Getting married in a private home can be an attractive option whether the couples is on a budget or has unlimited resources. They may want to be married in the home in which one of them grew up, the first house they bought together, the cousin's house where they met on a blind date, or the friend's house with the gorgeous backyard on the river.
While it can be a cost effective way to have a gorgeous wedding, you are pretty much on your own unless you hire a professional to handle all of the details for you. Some people opt for home weddings because they want to minimize the stress of wedding planning only to find they have taken on much more work than they anticipated.
I do recommend hiring wedding professionals as they can be worth their cost in stress-relief alone. Private homes are not designed to be event venues and wedding professionals can use their experience and expertise to make the appropriate adaptions to convert the home into a suitable spot for a wedding.
Couples on a tight budget may not have that luxury, so I can offer a bit of advance for those going the Do-It-Yourself route. I'll start with general advice and get a little more specific in Parts 2 and 3.
First of all, I have never officiated a home wedding that started on time. They all start late, often significantly so! This is the one exception I think is appropriate when conveying a "false time" on a wedding invitation. If the ceremony is scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. tell the guests "the festivities" begin at 1:30. Even when sending formal invitations, guests are much more casual about arriving on time for a home wedding.
The typical pre-ceremony chaos also seems to be somehow magically magnified at a private home. Getting people organized and ready to begin is just flat out more difficult at home than at a church, hotel, or country club. The phrase "herding cats" springs to mind.
Since private homes are not designed as event spaces, you will need to make some accommodations to transform a house into a wedding venue. Renting extra seating, a tent, and/or outdoor space heaters or fans depending upon the weather might be a good idea.
Most definitely consult with the town or city government to find out if any permits or insurance are required. Whether insurance is a requirement or not, get some! The home owner should immediately hop on the phone and obtain an event rider on their homeowners policy.
Take the time to walk through the property a few times and look at it with several perspectives in mind. Are there hazards for small children who may be present? Is it accessible to guests with mobility issues? Will there be any electrical or plumbing issues for the number of guests expected to attend? Will parking in some areas restrict easy access to the home? Is there a pool that would pose a problem for children and non-swimmers? Are there scrubby areas or yard debris that may attract unwanted indigenous creatures? Should the yard be sprayed for mosquitoes and other biting insects before the wedding? Consider the guests comfort and safety!
This may seem obvious, but I have experienced a few weddings where this was overlooked. A clean house is a better wedding venue. But who wants to clean house on the day of their wedding? Come to think of it, who wants to clean house period. Consider hiring a cleaning service to prepare the house or ask friends and relatives for their help. If getting married in their own home, the couple really do not want to add to their anxiety with concern for the state of the home or have to scrub toilets thirty minutes before the guests are due to arrive.
Part 2: Parking and Progeny
Simple, but elegant!
My comments are unlikely to come as a shock to most people since according to a CBS poll this past June, 80% of Americans share my conviction we spend entirely too much on weddings. Out of sheer curiosity I went to costofwedding.com and looked up how much a wedding in my area costs. Cue jaw drop.
Couples that live in or travel to Brevard County, Florida spend between $17,732 and $29,554 on average for their wedding. We are a popular destination spot with our lovely beaches, so about 43% do spend less than $10,000, I'm assuming because they are eloping or are inviting fewer than 50 guests.
At the national level, Americans are spending $25,656 for their wedding with the majority of couples spending between $19,242 and $32,070. As I suspected, we are slightly below the national average, but still pricey! Although I find the price tag steep, that is not what concerns me most about the wedding industry today.
I visit wedding planning sites and participate on bridal forums to keep current on wedding trends, gain advice from colleagues, and share what I have learned over the years. Consequently, I think I have a grasp on what couples are facing when planning a wedding today and I am appalled. I certainly recall being concerned with the budget and experiencing the natural anxiety that comes with decision-making. I was not, however, completely wrapped around the axle over endless details and a sense of overwhelming obligation I detect in brides (and grooms) today.
Many times a day I wish I could reach through my computer, put my arms around a panicked bride, and reassure her that whatever she decides to do for her wedding will be just fine. No, she does not have to provide favors for her guests. No, there is no requirement for an open bar to accommodate drinkers when all she can afford is beer and wine. No, she does not have to have a single bridesmaid, let alone five! People will not remember if she had personalized napkins or not.The notion of the window dressings of a wedding being requirements is absurd.
The excess is distressing. Particularly since the reception has far outstripped the ceremony in terms of focus. While I love a good party as much as the next person, I am concerned the reason for the occasion is being somewhat obscured with this obsession with detail. And the detail has to be contributing to the hefty wedding price tag.
Photo Attribute: Shannon Perez of Florida Beachside Weddings
Not illustrating the topic, just a sweet wedding photo!
Weddings are frightfully expensive. I have read a number of "average wedding costs" articles on-line and in bridal magazines and my jaw drops whenever I see the numbers after the dollar sign. I will save explaining why using average wedding costs to establish a budget for your wedding is a bad idea for a later column. Recently I was asked my opinion about using talented friends instead of hiring professionals as a way to save costs. Friend. Vendor. Friendor. So is it a good way to nip and tuck that budget or not?
It can be a brilliant idea or a dreadful one. There are a few things you need to consider in order to make an informed decision.
First of all, whether you use a friend or hire a stranger you absolutely must make sure you have a good contract in place. Yes, even if your friends are not charging you for their services. I recommend "paying" at least $1.00 so there is a commercial transaction of record. You are blurring boundaries and altering the nature of your relationship for a duration of time, so you need to set clear guidelines concerning expectations. Theirs and yours! No, you may not need to do this for your friend who volunteers to make place cards for you, but you certainly want one for the friend tending bar or providing the bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres.
You should consider whether your friend has the necessary experience to meet or exceed your expectations. If your friend is in the wedding industry, it may make sense to take advantage of their services. I suggest treating the potential for booking their services as you would their competitors. Compare them to other options and see if you feel they would be a good fit. Don't presume to ask for a discount, but by all means, graciously accept it if they offer. Do not be disappointed if they don't however. This is their livelihood and that should be respected.
If your friend is an amateur or does similar skills in an unrelated industry, you may want to take some more time making your decision. Will the savings be worth what you are likely to sacrifice in quality? If it's an aspect of your wedding that is a lower priority for you, it may be fine. If it's the one thing you absolutely want to be spot on perfect, opt for a professional.
There are a few categories of wedding professional I am inclined to wave people off from using friends almost entirely. Surprisingly, the officiant isn't one of those wedding professionals. I have addressed how to choose the right amateur as your officiant and can easily see why a friend could do this job well enough....under the right circumstances.
You want to take exceptional care when deciding whether or not to use a friend for your photographer, videographer, DJ, and caterer. For one thing, this is a wedding professional who is working hard on the day of the wedding for many hours. Your friend will not be able to be both a guest and work for you at the same time. If this is someone you would ordinarily invite to your wedding without giving it a second thought...don't use them as a friendor. If it is more of an acquaintance who might or might not be high on the guest list...than it might be okay. A friend who is a florist can easily work on your arrangements before the event, deliver them, and then relax and enjoy the festivities. Your DJ friend does not have that option.
Photographers, videographers, DJs (musicians), and caterers have varying degrees of talent and artistry. You should select friends or professionals who match your tastes and produce work you admire and fits your style. If friends offer their services to you at reduced prices or even better, free, but you are not enamored of their portfolio or work...it is no bargain. You may feel a little squeamish about turning down a friend's offer to work your wedding, but you have to get over that and simply say, "thanks, but no thanks."
Friendors are perfectly acceptable when everyone understands their respective roles and gladly takes on the responsibilities and obligations that go along with it. If not, there is a disaster waiting to happen. I once stayed for an hour after a ceremony and took portraits of the wedding party and family on my camera since the bride's friend who had agreed to photograph their wedding failed to show. Well, actually he did pull up right as I was getting in my car to drive home. He was a friendor who volunteered as their photographer for free and still was not worth what he was getting paid.
Penny wise pound foolish springs to mind when it comes to friendors. Choose wisely!
Friendor: (n.) any friend, acquaintance, great-uncle, co-worker's boyfriend, cousin's girlfriend, etc. who offers or agrees to provide products and services at reduced cost or free that you would normally contract with a professional to do.
Photo Attribute: Image courtesy of Cheryl Clermont of Space Coast Photographer
As if budgeting and paying for a wedding isn't stressful enough! At some point during the planning process, bridal couples come across the subject of tips...and many promptly freak.
Take a deep breath and let go of tipping as a requirement. Gratuities are an expression of gratitude and should come from the heart. They are a lovely gesture for anyone, employee or business owner (many of us are sole proprietors), who exceeds your expectations. Gratuities are an excellent way to express your appreciation to an individual who does something that makes your wedding day particularly special, or solves a problem averting a disaster.
Gratuities needn't be distributed the day of the wedding. If someone has particularly impressed you prior to the wedding, than by all means have a tip for them handy and give it to him or her on the spot. But as you cannot anticipate what the day will be like, it is perfectly acceptable to send a gratuity later. If it had not been for the DJ and his wife, my own wedding reception would have been an utter catastrophe. We sent them a gift we had picked out especially for them on our honeymoon shortly after we returned home. As an officiant, I have received gratuities anywhere from the day of the rehearsal to a one year anniversary. Every single one was a nice surprise, not an expected payment.
Don't think of gratuities in terms of customary amounts or as a percentage of the wedding professional's original fee. Any gesture, large or small, is sincerely and deeply appreciated. It is a tangible way of letting them know their efforts to go above and beyond were both noticed and sincerely appreciated. Here are examples of some things I have received as "gratuities."
While not obligated to tip wedding professionals, I do recommend couples set aside a line item in their budget for gratuities...just in case. You never know when something could happen that warrants one. Make a point of sending it after the wedding at the same time you send your thank you notes so you don't forget. I know that twenty years later, I still don't feel like I did enough to thank my DJ and his wife.
Photo Attribute: Available on-line with no known provenance.
Jesse and Courtney's wedding at the Hilton Melbourne Beach
I recently encountered someone on a wedding forum who said, "I have found here in Orlando that Friday, Saturday and Sunday weddings are almost double the price of a Monday through Thursday wedding."
I responded, "It's not that Friday, Saturday and Sunday are almost double the price of Monday through Thursday, it's that week day weddings are almost half the price of weekend weddings."
Although my comments were tongue-in-cheek (and I did follow up with additional information waving off the literalism of "half"), there is some truth to the way I phrased it. Most wedding professionals consider their weekend rates to be their standard prices simply because that is when they do the bulk of their work. They honestly do not see it as inflating their fees for peak weekend times, but rather may be willing to discount a fair wage for off-peak weekday events. Notice I used the word "may." Keep in mind that a company's cost of doing business doesn't decline simply because it's Wednesday rather than Saturday. Their supplies, employees, transportation costs, etc. are not day of the week dependent. The amount of work they do for a Tuesday wedding is no different from a Sunday wedding either.
While some may gladly discount during the week, wedding professionals do not reduce their rates by half and should not be asked to do so. Remember your vendors are typically small businesses or sole proprietors who strive to strike a balance between providing a good value to their customers while making a fair profit that translates into a living wage. When is the last time you saw a wedding photographer, DJ, caterer, or officiant listed in Forbes top 500 wealthiest people?
A week day wedding is a great way to optimize a wedding budget, though there are pros and cons you should consider to decide if it will work well for your needs and expectations.
Week day weddings won't work well for every couple. But if you have a guest list comprised of friends and family who are able to accommodate the schedule, it is a great way to save money. You can take advantage of discounts and it does help keep the guest list under control. The latter being the biggest cost savings you can count on for a week day wedding.
Photo Attribute: Photography by Vania
I receive a lot of questions regarding the cost associated with weddings. The nature of these inquires has spiked with respect to the frustrations of planning a simple affair. One bride recently responded, "Oh you have to blog this!" Which was a bit of a relief since what I told her was something she didn't really want to hear. So without further ado, let's proceed to the Q & A.
Q: I don't understand why our vendors are not willing to give us a price break since we're having a small wedding. Why do we have to pay the same as someone with twice the number of guests?
Rev. Ann Fuller: Let's break down two components of this question. First of all, the definition of small is relative. I consider a small wedding to be one that has less than about 20 guests. I have encountered oodles of couples who seem to think small means less than 100. Eighty guests comprise a hefty gap in our mutual understanding. Keep in mind that what you consider small may be a medium-sized, or even large, wedding to someone else. Here's my general guideline....but mine alone.
Next, consider the type of wedding vendor. For some of us, the amount of work involved is roughly the same no matter how many guests you invite. I have made concessions with my officiating fee for private and intimate weddings that do not require much coordination with other vendors on site and are virtually guaranteed to start on time. However, I pour the same amount of effort into the preparations for a private ceremony that I do for a massive wedding.
Smaller wedding festivities that are short in duration may enable you to save money with the vendors who charge by the hour. Since economies of scale are lost, you may end up paying more per guest than someone with a longer guest list for some things. Overall though, inviting fewer guests still remains one of the best ways to reduce wedding expenditures.
Please don't be offended when wedding vendors cannot accommodate discount requests just because you consider your wedding to be small. The size of your wedding may have little to no impact on the degree of work necessary for them to be part of bringing your dream wedding to reality. Even if it is a modest affair.
Q: We just want it short and simple, can you cut us a deal?
Rev. Ann Fuller: This question also contains vague and relative terms. What is short and simple to one person isn't necessarily so to someone else. You can indeed find wedding vendors who charge less for shorter wedding celebrations. Hiring a photographer for an hour to shoot just the ceremony and take a few portraits is less expensive than hiring one to photograph you for eight hours from getting ready to last dance.
As far as offficiating goes, most couples who tell me they want a short ceremony have in mind a fifteen minute wedding. It doesn't sound like a long time, but this is actually about the length of an average ceremony. Even many religious Rites of Marriage in a house of worship rarely exceed twenty minutes or so. Therefore, "we want a short ceremony" is virtually meaningless to an independent officiant because they are almost all "short" by this standard.
For me personally, the difference between an "average" and a "short" ceremony is perhaps a reduction of 5 - 15 minutes of my time over the minimum of at least six hours of work that go into officiating a typical wedding.
Q: I'm only planning just a small, short, and simple wedding. I'm trying to find vendors, but no one seems to be returning my emails or phone messages. Am I not worth their time or courtesy?
Rev. Ann Fuller: Contacting vendors with that sentence as your opening line could be the problem. I love small, short, simple weddings and most vendors do too. The emotional energy of these occasions is generally a little more relaxed than larger celebrations.
However, I have long since realized people who inquire about my services with "just a small, short and simple..." are uttering code for "I'm not prepared to pay you what you are worth, so get ready for me to try to beat you down in price." I do sincerely apologize if that sounds a bit crude, and I promise I never let an email or voice mail message go unanswered, but time and again this has proven to be the case. Often times, further conversation reveals the wedding in question is actually not what I would personally consider small, short, or simple.
When you make initial contact with vendors, just tell them you are planning a wedding and inquiring about their availability and services. The resulting conversation will allow both of you to arrive at a mutual understanding of your expectations and enable the vendor to provide you with a realistic quote.
A truly Small, Short, and Simple Wedding is spot on perfect for many couples, but some considerations need to be made. While they are less expensive as a general rule, they can take the same amount of planning (i.e. stress!) as the average wedding. Particularly if you are maintaining all of the common traditions, just inviting fewer people.
As for cutting deals because you have a 3S Wedding, think of it this way: You are paying the same for your dress whether twenty people or two hundred get to see you in it. By contrast, you're going to pay a lot less for twenty dinners than you would for two hundred. Your other vendors operate under the same conditions, it just may not be as readily apparent. By all means inquire if your prospective vendors have price breaks depending upon the scope of your festivities. But please do not be frustrated or disappointed if they do not, keeping in mind their overall effort may not be dependent upon the number of people in attendance.
Photo Attribute: Shannon Perez of Florida Beachside Weddings
Rev. Ann Fuller
The commentary on this blog is my own opinion developed over years of officiating a wide range of wedding sizes and styles. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.