PHOTO: Juvian and Paul’s wedding, Her World Brides June – August 2014

1. The bigger the better
If you can, invite as many people as your venue can hold. If the ballroom or banquet hall can accommodate 350 people for instance, that’s the number you should hope to get to actually attend, as it increases your hongbao collection to offset the losses incurred.

2. Plan your wedding on a weekday
There are perks holding your wedding during off-peak days: cheaper wedding package rates, venue and vendor rentals, and more parking space for guests. You’ll also avoid having guests “double booked” for the same weekend. 

3. Chase your RSVPs
While you can never guarantee a 100 per cent turnout, you’ll be minimising the incidences of forgotten invites. Remind your guests, via e-mail, phone or text, about your wedding about two weeks to the big day, especially if it falls on an unexpected day like a weekday. Every no-show costs you money.

If it’s a big soiree, chances are, a large percentage of the guests would be far removed from you or your fiance – which means a sizeable chunk of them may not come. Invite in excess of 10 per cent of guests for weddings of 100 to 200 people, 20 per cent for larger parties. Less wastage brings you closer to breaking even.

4. The “B” list
This is the “standby” list of guests – people that you weren’t think of having unless someone else in the “A” list is not coming. This is useful because it ensures that you have the right number of guests to off-set your expenditure. But it also means that you’ll need to sort out your RSVPs earlier.

5. Working the incidentals
Incidental costs (anything besides banquet costs) can make up as much as 20 per cent (or more) of your total wedding expenditure, depending on where your priorities lie. The cost of your wardrobe, flowers or live band remain much the same regardless of the size of your shindig. But for things like invitations, which you have to print, a long guest list can save you money. For example, huge runs of 500 cards cost little more than an order of 100 (the printing templates make up the bulk of the cost).

6. Trim the fat
Without compromising too much, trim the fat wherever you can. If the deluxe menu is pretty much like the standard menu, and hotel’s food is good, go for the latter, more affordable option. Candles, trellises and fresh-flower arches are nice, but not imperative. So are live bands, custom-made favours and invites. Substitute blooms for candles, or opt for large strong blooms that will go a long way. Flowers like orchids look lush but don’t cost much. Another alternative: faux-flower arches for the solemnisation instead of fresh-flower ones.

7. Guest protocol
If yours is an entirely local-guests party, they will know to give your hongbaos, so there’s not much you need to go. But for couples with overseas guests, it’s best to let them decide if they prefer to give you gifts or hongbaos. In Western culture, it’s considered extremely tacky to ask for money. So to avoid to any misunderstanding, leave it for foreign guests to decide. Unless they ask for your preference, in which case, it’s all right to say, “A red packet will go a long way to help defray our costs.” Your guests would appreciate not having to look for a gift and you’ll appreciate receiving their hongbao.

Tips from real brides on breaking even

a. Total up your banquet bill. Be sure to include everything that you would have to pay for on the actual day. It should include all drinks and any venue charges where applicable.

b. Then add to that sum all the important items such as flowers, wardrobe, cake and entertainment.

c. Now add in the peripherals, such as hongbaos for all the people involved, the costs of your wedding favours, invitation cards, shoes, accessories and whatever else you may want.

d. Divide the sum total by the number of guests, excluding yourselves and your immediate families.

e. The final amount you get is what you need to receive from each guest as an average hongbao. If the amount is more than $100, you’ll probably need to cut down on certain aspects of your wedding. Be sure to buffer the final amount to take into account overseas guests – especially if they make up a large part of your guest list – who may bring gifts instead.

This article was adapted from On Even Ground, which was first published in Her World Brides March – May 2004.