Stephanie, Photographer & Eric, Lawyer
One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A two-day wedding weekend in wine country with both an intimate family-only ceremony and dinner reception on Friday and a fun, colorful, deliciously dance-filled fiesta reception on Saturday for our friends and extended family.
Planned Budget: $25,000
Actual Budget: $26,500
Number of Guests: 55 for Friday and 150 for Saturday
Where we allocated the most funds:
For the Friday ceremony and dinner reception, we spent the most on our photographer, with the restaurant/dinner being second. For the Saturday fiesta, it was definitely the food.
Where we allocated the least funds:
Decor. We DIY’d pretty much everything, with the help of a few talented friends. Our family collected glass bottles for us leading up to the wedding, which I spray-painted white and used as centerpieces for both Friday and Saturday. A dear friend of mine gifted us her floral talents, and she put together my bouquet, all the boutonnières and corsages, and the centerpieces with flowers I chose at the San Francisco Flower Mart the day before the wedding. My husband loves making limoncello, so he made a batch using his great-uncle’s old recipe, which we put in cute little bottles from Michael’s and gave as favors to our family on Friday. For the under-twenty-one family members (and the two pregnant ladies!), I made a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and gave them each a few in little take-home gift bags. For the Saturday fiesta, we reused the centerpieces from Friday, along with dozens of large tissue paper flowers and twinkle lights for decorations. The venue was so beautiful already that we didn’t have to do much, just a few small touches to create the fiesta atmosphere.
What was totally worth it:
Food and photography for Friday were definitely the two most important things for us. We wanted an intimate ceremony with just our immediate family, first cousins, aunts, and uncles in attendance, but we also wanted to celebrate with our friends and extended family (my husband comes from a very large Italian-American family, so there are lots of second cousins, great-aunts, and who-knows-how-we’re-related-but-we-are folks). My family lives in Texas and Eric’s family is spread throughout California, so this was probably one of the only times we’d be able to have everyone from both sides all in one place. Our goals for the Friday event were to a) document the day and all of our loved ones in a beautiful and artistic way and b) make sure everyone filled up on delicious food and ended the day with happy hearts and tummies.
For the Saturday party, we wanted a beautiful but laid-back and casual environment to hang out with our friends and extended family without totally breaking our budget, which is no easy task for a wine country event with 150 people. Taking the time to research alternative options for wedding venues in the Sonoma area (besides the obvious and somewhat pricey wineries) was frustrating at first but ended up providing the perfect location for the garden party fiesta we envisioned, while saving immensely on cost. Thank goodness for public parks!
What was totally not worth it:
We went rogue and relied on our friends and family to take photos on Saturday, rather than hiring a pro to be there. I know, I should know better, but I honestly believed I’d be taking a lot of photos, too, considering I’m rarely without my camera. But when it came to the actual event, I just wanted to be with my friends and eat and dance. If I could re-do the weekend, I would’ve found a way to work enough into the budget to hire a professional photographer to capture our Saturday reception, too.
Also, our playlist for the Friday dinner reception was so not worth it. It’s fun to have now, but I spent HOURS creating that playlist, timing the songs to what point in the meal they’d most likely play and listening and re-listening to the “flow” to make sure the songs were all in the right order. When it came to the actual dinner everyone was caught up chatting and visiting so no one paid attention to the music. Plus, our little iPod speaker system wasn’t quite powerful enough for the outdoor space we were in, so you could barely hear it anyway!
A few things that helped us along the way:
Well, as far as the “How do I do this?” help, A Practical Wedding was my top resource. I’ve been a reader (and vendor!) for a long time prior to getting engaged, but I never really explored the site from a “planning mode” perspective. I even ordered Meg’s book the day after we got engaged and kept it on my desk until after the wedding. As far as practical help, we had amazingly kind and generous friends and family who volunteered to help with bits and pieces along the way. We didn’t have an official wedding party, but our loved ones provided their services in whatever way they were comfortable out of the kindness of their hearts. Everything from floral arrangements to day-of coordination to folding and fluffing dozens of tissue paper flower decorations was done with a little help from our friends.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Let others contribute! It took me a while for me to accept all the offers of help because I felt like I should be doing it all on my own, especially since we didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen. I didn’t want anyone to feel like they HAD to do things like DIY projects or vendor coordination. But once I understood their offers were sincere expressions of love, I was able to accept the help and let go of a lot of stress. Your loved ones most likely want to be involved in the day because they want to show their support for you in this next phase of life, not because they feel obligated, so accept it and enjoy the party!
Favorite thing about the wedding:
Eric and I decided to walk down the aisle together, so we arrived at the church before our guests and hung out in the Bridal Room off to the side of the church entryway. The two of us spent the time hanging out, taking selfies, and watching through the stained glass window as our families arrived for the ceremony. It was the most peaceful and relaxing part of the entire day, and it was just for us.
Tradition just for the sake of tradition doesn’t really feel authentic to me, but traditions that hold meaning for us or our families were definitely worth honoring and upholding. Even though our wedding day had a lot of very traditional elements to it, we were committed to personalizing the day as much as we could. We had a Catholic ceremony with full Mass included, but personalized it as much as we could with readings by each of our parents and by choosing our own music for the processional and recessional (“Sea of Love” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” respectively), which my talented sister-in-law and her boyfriend graciously sang for us. I ended up choosing a more traditional dress than I originally imagined, but instead of a veil, I wore a vintage necklace that belonged to my great-grandmother as a hairpiece by having my hairdresser pin and tuck the ends into side braids.
Even our flowers had a personal touch: I surprised Eric by incorporating yellow roses into my bouquet and his and his father’s boutonnières because the yellow rose was his late grandmother’s favorite flower. There’s a sense of peace and connectedness that comes with knowing that you are doing the same thing that your grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and so on and so on have done in the past, but being able to customize that experience in a personal way made it all the more meaningful and significant to us.