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.
 
 
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 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
 
 
Suggestions from Today's Bride:
Dessert bar, s'mores buffets and pie pops. Having never met a pie pop, I went on a quick Google hunt. Behold:
And this suggestion, I can't pronounce, let alone define: croquembouche. But another hunt reveals that it's puffs galore:
Other suggestions and insights: Pie, period. Cake pops. Cheesecake. Candy and ice cream bars. The yummy, yet messy, chocolate fountain. Centerpiece cakes on each table. A tiered cake for that cake-cutting moment, but sheet cakes (kept discreetly out of sight) served to guests to cut costs. When ordering, remember that not every guest will eat cake, so order fewer slices than people invited. One sorority sister of mine also reminded me that venues will charge a cake-cutting fee. Couple that fee with the price per slice, and you easily could pay $10 a slice. No cake ever tastes that good, she argued.

Flat-out recommendations: Reeves Cake Shop. Cake Loft. Create-A-Cake.


Topics to broach with any baker, per my Facebook friends: Some people don't like the taste of fondant, so make sure you do. Otherwise, ask the baker to stick with frosting.

Now, if like me, you like the idea of cupcakes, I found this to be something to remember: If you've refrigerated the treats and they don't return to room temperature by the time guests are biting into them, the frosting tastes solid.

Here's a few rustic cupcake-related ideas I've found: