You are worth it, aren't you?
This is a little long but informative.
Everything has its value and price in a wedding budget and while almost all of your buying decisions are emotionally influenced, you can still come out ahead, and happy, by spending your budget in the right places (another hint at wedding photography).
Some of the necessary expenditures for a wedding are: a wedding dress, flowers, a place for the ceremony and the reception, food and drinks, transportation, photography (maybe videography) and entertainment. Those are the basics.
As you budget for each, think of the real value of each: how much of an impact will that expenditure have on the overall success of your wedding day, the entertainment of your guests and what you'll take away with you when the day is done.
I'll jump right in here and give you examples of wasteful and wise spending.
Transportation: I just shot a wedding where the bride hired a 30 foot limo to take her bridal party a total of 20 miles. Ask yourself - is paying $1,500 for four hours of a limo you spend 40 minutes in really worth it? Who hasn't seen a limo? Who's being impressed here? And, who even sees the limo - probably not your guests, they're in the cocktail hour - or who sees you in it? There are more cost effective means of transportation available - perhaps a smaller limo at half or a third of the price for just you and your new husband. Intimate, private, romantic, just the two of you. Partying in the limo? You know there will be plenty partying at the reception, don't need a limo for that! The latest craze? Hire a school bus! Yes, school bus companies are jumping on this, renting out their air conditioned, clean and shiny big yellow buses at very reasonable cost. And Bam!, you just saved maybe $1,000!
The ceremony: I've said this before - nothing and I mean nothing beats having your ceremony and reception both at the same location. Less stress, less expense and more fun. If you must have a church wedding, and understandably many brides do, does it have to be at the "Cathedral"? At $3,000 a pop? For 45 minutes? Insane! Many churches and I'm sure other places of worship, can be found that are much more reasonable. They may not be as awe inspiring as a location costing $3,000 to $5,000 (yes, really) but, once you begin walking up the aisle, you won't care. All you'll be focused on is saying your vows. And if you do want a certain architectural style to the church or synagogue, you might be happily surprised to find a mid-century American (like 1960's), a stone Gothic or even a little ol' pretty white church that is just what fits the style of your wedding day and the kind of bride you are. A nearby town might just have a gem waiting for you to find. I've seen 'em so I know they're out there and at a reasonable cost . Saving yet more budget money and getting something unique. That's what you want.
The reception: Tons have been written on how to save money on the menu and drinks so I won't go into detail, but the same holds true: to keep costs in line choose wisely and don't make food and beverage decisions based on emotion. For example: Your friends are heavy party people, and you want the bar to be well stocked. The wise choice is mid shelf alcohol and wine, plus two beer choices. And many caterers allow you to bring in your own booze, purchased on a buy back option from a liquor store that will take back all the unopened booze and give you cash in hand. That simply can't be beat. And remember, once your guests are "lit" it all tastes the same. Food? Well personally, I love buffet style and if you have guests with "an appetite" getting second or third helpings is never a problem. You'll save cash on the buffet vs. served plate option usually.
Center pieces and favors: I'll be blunt here; forget favors. You'll spend hours before your wedding creating and making these things that usually get left behind - unless it's something truly valuable like an engraved Rolex watch for each guest. But I usually see at least 50% or more of the favors still sitting on the table when I leave after all the guest have. It's a nice thought, but again, save your cash. Want to personalize? Get napkins with your names and the wedding date printed on them. Photo frames with table numbers and cute pictures of the couple taken at different locations they visited are OK and not too costly, but are time consuming to put together and get just a passing glance. Same goes for center pieces unless your a world renown gardener showing off your exotic orchids and flowers.
Most of your guest will be happiest with good food selections, a moderate bar - unless you invite dozens of alcoholics - a tasty cake and a good DJ.
The DJ: Here's a vendor you want to choose very carefully. Most important! Do Not hire a friend of a friend who does DJ-ing at a local bar or home parties. Disaster in many forms comes with this decision. DO spend some of the money you saved on the other, less visible, things like a limo, on a good, experienced DJ from an established company. And make sure you have the right chemistry with the DJ. Insist on two reference from recent clients and get their opinion of the DJ. Insist on a DJ with at least 5 to 10 years experience and top line equipment. Don't allow the company to shove one off on you saying "you'll love him and he's the only one available for your date." Your reply is "No, we'll call you back if we're still interested" Do you want a DJ who is heavy into hip-hop mixing while you like country music? Hell No!
As with photography, you get what you pay for here. A good DJ is more than a music mixer; he or she will also be a master of ceremonies who can keep the party moving, get your guests dancing and keep them on the floor, interact with your guests to keep them involved and play a variety of music - not just hip hop - to get the over-50 generation on the dance floor. Hey, they want to dance to! Never, ever scrimp on a DJ! I've seen the results of going cheap-o with a friend of a friend and it's just sad. Spend a little more here, you'll be glad you did.
Photography! Finally! The wedding day is done. The food is gone, the booze, all the guests have left and the limo? Probably just a memory now. So what do you come away with? Well, your new husband, your dress and...all those photos the wedding photographer shot that day. That's it! Those photos are the best record of the happiest day of your life (so far). How important are they? If you live a long and happy life, someday you'll be showing them to your children and grandchildren. They'll look at them and say "You look so beautiful in your dress mom" (or mom-mom) "Look at daddy (or pop-pop) making a funny face at you!, He kissed you on the nose!"
Would you really want to trust a cheap photographer to capture those once in a lifetime moments? I don't think so. With wedding photography, you get what you pay for. Invest in yourself, and invest in getting not just photos, but memories that will last a lifetime, that you can share with those most important to you. Spend the money you saved on non-essentials and get the best photographer you can. Will it cost a few thousand dollars? Probably, but aren't you worth it? Of course you are.