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.
 
 
If I had to summarize the 44 responses to this question in one sentence, I would do it this way: Do not skimp on your big day's photography. Just. Don't. Do. It.

Many of the people who gave an opinion either regretted not spending more money themselves, or knew someone who did. "You can skimp on everything else, but those pictures are forever," one of my friends wrote. Another noted she hadn't even ordered digital proofs because she's so disgusted by the work her photographer delivered. (Word to the wise: Negotiate, or try to negotiate, so that you receive a disk of digital images and have the right to print the images.)

Photography is one of the biggest reasons I turned to bartering. I knew I couldn't bear to not have gorgeous, candid images of our day (I've worked for years with fabulous photojournalists, so I know how striking photography can be when done well), but I suffered from some serious sticker shock. Then, I met Ken Cavanaugh at Cavanaugh Photography, who did want to barter, and my mind was set at ease. We would have a professional behind the lens, and I would work to earn it.

Others, in responding to this day's question, said they wished they'd hired a videographer, and one said she would hire a DJ if she could have a do-over.

I liked this advice: Spend more on what's more important to you. If you dig live music, this person wrote, hire a band. If you're particular about food, splurge a little on a top-notch caterer. For one former bride, having a string quartet was worth the extra $400, while spending more to have live flowers simply was not. 

One former groom said he regretted pinching pennies on tuxedos because the shop they used did an awful job tailoring and actually delivered some of the tuxes to the wrong places.

Here's what I've learned generally in my own wedding planning: You get what you pay for, in most cases. If you want a fantastic photographer, said fantastic photographer will cost more. If you want a newspaper journalist to write your love story, it will cost more than hiring your friend to do it for you (shameless plug, I know). The husband-to-be and I are paying more than we initially expected for our caterer, and I'm glad. They serve a tasty chicken piccata, mashed potatoes made from scratch and a lot of other delicious food, and they're a third-generation company -- tried and true.

Another of my Facebook friends said her husband and she ran out of booze, which reminds me to share with you what I've learned: You can find distributors who will sell alcohol on commission. That means that if Steven and I buy more alcohol than our guests end up consuming, and if any cases and bottles are unopened, the distributor will take the alcohol back and refund us that money. When it comes to purchasing for our party, we'd rather over-purchase, and we're glad to know that we can potentially return some of it.

One woman said she was sorry that she skimped on her wedding shoes and doesn't like any of the photographs that show those shoes. 

Of course, nothing is all about price. A former editor of mine urged that simply spending more dough does not ensure a great vendor or responsive service. He suggested asking oneself, "Did they capture each couple's story, or take cliché images?" when vetting photographers, and considering how a DJ plans to keep your party lively.

When it comes to our pending nuptials, we've definitely spent more (via my bartering) to ensure we have karaoke and a very competent DJ and emcee. It's important to us to have a party that gets people up and dancing, and keeps them up and dancing, and I hear from Something New Entertainment's former clients that they deliver. 

Finally, one former bride said she wished she'd spent more on linens because she saw another wedding with pricier linens, and they did make a "tremendous" difference in the overall feel of the room. Speaking of linens, we've decided to buy ours instead of renting them. Anyone know a quality site that sells them?
 
 
Not a whole lot of feedback for this one, so if you're reading this and have something to add, add away.

One married friend of mine wrote a mere two words: "Better linens." Another said she'd liked the idea of having her bridesmaids hold clutches with decorative flowers instead of bouquets, only to nix the thought as too bold. She later saw the idea done on a television show.

I just researched nontraditional bouquets. Did you know there are button bouquets, doorknob bouquets and blackberry bouquets? Me neither. 

Kim, a wedding planner I know, mentioned she would have had more flowers. What was delivered was not what she expected when she placed her order -- a warning, probably, to all of us to be clear with any vendor about what we're to receive for what price.

Finally, two women mentioned candy buffets -- one who wished she'd done one, and one who said she is having one. 

I find it strange that this question didn't drum up more of a response because I ask this question of the handful of people I meet each week for my full-time job (even those who've been married for a decade or more), and they always seem to have an answer.

The question I ask them: If you had your wedding to plan all over again, what would you most certainly do again, and what would you do differently? One man replied that he would have hired a limo or other group transportation because not having it resulted in some delays in groomsmen and bridesmaids getting to various locations for photography.

Other people have told me that they regretted not having the time, or making enough of an effort, to greet each and every guest.


So, what about you? What do you still smile about doing on your big day, and what would you do differently in hindsight?
 
 
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? 

 
 
The nearly two dozen responses to this question revealed that a lot of people marry at a time of year that they've always loved. The Husband-To-Be and I are no different: We love fall. Football. The changing leaves in Northeast Ohio, accompanied by cooling temperatures. Halloween and frightening movies. It's our favorite time of year, and adding our wedding anniversary to it will make it even more so.

If you've got a date in mind, book early, many of my Facebook friends advised. The longer you wait, the more difficulty you may have in booking the church/pavilion/ceremony place you want AND the reception hall for the same day.

Others noted, too, that they were careful not to schedule their wedding too near holidays and birthdays, and one former colleague of mine noted it didn't hurt that her wedding date included her favorite number. There was one person who has what she calls a family date: the date her mother married and her mother's parents married. Pretty neat.

Others planned their date around their "dating anniversary." Remember to think about the weather, said one woman who did. Her groom had a sweaty time marrying her on their early August date. To that point, asking a venue about climate control (heat and air conditioning) is a must.

A sorority sister of mine gave this advice: "Our biggest lesson was flexibility so we could get the location and vendors we wanted. But it's all about your priorities -- if you want a specific date, you may have to sacrifice on some vendors who are already booked. Or, if you want a specific vendor(s), you'll need to be more flexible on the date."

I do the same: When asking a vendor about their services and/or interest in bartering, I almost always start with: Do you have our date available?

Other date-setting tips offered by the Facebook peanut gallery:
  • Booking your date on a Friday or Sunday can save you money.
  • Give thought to whether you passionately want a certain type of flower, and schedule your wedding when said flower is in season. I've learned through my conversations with our prospective florists that it can increase costs significantly if you're absolutely set on an off-season flower.

Speaking of wedding dates, our save-the-date proofs arrived today! My sister designed them for us, and we're printing them and our other wedding materials with a Groupon we bought for Vistaprint. The side with the picture is altered (for privacy's sake); at the bottom of the calendar on the ones we will send, we shared the location of our ceremony and reception and also wrote "formal invitation to follow."
If you like what you see, my sister is open to designing others... Email me, and I'll make sure she gets your request. My advice, even if you're working with another custom designer: Share images of invitations you like and give a general feel of what you like. Also, if you want to write copy like I did (I wrote the "poem" we used), it's probably best to give a designer that to begin with, too.
 
 
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.