A Millennial Wedding (for less than $5K)
I decided that this world needs JUST ONE MORE blog post about how "I had a perfect wedding and so can you!".
(sorry in advance)
In reality, our wedding was perfect for us, but probably a worst-case-scenario for more traditional brides, so there you have it. The disclaimers have been given and my real goal here is to just share DIY fun and money-savers for anyone who could use the advice.
I think the most interesting part of this is that we were able to spend less than $5,000 without compromising anything that was really important to us. (If you're not aware, the current national average for weddings is a staggering $30,000. It's none of my business how people spend their money, but for those without access to that kind of cash and plan to beg, borrow, or max out credit cards in order to pull off a 24-hour experience...I'm asking you to sit down and really look at what's important to you and your partner. In my opinion, there are better ways to start off a marriage than five digits of debt!)
FEEDING THE FEW
$50 - $100
Pro Tip: When your very best friends/family get married; help out with whatever you can, wherever you can...because you love them, obviously, BUT ALSO because someday it'll be your turn and their support is going to be worth it's weight in gold. Actual gold, because a lack of nearby helping hands will translate into real dollars spent. For those of you who have family nearby and put some time into keeping your inner-circle relationships strong and thriving; now is the time to call in a favor.
We were lucky enough to have the most helpful guests I've ever heard of and definitely owe the ease of our wedding day to all of them. That being said, my number one suggestion is to cut your guest list down...by the digit. We chose our immediate family and the most immediate friends that we consider to be family (and noticed afterwards that we had actually LIVED with 99% of the guests at some point in our lives, so that seems to be a fair qualifier). I have about one MILLION aunts, uncles, and cousins on both of sides of my parent's family all whom I absolutely adore (and are honestly great additions to ANY party - they're quite a hilarious and talented bunch) but picking between that next layer of kin was going to be incredibly stressful and no-doubt result in some hurt feelings of people that I love. I'm here to tell you it's absolutely okay to stick to your immediate family (+ friends you would take a bullet for) and call it a day. A very special, intimate day.
Since we kept the guest list short...we could more easily delegate some wedding components. Aside from a surprise shower my coworkers threw me (because they're stubborn and wonderful women), I went without the pricey pre-wedding parties and we asked our guests to instead participate more on the wedding day itself. We made sure everyone knew this was absolutely in lieu of any wedding gifts they might be obligated to bring; and in turn, we escaped the catering costs (one of the big chunks of that national average pie I talked about earlier). Everyone brought a dish for the reception, and we ended up with a huge meal that looked like it could have been catered from the best dang BBQ joint in the South.
The Menu: pulled pork, smoked ribs, hot wings, broccoli salad, mac n' cheese, fresh fruit, a DIY salad with toppings to pick from, lots of Hawaiian rolls, cookies, and our wedding cake...all provided by our incredible guests.
NOT YOUR MOTHER'S VENUE
$0 - $1,000
So the joke is that this actually WAS my mother's wedding venue. My parents got married on their new 3-acre property (at the time), so I guess you can say practical weddings run in the family. Almost 27 years later, they still had just enough room (and parking) to seat/feed 22 people in their home and on the never-ending yard where I spent my childhood. We were very thankful to have this as a resource, and they used it as an excuse to get some landscaping done for Spring, so everyone's a winner.
HOWEVER, if a family yard isn't an option and you can get the guest list to about 15-20 people, the venue-hunting is still really fun and you can find some super unique places.
FOR EXAMPLE: we were originally looking for large houses on VRBO and AirBnb that would easily accommodate everyone and found a beautiful, 80's luxe mansion in Toccoa. (Somebody please use this place; it's just as pretty in-person. We actually booked and visited before the idea of my parent's house captivated us). Look for places that have great cancellation policies, beautiful interiors/exteriors, enough dining space, and plenty of gorgeous spots for pictures (stairwells, large windows, balconies, etc).
**Be a good person and let the owner know you're planning a small ceremony. They might charge you an extra fee, but you'll still get off cheaper than a traditional venue...and more unique!**
THE "BRIDAL" SCAM
$150 - $350
REPEAT AFTER ME: "It's not a wedding dress because it's white and expensive...it's a wedding dress because you got married in it."
I strongly recommend avoiding words like "wedding" and "bridal" in your google search. My keywords were "floor length, light gray, tulle dress". I was scouring the internet for certain necklines and found the same dresses being sold in multiple places; except the ones with "bridal" in the title were two, three, four times more expensive.
Scammy scam scam. Count me right out.
Since I'm an art dork, my biggest ambition was to make my own dress (or at least customize the heck out of it). It would take another post to talk about that process, but I basically ended up finding a great "base" dress that fit perfectly and allowed for some experimenting. The base was a $260 Jenny Yoo bridesmaid dress I got on sale from Nordstrom.com for $150...which left some room in my budget for buying fabric and supplies. I made the sleeves, added more colored tulle to the skirt, and finished the zipper with a metal catch I pulled from an old necklace.
I'm not a seamstress by any definition, so I'll admit there might have been a last-minute-panic trip to my Aunt's house...(you're an angel, Becky.)
STEALING THE DECOR
$50 - $150
OKAY, I CHEATED.
This part was a gift from a dear friend who runs a wedding decor business and let me pick through her wonderland of closets. Votives, decahedrons, vases, gold cubes, and fake eucalyptus garlands were all temporarily stolen from her. HOWEVER, the tablecloths were fabric from Goodwill (yes I washed it), and the place settings were all Amazon finds (linked below). Once you have some colors and a general theme, everything starts to come together really quickly.
I'm not a flower girl, so everything was greenery and succulents (with the small exception of baby's breath because it's cheap and dries beautifully). BUT let me just tell you, buying fake stuff was the best decision. All the plastic goodness I bought for the wedding is now decorating our apartment (and admittedly, someday it will be decorating a landfill, but let's focus on one crisis at a time).
The cutlery and dishware was something I knew I needed to find myself. I did some thinking and realized if I used real dishes and utensils, someone was going to be stuck cleaning everything (since we were leaving the next day for vacation). So, I went to Amazon with my them and could not believe the beautiful stuff I found. Believe me when I say, these products were even MORE beautiful in person. I had some worries that the gold photographed well but wouldn't be as pretty in real life, but when I opened each of these boxes, I gasped. They were so beautiful and you couldn't tell they were fake until you touched them.
The plates and cutlery looked so good and held up so well, my mom joked about washing some of them to keep because they were so pretty (see, I come from a long line of thrifty country folk).
Not bad for less than $5 per place setting!
THE GUESTS OF HONOR
$2000 - $3500
Aside from your co-signer, let's talk about the most important money spent on your wedding: the photographers (and videographers should you be so lucky).
Artists are sometimes the worst customers because they feel like they can do everything themselves; but this was an opportunity for me to completely let go. I knew when we originally got our big number, that we were going to spend the largest amount possible on photography. It was incredibly difficult to pick the right person because I knew a lot of talented wedding photographers, but I also knew exactly what I was picturing and didn't want to put that pressure on a friend. My parent's property needed to be well-documented, and I'm obsessed with the reality of candid photography so I was specifically looking for portfolios that focused heavily on landscapes and examples of working outside of posed shots.
I'm happy to report, thanks to The Rising Tide Society, I stumbled upon the exact right team for us. Matt Stallone is a landscape-guy-turned-wedding-photographer and has an incredible eye for small windows of space, quick moments, and expert lighting. We also met his wife Nicole, who was an excellent coordinator and extra pair of hands/eyes to catch little details. They fit in perfectly with our casual day and we were all instant best friends (to the point where we met up a few months later in Colorado)!
I could gush about them for hours, but the point is...try to narrow down what exactly you want captured more than anything. If you just start looking without any direction; you're going to be overwhelmed by all the beautiful styles out there. I've also heard plenty of horror stories from people who hired random internet photographers, so take my happily-ever-after with a grain of salt. If it makes you nervous to hire a stranger, ask your friends! Chances are, somebody knows a talented photographer. (I know I always recommend (Audrey Grace & Kelsey Butcher to anyone looking for a light, romantic style!)
Videography was a little less important to us, but still something we would like to look back on, so I wanted to give the opportunity to somebody up-and-coming. I hired a friend with a great portfolio and pretty much said "do whatever you want" with a few pointers. Not surprisingly, he also exceeded my expectations and we're thrilled with the footage. This is probably another exception to the rule, but I so glad we were able to help support someone getting started. (Check out Samuel Paul if you're in the market for video services!)
ICING ON THE CAKE
$500 - $1000
I'll run through the rest of this kind of quick, because let's be honest, I'm impressed you even got THIS far.
MUSIC: We got pretty lucky that my sister decided to start a family with the most talented musician in the area; Sonny Legaspi. I had to sneak them the cash because he originally wanted to do it for free (just that kind of guy). Here's a link to his page if you'd like to hire him for your own wedding or event!
CAKE: My sister-in-law is in culinary school, so she baked us a delicious cake. I paid for the hexagon pans and we had fun making a big mess with purple/grey icing, stencils, and edible shimmery powder. The topper was a candle holder from hobby lobby that I cut the tea-light part out of with pliers.
INVITATIONS: I'm a graphic designer by day, so making the invitations and envelopes myself wasn't too much of an issue. However, you better believe I was very grateful for that short guest list when I started cutting those things out and addressing them by hand!
OFFICIANT: I asked my dad to get ordained online because I honestly couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather have up there with us. Now, understand that me and my dad would BOTH rather eat a bag of dirt than talk in front of 5 or more people, but he graciously accepted and did an incredible job leading the ceremony. He said the online process wasn't too bad and I think it cost a whopping $50.
RINGS: This is probably the most non-traditional thing we did. My husband knew I didn't want anything fancy or expensive (I'm not into diamonds), so he used some of my cymbal materials to make a ring on his own and used that for the engagement. It was perfect and also gave me the opportunity to then design my own wedding ring in the following months (which had been a dream of mine). For the ceremony, we were both wearing handmade rings: Jesse wore the one he proposed with and I wore the one that Joseph Meadows with David Douglas helped me create from scratch. (Cannot thank them enough for taking my doodle, turning it into a beautiful reality, and letting me watch the entire process!)
I'm sure to some of you, this wedding looks like your worst nightmare, but we had a blast and were carefree the entire day.
Weddings have become a billion-dollar business, but I'm here to say there's always an opt-out.
Why would you want to start a marriage with stress and chaos?
Wouldn't you rather enjoy the entire process?
If so, here's my advice:
DON'T worry about what's normal.
DON'T listen to the "industry standard".
DO what makes you and your new roommate-for-life happy.
For us, that was a sharing a big bucket of hot wings with our favorite people.
(...and blowing the REAL money on our Yosemite vacation...)