Sunday, February 3, 2013

PaC Man & Wife: Budget & Vendor Reviews

This is the post where things get real. Where you get to see how much we spent, where, and why. No doubt it's a tough thing to write about... money, and it's here for everyone to see, but I feel it's an important and instructive tool for planning brides.

Thanks to our 19-month engagement, we had more time than the average couple to sock away money. I took full advantage and saved 20% minimum of my take-home pay each month. The trick is to start early to beef up your savings - it's like retirement! The best part? Those funds were hardly missed.

We intentionally did not set a budget until we had real numbers to base it on. I mean, we could have easily set an arbitrary number and worked backwards, but you can imagine all the lovely conversations resulting from that idea. (You've probably had some of those yourself.) What we had were priorities. If it was important to us and cost a little more to get exactly what we wanted, we were fine with that.

Budget: loosely defined as $25,0000-30,000. We realistically expected to spend more than $25,000 given our desire for certain splurges, but hoped not to exceed $30,000. Thirty grand seemed to be our magic threshold. My parents were extremely generous and gifted us money equal to almost a third of our total expenses. Totally unexpected and unnecessary, but wholeheartedly appreciated!

Guests: 85

Venue: $2,165
Greenville Country Club - Greenville, DE

Greenville Country Club had every single thing on our want list and then some. All at an insanely awesome price for the total package. Considering that it is common practice among other venues to charge a (high) fee for the honor of setting foot on the grounds, this was a steal. From the beauty of the venue to the incredible service, you'd think they forgot to add a zero.

Included in the fee were the gardens, reception spaces (sunporch, terrace, and living room), use of two dressing rooms and private baths, and access to the venue the day before for rehearsal and set-up. And pretty much free reign of the mansion and grounds. Little things that add up like linens, tables, votives, and valet parking? All included. (The only extra expense was the fee for setting up the ceremony site - $465.)

Catering: $12,898.80

Greenville Country Club - Greenville, DE

Before committing to Greenville Country Club, we had reviewed enough quotes from area vendors to recognize a deal when we saw it. The average price per guest in Wilmington, Delaware starts around $85 and climbs to $200+. Our price per guest was $116 (or $121 if you add in the $5 split entree up-charge due to the three meal choices). With alcohol and all the extras, we came in at $151/person. Not bad considering it included a seated three-course dinner, a cocktail hour with stationary and butlered hors d'oeuvres, a Hotel Dupont cake of our choosing (and no cake-cutting fee), premium liquor, brunch for the wedding party, a four-person tasting, three vendor meals, and the 20% service charge. Due to some last minute guest cancellations, we were shy of the $12k catering minimum so we threw in more bottles of premium white wine and sparkling wine. Here's how the catering budget was split: $9,066 for food and $3,832.8 for beverages.

Photography: $4,800
Heather Fowler Photography

Hands down our biggest splurge. Hiring a great photographer was priority #1. It was the first thing I researched and I was at my most opinionated when discussing prospective photographers and packages. Mr. PaC wanted to keep it around $3,000, but appreciated the difference between photographers we didn't choose and Heather. She was flexible and straight-forward from the first meeting. Case in point: we didn't need albums so she allocated the money elsewhere.

Our package included eight hours of coverage, a second shooter, digital rights after 6 months, photo website, $300 credit for prints, proofs in either a hard-bound magazine or 4x6 loose prints, an engagement shoot, and unlimited amount of images. We added an extra hour at $300 so she could capture our last dance and sparkler exit.

If you are a Philadelphia-area bride with a similar budget and happen to be just as selective, you owe it to yourself to at least meet Heather. She is the sweetest and so easy to feel comfortable around. I knew we'd love her images, but she and second-shooter Sarah (who shot Heather's own wedding) captured some amazing moments. Better than the next best thing, which would have been me photographing everything. Sometimes you're the bride and have to put the camera down!

Flowers: $1,645.00 
Belak Flowers

This cost came in much lower than I anticipated after reading other local weddings' floral budgets. It helped that we had a small bridal party and guest list and that we DIYed the vases. Here's the breakdown: $160 for bride's bouquet, $140 for the girls' bouquets, $75 for corsages for the moms and my grandmother, seven boutonnieres for $70, and the 12 centerpieces came in at $1,200. The best part? Mr. PaC's mom picked up the tab for all of our flowers. (Maybe I shouldn't have been so frugal??!)

Belak Flowers exceeded every expectation. Barb, the owner, is a seasoned pro and delightful to work with. The two of us were so sympatico that I began to suspect she was a mind-reader. I cannot recommend her and the rest of the Belak crew highly enough. I trusted her enough to give her free reign after the initial meeting and she knocked it out of the park. Great quality of work, super responsive, insanely awesome price, and she surprised us with extra arrangements at no extra cost. (They are now our go-to florist!)

Music: $1,075
DJ Z Music

Our needs were simple (no gobo, exterior uplighting, etc) and that kept costs low, but DJ Z still provided excellent, attentive service. We didn't have to worry about music once! Everything worked as planned and we had a packed dance floor, thanks to Joe and his other DJ's ability to read the crowd and play what works.

Attire total: $4,984.45
Encompasses the my gown, his suit, our accessories, and other miscellany.

Bridal Gown: $3,913
Priscilla of Boston - Ardmore, PA (closed)

I adore my gown - "Wallis" from the Melissa Sweet collection. The dress retailed for $4,500 but I waited until a sale, received an additional discount for opening a store credit card, and had it shipped to Delaware (no sales tax - a $66 savings after shipping costs). After photography, this was the biggest single expense. No regrets.

Groom's Suit and Accessories: $420.99
Joseph A. Bank - Greenville, DE

His blue Joseph A. Bank suit was a good investment at $300. It's his best tailored suit and he's worn it to at least two weddings/events since. Other expenses were a crisp white shirt ($70), Macy's tie ($27.99), and alterations ($23). He wore his own shoes, belt, and cuff links.

Other expenses: $650.46
- $20 for alterations. So cheap that I doubled her fee as the tip! The bustle was so strong and well placed that it is still holding the train... almost 2 years after the wedding.
- $70 for the bustier for my bridal gown. Bonus that I have worn it since the wedding!
- $40 for my Seychelles sandals. So comfy and another item that gets a lot of wear.
- $20 for my blush and pink wedding earrings.
- $5.48 for my DIY hair flower.
- $99 for my white rehearsal dress.
- $340 for two bridesmaid dresses. Part of my gift to the ladies.
- $55.98 for two ties for the groomsmen. Part of Mr. PaC's gift to the guys.

Make-up: $210

This included both the make-up trial and the wedding day. Emily is a magician and transformed my pasty skin and freckles into loveliness and glamour. My make-up was beautiful and natural and gave me absolute confidence the whole day. For that, I am forever grateful.

Hair: $120
Hair by Natalie

My hair trial was a separate fee of $85 for two styles and travel. My mom insisted on covering this expense for me. (Natalie is retired now.)

Rings: $1,525
Benari Jewelers - Exton, PA

Mr. PaC chose a simple gold band and I went the custom route, but our costs stayed reasonable thanks to a $475 trade-in (on ex-boyfriend jewelry) and a $116 credit for buying both my engagement ring and our bands there.

(personal photo)

Rehearsal Dinner: ???
Iron Hill Brewery - Wilmington, DE

Our rehearsal dinner was at Iron Hill Brewery on Wilmington's riverfront. We had a private room with buffet service and open bar for about three hours. The rehearsal dinner was Mr. PaC's dad and step-mom's generous contribution to the wedding. Our involvement was limited to choosing entrees so we don't have a sense of the true cost. If I had to guess, I'd ballpark around $3,000 for our 45 guests, which included some serious alcohol consumption.

... And everything else: $3,173.82
All the little things below add up to a lot!

Gifts and Welcome Bags: $444.20
Includes shipping! (No massaging the numbers here.) This covers gifts to our three groups of parents, two groomsmen, two bridesmaids, cards, plus paper bags and goodies for our hotel guests.

Hotel: $238 - two nights at the Doubletree Hotel in North Wilmington
Transportation: $300 - rehearsal dinner (free) and wedding shuttles, includes $100 up-charge for extra mileage. Arranged through the hotel.

Ceremony: $579.04

- $485 for our officiant, David Braneky, from Journeys of the Heart. This included a one-hour phone consultation and emails to finalize the ceremony.
- $50 to make it legal (marriage license).
- $20.04 for a length of nautical line for the hand-fastening ceremony
- $24 for 15 white paddle fans.

Reception: $724.43
- $265 for 100 favors of Neuchatel truffles.
- $375 for five dance lessons with Bill Godsell. (The most fun Mr. PaC's ever had dancing with another man.)
- $52.95 for 60 sparklers
- $31.48 for glow necklaces

DIY: $888.15
- $338.09 for invitations and thank you notes. Includes ink, stamps, and postage. Self-designed and printed by a local printer.
- $142.86 for 50 paper lanterns and coin cell LED lights
- $78.78 for the photobooth rig, backdrop, and camera accessories.
- $10.50 for my Pain au Chocolat charm from etsy.
- $39 for our return address stamp that we continue to use.
- $37 for washi tape. It deserves its own line item.
- $89 for our Adorama guestbook with extra pages.
- $71.87 for the picture frames on the welcome table.
- $22.60 for the giant "X" and "O" balloons. Free helium from the venue.
- $58.45 misc supplies (apothecary jars, silk flowers, tea lights, white plastic frames and more)

... bringing us to a grand total of...

Ouch! Where did we go over? And more importantly, what can you learn from our wedding budget?

- The white elephant in the room is wearing my Priscilla of Boston dress. Like I said, no regrets.
- The $300 bump for an extra hour of photography. So worth it.
- DIY saves money, but is not free. Maybe this area could have been trimmed, but not by much.
- Deciding to take dance lessons. Definitely a last minute expense that was well worth it.
- Transportation and hotel. The extra $100 shuttle bus fee didn't help, but the expense that still irritates me is the discounted room credit we never received.

1. Buy the dress you love.
2. Spend money on things that matter and last.
3. DIY to save money but restrain yourself at the craft store/etsy.
4. Watch for sneaky add-ons and budget for overages.

Our budget did not include the honeymoon. We viewed that as a distinctly different expense to be funded from whatever we had left over. Because I know you'd be curious, here's a little treat! We spent $5,674 on our honeymoon. That covers everything, even our $800/person plane tickets that we should have booked when they were $600/person. 

(all photos by Heather Fowler Photography, unless otherwise noted)

Catch up on our PaC recaps!

Days Before
Wedding Morning


  1. Thanks for sharing all the details about marriage. I personally like the bridal dress.

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