Tag Archives: catering

Affording catering for small budget weddings: It’s a problem

Food is a problem for low budget weddings.

Let’s say you have $2500 to spend on your wedding. Let’s say you have 75 guests – not a modest amount, not a crowd. The first thing is, with this many people, your wedding will take quite a few hours. In order to host 75 people without snubbing any of them, you’re probably looking at at least 8 hours of wedding. And because there is no 8 hour stretch of wakefulness that doesn’t involve at least one meal, you’re going to have to give them, at a minimum, one meal’s worth of food. And because this is a celebration, odds are very high that you want to give them some booze too.

So there is no getting out of doing a lot of food, unless you have a really low number of guests. If you had say 35 guests or less, you could get away with just having them for a few hours, and if that’s not during a meal time, you can all just eat some cake and call it done.

But back to the 75 scenario, because I think it’s a good benchmark of wedding averageness. If you put $2500 into my favourite toy, the wedding budget calculator, and uncheck a bunch of stuff, because this is a budget wedding, and we don’t have room for a day-of coordinator, the result is a suggested breakdown that goes like this:

Celebrant: 52
Flowers: 330
Other decoration: 108
Drinks: 289
Food: 722
Bride’s dress: 309
Attendants gifts: 62
Groom’s outfit: 52
Photography: 505
Invitations: 72

This is assuming you somehow have a free venue to host 75 people (you probably don’t), you forgo cake or use it as the dessert for your meal, you don’t buy special shoes, etc etc. There is $722 for food here, and $289 for drinks. That’s $9.63 and $3.85 per person, for food and drinks and respectively. I don’t even need to write a punchline here.

Or let’s say you have 75 guests and $2500, and the couple wears clothes they already own, and they DIY decorations for free, and they email their invitations, and don’t have a photographer, and they get rid of all expenses except food and drink. $2500/75 = $33.33 per person, for a meal and drinks. Which maybe is just enough, if you self-cater, and are very shrewd about your drink offerings.

But this is a wedding. You want to make it meaningful, by having some of the common trappings of weddings, which is going to cost you at least a little bit of money.

The $2500 figure is based on being half of what the median income wedding-haver can afford by saving 10% of their post-tax income for a year. But it’s just not all that possible to have an average size wedding on that amount. Some variable is going to have to give.

Have a smaller wedding? People shouldn’t have to miss out on celebrating with a reasonable number of guests just because they have a small budget.
Save a greater portion of your income? But if your income is low, that’s hard to do.
Have a longer engagement, so you can save for a longer time? Maybe. But 12 months is already a long time to be saving for a consumable.

Maybe this post is just about grumbling a little about the cost of living in NZ. If we had higher wages or cheaper food, this wouldn’t be an issue!

The only solutions I can think of are: 1) Parents help fund the wedding, or 2) Make the wedding a bring-and-share event where guests each contribute ‘a plate of eats’, as they always used to be called in my childhood (do people still say that? A plate of eats? Sounds so old fashioned now).

I’m sure Miss Manners would be aghast at the idea of asking guests to contribute to the wedding like this. I mean, she’s already made herself very clear on the issue of cash bars. And I see her point: getting a wedding invitation would be more like a demand than getting invited to something. You can’t demand gifts. The only way a community chipping in could work, as far as I can see, is if the guests spontaneously self-organise a kind of surprise wedding reception. (And yet, we do see potluck weddings on blogs fairly often. How did these couples break that to the guests?)

So we’re left with parents contributing. I’m becoming more and more ok with that idea.

Here’s my wedding budget

So after all my budget theory preaching, you’re probably thinking it’s about time I revealed my actual wedding budget.   I’ll do you one better: the line by line breakdown! Aren’t you excited? Doesn’t the prospect of looking at other people’s budgets get you all amped up? No? You don’t find it fun to obsess over numbers?

Jeez. Tough crowd.

I live in Singapore, so my mind thinks in Singapore dollars. Our wedding budget is (*fanfare*) SG$5000.

You probably don’t think in Singapore dollars, so you’re wondering how much money that really is. I’d go ahead and covert the currencies for you, but you know, cost of living stuff in a given area is always relative to incomes in the given area, and if you translated the cost of houses in South Africa into your local currency you’d be all, “I could have a mansion”. Plus, in Thailand you could have an amazing and massive meal for a dollar.

So refrain from using direct currency exchange as a converter, and use the Big Mac Index instead, which isn’t perfect, but at least does try to reflect the actual cost of living. I’ll tell you how many Big Macs I could buy in Singapore with that money, and then you work out how much of your local currency it would take to buy that many Big Mac’s where you live.

One Big Mac round here costs $4.85, So, my wedding budget is 1031 of them.

Ok, alright, fine, I’ll do the work for you. Here is my wedding budget translated into the currencies of various places using the Big Mac converter:

USA: $4.20 x 1031 =  US$4330

Canada: $4.73 x 1031 = CA$4877

New Zealand: $5.10 x 1031 = NZ$5258

Australia: $4.80 x 1031 = AU$4949

South Africa: R19.95 x 1031 = R20568
(see what I’m saying? One US Big Mac would buy you 4.75 South African ones, but the actual exchange rate between US dollars and South African rand is  like 7.8)

Attention England and Spain: Sorry, I couldn’t find the prices you guys have. I really wanted to know how my budget figures in pounds and euros. Maybe you could let me know your local Big Mac price?

Who else is craving a burger all of a sudden?

Ok, now for the line by line break down. I put this together, predictably, using that wedding budget calculator thing you are sick of me talking about. Then I started checking off all the things I know I don’t want to include, which was a substantial number of things (Get lost, Unity Candle!),  and filled in the fixed estimates I do already have.

Actually that last bit was interesting because it drastically changed the picture. The calculator wanted me to spend $1207 on food and $483 on booze. I’m having almost 50 people, so that’s like 10 bucks per person on drinks, which is totally laughable in all scenarios, except maybe if you home brew something, and then it gets downgraded to only pretty laughable. The amount for food is probably somewhat achievable if you’re self-catering too, but is almost half of the price I managed to get for catering.

I just want to quickly say two things here, and then I’ll move on.
1. I have a hunch that booze is much cheaper in parts of the world that aren’t Australia, NZ, and Singapore. How many Big Macs does a beer cost you, USAians?
2.  Nevertheless, these numbers and their apparent break from reality is evidence of the desperate need for a wedding paradigm shift, as I discussed in the podcast. What’s interesting is that this same iteration of the budget also allocated $733 all up for ceremony and reception decor and flowers, which seems excessive. If we’re going to afford our weddings, the paradigm shift is going to have to include a Step Away From the Pricey Decor clause. It’s a major component of wedding spending, and it needs to stop being standard and expected.

Based on the actual prices for food and drinks my venue gave me, I adjusted the catering to $1905, and $1000 for booze. I also already know that transport (ferry to the island) is going to cost about double what the calculator indicated, and I’m going to put our three nights’ stay at the resort down as the ‘facility rental’, and that’s going to be about 550 bucks.

I’m also allowing myself to cheat by not including it in the wedding budget if it’s something I’m going to use again (stay tuned for much more discussion about this in a future post).

So here, finally, is the result:

FrugallyWed’s Goal Wedding Budget

Facility rental                        550
Flowers and decorations  388
Drinks                                    1000
Food                                        1905
Bride’s wedding outfit        297
Attendants’ gifts                      55
Groom’s outfit                         46
Groomsmen outfits             119
Transport                                130
Photography                         447
Invitations                                64

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Everything else we’re either not having, or it’s already included in the catering price (fire torches), or it’s something we’ll use again and thus I’m filing it under general life expense and not wedding expense. The main wiggle room comes from the flower and decor allocation – I plan to spend more than $55 on attendants’ gifts.

There you have it folks. Was that, or was that not, a whirlwind of excitement? Whew. Come, let me take you all out for burgers now.

Podcast: Me talking wedding budgets with Rogue Bride and Hindsight Bride

I’m not saying this is exactly what went down, but when I remember recording this podcast with Rogue Bride and Christie from Hindsight Bride, these are the words I recall being said:

Christie: Lindsay writes an angry, righteous blog…
Me: What? No, I’m a nice person, I swear!

Me: Wedding budget calculator. Income. Wedding budget calculator. Percentage. Calculator.
Them: You’re a massive nerd.

Them: Wait, is it REE-dill, or rye-DELL?
Me: What the hell are you guys talking about.

All of us: Sha-vari chairs? Key-uh-vari? What is that anyway, frikkin Italian or something?

Christie: Rainbows and sausages.

Rogue: I’m going to punch myself in the face.

Them:*giving me compliments*
Me: You guys are the nicest people ever!
Them: What? No, we’re badass, we swear!

Shorter version:
Them: It’s nice that you’re badass.
Me: It’s badass that you’re nice.
(Thank you Robyn Sherbotsky and Ted Mosby.)

According to Rogue and Christie, my South African – Kiwi mongrel of an accent sounds sexy to the American ear. I’m not sure I believe them. Certainly I don’t think either saffas or kiwis enjoy my deviations from their norms much. So it’s possible they were just being super nice to me again. They’re tricksy like that. They keep saying nice things to you and offering to do nice things for you, and then also doing them, and then the next thing you know, you really really like them and start to feel like doing nice things back. It’s how they suck you in. They’re selfish like that.

You can listen to the podcast and assess my accent for yourself here.