Wedding planning issues

How to save money - venue, catering, alcohol, photography











Photo at left = actual photo on Doug's Galaxy S2 phone. Not a paste-up or simulated photo.

Photo above: Wedding photos look great on Smart Phones,
iPads, Tablets, and electronic frames.

You can show off your wedding pictures anywhere
and zoom in close to oogle at details.

These devices work great and save money, too,
compared to the cost of top-priced leather weading albums.




Insider tricks to avoid surprises & have the best wedding day possible


Do not IMPULSE-SPEND at the beginning!


The FIRST vendor you speak with sees you coming in their door with a pile of cash, because you haven't spent anything yet. So they may up-sell you to spend too much.

As a result, you could be left with too little funds for other wedding categories which are more important to you.

So please have a simple wedding budget established before signing up with anyone, no matter how excited you feel.

Wedding planning software is available to help you do this ($29 to $49). Since you're paying money for it, your results will be private, too.

There are also FREE internet resources for wedding planning. But "free" websites are supported by marketing, so personal info may be shared with vendors.

For budget help you could also ask someone from your church who has wedding experience, or hire a wedding planner.  



What are industry average wedding costs?


$5368 to 10,000 for just the catering (holy tapioca!)
$3702 = photography average for Sacramento.
$4,190 = reception venue average for Sacramento area
$29,000 = total


Sources: Sacramento Bride and Groom magazine, Summer-Fall 2013 issue, page 12 and Bridal Guide Magazine, May-June 2012 issue, page 156.


I hope you'll choose YOUR OWN priorities, whatever you care about most (venue, photos, partying, clothes, food, decorations, flowers, travel, etc.)

Every sales person believes THEIR product is the most important and will try to get you to spend more money with them. Which leaves less money for other categories.







Going into debt for wedding cost over-runs isn't ideal because money is a #1 source of marital stress. But parents giving the bride a "free" wedding is even worse. Lately, almost every divorce I've seen had a "free" wedding involved.

Every marriage hits some rough spots. Brides & grooms who are personally "invested" in their marriage are more likely to stay together through the rough spots, compared to folks who got a free ride.





Expensive Locations: Wineries, prime resort hotels, art galleries, glitzy downtown libraries, some country clubs.

Less Expensive Locations: Churches, local parks, national parks, state parks, city-owned event centers. Some country clubs have also held costs down to encourage weddings.

Day of week: Sundays are cheaper than Saturdays.


If a site is naturally pretty you may not have to rent decorations. Please note that outdoors, you need a microphone system so guests can hear the minister & vows over wind noises.


VERY POPULAR: Have the ceremony in a church (which needs very little decoration and already has a sound system). If you plan to have extensive partying you could hold the reception elsewhere.


ALSO POPULAR:  Have both the ceremony and reception at a church! That can save you quite a bit of $$. Here's what a wedding planner wrote:


"...One site means [only] one site fee...typically this is one of the most cost-effective options around." --- Bridal Guide Magazine, May-June 2012 issue, page 156.


Ask about your church's policy for dancing & DJ's, some churches are fine with it, some aren't.

(See my article "disc jockey advice" for suggestions about his Play List. On church propety you'll want dance music with G-rated song lyrics.)


CHURCH FEES: Many churches are very, very reasonable in cost. A few are expensive. (See my article "questions_to_ask_a_church" for explanation of how churches set prices.)







Since catering is a huge expense category, it pays to compare catering options carefully.

You aren't required to impress your guests with high costs... They're happy just to celebrate your marriage.


Please read my "dietary cautions" list below.



SHELLFISH ALLERGY is among the most common food allergies in America and causes life-threatening reactions. Statistically SEVERAL of your guests will have this concern. Shellfish = shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, etc.


The safest route is to instruct your caterer to serve absolutely NO shrimp, crab, lobster, or oysters -- and not even to permit these onsite. Because in the rush of a buffet or mobile catering, guests or staff will cross-contaminate foods with serving spoons. Don't ruin a guest's experience by sending them to the hospital after your wedding reception.


UNCOOKED ONIONS: Not an allergy but many guests don't want uncooked onions in their food due to the odor and bad breath. Remember, people will be in close contact.





Alcohol is a huge profit maker for venues --- but can give you unexpected higher costs.

There's a charge for every open bottle of champagne or wine, regardless of how little is consumed from a particular bottle. Even if an open bottle sits on an empty table.

Most economical:  Have champagne poured by volunteers (if allowed), this will use fewer bottles.


YOUR FINAL BAR TAB COULD BE A BIG BIG BIG SURPRISE! Two horror stories I observed first hand, I hope people can learn from them...


Example #1... We photographed an Old Sacramento wedding where the bar total went into orbit, and a relative had to put it on his own credit card afterwards. Awkward.

Here is how it happened: A modest open bar plus table champagne were added at the last minute. It added up way beyond the verbal cost estimate.


Two lessons from this story: 

1. Don't add any services at the last minute. The verbal cost estimate may be unrealistic.

 2. If you want an open bar, ask the venue about controlling alcohol upgrades that would increase your cost. (You could request the bar to use only "house" brands of alcohol, and limit mixed drinks to non-exotic blends.)


Example #2... One of our brides became fleeced on the bar tab at an elegant Lake Tahoe venue (which had sub-contracted out its wedding services). A bar tab is hard to audit or dispute after the fact. The controversy ruined the bride's day.

Evidently she wasn't the only bride affected, the hotel eventually shut down its wedding services. But a lot of memories had been damaged by that time.


If your budget is tight, there's no law that says you have to serve alcohol, or how much. Your guests are happy to share the joy of your special day and don't need high-end pampering to be glad they came.






Photography QUALITY depends primarily on the skill of the photographer. A "new" photographer or well-meaning amateur is not a safe idea.

Sacramento's current average photography fee is $3,702.


Pricing gimmicks

Sometimes an advertised price will be very attractive, but the cost will grow larger after some important extras are added.

That's called a low-ball price. It's like shoppping for a car, getting an attractive price over the phone, and later the salesman asks, do you also want TIRES on that new car?*


*The majority of wedding photographers are ethical people! As in any industry, a few participants will be on the fringe.


Example of a gimmick price: Someone advertises a low cost "4 hour" photography package. Four hours is not a realistic amount of coverage unless you have NO partying, no dancing, no beer, and everyone drinks lots of coffee. You should add overtime hours to that low price quote, at $250 per hour, to get a more realistic figure.




To understand the total cost of photos, here are the categories which add up:


1. PHOTOGRAPHER'S BASIC FEE: Wedding + reception? How many hours? (Personally I average six to eight hours, but charge a flat rate = no unexpected overtime fee.)


2. DIGITAL COPIES of images: High resolution images suitable for printing? Or only low resolution images? Or no digital copies unless you order extra goodies through their website?


3. PHYSICAL ALBUMS: Most photographers do not include physical albums in their basic price now. If desired, albums can be added a la carte.

Optional top quality pro albums cost around $1,200 to $2,000 each.

Lower priced (but very nice) pro albums are also available.

If your photographer offers you high resolution images on disc, you'll have tons of album alternatives. One of these is to load copies onto an iPad or Tablet, the newer screens are spectacular.

Above are actual unretouched photos - NOT some sort of advertising samples.
Original photos taken using Doug's Nikon camera, and displayed on a Samsung.



Some photographers require ordering prints through their website; these photographers will leave wedding photos posted online for only a short time so family must place orders early.

Other photographers will give or sell you copies of high resolution digital images. You can have these printed at any photo lab, with no markup. For best results I recommend using professional photo labs.




You'll want the photographer on scene for enough time to include reception coverage at least through the boquet toss. Usually 6+ hours.

In my opinion, it's a mistake to cut the pro's hours and rely on "amateurs" to take reception pictures instead. You'll end up with a nightmare pile of pictures that are hard to organize.




Some price lists offer two photographers as an extra-cost option.

With two photographers, similar scenes get photographed from two different angles with no improvement in quality. But it does make it more complicated to organize images later. And a second photographer annoys guests when duplicate poses get taken.

After seeing it both ways, I have concluded the ideal way is a single photographer.

If I were to photograph the wedding of a Kate Middleton, I'd want two photographers. Otherwise, usually not.



Is it included in the price?

The current trend is to include engagement photography in the package price.

An engagement session helps photographer & client feel comfortable with each other. Even more importantly, photographer sees how the couple will look in pictures. This helps him improve his work on the wedding day.

If not included in the price, an engagement session will add about $300.



8. TOTAL wedding photographer costs

Sacramento's average is $3702.

Source = Sacramento Bride and Groom Magazine, Summer-Fall 2013 issue, page 12.


Why so high?  First, advertising. Brides expect photographers to advertise in bridal magazines, bridal fairs, and in professionally managed Facebook accounts. These cost money --- and produce higher prices.

Second, quality photographers have studied and learned their skill over many years and that experience was very costly.

Third, professional equipment is expensive. Photographers are constantly buying new equipment and these costs, too, get passed on to consumers.







Before scheduling a limousine or caterer, please discuss your wedding day schedule with a photographer first.

Example: If you cut the limo schedule too tight to save a nickel, you'll throw a monkey wrench into the formals/group photography, and catering schedule, and everything else.

It's important to allow time for portrait photography after the ceremony, transporation time to the reception, and slack time in case the wedding starts late.


HOPE THIS HELPS! ...Doug at June 2013

Feel free to contact me with questions. There's nothing I like to do more than see weddings & marriages succeed.


Links for more details:




Copyright releases for reprinting photos




Photo galleries


Photography prices


Marriage licenses


Wedding video questions to ask



Feel free to reproduce this page if you credit the source.











Digital enhancement


Experienced wedding portrait photographer available for Sacramento, Roseville, Auburn, Newcastle, Loomis, Rocklin, Alta, Folsom, Placerville, Newcastle, Yuba City, Davis, Dixon, Vacaville, Napa, Yountville, Elk Grove, Jackson, Sutter Creek, Natomas, Antelope, Lake Tahoe, Myers, Rio Linda, Yuber City and anywhere in Northern CA. Full service and affordable oriented package prices.