On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all
fifty states, and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses. Hooray for us! These days, we’re getting married in droves, and since I’m a renowned savvy spender, everyone comes to me for budget advice on travel, hotels, parties, and weddings, especially destination weddings. Now, I am not an official wedding planner (nor do aspire to be one), but I have helped many close friends and countless family members plan their Special Day—all who were on strict budgets. That being said, if you can afford an official wedding planner, you should go right ahead and use one. Keep in mind that property wedding planners for destination weddings are usually included with your wedding booking. Wedding planners can really manage your budget, and stress levels, better than anyone else can. Just be sure to be completely honest about your budget from your initial conversation, expect some mark ups, and to spend a little more than anticipated. Here are my money saving tips to help you as you plan your destination wedding.
Manage Stress, Time, and Expectations
My number one tip, hands down, is to realistically manage your stress, time, and expectations. There is nothing more stressful than planning a wedding on your own, and if you’re planning a destination wedding, that stress may rise to even higher levels. How you handle yourself will make all the difference on your special day. There are things that are just out of your control, but if you’re realistic you will find that there are also things within your control that you can manage.
For instance, you cannot control the weather but you can make sure not to have your destination wedding during the hurricane season. Although it would be cheaper to have your day during hurricane season, expect to shell out some big bucks for tents if you’re having it outdoors.
Also, you need to know that you are not going to have a luxurious destination wedding for 100 guests on a small budget. However, your destination property may be able to offer a tasteful Champagne or Prosecco party with light fares for around 30 guests, or have a beautiful brunch or barbeque grill party for less.
Managing your time during your destination wedding can be tricky. You need time with your property wedding planner, vendors if any, your wedding guests, and with the person you will be marrying (before and after your wedding day). I always suggest to the couple that they have breakfast in their hotel room. This way you have some alone time with each-other away from the hustle and bustle.
Set up must-attend appointments for roughly the same time every day and as early as possible, preferably before noon. This way you have time to join your guests on excursions, spa treatments, and lunch or dinner. There’s no need to go through the expense of a rehearsal dinner either. Also, tell your guests to not call you on your mobile phone unless it’s an emergency. Chronic phone calls, rings, pings, and alerts can escalate already stressed levels.
I think Latino and Latin American cultures have wedding expenses all figured out. They have “Godfathers” and “Godmothers” paying for almost everything. There’s usually the Godfather of the Cake or the Godmother of the Flowers and so on. I’ve been the Godfather of the Wedding Hall a few times in my day. The people for these roles are usually close family members and friends. Now, that’s a financial stress reliever if there ever was one!
Keep in mind that when planning your special day, everything with the word “wedding” in front of it (wedding cake, wedding dress, wedding ceremony, etc.) is going to be marked up 3-5 times more than what you would normally pay. Either you can afford it or you can’t, but try not to stress over it. At the last destination wedding I attended in the Caribbean, the wedding cake was priced at $1,500 for 3-tier cake, but the grooms had no idea until I pointed it out in the fine print. They thought it was included, but the jargon on their contract said that it would be additional to the cost of the food served at the reception. They were really on a tight budget, so the property allowed them to nix the cake.
Luckily, I tracked down a bakery in the area and asked them if they could make three dozen cupcakes (we had 30 in the wedding party). They said that it would be easy for them to do it, but why the urgency? After I explained, they laughed and told me to come pick up the cupcakes the morning of the wedding and not to give it a second thought. I asked for the price and said it would be $100. I was floored and agreed to pick up the cupcakes three days later. When I arrived at the bakery, there were three boxes of 36 beautiful cupcakes where the tops looked like mini 3-tier wedding cake.
On top of each one was a beautiful sugar white flower. The Baker even threw in a larger cupcake that was topped by 2 intertwined white-chocolate hearts for the grooms to share. They even loaned me a white 3-tiered cake stand to display the cupcakes. I was so amazed I gave them $150 instead of $100. The grooms were ecstatic and the rest of the guests thought it was such a great-tasting alternative to the traditional wedding cake.
A lot of traditions for weddings are heteronormative so do not get hung up on them. In fact use it to your advantage. For the men, a couple of tailored suits you may already have will do just fine. However, for destination weddings in tropical weather conditions, I see a lot of linen shorts on men, unconstructed lightweight blazers, crisp shirts (even tee shirts) and sandals, so you can save a lot on your wedding wardrobe. There are no expensive wedding dresses to buy either. The average wedding dress in the US costs an average of $1,630 according to studies and can reach a price of up to $8,000 easily. However, women can save here too: the “white wedding dress” does not have to be a wedding dress, or even a dress, nor does it have to be white.
You get to make your own traditions so don’t stress over it. Do you really need a couple of Best Men or a pair of Maids of Honor? Groomsmen? Bridesmaids? Please! Let your family and friends just attend and don’t give them the pressure, stress, and sometimes additional expenses associated with those roles. Your Besties can/may just give you a heart-felt toast on your special day.
And don’t get caught up in gender-role traditions. Do not worry about who’s going to be the one walking down the aisle or who is going to be waiting. You both can walk down the aisle or it will be just as lovely if you’re both already standing at the alter. The sooner we can get to the champagne the better.
Cut Out Costly Extras
There are many costly extras for weddings that can eat into your budget. You should be aware that guests are not really interested in these “extras” as much as you may think.
The average cost of printed wedding invitations start at about $450, and the price climbs when you add Save the Date Cards, RSVP Cards, mailing stamps (to and fro), and the more guests you have, the more it’ll cost. The price climbs even higher if you want embossing, raised lettering, velum sheets, bows, bells and all the whistles. Some planners tell me that their clients have spent up to $1,200 dollars on invitations; not to mention the time spent on choosing the right paper, the perfect font, the best format, beautiful colors, and everything else too. I’m hesitant to admit that although many invitations I have received were very beautiful, it ended up in the trash after a couple of days and I know that’s what others do too.
Destination wedding invitations should be sent 9 to 12 months before the date so that intended guests have enough time to plan. Since these types of weddings are usually smaller, I suggest that you make a beautiful printed-from-home invitation that includes a social media link to your wedding page or closed group on social media. On the invitation, have instructions on how they can access your wedding page and grant them more information there. On the webpage is where you can place all pertinent information. RSVPs, travel information, group hotel rates, maps, things to do, and airport information. Another helpful detail to include is the ceremony’s specific location (beach, lawn, pool, hall, etc.) so guests know how to properly dress for the occasion.
Update guests via this webpage as well. With the money you’ll save by not purchasing expensive traditional invitations, you can purchase nice welcome gifts for your guests. One of the best welcome gifts I’ve received was a small canvas beach bag. Inside I found a large bottle of water, a big tube of sunscreen, great sunglasses, a package of trail mix, and a bright pink beach towel rolled up and held together with raffia. Attached to the raffia was a lovely note. It was so cute, and when I went down to the beach I saw the same bright pink towels everywhere. I thought that was so clever! What an easy way to spot other wedding guests before the big day. I introduced myself and met many hunks on the beach, all thanks to my bright pink towel.
Program pamphlets and guest books are huge wastes of money. I’ve seen programs pamphlets blowing onto the beautiful sands of oceanfront ceremonies at almost every destination wedding I’ve attended or witnessed from my balcony. Your guests leave them on the chairs or fold them in a pockets or purses to later discard them in the trash. Your guests are smart enough to catch on to the festivities without reading what comes next, so save the expense. The same goes for your guest book. I’ve seen people line up for guest books because either a bridesmaid or maid of honor insisted on making guest sign it. But you know what eventually happens? People get tired of waiting in line and they head for the bar instead. So save some money and ditch the guest book.
As far as wedding favors go, no one is really going to keep them, except maybe your parents and new in-laws. Everyone else is just going to toss it so save yourself the expense of having these made. If you must have a wedding favor at your destination wedding, let it be small for easy packing. One of the wedding favors I have kept was a small message in a bottle filled with local sand, a couple of tiny shells and a little sheet of velum with my name on it and the number 2 (it also doubled as my place card). The two brides later told me that one of their sisters brought the tiny bottles (20 total that came with cork stoppers), a package of tiny shells, a pre-printed page with all the guests names, onto the plane with her. Once she arrived on the property, she collected sand from the very beach where the celebration was to be held. She put them together and had them ready for the seating chart. I was so enamored with the cute bottles that the sister told me she paid about $15 for the materials—and the sand was free!
Invest in Food & Drink
Guests really just want to see the happy grooms or brides in wedded bliss, so be sure to keep your ceremony short—around 30 minutes is perfect. I once attended a destination wedding that lasted over 2 hours. No one was comfortable or happy, and half the guests were asleep underneath the Caribbean sun. Invest your time in keeping the ceremony short and the good vibes will continue to roll.
The food and drinks are where you should really invest your money. Know your guests. If they are wine drinkers, have a couple of bottles of reds and a couple of whites on ice at each table. Have sparkling water for those guests who do not drink alcohol. That’s a great way to save on bar costs as great-tasting bottles of wines need not be so expensive. Now, if you have guests who prefer cocktails, a cocktail bar with 2 to 3 signature drinks named after the happy couple and destination is always fun. Just be sure to offer rum, vodka and/or tequila varieties differentiating the cocktails. That’ll be way less expensive than paying for a completely open bar.
An incredible meal is what’s really memorable about a wedding. Guests will forgive almost anything if the food is wonderful. Be sure to have great tasting vegetarian and vegan selections, and to offer options for those with common allergies, like gluten and nuts. Ask on your webpage who has any dietary restrictions and relay that message to your property wedding planner, or directly to the Chef. Just be sure to tell them to make those meals just as spectacular as the rest. I once saw a friend, who is vegetarian, get served a bowl of broccoli as her meal. She was stunned. I silently scooped up her plate and headed to the kitchen. I explained to the Sous Chef what had happened and he apologized (one of the prep cooks sent the broccoli out and even the Sous Chef couldn’t believe it). He said that he would take care of it. About 15 minutes later, the very same Sous Chef came to the table with a beautiful plate. My friend was excited to see a large grilled Portobello mushroom cap, roasted beet slices, a fresh avocado with delicately sautéed rapini (broccoli rabe) on top of a citrus-scented quinoa. It looked so amazing I said to myself: where’s my vegetarian plate!?