Millennial Mondays has been my baby for the last six months, because I’m a millennial and I have no idea what’s going on- so I figured ya’ll are the same. Except for, I’ve realized that I don’t know how to help you all the time, but maybe someone else does? For the next couple of months, Millennial Mondays are going to be filled with a bunch of people who know how to be successful in life. Welcome to the party.

This week’s guest poster is Chel Bell Guild! Chel Bell Guild is a writer, consultant, virtual assistant, and mentor living in Detroit. She loves Santa Fe, New Mexico; has a passion for social justice and civic engagement; and often laughs at her own jokes. As a practicing optimist, Chel searches for the silver lining in whatever life throws her way. She hopes to inspire and support other millennials on their journeys through various life transitions. Follow her INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, PINTEREST, and obviously check out HER BLOG!

Let’s Talk Wedding Planning:

If you’re in the throes of wedding planning, one of the first things you probably did was run out and buy a bridal magazine. I can’t think of another publication that will make you feel both inspired and inferior all at the same time. The average American wedding costs $35,000 and these magazines easily convince women that their weddings must be on par. Do you realize what you could do outside of this one fleeting day with that amount of money? Even if money is no object for you, that sum could be allocated in much more productive ways (a fab honeymoon, a down payment on a house, a student loan repayment, a start-up business investment, or multiple charitable donations come to mind to name a few). I’m not saying you shouldn’t splurge at all. In fact, I think there are some aspects of a wedding that you probably need to spend more on than you’re budgeting for. Overall, it seems impressionable brides often need a bit of perspective.

I made a lot of mistakes when planning my first wedding. I worried about things that didn’t matter and prioritized my budget in ways I shouldn’t have. Thankfully, I later got a do-over (with a new and improved hubby, I might add)! Not only can I tell you what’s important based on my own experiences as a bride and as a guest of several weddings, but I can tell you what other brides have to say after the fact as well. In the sample of women I surveyed, there were some resounding themes, so take note brides-to-be!

Say No to the {Expensive} Dress

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the dress! First, you have every right to look and feel stunning on this day, but spending $3,000 on a piece of clothing is ridiculous. Overwhelmingly, the women I asked said their wedding dress didn’t matter as much as they thought it would and that spending a fortune on a garment to be worn one time would have been a complete waste. I tried to consign my gown afterward and it sat unmoving for years. I even tried to sell it online. I ultimately donated it to charity.

When you’re shopping for your dress, consider all retail options and not just shopping at a bridal emporium where designs are priced high simply because the customer base is eager. One woman I surveyed wanted to remind you that you should only order online if you have plenty of time to return it if something’s not right.

Now let’s address any superstitions you might have about buying a used dress. Since we know that half of all marriages in this country end in divorce and that the majority of the wedding dresses those brides wore on the day of their nuptials were new, we already know that wearing a used gown is no more indicative of marital success than wearing a new gown is! My first dress cost a measly $1,000 by some bride’s standards. It was brand new, as were the additional petticoat, bustier, four veils, and Swarovski crystal tiara not included in that cost. (You can read more about when I parted with it here.) I spent a whopping $100 having a used dress altered for my second wedding and felt just as beautiful. (And, might I add, the marriage is much happier…)

Bridesmaids or Bust?

A word about bridal parties: They are often more headache than they are worth. It can be really hard to narrow down the chosen few, and then it’s somewhat of a backhanded compliment since the Chosen Ones then have to cough up a small fortune to be in the wedding. Feelings get hurt, there’s all that drama about the dresses, and more often than not, they disappoint us if we actually expect anything from them. They end up being strictly ornamental…which is crazy! Our support system is actually made up of a network of people too large to fit into a bridal party. If you choose to include bridesmaids, it’s customary to give them a thank you gift, which is yet another expense to add to your growing list. This isn’t negotiable in my book. Because they don’t need an engraved compact or any similar waste of money, you’ll likely end up treating them to something like a costly pedicure…multiplied by the number of girls in your tribe. Give it some thought. Several women surveyed said they would choose different bridesmaids if given the chance, so consider the radical idea of …brace yourself…tossing the wedding party altogether and putting more emphasis on the union of yourself and your new hubby-to-be.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

The consensus from the women I surveyed was to invest money on food and entertainment, which makes sense when you’re planning a party, doesn’t it?! A great cocktail hour to welcome guests as they wait for you, a fantastic dinner, and music that will actually get them dancing (not the cheesy stuff that people dread) is really all it takes to have a fantastic reception.

So what makes for a “great cocktail hour”? It’s one where the guests won’t realize how long they’ve been waiting! Don’t make them huddle in some weird hall or walkway. Don’t make them wait in direct, blazing sun, rain or freezing temps. Make them comfortable! Serve drinks! And hire a musician to entertain them during this time (You don’t want awkward silence, do you?). For my second wedding, we hired a friend to play acoustic covers of our favorite songs, and saved the dance music for afterward. Do something unexpected that symbolizes your style as a couple.

A fantastic dinner means one your guests don’t have to wait hours for. Serve hors d’oeuvres beforehand so they aren’t starving by the time they get to eat their meals. Buffets are great because people can take what they want and leave the rest, but sometimes the people at the back of the line don’t get the same quality of food as the people in the front. Speak with your caterers about this in advance, and be sure to have a tasting for yourself. If you’d rather not have your guests stand in line and serve their own food, make sure to get the names of anyone needing special accommodations well in advance. One bride told me she wasn’t aware of a seafood allergy, which left the guest awkwardly waiting for a separate meal to be prepared on the spot.

Everyone’s idea of “good music” may vary, but we can all agree that there are a few horrific wedding songs that should go on a permanent Do Not Play list. Be clear with the musician or DJ you hire as to what should go on that list, as well as any inappropriate jokes that are often limits. One woman told me she attended a wedding where the divorced parents of the bride had to awkwardly participate in some spontaneous activity together, and that it made everyone uncomfortable.

Most survey participants recommended booking a band to keep the crowd on their feet, but it was also mentioned that a good ol’ fashioned, homemade playlist and decent speakers can work just as well. This is actually the route I went for my second wedding, and I’ve been to a few others where this was the mode of musical entertainment. The key is having great speakers, a microphone, and a designated emcee to keep the flow of the night in check. I spent nearly $1,000 on a DJ for my first wedding. He mispronounced people’s names, he played music that was on my Do Not Play list, and he played a song dedicated to my grandmother…when she was in the bathroom.

Alcohol is part of any celebration worth its salt, even if you aren’t a drinker yourself. I committed a huge faux pas at my first wedding: I had a cash bar. I knew it was considered rude, but I simply couldn’t afford to foot the bill for everyone to drink all night. No one told me that I could have had a limited open bar with a cash bar following, or that I could have opted for a beer and wine open bar alone. More importantly, I probably could have spent less in another area in order to afford drinks! The guests at your wedding shouldn’t have to open up their wallets at all while at your party (This includes to come up with cash for those “dollar dances,” too. They’re already giving you a gift, hopefully, so don’t put them on the spot.).

Stop & Smell the Roses

Many of the women I asked said that the flowers don’t matter as much as you think. They agreed that no one really notices them, especially if you have some other form of beautiful table centerpiece. Keep in mind that flowers get left behind and die, but cost a fortune to arrange. If flowers matter to you personally, give yourself the gift of a beautiful bridal bouquet. After all, it’s going to be in a lot of the photos where you are the subject. While I thought my first bouquet was pretty, I specifically budgeted less on my own bouquet so that money could be spent on flowers for my huge bridal party and in other aspects of wedding planning. (This is yet another reason why opting to not have a wedding party at all is cost effective!) The next time around, my stunning bouquet included everything I wanted.

Let Them Eat Cake

The crescendo of the evening is that iconic wedding cake. It’s often a focal point in the room throughout the party, but here’s the important part: It needs to taste good. Most people agree that expensive fondant doesn’t actually check that box. Get a cake that looks attractive, but keep in mind that it’s going to get destroyed. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to have an expensive piece of edible fine art that your guests will be raving about for years. And definitely don’t spend a lot on a cake topper! (P.S. One bride pointed out that those cookie and candy tables are often an unnecessary addition, since most of it gets left behind.)

Throw It Out/Add It In

Things you can cut out altogether: programs and favors. Often, they’re both left behind. No one needs or wants them. If you want to show yours guests that you appreciate their attendance, do so with kick-ass party, not some junk with your initials on them. You can also do without a guest book. Not everyone will sign it and besides, you’ll have photographic proof of who was there.

Things worth adding to your budget: Simple welcome bags for out-of-town guests, given upon arrival into town, and a second photographer (or make sure the one you hire has more than one shooter present to catch all of the important moments). I also wish I had video from my big day, and you’ll probably want to relive yours over and over again, too. As they say, it goes by fast!

You can ditch all of this advice and elope, as one woman suggested! Have a simple destination wedding and invite very few people, thus eliminating the headache and saving that big chunk of cash for more important things. (The key word in that sentence is simple. Get carried away and the idea will be moot.)

What’s your best piece of financial advice for anyone planning a wedding?

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