Frugal Fiancée: Dress Shopping 101

Hi frugal friends and brides-to-be! Let's talk wedding dress shopping. You know, only the most important shopping you will ever do in your entire life, right? Eh. Maybe that is true for some people but definitely not for me. I got engaged in April and didn't really start looking for a dress until September. Oops. I rarely ever procrastinate but I was dreading this. I had a few requirements in my head that made this process hard. You would think it would be easy to find a dress that is not bedazzled and poofy. Think again. My dress shopping adventure took me to seven different shops and even a stranger's house. The best part is that my champion of a mom was hanging out with me the entire time. Here is a breakdown of what to expect when shopping and a short review of the shops I visited in the Charlotte, NC area.


*Picture taken at Classic Bride & Formals

Before You Go (Preparation):


People are going to see you naked. Self conscious? Go ahead and mentally prepare yourself. The ladies that work in these environments are completely used to seeing all types of bodies and boobs. You'll be fine. Oh, and do us all a favor and wear nude undies.

Don't go before you know your budget. Being the frugal girl I am, I did not want to spend over $1,000 on a wedding dress. Spoiler alert: I was under budget! To someone that has never shopped for a wedding dress before that number may seem high, but when you begin to look there is not a wide selection of dresses under that price point. I mean, you can always take a risk and order a dress from China but I wasn't into that idea for many reasons. If you are a Say Yes to the Dress kind of girl, you know there are some pretty expensive dresses out there. Let's be realistic though, you are probably only going to wear this dress once so spending $10,000 is completely ridiculous. Be sure to keep in mind that the price of the dress does not include any alterations, veil, or accessories.

Go in with an open mind. I'm not recommending that you try on a Cinderella-esque ballgown if that has never and will never be your thing. What I do want you to keep in mind is that the dresses do look completely different on the rack compared to when you put them on. You are already at the store, so trying on a dress you would have never imagined for yourself isn't a waste of time.

Consider who you invite to go with you. While I love each of my friends and family members dearly, I decided it was best if my mom and I were the only ones that needed to take on this task.

Go Shopping


Here is a breakdown of the dress shops I visited around the Charlotte area in order of how I visited.

NY Bride & Groom 

I love that this store as the first one I visited since it has a laid-back environment. The employees were all friendly and helpful. Trying on different styles of dresses here helped me get an idea of what silhouettes I liked the most.
*Tried on 7 dresses

Pros:
  • You are expected to browse and choose dresses to try on (on your own without a consultant)
  • Prices are on the tags
  • No sales pressure
  • No appointment needed
  • Store hours go into the evening
Cons:

  • While there is no appointment needed, they may be busy so your wait and try-on time could take longer than anticipated. You are not "assigned" a consultant - they help whoever they can at the time. 
  • The consultants are active in helping you try on but do not pull dresses for you (or at least did not for me). I am sure they would help with that if needed.

David's Bridal

While I do know some people have wonderful luck with David's, this was not the place for me. 
*Tried on 3 dresses

Pros: 
  • Low prices
Cons:
  • High pressure sales environment 
  • Overbearing consultants 
  • Small selection of dresses 
  • Small department store like dressing room 
  • You do not get to browse the racks on your own. You are encouraged to look through a book of dresses and give your consultant the style numbers of the dresses you like. 
  • They give you a corset top and slip to wear. This really bothered me because I do not plan on wearing these items under my dress on my wedding day. I do understand that they provide these for privacy but they were uncomfortable. When you are uncomfortable, you aren't going to like anything you put on.  

Wedding Dress Me

WOW! I highly recommend Wedding Dress Me! This is a smaller locally owned bridal shop but do not let the size fool you. They are amazing at what they do. I did not make an appointment but called and asked if I could swing by that afternoon and they accommodated my request! I worked with Marina and she was fantastic! 
*Tried on over 10 dresses 

Pros:
  • You are able to browse and choose dresses to try on, then your consultant may pull more depending on what you like. 
  • If there was an element I did not like about a dress, Marina would find a solution. She tied ribbons over beading I didn't like and went out of her way to show me that there are small changes and alterations that can be made to change the overall feel of the entire dress.
  • Great selection - they have every style of dress you could want and have a large amount of "off-the-rack" dresses
  • Great pricing - everything I loved here was around or under $600
  • No sales pressure 
Cons: 
  • None - while I did not purchase my dress here, the customer service I received and the selection of dresses were excellent!

*After 3 stops, I was feeling better about the dress search but wasn't feeling confident about which dress to choose. Everyone says you will just step in the dress and know but I am not that easy. 

Classic Bride & Formals 

I loved the feel of this shop. It is an old house turned bridal shop and could not be any cuter! They have a ton of all over lace dresses - if that is what you are looking for, this is your place! 
*Tried on 7 dresses 

Pros: 
  • You are able to browse and choose dresses to try on, then your consultant may pull more depending on what you like.
  • They have an "off-the-rack" room with very reasonably priced dresses
  • No sales pressure
  • Reasonable prices 
  • Polite post appointment follow-up via snail mail & text message
Cons: 
  • None - While I did not find my dress here, it is definitely worth a visit!  

Paige & Elliot

If your budget is between $1,500-$3,000 and you are a bohemian bride, you MUST check this place out. They had so many beautiful dresses in so many different styles. While most of the dresses I liked here were over my budget, I would highly recommend!
*Tried on 6 dresses

Pros: 
  • You are able to browse and choose dresses to try on, then your consultant may pull more depending on what you like. 
  • Friendly, positive, and helpful employees
  • Plenty of room for family and friends
  • Clean and organized space  
  • Polite post appointment follow-up via text message
  • No sales pressure 
Cons:

  • None - While I did not find my dress here, I highly recommend! 

Poffie Girls

This is a full service bridal shop and has an old-school feel (not in a good way). I tried to make an appointment online and was never contacted back. I called in to let them know the contact form may not be working properly since I wasn't contacted and made an appointment over the phone. When I arrived to the shop, they did not have my appointment on the schedule. They said they would do their best to fit me in but had "someone that made an appointment coming in soon." When I said I was not interested in a veil, that was not okay. My consultant informed me that "Poffie Girls are veil girls." While there were two beautiful dresses that I loved, one was way over my price range and I wasn't feeling the vibes. 
*Tried on 6 dresses

Pros: 
  • Plenty of room for family and friends
  • Polite post appointment follow-up via snail mail 
Cons:
  • Cannot browse the selection of dresses 
  • Consultant knew how much I wanted to spend and still pulled a dress that was 3x my budget 
  • High sales pressure - you can tell these ladies are determine to meet their sales goals

Bedazzled Bridal 

This bridal shop is located in the Gastonia mall. I was skeptical from the beginning because I was not looking for a "bedazzled" dress. Since I was in the area, having just been to Poffie Girls, I decided to give them a call and see if they had an appointment available. Little did I know, you can just walk in. If you do decide to go, walk in instead of calling ahead. When I called, I was pretty much verbally harassed by the employee. The lady rudely told me that I had visited too many places already and asked if "I was sure I was ready to try on dresses today." When she asked who I was bringing, she said "your mom is tired of going all these places with you and is ready for you to pick one and be done." This was the worst customer service experience I have ever dealt with. I did not even want to go into the store but did anyway. The store has a wide selection and reasonable prices but was not the place for me. 


For those who are still reading, high five to you! I definitely lied to you when I said this would be a short review. For the grand finale - since you are probably wondering "so where the heck did this girl get her dress?" 

Facebook marketplace... weird, right? 

I won't give you guys the full details because I know Travis is reading this but it is crazy how the world works. When I told people I bought my dress from a stranger on Facebook, they had so many questions. 

"Does it fit?" - No, but pretty much every dress needs alterations so it's all good.
"Oh, so it's used?" - No, the dress has never been worn. The dress still has the tags on and came in the original dress bag. 

The best part - I got a freakin' sweet deal on it. 

I know everyone has a different experience and envisions different things for their special day. Just because I didn't find my dress at a store you are planning to visit doesn't mean that your dream dress isn't hanging on the racks inside.

Are you currently looking for your wedding dress? Let me know in the comments where you found yours and what your favorite (or least favorite) part of the experience was! Have questions? Drop those in the comments too. I would love to hear from you guys! 

Frugal Fiancée: Choose Your Wedding Venue


You know those girls who know exactly where they want to get married and what dress they will be wearing? Well, that girl is not me. Venue shopping has been the most fun part of the wedding planning process so far but that does not mean it is an easy task. Here are a few things to think about when searching for your perfect wedding venue.

Brainstorm
Before Travis and I were even engaged, I knew I did not want to get married inside a church. I have grown up going to church and still attend church service pretty regularly. With that being said, you can take God anywhere so why not choose a fun venue that reflects our personalities and have one location where both the ceremony and reception can take place?

Talk to your fiance and determine what each of you has in mind for your wedding ceremony and reception. Do you want to get married outside or inside? In a barn or in a museum? If you have a specific theme or idea in mind, you will be able to filter out venues that may not be a good fit during your venue search.

Also, while you are brainstorming, go ahead and create an initial guest list. This will help you determine what size venue you will need. You do not want to fall in love with a venue that cannot support your guest count. This will also help you when you are creating your wedding budget as some venues are all-inclusive and will need an approximate guest count to determine a pricing estimate during your tour.


Research
If you do not already have venues in mind; shortly after you are engaged, I recommend researching. Surprisingly, venues are sometimes booked years in advance so the earlier you start the hunt, the better. The venue we ended up going with already has a few dates in 2020 booked. Can you believe that?!

When you decide what town or area you would like to get married in, you can start looking around that location. There are plenty of helpful resources you can use to do this. I personally used The Knot, Google, and instagram to research venues.

A simple google search will lead you to tons of information. Searching "Charlotte Wedding Venues" or even "NC Wedding Venues" will lead you to wedding websites like The Knot, Wedding Wire, and even local wedding sites. The google search may also pull up local blogs with personal recommendations on venues and vendors. This is a great starting place to see what is out there but can feel overwhelming since it is a lot of information at once.

The Knot provides great information about estimated pricing, amenities provided, and venue capacity. You can also read reviews from other couples who have toured, visited, or had their wedding at the venue you are looking at. The Knot allows you to request a quote through their site or will have a link to the venue's website where you can see contact information.

Isn't it crazy to think that social media is helpful in finding somewhere to get married? I actually found the venue we chose through instagram. I searched different hashtags and then looked at tagged venues and vendors. I loved using instagram during our venue search since you can visually see how the venue looks through the eyes of both guests and vendors. An easy way to search is by hashtag. If you are planning to get married in Charlotte, NC you can search #CLTWedding or #CLTWeddingVenue to get started. This may lead you to other hashtags, vendor pages, recent brides' personal pages and much more.

While you are researching potential venues, create a list of ones that catch your eye. I used a spreadsheet to track venues that we were interested in. Create a venue research spreadsheet and start plugging in your potential venues today. This will help you stay organized and keep all the information for each venue in one place, making it easy to compare your options later.


Contact
Every venue website is unique and provides different information. Some websites will lay out pricing and details where everyone can see it while most will require you to contact them for a quote. Your first contact with the venue should not be to schedule a tour, unless you know the venue fits within your guest capacity and budget requirements. When I reached out to venues, I simply said "Good morning, can you provide more information on pricing and availability for a wedding in Spring 2018?" After asking this question, venues will normally send over an information sheet or packet with details about the venue's history, amenities included, and package options. Once you have the pricing and details you can determine if it would be a good fit and schedule a tour if so.

*Before you begin reaching out to wedding vendors, go ahead and create an email address that is dedicated to wedding planning. This way, you will be able to keep all correspondence for vendors and everything wedding-related in one place. Once your wedding is over, you can delete the email address if you would like. This will help keep the junk mail out of your personal email inbox.

Tour
Once you have a tour scheduled with a venue, prepare questions and charge your phone. It is important to ask all the questions you have when you are one-on-one with the owner or manager of the venue. You will also want to take pictures and maybe even record conversations you have with staff members so you can go back and remember everything they mention. There are tons of questions you should ask your venue before signing a contract but a few of the most important are:
  • Is our date available? If you can, be flexible with dates. It is harder to find venues available on a specific date than to fall in love with a venue and work out your calendar after. 
  • Does it meet our capacity requirements? If you can't fit your guests inside the venue, it will not work. Do not tour a venue that only holds 100 guests when you have estimated that you will invite 200. 
  • How many bathrooms are there? There should definitely be more than 2 bathrooms available and at least one with handicap accessibility. 
  • Are there catering restrictions? Do you have to use their caterer or can you bring your own? Is there a kitchen available on site or will the catering company need to bring prepared food?
Compare Amenities and Make Decisions
After you have toured a few of your top venues, look at your comparison sheet and start to eliminate venues that are not the perfect match.

If you are looking at both full-service/all-inclusive venues as well as venues where you can bring in your own vendors, you will need to compare services carefully. You can always reach out to rental and catering companies for pricing so you can make the best budget-friendly decision.

It may seem nice that the venue provides everything you need but there is usually a cost associated with this. Read all contracts carefully and be clear on what is and what is not provided before signing anything.


Did you have a hard time finding a wedding venue or was it an easy decision? Did you pick an all-inclusive venue or bing in your own vendors? Let me know in the comments below!

Travel Guide: Charleston



How did you guys spend the 4th of July? My fiancé surprised me with a trip to Charleston for my birthday (July 3rd) and it was awesome. I haven't been to this city in a LONG time so it was nice to visit again. There are so many things going on in this city and you can get explore a lot of it for free!

Since it was a surprise trip, I didn't have the chance to research and plan ahead for things to do and places to eat. We definitely made the most of it and covered a lot of ground during the 4 days we were there.