Let's be real, J. Lo—even if your "love don't cost a thing," the typical wedding most certainly does. But no matter your budget, Zola wants to assist you in navigating those scary financials. Thus, the wedding company surveyed more than 750 newly-engaged and newly-married couples about their expectations for the most important wedding day expenditures. Then, the wedded folk also weighed in on what actually made their special day unforgettable, along with the money well spent, the money not-so-well spent, and the money not spent at all. (Spoiler: 35 percent of couples wish they'd hired a videographer.)
"When you're planning, it's important to think about the wedding day itself, but also afterwards," says Jennifer Spector, Zola's Director of Brand and Newlywed-at-Large. "We see trends come and go, but focusing on what's going to greatly impact you on the day, and then how you'd like to remember that day, can help reframe some costs." In the case of hiring a videographer, Spector reasons that many people view videos as an unnecessary additional expense upfront. "Because you spend so long planning, you forget the wedding's only one day that goes by really quickly," she says. "People then wish they'd captured moments and speeches. They want to see the whole event come to life and then be able to relive it again and again."
Another popular sin of omission? Around 20 percent of couples regretted not commissioning a wedding planner.
"People really underestimate what a huge event this is," says Spector, who was extremely grateful for her own planner last year. "You're kinda coordinating a family reunion, a religious ceremony, a live performance, and the biggest party you've ever thrown all in one. It really adds up, and most people don't have the background to manage such a huge project. Finding someone who can help keep the pressure off you, especially on the day of—that's a really valuable investment."
On the other side of the coin, the top wedding element that couples wish they'd spent less money on was "flowers and decor," with 22 percent of participants saying they spent too much. But interestingly, "flowers and decor" also fell into the fourth slot for the "top five wedding elements couples wish they'd spent more money on." When asked about the appearance on both lists, Spector says, "It goes back to what's important to you."
And does Spector have any general money-saving and money-stretching advice for the masses, based on the survey and her own wedding experience?
Ask Your Vendors If You Can Help
"Most wedding vendors are small businesses, so if there are any services you can offer up, those might be able to help offset costs," says Spector. If you work in marketing, offer to help with their website in exchange for a 10 percent discount. Tell the vendors you can endorse them to recently engaged friends. Ask your friends and family for recommendations and play off their good relationships with the vendors. The negotiating tactics are endless! "As long as you're respectful of the fact that this is someone's livelihood and valuable time, you can always ask," says Spector. "Just be really open about that conversation at the beginning versus when you have that final invoice and you're like, 'oh my gosh.'"
And the best vendors aren't necessarily the most expensive; they're the ones with whom you have the most chemistry. "Remember, you're going to be spending the whole day with these people," says Spector. "Even if a photographer takes the most beautiful pictures, if you're like, 'get this person away from me,' that's going to have a negative impact on your photos."
Don't Overdo the Small Things
"Not being stuck on having name brand everything can actually help you get more of what you want," says Spector, who was "obsessed" with an "insanely expensive" wedding band, until she found an equally incredible alternative at half the price. "You can get yourself so worked up about needing an exact element, but be flexible. You might've really wanted this designer, but here's a similar dress or a gently used dress for a tenth of the price."
Spector herself admitted "spinning a little out of control" when it came to her invitations, an expense that also showed up as one couples' wish they'd made more effort to spare themselves. "There were ways to scale back, and at the end of the day, people do throw those things out," she says. "I think that kind of speaks in general to the survey. There's a lot of different things that maybe make for a beautiful still-life picture—invitations, wedding-day attire, hair, and makeup—that people are really excited to plan for leading up to their wedding, and then on the day, those things tend to be less important."
Determine What Matters the Most
Expectedly, the venue and photography topped both the "before" and "after" wedding lists, but the remainder of the hindsight rollout included some surprises (the wedding cake! Music's jump to the number three spot!). "I think anything that makes the party feel joyful, and has people wanting to celebrate, couples will feel was worth the investment," says Spector. "You can think all these wedding elements are of equal weight, but it's important to reevaluate what matters to you and your future spouse."
And how does a bride prepare to make all those difficult decisions?
"Even people with unlimited budgets don't get everything they want," says Spector. " Say, 'is this going to have a dramatic effect on my happiness, or can I cross this off my list and move on?'"
Keep in Mind the Day's Purpose
"The details are not what your guests notice the most," says Spector. "They notice how happy you guys are. If you're having a good time, then everyone else will have a good time. And you're going to have a good time regardless of any particular element because you're so happy that you're married! That's a really important perspective to have."
Top Five Wedding Elements Couples Wish They'd Spent Less Money On:
1. Flowers & Decor (22 percent felt they spent too much)
2. Hair & Makeup (20 percent felt they spent too much)
3. Catering (19 percent felt they spent too much)
4. Day-of Wedding Attire (Dress, Suit, Accessories, Etc.) (19 percent felt they spent too much)
5. Invitations (17 percent felt they spent too much)
Top Five Wedding Elements Couples Wish They'd Spent More Money On:
1. Videographer (25 percent wish they'd spent more)
2. Photographer (22 percent wish they'd spent more)
3. Wedding Planner/Coordinator (20 percent wish they'd spent more)
4. Flowers & Decor (12 percent wish they'd spent more)
5. Band/DJ (10 percent wish they'd spent more)
Top 10 Wedding Elements That Engaged Couples Deemed “Most Important” During the Planning Process
Top 10 Wedding Elements That Newlyweds Say Actually Made Their Wedding “Truly Unforgettable”
4. Day-of-Wedding Attire (Dress, Suit, Accessories, etc.)
5. Flowers & Decor
6. Wedding Officiant
8. Wedding Planner or Coordinator
9. After Party
10. Wedding Cake