A Wedding Under $5K?? Impossible!

April 27th, 2015
A DIY sweet table can keep your costs down.

A DIY sweet table can keep your costs down.

I was part of a conversation among wedding professionals recently discussing the proposition, “Can you have a wedding for 100 guests for under $5,000?”  The overwhelming majority of professionals weighing in on the subject were adamant that it wasn’t possible.  I beg to differ.

I think differently because I ask the question, “What do you mean by ‘a wedding’?”  I agree with my colleagues that if you want to throw a lavish Saturday night party with dinner and dancing for 100 guests, it’s unlikely you can do it on such a limited budget.  But if you want to get married with 100 people present and give them some refreshment afterwards while you greet them, it’s certainly possible.

As I like to remind my clients, in order to get married (at least in the state of Illinois), all you need is a marriage license and someone to sign it.  That can be obtained for under $100.  A Cook County marriage license costs $60 and you can have a friend become ordained for free through an online source such as the Universal Life Church.  Put all the pieces together, and you’re married.

That’s the bare-bones version without any more guests than you can fit in your living room.  If you want to invite 100 people and give them a meal, it will cost a wee bit more, but I believe it can be done for $5,000.  At a restaurant, you could have a breakfast reception at $20 per person.  (We’re up to $2,060, for those who are keeping track.)

If you use only the equipment that comes with the restaurant (linens, dishes, etc.), your only decor costs could be centerpieces for the tables.  Figure 10 centerpieces at $75 each (if you hire a good florist), and we’re at $2,810.

Figure $1,000 for clothing if both spouses are buying all new clothing off the rack, and the total is $3,810.  That leaves close to $2,000 for invitations, postage, cake, favors, etc.

Professional photography is going to be too expensive, as are many other things that are considered necessary for a wedding these days.  Or, you could re-arrange your priorities and put the money toward photographs by spending less on food and centerpieces.  There are many ways to have a wedding on a small budget if you’re creative and keep an open mind.

Earth Day Re-Run: The Party is Over. Now What?

April 20th, 2015

This was one of the most popular posts I ever wrote.  I have updated it with new information.

What do you do with leftover mini-cakes? Photo by HappyBuddy Photo Art.

What do you do with leftover mini-cakes? Photo by HappyBuddy Photo Art.

One thing that often gets overlooked in party and event planning is what happens after the party is over.  If you are planning a wedding, party, or other large event, now would be a good time to think about what happens when the fun is done.  Beyond the basic logistical question of who is going to transport stuff from one place to another, there are the considerations of what to do with left over items.  Here are my thoughts on several of categories of those items.

Food: If you didn’t run out of food at your party (heaven forfend!), then there will be leftovers.  It would be a shame to throw them out.  In some places, a local food bank can pick up your extra food and distribute it to food pantries and shelters.  (See the Feeding America food bank locator to find a local food bank.)  Some states and municipalities do not allow this practice, though, and not all food banks are set up to handle it, so check with your food bank ahead of time.  And unless you’re a food safety expert, don’t try it on your own.  Even if you can’t distribute your leftovers to hungry strangers, you can probably find some friends and relatives who would be happy to take some of it.  Prepare for this possibility by having appropriate containers available, and instruct your caterer how to distribute extra food.  Whatever you do, talk to your caterer ahead of time!

Flowers and other decorations: The nicest way to take care of flowers and other centerpieces is to donate them to a local hospital or nursing home.  As with donating food, this is both eco-friendly and socially responsible.  Not only do flowers get a second use, but they may also brighten the day of someone who could use a little cheer.  Perhaps you already have a relationship with an institution where you can send your flowers.  At one wedding that I coordinated, they announced at the reception that all the flowers would go to the hospital where a family member had received treatment in his last illness.  It seemed like a most fitting thing to do.  If you don’t have the resources to do this yourself, in Chicago and a few other cities, there is an organization called Random Acts of Flowers who will do it for you.

Favors: Extra party favors can be a real problem.  This is one area where you will really need to plan ahead.  For one thing, you will almost definitely have extra favors.  If you plan for one per guest, there will be some guests who don’t take one, or who take one for a household, instead of one per person.  But you don’t want to have too few, either.  When deciding what kind of favor to give your guests, consider how easy the extras will be to get rid of.  If you have a common item that is usable by anyone (like decorated pencils, for instance), then you can give away extras on Freecycle or to an organization that can use them (like your local school).  Food favors are even more difficult to get rid of than catered food.  Novelty items will probably be sitting in the back of your closet for years.  You might need to turn to an organization like Special E in order to find a second use for some of these things. One couple I worked with gave away beeswax candles (tied with ribbons in their wedding colors, of course).  There were plenty remaining at the end of the evening, but I imagine they were perfectly happy to have a supply of such a useful item.

Decor and Clothing: If you have decor items (candles, table runners, pennants, table numbers, etc.), clothing or jewelry, you can donate them to The Great Wedding Recyclery in Chicago.  They are sold to people who want sustainable and inexpensive wedding items and the proceeds benefit the Green Wedding Alliance.

Be sure to talk to your planner or coordinator about what happens to everything when the party is over.  You can save yourself some headaches, bring joy to friends and strangers, and keep things out of the landfill with just a little extra effort.

Wedding Favors

April 13th, 2015
A pair of dice in a net bag was the perfect favor for a board game-themed wedding.  Photo by Johnny Knight.

A pair of dice in a net bag was the perfect favor for a board game-themed wedding. Photo by Johnny Knight.

I had an interesting experience lately with a client who was from South America.  He was not familiar with what we mean by a wedding favor, and that got me wondering:  What, exactly, is a wedding favor?  How is it defined?

A wedding favor is a small gift given by the couple to their guests as a token of their appreciation for being there.

What types of things are typically given as favors?  Sugared (or Jordan) almonds are one well-known type of favor.  A small handful of almonds (sometimes five) are tied in a net or lace bag.  I’ve also seen a pair of chocolate candies in a presentation box as favors.  These are probably the more traditional types of favors.

Other things I’ve seen as favors have a very diverse range: a flowerpot with seed paper with the couple’s names and wedding date; handmade soaps; a pair of dice; cat-shaped cookies; beeswax candles; trivia books; and trilobite-shaped chocolates.

The trend I’ve seen is to have the favor reflect the couple’s interests or tastes, or to coincide with the wedding’s theme, if it has one.  It’s a nice touch if the favor has a personal meaning that is communicated to the guests.

It’s possible to go overboard with favors.  Think small and personal, rather than large or outrageous.  With care and good taste, almost anything can be a favor.  And if you’re in doubt, be sure to ask your wedding planner.

The Great Wedding Recyclery Returns!

April 6th, 2015
The Great Wedding Recyclery.

The Great Wedding Recyclery.

For the third year in a row, the Green Wedding Alliance brings you The Great Wedding Recyclery, on Sunday, April , 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at Loft on Lake, 1366 W. Lake St., Chicago.  A $5 donation benefits the Green Wedding Alliance.

The Recyclery is the only place in Chicago where once-used wedding decor and clothing are sold so they can be used another time.  It’s like a huge garage sale for wedding items.

The last two years, this event was a huge success, with a line around the block of people waiting to get in.  Many of those waiting found some amazing bargains.  Everything that was bought and sold was one more thing that never went to a landfill and didn’t require manufacturing and transport from a distant location.  Everyone wins!

Be sure to keep your Sunday afternoon clear so you can check out the Recyclery.  And plan to get there early.