Event Planning on a Budget–Part One

January 27th, 2014

This is the first in a series that I plan to run for the next few weeks.  It’s an update of a series I did a number of years ago about how to plan your next event without breaking the bank. Today is an overview on the topic.  I’ll follow it with posts about location, catering, beverages, etc.

Even on a budget, you can have a lovely celebration.  Photo by Magical Moments Photography.

Even on a budget, you can have a lovely celebration. Photo by Magical Moments Photography.

Even on a budget you can have the event you want. It requires some extra work and maybe a few compromises, but you can still get married or have a bar mitzvah or throw the party for your parents’ anniversary and have a real celebration. Working on a budget is something I do a lot, so I’d like to share some of my insights with you.

The first thing is to have an actual budget. This is sometimes an item that people put off, but I urge you to come up with a realistic budget as early in the planning process as you can. It will help to guide your choices as you plan your event. The main reason for procrastination, I think, is the simple fact that many people do not know how to go about preparing a budget. Here is my method:

Start with the total amount of money you are able to spend on the event. Be realistic about your ability to spend, including any contributions others have committed to making. It is not worthwhile to spend more on any event than you have. Unless your circumstances are unusual, it is not generally a good idea to go into debt for a wedding or other celebration. I also do not recommend spending everything you have for one day’s celebration.

Next, list all the things you intend to spend money on. Include everything you think you might need, and add a “just in case” category. For a wedding, your list might include, for example, ceremony venue, reception venue, catering, photographer, cake, flowers, invitations, day-of coordinator, officiant, and decorations.  Once you have a full list of budget items, make a list or spreadsheet with them.

Now comes the hard part: Fill in a number next to each category and make sure the total does not exceed your total budget number. (Computer spreadsheet programs such as Excel make this job much easier.) But how do you know what number to put there? You will have to do some research. Talk to vendors and other professionals (such as an event planner). Poke around online to get a range of prices. Make a few phone calls.  Decide what things you can do yourself to save money and what things will require professional services. For example, you might make place cards and table numbers yourself at minimal cost, if you have the time.  (You can take a look at my DIY wedding series for ideas on what to do yourself–and what not to do.)

Finally, if your cost estimate exceeds your resources, you will have to find places to cut. You may have to reconsider how you define what you need and remove some categories, or you might have to make do with smaller quantities or lesser quality on some things. You can also consider cutting the guest list.  These decisions are not easy, but keep in mind that the most important thing about any celebration is not how opulent it looks but what happens between the people. If it’s a wedding, getting married is the most important thing that will happen. If it is an anniversary or birthday party, the important thing is to honor the ones who have reached a milestone. If you can manage a lavish entertainment in addition, consider it a bonus.

A Word from Your Photographer

January 20th, 2014
What if this photo were blocked by the heads of the guests?  Courtesy of sprungphoto.com.

What if this photo were blocked by the heads of the guests? Courtesy of sprungphoto.com.

I came across this interesting article from a photographer on Huffington Post.  I recommend clicking through to the article, as it is a heartfelt plea for couples to encourage their wedding guests to put their cameras down–at least during the ceremony. She posts a number of photos to illustrate her point.  Guests can easily ruin a professional photographer’s shots.  And if you’re going to spend that much on a wedding photographer, I’m sure you want to get some good photos.

The other point she makes is that if the guests are observing everything through the lens of the camera, they aren’t fully present at your wedding.  Take a look at the article and see if you agree.

Wedding Processional Order

January 13th, 2014
Here's a very traditional arrangement, as the groom and groomsmen wait for the bridal processional, along with the officiant.  Photo by Happy Buddy PhotoArt.

Here's a very traditional arrangement, as the groom and groomsmen wait for the bridal processional, along with the officiant. Photo by Happy Buddy PhotoArt.

If you search the internet for the “correct” wedding processional order, you will probably come away confused.  Everyone has an answer and they don’t all agree.

I have found the greatest amount of agreement about the traditional Jewish order.  (If in doubt, consult your rabbi.)  The one I have found in many places goes like this:

  • The rabbi and the cantor
  • Grandparents of the bride
  • Grandparents of the groom
  • Groomsmen in pairs
  • Best man
  • The groom, escorted by his parents.
  • Bridesmaids in pairs
  • Maid or matron of honor
  • Ring bearer and/or flower girl
  • The bride, escorted by her parents

A Christian processional seems to have many more variants.  In general, it seems that tradition calls for a processional of bridesmaids (junior bridesmaids first, if there are any), followed by the ring bearer, the flower girl, and the bride with her father or other escort.  Sometimes the ushers or groomsmen are in the processional; sometimes they are not.

The one constant in the traditional Christian processional seems to be the groom and the best man entering from the side, rather than as part of the processional.  Strangely, I have only seen this happen in practice a few times.

I have yet to see grandparents included in a Christian processional in anyone’s internet list, but I have seen many grandparents included in processionals, both religious and secular.

Secular weddings can choose from any tradition.  Here are some of the variants I have seen at actual weddings:

  • Parents and grandparents
  • Groom and best man
  • Groomsmen
  • Bridesmaids
  • Bride

Here is another:

  • Officiant
  • Groom
  • Groomsmen escorting the mothers
  • Junior bridesmaid
  • Bridesmaids
  • Ring bearer
  • Flower girl
  • Bride escorted by father


  • Usher escorts mother of bride to front row
  • Officiant, groom and groomsmen enter from side
  • Junior bridesmaid
  • Bridesmaids
  • Maid of honor
  • Bride, escorted by her brother

Every wedding I have worked on or been to as a guest has had its own unique processional.  Traditions have been borrowed from other cultures; they have been tossed out; they have been reconfigured to suit individual taste.  Officiants often have the final say on processional order, especially at religious ceremonies.  But I say that if you have the latitude to do so, you should feel free to rearrange things until you have the processional that suits you.

Event Design and Event Planning

January 6th, 2014
Most events don't require a designer to be beautiful.   Photo by Peter Coombs.

Most events don't require a designer to be beautiful. Photo by Peter Coombs.

When searching for an event, party, or wedding planner, you might find some individuals or firms who come up in the search but are primarily event designers.  So, what’s the difference?  I had a conversation with an event designer recently about this subject and this is what we came up with:

This event designer said that her specialty was solely designing and creating event decor.  Her website also said “event planning,” but she told me that she does not handle scheduling or logistics for events.  For those services, she recommends that her clients hire an event planner.

An event planner may also offer design services, but it’s pretty rare that someone has large-scale artistic event design and implementation skills and also has event planner skills.  Except for elaborate or large events, most events do not need a designer, but most do need a planner.  What are those event planner skills that a designer may lack?

An event planner should be able to envision your entire event from start to finish.  She or he should be able to spot problems in the planning stage and solve them before they become real.  A planner should have a good grasp of scheduling and spatial layout, with great attention to detail.  A planner knows where to get things you need and can recommend other professionals.  Finally, the skill you want most in a planner is a calm head on the day of your event so that the unexpected is dealt with swiftly and with good judgment.

Some events require a planner.  Some require a designer.  And some really need both.  It’s important to know what you need–and what you are getting–when you hire professionals to help you with your event.