Wedding behind-the-scenes, costs, and thoughts

Ever since we started planning our wedding, I was looking at various cost breakdowns (such as this awesome post, and things like this and this) and trying to figure out how much we would end up spending… even as our budget kept increasing. I wanted to do a cost breakdown, both because numbers are fun, but also so people planning weddings might have some idea of what something like our celebration costs (at least in Pittsburgh). (Err on the side of sharing data, I guess it is.)

Again, our wedding was non-standard, and did not have a dance floor (and therefore no DJ), nor rings. We used an iPad hooked up to a Bluetooth speaker for the ceremony music, and built an ITG machine and bought board games for the reception. We also (painstakingly) assembled our own save the dates, invitations, and centerpieces.
These numbers also do not include the rehearsal dinner, which was paid for by parents (and which I don’t know the numbers for).

Total guests: 122
198 invited, 127 “attending” responses, 4 cancellations, 122 actually attended. Numbers below account for 123 guests + us + 2 photographers.
Saturday night at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland, Pittsburgh, PA.
6 wedding party members (3 male, 3 female), 4 parents.
Total cost: $23,338.15

  • Officiant (inc. tax): $500
  • Photography (inc. tax): $2850.70
  • Food and Drink: $12,440.24
    • Gluten-free cupcakes: $16.15
    • Wedding cake: $44.97
      • Costco cakes and cookies.
    • Rehearsal dinner depost: $50
      • The rehearsal dinner itself was paid for by parents, but was probably around $600 after tax and gratuity. Food was around $18/person without tax and tip, and we had an open bar.
    • Hors d’oeuvres: $875
      • Veggie tray, cheese tray, baked brie, spinach dip, and fruit “tree”; we had the first three at cocktail hour and the latter two a bit into the evening while gaming and bowling were happening.
    • Buffet: $4826 ($38/person)
    • Bar service: $3813 ($31/person)
    • Soda service: $40 ($10/person)
    • Tax: $668.78
    • Gratuity: $2106.34
  • Venue: $4500
    • Ceremony room: $1500
    • Reception room: $1500
    • Bowling: $1200
      • Three hours at $400/hour.
    • Cake cutting: $100
    • Bar setup: $200
  • Paper and Craft Supplies: $312.84
    • Stamps: $118.41
      • Covers the save the dates, invitations, and thank you cards, with extras.
    • Save the dates: $46.64
      • Designed them ourselves. Cost was for 2-sided color printing at Kinko’s.
    • Paper cutter and invitation supplies: $114.12
      • Heavy paper, vellum paper, ribbon, parchment-y paper, and calligraphy ink.
      • We had a bunch of parchment-y paper left over from the invitations that we used for the programmes and escort cards, so those costs are in here.
    • Centerpiece supplies: $33.67
      • Paint, brushes, cardboard boxes, glue, and some more heavy paper.
      • We had CMU print quota to work with, so the printing was free.
  • Wedding Party Clothing: $750.16
    • Shirts, ties, vests, and pants: $268.39
      • We bought outfits for all the groomsmen. Apparently this isn’t standard? But we felt weird asking people for their time AND to spend money on an outfit.
    • Dresses: $383.85
      • We similarly bought the dresses for all the bridesmaids.
    • Shoes: $97.92
      • Just for us; the rest of the party provided their own shoes.
  • Board Games: $200.22
    • We had an extensive board game library already, so we just augmented it with a few things, hence the low cost here.
  • ITG Pads: $650
  • Wedding Favors: $231.31
    • Playing Cards: $70.12
      • 40 decks custom printed with 4 different designs.
    • Thank You Cards: $13
    • Pencils: $13.86
    • Notepads: $134.33
      • 144 custom-printed color notepads with 25 sheets each.
  • Other: $902.68
    • Marriage License: $80
    • Website domain + hosting: $63.14
      • Not actually this much, but we needed more funds in our Nearly Free Speech account anyway, so we just threw in another $50, and it’s hard to figure out exactly how much goes to each website.
    • Flowers: $50.26
      • Just a few things for the bridesmaids to hold and for the escort card table.
    • Bluetooth Speaker: $118.47
    • Photo frames, glass beads: $7.56
    • Video camera: $299.59
    • Hotel: $214.43
      • We assumed we’d be getting out after midnight and wouldn’t want to make it all the way home, so we got a room at the hotel next to the venue. Ended up being more than worth it.
    • Photo guestbooks: $69.23
      • Would have been less, but we printed two, one at Costco and one at Shutterfly, and used the one we liked better. (Which was the Shutterfly, both because we had an extra page to work with to include wedding info, and also because it opened much flatter than the Costco book, for signing.)

Also a few random thoughts about wedding things in general, and a few fun stories from our experience. (And photos, because this post has become a wall of text.)
A gallery with more photos is here.

  1. Don’t expect to have time to do anything at your wedding, unless your wedding is small or you are good at forcibly exiting conversations and groups of people. I gave someone the job of bringing me drinks throughout the evening, and that was the only reason I actually got any drinks.
    In retrospect, I would have given someone the job of bringing us cake and cookies, and forcing us to play a round of Nertz or a quick board game. We spent basically the entire evening in conversation with people. Which was awesome in its own way, but it would have been nice to also get a slice of cake or fit in a board game.

  2. Divide and conquer if you have a large guest list. There’s no possible way we would have had time to talk to everyone during the evening. Instead, we split up (kind of unintentionally, but I think it worked out better) to cover our respective groups of family and friends. Hopefully we got better coverage that way, and didn’t neglect as many people as we would have otherwise.

  3. Things will take longer than you expect. This is true both in prep work and in the wedding itself.
    We went to campus to print photos for the centerpiece, expecting it to take a few hours. It ended up taking something like 6. We assembled each centerpiece as two separate two-page files in InDesign, and exported them as PDFs of each spread. But that wouldn’t print well, so we re-exported each page to get 4 PDFs per centerpiece, then placed those PDFs in a standard 8.5×11″ InDesign document to print. Then we switched buildings to print (as the Windows computers in CFA were too slow, and the Mac cluster was in use, so we were using Cyert). But the CFA printer was having issues and printed with lines.
    So it was off to Hunt and its color printer, except we wanted to print 11×17″ documents there, and they wouldn’t print properly unless they were a PDF. So we imported the 8.5×11″ PDFs into new InDesign documents, PDF’d those, and printed them. So we printed PDFs consisting of two PDFs, each consisting of two PDFs, which were exported from InDesign documents containing 4 photos. Whee.

    We originally intended to just drop stuff off and spend a little time setting things up Friday evening. We arrived at 4 expecting to have plenty of time before the 6 PM rehearsal. We ended up at around 5:50 with plenty of things left to do. (Thankfully we finished the next morning without too many issues.)

    As far as the actual wedding itself, we allocated an hour for the rehearsal. Yeah, not enough. We needed more time to work out timing of music than we expected, and were late to the rehearsal dinner reservation (I had to call and push it back).

    Then, during the actual day, we took longer to eat than we expected, and therefore had less than two minutes per table to go around and get the table photos we wanted to get. Which meant we were super rushed to get through all 17 tables, never mind having time to actually talk to people like we’d originally intended.

    Tying my tie, as covered in the last post, also took much longer than expected. Ties are hard.

  4. Have a rehearsal! I don’t know why some people say you can skip it, or things will work themselves out. Ours was invaluable, and having gone through things a couple of times really helped the day of when we were doing things a little more on autopilot. It also really helps to see things in the actual space you’ll be using, since we made a ton of little tweaks, and were able to figure out how everyone would be standing and facing during the ceremony.
    Actually one of the last things we did as single people, after going to the bathroom, was to double-check our standing angles (agreed upon ~30 degrees outward) such that we were facing outward but still mostly facing each other.

  5. The people you work with are so incredibly important. I think I mentioned before how integral to our planning Mike at the PAA was. But things seriously would have been significantly worse, and more stressful, without him. He helped guide us through laying out the ceremony and reception halls, figuring out a timeline for the evening, and even helping time the procession at the rehearsal. He helped us work through issues with our self-provided sound equipment. He came and got us at the right times during the event for our entrances and exits. He worked with us in our very non-standard reception to get things set up at the right times.
    If the venue you use doesn’t have a point-of-contact that will be there with you during the event, you should hire a day-of planner. Mike played that role for us, and was so invaluable.

    Similarly, our officiant Marguerite was amazing. We had a very non-standard ceremony, and she adapted quickly and built us something beautiful. The lack of wedding rings, non-standard entrances, custom vows, and desire to sign the marriage license during the ceremony didn’t faze her. She got everything together and wrote some amazing text to go along with all of it. I think the ceremony was a huge success.

    Similarly, our photographers were so much fun to work with. My carrying around of a camera and documenting of things didn’t seem to (and hopefully didn’t?) cause too many issues. But more than that, so many people in the wedding party commented to us how friendly and easy to work with they were. I also kind of feel like we got two for the price of one — hired a lead photographer (Lori) plus assistant, and ended up with her and Fred, who is actually a main photographer and the owner of the company. The photos should be awesome.

  6. Take video! We were going to skip the video, until we went to Costco the morning of the wedding to pick up the cake, and decided we should buy a camera. That was the best $300 ever spent. We got a brother-in-law to help film the ceremony, speeches, and first dances, and it was worth every penny.
    I actually didn’t remember much of the ceremony itself… I was too distracted, and too intently waiting for my cues and trying not to screw anything up. Having a copy of the ceremony to watch afterward was very useful, and let me catch everything I’d missed during the event. The speeches were also amazing, and it was good to have a record of those.
    My only regret here is not taking the video camera around with me during the evening, instead of (or in addition to) my camera and recording more video. Photos are awesome, but there’s something to be said about actually being able to see *and* hear the things over and over again.

  7. Plan ahead for cake, or be specific with your instructions. We had a small sheet cake that we cut as our “wedding cake”, and a couple of larger cakes to augment that, with the expectation that the small cake would be cut up and served along with the larger cake. Apparently the venue treated the small cake as the “top layer” and saved it for us, giving it to us at the end of the night to take home. Only problem — we were going to the hotel and didn’t have a fridge.
    And that’s how we ended up at 1 AM on our wedding night eating chocolate cake in the bathroom using plastic cups.
    (Eventually we decided we could fill the sink with ice, put the cake on top, and cover it with a towel to preserve it… but we’d eaten almost half the cake by them.)
    On the plus side, it makes for an awesome post-wedding memory. :)

Edit: Numbers updated to include everything but the rehearsal dinner.