It was our initial sticker shock over venues that motivated and spawned my bartering and this, The Bartering Bride blog. It seemed impossible -- upon seeing that the food, drinks and rental of various venues cost our entire budget -- to even have a wedding. We are self-funding for the most part, save some much appreciated, generous help from my mom, and we were determined then, and remain so now, not to burden ourselves with loads of debt for one day's material details.

Those who are my friends on Facebook know this, but this is the question that started it all. I spent 30 consecutive days asking wedding-related question after wedding-related question because I was determined, for Steven and me and our guests, to learn as much as I could before making decisions about things I've never purchased before and likely won't again for some time -- linens, flowers, entertainment, etc.

Generic online budgets too often assign a blanket percentage that people should spend: say, 10% on the gown, 10% on flowers, 30% on food. But not everything is as important to everyone, and one's budget should follow one's priorities. So, if your fiancé and you love karaoke, maybe spending $250 (or bartering) to have it on your big day is well worth it to you. (Like us!) If not, maybe you'd spend $250 on something else, such as a photo booth or chocolate fountain.

If you know the theme you want, consider doing what we did. We chose an inexpensive venue that fits the rustic theme we were after, which minimizes how much decoration we have to add, which saves money. See what I mean?
The jars, tree trunk slabs and burlap fabric are ours, which brings up a cost consideration to be had when renting venues: Some include everything -- chairs, linens and centerpieces, in-house caterer and baker, uplighting and sound system. Everything.

Others like ours leave a lot to be quarterbacked by the bride and groom. Our venue has chairs and tables, but has left the responsibility for centerpieces, flowers and linens, uplighting and on-site catering, to us. My advice: Pick a venue such as this if you have the time. It can take a while to find and/or make everything you need.

According to my Facebook friends, here are questions to ask of a venue, or ways to find the right one:
  • Find a place that allows you to BYOB. Then, when you do go to buy the alcohol for your party, find a distributor that will sell to you "on commission." That's code for "will accept back any cases of beer and wine that are unopened." That way, if you buy too much, you can return some if you desire.
  • If there's a catering company you really like, ask them for venues they recommend.
  • Ask about climate control. Some of my friends said that neglecting to ask about air conditioning made for sweaty conditions in hot churches and venues. It's also not a bad idea to ask when your venue/church will turn the air on. 
  • University banquet halls apparently will discount prices for alumni.
  • Ask any venue whether security fees will be incurred if you serve alcohol, or for other reasons.
  • Don't forget that pavilions and gazebos at local parks often cost a nominal fee or nothing. Make sure, though, that you reserve the space for your party. Contacting the local parks and recreation department is a good first step.
  • A sorority sister of mine recommended considering the aisle width: When she walked the aisle with her parents, they were stepping on her dress because it was so narrow.
  • It's personal preference, of course, but we also chose a venue where we could host both our ceremony and reception to keep navigation simple for our many out-of-town guests.
 
 
I figured gathering ideas from my Facebook friends' favorite weddings couldn't hurt. :] (If you're wondering why the broken-glass reference, my car proved irresistible to some thieves last summer. Twice in five days.)

One friend said the best wedding she's ever been to was the best because the bride and groom made the day about things they enjoy: Christmas ale (my family, the Husband-To-Be and I actually tasted Christmas ale-infused cupcakes today!). Sushi appetizer (never tried it!). And their own music playlist. (Steven and I have taken to writing down song titles anytime we hear something we like. VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90's is to blame, guests of ours, for the abundance of 1990's songs we have on our list, a la... New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" and Barenaked Ladies' "One Week." Get ready to party like it's 1999.)

This Facebook friend also noted that the bride and groom made it a point to spend time with all of their guests.

Amy, one of my bridesmaids, commented that the most memorable weddings she's attended were the ones that stepped outside the box. One took place at a yacht club and culminated with fireworks. Another was scheduled on New Year's Eve. And a third took place on the stage of a theater downtown. "Individuality is the best way to go!" she wrote. (The Husband-To-Be and I stayed true to our musical, or not so musical, endeavors in arranging for wedding karaoke.)


This two-word answer attracted quite a few *likes*, lol: Open bar. (Wedding alcohol is always cheaper to serve if you find a place that will allow you to buy and bring in your own drinks, I'm told. And if you go that route and need a bartender, check out Bill.)

"Mine is pretty simple," another of my bridesmaids, Michelle, wrote in response to the question. "The ones that stick out the most had the best DJs, the ones that really kept the party going and made everyone want to dance."

Other "best weddings" were described like this:

  • NOTHING TOO FORMAL: Guests wore flip flops and summer dresses. People brought food to share, and his sister, mom and I decorated. If you wanted to speak with the bride or groom, you didn't feel like you had to ask or wait in line. We had no assigned seats at the picnic tables. You felt free to move around and talk. Outdoors, simple and special.
  • TRUE TO TWO: Perfectly them, matched their personalities and preferences and made them so happy!

Finally, a recent bride wrote: "Mine! I've been to many weddings, but nothing beats your day."