Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wedding Photography: Value vs Cost

It's not all about the dollar figure. Sometimes it's about value.

For example, most of us can agree that we will spend a healthy price for durable, versatile shoes because they last so long, go with a lot of outfits, and are pretty important to something we do all day every day, walk. Most women will spend good money on a good bra. Most men will drop some serious coin on a classic suit that can be worn to weddings and funerals for years to come.

Most of the elements of the wedding day are reserved for that day alone, and therefore fall into the category for me and Brant of "Things To Not Spend a Lot of Money On." However, thanks to the advice of many friends and a lot of conversation between the two of us, we came to agree that wedding photos would endure long after the wedding day -- and would be the only vehicle for remembering the blessed day into our senile twilight years -- so it was worth it to pay the outrageous prices charged by wedding photographers.

But we weren't going down without a fight.

Brant (mostly), as well as me and Brant's mom, Linda, spent a great deal of time researching photographers. We looked at their websites, read their testimonials, compared number of hours, prices, number of photographers, number of prints, costs to have the copyright-released disk to ourselves, etc, etc, etc. Some photographers' photos looked amazing, but they charged prices we choked on to even say out loud for just 3 or 4 hours of photography. Some photographers were much, much less expensive, but they also either had less-than-impressive portfolios and/or they simply took photojournalistic pictures with their point-and-shoot cameras and no other lighting or lens equipment.

So we kept coming back to the photographer who seemed to offer by far the most value for the price. Greg Patterson Photography in Wichita will give us unlimited time and two photographers. The "unlimited time" piece is as valuable as anything. This means we know the entire day and evening will be documented and we don't have to worry if someone is running late or a child is being uncooperative or what have you. The "two photographers" is nice, too! We get Greg and his wife or another female employee, and I like this because it means someone's taking pictures of both the women and the men as we're getting ready at the church.

Greg and his +1 will take thousands of photos throughout the day, and then he will narrow down to a few hundred which will have all eyes open, no one looking stoned or stunned, etc. Then we get the proofs compiled in a book, from which we can choose to buy prints -- and Greg's per print price was lower than most of the other photographers we researched.

So while both of us still sometimes lament how much we're spending on wedding photography, we do understand the value of what we're paying for, both in terms of what we will get that day, as well as the memories we'll be able to enjoy for the lifetime ahead.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Unrelated to Planning, But Fun Nonetheless

Unrelated note #1: I had to take my engagement ring to get sized yesterday. McMullen Jewelry rocks and Mrs. McMullen totally remembered me and was very excited by how much I love my inexpensive ring. They're re-sizing it for free, which is nice. However, I'm SOOOOO sad without it!! I'm wearing a filler ring in its absence just because I was feeling such a void in that tiny space on my left ring finger. It's amazing to me how much I love everything the ring symbolizes and how upset I was to have to leave it behind.

Unrelated note #2: I was in Watermark Books (which is also in Lincoln Heights Village at Douglas & Oliver) to buy a gift for a friend when I was stopped in my tracks by the following book:

Of course, the title had me at hello. I bought it straight away. I've only read two chapters but I can fully recommend it already. I haven't laughed that hard while reading a book in a very long time. This woman writes with the kind of comedic timing reserved for only the greatest actors of our time -- but she does so in her writing! And her perspective is classic. There is a real bond between "ethnic" Mennonites who have defected and people like me who came to the Mennonite faith as an adult: Objectivity. Mennonites think they're objective and don't take themselves too seriously and can make jokes at their own peculiarities. But no one can appreciate the ridiculousness of Menno entrenchment like outsiders, and I feel akin to the author in our shared outsider'ness.

And given the title of this blog and the post about the "little black dress," it was too perfect not to mention.

More actual wedding planning details to come. For now I leave you with an excerpt from Ms Janzen...

"My father, once the head of the North American Mennonite Conference for Canada and the United States, is the Mennonite equivalent of the pope, but in plaid shorts and black dress socks pulled up snugly along the calf. In the complex moral universe that is Mennonite adulthood, a Mennonite can be good-looking and still have no sartorial taste whatsoever. My father may actually be unaware that he is good-looking. He is a theologian who believes in a loving God, a servant heart, and a senior discount. Would God be pleased if we spent an unnecessary thirty-one cents at McDonald's? I think not."


Monday, December 21, 2009

Honeymoon A'Go-Go

There is undoubtedly some statistic about the percentage of the total wedding budget spent on the Honeymoon part. And I imagine it's high. Don't get me wrong: I LOVE going on vacations, exploring new places, and relaxing away the days in a quiet, beautiful space. I've had the blessing and pleasure of traveling all across the U.S. and the western hemisphere. But I have also found that a retreat center a couple hours away or a drive through southeastern Kansas will just as easily do the trick for me. And most importantly, I've learned that no destination is worth financial debt. While I'm grateful for the trips I've been able to take, and on which I've taken family and friends, many of those trips are scarred with the knowledge that they were "paid for" with a credit card I had no intention of paying off at the time.

If a couple pays just $2,500 for a honeymoon on a 17.99% credit card, and pays only the minimum payment, it will take a little more than 15 years to pay off that balance and the no-longer-newlyweds will have paid more than $4,000 extra in interest. Sobering, no?

But I digress.
THANKFULLY the good Lord has brought me to a very different place in my heart about finances and debt. And Brant is naturally very wise, conservative and debt-averse, so we're a perfect match at this point in our lives (praise be to God). By the time Brant and I are one year into our marriage, we will be completely debt-free except for the mortgage on the house Brant bought, which will become our married home on July 3rd, and in which we can comfortably live on one income.

What does all this have to do with our Honeymoon? Or our wedding in general? If there is a soap box on which this blog stands, it's that a wedding, a honeymoon, a rehearsal dinner -- none if it is worth the enslavement that comes with consumer debt. And if the bride and groom in question are willing to be content with whatever they can afford with cash, they can find real and lasting joy (and freedom!) in "alternative" ideas for all elements of the wedding process, including the honeymoon.

For example, I know a lot of very lucky people who have houses in other parts of the country besides the city in which they live. My Aunt and Uncle on the Szambecki side, for example, live in Ohio but own a house on Captiva Island, Florida, which is off the gulf coast of Florida near Ft Myers. I was happy to swallow any pride about asking for hand-outs and call my Uncle to see if the house would be available for use July 4-10. He said YES!

So Brant and I -- filled with disbelief and gratitude still -- get to stay for free at our honeymoon destination! We'll still have to fly ourselves to Ft Myers, drive ourselves to the house on Captiva Island, and feed ourselves, but lodging costs are huge and we do have an offer from some generous parents to pay for our flight as well.

The moral of the story is: There are lots of ways to save money on the honeymoon, and one way is to ask around to friends and family to see if any extra houses, timeshares, etc, are available. As we say in fundraising, "You don't G-E-T unless you A-S-K!"

Here are some photos I found online of Captiva Island. I look forward to posting pictures from our trip in just 6 1/2 short months!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

All Bookings are DONE!

Church and Pastor. CHECK!

Reception site. CHECK!

Honeymoon destination. CHECK!

Caterer. CHECK!


Florist. CHECK!

Photographer. CHECK!

According to all the wedding books and lists, everything that needs to be booked way in advance for the date of our wedding is indeed booked! What a relief! I still have to shop for, decide on and buy/order a dress, but I am aware of the time lines involved in that process and know I still have about two months before I need to start panicking about that.

More to come on the details of those various elements and the money we're trying/hoping to save, but for now, let's all take a collective deep breath and enjoy a checked-off to-do list. I know Brant and I are doing just that!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Little Black [Bridesmaids] Dress

Most women have a favorite "little black dress." If they don't currently own one, they're aware that their life will somehow be enhanced by the possession of one. Of course, I'm kidding about that last sentence, but I will say that I have been most pleased with my investment this time last year in a Little Black Dress from White House Black Market. I have worn THREE times in the year since I bought it! That's got to be some kind of record. Here is me in it before a wedding Brant and I went to in KC. Frankly, I feel so pretty in it, I kind of wish I could wear it to my OWN wedding!!

When thinking about bridesmaids dresses, I can't help but think about the nine I've worn in the last 12 years. It's no secret that -- try as she may to do otherwise -- a bride will be asking her friends and sisters to pay a premium for dresses they'll never wear.

But the Little Black there's a bridesmaids dress I can get behind!

So I have asked my bridesmaids to choose one from their closet, one from my closet, one from a friend's closet, or if they want to and can afford to, they certainly have the option of buying one. Since they're choosing, they can choose how much, if anything, to spend on their dress. They can also choose the dress that fits them best and makes them feel the most beautiful (as long as it's knee length :) ) and hopefully they really will be able to wear it again, if they haven't already been wearing it because it's something they already own and love.

I found some pictures online of other wedding parties adopting this principle and am excited for the aesthetic that will be created when I'm wearing my white dress and the women standing up for me are wearing Little Black Dresses.

(We didn't leave the guys out in the cost savings: We've asked them to wear their own (or borrow a) solid black suit.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brant, the DJ Sherpa

There are so many things to love about Brant. One of the countless is his keen ability to focus on any task and see it through to completion. He's very reliable, and there seems to be no ADD blood coursing through his veins. It's quite impressive, and watching him kick ass at everything he does (including tasks he doesn't try all that hard at) really inspires me to try harder.

So I know when I ask him to help me complete a wedding-related task, it will be done well, done quickly and done right.

He went above and beyond when I asked him to research DJ's.

After researching several DJ's, getting price quotes via email and in the mail, he settled on his recommendation: Light It Up DJs out of Manhattan, KS.

For the size of our reception space and considering it will be an early evening in July so we won't need any Fancy lights because the room will be completely sun-lit the whole time, we were able to go with the least expensive package, which is only $400!! WOO HOO! That's less than I was anticipating spending for sure. And there are no extra charges for driving to Wichita or finding songs they might not already have in their library or ANYTHING! (Brant asked.)

And this brings up another point. All vendors want a deposit right away, then they want you to pay the balance BEFORE the event (sometimes up to a month!) I think that's ridiculous. And it's even kind of anti-free market: Why would I voluntarily exchange my goods for a service that hasn't been rendered?? What's the service-provider's incentive to show up and do his/her/their best if they already have our money in hand??

Fortunately, this DJ service agreed to our terms: Paying the deposit now and the balance the night of the event.

DJ? CHECK! Thanks, Brant!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Doesn't get any better than THIS reception spot!!

Thanks to my career in non-profit fundraising, and my second career as bridesmaid and unofficial wedding planner, I've used and/or been to just about every major banquet space in Wichita.

I knew going into this wedding process that we wanted "open catering" because we wanted to have Bella Luna Cafe cater, so that narrowed the field considerably. Then there was the issue of the date. It turns out I'm not the only woman in Wichita planning a Summer 2010 wedding. Ha! All the places we thought about first (Botanica, Scottish Rite, Indian Center) were booked. City Arts was too small. We found one place that was open called Gallery One Nine, which is on the 18th & 19th floors of a building in downtown Wichita. I'm VERY grateful now that the guy there was too slow to respond to us because that gave me time to do more shopping.

I stumbled upon an amazing site: This site allowed me to put in my specifications (date, number of guests, etc) and then choose which venues I wanted those specs sent in to. La Quinta Inn and Suites called me back at 8:15am the next day -- and that was just the first thing that impressed me!

La Quinta @ Kellogg and Rock was open on our date and was open catering. We were very impressed when we took a tour of the space: Seventh floor ballroom with an amazing three-sided view of the city. But what ultimately sold us was the price. All those other places I mentioned are anywhere from $1,200 to $1,700 and that's just for the room and the set-up and tear-down of the tables and chairs.

La Quinta offered us the space for the evening of our event for $650.

And they threw in the FABULOUS, AMAZING two-story honeymoon suite for free.

Needless to say, we were blown away and VERY grateful. And to add to our excitement, the woman we're working with over there is AWESOME!! Very professional and responsive and organized. We admit the space will be small for all the people we expect will join us for our reception, but we also trust it will work out just fine.

We're really glad now we didn't just go with the first open venue. I was ready to let my fear of losing a place keep me from doing more shopping and investigating. Man, am I glad the one guy at the one place was bad about returning calls!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ring Around the Shoe String

Brant and I share similar tastes. We both like simple clean lines when it comes to design. We both prefer casual dress that hovers around "scrubby." We both like owls.

I've always been a jewelry minimalist. I own a bunch of necklaces and bracelets but rarely wear them. I own rings but probably wear one every month or so. I wear earrings and a watch every day. That's about it. (Hey! I've become very bold in my earring choices I'll have you know!)

So when you combine simple taste + jewelry minimalist + desire to avoid spending on "stuff," you get a simple, elegant, VERY inexpensive engagement ring!

I knew I didn't want Brant spending more than $400 on a ring. That's a random number, but anything more made me feel all squirmy and uncomfortable inside. So that was the request I made to him. He was more than happy to comply.

Brant went to one local jeweler and gave the owner my budget and was met with an incredulous response as well as a mention of the word "cheap." When Brant told me that I became incredulous! What a bunch of crap! What terrible customer service!

A few days later I was leaving my favorite eatery (Il Vicino) with my favorite lunch buddy (Ginger) when I decided to stop into McMullen Jewelry in Lincoln Heights Village in Wichita. I'd heard their name as sponsors of NPR and wanted to check them out. I was met by Mrs. McMullen and when I told her the budget I wanted my boyfriend to stay within, she went on and on about how smart we were and how refreshing it was to hear a "young person" talking this way.

That sold me on the place. :)

Long story short: I picked out a ring (after a fair amount of debate and a second trip to the store), gave Brant the specs, and left it in his hands. McMullen will knock off up to a third of the price of the item in exchange for gold, and gold is worth a LOT right now. So Brant was able (unbeknownst to me) to take some gold items we collected and buy the ring for way under my specified budget.

He had been planning a few proposal scenarios that would take place in December (this is according to Brant; I'm just reporting what I know) but on Saturday, November 28, 2009, he could not wait any longer. After we'd spent some time cleaning his house in anticipation of having our families over the next day, we were standing there admiring our handywork, kissing, and then suddenly he was on one knee.

(I believe my initial thought was, "What the heck is he doing?!")

He presented a small box and opened it to reveal the ring, said something like "I can't wait any longer. Will you marry me?" To which I squealed and thanked him profusely for wanting to marry me and yelled "YES!"

And that's the story of the ring, which we both love, feel is very "us," and are so pleased with how little was spent on it. Wanna see pictures??? :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A "Heaping" Disclaimer

The word "heaping" brings to mind many images, not all of them positive. Yet it's the word that keeps coming to mind when I think about how abundantly the Lord has been providing for me and Brant. I mentioned one of our faves in my first post: We are very unified in our beliefs about money. We don't take this for granted! Reports tell us that the #1 cause for divorces in this country is conflict over finances. We know we are undeservedly blessed with seeing eye-to-eye about "money stuff" so far.

I think part of what makes it so fun to be doing what we're doing at this time in our lives is we've had the pleasure and honor of walking along side many friends and family as they've planned weddings, been newly married, and settled into marriages. We've heard many a friend talk about their weddings, first homes, etc, and they more often than not start those stories with, "If I'd known then what I know now...." We have taken these thoughts to heart as we've shopped for a home for Brant (which we knew would become our married home; will post this story soon) and now as we plan for the wedding and all the events surrounding it.

We know that our attempt to reflect our personal values as a couple onto this process is about our personal values. The Lord has gifted everyone with a different set of experiences, perspectives, calls and convictions, and we hope that -- by blogging about our journey to be true to ours -- we can perhaps inspire others to be true to theirs, whatever those values are, applied to whatever circumstances lie ahead.

And if this blog happens to make it into the hands (eyes?) of someone who will soon or someday plan a wedding, I hope s/he can use some of the ideas about how to keep wedding expenses low. Because when I think about the ways in which wedding costs can pile up (and already have!)...well...the word "heaping" comes to mind for that, too...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Let the wedding (verb) begin!

Marriage is AMAZING! It is the primary relationship God has used in the lives of gagillions of people over time to reveal more about Him and make us more like Him. I used to not like marriage, but now that I've spent years looking at it through God's eyes, I LOVE marriage, and am thrilled/grateful/humbled beyond words to be journeying toward one.

The man who's made me The Luckiest is Brant Benninga. Brant and I met on Match.Com in July and knew from our second date that we wanted to marry one another. Of course, as 30 and 34 year olds, we knew doing so hastily was unwise and would be met with understandable opposition from our very sagacious family and close friends. So we've spent five months getting to know each other, letting our families and friends get to know us, and getting to know SO MUCH about how the Lord seems to want to bless us and use us.

And now we're engaged to be married. YAY MARRIAGE! But you know what that means...a W-E-D-D-I-N-G.

One way Brant and I knew we were right for each other was the fact that God has somehow managed to place us in each other's lives at a time when our hearts were in the EXACT same place about money, spending, saving, debt and the value of "stuff." We both hate debt (and not just cuz the Bible says so, though it helps) and love saving, and have a healthy aversion to spending on anything that's not practical, useful, has no long-term use, or has no tangible value attached. And we agree that we WILL spend on those things that DO fall into those categories.

We're very blessed to believe these same ways.

So when wedding subjects have come up, we just look at each other in amazement at how on-the-same-page we are about where to spend, where to save, and what to skip altogether because it's just not "us."

This blog will chronicle those decisions and will hopefully inspire others to see that two people CAN have a wedding (and all the stuff that surrounds the wedding) that honors God, honors the sanctity of the MARRIAGE above the "sanctity" of spending on a wedding, and that reflects values that are "other than" what the world tells us we're supposed to value.

We hope you enjoy our ideas and adventures!