus, GA., they can and will travel most anywhere if they’re available.  And did I mention they are awesomesauce?!

So, photographers: booked.  However, we decided we weren’t interested in videotaping the wedding, so we didn’t bother with any of that.  But, two weeks before the wedding, we changed our minds.  We decided, while we didn’t need cutting edge, Scorcese style stuff, we wouldn’t mind having the ceremony and dancing documented for posterity’s sake.

(And did I mention we planned on singing to each other at the reception?  Independently of each other, and completely by surprise, we found out the others’ plans two weeks before the big day.  Chock it up to coincidence… Or not.  We are two nerdy musical theatre kids, after all, so it shouldn’t come as any real surprise.  Spoiler Alert: I sang “Come Rain or Come Shine” and he sang the Elvis song “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”  Swoon.)

We played rock, paper, scissors to decide who got to sing last. (Josh won.)

Josh, winning. (Photo by jk Dallas Photography)

Love song singing and all, we wanted to get everything documented, but we didn’t want to spend the big bucks.  Fortunately, we have many multi-talented friends, one of who happens to be a videographer (when he’s not excelling at the other 547 things that he does), and he was able to help us out.  Hooray!


Well, “fin” for story time that is.

Like I said, photography was our big (and only) splurge.  But through my research, I did explore a few less expensive options, we just didn’t go with them (but you know the story).  However, if photography and videography are not as important to you, or if your budget is really teeny tiny, there are other ways to get your wedding photographed (and whatever you do, don’t not get a photographer — you hopefully only get married once, and you will definitely want to look back at those pictures).

Wedding Photography Money Saving Tips:

  • Contact the photography department at a local art school.  Explain to the professor that you’d like to have your wedding photographed by a few burgeoning photographers and try to sell it as a way to help them build their portfolios, offering to pay for their meals and travel that day (or more, if you feel so inclined).  As long as you set the conditions, you can definitely get some good photos and save money whle you’re at it.
  • Do you have a friend with a fancy camera and a steady hand (like I mentioned previously)?  As long as they don’t mind spending their time taking pics (instead of doing more wedding guest-ly things), this would be a great solution.
  • Instead of booking a photographer for the entire day, get a partial package.  For example, just get them to cover the ceremony and reception (as opposed to some of the getting ready stuff that’s usually included in most photography packages).
  • This next tip should be of no surprise — I am the Sunday-morning-in-January-wedding day lady after all:  book a photographer off-season (January, February, and March) and you actually save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
  • Skip the leather bound album thing.  They’re super pricey (in my opinion, usually overpriced), and quite frankly, a little dated.  There are so many great (free) services out there where you can create your own albums for a much smaller price tag, and you can take your time doing it and customize it to your exact wants.
  • Research, negotiate, rinse, repeat.  You know the drill.

Opa! (photo by jk Dallas Photography)

As always, feel free to offer your own tips in the comment section, and don’t forget to check the other posts in the ongoing series “Tying the Knot Without Breaking the Bank”!

Setting the Date

Picking a Venue

Picking a Caterer

Saving on Invitations and Save-the-Dates

Or better yet, subscribe!

Wedding Wednesdays: Save-the-Dates and Invitations

Wedding invitations are a necessity when you’re wanting to invite people to your wedding (duh). Save-the-dates, though growing in popularity, are not necessarily a necessity (ooh, so alliterative!). However, if you anticipate a lot of out-of-town guests, or if you just want to formally announce your engagement (and the fact that you’ve set a date) then they are a great, fun way to do this.

So if you decide to do both, or just opt for the invitations, one thing’s for sure: a wedding stationery is an easy way to spend A LOT of your wedding budget. And we don’t like that. Invitations can be as much as $1,000 if you opt for the envelope-within-the-envelope-sheet-of-velum-calligraphy-metallic-paper-hoop-de-doo; depending on the size of your guest list, this price can be even higher. Considering that you’re spending this much money on paper — paper that your guests will eventually throw away or recycle — this definitely seems like an area where saving money would be wise.

That’s what I’m here for! I had this realization with my own wedding, and researched nearly every option out there until I found the best deal. But like I said, I researched nearly every option out there. It took some serious time and energy. (I also did Save-the-Dates, too — so we’ll talk about those as well.) To save you some time, I’ve got a few tips, websites, and other resources to make this aspect of your wedding planning as painless as possible. (Because seriously, it’s a few pieces of paper!)

First things first: you can’t really start seriously shopping for wedding invitations until you’ve come up with a guest list. For some of you out there, that may be a very short list, especially if you’re having a smaller wedding. In our case, we invited about 250 people (and nearly all of them came) so we need lots of invitations.

Remember, the number of people on the guest list does not equal the number of invitations you need; you’ve undoubtedly invited some families who live in the same house together, so they would need just one invitation.

Once you’ve taken into account the number of households, add twenty to that number and you have the number of invitations you’ll actually need (I say twenty extra in case there are any mess-ups when addressing the envelopes –wedding invitations are not really the place for white-out).

From that point, you need to decide how much you’re willing to spend on invitations (count on $1-2 per invitation as the lowest price you will probably find out there). If this number is already a little higher than you’d care for, you can probably figure that the whole envelope-within-the-envelope-velum-paper-blah-blah-blah thing isn’t in the cards for you. (And who needs it?) Of course, if you find a place that has a sale or you have a hook-up with a stationer, then maybe you can swing it. (Or if you check out a Michael’s Arts and Crafts store or the Target wedding section, you can always find SUPER discounted stationery on clearance, so if any of that is to your liking, grab it because it will be gone the next day!)

When budgeting for stationery, you also want to take into account how much postage will cost — for the invitation and the included response card (you should definitely include pre-stamped response cards — don’t expect your guests to have to do postage themselves).

If you want to save some money with postage (and you do!), don’t forget the following:

  • It costs more to ship a square envelope than it does a standard rectangular one
  • As of this writing, it costs $0.45 to ship a 1 oz. or less rectangular envelope. When putting your invitations and response cards together, make sure you’re within this weight limit, otherwise you’ll be paying more.
  • Sometimes people like to put a map or hotel info in the envelope, thereby adding to the weight of the envelope (and therefore upping the cost of postage). Unless you think it’s absolutely necessary (like, you’re having a hoedown on a farm and there are no street signs for miles), chances are your wedding guests can figure it out based on an address. However, if you think there may be some logistical difficulties like finding the location, but you don’t want to add to the weight of the envelope, try just doing a small slip of paper or include on your invitation the URL to your own website. (You can make free wedding websites with a variety of companies, including My Wedding, eWedding, and The Knot, and these websites are a great place to put wedding details like venue and hotel info and registries — and they’re free with easy to use templates.)
  • When picking invitations, find packages that include small postcard response cards (no more than 4.25″ X 6″), this way you save on postage (as of this writing, postcard stamps are only $0.32 each).

Once you’ve determined an invite number and a budget range, it’s time to go stationery shopping! You want to keep in mind that while the save-the-date should be pretty casual, the wedding invitation sets the tone for what type of wedding it will be. Obviously, you wouldn’t send an invitation to a hoedown that was decorated in scrolls and calligraphy, and you also shouldn’t send a neon yellow, Comic Sans font bedecked invite if you’re having a steak-and-lobster sit down dinner, either. Give your guests an idea of what to expect, both in the wording of the invitation (“Tea reception to follow” or “Following the ceremony, enjoy barbecue and dancing in the barn”) and in the actual presentation of the invitation itself.

After much research and price comparisons, we eventually decided on seal and send invitations. We knew we wanted to keep postage costs and paper waste down, and this seemed like the easiest way to guarantee this. Here’s how they work: The invitations are one long piece of rectangular paper with a perforated bottom for the response cards. When sending them, you fold them in thirds (already creased for you), attach a seal to the outside (it resembles and envelope), and then add regular postage and a mailing address (you can get them to come pre-printed with your return address). So not only are you saving on postage, but there’s no need for the envelope-within-the-envelope-thing.

The company we used was called, however it looks as if they are now carried on the Ann’s Bridal Bargains website — this was three years ago, after all. (Here’s a link to the Seal-n-Send section of their website.) Three years ago, there were not nearly as many options as there are now, however it looks like their selection has grown a lot since then. Here are the invitations Josh and I ended up picking:

Shelby - Seal and Send Invitation

Click on this image to redirect to the webpage.

They were ideal for us because, aside from the price and the prospect of saving on postage with response postcards, they were pleasantly formal enough but still slightly unconventional (like our wedding). And did I mention they only cost $119.99 for 100 invitations? Yeah, we liked them just fine.

Here are some other great seal and send choices I found — all with personalization options including font and font color choices:

Dreamy - Seal and Send Invitation

These are only $99.99 per 100 -- click on the image to go to the webpage.

Bright Blooms - Seal and Send Invitation

Only $119.99 per 100

Damask Arch - Ebony - Seal and Send Invitation

$119.99 per 100

Oooh… I especially like those damask invitations! And if you’re not sure which one you want based on the picture alone, you can order samples for free and see for yourself in person.

If you’re not into the whole seal and send thing, here are some more resources that have affordable invitations (and sometimes they’re on sale!):

  • Target
  • Michael’s
  • JoAnn
  • Wal-Mart
  • Costco
  • Sam’s Club
  • And a slew of websites — Google it!

As for save-the-dates, we went the postcard route, and I found the best deal on (kinda like we did for our Christmas postcards this year). We did our own backyard photo shoot, then stuck in our three faves for “save,” “the,” and “date.” Here was our finished product:

Save the Date postcard (front)

Save the Date postcard (back)


At the time, there was a special for first time customers, so I got 100 postcards for free — which was all we needed! However, we did have to upload our own photos, so we paid a few more bucks (like $10, I think), but being able to personalize these was important to us, so we were willing to spend this teensy amount of money. After buying a roll of postcard stamps, we weren’t out more than $30 for all of our save-the-dates (but this was three years ago, so prices have gone up a little since then).

Of course, there are numerous ways of getting cheap postcards made (including making your own using cardstock, a paper cutter, and whatever else you might use to decorate them). However, we went with Vistaprint specifically because of the free postcard special, but make sure you do your own Google search to find the best deals (or put your name on some mailing lists so you’re the first to know about any sales or specials).

I always love a little (or a lot) of DIY, but in the case of wedding invitations, I found that I couldn’t get the price at or under $1 an invitation when making them myself (accounting for the cost of supplies and printing), so to me it wasn’t worth it. But if you don’t mind the labor (and potential additional costs), or maybe you have a friend who can get the supplies or printing for you wholesale, then have at it! These will definitely be personalized to your wedding and give your guests a good idea of what to expect.

How about you folks out there: Do you have any tips or tricks for saving money with wedding invitations or save-the-dates? Did you go the DIY route? Anyone else try the seal and sends? Let me know in the comments below!

And you can check out the rest of the wedding series here…

Wedding Series Preview

Setting the Date

Finding a Venue

Saving on a Caterer

Wedding Wednesday: Finding a Caterer

This week’s “Tying the Knot without Breaking the Bank ” post is a piggyback onto last week’s post where I offered money saving tips when picking a wedding venue.

I recommend checking out the previous posts first, before deciding on anything food related.  It’s key to first know the date and what time of day your wedding will be — this can help you make some food decisions right off the bat. 

So, you’ve picked a date and hopefully a venue at this point (or venues: ceremony and reception).  Now it’s time to focus on that whole feeding-your-wedding guests thing — reception food!  Depending on the limitations of your venue, you may be forced to use one of their preferred vendors.  Such was the case with Josh and I when using the Foundry at Puritan Mill in Atlanta.  And this fact almost made me walk away from this venue.

However, I was super honest with the representative at the Foundry, and that made all the difference.  I asked her right up front which of her preferred caterers she thought would be the most reasonable, price-wise.  She gave me two recommendations, one of which I ended up using (Carole Parks Catering — and they did an excellent job).

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

Faced with a morning wedding, we decided on 11:00.  Not too early, but not so late that we were getting married in the middle of lunch time.  Our ceremony was about 45 minutes long, so by the time the chair/table transition happened, everyone was enjoying brunch around 12:00.  Ok, so maybe that’s more of a lunch hour, but I didn’t notice anyone complaining — in fact, we got enough food for about 300 people, about 250 showed up, and there were no leftovers.  So, lots of food that everyone seemed to love and still extremely affordable — because I explained up front that price was one of the most important factors and if they couldn’t work with me, I could work with someone else.  I wasn’t rude about it, but honest.  This polite honesty helped me get an even better price than I anticipated (though I never let on), and it also helped lay the groundwork for a positive rapport between the account executive and I (and this rapport helped us get a few freebies along the way!)

Fortunately, the catering company had an in-house bakery that we were able to take advantage of in the form of a delicious wedding cake with a small price tag (comparatively).

(Picture Time, Part 3!)

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

photo by jk Dallas Photography

However, some catering companies don’t have an in-house bakery or they charge a cake cutting fee or some other such nonsense.  Make sure when making an honest and reasonable budget for food that you consider the cost of a cake and any other dessert you may want (a groom’s cake, for example).

Ok, so aside from getting married on a Sunday morning in January, having a brunch (arguably the lest expensive meal), and using pluck, kindess, and honesty with the caterer, there are additional ways to save money with a wedding:

  • If you’re hosting a backyard wedding (or one at the home of a friend or family member), there’s no reason in the world why you can’t take care of the food yourself!  Go to a warehouse club like Sam’s or Costco (borrow someone’s card if you don’t have your own) and buy whatever you’re wanting in bulk.  The Petersiks over at Young House Love hosted their own backyard barbecue to much success and spent less than $1,000 on food, drinks, and cake (check out their wedding post here).
  • If you’re looking for even bigger savings, perhaps enlist the help of friends and family, potluck style.  Figure out a menu, then approach each individual requesting their help in lieu of a gift.  It’s definitely non-traditional, but it would certainly make for a unique reception, and if you’re clear with your request (“Please make 1 tray of macaroni and cheese?”), then it can still have the finished feel that other catered  receptions have.  However, bear in mind that without a caterer, you also are without a waitstaff, so consider seeking volunteers for this as well (or hire your own) — this is definitely not something you or your parents (and future in-laws) should have to worry about on the big day.
  • It really should go without saying, but a sit down dinner will always cost more than a buffet.  Of course.  And if you’re really seeking to save money, this couldn’t be a more obvious first step to make.  I understand that it’s a regional thing (buffet style is more prevalent in the South, sit down dinners are more prevalent in the North), but I honestly don’t see the harm (or tacky-ness) in allowing people to get food for themselves.  (In fact, I prefer it as a wedding guest.)  This way the guests actually get what they want, and a buffet encourages a more relaxed and social environment (versus sitting in chairs at tables that have been assigned to them).  And if you didn’t want to socialize with friends and family on your wedding day, you would’ve just done the justice of the peace thing, right?
  • It’s a common misconception that hors d’oevres are cheaper than an actual meal (and I mean buffet style, in this instance).  Sometimes hors d’oevres are cheaper, however in the ever evolving foodie world, hors d’oevres are becoming less about tapas/appetizer/small bites o’ food and more about works of art  (those mini grilled cheeses probably took twice as much time to make as that tray of macaroni cheese and probably feed half as many people).  This added labor can up the price quickly… and we don’t like that.  Again, this is not a black and white thing, but don’t assume that hors d’oevres are always the thriftiest option; explore various options with your caterer until you get the price you want.  Which leads me to my next point:
  • Most caterers will do a free estimate for you, which means a sample menu of what you can expect if you choose them (along with a personalized price list based on the size of your event, i.e., the number of guests you expect).  Until you’ve given them a deposit, don’t feel you have some sort of allegiance to anyone, and if they cannot meet your needs in the price range that works for you, don’t feel guilty about walking away.  Be realistic, but be thorough in your search for a good product at a good price.
  • Negotiate.  Don’t be scared.  I didn’t settle with the first estimate I received, however delicious it sounded.  I went through the menu and realized there were some unnecessary things (or foods that most people would probably pass on, therefore potential waste).  I responded with specific suggestions and requests, until we figured out an affordable menu that I thought would actually be enjoyed (much less, eaten).  These little tweaks also helped bring the price down a wee bit… which is always good.
  • Be true to who you are as a couple.  Do you actually like the food you’re serving?  If you were going to celebrate a major accomplishment, would you go out for steak or order a pizza?  I’m not saying call Domino’s to cater your wedding (though that would be undeniably fun), but be honest with your own personal style (and budget limitations) and make food choices that actually make sense with you as a couple.  You will enjoy the day more, and it will be a celebration that’s authentically you. Not to mention your guests will appreciate this and enjoy themselves more.  (Except for Aunt Frances who won’t be able to stop clutching her pearls over… something scandalous.  Who knows what.)
  • Have a tea!  Scones, finger sandwiches, pastries… and tea, of course.  This would be inexpensive, and you wouldn’t have to apologize for it as long as you pick a time of day that’s appropriate to this type of food (so a reception some time between 1:00 and 4:00).  And of course, it’s even better if you give your guests a heads up on the invitation (“Tea reception to follow”), that way they know exactly what to expect and are prepared.
  • Chicken is cheaper than steak or seafood.  And pasta is cheaper than most anything, not to mention it can stretch more.
  • Skip the cocktail hour.  Yes, as the bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom), you may want a minute to yourselves to relax, take pictures, bask in newly-wed-ness, but your guests will be perfectly fine without the passed plates and martinis.  They can wait.  And in the mean time, you can provide them with something to do until the food comes out.  We had a wish jar where everyone could write “wishes” for us to read after the wedding (and these “wishes” proved both lovely and humorous).  You could also do a photo booth or an interactive guest book (a videographer interviews your guests).  There are endless possibilities to occupy your guests, so don’t worry about a little extra food that they probably won’t notice anyway (not to mention a cocktail hour requires more waitstaff, i.e., hundreds of more dollars).
  • Consider what foods will be in season when you are getting married, especially certain fruits, which may cost more at different times of the year (as well as flowers — more on that in a few weeks).
  • We had a dry wedding.  Gasp!  Was this our first choice?  Not exactly, but it was the most cost-effective choice (we’re talking the difference of a few thousand dollars with our particular venue), and with a lot of Baptists in the family (I say this with love), paired with the fact that we were getting married on a Sunday morning… yeah, a dry wedding just made the most sense.  If Josh and I had to do it over again, the only thing we would have done differently was celebrated with some of our closest friends at a bar or something afterwards, but this was hardly a thing that ruined the wedding (or so I believe when I look at pictures of my friends dancing like crazy people at the reception).  Again, this being a Sunday morning wedding, this omission was a lot more justifiable than if it was an evening wedding.  My money saving point in all of this is:  a dry wedding is the cheapest, but if you want alcohol at your wedding (beyond a champagne toast), you need to make sure your venue doesn’t make this impossible.  A cash bar is sometimes an option, however there are many sides to this and many people have strong opinions, and in general, a lot of folks out there think a cash bar is… tacky. You know your friends and family, and you can make the final ruling on this, but I knew it wasn’t something I was interested in.
  • Also, venues vary, but be careful of the “we’ll charge per drink”/tally system that some venues do. Limit the alcohol to just the first 2 hours, or just wine and beer, or just a signature (pre-mixed) cocktail.  And if you have a little more freedom, then providing your own alcohol would definitely be more cost-effective (a few kegs and 2 buck chuck from Trader Joe’s — you can’t beat it!).

That’s all the wisdom I have for today (if you can call it that).  Hope these tips help!  And as always, if you’re reading this from a “been there, done that” standpoint and you feel you have a few tips to offer, please do so in the comments section below (or click on the permalink above to be directed to the comments section).  Thanks!

Check out the previous Wedding Wednesday posts:


Setting a Date

Finding a Venue

Wedding Wednesday: Finding a Venue

***Check out the previous post in this series: Setting the Date


If you’ve nailed down the when of this whole wedding thing — that is, the date — you now need to figure out the where.  Of course, if you haven’t figured out the exact date, that’s okay too — in case your favorite venue has no availability on your date.  However, at least be specific enough to have a month picked out, especially if you’re getting married in January, February, or March, since you can ask for those lovely off-season prices!

For some people, the ceremony is a no-brainer — they just have it in their home church or synanogue or whatever other house of worship they attend; It’s the reception that they need to plan for.  However, in our case, Josh and I wanted to have everything all in one place, so we sought a venue that was big enough to function as both.   Keep this in mind when hunting: are you looking for a one stop shop or are you ok with multiple venues?

My best advice for finding a venue — or at least getting your mind thinking about finding a venue — is to go get some bridal magazines, specifically the ones in your area.  One of my personal favorites is The Knot because it has a different publication for each city or region and it has features, as wells as ads, from different venues in your area.

I know bridal magazines can be a bit, well… superficial and materialistic.  Often they turn what should be a beautiful day and a fun party into a competitive sport.  Knowing this, I still recommend flipping through as many magazines as you can get your hands on in order to get as many ideas as possible (many ideas means many choices which can often be parlayed into monetary savings).   But, know that it is easy to get sucked into the vortex that says you must have nothing but orchids and designer dresses and monogrammed M&M’s.  Relax.  You only have to have what you want to have — and what you can afford.  More on that later.

Using magazines is a starting place, but there are also numerous online resources all about venues.  Here are two of my faves:

Wedding Wire Vendor Search Engine

The Knot Ultimate Wedding Venue Directory

But before you look at venues, it might be important to consider what kind of style or themes or colors you want for your wedding.  Maybe this isn’t as important to you, so you can just dive into venue hunting and go with the best deal, figuring out the rest after the fact.  However, Josh and I wanted a blank slate because we didn’t want to be hindered by the pre-existing decor of a ballroom or antebellum mansion, and we found most country clubs to be a bit too traditional in their decor.  We knew we wanted something contemporary, but not cold.  A blank slate, but not a barren, open room.  (And we  definitely didnt want an outdoor wedding, since it was going to be in January.)

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, we picked the Foundry at Puritan Mill, a renovated soap factory featuring gorgeous exposed beams, a glazed concrete floor, brick walls, and a gi-normous wooden door (that ended up being part of our altar area).

jkDallas Photography

And wouldn’t you know — we first heard of the Foundry through a wedding magazine.  I remember flipping through, seeing a pic of it, and thinking that if money were no object, that would be exactly where I would want to get married.  However, I assumed it was too expensive and moved on to the next page (this is when I was still looking at a September or October wedding date — yeah, these months are just as expensive as summer, in case you’re wondering).  I visited a dozen different venues, half of which I knew I wouldn’t like in the first place, but I figured they were good deals or someone else covinced me that I’d like them if I just visited (mom).  It’s not that I hated these other venues, they just didn’t have quite what I was looking for:

  • Big open room or two smaller rooms that could serve as a locale for both the ceremony and reception
  • Contemporary, but not cold
  •  A blank canvas, but not a barren warehouse
  • An affordable price!

Finally I caved and visited the Foundry’s website, ready to have my heart broken, but still needing to know for sure.  Well, sure enough they had their prices listed (womp womp), which were… well, what you’d expect from a fancy downtown Atlanta venue.  But then I saw the off season prices (getting warmer…), then noticed the even more reasonable Sunday prices (even warmer…), then the Sunday morning prices (hot!), and then… I probably did a happy dance and sang a high note, I don’t remember exactly.  But I do know that I called them right away and scheduled an appointment for the next day (I was serious times).  And the rest is history…

Aside from the venue being lovely in all the right ways, it had these beautiful floor-to-ceiling sheer drapes that could be tied in the middle (very pretty) or could be left open, creating a sort of translucent wall wherever they were needed — which is exactly how we used them.

jkDallas Photography

For the ceremony, we placed all of the chairs that the guests would use smack dab in the middle of the 12,000 sq. ft. room.  On either side of the chairs, we used the drapes as walls, so the room didn’t feel unnecessarily expansive., i.e., stark.  After the ceremony, the guests were briefly ushered into the lobby while the curtains were tied in the middle and the chairs were moved to either side of the room where the round tables had been pre-set, as well as the buffet tables.

jk Dallas Photography

With the chairs removed from the middle, we had a dance floor separate from the eating area on either side.  Hooray!

jk Dallas Photography

(me and my dad)

I don’t tell you all of this to merely sell the Foundry at Puritan Mill in Atlanta (though, if you’re in the area, you should check it out); rather, I’m telling you all of this because I believe all it takes is a little creativity with your particular venue (or venues) to get exactly what you’re wanting (and a little DIY decor doesn’t hurt — future post, of course).

jk Dallas Photography

And needless to say, none of this would have been possible had we not picked a Sunday morning in January.  And since we’re talking about Sunday morning, and some of you may still be scratching your heads in wonderment at how I arrived at such a non-traditional day and hour, here’s my thought process:

  • It was the cheapest option to get the venue I wanted (duh)
  • Having it on a Sunday morning interferes with some people’s church plans, I realized, but I figured that (to me, at least) a wedding ceremony is a religious ceremony, first and foremost, so it’s a win win, right?  (And for those out there that view a wedding as a vow to the state or just before your friends and fam — they probably wouldn’t care about the Sunday morning difference anyway).
  • Since Sunday was by far the most cost-effective day (that wasn’t a weekday — I never even considered anything Monday through Friday), we had to decide between morning, afternoon, or evening.  Morning won out because I figured if we had out of town guests (and I had them by the truckload), they would have to spend the night whether it was a Saturday night, Sunday night, or Sunday morning.  Since Saturday was out, I figured Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening should be out as well, since it wouldn’t be the most ideal arrangement for driving back home to be at work the next day.  From what I understand, most of our out-of-town folks drove in on Saturday, spent the night, then drove (or flew) back on Sunday with daylight to spare.
  • Afternoon weddings tend to require heavy hors d’oevres (if not full meals) and evening weddings definitely require meals.  Obviously, we wanted to feed our guests, but had to be reasonable with our budget since we were inviting about 250 (and P.S.- About 245 people showed up).  The added bonus of a morning wedding was that we were able to use one of the recommended vendors and get a full scale (and delicious) brunch (more on that later).  And it turns out that some of Josh and my favorite foods are breakfast foods, so… another win-win.  Of course, we never got a chance to eat any of it (it was our wedding day after all, but I heard it was very good — we still have friends and family talk about the bacon.  :)

jk Dallas Photography

So, yeah… Sunday morning in January.  Sounds wacky, but it really worked, and I had quite a few people tell me how they thought that getting married on a Sunday morning was “really cool.”  (That’s a direct quote from one friend.  See how I bring out the profound in people?)

How about you?  Are you a January/Sunday/morning convert yet, wedding planning people?  And if you’re reading this as an already married person, when did you get married?  And has anyone out there been to a wedding that was on a weekday?  (I’m still not quite buying this one.)  Comments, questions — send ’em my way!

Previous Posts in this Series:

Wedding Series Preview

Setting the Date

Tying the Knot without Breaking the Bank: Setting the Date

Congrats newly engaged people!  Or people who think they’ll soon be engaged… or very participatory friends and family of newly engaged people… or all-around wedding enthusiasts (don’t worry, I won’t judge you).  This blog series is for you!!!  

(Yes, I understand a wedding is about two people forming a union before God and/or the state and/or their family and friends.  However, why not throw a party while you’re at it?!)

As I mentioned last week, my own wedding planning experience comes from when I planned my own 250-guest wedding back in 2009, but by no means do I knock smaller, more intimate gatherings (and they certainly stand to save you some money).  Regardless of the size of your wedding, I hope the next 16 weeks of tips and tricks will help you plan the whole matrimonial shebang… or any kind of shebang for that matter!

And one more bit of preface:  Though I may use specific words like “bridal,” I am by no means excluding gay marriage, civil unions, or commitment ceremonies; I’m just using the common language of the wedding biz.  By all means, apply these tips and ideas to your specific event as well.  Yay!

Now that I’m done prefacing, let’s talk about….

Setting the Date!

Unless you’re among the few engaged couples out there who have actually set a date before you were even engaged or are set on a particular date for other reasons (remember the 7/7/07 craze?), you probably don’t know (yet) what date you’d like to get married.  There are a bazillion things to consider, not limited to but including the following:

  • How much time do you need to plan your wedding?  And how much time do you need to save up for your wedding?  Even if you don’t spend a lot of money (which is my personal goal for you), you’re still going to have to pay some deposits for your various vendors up front, usually hedging in triple and quadruple digit form.  If you plan on having a big wedding, i.e., many guests, and if you plan on wearing a big frilly wedding gown, i.e., not just a dress that you make or find in a store off the rack, and if you plan on having bridesmaids that wear specific dresses that may need ordering, i.e., you’re not going to tell them to just all wear one color and call it a day, you need at least 6 months.  Plain and simple.  This isn’t one of those “you need at least 6 months to figure out if you really wanna marry this person” things (though maybe you need that, too?).  No, this is important because if you’re ordering a dress or dresses and securing a venue for a specific time with vendors and their own staff, you really do need that much time.  Time to wait for the dresses to get made and come in the mail, time to save up and pay those deposits over time so you’re not suddenly broke, time for just in case.”  However, if you’re not picky about what you wear (or already have your dress) or maybe your event is going to be small or self-hosted, then you only need as much time as you think you’ll need to prepare for everything you want your event to entail  (I initially thought I only needed 8 or 9 months, but soon realized I should count on a year… and I didn’t regret it).
  • Consider January, February, and March.  This is the wedding off season.  I got married on January 18, 2009, and I saved soooo much money  — approximately $10,000 just with the venue and caterer.  (And FYI, January 18, 2009 was an overcast, drizzly morning that turned into a beautiful, sunny day with temps in the 60’s.  Fabulous.)  You can also specifically ask for off-season prices when talking to vendors in case they’re not offered up front.  Because there are not as many events going on during this time of year, you have a lot more leverage to negotiate for a lower price, more hours in the venue, extra services, et al.
  • by jkDallas Photography

  • Depending on whether you need 2 months, 6 months, 1 year or whatever, figure out this approximate month or time frame and research it.  Consider whether it is: a holiday (or holiday weekend), a relative or close friend’s birthday, or even the future date of a sporting event that may detract from the big day.  Before I settled on January 18th, I seriously considered the SEC football season and tried to make sure none of my potential dates conflicted with important University of Tennessee games (not at my father’s insistence, though — he told me it didn’t make any difference to him, Tennessee-Florida game or not, he’d still be at his daughter’s wedding…  awww…..).  :)
  • Consider Sunday.  Or another day of the week besides the ever popular Saturday (though I don’t recommend these as strongly, unless you’re having a small event).  I got married on a Sunday morning, and it was lovely, as well as a huuuge savings (just renting the venue on a Sunday versus Saturday saved me $3,000).
  • Consider a morning or early afternoon wedding versus an evening wedding.  These are almost always cheaper.
  • Talk to your family and attendants (bridesmaids/groomsmen):  Usually, family and close friends can work around your wedding date, but sometimes something big may be coming up that they haven’t mentioned to you yet:  “Oh, you just set the date for May 5th?  I just bought a ticket to fly to Finland on that day!!!”  Why is your friend going to Finland? I don’t know — but this is something to at least consider (not the flying-to-Finland part, you know what I mean).  If their conflicts prove impossible to schedule around, then you may just have to let it go… after all, this is your wedding.
Despite the many nagging loving questions from friends and family about the wedding date (“When’s the big day!?”  “Have you set a date yet?”  “When are you going to get married already!?”), you do not need to feel pressured to solidify your date right away (within reason:  I waited a bit longer than I should have, on the verge of “jus’-plain-tacky” and I’m sure I frustrated my family and bridesmaids to no end).
In fact, unless you’ve signed contracts with all of your vendors, don’t  settle on a wedding date.  Even if you pick an off season (like I eventually did), it’s possible that your dream venue already has a booking on that date.  Or your favorite caterer is too swamped to take on another event for your particular date.  Or the photographer you’ve been holding out for is already shooting another wedding that day.
Determine a few date options, then prioritize which vendor is most important to you.  For Josh and I, it was the venue.  We visited many places, but once we found the Foundry at Puritan Mill in Atlanta (and realized that getting married on Sunday morning, January 18th was a super-savings time), we set that date in stone and all the other vendors fell into place after that.

by jkDallas Photography

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Picking vendors and venues is for next week! Check back :)

(And of course, share this blog with friends and fam, especially the engaged kind!)

Previous post in this series:

Tying the Knot without Breaking the Bank (preview)

Happy Anniversary (to us)!

Happy Anniversary (to us)!!!

(And I don’t mean Blog-iversary, though I’m not above celebrating those, too.)

Today is Josh and my three year wedding anniversary!!!

Let the love fest pics begin….

(All taken by the Dallases with jk Dallas Photography.  Seriously, if you can get these folks to photograph your wedding, you will NOT regret it.  They are worth. every. penny.)

by jk Dallas Photography

by jk Dallas Photography

by jk Dallas Photography

by jk Dallas Photography

Ok, that’s all for now.  And I figured you might be throwing up a bit at this point, anyway.

I mean, we’re pretty cute, right?!

by jk Dallas Photography

I couldn’t resist throwing in one more.

But don’t worry — or do worry, depending on your feelings for us — there will be many more wedding pics to come, including those from the whole featured-in-The-Knot-magazine thing (that was me bragging in case you couldn’t tell).  As I’ve mentioned a few times (mentioned = teased), I’m working on a budget wedding series in the coming weeks.  Keep checking back!

Or better yet…