This post was originally titled “Real Budget Wedding Tips for Couples,” but after re-reading this the next day, I realized that the only *real* budget-saving tip that I included was in the first bullet point, about your potential wedding date. So I’ve re-titled it “Debunking Wedding Budget Myths” because the HuffPo article mentioned states these horrible ideas for “saving money.” I’ll write another post at some point about real budget tips.

      Today I was directed to this article, “Cheap Brides Will Appreciate These Penny-Pinching Tips” on Huffington Post Weddings, and was immediately irritated. The author of the article, Janelle Harris (with input from Kathryn Finney) has no idea how weddings work or how to actually cut the budget in morally-right, smart ways.

      There are countless handbooks, articles, and blogs dedicated to help save couples money, so I know I’m just another voice in the crowd, but for some reason I felt like speaking up, because the top 3 bullet points on this list are wrong — at least, from the photography standpoint. And since I’ve been known to give my countering opinion on other well-meaning but disruptive articles in the past, I thought I’d talk about this one. It’s a topic I’ve been wanting to broach for a while, but haven’t had the kick in the pants to do it: how to actually save money on your wedding. Not a popular post to write, especially when one works and makes money from weddings, but I’m tired of the misinformation and of being seen as a greedy villain by the general public.

      outside reception at mercury hall austin texas

      Myth #1: Holiday weekends will save you money.

      The truth: the biggest way to cut your budget is by holding your wedding on an off-peak date. Certain dates are going to be in high demand because of a number of factors: your city’s weather and climate trends, your guests’ ability to travel, your choice of day (of the week), and any other festivals happening the same week (which is a big issue in Austin: host of SXSW, ACL, F1, etc.) which will impact traffic and hotel availability.

      The reason the date is desirable to you will also make it desirable to many others. Competition breeds demand.

      Holiday weekends are actually much more expensive to book because there is more demand for them. Couples pick these holiday weekend dates to help their out-of-town guests travel in for the wedding. You know how plane tickets during the summer are more expensive than plane tickets in the beginning of the year? That’s because airlines know that people are on summer vacation and will have travel plans during the break. Plane tickets are cheap in January, after all the holidays are over, because no one is traveling. The same thought applies to some wedding venues, hotel rates, some photographers, and a myriad of other wedding vendors.

      For instance, a person holding a Sunday wedding in early February in Austin is going to have a much better time negotiating with vendors than someone who is planning a Saturday wedding in October on the weekend before Columbus Day. I can tell you right now that I booked October 12, 2013 over six months ago because that is a desirable date. For the most part, in Austin, people avoid booking in the high summer (July and August) because it’s so hot, and during festival weekends because the traffic snarl and lack of hotel availability is just too much to handle.

      Now, not all vendors negotiate. Our prices are our prices for a very good reason. But if a vendor were inclined to negotiate their rates, they would not talk themselves down in price to secure your business when there are dozens of other potential clients who will pay without hesitation. So if you are on a tight budget, I would recommend that you not choose a holiday weekend, or even a Saturday wedding date at all.


      Myth #2: Omitting the word “wedding” will keep your quotes low.

      I hate this tip. I see it everywhere, and the biggest thing you’re doing by lying about your wedding being a “party” or a “reunion” is establishing yourself as a tricksy person. Nobody wants to do business with a liar. I know a photographer who was hired by a couple for a “family session,” and when she arrived at the portrait location it was a full-blown wedding!

      I’ve talked about what I bring to weddings vs. what I bring to portrait sessions, and I know other photographers are similar. I leave a good 1/3 of my gear at home when I shoot a session compared to what I use at a wedding. Weddings are beasts. From a photography standpoint, they require more physicality, gear, preparation, and organization than a simple portrait session. Light changes so much during a wedding day, from location to location. The processing work afterwards is also more time-consuming: portraits yield about 50 proofs (depending on the photographer), whereas weddings yield hundreds.

      I’m all about buying items that aren’t real “wedding” items to be used in a wedding: a cocktail dress or prom dress for a wedding dress, pretty earrings that aren’t marketed as “wedding earrings” (yeah, those exist), a nice artisan book for your guestbook, dollar-store vases for centerpieces, etc., but tricking your vendors is rude… and wrong. We do not “hike” our prices just because the word “wedding” is involved. Our prices are our prices because we work a limited number of events every year and each one takes a certain amount of our attention, care, time, and service.

      My advice: be truthful to your vendors, especially the ones who are going to be there when your nuptials happen. Photographers, caterers, florists, cake-makers, venue owners, DJs or bands, bartenders — it’s not worth the karma bomb you’ll hit when they arrive and discover that the short little party they were going to work is actually a wedding.

      outdoor wedding at kali kate in buda

      Myth #3: Crafting and DIY will help trim your budget.

      This works, in theory. But as the ladies over at A Practical Wedding will tell you, DIY isn’t everything. If you’re not a crafty person to begin with, attempting to be a crafty person for your wedding can be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s time-consuming, it involves trial and error, and it can cost more than you expect if you mess up and have to buy the supplies to do it over again. Like, in theory, buying silk flowers from the crafts store and assembling your own bouquets sounds like a great idea. I know that, for me, if I had done this I would have ended up with a mess (and that is why I didn’t even attempt to try). There are professionals in every field for a reason. Just because you have the tools, doesn’t mean that you can do the same job as a pro. As we know from my experiment with my friend, who took my camera and grabbed some photos of his girlfriend for 8 minutes, then I did my thing for 8 minutes, with much different results.

      There is definitely a place for DIY in weddings (and in real life!), but be sure that your expectations are in line with your ability so that you’re not upset with the outcome. I’d also recommend that, if you go the DIY route, to do a trial before the actual wedding day. (Friends who are good with makeup as your makeup artists, friends who are good with baking as your cake-person, and so on.) Sometimes it’s easier to throw money at a problem to make it go away and to not cause you stress, than to try to finagle a solution on your own.

      austin wedding bouquet photos
      flowers from a professional florist

      . . .

      I give kudos to the author of the article for suggesting pre-owned wedding dresses (you don’t always have to buy new, though I understand some people’s hesitations) and suggesting going into a salon instead of having a stylist come to the wedding venue for prep (saving your stylist the time and effort to pack up and travel will surely save you from having to pay for said time, effort, pack-up, and travel), but the rest of the article, well-meaning as it was, seemed very misinformed.

      Edit: My friend and wedding planner Ang makes a good point in the comments about all the things that can go wrong when people mess around at the salon, so I will defer to her expert advice. Saving money by going to your stylist’s salon on the day of your wedding can cost you in time — time, which is precious on your wedding day. The more locations you have to be in, there are more possibilities of falling further behind in your schedule…

      What do you think?


      Spot on – I agreed with every point you made. Had I been tricked into photographing a wedding, I may well have pulled out my iPhone to capture their special day!

      Awesome Awesome Awesome response to that crazy article!!! Thank you!

      Awesome post! And yes, lying to your vendors is AWFUL. Most photographers said that if they were in that situation, they would’ve left and not shot at all. No one should give the advice to be shady, that could leave them without vendors on their wedding day!

      All true; great thoughts; thanks for sharing. I especially appreciate your perspective that the bride and groom should spend their money where they want it spent: it’s up to them where they want the focus.

      Well said Elissa! If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s sloppy journalism :)

      Excellent post!

      You’re completely correct about choosing a non-peak day. Having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon cut our reception costs in half – the venue was cheaper, the minimum was much smaller and since our ceremony started at 3 with the reception over by 7, we were able to serve heavy appetizers instead of a full meal. Single biggest way we saved money.

      That article on HP was the worst advice ever!! As if we need yet another misleading source for brides. Girl, I would loose my shit if I showed up to a “party ” that was a wedding.

      Preach it Elissa! Truer statements were never blogged. I’m so over the craziness of the wedding industry turning wedding photogs into idiots and evil money hungry villans. Love your advice!

      I agree with almost everything here, expecially the holiday weekend thing. I HATE that everyone thinks that’s the best idea ever, the same people who say “Of course you can’t book X restaurant, it’s the 4th of July and they’re going to be slammed!” think it’s totally fine to do the same thing for a venue for 100+ people. I also have an issue with the lying thing. Instead, just ask what the difference between a wedding package/service and a “family reunion” is. That way no one is lying, everyone is prepared and knows what to expect. No unpleasant surprises. The only disagreement I have is the little note at the end about getting your hair done at the salon.

      It might be a bit cheaper (Although honestly I’ve found the prices to be interchangeable depending on the stylist), but if I hear about people getting ready at a salon, I always freak out. As a planner, my goal is to make things go as smoothly as possible, which usually means taking out as many moving parts as I can. Having to get 5 or more people to a salon, not being able to control the timeline (so many salon nightmares), traffic, no touch ups after the dress is put on, etc are all opportunities for more stuff to go wrong, and that scares the crap out of me. People who have budgetary concerns usually don’t have a planner to think about this stuff and it bites them on the butt when they’re 2 hours late because the stylist decided to try and squeeze in a color before the bridal appointment.

      @Ang: I agree with you about the salon and all the moving parts of a wedding timeline, but in my experience the stylists do charge more to show up at the venue for prep. For those on a budget, it makes more sense to go to the salon early in the day, get the hair done, then do final touches later at the venue. I guess, in my head, I assume that people know to allot extra buffer time for hair stuff but I suppose that’s not always the case… you make a really good point that most people on a budget don’t have a planner to keep an eye on the clock for them.