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Guide to Wedding Banquet Planning: A Reality Check

Guide to Wedding Banquet Planning
Weddings are momentous, once-in-a-lifetime occasions, and many newlyweds tend to hold on to their vision of a perfect wedding. From dream experiences to extravagant celebrations, the tendency to jump straight into fussing over the details of a perfect wedding is strong.

On the flip side, perfection often comes with a price tag. The cost of planning for a wedding banquet can appear equally monumental, and continue to skyrocket in that pursuit of your ideal decor or venue. On average, wedding banquets in Singapore are estimated to cost between $30,000 to $48,0001. Be prepared to pay more for lavish banquets at top hotels where the cost per table exceeds $2,0002. For many couples, this can seem like a fortune.

If you and your significant other are going through that planning process right now, it is probably a good time to take a step back and decide: is it really necessary to fork out such a significant sum at the beginning of your married lives together?

When real-life newlyweds Aileen and Derrick (names have been changed) found out how much a wedding dinner would cost, they baulked at the exorbitant price tag. Both at age 25, they had just started their careers - Aileen in microchip technology, and Derrick in aviation. They began the planning process by tackling some important and tough questions before making their decisions. This eventually led to a special garden-themed wedding dinner held in an unconventional venue in July 2018 - a dream wedding without burning a hole in their pockets.

We spoke to them on 3 tough questions that they have tackled together and their process of planning a cost effective wedding dinner without sacrificing its significance.

1. What is a budget that you'll be comfortable with?

Guide to Wedding Banquet Planning

Always begin your planning with a realistic and comfortable budget in mind. This might seem obvious, but unfortunately, it's still a discussion that's sorely lacking for many couples. Before you begin planning or buying a single thing for your wedding, sit down with your fiancee and put a figure to your maximum spend.

For Aileen and Derrick, they made sure they were both on the same page before even booking a date for their wedding dinner.

"At the time, we had to deal with our housing matters at the same time as the planning for our wedding dinner. It was clear to us that spending on and planning for our HDB flat was much more important to us," says Aileen.

"We decided to spend only what we could afford without depleting our savings or borrowing from our parents or the bank, so we kept our budget to $15,000 or less."

To estimate this elusive figure, you can call up a few banquet providers or look online for prices. Local websites like estimate the costs per guests for each listed venue, based on crowd-sourced feedback. Keep your cost comparisons to a single spreadsheet to avoid being stranded in an elaborate Excel disaster after months of planning, when your costs start adding up. An example of a template can be found here.

Consider forums for weddings such as Singapore Brides or Perfect Weddings as unconventional sources of wisdom for a good bargain. Here, brides have been known to form their own wedding advice group chats among themselves so that they can mine this 'underground' network for reliable cost estimates and referrals for venues and other service providers. There's no harm trying to seek for help online, as long as you are savvy enough to weed out the fake reviews.

Here are a few other ways to figure out and possibly deflate your banquet budget:

  • Download useful wedding planning apps such as Hitcheed.
  • Get the lowdown on sample costs and timelines. This way, you could skip engaging a wedding coordinator to save yourself some money.
  • Rally your friends and family for help. If you know someone who plays music or sings well, ask them to perform live during your banquet as their wedding gift to you. It's more intimate this way, and you don't have to cough up at least $1,000 for just two sets3 from a very basic two-piece band.

2. What is the most important aspect of your wedding dinner?

Guide to Wedding Banquet Planning

Set a list of priorities. While deciding how much you want to spend, you should identify what matters the most to you. Not only will this help you to prioritise what to splurge on and what you should save on, you can also take the chance to make authentic choices for your banquet that will speak volumes about who you are as a couple and as individuals. After all, wedding is an occasion for the couple to let their true selves shine.

Make a wish list for your dream wedding and rank them according to three different categories: need to have, good to have, and nice to have.

Which is more important to you - a well-photographed tableau of memories you can revisit later, or décor and ambience that will make a lasting impression? Should you splash out $1,763 per table (for a minimum number of 20 tables) and hold a grand ballroom banquet at Chijmes Hall (rates as of 2017)4? Or would you be more comfortable spending $155 per person for a cosier affair at an artisanal microbrewery?

According to Aileen and Derrick, that was the amount they settled for after some consideration. "We wanted to keep our wedding dinner a down-to-earth and intimate one to stay true to our personalities," explains Aileen.

"We didn't want to make a big fuss out of our wedding dinner. To us, it was simply a rare opportunity for us to gather all our loved ones together in one place. Because of this, we gave more consideration to ambience and service style - whether it was buffet-style catering, sharing platters, or individual courses."

After emailing and visiting multiple venues, comparing various menus and prices, the couple went on to pay $155 per person for their outdoor garden-themed banquet. This includes sharing platters, basic venue decor, a complimentary live band, and enough beer towers and bottles of wine to go around.

To follow their example, look beyond the usual range of choices that couples tend to make:

  • Opt to hold your banquet on a weekday instead of a weekend. You'll be surprised at the huge swing in costs.
  • Beyond hotels, restaurants, and country clubs, consider alternative venues. Hosting your festivities at the void deck or function hall is usually the cheaper option, starting from $60 per day5. Other creative options that won't break the bank include beach clubs and farms ($52 to $135 per person)6
  • Spend only on necessary or significant traditions. Have an honest discussion with your parents to understand the value of wedding customs and manage their expectations on the type of customary you wish to include. The cultural traditions you choose to uphold in your banquet should be meaningful to you. For example, you don't have to insist on splurging $8,000 to $10,000 on a ready-made dais that's customarily designed for splendour; decorating the dais yourself in a simple but thoughtful set-up may only require you to spend $2,0007

3. How long does it take to save for your dream wedding?

Once you've determined your budget, the next step is to decide how you should save up for the wedding dinner as a couple. One way is to set up a joint savings account that's solely for funding all your wedding-related expenses and make monthly contributions to it. The key is to always start saving early.

Take Aileen and Derrick, who had more than a year to save up for their banquet after their solemnisation ceremony.

She says, "We have a very pragmatic approach for this. Every month, we each contribute 20% of our pay to a savings account. Maybe it seems unromantic, but I think sharing our responsibilities in this way has helped us to grow closer together as life partners."

Try to avoid borrowing money for your banquet so that you don't saddle your early married life with debt and financial worries. Instead, if you're still uncertain about how much you should save, keep in mind that there are various plans you can explore to give you more wiggle room in your budget.

The future is worth saving up for

Weddings are special, but what lies at the heart of the union are the vows you've made - in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. To set up a stable future that can stand the test of time, you will need to save up for the rest of your lives together. If you plan to start a family together, the cost incurred in future will increase exponentially. The average cost of raising a child in Singapore is estimated to be $360,000 but can run up to nearly $1 million at the high end8. In light of this, it's wise to be prudent and avoid going overboard with your wedding expenses.

Instead of going all out and splurging on your wedding dinner, it's time to start setting aside money to dream bigger and bolder dreams for your future together.

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