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#4 The Nitty Gritty… Spreadsheets, Dates & Venues

Post number four in our adventures with the engaged couple, Elizabeth and Thomas…

Upon my return from Winter Vacation I got right down to the business of crunching numbers and researching venues. I couldn’t think any more about dresses, décor, flowers or food until I had a date and a venue secured. After all, how could I plan any of the other details until I knew the setting and time of year for our special day? And I couldn’t commit to a venue until I had a basic budget outlined. I knew my numbers could, and probably would change, but I also knew the worst thing I could do would be to use up too much of our money on a venue – resulting in not having enough for the décor that would turn that venue into our vision. So, I quickly realized just how important it was to really KNOW my budget.

When it came to my budget, I was very fortunate to have a generous gift given to me from my Mom as well as additional funds from my Dad and my Grandma. Thomas and I then figured out how much of our own money we would be comfortable spending and that gave us our grand total.  (Tip: Keep in mind that even the most thrifty and organized couples will go over their budget so it is typically recommended to build in a 10-15% buffer into your grand total.)  After figuring out what our number was we put together a good ole excel spreadsheet with every single wedding expense we could think of.  (Don’t freak out: Most wedding books and websites will have plenty of budget templates to steal from.) While traditionally the Bride’s family is responsible for the wedding/reception and the Groom’s family covers the rehearsal dinner, I have found that in this day in age, there are no rules anymore.  My suggestion to anyone, who is engaged and hasn’t figured out these monetary specifics, is to have a conversation individually with your parents.  Go into it honestly and without any expectations and your chances for a productive conversation are pretty good.

After all the “fun” with numbers and spreadsheets it was time for some site visits. Looking at venues, to me, was the same as trying on a dress – I didn’t want to look at something (and risk falling in love with it) that I couldn’t afford. As a general rule of thumb, you should designate about half of your budget to your venue site and catering. Translation: Avoid booking a venue that is going to cost $20,000 in rental fees and catering if your budget is $30,000.  (Unless of course you have some magical way of getting a dress, photographer, videographer, floral, décor, music and rentals for $10K – in which case I ask that you please contact me immediately!)

I must admit choosing a date and venue proved to be a difficult task.  The excitement of the wedding was overwhelming for me (if you haven’t already noticed), and I am that person who has been waiting for my wedding day since I was about 7 years old! So the idea of waiting until 2015 (and being 31) before I was married, started to mess with my head a little bit. Luckily I have an amazing sister (and MOH) to bring me back down to earth and remind me that after waiting all this time, did I really want to rush this experience? Knowing that a Fall 2014 Wedding would mean a stressful 9-10 months of high intensity planning, we settled on June of 2015. Lesson learned? Figure out what is important to you when it comes to selecting a date. Are you willing to sacrifice venue availability, relatives being able to attend or the enjoyment of the planning process in exchange for the “perfect date”?

Choosing a location also became difficult. I had always envisioned myself getting married in my hometown, which just so happens to be considerably cheaper to host a wedding in, as it’s a smaller town. However, all of our memories as a couple are here in Boston.  And isn’t this OUR wedding, not just mine? (An idea I am reminded of constantly during this process!) As it turns out there are very few estates/mansions that host weddings in my hometown – a vision neither Thomas nor I could let go of regardless of cost – and so in the end the decision was made for us – Boston it was.

When looking at potential locations, it should go without saying that whether it be a country club wedding, an estate wedding or a hotel wedding, your venue should represent you and your groom as a couple.  Another very important aspect is flow. When visiting venues I focused on envisioning my event start to finish.  How would people arrive and where would they go once they arrived?  What about after the ceremony – Where would cocktail hour be? When looking at estates, did I want to have dinner in one room, dancing in another, and the bar in the third room, or did I want the whole celebration to take place under a tent? My advice to other brides/grooms is to take a moment envisioning the big day and figure out what aspects are most important to you.  For Thomas and I, we were adamant about having a big party where everyone could enjoy the reception in the same space.

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Although winter when we visited,
I did my best visualizing the Bradley in June!

The Bradley Estate captured our hearts the moment we arrived. Formerly known as Cherry Hill Farm, a colonial farmstead, it was transformed into a classic country estate in 1902. The beautiful red brick Gregorian-style mansion felt like it had literally been built from the vision I had in my head for our wedding. The interior successfully achieves an elegant, antique feel without coming across as “old” or “run down”.   The brick edged parterre gardens behind the house were a perfect setting for our ceremony and the terrace off of the side of the house would allow for a classy cocktail hour. The reception could then be held on the lawn, under a tent, on a warm summer night. With the estate falling within our price range and having our date available – we were sold!  One thing down… about 5 million more to go!

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Follow this link to learn more about the Bradley Estate.

On a side note: Elizabeth makes a lot of good points to you newly-engaged couples out there.  Being up front and honest about your budget will help the planning run more smoothly.  It is rare to have an “unlimited” budget and with today’s family structure, it’s no longer the bride’s family paying the entire way.  It’s also good to plan for that small amount of overage.  Don’t budget it in necessarily, just be aware that estimates don’t always include taxes, admin fees and all of those other small charges that add up. Come back in June to see their next post when Elizabeth realizes that she is only one year away from getting married!