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.
 
 
Thus far, in our year of wedding planning, I'd say we've done pretty well in keeping wasteful spending to a minimum. In fact, with the exception of a blue sweater I bought for our engagement shoot that I didn't end up wearing more than twice, I'm not sure we have wasted money. 

People who've been there, done that, certainly had viewpoints on which wedding expenditures are a waste. Favors were cited most often. And one friend replied: "Speaking as a server, imprinted cocktail napkins, matches, etc. Anything that gets thrown out anyway. And really think about whether people will actually take your favor home and do something with it. When the favors are flimsy, people leave them and we end up throwing them out at the end of the night."

The only wedding favors I still have serve as jewelry storage on my dresser, so I guess they're serving a purpose. But, I hope no one paid an arm and a leg for them.

The husband-to-be and I decided early on not to do favors. In lieu of favors, and right along the lines of others' suggestions, we will donate to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. It would have been enough that we're both animal lovers. But, not long after Steven moved in with me, we adopted this ridiculously sweet cat -- whom we renamed Cora -- from the organization:
Can you stand it?! She even fetches her toys. Like a dog.

Our thinking: If we can help ensure that other animals are cared for until they find their forever homes, it's a much better expenditure than favors.

And, she's not the only adorable animal inspiring this donation. This is Charlie, whom I adopted five years ago from a Pennsylvania farmhouse. When it's cold outside and the radiators are hissing, we know where to find him, lol.
Back to the topic at hand: Where else have others realized that a wedding expenditure was a waste of money? One woman said hiring a limo (because she just found it to be unnecessary), and another journalist friend of mine called the sit-down dinner a waste.

It surprised me how many people chimed in to say they agreed. Here I was, thinking we'd be lepers if we dared have buffet dinner service, and here they were, saying nix dinner altogether. They said this namely based on what they say their friends' preferences are (to get up and mingle, rather than wait for dinner to be served) and they said this because from their perspective, the typical rubber chicken, vegetable and starch isn't memorable and isn't worth the price you pay.


After a lot of thought and deliberation, and a big change in our plans, Steven and I have chosen our caterer and decided our menu. More about that on the blog soon.

I've learned that a lot of wedding planning follows the old adage, "to each his own." If you don't want to serve dinner, don't, but make sure you say so in your invitations, my peanut gallery advised. Guests who show up hungry for dinner only to find finger foods may end up hungry later, and leave earlier. (To that point, you also should include it in your invites if your event is adults-only and if it's outside so guests can plan accordingly, I'm told.)

Another Facebook friend of mine said that spending a lot on invitations doesn't make sense to her because most will throw them away. I've been lucky to have a sister who's a designer who crafted my invitations as her gift to us, and I've ordered them on Vistaprint using Groupons. Keep your eyes out: Vistaprint Groupons are offered fairly frequently.

Other former brides also noted that they purchased their gowns at David's Bridal rather than potentially spending more at private boutiques, and a few urged me not to overspend on a veil because a person can make one pretty cheaply or borrow one. One man also suggested we make our own decorations (in the works!) and host our ceremony and reception at one venue (presumably because it saves on transportation and because it's more convenient for guests). We're doing that, too.

One of my favorite responses was this one, from a former colleague of mine who actually threw a surprise wedding when she married: "The good news is that guests really appreciate anything that makes the wedding unique."

What was the most unique touch to a wedding you've ever seen?
 
 
I will never understand what drives a woman to want to be on that Bridezillas show. I want to be remembered as a beautiful, beaming bride, not a screaming witch.

But, we all know that under the right amount of stress, the prettiest of personalities can turn ugly. It was with that in mind that I asked my peanut gallery the above question, and there was no shortage of replies.

The first person to respond said this: "I started to feel like it was more for everyone else. Don't let that happen. Keep in mind, it is YOUR day (and Steven's) so make sure YOU will be happy at the end of it. I finally got to the point where I just couldn't wait for it to be over. Wish I would've spoke up and said enough is enough."

I asked her what specifically made her feel that her own big day was more for everyone else, and she told me she had female relatives take over. The event became one that she didn't recognize. Take others' advice, she urged, but make sure the dream that's executed is the one you two share.

Other Facebook friends of mine offered these reasons why they became upset, overwhelmed and irked:

*A few people said their DJs didn't follow directions, that they refused to play requests even when the bride told them they should and played a genre of music that didn't mesh with what the man and woman of the hour requested. I feel confident that Something New Entertainment will do us proud. Every time I interview Anna-Jeannine to write a blog for her, no matter the topic, her focus is squarely on what will make the bride and groom happiest.

*Another woman said family politics can be a stressor. I wrote a blog for Something New about dealing with such issues, and the takeaway was this: Planning for challenges helps ensure they don't become problems. So, consider providing corsages and boutonnieres for every mom and dad figure so no one gets offended. And, if there truly are people who you’d rather keep apart at all costs, make sure you alert the photographer.

*A sorority adviser wrote this: "Also, be sure to talk with Steven about his wants and needs. Too many brides feel it is HER day and he is just along for the ride. His input counts. I was too much of a bridezilla in that aspect." I think I've done this. My groom purchased some of the tree trunk slabs for our centerpieces and chose outright what his groomsmen and he will wear (gray slacks, gray vests and ties -- tuxedos seemed too formal given Mr. Grizzly). And, he's the reason that bacon-wrapped meatloaf will be an entree (more on our caterer as soon as a contract is signed!). I figure, my life is happy because he's in it; so, too, will my wedding be.

*A few people said that assigned seating became a real bear (bears are on my mind, yes) and one of my former newspaper colleagues said that's the exact reason they assigned family to a few tables and let the rest of their esteemed guests sit where they pleased.

*I particularly appreciated what one friend of ours in Pennsylvania offered: "After all the planning is done and the day starts, you will worry about this or that and feel like you have to take control. Don't! Take time to enjoy everything around you!" 

*Another former journalism colleague of mine shared that she ripped her veil three weeks out and rush-ordered another only to RIP THE OTHER ONE on the day of. Omg. Thankfully, a trip to a bridal store three blocks from the venue produced a third. She recommended, "Plan for every worst-case scenario. I know many brides who pack an emergency kit: extra hose, needle and thread, safety pins and bobby pins, stain sticks, headache medicine, Pepto-Bismol." I think this is something I might ask a bridesmaid to handle. Zilla alert!

*Another bride said her photography got backed up so much that while her groom and his groomsmen had dozens of shots together, her bridesmaids and she had maybe 10. I can't guarantee that this will prohibit the same from happening on my day, but I've been sending, revising and re-sending a timeline to my vendors to try to ensure to the best of my ability that I'm allotting reasonable slots of time for hair, photographs and more. A few of them have complimented me on being so proactive, and all of them have been helpful and honest where they need to be.

*Apparently, groomzillas exist, too! One woman said her husband said he didn't care, then threw tantrums, she thinks, in an effort to please his parents. She wishes they had discussed things and had more of a team mentality going into it all.

I'll close with these two observations because they help me take a deep breath and beat back my growing anxiety. (My number of wedding nightmares currently stands at two, sigh: one about us forgetting at home all of the jars that have become a labor of love for my mom and me, and the other about the personalized dress hanger I've ordered being misspelled).

"To be honest, I don't think I was a bridezilla at all, and it's because I made sure I was well prepared. And if something wasn't perfect, I just remembered that very few people, if anyone at all, would notice
the detail I was obsessing over so I let it go. And all I have are wonderful, stress-free memories!"

And, this gem from a bride who, at the time, was still planning her own big day: "Planning my wedding I'm keeping two things in mind... can people say they had fun and we love each other? If they can answer yes, it was a success. You might not remember little details, but you will remember how you feel. People get so caught up in the stuff... don't forget why you're doing it!"

Never! :]
 
 
It's striking the number of times I go to share one of the 30 Days of Wedding Questions I wrote last year, only to find that the topic and advice are really relevant to decisions Steven and I are making right now. Re-reading the advice of others, I want to share a realization this Type A bride came to recently:

Go with the flow. Listen to vendors when they tell you your expectations are unrealistic, or when they disagree with something you want done. Listen to YOURSELF, too, even if it means making changes with only months to go. We just changed our menu plans and our bridesmaid dress colors, one, because we listened to a caterer who asserted that our initial plan would result in guests waiting up to 40 minutes to eat (yikes!), and two, because Steven and I (and my bridesmaids) agreed that plum seemed a bit ... gloomy. I'll reveal more about the much brighter color we've chosen instead on my blog in coming weeks.

Enough about me; you came here for advice! 
  • Choose colors that reflect you two -- your favorite color, for example. One woman chose flowers, too, that reflected the blooms associated with her sorority and her groom's fraternity.
  • Keep your venue in mind when selecting your colors. Don't choose a color for the dresses and tables that would clash with the room. The same person advised me to beware of demanding a specific type of flower because you could end up spending a fortune to get a specific flower if it's out of season. Additionally, be careful about the size of your bouquets: They get heavy for your bridesmaids and you during the ceremony.
  • One woman went with ivory and navy because they're timeless colors, and had textured florals in the bouquets, such as berries and hydrangeas. The florist I'm thisclose to contracting with is doing something similar for me. The same woman said in hindsight, she probably would have included more flowers with a bigger pop of color against the dresses, even if they weren't her official wedding colors.
  • Another said she went with black and ivory to keep it classy and to save money because her groom and she didn't need to upgrade napkins, tablecloths and other items to be coordinating colors. Plus, she said it was easier to find decorations in ivory and black, and more options resulted in better pricing.
  • Consider time of year, too. Blues, silvers and whites are fitting for winter, for one.
  • I liked this idea: One couple went with orange and blue, but they didn't limit themselves to just one shade of each color, opting instead to incorporate the whole spectrum of the colors.
  • As for bridesmaid dresses, one person recommended having straps because they make for a more comfortable top for more body types. Another bride said she had her girls wear black dresses because they're classic and so versatile. She had red flowers, too.
  • Here's a response you don't hear every day: One friend chose her colors based on her husband's kilt. He's Scottish. "Everything we did was a direct reflection of us," she wrote. "We did buckeyes for a favor because he loves OSU football and I love chocolate. These little things made the day that much more special!"
  • Choosing dresses based more on their fit than on their color worked well, one woman noted. Her groom and she named each table after significant places in their relationship. "That was pretty much our strategy for a lot of decisions: to make them meaningful to us so the wedding was reflective of who we are together," she explained.

It's a good reminder for me. I don't want to become so consumed and obsessed with our theme that we don't have elements of the day that make guests smile and reflect, "That's totally those two."

How are you making your day YOU, or how did you make it very you? 

 
 
Lots of advice for this one, so to keep it a quick read, I present to you bullet points!

  • One of my married Facebook friends said her husband and she invested more in lighting so the venue wouldn't look like your typical hotel reception hall. They had a white backdrop with crystal lights behind the head table and peppered the room with can lighting to add ambiance. Subtle differences, she said, made a big impact.
  • This same friend also suggested that when interviewing a prospective DJ, one should ask: How will you get people dancing?
  • Another recent bride noted that the type of venue you choose and the lighting inherent in that venue will play a large part in the ambiance you create. She noted, for example, that having uplighting in a venue tends to make for a more formal feel, while having natural light stream through the windows can lend itself to a more vintage, summertime feel.
  • One college peer of mine noted she purposely sought out a venue that wouldn't require lights, fabric, etc., so she chose a place with huge windows and great views. Her biggest lesson learned, however, was to consider how long any natural light will last, and how the change in lighting will impact the room. "I'd never seen our space at night, and it got VERY dark and the room wasn't quite as beautiful without the view," she wrote.

    This is particularly relevant for the Husband-To-Be and me: Our venue is built of old, dark wood, and while the room seems bright enough during the day, I am bartering for uplighting through Something New Entertainment (the company who will be our DJ, too). I want the room to have that additional touch, and I trust that a company led by theatrically trained people can pull it off. Also, we will have Mason jars on each table outfitted with battery-operated votives.

    Why battery-operated? A bride once advised me that she learned the hard way that wax candles can burn out before you would prefer for your darkening room. Our reception will last for five hours, and these battery-operated candles, at their advertised lifespan of dozens of hours, should more than cover our desire for a lasting, romantic flicker on the tables. (Yes, fake candles fake-flicker!)

    Here's a picture of one of ours fake-flickering away atop a tree trunk slab from inside one of the twine-wrapped jars I purchased from a local bride:
Here's another, lights-off look:
  • Last but not least, one person urged: The Do-Not-Play list that one can provide to her DJ is just as important as the Must-Plays. I don't know to what extent I agree with this, as I really feel a dance party is most fun when everyone gets to hear a favorite song of theirs, even if I'm not a fan. Pretty non-zilla of me, right?
 
 
While others hunted for toys and electronics on Black Friday, I braved the unpredictably crowded Jo-Ann Fabrics on a hunt for the burlap I'll need to craft table runners, lace and ribbon for wrapping the glass jar collection currently overwhelming our small dining room and twigs, too.

Thanks to a generous 50% off coupon, I snagged 12 yards of burlap for $23, plus several yards of beautiful lace. I left without fake twigs because I decided I would go gather real twigs in the park across the street.


Gluing lace to jars and cutting strips of burlap seems well within my crafty abilities. But I asked the above question because I wanted to know what people regretted tackling on their own. There was no shortage of advice here:

*No one disagreed with Jenn, my culinary school-trained friend: Leave the food to the professionals.
*Many, though, recommended making your own centerpieces (we are!) and your own favors. A number of my Facebook friends said they simply wrapped candies or made donations to charity for their guests. Another said she created mini storybooks showcasing her hubby and her as part of their centerpieces. A third mentioned his wife and he put together bowls of water with colored stones and floating candles.
*People also recommended that we leave alterations to the professionals. This is a must-do, given that the sewing machine my mom gifted me three or four years ago remains unopened as of yet.
*The response regarding invitations was mixed. Some were happy that they did their own invitations and saved money doing so. Another woman, however, was quite adamant that her decision to DIY the invites was not the right one: "I did my own invitations ... huge mistake ... wayyy more difficult than I thought they would be ... leave those to the professionals!!!!"

*Finally, a piece of advice with which I do agree: "I would have gotten my makeup done as mine didn’t last well throughout the evening," one former bride said. "I’d actually leave anything related to your appearance to the pros – dresses, hair, makeup – you will be able to see the impact."
 
 
Coincidentally, today I had my very first consultation with a florist in Westlake, Ohio. She's sending me a quote, and said she may have an interest in my bartering for a discount (eee!). She also didn't shy away from answering my favorite question for wedding vendors: What's one mistake brides make when it comes to choosing [insert service they provide]?

Champagne wishes on a beer budget, she replied. Too often, brides are set in their flower choices before they know what they cost, she added.

The one response to the post above that really spoke to me, probably because like most women I have people I'd like to involve more intimately: One bride collected flowers from close friends as she walked down the aisle and when she reached the end, her mother tied them together with a piece of fabric from her own wedding dress. What an incredible, memorable idea.

Brooch bouquets seem all the rave, and my Facebook thread was no exception. One friend said she wants to ask her wedding shower guests to bring brooches (from their own collections or antique stores and the like) to help her put one together. I can't say I want a brooch bouquet, though I do think this one (found on bridaltreasures.wordpress.com) is gorgeous:
Other flower advice:
*Don't pay a ton for flowers, one former editor of mine advised. Costco is a budget-friendly place to turn, she said. Another former editor (they're helpful even after you're done writing for them!) strongly encouraged me to shop around.
*There's always silk flowers, others noted. One person said she chose silk flowers to keep her allergies at bay, but found that it meant that she could have any flower she wanted, even those that wilted easily because wilting wasn't a concern. Another woman cautioned that good fake flowers can cost just as much as real ones.
*Find a way to use every flower arrangement twice. One thing the florist I spoke with today mentioned that I hadn't even thought of is using the bride's and bridesmaids' bouquets as the centerpiece flowers at the head table. Uh, brilliant much?!
*Give the florist artistic license, a sorority sister of mine advised. She was picky and too cost-conscious, she conceded, and that led to less interesting floral touches than she'd desired. Give the florist some color guidelines and a budget and let them do their job, she urged.
*And finally, flowers that appear to be quite popular, if my thread is any indication: roses, Gerber daisies and calla lilies.
 
 
The first response I received, from a groom who just got married: In a year, no one will remember what your centerpieces were. Make something, and keep it cheap.

Another engaged friend of mine wrote, "In my opinion, they can be the prettiest centerpieces ever, but if you can't see the people across from you, they're just
downright annoying! Stay small."

Use Pinterest, one former bride suggested. (She wishes it had been around when she got married.)

The same person also noted that she'd seen some HORRIBLE centerpieces, including one involving potpourri and doilies. She noted the bride's mother-in-law had created them, something I think underscores the importance of making sure that if you're entrusting someone with such an important job, they know your vision.

Specific centerpiece ideas:

*Limbs of cherry trees, in bloom, in the center. Hang from them crystals and lit candles. (Only criticism: It was hard to see the people on the opposite end of the table.)

Here's an example of a cherry tree centerpiece I found on Brideorama:
*Photo holders (the type that have clips that prop up photographs), set atop mirrors on each table with small, battery-operated tealights. The couple chose photographs that meant a lot to them, and they wrote memories on the back of the pictures. The idea really encouraged people to mingle and get to talking to people they didn't know, this person noted. "I think it speaks volumes that this wedding was six years ago and I remember it so vividly," she said. Touché!

*Given the love of karaoke my husband-to-be and I share, one person suggested we assign song lyrics or titles to the tables instead of numbers. She said she saw a couple who loved to travel assign city names to their tables in much the same way. Cute, I think, and definitely something we'll consider.

*Tall square vases filled with clear marbles, icy-blue Christmas ball ornaments and glittery icicle-laden branches extending out. Here's an ornament centerpiece I found on Pinterest, credited to boards.weddingbee.com:
*One bride didn't want to use a lot of flowers, so she used pillar candles and glass beads. One particularly helpful thing she suggested is to be cognizant of how much natural light you'll have during your reception because a lot of natural light can render candles useless. By the time it was dark during her reception, the candles were melted way down, she said. Flowers would have helped mix things up and soften the room, she added.

Here's a centerpiece candle idea I like. I'm envisioning one Mason jar (or two) atop the tree trunk cuttings we've bought already, maybe with lace ribbon added to the mix. Thoughts?
Credit: Lindsey Cowan, Pinterest