How to Have a Budget Wedding in DC (Or Anywhere), Part 1

by Melissa on March 30, 2011

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about having a budget wedding in the DC area.  There will be additional posts over the next few weeks.

Part 2, Venues

Oh. Right.  This Blog is Supposed to be about Budget Weddings in DC

For those of you who don’t know, websites and blogs can track their traffic and see, among other things, what keywords are used that drive visitors to their site.  It is interesting to see the traffic that is driven here about having a budget wedding in DC.

Here are some of the search terms that have led visitors to my site:

  • bring your own food wedding, va
  • what does 15000 wedding get you in dc
  • barbeque dc wedding
  • budget dc weddings
  • budget wedding caterers dc

So, I figured it was time to truly dedicate a post about having a budget wedding in the DC area, since, afterall, that was my original intention for this blog.

But wow, as I started writing the post, I realized that I could probably dedicate a book to the topic.  Err, well, perhaps a short story.  Either way, it was way too long for a single post.  Hence, my first series blog topic was born!

I am fully aware that this is a very negatively-written post.  But, I promise that the subsequent posts will include actual tips and will help you plan your budget wedding in DC!

A Visualization Exercise

So, for those of you newly engaged and planning a wedding in DC, picture your perfect wedding in your head.  Perhaps it’s at a swanky DC hotel.  Or maybe a nearby historical site.  Or something unique like an art museum or the Torpedo Art Factory.  Or, perhaps you already realize that those types of places will be too expensive, so to save money, maybe you are thinking of a nice Shenandoah Bed and Breakfast, or a winery an hour or so west of the city.  Now think about how you want your wedding to look.  The decorations and design.  The food. The music,  And of course, the dress.

Now consider your budget.  Let’s say that you want to invite about 100 people to your wedding and you want to keep costs somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000.

Stop.  Close your Eyes.  Take a Deep Breath.  And now proceed.

If you want a wedding like the one you likely pictured for $10,000, you will, without much trouble, be able to find a venue in the DC area for your reception and probably feed most of your 100 guests for that price.  You might also be able to have tables and folding chairs for them to sit at.  Maybe.

But that’s it.  No designer dress (even from a sample sale), no awesome uplighting or floral centerpieces, no phenomenal band and no open bar.

Collusion and Cartels.  A Recap of your Econ 101 Class

Did you ever take an intro economics class in college?  If so, you probably learned about collusion and cartels in the same lesson.  In a Cartel (think OPEC and Oil Prices), a small number of companies scheme together to ensure that prices are artificially high.  These companies (vendors) and a huge number of consumers (in this case, people getting married) is a perfect setup for a cartel in which companies join together and, even if it’s implicit, agree to keep prices high.  Why not charge a higher price when there is such a big demand for their services?  (Again, think OPEC).

I did more than four months of research on budget weddings in DC after I got engaged.  Even DC caterers that advertise themselves at budget caterers aren’t really budget.  The cheapest caterer we found wanted about $5800 for a buffet dinner for 125 people.  Still vomit-inducing, but not totally crazy for this area, right?  This is in addition to the $1800 site rental fee. But, once we factored in liquor, table and chair rentals, and a cocktail hour (because all weddings HAVE to have a cocktail hour these days, right?), we were right back up at the $10,000 mark.  (I also just want to point out that that Caterer ended up being a total flake anyway.  Wouldn’t return any phone calls or e-mails, and I wasn’t even being a bridezilla!)

Why Most of those “Save Money on your Wedding!” Tips are Crap

After we were heartbroken by our first venue falling through because of prohibitively expensive catering costs, I thought maybe I was looking too close to the city.  I expanded my search to places like Leesburg, and Virginia wineries.  Surely if I’m an hour or more outside of the city, it won’t cost so much!  Wrong again.  Once more I found that $10,000 buys the space and food from an area caterer for 100 people.

Oh, Fridays.  Of course a Friday will be cheaper.  We’ll have our wedding on a Friday evening instead of a Saturday to save money!  Oh, and let’s do it off season too!  Well, among the venues we looked at seriously, we would save about 20% for a venue rental fee for a Friday wedding during off-peak season.  Not bad, right?   You know the weird thing about Fridays and off-peak season though?  Nothing else is cheaper!  Nada.  Food, flowers, photographers, DJs, etc. charge the same amount for a Friday vs. a Saturday.  I can kind of see why.  Their costs are the same regardless of the day of the week.  But a venue, however, can’t make money if their space goes unrented.  So, to have our wedding on a Friday, we were going to save about $300.  Big whoop.

Oh, well I guess then we could decrease our guest list.  It will be tough to make those decisions, but it’s the only way to keep our wedding under $10,000.  Wrong again.  Most (not all, but most) caterers that I researched have a minimum food and beverage charge, making the guest list issue inconsequential.  Like the Friday night logic, I can kind of see why this is.  There are a lot of sunk costs that caterers have to compensate for, regardless of the number of guests, like equipment, personnel, delivery, setup time, etc.

I tried everything.  Looking at sole proprietorship caterers, corporate-oriented caterers, and restaurant catering  (Oh Hello Capital Q BBQ), they all up their costs for weddings.

No, Really.  I Need to Stick to my Budget.  What’s a Bride to Do in DC?

You have two choices

  1. Increase your budget
  2. Lower your expectations

(bonus choice: get married somewhere else at least a 4+ hour drive away, but it won’t save that much.  I looked into Pittsburgh-area weddings too.  Somewhat cheaper, but not by much).

We went the “Lower your Expectations” route.  And I struggle with using that phrase.  Because it’s not really about lowering your expectations.  It’s about reassessing your priorities.  For me, it was about separating my personal expectations from the expectations that wedding magazines and most blogs set for us.

The whole wedding research stuff left me totally disgusted.  Ugh, and just how vendors try to play on your emotions.  I was happy to reassess my priorities by that point.

If you want to get more than just food and a space for your 100 guests for $10,000 in the DC area, Self-Catering or a simple restaurant reception will be the way to go.  Yes Yes, I hear you.  “But I don’t want THAT type of wedding!”  **Whiny Voice**  Remember your two options.  Increase your budget or lower your expectations/reassess your priorities.

So, stay tuned for the next post in my series “How to have a budget wedding in the DC area”