Two local experts share their tips on budgeting and planning your wedding

Before you break the bank, here’s what to consider when you’re planning the big event.

Photo by Charisse Kenion

Getting engaged can be an exciting time—but it can also be an overwhelming one.

The average cost of a wedding in Virginia comes in at $28,542 in 2019, and Washington, DC at $44,856, according to Value Penguin, with each respectively costing $204 per guest and $320 per guest.

Luckily, we spoke to two wedding planners in the DMV who know the ins and outs of everything you need to know about wedding shopping, and how you can make sure you stay within budget, even if your celebration will take place in years to come.

Lisa Havard is the principal and owner of L. Havard Events, and has been serving the DC community for over a decade through event management and wedding planning. Kim Newton is the founder, lead coordinator and designer of Kim Newton Weddings, based in Alexandria. Highlights from our conversation are below.

You get engaged and you’re ready to start planning. What are your first steps?
Before beginning any wedding shopping, it is important to set an overall budget for all wedding-related items. Talk to family who might be contributing and set a number that everyone is comfortable with. At the same time, make your guest list. Begin with family and the wedding party, and then add friends. Your guest count will be important in selecting a venue and drive the cost of catering, rentals, flowers, invitations and even the wedding cake. And in the DMV, September and October are the most popular wedding months, followed by May and June. So, be sure to secure your venue as soon as possible.

KN: Always have your budget in mind, and try to make your venue top priority.  You want to secure your dates as early as possible since they fill up so quickly in the DMV, and they will go quicker than anything else. The dress you love will still be at the store; be sure to get your venue figured out first. And you’ll want to make sure you look around for your style and size of party. Don’t feel like you have to choose a location simply because they offer you what sounds like a good date or price right away.

Speaking of venues, what should you consider when staying in budget?
Remember that your venue rental, catering and other rentals should equal 45% to 50% of your budget. Ask yourself: Will you be having your ceremony and reception at the same location? Then, can you comfortably accommodate all of your guests, a dance floor, space for a band, buffet, cake, gift tables and a guest book station? Once you know the answers to those, be sure to find out if the venue has a rain plan. Couples are often attracted to venues with beautiful outdoor spaces and views, however, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’ll want to be comfortable with a plan B.

KN: I always look at the guest count first. If you have 150 guests coming, than there’s definitely more options. However, if you have 200 guests, then options in the area might be a little more limited. And you might have to lower your guest count in order to make sure everyone fits in the space and within your budget. Once you know what you want to do in terms of size and space, style and design are your next step before reserving your location.

What should you consider when staying in your budget for a dress?
Be sure to set a budget for your dress and be realistic. If you work with a bridal consultant, they will prioritize your budget and help narrow down your choices, which will prevent them from showing you a dress that you fall in love with but ultimately can’t afford. And I always like to think of the dress and venue together. When you’re looking for styles (before going shopping!) think about a dress that fits your venue. If your venue is a fancy ballroom in DC, you’ll want to choose a more formal gown. If your venue is a barn or a more rustic space, the dress can be more informal. And make sure to ask about alteration costs, too.

KN: Budget should always come first because dresses can be an incredible expense if you’re not careful. Once you know your price range, then start to look for the style you love. There are plenty of wonderful shops around the DMV that should have what you’re looking for.

And for all of the variable costs and items, what do you suggest?
To manage the potential financial stresses and organizational aspects, hire a wedding planner. They can help you create a realistic budget based on the current cost of items in our market and meet your individual needs. We can also suggest vendors that are reliable and who can adequately provide the wedding services you need. We work hard to build and maintain those relationships for a reason. Also, we can ensure that you don’t have to do all of the researching, waiting for calls and emails, etc. as plans continue to move forward.

KN: If you have a wedding planner, they are going to know what to do and what not to do. They know where to go for what you’re looking for and the reliable vendors that you can trust. It’s great to educate yourself beforehand and do a little research, but you can trust us to make it all come together.

And are there any red flags to look out for in the wedding shopping process?
Before you start buying decor items, have a firm vision in mind. Meet with your caterer, florist and planner to determine the overall look of your guest tables, ceremony space and cocktail space. Once everything is set with each one, then begin to buy only the items you need to complete the vision. This will avoid you buying items and forcing things to fit or possibly not getting enough of a particular item to complete the look.

KN: Oh goodness, look out for the word “bargain.” Just because something sounds like a bargain or looks like a bargain, doesn’t mean it’s going to be one.

What are your current favorite wedding trends of 2019?
LH: I love that color is back. I am seeing a lot of color in flowers, bridesmaids dresses and bolder choices in table linens. I also like the trend toward offering fun desserts and dessert stations. I am definitely seeing ice cream replacing things like doughnuts and cupcakes.
KN: I am on the bandwagon for adding modern pieces, especially in farm-style weddings. I also love a great escort display. It gives people a great photo op and can be really creative.

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