Top Wedding Planners Reveal: What’s Worth the Splurge and What to Cheap Out On

Top Wedding Planners Reveal: What’s Worth the Splurge and What to Cheap Out On
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Unless you’ve got your feet planted firmly in the one percent, chances are you’re going to have to use wedding-day splurges carefully—or risk going into a lifetime of debt.

MORE: Here’s What a $66 Wedding Dress Looks Like

Obviously, your priorities are going to be somewhat subjective (e.g., if you’re a die-hard foodie, the menu is going to be worth the extra money), but almost everyone says not to go nuts on your favors or your dress (of course, we’ve been saying this for years) and to invest quite a bit in something like the photographer (bad wedding pics: not okay).

We checked in with top wedding planners and experts around the country to find out exactly what they think is worth scrimping on and what’s worth splurging on.

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Annie Lee, wedding planner, Daughter of Design, New York and Los Angeles

SPLURGE: “I wouldn’t skimp on your photographer. That’s all you have when it’s said and done. There are a lot of things to look for when hiring a photographer—there’s romantic/soft-lens style, more photojournalistic/crisp style, and classic/traditional style. And remember, you’re picking their editing style, too. I also always look at what photographers do inside, in low light, since most wedding are in the evenings. Oh, and you don’t want diva personalities, either. Remember you’re going to spend the whole day with this person.”

SCRIMP: “I describe wedding programs as ‘fast trash.’ Unless there are a lot of culturally specific elements you think people won’t understand or there’s a memorial you want to do, you can skip them. I’m always picking them off the floor. You can skip favors, too, I think. Unless you’re doing something really cool, like, say giving away iPads, or you have a family business and want to give something away from that, it’s just not necessary. And I always say if you’re going to do them, they should be edible. We gave away Cronuts once and people went crazy. Also, I think you can skip expensive wedding albums. Everything’s digital now anyway.”

Bethany Pickard, wedding planner, Modern Kicks, Hudson Valley and New York City

SPLURGE:  “Catering is something people remember most, both for the food and the service. People are usually surprised when the food at a wedding is delicious, which shouldn’t be the case.”

SCRIMP: “Favors are not something you need to do. A lot of times people forget to take them. People don’t remember the favors anyway; they remember how happy you were, how delicious the food was, and how beautiful the wedding was.”

Rebecca Gardner, wedding planner, Savannah and New York

SPLURGE:  “Without a doubt, the bar. From budgets small to big I always put emphasis on the bar. Cheap white wine is like gasoline and makes people have bad breath. People want bourbon, tequila, or vodka. Give people what they want—something strong and something clear.”

SCRIMP: “Not every wedding has to have outrageous florals. Don’t just think roses, either. In the winter, narcissus can be beautiful, and ferns and herbs can be great for summer.  Even if you’re not constrained by a budget, terra cotta pots with asymmetrical herbs or perennials are more unique and creative.”

Amanda Len, director of special events at The Bowery Hotel in New York

SPLURGE: “Weddings can cost so much money for just five hours of your life! The one thing that is worth the splurge is hiring an amazing photographer who can capture the entire day. Photos last a lifetime, and having those memories to look back on are priceless”

SCRIMP: “Choosing the right venue can really add savings to your overall expenses. A venue that provides tables, chairs, linens, catering, glassware, ice, cleaning services, and staffing can really add a piece of mind to the planning process. A venue that offers a blank slate can be a great option for the right couple, but once you add in all of the things that you need to put on an event, it can really add up. I once helped execute a wedding for a friend in a raw event space, and we were responsible for providing everything, down to the trash bags.”

Melissa McNeeley, wedding planner, Events by Melissa McNeeley, New York, Hamptons, Los Angeles, Massachussets

SPLURGE: “Champagne (or a nice sparkling wine) sets a celebratory tone from the beginning, and it's kind of a bummer to not have it at a wedding. You don't have to get the most expensive one, there are nice cavas and proseccos out there if Champagne is beyond your budget. But taste it and make sure it's drinkable!”

SCRIMP:  “As a guest, I'd rather have better food or Champagne in exchange for a party favor that I'll probably throw out eventually. If you do want a favor, I love matches because people love them and it's a way to add more of your "branding." Also, for a save-the-date, you can send a postcard via an online source or use Paperless Post. I'd opt for putting more of that money toward actual invites. Also, I think many brides can scrimp on shoes. Many love the opportunity to splurge on a pair of Louboutins, but often they haven't worn them in first so they hurt, and you take them off, AND you can't see them with a long dress much, so I'd suggest buying a pair that is pretty and not too painful and splurge on a pair of Louboutins that you'll wear the rest of the year instead.”

Yifat Oren, wedding planner,  Yifat Oren & Associates, Los Angeles and New York

SPLURGE: “Most definitely music. Don’t get me wrong, I love food, but most people will never remember the food at your party, but they will most definitely remember having a great time. The right band/DJ will make or break your wedding.”

SCRIMP: “The invitations. At this point, there are really nice papers available and some beautiful templates; one can download and print some lovely invitations. You can also add on some nice touches, like twine wraps or a twig of lavender. The craft store is filled with inspiration.”

Maya Katz and Alison Schajer, wedding planners, Alimay Events, New York

SPLURGE: “Our number-one item to splurge on is the photographer. We always tell our clients, ‘Hopefully you only do this once, and all you will have left are the memories and the photos, so they may as well be good ones.’ We always recommend photographers who we know will take great formals and candid photos, as we feel it is really important to have both.”
SCRIMP: “Things like doughnut bars, candy bars, photo booths and late-night food trucks have become popular, but they’re all extras. Instead of doing something additional, we recommend coming up with creative ways to thank your guests. Maybe make homemade candles, send your guests home with wedding cake at the end of the night, or repurpose the flowers from cocktails or ceremony and make bouquets for guests to take home. There are so many ways to be creative without going overboard, and in the end, your guests will be thrilled they were invited with or without a departure gift.”

Kristin Banta, wedding planner, Kristin Banta Events, Los Angeles

SPLURGE: “Outside the obvious need for good food and good cocktails, I would be torn between splurging on lighting versus entertainment. Good bands are hard to find and they are not cheap, but they can completely change the face of the party in the best way by infusing energy, along with successfully covering a variety of genres. Lighting, on the other hand, is the single most important aesthetic contribution to both the vibe and the look of any interior or exterior space.… It’s the one thing that actually affects how people feel, how long they stay, and how much they dance. Next time you are at a bar at closing time, check out what happens when they turn the house lights up … and when considering where to put your decor dollars, think about where guests will spend the most time. I suggest spending the bulk on your reception, followed by the ceremony and, lastly, the cocktail hour.”

SCRIMP: “Don't feel obliged to bring in tons of flowers—it's all about thoughtful designing, and when done well, a little goes a long way. Don't have a cake unless you love cake. There are endless options for desserts you can serve, but if you are only having this for the photo op, rest assured that you will have plenty of others.”

Leah Weinberg, wedding planner, Color Pop Events, New York

SPLURGE: “The photographer is the one who creates the tangible memory of your day. You want someone who’s going to bring a second shooter and knows how to do editing. It’s about the whole package. As a starting point, look at their online portfolio and see how the photos look. And you want to make sure you get along with them, too.”

SCRIMP: “By not having bridesmaids and groomsmen, you save on bouquets and ancillary things like their hair and makeup and gifts. You can always have friends do readings, or have them identified without being a formal wedding party. They’ll probably thank you for it, since it gets really expensive for them, too. I also think you can save on the dress. There are a lot of places—J.Crew, for example—where you can get great dresses for under $1,000. You’re only going to wear it once, and as long as you love it and look and feel good in it, the designer name and price tag just don’t matter.”

Kellee Khalil, founder of Loverly

SPLURGE: “The photographer is something people often don’t splurge on, and they regret it. Using friends isn’t great. Those are memories you’ll have forever. And while they’re not all that expensive, I suggest you invest in handcrafted things from Etsy—those little Instagram moments that don’t cost much but reflect the couple. There’s everything from a Mr. and Mrs. sign on the back of the chairs to a cool cake topper. Little touches can have a big impact, and show the couple was thinking outside the box.”

SCRIMP:  “The dress is something you’re going to wear one time. You can have a lot of fun with it if you don’t pay too much; you can even do a wardrobe change, and maybe rent a second dress from Rent the Runway. I also think you can save a significant amount of money on the date. Avoid peak months like June and September and maybe forgo the Saturday-night wedding if you insist on getting married during one of the more popular months.”

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