My Mama Told Me, “You Better Shop Around.” Choosing Your Venue

Many people I talk to know where they want to get married years before anyone pops the question. For them, the decision of a venue is an easy one. We weren’t these people and for us this decision was the most painstaking of all.

Every bridal magazine and wedding article I read suggested that the couple should try to think of places with meaning for them and make one of them work for a venue; the spot of your first date, the place the proposal happened, a family spot or a vacation destination. None of these worked for us. The site of our first date was a noisy bar that played live music. He proposed to me one night while I was doing homework in our bedroom. We had no family with the right space to host a wedding. And in five years of being together we had taken a total of zero vacations.

Zero is how many venue ideas we had. We started by deciding exactly what type of wedding we wanted. We knew it would be pretty low-key. We wanted to do as much of it ourselves as possible to save on costs but we had no idea where to start.

While talking to my seamstress at a fitting about what we wanted she casually threw out the name of a local venue that is already BYOB. Rustic d├ęcor (which fit our theme perfectly). Locally owned and relatively inexpensive. She passed along the phone number and I called them immediately. By the following Saturday we were there touring the most beautiful venue. As soon as we saw it we knew it was a perfect fit for our wedding. Best of all, the cost was $600 for five hours.

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Here are our top tips for how we cut costs at our venue:

1.) BYOB
BYOB saves lots of money. Our venue requires the couple to purchase private insurance to cover the self-service of alcohol. This policy cost us about $120. Much more affordable than paying for a full bar and bartender.

2.) Do-it-yourself DJ
Our venue is a music venue which means that they have live bands regularly. Because of this they have all the sound equipment of a DJ and all we have to do is plug in an ipod with music loaded. This also means we have a dance floor already. No need to rent one. We spent about $30 on iTunes buying music. The rest we got from friends, family and our own CDs.

3.) Ask Away
Don’t be afraid to ask the venue manager what you want to know. Ours offers a rental of tablecloths at a fraction of the cost of getting them through a rental service or buying them ourselves. They will be steamed and set up for us good to go on our wedding day. One less thing to worry about. And it cost us only $96.

3.) Combine Ceremony Site with Reception
We aren’t religious people but we were going to get married in a church. For about $600 for 20 minutes. Then we asked the venue about hosting the ceremony with the reception. Turns out they offer this. At no additional cost. We are saving $600 plus we can reuse our ceremony decorations without moving anything.

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The bottom line is that these tips aren’t for everyone. They worked for us and our style. Your best bet is to educate yourself as to what things cost so that you can figure out what best works for you, your wedding and your budget.

Thrift Stores and Yard Sales; Your New Best Friends

I grew up the granddaughter of a thrifty yankee. My grandmother and I spent countless hours shopping at yard sales and thrift stores. I watched her haggle for things that appeared to be useless and saw how animated she became while describing how she would repurpose these seemingly worthless objects, breathing new life into them. Below are my tips for using these resources to save yourself some wedding moola.

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1.) Get creative and think repurpose!

Use social media to your advantage. I searched Pinterest for hours to find ideas of creative ways to repurpose ordinary objects. Once you’ve established your theme and colors, you can find an idea and run with it. Pinterest and YouTube feature “How-to” and DIY articles and videos aimed at everything you can imagine. I knew that I wanted to go with a vintage theme so I searched mason jar centerpieces, old suitcases, burlap, glass milk jugs and repurposing in general.

Pinterest is where I first saw a unique guest book idea that was perfect for us; Jenga blocks for the guests to write well wishes on with fine-tipped Sharpies.

2.) Know a good deal

Educate yourself on pricing so that you are able to recognize a good deal. Just because you find something at a discount store or yard sale doesn’t mean that it’s priced right. Do your research so that you know when you find a good deal and be ready to scoop it up if you do!

3.) Frequent your local thrift stores

If you have never been to your local thrift stores, now’s your chance! Start by making a list of anything and everything that you need. I knew I was searching for mason jars, a vintage suitcase, craft supplies like glue, ribbon and scrap booking paper to name just a few things.

Most thrift stores offer discount days. For some, it is once a week or a specific tag color each week, for others, there are one or two specific sale days a month. Knowing these sale days offers you even more discounts. It also doesn’t hurt to “get in good” with the employees of the store. Because I was such a frequent shopper of my local Goodwill, one of the associates went out of her way to get me 200 napkins new in package that perfectly matched my theme for less than $5.

4.) Yard Sales: virtual and physical

Yard sales are still going strong! In my area, from Memorial Day through Labor Day there are dozens of them every weekend. Grab your local paper and map out which sales near you look promising. I was able to find lots of the mason jars I used for my centerpieces at local yard sales. Some for $1.

Social Media has brought with it an increase in virtual yard sale opportunities. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook are ripe with postings of things that can be easily repurposed. There are Facebook groups where brides sell their wedding supplies and leftovers for a fraction of what you would pay new. Find one in your area and shop away. I found 6 chalkboards and chalkboard paint for less than I would have paid for 1 new chalkboard in a retail store.

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Thrift store and yard sale shopping aren’t for everyone. I get that. But for me, its not just about the savings, its about the thrill of discovery and the creativity of what I can repurpose. It also speaks of happy childhood memories. If you do decide to give secondhand shopping a try, keep an open mind and enjoy yourself!

3 Tips to Getting Your Dress for Less

One of the first things many brides-to-be do is start looking for their dress. If you are like many of us who grew up fantasizing about the perfect wedding you may already have an idea of what you want in mind. Some choose to look through bridal magazines for inspiration or try on as many different dresses as possible until they come across one that they like. Whatever your style may be, you may not have stopped to consider how expensive a wedding dress can be. No matter what your style is, there are some shortcuts past brides and wedding planners recommend to save you money.

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1.) Find a good seamstress

Word of mouth and recommendations are your best bet here. I know you are thinking I’m crazy for listing this first but I found an amazing seamstress and talked to her prior to even trying on my dress. A skilled seamstress will be able to make miracles happen! Mine was able to tell me what fabrics to look for. She was willing to have me bring my potential dress to her home where she could evaluate it for me and tell me if she could make it work.

This woman was a godsend for me! She was able to educate me on things I never considered such as the bustle, train and veil. She also knew a quality dress from a poorly made one. Most good seamstresses can alter something up to six sizes from your size to make it work for you. A good seamstress will give you the freedom to buy a dress you may normally think won’t fit you as she can make it work. This can save you major money in the end.

2.) Think outside the box

I think it’s safe to assume that most people think of going to a store to find their wedding dress. This is certainly one way to find your dress but there are others and they can save you some big bucks. I’ll tell you a story that no one believes. I got my dress given to me. Yep. For free. From a wedding group on Facebook. Here’s the truth; I’m a sucker for Facebook yard sale pages. I find things cheap from them all the time. They’ve saved me thousands of dollars. Logically they were the first place I turned upon my engagement.

One day I saw a post from a woman named Angela who wanted to “pay it forward”. She ended up with two dresses and decided to give the extra away. She posted a photograph of the most gorgeous dress I had ever seen. It matched my style and personality to a tee. I contacted her and we hit it off. She came with me to try on the dress and cried when she saw it on me. The dress was my dream come true. The moral of the story is you have to be willing to think outside the box to see the possibilities. I plan on preserving the dress for my daughter but in the meantime I have completed countless acts of kindness to “pay it forward”.

3.) Browse consignment stores, bargain racks or even use Mom’s dress

Many of the larger wedding dress chain retailers have annual sales in which their dresses are deeply discounted. If you are willing to brave the crowds you can sometimes end up with the dress of your dreams. Most cities now boast high-end consignment stores in which people can sell their designer dresses for less. I have several friends who found designer label dresses at these stores and had a good seamstress tailor the dress for them, all while saving money.

Even better yet, sometimes a mom or grandma has saved their dress just waiting for the day when someone will want to use it. Alterations can be made to these dresses to personalize them and they carry so much emotional significance!

The bottom line is that a bride’s dress decision is a very personal one. The minute I saw my dress I just KNEW it was meant for me. I know many women who say the same thing. Regardless of where you find your dress, make it yours!

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