Unveiled: The Secret To Saving Thousands On Your Wedding

Passionate promoter of society's greatest ritual, Janet Hogan is co-founder, along with her partner of 30 years, Ralph, of Botanica Weddings, Australia's most awarded and reputable destination wedding company.

7 min read

I’m often accused of being too much of an evangelist and there’s certainly some truth to that, (I know I’ve overstepped the mark when my kids start calling me Mahatama Jandhi!) But I am on a mission. I know how much a brilliant and transformative wedding can be the real turning point in the lives of two people and create the foundation for the great marriage they aspire to. I believe every couple deserves the right to an amazing experience at a price they can afford, so creating life-changing weddings for as many couples as possible has become my life’s work.

Why going cheap can be the most expensive mistake you can make.

For me, it is not about whether someone books with us or not. There are only so many weddings a year we can organise anyway. But what really upsets me is when some couples trivialise the importance of this milestone in their lives and reduce its significance down to how cheaply they can negotiate the floral arrangement that’s going to sit on the altar. The truth is, you can have an incredible wedding without breaking the bank, but if the cost is all that’s on your mind, if you obsess about money rather than each other and your future together, then you’re not giving your marriage the fantastic start it’s entitled to.

The curious truth is, if you want to save money on your wedding, you’re actually going to first have to be open to spending more, not less, than you originally thought. Or, you’ll end up paying out a lot more than you “saved.” It may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out.

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What happens with most couples is they become so scared of being ripped off, they focus only on price. It’s then all too easy to get lured in by those ads that advertise a whole package for a couple of thousand dollars; a system designed to then progressively milk every dollar out of them from the minute they’ve signed up. The too-good-to-be-true cheap entry price is soon swamped by all the extras they need on top, most of which they only become aware of too late to do anything about.

To give you an example, one of our very own team members at Botanica Weddings decided not to get married at our flagship venue, Villa Botanica, understandably because it was where she worked every day. Instead she got married on an island resort that was advertising cheap wedding packages starting from $2,500…so naturally she expected that worst case scenario the whole wedding couldn’t possibly cost more than the $15,000 she’d budgeted for. Instead it blew out to over $32,000! And the worst part was that she was left to do all the planning herself and was still being tapped on the shoulder and receiving outrageous quotes on her wedding day when it was too late to shop around. So for 50 extra strawberries to serve with her champagne toast, she was charged $800!!! When she first sent me the email, I thought that was a typo and was outraged that she would be charged even $80.

So let’s establish right here and now that the thing to identify is not the cheapest price, but the very best value for money. We recently surveyed our 2015 couples and although 1 in 3 of them felt that our initial quote was higher than they’d hoped for, more than 98% said that after their wedding it was "totally worth it.” And “great value for money.” A couple even commented it was “too cheap”!

In other words, you may have to spend just that bit more, but in return you’ll get the wedding you always wanted, not a compromise that you will forever regret.

75% of engaged couples never actually sit down and work out a budget because no one has given them the necessary information with which to do so. And those that do end up going over it by an average of 109%!

Source: Bride to Be 'Cost of Love' Survey

So, without knowing what’s involved, cost becomes the main decision maker. And that’s no different from saying: “I want a car and I’m not sure exactly what type, but can you give me a ball park figure?”

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So let’s address the elephant in the room and work out what it is you need to budget. This is the most important thing you can do if you don’t want that huge pit in your stomach, (not to mention your bank account), that comes from waiting till after the event to add up all the bills.

I’m going to leave out personal costs like engagement rings, wedding dress, rings and honeymoon and focus just on the major costs which you don’t have the same level of control over, ie everything to do with the wedding itself: the planning service,  ceremony and reception, celebrant, venue hire, food and drink, styling, decorations, cake, DJ, music, guest transport etc.

Now, the average spend for all the above in Australia is currently $52,249.

Source: Bride to Be 'Cost of Love' Survey

No two weddings are the same and we get over 100 enquiries every week for everything from 2 people elopements up to 1000 person extravaganzas, so I’ve broken it down into 5 budget categories. Figures are in Australian dollars and based on an average of 50 guests.

LEVEL 1:  < $10,000

LEVEL 2:   $10,000 – $25,000

LEVEL 3:   $25,000 – $40,000

LEVEL 4:   $40,000 - $100,000

LEVEL 5:  > $250,000

Level 1:

At Level 1, we have couples who want a wedding for 50 guests for less than $10,000 or around $7,500 US. And that’s a very tall order. But it is possible. The best way to pull this off is to do everything yourself or rope your family and friends into organising it for you. And that pretty well means you’re better off doing it at home, in your own country, so you are really conversant with pricing and suppliers and can carefully monitor and control the outcome you want.  That’s what my husband and I did in our cash strapped days…we had a fun but cheap wedding in our own backyard, back in the days of exorbitant airfares when destination weddings weren’t really an option.

Trying to organise a wedding away from home, either within your own country or even more problematically, in a foreign country where they don’t even speak your language, is I hate to say, a recipe for disaster. Like my recipe for Kahlua soufflé, the risk that it will wind up a major disappointment is simply too high. If you do have your heart set on saying “I do” on a beach under swaying palms, you’re far better either settling for an elopement, or small wedding up to say 20 people, and having a great post-wedding party back home for everyone else.

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Level 2:

Our Level 2 couples have generally set their budget somewhere between $10,000 - $25,000.  If this is you, chances are you have a ball park idea of the likely cost of your wedding and a definite threshold you don’t want to overstep. This means if you’re getting married in a “first world” country like Australia where labour costs are high, you’ll most likely have to compromise at some level, eg settle for your reception in a restaurant or function centre. But for this budget, the good news is that if you’re prepared to travel overseas, you can still have something really amazing, because no matter how modest your wedding, it will be framed by a magical location and culture – and afford you the kind of wedding you couldn’t even come close to matching back home.

Level 3

Next we have our Level 3 couples who place great importance on quality, style and class and are prepared to pay for it. They believe that: “If the most important day of your life isn’t worth it, what day is?” Couples in this category typically value things like exclusivity, and that means a private venue all to themselves, menus that incorporate local ingredients and wedding suppliers who will go the extra mile to deliver top quality products and service. Plus lots of wonderful extra touches that make this the one wedding family and friends will be raving about for years. For this standard of wedding you will be paying in the vicinity of $25,000 - $40,000.And that will equate to either a very stylish wedding in your own country, or if overseas something right out of a fairytale!

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Level 4:

Our Level 4 couples like fireworks, in life and especially at their wedding. And to show the world they mean business when it comes to having fun. If you’re one of these lucky folk, you will gravitate towards those venues that provide the scope to include lots of extra wow factors: spectacular photo opportunities (for your wedding album and video), live entertainment, fire dancers, chopper landings, free flow spirits, custom cocktails and quirky extras like gelato food carts.  Chances are you are double income young professionals who are prepared to spend anywhere between $40,000 - $100,000 because you can afford to, and you see your wedding as an investment in fun, for everyone else as well as yourselves. Once again you can have a great traditional wedding anywhere in your home country or a real, jaw-dropping, Ben Hur extravaganza overseas.

Level 5:

And finally, our Level 5s. These guys are off the scale when it comes to what they spend, in fact with them, the more the better; I saw a wedding the other day where they spent $200,000 just on flowers, flown in, of all places, from Brazil. The bridal walk alone was a huge, completely enclosed tunnel of spectacular blooms, 10 metres long!  Weddings with these high flyers can cost anything from around $250,000 to over $1 million and really, meeting a budget is the least of their problems.

Fortunately, in the same way as many million dollar weddings can look like a giant waste of money, it really is possible to have a modestly budgeted wedding feel and look like a million dollars – it all comes down to great planning.

The first thing to do is to agree together which budget category you fit into. Remember this is not a competition to see who can spend the most or the least amount of money. It’s about working out the wedding you want and then how to  afford it.

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Many couples save up for a year or 18 months to have the wedding they really want. What do you already have, how much can you save, over what period of time, what is a reasonable amount to borrow or put on plastic? And if you haven’t done this already, sit down and speak to both sets of parents to establish who may be willing to contribute what. And from there you can do the sums and set your budget.

Keep that budget figure as your target. When you’re talking to wedding planners, don’t be afraid to be upfront and say what you want to spend. Only around one in five couples do this. By budgetingcarefully, straight away you are predetermining the outcome you want, not setting yourselves up for disappointment. And the very fact that you approach the whole process with confidence, will tend to stop others thinking they can take advantage of you.

By setting a figure and sticking to it, you are not only taking control, you are making your decision making process easy and importantly you are sparing yourself that scenario that scares couples most: a major cost blow out that will take you years to pay back. That is why setting a budget and quoting that figure to whoever you are asking to plan your wedding is, as mundane as it sounds, the single most effective way of saving money and getting the wedding you want.

If you found this information useful and would like to know more, catch of our webinar: “The 6 Vital Steps to Saving Thousands on your Destination Wedding.” It gives you the answers to all the big questions:

  1. WHAT type of wedding?
  2. HOW much do I need to budget?
  3. WHEN to have our big day?
  4. WHO to invite?
  5. WHY do we need a wedding planner?
  6. WHERE to hold it?

PLUS insider tips and info that add up to over $50,000 worth of savings. No matter where you’re at in your planning stage, this is one webinar you can’t afford to miss.  Register here to claim your spot.