Bang for the Buck

I think that if I wasn’t a photographer, I might have instead become an event planner or party planner.  (Or maybe a makeup artist/hairstylist.  Not sure, I love so much about the things that go into parties and big days).  As a result, I tend to throw a lot of parties and maybe it’s my over-saturation of all things Pinterest and time spent on the wedding blogs that I’ve come to like to style things up and have a lot of “bang for the buck” from a visual perspective.  I thought I’d share a few of my budget tips in case they help you with your wedding planning days.  These aren’t really aimed for the “lets just skip decorations” crowd, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but since I love decor and “big impact” ideas (especially when it comes to things that look great on film), I share the following:

1. On invitations:  Some people are paper people.  If you are, just skip to the next tip as this may not be the place you want to cut corners.  Personally, I love paper too and swoon for heavy card stock and letterpress.  But at the end of the day, I’m a bigger fan of things that are visually pretty or creative and I think there’s a lot of room for creativity in the invitation space.  You all are probably familiar with the awesome new, budget-friendly paper companies out there like Minted and Hello! Lucky, which I think have great options for invites.  My personal tip, or at least what I would do for an event where I felt like a paper invite was necessary, would be to create a postcard invitation (maybe go for the oversize size so it doesn’t get lost in the mail).  I’d try to find a vintage postcard from the venue or the city where your event will take place, and personalize that.  I’d put the basic info on the back (time, date, location, etc.) and I’d direct my guests to one of those online sites where they could RSVP and get more information.

2. On food:  Depending on your venue, this is a place where you might be able to get creative.  If you have to use the site’s caterer, then not so much.  But if you are just getting a cool venue and have to come up with the food, I think you have a lot of room here.  One of the best weddings we did from a food perspective hired a food truck company to come and cater dinner.  It was a lot less formal than the typical buffet, but perfectly suited a backyard event.  I also think it would be cool to just get some great fast food (think In-N-Out or the old standby Miccie D’s).  I can hear some of you saying “seriously?!  she must be kidding” but I think that done well, this could be a great way to go.  I think you’d need the help of a day-of coordinator to get it delivered/ordered ahead of time/prepared, etc. and I also think that hiring some servers to help with the execution can make this really do-able.  For my own parties, I tend to order chinese food (heavy on the various dumplings), have it delivered and then have servers plate it/serve it.  It’s much cheaper than catering and I think you could pull it off for a wedding with a little finesse.  Other ideas – hire an ice cream truck to come and serve treats instead of having a cake (fancy versions of these seem to be all over SF these days), have a regional treat (like It’s-It’s) served instead of cake, or hire a cotton candy maker to come spin their stuff instead of cake.  You get the idea.  I think if you move beyond cake (don’t get me wrong, I love me some cake) you can save some money too.  If you can get the vendor to show up with their gear, it can add an awesome high-low quality.  How cool would it be to have an ice cream truck come on site and a bell ring instead of a traditional cake cutting?

3. On drinks:  My best money saving tip here is signature champagne cocktails (or Prosecco, Cava, any kind of sparkling wine).  If you make a fancy drink that’s pretty & has some stuff in it (think rosemary sprigs, a pretty stir stick, sugared rims, berry in the glass, etc.) with champagne instead of liquor, you save yourself a bunch o money.  Do this plus beer and wine, and you have a whole lot of pretty for a lot less money.  I am also a fan of pretty bottles — they can be used to dress up a table or dress up a bar.  Individual soda bottles at each place would be a cute/fun favor and adds a pop of color.  Bigger bottles for the table feel like “something extra” (I used to live in New Orleans where the concept of “lagniappe” (which means “a little something extra,” think a 13th cookie/baker’s dozen) was huge so I like the feeling of “extras” at parties) too.  With enough color from other sources, you could probably cut back on flowers.  As you can see, I am also a big fan of the ubiquitous stripey straw.  I hear Target has even gotten into the game and sells these now.  They just do add that little bit of lagniappe.

4.  On decorations:  Two words – crepe/tissue paper.  Okay, that’s 3.  But seriously, there is so much you can do with these materials and they are really inexpensive.  Seriously inexpensive.  And the things you can do with them are easy (pouf balls, paper flowers, streamer canopies, etc.) if a little bit time consuming.  It just takes some planning and time, but there is a lot of “wow” that can come from these items.  They aren’t going to work in every venue, but they look great in backyards and vineyard settings.  I’d recommend going for pops of color that are different from what’s already at your venue — the more color there is in the background of photos, the prettier the pictures come out.  My other favorite (and if you’ve spent 10 seconds on my website, this is no shock at all) is balloons.  I don’t like balloons in the traditional prom sense, but I think they can be very dramatic and cool done right.  I’d love to see the aisle lined with balloons, balloons tied to chairs at outdoor weddings, and inside, one of my favorite tricks is to order a ton of balloons, have them delivered, and have them just float up on the ceiling with long ribbons hanging from them (I just use the standard curling ribbon they come with in the right color to go with the overall idea).

5. On placecards:  these are an opportunity to do something cute that also “fills the table” and can help you save on flowers.  I am a big fan of a “statement” placecard, and my go-to design is to use fruit (I am partial to apples because you can buy them cheaply, and they are just pretty.  Have you ever seen an ugly apple?).  You can then personalize them with stamped cards (a pretty stamp from the paper source will run you about $6 and an ink pad is about the same & you can get a lot of mileage out of stamping things in a consistent way) & writing names in pretty script.

Anyway, these are just a few ideas I’ve seen work and if you do nothing other than have cake and champagne at your reception, that’s totally okay.  I really do mean this just as ideas to help you if you want to decorate and style up your event, but you’re worried it will cost a lot, and some other ideas for ways to save money and still have a great time with good food and drinks that don’t break the bank.  I guess I just believe that with a little creativity, you can have an awesomely styled event without spending a ton of cash.

The photos in this post are from events we’ve shot, events we’ve styled and shot, and one from my personal collection of parties I’ve had (it’s the balloons, but I’m guessing I didn’t need to tell you that).

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