Sophi & Travis’ Outdoor Potluck Wedding

* Sophi, Architectural Graduate (looking for work) & Travis, Marine Electrician’s Apprentice *


Invited: 120 / Actually Attended: 100 guests (we were pretty casual with all the counting, of course, as we were casual with everything) but we borrowed approximately 100 chairs and they were mostly full, and there were some folks standing on the hill.

Planned Budget:

$1,000 (A gift from Travis’ mom when we got engaged.)

Actual Budget:

About $1,000—but I have no idea what was spent. So many things were crowd-sourced and donated to us that the hard numbers were never calculated!

Where we were married: My parents’ house on Peaks Island, Maine was the perfect venue for our laid-back, outdoor, garden wedding. The chairs and tables were borrowed from the local elementary school for free. My mom paid $50 for wide muslin at JoAnn Fabrics and we covered all the tables with it. Flowers were donated by my then-boss and arranged by my mom in vases and bowls that were leftover from a friend’s wedding the summer before. The rest of the “decorations” were photos that we had printed online and strung up around the garden. I think this cost us about $50, and the pictures were fun to look at as people milled about. The wedding was outdoors, which meant I was freaking out about not having a tent. I eventually decided that since the cheapest I could find was $1800, and that more than doubled our budget, I was going to risk it. We lucked out!

Where we allocated the most funds: The live band. It was so important to me that we have a band play at the wedding. Going to see live music has been something that Travis and I have always enjoyed together. Who doesn’t enjoy a good concert? So rather than spend any money on a DJ set up or renting speakers to play iPod music, we paid a friend of mine $400 to play music with a bunch of his buddies for three to four hours. (Not a super close friend or anything, just a local musician that I knew well enough to ask what he would charge.) They played in the grass, with a carpet for the drum set, and we told them they could drink our beer and eat our food. They seemed happy and they sounded great! My best friend plays viola, she offered to do our ceremony music for us, and she ended up jamming with the band for a bunch of tunes. Just the best money we ever spent! (Fun fact—I actually forgot to go to the ATM to get cash to pay the band, but luckily our wedding gifts and cards had enough cash in them to cover it!)

Where we allocated the least funds: Everything else. We bought some pretty paper invitations (with pressed roses in them) for $50. We then needed more invites, so I just printed them on fancy-ish cardstock paper. Our wonderful friend and fellow sailboat-enthusiast offered to do our wedding photography as a wedding gift as soon as he heard we were getting hitched. So awesome. My dress was $125 at a vintage shop, and I sold it for $125 a few months after the wedding on Travis’ tux rental cost us $200-ish at Men’s Wearhouse and his uncle paid for it. (We still paid for the best man’s tux so it evened out. We thought he would look so nice in it and knew he couldn’t afford to pay.) I debated buying new shoes and ultimately am glad I didn’t, since it was so hot out we all walked barefoot. I used my great-grandmother’s brooch as a necklace and one of my “bridesmaids” made hairpieces for everyone. I made my reception dress from $40 worth of fabric and a $3 pattern, and I love it and can still wear it all summer long. The flower girls wore matching dresses that their mother got them at TJ Maxx. They also had matching sweater capes, which were so super cute, but it was eighty degrees so they didn’t need them!

Our officiant was a close family friend. We didn’t buy her anything or pay her anything (we are poor folk!) and I felt bad about that, but she still seems to love us just the same. Food was all “free,” since it was a potluck. I did have one guest complain that it was “asking a lot to bring food to the wedding.” He still came but I didn’t notice if he brought food or not, and I didn’t care. Travis spent maybe $180 on two mini kegs of beer (one was hard cider) and lots of people brought other liquor to drink. A friend who is a caterer brought some of those food-warmers (chafing dishes?) and we had some sterno things to keep food warm. My mom donated all the paper plates and napkins and cups. There were plenty! And my sister baked us a carrot cake so we’d have one to cut. Someone had even given us a fancy cake-cutter set, but we forgot to cut the cake and just ate it at midnight with our closest family and friends as we went through the pile of wedding gifts. It was delicious!

For the favors, I bought a big pile of cool-looking air plants online for about $60 total and printed out little sheets of info on how to care for them. We had a big basket and some shells already, so we didn’t spend anything on the display. On that display table I also put some birdcages I got for $20 on craigslist for people to put their cards in. The “guest book” was our staysail from our boat (the smallest sail), which we hung from the second floor window so it was stretched out and people could sign it.

The Info—Photographer: Brian Peterson / Location: Peaks Island, Maine / Venue: Sophi’s parents’ house

What was totally worth it: Pretty much everything was worth it (super small budget!). The free tables and chairs were an awesome investment (took about an hour of heavy lifting to get them into the truck and set up at the house, and about an hour to get them back to the school). I think people were glad to have a place to sit down during the ceremony (even though it was pretty quick) and we just moved the chairs to around the tables when it was time to eat. Also our fancy clothes made the wedding feel a lot more like a wedding rather than a fun garden party.

What was totally not: Those air plants as wedding favors. I had bought 100 of them, and at the end of the night I think I had ninety-five left. Perhaps that was because we didn’t explain to people they were supposed to take them home, but it looked pretty obvious to me. I know that one of my friends took a few, and there are a few arrangements of them at my parents’ house still, but most of them had to be distributed between the remaining guests the next day.

A few things that helped us along the way: Friends, family, and amazingly unseasonal (hot!) fall weather. We were so lucky! I can’t even imagine how much we would have gone over budget if we had to pay for all the things that were so lovingly donated to us to make the wedding fantastic. And if it had rained? How would all those people have fit into the house?!

My best practical advice to my planning-self: Picking out pumpkins and fall-themed décor is a waste of time. The garden is beautiful, and little pumpkins in glass vases look really silly and staged. Enjoy all the time you can with your out of town family and friends while they are there; it will be years before you get them all together again. Also ask your officiant to call out by name “the folks we are thinking of, who aren’t with us today.” She did that on her own (I would have never thought of it) but it made such a huge impression on the people who were there who were missing their mother/husband/brother, etc. Last best advice: make that list of photographs you want your photographer to take. I didn’t, I kept telling him I didn’t care—that photos of the crowd would be good, and now I don’t have one good photograph of me with my mother on my wedding day. Sad!

Favorite things about the wedding: Everyone was so happy! It was gorgeous weather and we had lots of good food and good people all together for a big party—with a simple wedding to kick it off. We are both very laid-back people and the potluck outdoor wedding vibe was perfect for us.

Featured Sponsored Content

Please read our comment policy before you comment.

The APW Store is Here

APW Wedding e-shop

go find all our favorites from around the internet, and our free planning tools

Shop Now
APW Wedding e-shop

Planning a wedding?

We have all the planning tools you need right now.

Budget spreadsheets, checklists, and more...

Get Your Free Planning Tools