I’m sure you can imagine posting something like this isn’t very easy. Money already is awkward to discuss, but now I’m sharing how much we spent on the most expensive day of our lives. I’m not ashamed of our final number, but I also understand that this is something that people have a lot of opinions about—and those opinions and priorities can be very different from my own—so it’s definitely scary to put out there. But I also really appreciated knowing upfront how much things cost going into wedding planning (and I love compiling numbers), so we’re going through with this post. Please be gentle?
I’d like to start off with a few comments and clarifications to make myself feel better before we get into the nitty gritty numbers.
- The final total is high. I realize that, and I’m not trying to pass this off as necessary or a smart use of this much money. You might think I’m dumb or frivolous or wasteful, and believe me, I could definitely see your side of it. But the fact of the matter is that these are the true numbers, we were able to fund it without going into debt, we had the wedding of our dreams, and I would defend (nearly) every single purchase that we made. However, I don’t want this to be a defensive post. I want it to be helpful. If you are having a similar wedding, this might help you plan a budget. If your wedding is different than ours, I hope it’s a testament to how quickly all of these costs add up, even when you feel like you’re doing all the right research and making smart decisions.
- We didn’t start with a set budget in mind. Would we have spent less if there had been a “do not pass” number at the beginning? Most likely. Actually, the projected total cost was a bit lower (~10%, if I’m remembering correctly) a few months out from the wedding. But in that home stretch, the cost did start ballooning. Guest list creep meant the catering bill went up, finalizing the day-of timeline meant a few extra hours of photo and video, we decided to not do favors so we added on some more passed apps, and so on. So that all sounds really bad. That’s the kind of stuff you’re not supposed to do. So what happened? Well, by that point I had a clear picture of the funds available to spend on the wedding (contributions/gifts from family and personal savings included), so I was able to work the wedding budget to fit that at the time. I mention this now so I can just touch shortly on it for each category below, but those “add on” expenses were very conscious and deliberate. I went back and forth with our vendors on how much it would cost to have this versus that, and tried to make the smartest choices for our situation. So our number went up, but it didn’t just snowball at the end for no good reason. I felt like I was in control of every decision, I made trade-offs where necessary, and I understood every cost that we were billed for, so that made it all easier to swallow.
- We had 220 guests. Not like that’s an excuse or anything, but I just wanted to make sure that was clear. The number in attendance was on the high side, and it obviously increased our costs. But I also wanted to mention that the road to 220 was paved with lots of give and take. Meaning I gave in to my parents’ request for additional guests on the list, and thus took contributions to the food and beverage budget because of that. I felt like it was a fair compromise and it worked out well for our situation. At the end of the day, I was happy to be able to include the people that my parents wanted there without it putting an additional strain on my own wallet.
And without further ado, let’s get into this.
Date: Saturday, May 31, 2014
Location: New Orleans, LA
Number of Guests: 220
Type: Catholic ceremony with a semi-formal, evening, downtown cocktail reception
Attire – $3,585
Photos by Eau Claire Photographics
- Wedding Dress, Casablanca – $1,800
- Alterations – $100 (Minor: cups sewn in, bodice tightened, bustle)
- Wedding Shoes, Jimmy Choo – $590
- Earrings – $0 (“Something borrowed” from my Nanny)
- Bride’s Accessories, Etsy – $45 (Garter)
- Veil – $0 (“Something old” from Momma P)
- Hairstylist, Hair by Nicole Leigh – $500 (Trial, bridal hair, four bridesmaids, and tip)
- Makeup Artist, Makeup by Mae Mae – $550 (Included airbrush foundation and false lashes)
- Groom’s Attire, Rome’s Tuxedos – $0
My splurge wedding shoes excluded, I think we made some pretty smart decisions in this category. Sphinx’s tux was free from the rental shop, because he had enough groomsmen order under his account and I was able to utilize accessories from the ladies in my family, which meant that they were meaningful and free of charge!
Ceremony – $1,150
- Church Ceremony Fee, St. Francis of Assisi – $750 (Parishioner rate)
- Officiant Fee – $200
- Church Coordinator Fee – $200
Because GM Shark works at St. Francis of Assisi, they were kind enough to give us the discounted parishioner rate for our ceremony. That fee covered the use of the church, and everyone else involved was a separate charge.
Flowers – $5,343
All flowers by Blumen Lendle
- Bridal Bouquet – $300
- Five Bridesmaids Bouquets – $750
- Three Large Reception Centerpieces – $1,725
- Thirteen Mixed Table Arrangements – $1,475
- Other Extras – $170
- Labor & Tax – $923
This one definitely hurts, but not just from the high price tag. It hurts because I don’t have a great picture to show you of the whole ballroom and how awesome all of these centerpieces looked together. Getting a photo of the decorated tables before guests arrived wasn’t a priority in our timeline, so for just this one, take my word that it was really pretty? I had several guests comment at the wedding and later on about how gorgeous the flowers were and how it was nice that every table had something a little different. So in person, it was definitely noticed and made for a beautiful display. Flowers were one of the items mentioned above that were reevaluated and bumped up as we got closer to the big day. Claire and I discussed a ton of options, and I chose the centerpieces and flower types that best fit within our budget, and this is where we ended up.
Gifts – $1,917
- Groomsmen Gifts – $200 (Pocket knives, mini football helmets, and cigars)
- Bridesmaids Gifts – $884 (Total excludes hangers [listed below])
- Bridesmaids Pre-Wedding Day – $619 (Treated the girls to mani/pedis and brunch the day before the wedding)
- Parent Gifts – $214 (Frames, personalized handkerchiefs, and cuff links)
I was happy with what I gifted my bridesmaids, and I hope they are able to get some use out of them, but looking back now I half-wish I had kept it to one or two gifts and added in a gift card. It likely could have come out cheaper and been more appreciated. But as it is, I’ve seen the girls using their tote bags or wearing their necklaces, so I’m happy enough with the route I took. Just some thoughts from the other side if you’re stuck on presents—simple might be better! I also really liked being able to treat the girls to nails and brunch as a “thank you,” especially since several of them traveled from out of town to be there!
Music – $5,750
- Ceremony Organist – $300
- Ceremony Singer – $250
- Ceremony Trumpeter – $200
- Reception Band, Groovy 7 – $5,000 (Three hours of playing time, one hour of standby)
Having (and paying for) a band wasn’t in my initial wedding plan, but due to insistent family members and offers to pay for it, that was what we did. Since I didn’t put up that money, I can’t exactly answer the question of whether it was worth it—but from my point of view I would say absolutely! For a lot of events I’ve been to, the crowd is the real deciding factor between a rocking party and an empty dance floor, not the entertainment. But I definitely think that Groovy 7 brought our reception to another level that a DJ just wouldn’t have accomplished.
As for the ceremony musicians, the organist and singer are pretty much a requirement for the mass, and adding on the trumpeter was one of the best ideas we had. It was just a few weeks ago that I had someone say how cool that was at the ceremony, so well worth it in my opinion.
Paper Products – $1,140
For as much as our invitation suite included, we were able to keep costs relatively low here because all of the cards were designed and printed by my godfather. Since all of the main components were a (much appreciated) gift, we were able to include special touches like the wax seal, Moo cards, and envelope liners—which still added up. With all of that semi-DIY for the save the dates and invitations, I went the easy route of ordering some thank you notes from Minted that matched our motif and called it a day.
Photo & Video – $8,265
- Engagement Picture Photographers Concept Photography – $690 (Including park tickets for the photographers; not including our travel costs)
- Wedding Photographers Eau Claire Photographics – $4,415 (Two photographers, 10 hours of coverage, 30 page flush mount album, bridal session)
- Videographers Brock Gomez Productions – $3,160 (Two shooters, nine hours of coverage, 10-minute trailer, full documentary edit)
The engagement pictures at Disney World were a complete and total fun splurge, but it’s still one of my favorite wedding decisions. Wedding photo and video costs are definitely significant here, and they were one of those items that increased a bit toward the end, because I added on some extra coverage time for both. I made the call for both pairs to show up toward the end of our primping at the hotel room, with the videographers only staying at the reception through the tosses and the photographers staying until our sparkler exit, and I think that amount of time worked out great for both.
Reception – $36,040
- Venue Rental, Board of Trade – $4,750 (includes additional $750 to increase reception to four hours)
- Food & Beverage, Pigeon Catering – $24,310 (Cocktail-style reception: five passed appetizers, salad, mashed potato bar, pasta station, double carving station, premium service open bar [including champagne]; including $10/guest for additional reception hour)
- Cakes, Cocoa Bean Bakery – $1,150 (Four-tier bridal cake $920; Groom’s cake $150; delivery fee $80)
- Photo Booth, Mobile Memories $717 (Four hours, hard drive, guestbook, prints for every guest in each photo)
- Linens & Rentals, CHL Linens $2,913 (Additional tables and Chiavari chairs, overlays/tablecloths, larger candle and glassware rental, and labor for setup of DIY and rented decor)
- DIY & Purchased Decor, $2,200 (Candles, glassware, chandeliers, votives, family picture frames, cake topper, sequined tablecloth for cake tables)
All right, here’s the heavy hitter, so we’ll take it one piece at a time. The venue fee is high, but it was competitive with the rates of other venues in the area and the Board of Trade came with a lot of extras like uplighting, Chiavari chairs, tables, glassware, and a venue coordinator. And it’s a gorgeous venue in a great location.
Food and beverage is the largest chunk of our entire budget, and it was yet another one of those places where we added on a few more items at the end because the funds were available. There was a heck of a lot of food at our wedding, and the drinks from the bar were nice and strong. So while it cost a lot, we definitely got what we paid for. Included in that was also an additional champagne cost, which is one of my favorite stories from the wedding that I haven’t shared yet, so now seems to be an appropriate time…
I absolutely wanted champagne served at the wedding, but the $10/person charge on top of the food and beverage quote was pretty steep. When I asked our venue coordinator Leah about alternatives (like bringing our own), she suggested that we order champagne for a fraction of the guests, and the only catch was that if we ran out, they would not be responsible to provide more. Seemed fair to me, so we served (and were charged for) champagne for half of our guest list. When we returned from our honeymoon, BM Skittles’s wife (who loves herself a good glass of bubbly) excitedly was telling me about how we drank the reception dry of champagne! As the very last song was playing, she went to the bar for another glass and the bartenders said that they had just run out, which had never happened before! She was so proud of herself and all the other champagne-guzzling guests that we had achieved such a feat! I was so glad she told me that, because it absolutely confirmed my decision to add that champagne on—it cost us extra, but I know that every glass we paid for was enjoyed by our bubble-happy guests.
The price of my bridal cake was on the mid to high range (I think it was ~$4.25/slice) based on others that I quoted, but as a package with the discount on the groom’s cake, it was a really good deal for the amount of decoration and detail we received on both cakes. And the photo booth wasn’t exactly cheap, but for those guests who weren’t out on the dance floor with the band, it was a worthwhile bit of entertainment.
The linens and rentals plus the “DIY” decor go hand in hand—basically any decor that was not flowers falls into this category. The DIY number is more or less correct, but I don’t have exact numbers for some things my mom purchased while out shopping, so I made some guesses to get us to this total. This is really the one category I think we could have done better on (either going through one vendor or cutting back some of the purchases), but overall I love how everything turned out so I don’t regret doing it how we did. Sure, we could sell our purchased items (which hasn’t been done after a year…) or reuse them (I have done that with a few!), but the real advantage to our DIY/BIY approach was not our bottom-line total cost. It’s that we were able to stretch out our purchases over a year and a half, as opposed to one final bill. We were able to return and reconsider if we found something at a better price or decided not to use an item. And it was just fun to track down cheap glassware and votives and picture frames with my mom. We love to have a good goal in mind when shopping, and for much of 2013, that goal was cheap decor that could be used at the reception!
Rings – $2,000
- Bride Wedding Ring – $1,000
- Groom Wedding Ring – $870
- Engraving – $130
They’re white gold, we love them, what more can I say?
Transportation – $2,250
- Bridal Party Trolley, Limousine Livery – $905 (five hours)
- Bridal Rolls Royce, Limousine Livery – $842 (three hours)
- Parent Stretch Limo, Limousine Livery – $503 (three hours)
Renting vehicles is pricey business, no getting around it. Especially since we needed to add on an extra hour to give us enough cushion for travel before and after the ceremony. But the fee for the additional time was fair (no change in cost per hour from our bundled package), the transportation was pretty, and we had no travel issues on the day of. I love that we were able to make the logistics easier for our immediate family, bridal party, dates, and a few extra guests! Not one of the most fun wedding expenses, but for us it was necessary.
Miscellaneous – $1,435
- Bridal Suite Accommodations – $620 (Two nights at the Windsor Court)
- Hotel Room Snacks & Champagne – $132
- Marriage License – $31
- Day for the Engaged – Catholic Wedding Preparation – $100
- Gift Cards for Readers – $120
- Wedding Dress Hangers – $128
- Cake Pulls – $144
- Second Line Umbrellas & Supplies – $18
- Reception Exit Sparklers – $142
Besides the hotel room (which was a decent rate for such a spacious suite for two nights), all the other miscellaneous costs were small items that added up quickly. Sure, I could have made my own hangers or cake pull bracelets, but in both of those cases, it was worth my time to not attempt it. Also I bought both of those pretty late in the game, so I didn’t spend time shopping around for most economical option. I found something I liked, confirmed that it could be completed in time, and made the purchase.
Add it all up and we get…drum roll, please…
Grand Total – $68,875
Like I said at the beginning, we didn’t start with a number in mind, but if someone had told me $70k right when we started this whole process, I probably would have balked. However, when I consider the portion that we personally contributed to the total (and the fact that a lot of the purchases were stretched out over our entire engagement), I’m satisfied with where we ended up. Sure, I could have cut this or DIYed that to get the costs down, but I hope you can tell through my comments that each and every choice was analyzed and chosen because it was exactly what we wanted and exactly what we were willing to spend. I’m not the kind of person to fork over $5,000 to a florist or planner and tell her “Here, do whatever you can with this much money.” I preferred to be very involved in every decision, and I think that helped me to feel better about what we paid for.
I also feel more comfortable with our costs, because most of our splurges were paid for (or accounted for) early on in the engagement. It almost felt weird to include the cost of my shoes or our engagement pictures, just because they were long paid for by the time the wedding rolled around!
It’s hard to say if this is the norm in our area or not. I definitely wasn’t picking the most expensive vendors that we came across, but we did have pretty much the whole nine yards and a large-ish guest list, which put us higher than average. I looked for a few estimates online to give you an idea of where we fell, but I started to pick apart each one and it just got kind of complicated. What I was able to compare our final costs to were the general budget breakdowns from sites like The Knot & Wedding Wire, and this 2014 wedding budget data. For some reason I was certain that those estimates couldn’t predict what our actual spending would be—there’s so many little details and assumptions that need to go into each category, so how could they be correct? Lo and behold, they were pretty darn close, with Wedding Wire’s calculator (without any adjustments) coming in with the least deviation from our actual costs.
Apparently I am merely a cog in the wedding-planning machine.
While we’re on that, I found the Wedding Wire budget tool to be one of the helpful programs during wedding planning. It is very easy to customize, and it’s a thorough way to capture what you’ve spent, when the next payment is due, and what your estimated final total will be. I checked it often and revised it whenever a new quote or purchase came through, and it helped me to feel very in control of all of our spending. Another program/app that was useful for financial wedding purposes was Mint. I’ve been using Mint for several years now, but I really buckled down and kept within my monthly budgets when I was saving for the wedding. I think part of the reason I was (relatively) comfortable with the final cost is because it wasn’t a surprise and I was prepared for it. I had an evolving, projected final cost estimate on Wedding Wire, and I had an accurate estimate of how much money I had saved (and was projecting to save) from my own accounts.
So that is our budget. Every single person who is reading this could probably say that they would do things differently in some way, shape, or form, and that’s great. Every single other thing comes down to personal preference in wedding planning, so the budget should too. But in the case of the Pyramids, we were fortunate to be at a point in our lives where we were able to spend as much as we did on our big day, and our wedding was absolutely everything we wanted it to be.
- Kickoff and teaser trailer, Thursday night Rehearsal, Rehearsal Dinner
- Bridesmaid Fun Day complete with bridal meltdown, Welcome Party at Rock N Bowl
- Starting off the wedding day, Hair and Makeup Time, Groomsmen Gather
- Swapping Love Letters, Putting on the Dress, All of the Details
- Our Heartfelt First Look, We get formal with the friends and family, We take couples photos
- Traveling to the church, Family and bridal party walk in, A dramatic bridal entrance
- Ceremony Part 1: The Readings, Ceremony Part 2: The Vows, Ceremony Part 3: Communion & Recessional
- Church formals and traveling to the reception
- Entrance and First Dance, We dance with our parents
- All about that cake, ’bout that cake, Everybody shakes their groove thang
- LSU’s Mike the Tiger makes an appearance, We toss some things at our guests
- Reception Detail Goodness, Photo Booth Fun, and we have an All Around Awesome Time
- Our Traditional New Orleans Second Line and Fun Sparkler Exit
- Reviews for our Local and “Global” Vendors
- New Orleans, LA
- Petroleum Engineer
- Wedding Date:
- May 2014
- St. Francis of Assisi Church & N.O. Board of Trade