Tag Archives: reception

$5500 Wedding budget: Photography (What to do when you have $850 or less for photos)

Enough already with the tales of my own wedding, let’s get back to general wedding theorising. I think it’s more fun. Onward with my favourite wedding topic: figuring out what a average wedding would be like if people only had weddings they could afford.

If your wedding budget is $5500, you have about $850 to spend on photography. But $5500 is just the estimate for the (New Zealand) median, which means half of all people would be working with less than that. If your wedding budget was $2500, you’d have about $380 to spend on photography.

A freaking joke, right? Check this out: the price quote for A Practical “fighting the system yet sponsored by Proctor and Gamble” Wedding’s* most recent photography advertorial. The starting rate given is $2950 for 8 hours of photography. Which translates to a total wedding budget of about 19k. Which to comfortably afford means an annual post-tax income of $190k. (APW is always looking out for the little guy!)

It all seems pretty hopeless, especially when you read blog after blog talking about how photography is the most important thing. Skimp on everything else, but for the love of cake, splurge on the photography! But I offer you salvation:

1. Stellar photos aren’t actually that important. Seriously, how often are you really going to look at these photos in the future? Daily at first, then once a year? After the first decade will you stop looking at them once a year? And will your affection for them really be dependent on the quality of the photos, or will it be dependent on the happiness of your memories from that day? Do you have any old, crappy quality pictures, from say your childhood, that you love and treasure?

2. Covering every minute of the day isn’t that important. The photographers’ unaffordable ‘basic package’ starting prices have a bad habit of including 6 or 8 hours of coverage.

I submit to you that you do not need that much time. I submit to you that endless pictures of the wedding party in different poses are redundant, not to mention a waste of everyone’s time especially if it happens during the reception, by Jove. Also, who gives a crap about immortalising the moment the bride applied her eyeliner. I submit to you that there is such a thing as enough photography, and it involves a full length shot of the couple, a face shot of the couple, some family group shots, and a picture of each partner with their wedding party. The stuff after that is gravy.

3. A lot of your guests have cameras. Just because there is no professional present, doesn’t mean moments aren’t being captured. In fact, your guests might be so busy acting like a crowd of paparazzi that you’ll need to actually tell them to stop it. You know how when you have a night out with your friends, a few photos always end up getting taken?  And, you know how you never find yourself wishing, Oh, If only there had been a professional photojournalist with us to take photos of us all at Beerfest? (Bad example?)My point is, there WILL be photos of your wedding day, and they will be good enough.

So here’s what I reckon people should do: hire a professional for the length of time your budget allows for, and get your portraits taken during that time. Get the group shots that are necessary, and then spend the rest of the time you have on couple portraits, and then some photojournalism of the ceremony and  the beginning of the reception if time allows. At the reception let your guests do what people do anyway at parties, which is take photos. Ask everyone to upload their pics to a photo sharing site somewhere, or to just send them to you. Choose your favourites to collect into your own album.

The thing about all those unaffordable photography packages is that if you break it down to an hourly rate, it suddenly becomes an option to get them for an hour or two. For the photographer listed above at 8 hours for $2950, that works out at arout $370 per hour. Not that that’s what that person would charge, but it illustrates the range you’re working with. Even on a legitimately low budget, you could still have someone relatively high end do your portraits for an hour before the ceremony.

I recommend figuring out the hourly rates of various photographers, finding ones you like, and then approaching them with your numbers and asking what they can for you. The Wedding Photojournalist Association is a good place to start – it’s international, and list prices (sometimes by the hour!) of photographers with links to their websites.

That is what I did. I found a handful of photographers that charge around $200 per hour, told them I have $450 to work with, and said, What have you got? The one I chose in the end offered me 2.5 hours photography with the ferry transport to the resort included. He’s offering me something less than his normal hourly rate because, get this, the fact that my wedding is so low budget and quirky (read: short casual dress) makes it valuable to him as a photographer! It’s a sweet sweet feeling when the industry works in your favour.

*I did manage to stay off APW for quite some time after I wrote this post, and it was awesome. And then I started hate-reading it.

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Purpose of weddings: It’s not about the legalities

Alternative titles for this post:

A case for multi-wedding marriages
or
A dress! You guys, check at this dress!*

M and I are New Zealanders. In New Zealand, once two people have been living together as a couple for three years, the de facto partnership they are in has practically the same legalities around it as an actual marriage. For instance, if you break up, assets would be split fifty-fifty. You enter this phase of financial union without doing a thing – the couple doesn’t have to go somewhere, or sign something, or make any declarations. It just becomes a truth that everything is now jointly owned.

We reached our three year mark right about the same time that we moved to Singapore. Before that though, we’d already completely merged our finances anyway. We were in it together, man. And then Singapore happened, which just further cemented the fact that as a couple, we were a done deal. Obviously emotionally, yes: if following your partner to a foreign country because he got a job there isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is. But also legally: the way the visa  situation works, M is here by what is known as an employment pass, while I am here as his dependent. The paperwork included going to the NZ High Commission to write signed statements, witnessed by an official, about how long we’ve had joint bank accounts and the like. We are officially recognised in Singapore as having a common-law marriage, and it’s what allows me to stay here with him.

It gets worse. For years we’ve had the habit of referring to each other as each other’s partner, but here in Asia, a lot of people don’t get that. And most people I’ve come across really don’t get living together before marriage.  Seriously, the number of times I’ve had to explain that we’re not married, but we live together, but it’s like being married, and actually, this is very common in NZ and it would be unusual not to live together first. So for the almost two years we’ve been living here, we’ve gotten used to just calling each other husband and wife when talking to locals. Makes conversation with a chatty cab driver that much simpler.

So why are we even getting married, when it doesn’t really change much? Well, for one, its going to be a bit more convenient to actually have a marriage certificate instead of having to prove our commitment in other ways. But for us, getting married, or more accurately, having a wedding, is not about the legal stuff at all. We’re doing it for two main reasons:

1. Making explicit all the implicit promises that we have already made to each other, and doing it in a way that our community recognises. I hate to be quoting Sex and The City, but Miranda put it perfectly, in the episode where she marries Steve: “I do actually wanna say those vows, out loud, to Steve. In front of the people I care about”

2. Acknowledging, along with our family and friends, that loving each other so much that we want to share the entire rest if our lives together, is awesome. We’ve been lucky enough to find our person, and that’s amazing, frankly, even if it is a miracle that happens to lots of people. It’s worthy of a big-ass celebration.

So once I figured out that the legal part of this wedding will be much easier to handle in Singapore than in Indonesia (for starters, Singaporeans use English), we made the decision to get the meaningless, five minute, registry office ceremony done a few days before the emotional, poignant readings, personalized vows, ring exchange ceremony at the resort.

My intention was to approach the legal thing as much like paperwork formality as possible – we’d show up in whatever we were wearing that day, sign what we needed to sign, and be done. But, it turns out, we need two witnesses. And there’s a dress code. The info online literally specifies that shorts and flip flops aren’t appropriate. What up, we live in those things.

So that means my man can wear his office wear, and I…well, I don’t look my best in my formal office wear. The thing is, for men, formal professional wear and formal social wear are the same thing. For women, they are kind of vastly different. Miss Manners discusses this issue here. And since our legal ceremony will be socially formal, and not professionally formal, I was instantly launched into fashion fantasies of a Kate Middleton-like nature.

Which brings me to this dress. I won’t bore you with listing the ways it is perfection, I’ll just let you see for yourself:

Karen Millen, I salute you.

I tend to be uber fussy, I mean discerning, about my clothes, but this one is hitting so many nails on so many heads, that when it comes to this dress, I just can’t. I just can’t not obsess over it. 

You complete me.

The only nailhead it doesn’t hit is the price.

Don’t speak. I know just what you’re saying.

You’re saying, “Lindsay, I thought this was a frugal wedding, you sell out.”

Yeah, the dress is over SG$500, and that’s not even addressing the shoe issue. So here’s the deal: it’s not coming out of my wedding budget, it’s coming out of my everyday budget. Plus I can totally wear it again. Right?! Also, you know how I just said my taste is very discerning? When my local friends just read that, they were all surprised and thought about how my ubiquitous plain t-shirt with denim shorts does not exactly reflect a keen sartorial eye. Here’s the sad truth: I’m so damn fussy about clothes, that I almost never find something that fits the bill, and hence I almost never buy new stuff, and hence, I mostly wear pretty old things that were acquired as gifts, or purchased in the days before my fussiness went stratospheric. The upshot is, I spend so little on clothes, that I can actually justify this.

Then there’s the witnesses issue for the legal ceremony. M wants his brother to be his, and I would like my mother to be mine. But since I’m all dressed up and such, and all our immediate family members will be in town, it doesn’t seem right to leave them out. We’re allowed to bring up to 20 guests to the registry office. So we’re going have all our immediate family come. And since we’re doing that, well, maybe we should all go to TWG afterwards and drink champagne and eat a macaroon or two.

Suddenly, it appears I’m having two weddings. But I don’t want to look at it like that. I still consider our non-legal ceremony on the beach to be our real wedding, the one that’s important. Now we just also have a fancy family morning tea to go with it. And the fact that I get to have both beach party princess, and elegant urbanite dresses, well, I’m not too sad about that.

*Yes, check at. That’s how we spoke where I grew up, mmkay?

Six month panic: Bridal style

I think I’ve mentioned ad nauseum the fact that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life dreaming about wedding dresses. It’s what got me into wedding blogs in the first place. And then I spent so much time reading the blogs that my opinions on weddings changed. At various points I have fallen in love with a certain dress, or a certain design feature that I decided I was definitely going to have when I got married, and then a year later my ideal would change. I always wondered what would be the one that would stick, that would go down in history as my wedding dress, to be looked at one day when I am old. And now I’m pretty close to knowing. At this point, I’m very clear on the vibe I’m shooting for, but not yet 100% clear on its execution.

A big part of this has been determined by the context of the reception, and the fact my philosophy on style is always Context is Everything. My wedding is going to be a fun beach party. So I’m going to look like I’m at a fun beach party.

Let’s start with hair. It’s hot, so my hair needs to be up. Because the wedding is low budget, I won’t have a professional hair person coming, so it needs to be something I can do myself. And because I’m doing it myself, it needs to be something that doesn’t stress me out by taking three hours and/or being difficult to execute. So I’m thinking something like this:

Bonus: When, not if, the humidity turns my hair into a thicket, it will look intentional (that’s the plan anyway).

For jewellery, I like the exuberant, natural, a bit chunky, kind of free spirit look. I dig this kind of stuff:

Fiance: “You’re so African at heart. You’d wear a necklace of mini elephant tusks”
Me: *considers* “Not if they were ivory”

While I’m a huge fan of both multistrand necklaces and biggish dangling earrings, they’re probably too much to wear at once, so I’m leaning towards just the earrings. Something like these, perchance:

Ay, there’s the rub.

Now for shoes. Considering the facts of beach sand, my five foot ten height, and the evilness of heels, I’ll either go straight up barefoot, or where some invisible haurache style sandals. Check it out, you can make them yourself and customize them with different tying patterns, beading and such:

Like this, except not like this.

Now for the dress. What I have at this point is inspiration, and the knowledge that I want it short, in a weather-friendly material, with a bikini underneath and the ability to take it on and off quickly. (We’re encouraging swimming at our reception. The groom is wearing board shorts. Long pants in this weather = insane.) As a nod to my bridalhood, I’d like it in a fairly light color, but not white or ivory because I can’t pull either of those off. These things hit the right note, except for colour and length:

Also without the evil heels.

And that’s about where I sit folks! Now, back to the regularly scheduled words-only programming.

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.

How to make your wedding special without spending money

I think one of the fundamental reasons why weddings have gotten financially out of hand is that people want their weddings to feel special and meaningful, and they mistakenly believe that the way to make that happen is to spend a lot of money.

There is actually some validity to the idea that money makes things special. Here’s a great example of how stupid our human minds are: things that are rare or expensive become regarded as wonderful luxury items that speak of status and are to be coveted. Critical to note: it’s not that the inherent awesomeness of the item in question pushes up demand and price. It’s that an item that is hard for the average person to obtain becomes a symbol of luxury, and therefore everyone starts to covet it.

Like when the Dutch used to have to pay taxes on stairs, and so then the fanciest houses in Amsterdam started having two staircases leading up to their front doors. Or eating shark’s fin – it’s a tasteless piece of cartilage that originally only the rich families in China could afford to eat, because it takes days of labour from a skilled cook to do the preparation that makes that crap approach edible. And then the general population got the message that shark’s fin is a luxury, and next thing you know it’s become a wedding staple in Chinese culture.

But there are other ways that our pathetically manipulatable human minds assign specialness and meaning to things: the time, effort, and skill to make something (a proxy for money), sentimental association, and ritual and ceremony. Though of course these things get muddled up, for instance you’re likely to have have a sentimental association with certain rituals. And things that were originally valued for their hard-to-make-ness have become commonly regarded as ceremonial necessity. I’m looking at you, Wedding Cake. Also you, Thousand Dollar Wedding Dress. But the upshot is, you can still make your wedding feel, uh, properly weddingy, even if you can’t afford a wedding cake that costs $5 per slice.

Here are some ideas.

1. Time, effort, and skill

For my wedding, the biggest deposit of specialness in this area is going to come from the fact that various family members, from a variety of continents, will take the time and effort to come be gathered together in one place. It’s something that our family only ever gets to experience any more at weddings. Time was when all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived in the same country. We saw each other regularly and had Christmases together. No more. Now I go years without seeing cousins I saw all the time growing up. Being reunited with some of them at my wedding is a big, meaningful deal.

Other ways people might implement this idea could include taking the time to sew an exquisite dress, spending the effort to make a really special cake, having a bunch of people pitch in to put the centrepieces together.

2. Sentimental association

This is when you include objects that belonged to a loved one, or do things that remind you of your love for someone, or something that just means a lot to you. Playing a song that is meaningful to you. Giving speeches and toasts also falls into this category – they serve to spark emotion, maybe get a bit nostalgic, and bring love to the surface.

I plan to do all these things. My wedding ring is going to have a diamond that my mom’s grandfather gave to her. And we will play the songs, and we will have the speeches.

3. Ritual and ceremony

This is the heart of what makes something a wedding and not a family reunion with centrepieces and speeches. This one is cultural. I was raised in an Anglican community. For the people I come from, this means there are certain way weddings are done, and if they’re not done this way, they’re not as much of a wedding. Plus the stuff that is not part of the religion but has become definitive (you know what I’m talking about – veils, white dresses, and so on).

The tricky part here is when you’ve already rejected some parts of the culture that make no sense to you. For instance, I am no longer religious, so having religion be any part of my wedding is not something I want. Also I just don’t really like veils. And also I don’t dig myself in white. But I still want it traditionally weddingy enough that everyone there feels that it’s meaningful.

Everyone will strike their own balance here. For us, there will be no priest, no prayers, and no sermon, but there will still be an aisle walk, readings, vows, a ring exchange, and a kiss. I won’t wear a long white dress or a veil, but I will carry a bouquet, wear a light coloured dress, and probably have something nice in my hair.

So, I offer this as hope for any engaged couples out there who might be despairing the difference between their original wedding fantasies and what it turns out they can afford. The beauty of your wedding does not come from money. You can still go ahead and have something incredible. And stay financially solvent to boot.

Time with guests, or How not to snub people

Wedding guests deserve face time with the happy couple. You know what sucks? When you go to a wedding, and you spend months being exicted about it, weeks thinking about and getting a present, days (or longer) figuring out what to wear, travelling to another country to attend the wedding, getting teary at the ceremony, and then the loved one getting married barely acknowedges your existence during the hours-long reception. And by barely acknowledging, I mean spending how ever many seconds it takes to say “Hi! Thanks so much for coming!” and then literally nothing else the rest of the time.

Pretty appalling, right? Maybe those of us who have only ever been guests see things differenty though. It is not uncommon for wedding graduates to talk about how they didn’t even say hi to some of their guests, and I’ve only ever seen this mentioned in the tone of, “Eh, what are you going to do? That’s weddings for you”. We hear a lot about how brides and grooms experience their reception as a whirlwind, getting pulled in every direction and not finding time to eat.

So is it reasonable or not for guests to not be interacted with? I find it fun to play around with numbers. Let’s get calculatin’!

Say you have 75 wedding guests. Often, these will be made up of family and friend groups, so you don’t necessarily need one-on-one time with each person, but you do need to spend a bit of time hanging with each posse. Let’s say you spend 20 minutes chatting with each group of 5. Not very demanding, seems reasonable to me. This gives 4 minutes per person, which for 75 guests equates to FIVE STRAIGHT HOURS. That doesn’t include time for pee breaks, eating, speeches, bouquet tossing and what have you, or dancing (which ideally I would do several hours of!).  Let’s say you allocate 3 hours for all this extra stuff. This means we’re looking at an 8 hour reception right there.

Once you work it out for longer guest lists, it gets kind of staggering:

4 minutes per person/20 minutes per party of 5
75 people – 5 hours mingling
100 people – 6 hours 40 minutes
120 people – 8 hours
150 people – 10 freaking hours!!

Not very many people have it in them to mingle and chat for 8 to 10 hours at once. So I can certainly understand why, especially for larger weddings, plenty of people don’t even get glanced at.

It’s an explanation, but it’s not an excuse. Firstly, it’s just plain not fair on guests who have taken the time and effort to be there. Secondly, if you don’t plan on interacting with your guests, why the hell did you invite them? The idea behind inviting people is that you want to see them and spend time with them. Or am I missing something?

Four minutes per person is still not that much. And if some of your guests are loved ones who you haven’t seen in years, or they had to do a lot of travelling to get there (happens to us immigrants a lot), then they frankly deserve a whole lot more time with you. This is where pre- and post-wedding events like family dinners, or say fun DIY working bees or whatever, serve a very important purpose, in my opinion.

So, the official Frugal Wedding advice on how not to snub your guests:
1. Only invite people you actually want to see and spend time with at your wedding*
2. Take your number of guests into account when planning your reception time
3. Make a point of interacting with every guest
4. Think about who deserves more time with you than just reception partying, and make arrangements so that they get it.

*Even if some of them are the obligatory type invites. They made the effort to be there for you, so they still deserve some face time.