Liz, Professional Cat-Herder & Randy, Raised by pugs
Planned Budget: $15,000 (before doing any research. Let’s take a moment to laugh hysterically at how realistically we assessed things.)
Actual Budget: $24,000 (including everything from apparel to our wedding album)
Number of Guests: 50
Where We Allocated The Most Funds
$16,000 ended up going to our venue, Housing Works. This included the space itself, the furniture, linens, and dishes, all of the food and alcohol (other than dessert, which we purchased separately and they were more than happy to plate), staff (they volunteer, so we tipped super heavily), the sound system to which we hooked up our iPod for the night, and the lights strung up across the balconies and scattered around the shelves. Although we didn’t hire a specialized wedding coordinator, Housing Works assigned us a captain, Josh Gregory, with whom we met several times before the wedding, and he was on-hand from 1PM to 1AM the day of to take deliveries, kick bookstore patrons out on time, organize setup, teach Liz’s little brother how to work the sound system, ensure our plates and glasses were always full, and generally be a total pleasure. A distant second in terms of dollar amount (but not of awesomeness), $4,500 went to our amazing photographer, Monica of Hart & Sol East, and her second shooter Ali, who were worth every penny and then some.
Where We Allocated The Least Funds
$0 went to flowers of any kind—we’re just not flower people. We had vague intentions of picking up SOME kind of a bouquet, at least, for Liz to carry down the aisle and hold in pictures, but forgot altogether on the day of. Liz made her headband/veil from materials bought on Etsy for $15. We made seating cards and menus out of Kraft paper, which entailed a lot of hours debating fonts, printing, and folding, but only about $20 of supplies. Our only decorations besides the lights and candles scattered around the bookstore were vintage New York postcards (some dated before the turn of the twentieth century!), which we collected on eBay for about $40 over the course of a month or two, and looked lovely scattered around the tables and going home in the pockets of guests. We repurposed any unused postcards as Save-the-Dates—we liked being able to handwrite and make them unique for each recipient. Liz’s dress was technically free—a sample for a never-produced style, gifted from her job at the time we got engaged—but cost $85 to clean and hem.
What Was Worth It
Not having flowers was completely the right decision for us—taking what would potentially have been either a huge budget line item or time investment off the table freed us up to put more financial and mental resources into the things we cared about most: the venue, music, food, and photography.
Housing Works was the only venue we considered—besides the fact that we met in a bookstore (now closed), that books are essentially a religion to both of us, and that the space itself is gorgeous (hello, walking down a spiral staircase “aisle”??), we felt it was important that a hundred percent of the profit from hosting our event went directly to their mission of providing services and safe housing to homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. We wouldn’t have felt right putting that same amount toward a random banquet hall. We ended up increasing our contract amount from $13,500 to $16,000 in order to close the store one hour earlier and add that hour to our total event time, which was probably the single best decision we could have made.
And, we can’t say it enough times—Monica was amazing to have in our corner. She arrived at our apartment at 11AM bearing coffee, started shooting unobtrusively while we got ready, spent the day walking with us from our Ditmas Park apartment to our SoHo venue (including a relaxed lunch with our best friend and officiant, where again she fit right in), corralled our families for portraits on the street, made herself a fly on the wall for the ceremony, boogied down with us on the dance floor, stole us away for a much-needed moment alone in the middle of the evening, and was still smiling when we hugged goodbye well after midnight. She is a superwoman and a wonderful human being, and we are so thankful that we hired her!
What Was Not Worth It
We were thoughtful about all of our financial decisions and ended up being happy with where we put our money (and where we didn’t). We do wish we had spent less time stressing about:
- The playlist. What should have been a fun, collaborative project turned into the single biggest source of stress. In the end, we were both happy with the result, but we wasted way too much energy trying to make it “perfect.”
- Whether Liz’s religious family would understand our decision to have a friend officiate a ceremony we helped to write. As it turned out, Liz’s family was not replaced by pod people—they understood perfectly the love that went into crafting our ceremony and how meaningful it was to us.
- The weird mix of people. We are two fairly extreme introverts who make close friends rarely and slowly; our guest list was not one or two cohesive groups, but a person or two from various stages of each of our lives. Our guests ranged in age from five to seventy-five, and most had not met before the ceremony (with the exception of family members who obviously had met but, in some cases, had not seen each other for years). As it turned out, we underestimated the lubricating effect of a common purpose (plus alcohol, for those who imbibed): everyone was there for the same reason, was happy to be there, and our pictures show all of our beloved “strangers” talking, laughing, and dancing together as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
- Whether it would be a “fun wedding.” We were in the middle of the best day of our lives (so far), and our euphoria lifted everyone along with us. Although we did have fun, it almost seems beside the point; it was just a great, great night.
A Few Things That Helped Us Along The Way
Liz is one of those people who moves money from checking to savings every week, without fail, and we started increasing the amount we put away once we decided to have a wedding, so we were lucky enough to be able to pay for everything we wanted ourselves. While none of our parents would have been likely to take over the planning process, we still felt that having financial control made us more comfortable really owning all our decisions. APW was probably our greatest resource in terms of advice, both logistical and emotional.
We created a giant Frankensteinian Google Doc based on APW’s Wedding Workbooks to keep track of everything from RSVPs, guest contact info, hotels/travel plans, gifts and thank you notes, vendor contacts/contracts/payment due dates, what had to get to the ceremony and who was responsible, and on and on. Vertex42′s budget spreadsheet was the starting point for our own budget (although we used it a little backwards: instead of coming up with a total number ahead of time and figuring out what to spend on each category based on a percentage of that whole, we simply tracked our spending as we went, considering every expenditure separately and asking ourselves what each item was worth to us).
My Best Practical Advice To My Planning Self
Decide two things as early as possible: who the wedding is for (you? your parents? your friends?), how you want to spend your wedding day (alone in contemplation? getting pampered with your bridal brigade? DIYing with a crowd of your chosen family?), and how much time and energy you want to spend making it all happen. Make all of your future decisions with those first three choices in mind.
Divide and conquer the planning according to interest level; anything that neither partner cares enough to work on, cross it off the list. Anything that can be done ahead of time, do. Anything that isn’t done by the day before, let go of—it obviously wasn’t as much of a priority as you thought. Don’t choose clothing that makes you feel breakable, immobile, or in any way uncomfortable. Don’t over schedule the day, dividing hours into increments and filling them all; leave the hours open to spend eating, or playing with the cats, or walking hand in hand with your love. Decide that nothing, not sound system snafu nor stubborn pimple, will ruin your day.
Last but not least, don’t let wedding planning take over your life. Keep doing all the things you enjoyed together before. Remember the point of all this.
Favorite Thing About The Wedding
Spending the day together. Liz’s mom tearing up as she read Robert Hershon’s “Superbly Situated,” Liz going over to comfort her and instead breaking down in actual sobs, holding onto Mom until the poem was finished. Hearing each other speak aloud the vows that we wrote together. Hearing our best friend pronounce us married and lead the room in a shout of “So say we all!” Goofy sing-alongs on the dance floor. Having all our people in one place at one time.
Anything Else You Want To Add?
No one cares about any of this as much as you do. They won’t realize, or won’t remember tomorrow, that you didn’t make welcome bags for their hotel rooms; that your veil is held on with safety pins; that your face is shiny or your cowlick sticking up; that you meant to make cute little labels for the cupcake flavors, but forgot; that you put too many songs on the playlist, so the last dance ended up being 50 Cent’s “Hate It Or Love It.” They will remember how ridiculously in love you looked, how excited, how thrilled to see them.
Also, if at all possible, if it’s okay in your values system, the first thing you should do on the morning of your wedding day is have sex with your spouse-to-be. We seriously cannot overemphasize this.