Matt, Senior Valuations Analyst & Rachelle, Land Tech
One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A casual outdoor celebration with great people, pretty flowers and tacos!
Planned Budget: The budget was a moving target as we and our family saved up. Our original thought was $5,000 (HA!) but we ended up with $10,000.
Actual Budget: The final total was $9,219.83, including everything but the honeymoon. I was insanely detailed with tracking expenses, as evidenced by the 83 cents.
Number of Guests: Invited: 89; Actual: 75
Where we allocated the most funds
Catering, the venue, and the dress (including alterations) were the three largest line items and made up almost half of our budget. Finding a venue and food in the Bay Area on a strict budget was HARD and made even harder because we were planning from Denver, where we live now. Matt’s mom ended up stumbling across this fountain store with a beautiful garden area they rented out after hours for a reasonable price. We went with the cheapest possible option we could find for catering, and it was still the single largest expense even without drinks or rentals.
Where we allocated the least funds
We had some seriously amazing friends and family donate their talents to make what are typically huge expenses either very low cost or entirely free. Our photography was done by a wonderful college friend who has a side business that (in her words) is a hobby that pays for itself. Her generosity literally saved us thousands of dollars and her skills with a camera go well beyond what I would call a hobby!
The maid of honor’s mother is a florist and gave us the most gorgeous and fragrant bouquets and centerpieces that we would never have been able to afford. Rachelle’s mom used her baking and decorating abilities to make our wedding cake and spent so much time making all the perfect little orange sugar flowers. We don’t want to know how many she threw out because they weren’t up to her standards! Matt’s friend got deputized and officiated the ceremony, Rachelle’s ring was gifted by Matt’s grandmother, bridesmaids played DJ and coordinator, a friend’s brother bartended, Rachelle’s sister designed the invitations and has an art school friend with a letterpress studio, and Matt’s dad knows the owner of a rental company.
Long story short, ask around while you’re planning a wedding because you never know who you know! We were told point blank by wedding planners that a Bay Area wedding with dinner for seventy-five people on a Saturday night in September was not possible for under $10,000, and it wouldn’t have been if we didn’t have these connections. Before you blow off our budget as unrealistic because of that, just know that we had no idea we knew all these people before we started planning. Six degrees of separation, people!
What was totally worth it
The venue is one place that connections aren’t necessarily a huge help. Even if someone has the space for you to use, the added costs of transportation, parking, and having to rent a tent, furniture, and restrooms turned out to be more than a lot of venue rental fees that include this stuff. Our venue was priceless! It was centrally located to both of our families, it held the exact number of people we wanted, and it was truly beautiful. The owner and her staff were so helpful and sweet.
We love food, and a good caterer in the area is typically around a hundred dollars a person once everything’s included. Once we shifted our expectations from a sit down dinner to something delicious and filling, but not necessarily fancy, it brought the cost down significantly. We considered food trucks, but tacos were actually cheaper. Everyone loved the freshly cooked meats and quesadillas and we’ve had so many people ask for their information since. Plus, the “splurges” to upgrade the menu were things like guacamole and fruit salad and only added a few dollars per head.
We didn’t spend a lot on decorations, but that stuff has a huge market and we were able to sell most of it after the wedding—note that we didn’t factor the money we got back into the budget. The ribbon backdrop was cheap and quick (the bridesmaids put it together while we were getting ready that morning) and it ended up being really pretty!
What was totally not worth it
Thinking I could do it all myself. Hiring a planner or coordinator seemed so unnecessary, and I was pretty turned off by the idea after the negative experience with budget shaming. There are a lot of moving pieces to a wedding, and as a bride (or groom) you’re too busy getting ready, saying vows, taking pictures, and partying to deal with everything. Unfortunately wedding zen never took over, and I was pretty disappointed about the wasted time and money on things like rented flatware and favors (mini Reese’s with little “Mr. & Mrs. Reese” stickers on them. Guys, they were so cute!) that never got used because they were forgotten about. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our wedding, but the stress of handling all the little things that came up took away from it in a big way. Honestly, the cost of a day-of coordinator would have been worth not having to stay sober and clean up in my wedding dress at the end of the night.
A few things that helped us along the way
We could basically just copy the whole “where we allocated the least funds” section here! Our families were so generous in giving us funds for the wedding and doing the in-person tasks while we were planning from out of state. APW, of course, helped us keep everything in perspective and realize that our wedding really didn’t have to be like all the other weddings we’ve been to.
My best practical advice for my planning self
Ask people for help. You wouldn’t believe what they’re capable of and willing to do, but they don’t want to seem pushy by offering. Then save on some of the expensive things and hire someone to deal with everything on the day of because you and your people should be able to enjoy it.
Favorite thing about the wedding
Right after the ceremony was a wonderful blur of emotions. We were all crying and hugging and the love was palpable. Matt’s favorite part was the informality. People got drinks before the ceremony, we didn’t make them sit in certain spots and we were able to actually hang out with most of our guests instead of getting five minutes at each table. It felt like a party, not a production, and that was so much more authentic to us. Side note: Rachelle’s pretty sure that “informality” secretly means he didn’t have to wear a jacket, tie or uncomfortable shoes.
Attire: $1,661.26 for dress, alterations, vest, and pant rentals for the groom and groomsmen, shoes, and jewelry
Rings: $809.63 for Matt’s ring and appraisal, cleaning and new prongs on Rachelle’s ring
Gas: $511.83 to drive from Denver to Pleasanton, up to Napa for the honeymoon and back
Gifts: $420.59 for wedding party, “friendors,” and favors
Stationery: $389.45 for letterpress, envelopes, thank you cards, and postage
Hotel: $369.26 for the night before and after
Decorations: $293.08 for tablecloths, vases, frames, mason jars, ribbon, beverage dispensers, napkins, and straws
Rentals: $290.40 for chairs, wine glasses, plates, and flatware
Legal stuff: $187.00 for wedding license, certified copies of the certificate, and to deputize our officiant for the day
Planning Supplies: $63.71 for magazines, a planning folder, and the APW book
Event Liability Insurance: $50.00
It’s hard to look at this for comparison when photography, flowers, and cake aren’t even factored in, but Rachelle’s dress, the photobooth, Matt’s ring, letterpress and professional hair were splurges that if we had cut back on would have saved about $2,000. We want people to know that it really is possible, even in California!