How to Budget for a San Luis Obispo Wedding

I thought I’d do something really helpful for couples who are looking to get married in San Luis Obispo. Plus, capitalize on the recent article published in New Times SLO’s annual Bride’s edition, where (get ready for self-loving plug…now) I was recently interviewed to shed some insight on cost of weddings in the county.

2014 Brides Edition Image Copyright: New Times SLO

2014 Brides Edition // Image Copyright: New Times SLO

Hold onto your britches, because I’m about to drop a few important, and likely, the most helpful wedding tips you will receive in the following paragraphs.

When couples seek our services, I would say about 98% have no idea how much wedding vendor services costs. Usually, it is because of the most obvious – they have never been married before. However, another factor may be because about 90% of our clients are from out-of-county, therefore do not know what vendors ‘round-these-parts charge.

Care to make a guess how much it costs to drape this 40' x 80' banquet room?

Care to make a guess how much it costs to drape this 40′ x 80′ banquet room? // Image Copyright: Cameron Ingalls Photography

As quoted in the article (2nd self-loving plug,) “The budget is ridiculously important. Before you get carried away and start signing contracts, make sure you’ve taken everything into account – because most couples don’t.”

First and foremost, let’s get it out of the way… there is ALWAYS a budget.

I want to mention this because it is imperative that you are honest with yourself and your wedding planner (should you decide to go for a full-plan.) You cannot possibly begin to effectively (and efficiently) plan a wedding if you do not have a target number. Believe me, even my clients who have spent over $100,000 for their weddings had budgets, and when I speak with clients who say, “we really don’t have a budget, it doesn’t matter.” Somewhere along the line, when I ask if the couple is fine with spending $100k, I end up getting a phone call or email that goes like this… “Remember when we said we have no budget, well, we’ve thought about it and it’s actually $X.”

Your budget – love it or hate it… you CAN work with it.

Let me tell you why the budget is so important by using 3 common mistakes…

Mistake #1: Blowing Through the Stash in an Excited Wedding Dash

In the beginning of wedding planning, the first item on the agenda is usually the venue, rightfully so, this is why couples come to SLO to get married after all. What I have seen happen many times over is a bride and groom, without taking into consideration money allocation, will start signing contracts with vendors whom they fall in love with, then may end up left with a very small portion of the funds for other very important elements.

$6,500 for a lovely venue… ok, signed.

$4,500 for a great photographer… ok, signed.

That’s $11,000.

What if you have 150 guests, are self-proclaimed “foodies” (you want a fabulous plated meal, complete with passed hors d’oeuvres and nice wine pairing) and your budget is $30,000?

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

One of the best wedding meals in SLO County, by Executive Chef William Torres of Justin Vineyards. Delicious? Yes… Quality? Yes… Cheap? No. // Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Guess what, you have already blown $37% of your budget on 2 vendors and top caterers usually charge somewhere between $50 to $100 per person for amazing, plated service. For the sake of this computation, let’s settle at $60 per person. That’s now $9000 for food… then of course, you can’t forget tax and the service charge, which will put your catering bill to near $11,500.

You’ve just spent $22,500 for 3 vendors, and you’ll still need the to pay for a coordinator, rentals, flowers, DJ (and maybe lighting), cake, officiant, venue insurance, hotel, self and guest transport, all those tiny details…etc..etc..etc..

You see? My advice here is PRIORITIZE. Compare your actual needs versus your wants. Make a list of your possible costs per vendor (adding cushion) and only after you have shopped around, should you sign the contracts. A venue is of course, very important and should be contracted as soon as possible. However, if you want to stay within budget, be sure you get an overall view of your wedding, versus looking at only one vendor field at a time.

Mistake #2: Champagne Dreams on a Beer Budget

At Le Festin Events, we rarely turn clients away because of a small budget. We make sure to always take the time to hear a couple out, if even in the end – just to give them advice. Now, I must write that when a client’s budget is small for the size of their wedding, I tell them right off the bat. However, although it is much harder to work with less funds (and wedding planners usually quiver at small budgets because we actually end up working A LOT more, or get stuck having to work with mediocre vendors – that’s the truth,) I still very much stand on the ideal on which the company was founded  – “spectacular events on any budget.”  We can’t, however, work miracles for clients who cannot accept advice.

The key to beer money is, and really, with any budget is – BE REALISTIC AND BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

Before you try bargaining with vendors (here’s a tip, most vendors don’t haggle dance with couples who have small budgets and won’t even give discounts, especially during busy months) come to terms with what you CAN afford, and with that, use a few extra dashes of creativity to make it fabulous!

In other words, don’t start demanding bridesmaid bouquets of peonies from your florist during the fall season, when you can have gorgeous “in-season” flowers instead (and maybe only have the bride’s bouquet of peonies.) Don’t be upset with what cannot fit in your budget or push for the impossible. Let go of unrealistic expectations.

Mistake #3: Too Late in the Game – No Pudding for You!

Although this 3rd mistake may not necessarily affect your budget much, I’m still throwing it in as an added advice bonus. Caterers – the good, true and responsive caterers are hard to come by in SLO. Not to sound like a total jack ass, but if you are used to amazing food from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or other such major cities, you will find that truly talented caterers are few here. I have found, much like many restaurants around the county who claim to be the “best”, there can be a whole lot of over-promise and under-delivering. Hence, the great caterers are booked and snatched up looooooong before the wedding season starts. If fabulous food is a major indulgence on your list of “must-haves”, act quickly and don’t wait too long to get your deposit out – which means, definitely prepare to shell out some cold hard cash for great food and professional service.

Now, if none of the above helped guide you at all, here is a safe and realistic chart of what a nice (SLO) wedding for 150 people, with main focus on venue, fab food and good fun should more or less  look like. This is based on a $30K budget and working with professionals who are on top of their game, yet in price range. Please note that this chart does not include items like: wedding rings, bridal party attire, or the rehearsal dinner. Most of our clients do not place their wedding rings in the overall wedding budget and is usually looked upon as a separate cost, and depending on your culture, bridal party attire as well as rehearsal dinner may be paid by the party, or parents. This however can be taken into account for something like an additional $4 to $10K, depending on the couple’s preference and style.

Based on a $30K wedding, excluding rehearsal dinner, wedding party attire and rings.

Based on a $30K wedding for a couple whose main priority is a nice venue, good food and fun.


Selecting a Cake Designer or Baker For Your Wedding

I have had clients tell me they want to forego the cake and go for something less traditional. The funny thing is, most such clients do not want cake because they are “traditional”, they don’t want cake because of this common question muttered by many-a-brides… “When was the last time you ate cake at a wedding and remembered it?

Let me tell you something folks. I got hitched a few years ago, and my guests can STILL remember the wedding cake. Oooh, my goodness, my thighs are gaining calories at just the thought of that delectable ridiculousness. It was a chocolate cake with “homemade” hazelnut cream, under a silky chocolate ganache. My mouth just watered, and I can guarantee that any of my wedding guests who reads this article will too. It was THAT good.

If you take the time to look for the right vendor who can capture your taste buds, as well as flirt with your vision – you have a winner! A cake is such a magnificent centerpiece that can truly capture personalities AND your wedding theme. I have often heard guests exclaim, “OH WOW!” as past cakes were revealed. Your cake will definitely NOT be forgotten, if you find the right baker/cake designer… but seriously, TAKE THE TIME, because if you’re going to shell out some dough, you may as well get compliments for the end result!

The CAKE EXPERT to answer our 3 Questions is the lovely, talented and most definitely “muy caliente” JENNY PERELLO of CAKE CATHEDRAL. Her works can be seen throughout the Central Coast and has been featured in My Fair Weddings with David Tutera.

Take it away Jenny…

1) When searching for a vendor in your field, what should clients look or watch out for?

 Two words that immediately leap to mind are “Integrity” and “Enthusiasm”.  Let’s address “Integrity” first.  There are a lot of copy-cat cake ‘artists’ out there who take credit for other peoples’ work.  Their galleries are filled with it!  In my business, cake trends come and go.  Couples bring me photos all the time of cakes that they have been drawn to, which is fine, but in the end, I try to encourage using them as inspiration only….besides, copying someone else’s work is boring.  When I’m in my creative mode, my mind is like a pin-ball machine.  I’ll take my cue from just about anything…save-the-dates, the bride’s gown, even the color of her shoes! However I never attempt to push my vision on anyone.  As for “Enthusiasm”, if your cake vendor isn’t excited for you and eager to help make your big day very special, then (s)he is not the right fit.   

Tiramisu Cake - Cake Cathedral

 2) What should clients do to prepare for a meeting with a cake designer?

 When a bride initially reaches out to me, I have a few standard questions for her.  Besides asking the obvious, like date, venue, guest count, etc., I like to know if she already has somewhat of a vision for her cake…if so, we’ll start from there in the design process, otherwise we’ll start from scratch.  Budget is also a very important issue.  Unfortunately, many people seem shocked at the cost of a wedding cake.  Little do they know how many hours go into creating a beautiful centerpiece for their reception!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I just want something simple with a few sugar flowers”, not realizing that it can take an hour or so just to make ONE botanically correct rose or peony!!!   Respect goes both ways, and acknowledging an artist’s time and talent is important. 

Do you know how many hours it took to make these flowers?

Do you know how many hours it took to make these flowers? A LOT!

 3) Any words of advice for Brides & Grooms regarding your particular field and how it relates to weddings?

 Once you’ve made your choice for a cake vendor, trust him/her.  We are talking about that person’s area of expertise and as such, a couple should know that they are in good hands.  A wedding is a huge deal, so let the baker (or any of the couple’s chosen vendors for that matter) do what they do best and try to enjoy the process without stressing out!

Birdcage Cake - Cake Cathedral


Even if you have opted for a simple, cutting cake, give it some extra love by using professional lighting to feature that scrumptious work of art! Pin lights give that extra OOOMPH to an otherwise plain cake.

All cakes shown above were made by Cake Cathedral and images are copyright by their respective photographers.

Next Up… Selecting a Caterer