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Splurge or Save? A Guide to Wedding Budgeting

From music and photography to catering and clothes — here are some expert spending and saving tips.

By: Calum Marsh

There’s no way around it: weddings are expensive. No matter how many times you assure yourself that the ceremony won’t be too elaborate, or that the reception will be modest, or that the guest list will be kept to an absolute minimum, all the things that makes a wedding a wedding adds up. If you have even the slightest desire to make the big day one to remember, it’s impossible to do it cheaply.

But there are wedding expenses that are not strictly necessary, and there are plenty of areas where you can cut the odd corner without sacrificing any of the things that make the difference between truly getting wed and simply getting hitched. The wedding biz is a vast, powerful industry, and it can sometimes feel built to squeeze your wallet of every last penny—and yes, that really is how much canapes cost these days. With this instructive guide, however, you can rest assured that your money is going to the right places and the right places only.

Splurge: The Music

Hiring a DJ can be a fraught proposition. When you receive a quote for services, there is going to be a moment when you can’t help but think: there’s no way it should cost this much. We sympathise. After all, how hard could it possibly be to stand behind a booth for a few hours and choose what songs to play? An iPod Shuffle could get the job done just as well.

But here’s the thing: what DJs do is a strange and mysterious art understood only by their kind. While the work might seem simple, the DJ is the person at the wedding most responsible for creating and maintaining the right vibe across the evening, luring your guests to the dance floor early and keeping them super-charged with energy late into the night. This is one area where you need to trust a professional—not the distant cousin who says he can do it for fifty bucks and access to the open bar.

Save: Alcohol

Before you object, we’re not recommending that you cheap out and refuse to pay for an open bar: your guests have come from all over to see you get wed, and the least they deserve is the right to drink freely all evening. But there is a dramatic difference between a full-blown, no-holds-barred open bar and an open bar with qualifications, and most venues will let you set some ground rules to prevent any nasty surprises when you get the bill. Offering unlimited beer and wine but making cocktails and high balls available a la carte, for instance, can save you thousands, and if the beer and wine are good no one is likely to complain.

Splurge: Photography

This is another area where instinct might tell you that anyone with a smartphone or a point-and-shoot camera can do the job, but where the trained skills of a pro pay huge dividends down the line. These pictures are going to be your lasting memento of the day for the rest of your life. You owe it to yourself to make sure they look as good as they can forever.

Save: Videography

While we can appreciate the merits of first-class filmmaking, recent trends in wedding videography are not encouraging — think a lot of slick, over-produced video shorts designed to make your ceremony Instagram-ready, and at a price tag that is rarely worth it. The modern style of these videos is going to look brutally dated in a decade’s time, if indeed a digital video will even last as long as that. Stick to good photography and ask your guests to send you whatever videos they captured after the ceremony.

Splurge: Catering

Much like free alcohol, good food is something your guests deserve—even if a lifetime of bad wedding food means they probably won’t expect it. Hiring an accomplished caterer, and selecting whatever premium options they have to offer, is one of the easiest ways to ensure that the people attending your wedding will walk away with a smile on their face and with memories of having had a nice time. And even if you might be too overwhelmed with the stress and excitement of the event to actually enjoy the taste of dinner yourself, good eats will buy you a ton of goodwill with the people you’ve asked to sit down and wish you well—and it’ll go a long way to shoring up their patience when you start trotting out family members to make speeches.

Save: The Cake

This might sound like sacrilege, but let’s be real: the primary function of a wedding cake is for a two-second photo opp, not for everyone to gorge on delicious dessert. This is not to say that your wedding cake shouldn’t be tasty, of course. But it’s more than possible to have a top-notch cake without dropping four-figures on some towering extravaganza that looks better suited to impress Bake Off judges than to actually sit down and eat. Keep it simple. You won’t miss the sugary spectacle.

Splurge: The Clothes

We probably don’t need to tell you that a good suit or tuxedo is well-worth the investment, we’re Harry Rosen after all. And while it’s less practical in the long term, the wedding dress is worth the splurge as well: this is a day for celebrating the beauty of the person you love, and they should be allowed to wear what makes them feel their best without worry too much about the price tag. Let the budget fly loose on this one.

Save: Signage

A good wedding needs a surprising array of printed material, from table numbers to welcome signs to printed menus listing the night’s meal. There are plenty of vendors out there eager to charge a small fortune to design and print all this stuff, and the impulse to keep everything looking its best will make deferring to the experts very tempting. Everyone likes a nice typeface, and no one wants their wedding looking shabby.

What’s amazing is how easy this stuff is to make at home — extremely cheaply, or even for free. Apps like Canva can help the most clueless amateurs design professional-looking signs, cards, invitations and more, working either from a bevy of set templates in hundreds of different styles or from scratch with a nearly infinite number of options. Whip up a personalised seating chart and bring it to a print shop to get it mounted: you can save a ton of money while keeping complete control over the aesthetic. Win-win.