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How to make a perfect wedding budget
Veena Venugopal, Outlook Money
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November 06, 2007
Come November and it's wedding season. The scent of flowers, tinkling of jewellery, anxious parents, excited brides and grooms - no matter where you live, you cannot miss this celebration, the promise of a shared future. If you are getting married or are a parent of a bride or a groom, this is perhaps one of your lifetime events, something you have looked forward to for a long time.

Marriages may be egalitarian, but weddings are always unique. Simple, elegant or simply splash out elaborate, everyone has a vision of what they want for a wedding in the family. While, it is a big day - one that you must celebrate unabashedly - it is also, really, just another party. Outlook Money decodes the anatomy of a wedding and tells you how to weave cost efficiency into the emotions of a wedding day.

The first step to organising a wedding is making a budget for it. This is not easy and people planning a wedding for the first time are particularly susceptible to under-budgeting. Once you have fixed the location of the wedding, you should immediately start scouting for the venue. A lot of costs depend on where the venue is. 

The wedding of Delhi-based Aparajit Bhattacharya to Deepasri Baul in December this year is a two-city event. Delhi will host the sangeet and wedding and Kolkata the cocktails and reception. The Delhi event would see 600 guests and they are expecting around 700 in Kolkata. More than 100 guests would be travelling from Delhi to Kolkata to attend the events there. 

Says Bhattacharya, "We do have a budget for it, and I am trying my best to keep costs within it. But I have also buffered in 20 per cent, in case we overshoot. I had no idea of how much things would cost and this whole exercise of planning the wedding has been full of surprises." He is sharing the costs with his father.

In Mumbai, young journalist Joeanne Rebello is planning her wedding in Goa. "There have been so many components of costs that we did not anticipate," she says. For one, they have had to make several trips to Goa to tie up various aspects like the venue, accommodation for guests, DJ and choir. Each trip cost about Rs 6,000, and they have gone thrice already and would have to make some more visits before the wedding. "My wedding dress has also gone completely out of budget - from Rs 10,000 that I anticipated to Rs 18,500 that I eventually ended up paying," says Rebello, "but I have made sure that it's designed in a manner that I can wear it again later." 

You should write down elements that are must-have-at-any-cost and list separately things that you can do without. This would help in trimming down on unnecessary expenses. Also, weddings have a huge emotional appeal and vendors always take advantage of this. "When you approach a vendor for any aspect of your wedding, do not tell him it's for your wedding, tell him you are planning a party," advises Parthip Thiagarajan, who runs online wedding magazine "The price they quote goes up significantly if they know it's a wedding." 

Wedding registries and gift ideas are yet to catch on in India, but it makes infinite sense for you to state what you want as a wedding gift when close relatives and friends ask you. Make a list and circulate it, this way you would not be stuck with three microwaves and no washing machine when you set up home after your marriage.

Wedding must-haves
Every wedding comes with a set of requirements, whether dictated by religion, tradition, culture or society. The choreographer to teach you the latest moves for the sangeet and the specially flown in sushi chef to make the starters may be optional, but there are certain elements that are mandatory, irrespective of the kind of wedding you have.

The first decision you will have to take is about the venue.

The location of your wedding is a key driver of not only convenience, but also cost. If you are getting married in the city where you live, try and get a venue close to your residence, even if it means paying a little extra. You can avoid several costs, like those of hiring cars and buses, if the venue is close to your home.

You must book a hall six to eight months before the wedding. Make sure the contract says the price is fixed, there are no hidden charges and the vendor does not have the option to hike the tariff. As wedding season approaches and demand soars, vendors may get tempted to increase the price of venues.

Hotels and banquet halls are hassle-free and you can use the expertise and experience of a banquet manager to solve problems. In south India, kalyanamandapams are popular venues. These come bundled with a few rooms for the bride, groom and their families. 

Cost. Rs 10,000-40,000.

Tip. Always negotiate a combined rate for the venue and the food. Certain halls and hotels charge only for the food and the venue comes free.

After the Aishwarya Rai-Abhishek Bachchan wedding, there is a trend of getting married at home. While this may be difficult in small houses in large cities, it is a viable option in smaller towns. In case you decide to hold a home wedding, add the costs of sprucing up your house to your budget. Also, look for unusual venues. Rebello and her fianc� are getting married in an empty lot by a river in Goa in December. "The place is beautiful and the landlord charged us only Rs 4,000 for it. We plan to set up a canopy for the food and we're good to go," she says.

There's no easy way around this, your guests would be talking about the food served at your wedding for days after. And, if the food turns out to be bad, they would be talking about it for months. So, this is certainly not the area to be lax in. 

Pick a caterer who comes with a lot of positive recommendation. Sit with the banquet manager well in advance, discuss the menu options and always insist on a tasting. Even if the food seems good at the tasting, fall back on recommendations to finally make your decision - food cooked in small quantities for the tasting may not taste the same when cooked for a big crowd. 

If you plan to serve alcohol at the wedding, try and work out a deal where you can bring your own booze. Sourcing liquor from the hotel is expensive. Most hotels are happy to let you do it at a small concierge charge.

Cost. Rs 50-2,000/plate.

Tip. Negotiate a two-tier food rate: one rate per plate of starters and the other for the main course and dessert. Choose some excellent starter options and serve them. Lots of guests end up eating only the starters and do not venture to the main course. You save on a lot of unwanted costs this way.

The days of noodles nudging their way into the pasta, past the dal on your plate are over. Stick to one kind of cuisine. If you do want to have a multi-cuisine spread, choose an oriental cuisine for starters - serving sushi, spring rolls, wantons and others - Indian food for the main course and Western desserts like mousse and Cr�me Brulee.

This is an area where you can really go extravagant if you want the message of your 'big, splashy' wedding to go around. Or you can keep it simple, elegant and low-key. Your choice of venue also has a bearing on your d�cor costs. "If the wedding is in a hotel that is well maintained and well lit, you can save money on d�cor," Srikant Kanoi, owner of Nupur Dreamz, a Bangalore-based wedding planner. "Wedding mandaps and halls may not always be freshly painted and you may have to spend money on lots more decoration."

Small decisions can make a big difference to your budget. Plastic chairs cost only Rs 3-5 per chair, cushioned ones go for as much as Rs 70-90. So, if you are expecting about 500 guests and are okay with plastic chairs, you save Rs 42,500 on chairs alone.

Cost. Rs 35,000-70,000.

Tip. State your budget to the florist or the decorator and then ask them what they can do for the amount. If the decorator shows you his portfolio and you pick your options off it, you are likely to overshoot your budget significantly. Also, do not decorate around a flaw like chipped paint on the walls, unless you can completely hide it, it's better not to draw attention to that area. It may work out cheaper if the venue has a tie-up with a decorator. Supervise, supervise, supervise.

The trend is to keep it simple. Elegant flowers, fairy lights and a nice colour scheme. Oriental influences are heavy, it is also not about heavy drapes this season. Also, it would be nice to have an eco-friendly d�cor. Try and reduce the plastic content in your decorations. 

This is certainly the area that brides-to-be would be spending the maximum time on. It's also one that helps you make the most of your creativity. While some colour and jewellery would be mandated by traditions, there is a lot of scope for bringing out your individuality and personality.

The best way to optimise on your costs for the wedding dress is to buy it from a store that has a very high turnover. If you want to get it tailored, then skip the designer and go straight to his tailor. Designers outsource most of the work to embroiders and tailors and these people have the experience and the expertise to make your dream outfit at a fraction of the cost. Also, avoid exclusive boutiques which sell small quantities of expensive clothes. 

Keep reusability in mind while buying clothes and jewellery. "I am wearing a corset and a skirt for the wedding, instead of a gown," says Rebello. "I would be able to wear them even after the wedding by mixing and matching them with the rest of my wardrobe."

Cost. Rs 5,000-60,000 for bride's main dress; Rs 5,000-30,000 for groom's main dress; Rs 10,000-45,000 for family.

Tip. Most cities see wedding exhibitions every year just before the wedding season begins. Visit these and understand trends. Do not buy from the stores there as they could be rather expensive. Once you get a handle on what you want, you can go ahead and explain it to your tailor. You can also hire some outfits if you have several events as part of your wedding.

You can check out the latest Bollywood movies to understand what's in on the wedding couture front. In jewellery, do not buy into short-term trends, stick to the classics. Avoid buying overtly 'blingy' jewellery.

The first notice of your impending nuptials. Invitations run from single page announcements to some that can double up as books. Ideally, have one invite and small cards for different functions. This way you can choose your guest list for each function. 

If you have friends who are graphic designers, use their help to design your invitation - you can keep it personalised and unique.

Cost. Rs 8-50/invitation.

Tip. Get two different sets of cards made - one for those who will certainly not be coming for the wedding, but have to be  invited nevertheless. These can be simple wedding announcements. The fancy, full edition can be given to guests who are special and sure to turn up. Instead of simply scanning the card and e-mailing it, use e-cards - they are far more personal and creative. Spend a couple of hours in the street that specialises in wedding invitations. You will definitely find better designs and cost-effective prices.

Wedding invitations are contemporary Indian now. They have also moved from being a roster of family names to one that focuses on the bride and groom. 

Transport/ Accommodation
Transporting guests to and fro and accommodating out of town guests is usually the most under-budgeted cost of weddings. Try and find service apartments in your area, most cities and towns now have these. These work out to be far cheaper than hotels. Also, insist that the wedding venue provide you with a few rooms - these can be used as changing rooms and also places where guests can rest, if needed.

Hire a bus instead of several cars for the wedding day. Also, remember you would need additional transport for a couple of days prior to and after the wedding to pick up guests from airports and railway stations and drop them back. "Most people do not remember this and end up not budgeting for it," Kanoi says.

Cost. Rs 3,500-8,000 a day for buses; Rs 600-1,000 a day for cars.

Tip. Negotiate a daily rate instead of a per kilometre one. You will not be able to anticipate how many trips the car would have to make. Always set up a control room at the hotel or the service apartments where most of the guests would stay. All requests for soft drinks and snacks should go to the control room. This will ensure that your guests don't run up huge room service bills. 

Write a nicely worded letter to the guests stating the facilities that would be available. This should give your guests a hint of what they have to pay for themselves. "Long distance phone calls made by guests is always an unpleasant surprise," Kanoi says. 

Murphy's Law- if anything can go wrong, it will - does not spare weddings. It is rare for a wedding to go through without any hiccups. Anticipate some trouble - a vendor who does not show up on time, shoddy work in the arrangements and more guests than you thought would turn up are the usual suspects.

Plan ahead, organise well and anticipate trouble. After this, you could be zen-like, it's your wedding day after all and you deserve to enjoy it.

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