I’m a Wedding Planner. Here’s How I Actually Budgeted and Paid for My Wedding.

I definitely had a last-minute splurge, and I definitely had a last-minute freak-out.

green bridesmaid dresses

Photograph by AGP Collective

Welcome to Real Talk Week at Philadelphia Wedding, where the pros behind the city’s most stylish weddings dish on how they handled getting hitched themselves. Up today: Caitlin Maloney Kuchemba, owner and principal planner of Clover Event Co., on how she budgeted and paid for her own wedding when she spends her professional life budgeting for other people’s weddings.  

The most important thing to understand … is that a budget needs to be a range. It’s hard to hit an exact number, because things fluctuate, so I always recommend adding five to 10 percent, or $5,000 to $10,000. It sounds crazy, but that’s where gratuities, sales tax, paper goods, welcome bags, bridesmaid gifts and all those small things come into play. Most people’s first budget is just vendors. They don’t include everything else.

Cutting $100 here and there … can save money in the end if it’s a lot of pieces, but I would rather look at cutting something bigger to save. I’d rather spend $200 on menus and cut more expensive plates, because that’s a much bigger cost savings, and paper goods often have a bigger impact.

I approached my own budget … similarly to how I think about it with clients. I had an idea of how much I wanted to spend but was very realistic that it was going to change throughout the process. I picked a few things that were musts: We had our wedding at a “glampground,” so I was basically creating an entire venue out of nothing. I knew spending more money on rentals was essential. Getting a nicer tent, having farm tables and bamboo chairs, benches for the ceremony—those were things I had to have. But there were other places where I tried to be aware of costs.

For example: I’m a huge fan of vintage lounges and even sourced one out, but I also knew there was already outdoor furniture at my venue. We didn’t need the extra seating, so instead I bought a bunch of pillows and blankets to make what was already there my own. It was a way to have the same aesthetic but save almost $2,000.

I talked with my parents … in the beginning about what they were willing to spend. This included how many guests would be coming from their side. They were comfortable covering the cost of the food, the venue, and things that were relevant to the experience for those family and friends, but I knew my dad would not understand buying pillows for a lounge, paper goods, signage or things like that. So I took those budget points on, and that way, I didn’t have to come back to him with every decision.

I definitely had a last-minute splurge. Sometimes you just have to do it. I got a random cold call from haiku writers out of New York City a month or two before the wedding. It was totally serendipitous—my husband proposed with a haiku, and we write each other haikus. I had absolutely not budgeted for it, but we absolutely had to have them, and it absolutely made the wedding. So many people said it was the most interesting thing they’d seen.

And I definitely had a last-minute freak-out. I think everybody does. Our caterer was lovely, but we added some things and adjusted some things on the menu, and the final bill came back much higher than expected just a few weeks before the wedding. It happens, but you have to sit back. I talked with my husband and family. We had to say: Why is this higher? Is more staff going to make the day smoother because they’re going to set up and clear everything? Then this is what’s needed to make that happen.

Smaller items … can cause anxiety, too. You could track every last one of them, but you might drive yourself crazy. Did I count those pillows in my budget? Not really, because they’re now sitting on my living room couch, and we use them every day. If you look at some of those purchases as things you’re just going to buy throughout the year, it evens out.

My insider trick … was the music. I was really struggling with what made sense for our setting. A DJ didn’t feel right, but neither did a huge band. But there was a group called Stella Ruze that we’d seen play at a bunch of Manayunk events. They had a great sound, and they played a lot of covers, so I approached them. They’d never done a wedding, so I said, Well, would you want to? I’ll take a chance on you, and you take a chance on me. I’ll train you and give you everything you need, you give me a little bit of a deal, and I’ll help you get into the wedding industry. I worked with them on equipment, event flow, announcements and crowd control. They absolutely killed it, but they couldn’t have done it if I didn’t know the industry.

We ended with … a casual brunch on Sunday. I see a lot of clients do big hotel brunches the next morning. While it’s a lovely amenity, the cost can be several thousand dollars, and it’s not super-memorable. We bought pastries from a local bakery and set them out with fruit. Everyone came when they wanted, and we saved a lot.

As told to Sarah Zlotnick. 

This story was originally published as “Splurges, Saves & Freak-Outs: My Budget Saw It All” in the Winter/Spring 2019 issue of Philadelphia Wedding. To order your copy, click here

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