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How to manage wedding expenses

Bustles, bows — and budgets

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Bells will be ringing ... cash registers will be cha-chinging. That's not how the song goes, but as beautiful and sentimental as weddings are, paying for all that ceremony is a very real, rarely enjoyable part of the day. Kimberly Jones-Williams, lead event planner at NOLA Event Planners, offers budgeting advice to keep matrimony manageable.

 Jones-Williams says most couples pay for their own weddings, with a few expenses covered by the bride or groom's parents. Before outlining how much you plan to spend, the first step is to figure out who's going to pay for what, and how much money is available. Next, start a guest list. Remember that each guest isn't just a body — there's also seating, tables, food, drinks and decorations to factor into calculating how much each guest will really cost. Decide how much you can afford to spend per head.

 She says the average New Orleans wedding costs $42,000 for 150 guests, including about $1,000 for a videographer, $3,500 for a photographer, $1,200 for the bride's attire and about $10,000 for decor. The bulk of the expenses are from the reception venue (food, alcohol, labor, waitstaff, etc.). She urges clients to set a realistic budget that they can pay as they go, so when the wedding is over, so is the bill.


TO HAVE AND TO SPEND

There are a few expenses that couples forget to include when budgeting: sales tax, delivery, setup, break down, pick up and gratuities. Labor often is the biggest cost, and the most overlooked. Jones-Williams also recommends setting aside enough money for 25 extra people, just in case.

 There are some areas you should never scrimp on, especially for the bride.

 "Don't sacrifice your look, your dress or the photography," Jones-Williams says. It may be your only chance to be "the bride," and the photos are your memories.

 Splurge on the entertainment you want. Entertainment is a key factor in the guests' experience — it's what they remember most, whether it's a DJ, a live band or an energetic emcee.

 "To go to a New Orleans wedding and not have an (Mardi Gras) Indian, a second-line band, some Zulu (Social Aid & Pleasure Club) Tramps or Baby Dolls? You've got to have that," Jones-Williams says. "And they're not that expensive. ... I'd definitely keep that. It's part of the New Orleans tradition."


WAYS TO SAVE

There are remedies for wedding sticker shock. Weddings are getting smaller, Jones-Williams says, with couples prioritizing guests' experience over the extended guest list. Shrinking the number of invitees is the easiest way to reduce the price tag.

 She points to all kind of metrics available online to help you whittle down the list, but a good test is when considering each guest, ask yourself whether you've spoken to that person in six months, and whether you currently have a close relationship.

 "Co-workers are often the first ones to go," she says. "Just because you eat lunch together every day doesn't mean you're 'close.' Don't go digging up distant cousins or friends just because they invited you to their weddings. Keep it intimate. You're not 'close' to 300 people."

 Lowball your guest count when you've locked in the venue. Jones-Williams says it's easier to incrementally add more to the final count than to prune numbers after you've signed a contract. Many venues still will charge according to the original, higher number.

 Be open to having the cere- mony and reception in the same space — it saves on transportation, venue rental fees and time. If you must have a separate venue for the ceremony, don't go overboard decorating it. The bulk of the wedding will be spent in the reception space, so that's where you should focus your design plans and dollars. Buy decorations that can travel from the ceremony venue to the reception hall. Use a single limo or bus for ferrying bridesmaids and groomsmen. Consider having the wedding on a Friday evening or a Sunday — it's often much cheaper than a Saturday event, and attendance is often just as high.

 "If you invite them, they will come," Jones-Williams says.

 There are plenty of little things you can omit to save money without subtracting from the experience. Jones-Williams cites the sweetheart table at the reception — it's a romantic idea, but it can be a waste because newlyweds rarely have time to sit. Do you really need a videographer? Jones-Williams says many couples never actually watch the video, and most really only want short snippets they can post to social media.

 Other budget sinkholes are too many bar and food options. Reception bars do not need to be top shelf, she says. If there's a special liquor that the groom's father just has to have, most venues will let you bring in a single bottle to leave behind the bar; there's no need to order it in bulk. Jones-Williams also has observed that with the specialty cocktail trend at wedding receptions, most guests will partake of the promoted drink, bypassing the bar altogether. Buffet-style food service always is cheaper than a sit-down meal (which also necessitates extra labor costs for service).

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