Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Save Serious Money - The Bar

Is your wedding budget starting to look a bit tight? A good place to cut costs is your bar. If you do it right, you can save a lot of money without feeling the pinch.

Above all, remember that while some consider a cash bar poor etiquette, it is not at all rude to have a completely dry wedding, and is not uncommon here in North Carolina. If you can't afford alcohol or don't wish to have it at your wedding for whatever reason, don't allow yourself to be steamrolled by friends or relatives. If they wish to drink, they can arrange (and pay for) an after-party.
  • Sometimes you need to spend money to save money. If your reception venue doesn't provide one or if you are having an outdoor wedding, hire a licensed bartender. A licensed bartender will pay for himself by preventing problem guests from over-indulging, which both saves money and reduces the likelihood of "incidents". He or she may even keep you out of legal trouble. If you provide free-flowing alcohol, you can be held liable if one of your guests drives drunk and injures / kills somebody.

  • Keep the bar open for only a couple of hours instead of all night.

  • Limit your selection to one or two kinds of beer, one or two wines, and one or two "signature mixed drinks," or skip hard liquor entirely for extra savings. What you don't want is a dozen half-empty bottles left over at the end of the night that you have to pay for.

  • If you are providing the alcohol yourself, shop around well before the big day to find the best deals. If you are serving beer, buy cases from a bulk grocery like Sam's Club or Costco, or a bulk ABC store like Total Wine, instead of buying a keg. Kegs are messy, the extra accessories can add up, and the cost works out to be about the same per-drink for bulk cases versus a keg. Be sure everything is at the reception site several hours early so it can be properly chilled.

  • Your venue will limit what you can do. Hotels and country clubs usually have liquor licenses, meaning you have the option of a cash or a free bar. Other venues, like churches, are sometimes completely alcohol-free or only allow certain types of alcohol (no mixed drinks, for example). Almost every venue will charge extra fees for bringing in alcohol.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ugly Chairs - Addendum

I had such a good time finding pictures of ugly chairs for that last article! I didn't end up using any of these in my post, but here's a site with a whole lot of ugly chairs!

Ugly Chairs - What's a bride to do?

they must have gotten a great deal on this ugly chairLet me describe a scene that plays out at least three times per season. A bride comes to me midway through her planning, about six months before her wedding. She has already placed a substantial, non-refundable deposit on a banquet hall. The hall is great, the only problem? The chairs that come with the hall are hideous. She comes to me because she wants to make her wedding look good in spite of the chairs.

I can't wave my wand and turn ugly chairs into silver-plated Chiavaris, but I've run into the ugly chair problem several times and there are a couple of different ways to solve it.

    • Rent chair covers. NEVER book chair covers sight unseen--you need to makeugly, or just misunderstood? No, definitely ugly. sure they fit the ugly chairs in question. Your banquet hall may have chair covers available for an extra fee, or will probably know a place that carries chair covers that fit their awful chairs. If that's no go, borrow an ugly chair for the day and find a party rental store with covers that fit. If you're in the Raleigh area, A Special Event has chair covers to fit some folding chairs, and Deejays has chair covers to fit round back banquet chairs.

    • Rent better chairs. Sounds counter-intuitive, but a chair cover to cover an ugly chair actually costs more to rent than just renting a nice chair that doesn't need to be covered. Deejays has padded wedding chairs for $2.75 to rent, cheaper than any chair cover I've seen. Make sure your banquet hall allows outside chairs and provides a space to put the unwanted chairs.

    Both of these options cost money you may not have. Here are some options for the bride on a budget:

    • Rent chair covers for the head table only. It's not the perfect solution, but renting 10 chair covers makes a smaller dent in the budget than renting 200, and many of your important pictures will be of the head table.

    • Are your chairs truly hideous, or do they just not match your wedding colors? If it's still early and you haven't paid for your table linens or bridesmaids dresses yet, why not change the color scheme to match the chairs?

    I wouldn't recommend making your own chair covers unless you own your own sweatshop. A friend of mine tried this more years ago than I care to admit and had to give up after the 20th chair. She ended up only covering the chairs at the head table.

    The best solution, of course, is to refrain from booking a venue with ugly chairs or other "deal-breakers."

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Banquet Halls - Apples to Apples Part Two

    Last week I talked about the advantages and disadvantages of renting a bare-bones venue for your wedding reception. This week, let's talk about the other end of the spectrum: all-inclusive venues.

    All-inclusive venues include every thing you need (and some things you don't): everything from your tables, chairs, place settings, catering, servers, the bar, and sometimes even the photographer, DJ, and florist, will all be provided by your venue, along with lots of "extras" such as ice sculptures. Country clubs, resorts, and high-end hotels are usually all-inclusive. If you want a fancy, elegant wedding with all the frills, it is most definitely less expensive to go to an all-inclusive venue than to bring all the bells and whistles to another location.

    The Upsides to an all-inclusive location:

    • It's easy. You don't have to go out and find a florist or a caterer because your venue already provides one. Good for brides pressed for time or trying to plan an out-of-state wedding.
    • By getting everything from the same place, you get your money's worth. However, be careful: if a lot of the "extras" are things you don't want or need, you aren't saving money.

    The downside:

    • It's expensive. Expect to drop at least $10,000 on an all-inclusive venue.
    • Your choices will be limited. If you are set on a unique look for your wedding, they might not have what you need to pull it off, and may charge extra for bringing in other vendors.
    • The vendors "included" with the venue might not be to your liking. I used to favor all-inclusive venues because they made my job easier, but my brides and I kept getting saddled with the obnoxious DJs, lousy caterers, and incompetent photographers included with the hall.
    • Your contract will be long and confusing due to the sheer amount of goods and services provided. Read the contract carefully so there are no surprises. One venue I scouted boasted that they included a photographer free of charge. However, when I checked over the contract I saw that the photographer would only be there for one hour.
    • Many all-inclusive venues double or even triple book (meaning they have two or three weddings on the same day), so you may only have an hour or so the day of to decorate.

    Remember: if you have a big budget, an all-inclusive place may be for you, but it isn't worth the money unless you are happy with everything the space includes. Otherwise, go with a place that allows you to decorate as you choose and bring in outside vendors. Deejay's banquet halls in East Raleigh is the only venue I've come across that has in-house catering and allows outside catering. Some halls allow any vendor you like and some have a list of approved vendors.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Banquet Halls - Apples to Apples Part One

    When you're scouting out banquet facilities in your chosen area for your wedding reception, one of the most important things to remember if you want to save money is to compare apples with apples. What is included along with the room and what must you provide yourself? A hall that seems like a good deal might not be so great once you factor in the cost of outside rentals and decorations.

    Bare-bones venues are inexpensive and include VFW halls, Fire Halls, Knights of Columbus, and lodges. These venues usually provide plain, basic tables and chairs, and very little else. Some don't even have that. You will have to provide everything yourself, which can be overwhelming if you don't have a planner. Once you include the cost of linens, food, delivery, and set-up, you might not save as much as you thought you would by choosing a cheaper venue. You may even be faced with a hefty delivery charge if the hall requires everything to be cleaned up and out of there by midnight, and late charges if your rental company is late. Deejays party rentals is the only place I know of in the Raleigh / Wake County area that can reliably pull off a late-night pickup.

      Downsides to a basic venue:
    • The cost of renting even basic tables and chairs can add up quickly and eat away the money you saved by booking a cheaper venue. For a party of 100, expect to spend at least $250 for tables and chairs alone, not including delivery. Even basic white table linens cost at least $10.00 per table around here.
    • These halls are usually very plain and may need a lot of decoration to get the look you desire.
      Upsides to a basic venue:
    • The savings. If you have a lot of guests and an extremely small budget, this may be your only option.
    • You may be able to get a discount if a family member belongs to the club or lodge.
    • If you have a very specific look in mind, it's easier to achieve such a look on a "blank canvas" than try to make the burgandy banquet chairs and heavy chandeliers over at the Sheraton mesh with your "beach theme" wedding. However, be prepared to work hard to achieve that look.
    • Most lodges and fire halls are not going to restrict you to a set list of outside vendors, meaning you can use whoever you choose.

    Remember: in addition to the price of your venue, be sure to factor in the price of all outside rentals, as well as catering costs, the price of the bar (if applicable), and decorations.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    Save Serious Money - Invitations, Save-The-Dates, Thank-You Notes, and other Stationary

    Or, Save on Stationary Costs without Violating the Rules of Etiquette.

    One of the best ways to save serious money on your wedding is to limit your guest list to close family and friends only. This will lower your catering costs, your venue costs since you can rent a smaller venue (compare the price of this banquet hall for 100 versus this banquet hall for 50) , the cost of your decorations since you'll have fewer tables and a smaller room to decorate, and so on. Almost all of your costs will go down--except the cost of your wedding invitations.
    Stationary stores don't like small orders. Here is the price breakdown of the last invitations I bought from Landmark (these are so pretty in person, by the way!):

    Invitations for 25: $153 - $6.12 per invitation

    Invitations for 50: $168 - $3.36 per invitation

    Invitations for 75: $183 - $2.44 per invitation

    Invitations for 100: $198 - less than $2.00 per invitation.

    It gets worse. Those prices are just for the invitations. Once you include the price of Save-The-Dates, pre-addressed envelopes, the Thank You Notes, and the response card, the price jumps to over $400 for just 25 invitations, or $16.82 per invitation(versus $535.30 for 100, or $5.35 per invitation).
    As you can see, your invites are one of the few places you will not save any money by cutting your guest list.
    What's a bride to do? The bride on the budget has several ways to cut invitation costs:
    • Don't: Skip the Thank-You Notes. Everybody who attended the wedding and/or gave you a gift gets a Thank-You Note, period, end of story, even if you thanked them in person. However, your Thank-You notes don't need to be fancy, costly ones that match your invitations. There is absolutely nothing wrong, etiquette-wise, with sending your guests hand-written thank-you notes on your ordinary stationary.
    • Do: Skip the printed Save-The-Dates. Save-The-Dates are not necessary unless most of your guests will need the extra notice, and e-mail is acceptable in lieu of printed cards.
    • You can: skip the pre-addressed envelopes and the response cards if you are having a small wedding. Dont worry, you have time to address the envelopes yourself if you are only sending out 25-50 invites. If you forgo response cards, be sure your guests have multiple ways to contact you.
    • Don't: Try to save nickels and dimes by not sending paper invites to all your invited guests. Yes, your parents already know they are invited, but they should still get an invitation! Couples who live together, and any dependent children, can all share an invitation. But if cousin Susie moved out of her Aunt Julie's home six years ago, you need to send one invitation to Aunt Julie and one to Susie if you would like both to come. Invitations are keepsakes for many people, and sending paper invites to some guests and not others can make your guests feel like afterthoughts.
    • Don't EVER use the free invites certain stores give out when you make your wedding registry with them. Throw that mess away. Sending out an invitation with your registry info plastered all over it is tacky, plain and simple. If you truly don't have a cent to spare on invitations, hand-write your invites on the nicest stationary you already have. You can never go wrong with a personalized, hand-written letter.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Save Serious Money - Do you need a DJ for your wedding reception?

    The most difficult weddings to plan aren't the $300 per head, no expense spared, all weekend long extravaganzas. While those do present interesting challenges, through the years I have found that the greatest challenge is planning a wedding on a budget.
    The easiest way to keep costs down is to cut out the parts of your wedding you don't need. If you find yourself skimping on your invitations, your flowers, or anything else, ask yourself: do I need this at all?
    If you want your wedding reception to be an all-night dance fest with lights, effects, and an emcee to keep the energy up, then yes, you need a DJ. And, if you don't spring for a good DJ, you will regret it because a terrible DJ will ruin your wedding. However, if all you want your DJ to do is make a couple of announcements and play songs you picked out, you don't need to hire a DJ at all. All you really need is a sound system, a microphone, an Ipod, and a "designated sound person".
    Most basic jamboxes do not have a place to plug in a microphone, and in any case aren't powerful enough to fill a large room with sound. If you have a friend with a nice sound system, ask if you can borrow it for your wedding. If that isn't possible, rent a sound system. If you're in the Raleigh-Durham area, I like the ones at Deejays because they're easy to use and pretty inexpensive: you can rent a two-speaker sound system, with a microphone, for less than $200.
    Make a wedding playlist on your IPod at least a week before the wedding, and have your designated sound person hook it up to the sound system at the appropriate time. Your designated sound person should also use the microphone to announce the important events (the big ones are your entrance, the father-daughter dance, the mother-son dance, your first dance as a couple, the cake cutting, and your departure), and pass the microphone to the Best Man, Maid of Honor, and others for toasts.
      Quick tips:
    • Make sure your IPod is fully charged for your big day!
    • Do a "test run" of the entire sound system at least a couple of days before your wedding. Make sure the IPod, speakers, and microphone all work together without popping or feedback. Make sure your designated sound person knows how to set it up.
    • Discuss the timing of the reception with the designated sound person, so they know when you want your important announcements to happen, and which songs you want played for your special dances.
    • Bridezilla tip: Your designated sound person is not your servant. Nobody should be pressured into lending out expensive sound equipment, or making announcements in public against their will. Ask a friend, a family member, bridesmaid, or an usher well in advance and don't throw a fit if they say no. This is not a job to spring on someone at the last minute. Remember that first and foremost, this is a guest at your wedding.
    • Make sure the designated sound person has your IPod before your reception. Give it to him / her the day before, just to be safe.
    • The designated sound person should: set up the sound system before the reception, plug in the IPod, make announcements at the appropriate times, and make sure the Best Man has the microphone for the toasts. Overall, this won't take more than 20 minutes of their time the day of, plus about 30 minutes of time before the wedding for planning.
    • Don't forget to write your designated sound person a thank you note after your wedding.