Since the moment I started to tell people about my wedding plans, my friends were insisting that I write a blog about the planning and experience. I mean, when I explained my vision to people, wedding in a trendy area in DC, art gallery, brunch style, day party, you can imagine the excited faces I saw when I was done giving details for my wedding.
I was not the girl that had her entire wedding planned out on Pinterest. I did not know the style of dress that I wanted to wear, unaware of what our color choices, and I had no idea the type of venue I wanted. All I knew is that I wanted to party.
Once I met my life partner, and we were engaged, the planning just naturally began. It just seemed like things just clicked and naturally fell into place. So don’t worry if you are engaged and have ZERO ideas of where to start. I was in your shoes at one point in time. But I am here to save the day with a few easy ways to have a stellar glamourous wedding without the big price ticket.
Expand your venue options
Unless you are seeking a traditional religious ceremony, your venue options should range from a ballroom rental to a well equipped AirBnB. My biggest suggestion when searching for a venue is to NOT search for wedding venues. When I stumbled upon my dream location, I searched “event spaces in DC” on google. And there was my venue location just sitting there staring at me from the other side of the computer screen.
We love art. One of our favorite things to do on random weekends or when we travel is to visit art galleries and museums. So, a venue like this was high on our list. We wanted a place that brought out our couple-personality.
When we stumbled into Toolbox Pilates and Art Studio, we knew this would be IT. The ground floor had walls covered in abstract art, exposed brick, and tea lights. Upstairs was even more gorgeous, but there was pilates equipment everywhere. It hit me at that moment that we are picking a fitness studio to host our wedding. I would have never imagined that I would fall in love with a venue like this, but it was perfect.
Venue Tip: Pick a place where you do not have to decorate as much. We cut a ton of cost on flowers and decorations because the venue was beautiful enough without us adding to it.
Bottom line: Think outside of the box when it comes to your wedding venue. Don’t always consider a hotel ballroom (this tends to be the most expensive) or a huge venue where your guest could get lost or be spread out. Look for something different that speaks to your personality.
Venue Cost: $7000 – entire venue for 8 hours.
If we only wanted to rent out the 1st floor, the cost would have been $3500. If we did a Friday or Sunday, the cost would have been even cheaper.
My recommendation is to secure the venue before you start looking at catering options because some places have agreements with certain caterers and vice versa. Also, if your venue is anything like mine, the caterers had to build a kitchen. There was not one on-site. A catering company that has never done that before will take longer for set-up, clean-up, and will be unfamiliar day of which could provide some challenges.
The owner of the venue recommended our caterers because they have experience working with the aesthetics of the venue. Also, since our location choice did not provide seating, we had to rent tables and chairs. This does drive the cost of your catering bill up quite a bit, but if you plan correctly, this expense is offset by something else you didn’t have to pay for — for example, decorations.
We decided to have a brunch style wedding. We love mimosas, coffee, and day parties, and we combined all this to make our wedding day dreams come true. Because we chose an array of breakfast items for our food menu, this cut the prices significantly. When you are serving food at 11:45 am, there is no need for a carving station, heavy hors d’oeuvres, or comfort food.
We had items like chicken and waffles, deviled eggs, shrimp and grits, breakfast meats, and a breakfast quiche on our menu.
Catering Tip #1: Choose a buffet over plated meals, you save a ton of money this way. Plus, it is much easier to cater to different food palates or restrictions when you have a buffet. We had friends who don’t eat pork, vegans, vegetarians, and also gluten-free guests. When you have a buffet, they have options.
Catering Tip #2: Make sure you ask questions like:
- Do you charge a cork fee for the bar?
- Do you charge a cake-cutting fee?
Questions like this answered ahead of time will come in handy because there are ALWAYS surprise charges that you might not be aware of.
Bottom line: Don’t sacrifice on food. Pay the money for a good meal. You typically won’t eat as the guests of honor, but you want to feed your guests well.
Catering Cost: $14,184.23 – food, table, chairs, linen, waitstaff.
Caterers: Main Event Catering
Don’t sacrifice on your photographer
You only see probably 30% of your wedding day when you are the star players. Your photographer (and videographer) do the rest of the work to make sure you do not miss anything. Do NOT cut corners here.
When we got engaged, my then fiance´ hired a photographer to capture the surprise party that he planned for me after our private moment. The photos were amazing. He caught all the great moments for us to remember for a lifetime. So naturally, we wanted to secure him for our wedding. However, after consulting with our wedding planner, I’ll get to this part in a second, she suggested that we pick a photographer who shoots weddings 90% of the time. BEST tip I have gotten.
I also would suggest you fork over the extra $500-$1000 to get a video of the day. When you look back on it, that additional cost is priceless. Especially if you are personalizing your day with written vows, that is something you would want to keep for years.
Photographer Tip #1: Outside of securing a photographer that mainly shoots weddings, it was also vital that we picked a photographer that has shot Black weddings before. Why is this important? Let me tell you. Certain things happen at Black weddings that only someone with a trained ear and eye will be able to capture on film. Similar to Jewish, Indian, or African weddings. You want someone to document the day that has experience doing that. AND this does not mean the photographer has to be Black (or identify with the demographics of the wedding), it just means they have had experience in those spaces. I flat out asked Bobby his experience with Black weddings. It also helped that he photographed the wedding of a friend (Black), and he was also highly recommended by my wedding planner (Black). And of course, I saw his body of work.
Photographer Tip #2: Pick a photographer that has NO TIME LIMIT included in their packages. It makes your day much smoother, not worrying about timing because your wedding will start late or end late. It’s inevitable.
Photographer Tip #3: If you want to do separate engagement photos, these usually come with your wedding photographer package. If you do not want engagement photos, you could negotiate the cost of this out of your wedding package.
Bottom line: Again, do NOT sacrifice on your photographer/videographer. Spend money! Outside of your venue and caterer, this should be your 3rd most expensive portion of your wedding.
Photographer Cost: $6,500 – full day, no time limit, engagement photos included, and video.
The photographer cost ranged from $2500 – $6500.
Photographer – Bobby Bandz Productions
Our venue and caterer both allowed us to bring in outside alcohol for the wedding. The only catch was that it needed to be purchased in D.C. with proof of purchase. And it also had to be delivered and picked up the same day.
We went with a local beverage company that delivered and picked up, and the company also only charged us half upfront and took back all the unopened alcohol. On top of that, we also bought an additional ten bottles of champagne from Costo ($78) to make sure we had enough to keep out guests going all afternoon.
This is what we bought from the vendor:
- 46 Bottles of Brut – $321.54
- 6 Bottles of Vodka – $143.94
- 3 Ltrs of Bourbon – $65.97
- 2 Bottles of Gin – $49.98
- 2 Bottles Perrier Champagne for bride & groom only – $105.98
The total was supposed to be $799.07 from the vendor, but we only ended up being charged $450.
Total Cost of alcohol – $528 ($450 + $78).
Vendor – ABC Beverage DC
My biggest suggestion is NOT to hire a wedding DJ. If you want your guests to have a party-like experience, secure a DJ that spins at local nightclubs and bars. They are guaranteed to provide a one of a kind party experience. It was 11:30 am during our cocktail hour, the party was rocking, and our guests were dancing. We had to cut the DJ off so that we could get people upstairs to eat.
Disclaimer: When you book a DJ that is not your typical wedding DJ, you need to make sure your DJ has all the necessary equipment to play at a wedding. Items like a wireless microphone and speakers need to be available, especially if your venue has two floors or is spacious.
Also, don’t pick a non-traditional DJ that you have not heard spin before. I heard DJ Set Fire play several sets in various spots in DC. I also followed him on IG. So when after I got engaged, I sent him a direct message on insta, asked if he was available, and how much it would cost for him to DJ for about 5 hours.
DJ Tip #1: Don’t rely on your DJ to play whatever they want. Send them a timeline of the genre of music you want to hear throughout the day. If you want to hear specific songs at certain moments, make sure you let them know. Our song choice for our first dance is a popular song, and we did not want it played until it was time for our first dance.
DJ Tip #2: Make sure you emphasize if you want edited music ahead of time. We told our DJ after we cut our cake, to play nothing but the hits and we are OK with unedited music. Since we knew what “the hits” would mean to our DJ, we did not have to be very specific.
DJ Tip #3: Your guest do not like doing to cha-cha slide or the wobble. Do not make them do it at your wedding. We told our DJ not to play any line dancing music. Our guest appreciated it, 100%!
DJ #4: Our DJ was excellent, minus a few set-up hiccups, he was terrific. Don’t feel like you have to hire the top nightclub DJ because that will cost you anywhere between $800-$1500! Choose someone who is just as good, if not better, but isn’t playing the leading clubs in the city.
Bottom Line: If you want a turn-up, hire a club DJ. You won’t be sorry.
DJ Cost: $300 for 5 hours (talk about a STEAL!) It also helped that we did not take him away from prime DJ hours, i.e. a nighttime wedding.
DJ: DJ Set Fire
Don’t order a cake to feed everyone. We ordered a cake that could feed 75 people, and we still had the top tier left over. We also had additional desserts in our catering order to give guests an option. They could choose either a slice of cake or beignets.
Bottom Line – not everyone eats cake. So don’t go overboard with making sure you have to get enough for everyone.
Cake Cost: $341.55
Cake Vendor: Buttercream DC
Since our venue was move-in ready, we didn’t need to add much. The only things we needed were centerpieces, an instagrammable area, and a little bit of greenery as the backdrop during our ceremony.
OK, so we didn’t need an instagrammable area, but come on, we live in the days of social media, so you must have space where guests can take some photos to show they were present at your day. AND you are not going to be able to take pictures with everyone, so this area gives guests the feeling as if they were taking photos with you even when you are not there.
We choose to have a grass wall (total IG craze) that had our wedding hashtag on it – #YesIWilliams. Our guest loved it. At one point, we had to cut our guests off from taking pictures with us because we were so over it. It was overwhelming everyone trying to grab you for a photo so they can post it. But the grass wall stood in our place when we couldn’t make the photo.
Our centerpieces came from Etsy. I do think they were a little pricey ($66 each – total $722.79), I could have saved a little bit of money, but I loved them. But compared to having a florist design and set up centerpieces for us, it was still the cheaper option.
On our sweetheart table, we ordered wooden Mr. & Mrs. blocks from Amazon ($13.90), a strip of ivy from Michael’s ($9.99), and spray painted the sign in a gold color ($20).
We also ordered two 36×24 signs to display that we had an unplugged ceremony and seating assignments for brunch. The templates were $18.81 from Etsy, and to have them printed on poster board and delivered from Staples was $101.74. We also had to order an easel from Amazon to display to signs – $17.98.
Decor Tip #1: Order as much as you can from Amazon. They have great deals for pretty much everything. I ordered my wedding earrings ($28.99), our card box ($26.49), and several odds and ends. They also have an excellent return policy. I returned the card box right after the wedding. It had zero-damage and what were we going to do with it now we were done with the day.
Decor Tip #2: Etsy is your best friend! You can even get a beautiful bouquet from them if you order early enough. Most need at least 4-5 weeks to assemble and ship. By the time I ordered a bouquet (2 weeks before), I didn’t have enough time.
Decor Tip #3: Less is more. Do not over decorate. High centerpieces cut off the conversation at your tables and also make the room feel smaller than it is.
Bottom Line: If you pick a venue that is already well decorated, you will save money here. Use faux silk flowers as much as possible. They look the same and are half the cost.
Grass Wall Cost: $545
Grass Wall Vendor – D. Nicole Settings
Greenery & Bouquet Cost: $238.50
Vendor: Ultra Violet
Table decor & signs: $905.03 (remember I returned the card box)
Another expense I did not think about – what to give our guests. I turned once again to Etsy and ordered items that were custom, memorable, usable, and small enough for anyone to stash in a clutch or pocket. We chose the following items:
- Matches – $105.10 for 125
- Chapstick – $117.81 for 100
- Tissues for the ceremony – $98.22 for 100
- Mints – $82.68 for 210
- Coffee Cups & Sleeves – $219.42 for 150
- Table Numbers – $87.28 for 10
The Wedding Planner
I was 100% against spending the money on a planner. I knew I would be able to execute on this day solo, but I was beyond wrong, and I am extremely glad that we decided to spend money on this service.
We elected for a partial planning service because we had already secured a few of the major items that a planner helps with, venue, DJ, caterer. We just needed help with other details and the coordination of tasting/viewing appointments and someone to be the point of contact weeks leading up and day of.
A planner is also good to give you perspective on vendors. The minute you say something is for a wedding, they hike up the price. A planner can call BS easier than the couple-to-be. So leave the back and forth negotiation to a pro, it is worth every penny.
Wedding Planner Tip #1: If you do not want to spend money on a planner, make sure you have an on-site coordinator for the day of. I do not know what I would have done without my planner’s help on my wedding day.
Wedding Planner Tip #2: Similar to the DJ, you do not have to get the planner who has the most likes on Instagram or someone who has thousands of reviews for some to execute flawlessly. Our planner works a full-time job and does event & wedding planning on the side. And she operated as if this was her ONLY JOB. She was nothing short of amazing, and again, we couldn’t have done it without her.
Bottom Line: A planner helps eliminate stress months leading up to the day and puts out all the fires that you do not need to know about. I strongly advise you have someone (who is not your friend or family) help you execute this. By the time the wedding is complete, they will be like family.
Wedding Planner Cost – $1,300
Wedding Planner: J. Renee Services
Other Notable Things
We opted out of a wedding party. We didn’t need people to walk down the aisle before us or to be in our staged wedding photos. This cut down cost A LOT.
I still had my bride-tribe in my hotel suite the morning of, and I also told my honorary bridesmaids to wear a particular color. I still got several photos with them before the wedding and during, just nothing formal. The same thing for my Husband’s brothers, the photographer, was able to capture images without being groomsmen.
Time of day
Since we had a 10:30 am wedding start with our guest arriving at 10 am to grab a mimosa before the ceremony, we were able to cut costs in a couple of different ways. Plus, it still gave our guests the rest of the day to relax or keep going. Everything ended at 3:30 pm.
Bouquet & Garter Toss
We X’ed this. No need, and our guest appreciated it. I am 33, and my Husband is 37. A lot of our guests were married or in steady relationships. And the single ones just wanted to mingle and party. Stopping the DJ to do something that can take upwards of 30 minutes was insignificant for us.
This was a big one. We chose a venue that only was able to accommodate 100 people seated for the ceremony and brunch. There was no budging on that. It helped us keep our number precisely to 100. BUT we invited an additional 50-70 people to come party with us at the reception. We called it The Champagne Toast & Cake Reception.
This was our timeline of the day:
- 10:00 am – wedding guest arrived
- 10:30 am – ceremony started
- 10:50 am – ceremony ends – couple exits to take photos
- 11:00 – 11:45 am – cocktail hour
- 12:00 pm – guests seated for brunch on top floor
- 12:00 pm – reception guest begin to arrive and hang on the 1st floor
- 12:45 pm – brunch is over, guest return to the 1st floor
- 1:15 pm – formal Mr. & Mrs. entrance and first dance
- 1:30 pm – honorary Best Man & Maid of Honor did speeches
- 2:00 pm – cut the cake
- 2:15 pm – the turn-up begins
- 3:25 pm – newlyweds made a speech thanking everyone for joining. And cues the last song – Candy by Cameo. Everyone electric slides like it’s the end of the movie Best Man.
- 3:30 pm – final group picture with whoever was leftover
- 3:45 pm – we departed
We were able to break up our day because our venue was two floors. I do not know if this would have worked if we didn’t have that added value.
What we didn’t want was our 2nd wave of guests to walk in a venue of people eating. We wanted them to walk into a party, which is what exactly happened. They walked into the 1st floor where the bar, DJ, and grass wall was set up.
Waiting for all of our guests to arrive to have our 1st dance and speeches still gave that second group of guests a feeling like they came to a full wedding. And although an hour 45 minutes doesn’t feel like enough time for dancing, it was plenty. If your DJ is playing the right music, you only need 60-90 minutes tops! Your guest will be tired and ready to head out after that. I looked at the clock around 2:55 pm, and I was ready to go myself, but the party was rocking.
Tip your service providers
I think some people forget about this part after the wedding. Please tip the people who helped bring your day to life. We tipped our wedding planner, photographer, and DJ. We asked our planner about tipping the catering company, but she mentioned gratuity is typically already included in your final package. But remember to bring cash.
Total Tip: $500
This total does not include my dress, his tux, make-up (I did my hair), or hotel room(s) the night before. But when I calculate that up, that totals to around $3000, which still puts us under $40,000.
Not bad for a wedding in the Nation’s Capital.
Have a question about my big day, leave it below. Happy Planning your special day. I hope this helped out a little bit!
*Note, images that are displayed are not from photographer.