Big Picture

According to a 2012 Reuters report, the average cost of a wedding in the US is around $27,000; according to planner Melissa Parker of Amazing Events, Seattle couples tend to spend even more. She says the average local pair budgets their bash to the tune of $40,000. And don’t kid yourself: “It’s rare to come in under budget. Much more frequently couples go a bit over.” The best wedding planners help you keep your bottom line even as fully hosted cocktail hours and crystal-studded tiaras become tempting. “If we have a firm limit,” Parker says, “we can stick to it.”


Footing the Bill

The who-pays-for-what of modern weddings isn’t as clear as it used to be. The oft-used “FLOP” guideline—which put flowers, liquor, orchestra (or music), and photography, plus the rehearsal dinner, on the groom’s family’s tab—is an OK default, but wedding planner Janel Ellefsen of Occasions says most of her clients have a lump sum of money consisting of contributions from both parents, their own accounts, and sometimes grandparents. The couple then allocates funds as they see fit. If your family of financial backers is more attached to their purse strings, keep Parker’s words in mind: “Whoever pays for the line item should have some say about how it looks or what’s ordered.”


Take Note

The medium is the message. So whether you go with custom-made elaborate packaging and thick, rich letterpressed paper stock or simple elements with digital printing, work with your stationer to craft an invitation that matches the tone and style of your overall event.

Full suite of custom-made letterpress invites including save-the-dates, invitations, response cards, and envelopes with all the bells and whistles for 100 guests:

• around $1,300 at Tere Mendez’s local Ink Fancy Letterpress

• upwards of $1,900 from Brittany O’Brien at the chic, boutique-y Dolce Design

Full suite of off-the-rack sets—invite, response card, and a corresponding envelope for each—for 100 guests:

• Paper Fling and Paper Delights both sell options that start at around $350.


Trippin’ Out

What do you call a  *****  vacation that only costs $$? Brilliant. Below are approximations (inclusive of airfare and four- to five-star accommodations for two) for one-week honeymoons in some top spots during low season. Consider traveling at off-peak times; you can not only avoid fanny-packing tourist crowds but save hundreds of dollars, too.

Maui, Hawaii, in January:


Bangkok, Thailand, in June:


Paris, France, in October:



Oh, Snap

Wedding photographers come in a wide range of prices—from $3,000 to upwards of $10,000. Meg and Aaron Nelson, the husband-and-wife team behind Bellingham’s Evantide Photography gave us this midrange example:

• Initial wedding package starts at $3,500 and includes a consultation, a one- to two-hour engagement session, around eight hours of shooting on the wedding day with two photographers, 60 hours of editing and predesign of wedding album, and viewing sessions for all photos.

• Wedding albums start at $1,750 and include 50 to 100 of your best photos in a custom leather-bound book.

• Photo-booth services are around $750 for two hours.

• Overtime? $300 per hour for two photographers.


Thanks for the Tip

You slip your cabbie and your barista a little something extra every time, right? But who gets what on the big day? Here are some guidelines:

• Professional vendors like photographers and caterers typically include a service fee in their pricing, so tips

aren’t necessary.

• Hair and makeup, transportation, and ceremony musicians are generally slipped an extra 15 to 20 percent of their fee.

• Reception musicians might get $50 each; $100–200 for a DJ is customary.

• Consider donating to the officiant’s church, synagogue, or other home base, especially if you’re a member, or offer them $50–100 if they work independently.

When it comes to distributing these monies, wedding planner Lisa Chambers of Chambers and Co suggests envelopes with prewritten checks or cash that your planner can dole out on your behalf. Alternately, you may choose to decide on your tip after the reception, in which case a mailed thank-you note is appropriate and appreciated.


Dress for Less

It would be fun if gowns were really pulled from old steamer trunks and then worn by models while brides sat sipping Champagne, wouldn’t it? But trunk shows are typically pretty informal affairs that involve gals in their skivvies excitedly buttoning each other’s dresses and saving about 10 percent on orders placed that day. When you’re talking about a $3,000 gown, that’s a significant chunk of spare change. Sign up for mailing lists at the downtown Nordstrom’s Wedding Suite, Luly Yang Couture, the Dress Theory, Lainee Meg Bridal, and other shops that host trunk affairs.


Download This

App stores are full of budget helpers; if multiple parties are chipping in, try one like Expense Tool, which is designed to track the expenditures of more than one user. The application makes it easy to see who paid for what and when—and, perhaps more to the point: whether everyone is staying on budget. As things add up, it can be difficult to keep track of the bottom line, and storing data digitally allows everyone involved to watch their dollars and get answers when they need them.


Cut These Corners

1. Slice the Champagne toast cost by 50 percent with half pours.

2. Decide that Sunday is the new Friday and shave a few thousand bucks.

3. Barter. Bartender and web designer Jonathan Hudak redesigned and built websites for several of the key vendors in his August 2012 wedding to Far 4 co-owner Jenny Klimenkoff, so those services were free. (Sort of.)

4. Time the reception for before or after mealtimes and offer just appetizers and cake instead.

5. Prune reception costs by having your floral designer create centerpieces for only half the tables; on the other half, arrange complementary but less expensive branches, fruit, live plants, or objects like books, heirloom china, and candles.

6. Do yourself a favor when it comes to guest gifts and go for dual-purpose options like tartlets that can serve as place card holders.


Buck Stops Where? 

Can you really afford to invite your childhood babysitter and your fifth cousins from Milwaukee? We asked event managers at popular big and small locations to price out Saturday evenings in the high season so that we could compare small receptions with larger ones. These estimates generally include cocktail bites, a buffet or coursed dinner, and service fees.

75-Person venue:

Ray’s Boathouse

$59–81 per person

Heathman Kirkland

$68–82 per person


100-Person venue:

Space Needle

$67–100 per person

Four Seasons 

$139–165 per person


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