Such a fun wedding to share with you today! I chatted with the bride Ashley, on a Huffington Post segment about weddings late last year. Ashley was the kind of bride who wasn't excited about planning her wedding, which led her to write this article for her local paper. In hearing Ashley's story, I was struck by her no-nonsense and practical approach to wedding planning. I love that she focused on what mattered to her and her husband as a couple, and cut out things they felt were unnecessary or not worth it. Ashley has given super detailed responses to our questionnaire and I definitely recommend reading her entire interview as she has tons of great nuggets of advice and has a really interesting perspective and thought process. I hope her advice helps you and that you enjoy checking out the pictures from her lovely wedding! xoxo, Jessica
Ashley + Ashley
October 4, 2013
Church on Main Street | Chattanooga, Tennessee
What was your wedding budget?
Going into the process we didn't really have a budget, just knew that we wouldn't purchase anything more than we could afford or that didn't seem worth the money (for example, photographers—I know many brides would disagree and that's fine, but I do not think pictures are worth upwards of $3k). I would have loved to keep it less than $5k, but we knew that in order to do that we'd have to scale back on the number of guests and the elaborateness of the day, which we didn't want to do. So we decided we would be OK as long as we didn't go over $10k. We ended up keeping it much less than that and spent slightly over $7k if you include everything, even the things my mom paid for (the food).
The venue was the second-biggest chunk of our budget at $1,800 for the day of the wedding and the night before (so we could decorate ourselves without wearing ourselves out on the day of). We could have saved a ton of money by getting married outdoors, but we're not outdoorsy people, so we felt it didn't make sense for us to get married outside. I also couldn't get past the unpredictability factor when it comes to outdoor weddings, so though expensive, this price was totally worth it to me to give me something less to worry about. We literally looked at every indoor venue in Chattanooga before making this decision, and though it was not the cheapest, it was the best blank slate for decorations, in our opinion. (Note: It may be worth mentioning, in case local brides read this and call Church on Main, that their prices were set to increase Jan. 1, 2013 (I booked in November 2012), so perhaps it should be noted that the quote that anyone gets from calling them now will not be as cheap as mine was. I definitely lucked into my venue at just the right time before it really “caught on” as one of the places to get married here in Chattanooga.)
Our largest expense was the food, but we did save money by not having an open bar, not having a full sit-down dinner, and not having a caterer who was licensed and insured. Many venues require your catered to be insured, but we asked for an exception and were granted it. I wouldn't recommend hiring a nonlicensed caterer whom you aren't familiar with, but mine was a family friend whose work and work ethic I knew I could trust. We spent about $2,000 on heavy hors d'oeuvres and an additional $475 for cake. My mom generously paid for both the food and the cake.
A few splurges for me (though super-cheap, comparatively speaking) were my coordinator, who was worth every penny and way more, at $175; a harpist who played while the guests arrived and during the ceremony for $150; and a nice hotel room where my bridesmaids and I got dressed before the wedding and Ashley and I stayed on our wedding night ($200). One major advantage to my budget was that my matron of honor is a cosmetologist, so she did all of our hair and makeup for free, but this is an area I probably would have splurged had that not been the case.
Just like venues, I contacted nearly every photographer in the city for a quote and ended up not going with any of them. I ended up being shocked at all of the quotes I got. Not that I don't think a photographer's talent is worth money, but I didn't see any sample photos from the local photographers whose skill matched their price tags. I ended up contacting someone I went to college with to see if she would be interested. Though not a photographer by trade, she readily agreed, and I became her first wedding session. She did a beautiful job for $250. We had a second photographer who did it for free because she is my hubby's first cousin. My wedding coordinator, being as awesome as she was, also took a few pictures when my photographer's truck broke down on her way to the hotel, causing her to be late!
Unlike most brides, the dress was just not a big deal to me. There was no “quest” for the perfect dress. In fact, I feel like this is a bridal myth that needs to be debunked! They're wedding dresses, so they're all gorgeous. They're all beautiful and fluffy and white and pristine. But there isn't a “perfect” one for you, just some that you'll like better than others and some that will look better on you than others. You don't need to spend $10k on a dress because it's “the one.” I didn't put mine on and have my life suddenly change. In fact, I put on several others I liked better but ended up deciding against because—you guessed it—the price tag. The one I bought was the color (ivory) I wanted, it fit well, and was a decent price ($349). I bought the jewelry at Charming Charlie's and the cheapest slip and veil David's Bridal I had. (I would have ordered those two things online and saved money on them but found myself running out of time and was afraid they wouldn't ship in time for the wedding.) I also bought two sashes at David's, one on sale and one on clearance.
My husband really likes black, both as a color and because of the timeless elegance, so that made it super-easy to settle on black as the primary color for our wedding (the secondary color was champagne). Not only did I want him to feel involved, but this worked out great for us because black is an extremely easy color to match when shopping for your bridesmaids' dresses at consignment and thrift stores. It definitely helps that I'm not a matchy-matchy kind of girl because obviously finding three black dresses in three different sizes but in the same style would not have been possible anywhere outside of an actual dress shop. But because I'm not, I bought three black dresses from various consignment stores (the cheapest of which was $4, the most expensive of which was $25) that were all the same shade and fabric but different styles. Two were shorter, and two were more tea-length. The champagne dress and shoes my matron of honor wore were both purchased from eBay, and the other girls all wore shoes and jewelry they already had. No one needed alterations. The groomsmen all wore suits they borrowed, already had or paid for themselves. The flower girl dresses were purchased at Target on clearance after Christmas last year. I spent approximately $550 attiring the whole party/the little details for my own attire (veil, slip, jewelry, etc.).
Linens were a big expense and a place I definitely could have saved money had I elected to cut more costs. I spent about $400 on fifteen 120-inch ivory tablecloths and black table runners, and 200 (more than I needed but sold as a lot) champagne chair sashes. We ended up using some of the extra sashes as decorations (tying back curtains with them, table runners for the bridal party table, etc.). All of these were purchased from either Tradesy or Wedding Bee classifieds. I watched these sites EVERY DAY for what I needed, and that's how I got good deals. The sashes, for instance, were from a rental company in Minnesota that was going out of business and selling their inventory by the lot. But did I need chair sashes and table runners? No. Did the tablecloths have to come all the way to the ground? No. So I definitely could have spent half this much on linens if I hadn't wanted this fancy look.
A huge sacrifice I made was in the lack of fresh flowers (not a single one in the whole venue). I am totally a fresh flowers kind of girl, so it hurt to not have a real bouquet. But I just kept reminding myself how they're only beautiful for a few hours and how quickly they die … and sucked it up and asked one of my bridesmaids, who happens to be a very crafty DIY girl (I seriously had the best wedding party as far as talents that can be applied to weddings goes), to make brooch bouquets. To soften the look of a bouquet made entirely of brooches, she got ivory hydrangeas at Michael's (using their weekly coupons, of course) and inserted the brooches in them using floral wire. She wrapped the entire thing in floral tape and then ribbon. I already had most of the jewelry before I ever got engaged, except for a few pieces, so the total cost of these was about $100. (And as an added bonus I keep mine on my dresser and get to look at it every morning when I get out of bed, so my deep wish for real flowers is long-forgotten now.) The boutonnières and corsages were made out of simple flowers from Hobby Lobby that cost $1 per three of them, paired with some black beading and ribbon.
The plastic cups, plates, forks, etc., were all purchased at a local discount store (about $150); and the favors were homemade (mints) by my mom and put in favor boxes from Oriental Trading Company. I tied the boxes with ribbon I got at Walmart for 49 cents a roll. Because my wedding party will probably read this blog, I won't brag about how cheap their gifts were, but all of the thank-you gifts for helping with our wedding were purchased with coupons and various discount codes. All of the favors and gifts amounted to about $275.
Invitations and programs were another challenge. I ended up getting some champagne paper from another bride on Wedding Bee who had it left over from her big day. I took it to a local print shop and had them print the invitations and programs, both of which I designed myself, and they cut them down professionally so I could get more than one program/invitation per sheet of paper (but without it looking totally homemade in a bad way). I ordered the envelopes off Etsy, and I printed the RSVP cards, maps, directions, etc., on cardstock at home. My nieces helped me dress up the invitations by gluing on a strip of ribbon and a scalloped “H” to the tops so that they looked fancier than they really were, price-wise. I spent about $175 on these supplies.
The rest of the money we spent went to decorations, which were quite simple: glass votives of various shapes and sizes hot-glued to spray-painted candlesticks and topiaries made out of paper napkins and also hot-glued to candlesticks. (I know, that sounds like crap, but it worked out really well.) We got all of the materials for these decorations at Goodwill, except the Christmas ornaments (yep, you read that right) that we used as a base for the topiaries, which we got for 90 percent off at Hobby Lobby after Christmas last year. The tulle, used for garland and the backdrop, came from Hobby Lobby during half-off sales, and the glass vases we used on the stairs leading to the stage we either already had or got at Goodwill. The table numbers I printed myself on cardstock and put in frames from Oriental Trading Company. I spent about $150 on these items, bringing the total amount spent to a little over $7k.
How many guests did you have?
What creative or personal aspects did you include in your wedding?
Instead of spending $30 or $40 on a guestbook we'd never look at again, we had guests sign the mats to several picture frames that I happened to already have before I ever got engaged. We used these to frame our favorite photos from the day. To encourage people to stay and have fun even though there was no drinking and for those who don't like dancing, we printed out mad libs and questionnaires that we encouraged our guests to fill out.
What was the biggest thing you did to save money?
We skipped many things a lot of people do, like having an open bar and a DJ. We wanted to serve at least wine, but that opened up a whole new line of expenses (for example, having to get insurance for the venue in case something went awry with alcohol consumption) so we just avoided this altogether. We also used an iPad to play our music, which we plugged into a speaker that a member of the wedding party let us borrow. And, obviously, we did all the work ourselves and didn't pay someone to decorate for us or do the legwork for us. This made the whole process very stressful, and I can see how for some hiring a planner or company to decorate for you would be worth the expense. If I had it to do over again I definitely would have called my coordinator sooner and paid her more to be more involved.
A huge help in saving money was also not putting so much focus on the clothing, like so many seem to do. No one knows whether you spent $100 or $4,000 on your dress, so just buy something within reason and move on to other aspects of the day. Not hiring an expensive photographer saved a lot of money, too, but I can also see why people who don't know a psuedo-photographer friend or family member would break down and give in—because what's the point of having a beautiful wedding if no one is there to document it?
What’s the best advice you have for planning your wedding now that you’re on the other side?
Definitely start early. I did something wedding-related every single day during our 51-week engagement (literally every single day—I worked on the centerpieces last Christmas Day), and I still barely got it all together in time—and that's even with a crew of crafty bridesmaids and a mom who is retired and spent many of her days making topiaries or garland or favors. Even if you aren't a DIY, budget-savvy bride like myself, there's still so much to be done; and the shorter time gets, the less focused you become on the marriage and the more focused you become on getting everything ready in time—and it's just so important not to lose sight of why you're doing all this in the first place!
What was your biggest splurge?
The venue. It would have been much cheaper to get married outside or in a church instead of an event venue, but we didn't want to get married outdoors or somewhere we weren't in love with the aesthetics of, so this is one place we didn't compromise on price (except to say many of the places we looked at cost double or triple what the venue we did choose cost).
What was your favorite detail?
My bouquet was my favorite detail of the day because it combined jewelry of my mom's, some close family friends, and my husband's mother (who is deceased). Every time I looked at it that day I felt close to people who mean so much to me, even the ones who couldn't be there. I also loved the girliness of the ribbon on the stems and the fluffy hydrangeas. I spent a lot of my engagement wishing I could afford the splurge for fresh flowers, yet the lack of fresh flowers ended up being one of my favorite elements.
What is the most memorable moment of your day?
Spending time with my sweet bridal party in the hotel room while we were getting ready was definitely my favorite part of the day. All of my bridesmaids were girls I've known for 15-20 years each, so we've seen high school graduations, college graduations, childbirths, divorces, car wrecks, family traumas, and everything in between with each other. The hours leading up to my wedding were just such a magical time for all of us to reflect on the magnanimity of the day and reminisce about all our years together. It was also nice to enjoy the calm before the storm, so to speak—it probably seems odd that my favorite memory of the day doesn't encompass my husband, but after we left the hotel room, everything was a complete whirl, from the pictures to the walking down the aisle to the greeting of everyone at the reception. Those couple of hours in the hotel room were just so wonderfully calm and filled with an anticipation I knew I would never recapture.
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.