How We: Planned Our DIY (Minus The Crafts) Community-Focused Wedding

In three-and-a-half months

Chiara, Occupational Therapist and Budding Homemaker & Justin, Organic Farmer

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A frugal DIY (without the crafts) community-focused celebration.

Planned Budget: $10,000

Actual Budget: $9,000 plus gift from bride’s parents of wine, bride’s dress, and centerpiece flowers

Number of Guests: 100 (invited 120)

Where we allocated the most funds:

Catering: $3500 Food is important to both of us (organic farmer and all that), and we wanted to work with someone who would use our farm’s meat. They gave us a discount because we provided the meat and it was off-season. It was really fun to go to the butchers the week before the wedding and let them know what sort of roasts we wanted, then deliver them to the caterers.

Rentals: $1,000 Because our venue is normally a community space, and the reception hall is a soup kitchen most weeknights, we had to rent linens, plates, glasses, flatware, and the sound system. This article helped me out immensely when I was trying to decide what I needed.

Wine & Beer: ~$1,000 We got a liquor license and hired bartenders so that we could buy and serve our own alcohol. Our friends sourced out a microbrewery for us and got a couple of kegs of really good beer. My dad got good wine at a discount liquor store. Although it was expensive compared to our total costs, when we asked around at more traditional venues, they were talking about charging a $20/bottle corking fee if we brought in our own alcohol! It was important to us that we be able to serve good wine and beer.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Flowers: $200 Plus a gift of centerpieces from Chiara’s parents, purchased in bulk at the flower market in the big city, we bought our flowers from the local grocery store in bunches the day before the wedding and assembled the bouquets ourselves, using handy information from here.

Invitations: $100 Printing and postage. Chiara designed the invites using the free program Inkscape, and we set up a Tumblr for RSVPs.

Decor: ~$200 We bought Christmas lights on sale after Christmas, and asked friends and family to bring as many as they could round up. It transformed the church basement into someplace a little more magical. Other than some spray-painted wine bottles, that was most of the decor.

DJ: $70 For sound system. Chiara’s brother DJed the dance party from his laptop. Music was really important to us, but we also really wanted a good oldies dance party (which is not the typical DJ modus operandi, especially in a small town), so it worked out better for us to make the play list ourselves. Everybody got on the dance floor, and they danced until we kicked them out.

Hair And Makeup: $0 All the bridal brigade pooled their makeup and hair supplies and we did each other’s hair the morning of the wedding. Our tiny house was complete chaos, but it was so much fun. One of the groomswomen went to Sephora the week before the wedding a picked up a whole bunch of samples, which helped flesh out the makeup selection.

What was totally worth it: 

Planning Everything from Scratch: Right after we got engaged, we talked about whether to go the DIY route and choose a venue that doesn’t do weddings and have to deal with all the logistics ourselves, or to go with an all-inclusive place that does weddings regularly and save all the hassle. We had less than four months to plan, so the traditional venue would have been the logical option. I went with the seemingly tougher choice and planned it all myself, partly because I had a pretty good idea of what I did and didn’t want, and partly to save money. Our venue used to be a church, but has recently been converted to a community space, and they hadn’t had a wedding since it changed hands. The board had to approve our use of the space. We had to hire security, get event insurance, buy all our own alcohol, get the liquor license, figure out all our own décor, hire a caterer, rent tablecloths, figure out how to keep all the beverages cold, etc. In the end, the extra work was worth it, because it turned out exactly how we wanted it without feeling like anybody else made decisions for us. The food was amazing, the music was perfect, and we got to see how much our community was willing to help us put together this celebration.

Grand piano rental: $300 The rental cost for the use of the grand piano at the venue seemed like a lot of money. I decided to do it, because the music for the ceremony was all live and performed by my community choir and friends. The music turned out beautifully. I loved seeing my friends and family acting out the words to one of the songs, and our recessional was “All You Need is Love” with two voices, the grand piano, a sax, and the choir. I loved it, and everyone joined in with singing us as we processed out.

Chair Covers: $300 This may seem strange, but I liked that we got chair covers (almost a third of the rental budget). We were going to ditch them, but then one night a few months before the wedding, I realized people might snag their pretty clothes on the old church basement chairs. They made everything look a little bit more formal and a little bit less church basement, too, which was a bonus.

What was totally not worth it:

We hired bartenders through online classifieds, and I kicked myself for not meeting them before hand. They were fine bartenders, but they got a fairly large tip and didn’t do much to help out. It was important to us to have bartenders, in case anyone needed to be cut off, but I wish I had gotten someone who would have done a little bit more help with the clean up. We also wished we had arranged to rent the space for the next morning, so we didn’t feel rushed about cleaning up at the end of the reception.

A few things that helped us along the way:

All of the family and friends who showed up the night before and set everything up, then helped clean up afterwards, and ran around running errands. The choir, who chipped in and organized the flowers for the ceremony space, which had not been a priority, but made it look that much more special. My amazing bridal brigade, who let me bounce ideas off of them, showed up the week before the wedding, and marched me around finishing off last minute things, while I was too burnt out from planning to think straight without my list.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

You can plan a wedding in three and a half months, and it will turn out beautifully, just remember to ask for help, and DELEGATE. Read the APW archives. They are chock full of invaluable information (like what rental items you need, and how much alcohol to buy). And read the APW book. It’s reassuring, and will help you stay grounded. Use Checkvist (or some other online checklist tool). If there is food and wine, people will probably be happy they showed up. Everything else is incidental.

Ask your photographer if they can come up with a different package that fits your budget. We shopped around to find a photographer we loved who was willing to work with our price point, which meant reduced coverage, but professional photos.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

The ceremony. The music sung by our friends and family, the words I agonized over writing, and the readings that ended up being perfect. Our officiant who was a friend, did an excellent job. Our vows, which we read off a sweaty piece of paper that had been in Justin’s pocket all day, were extremely moving. And Justin (even though he won’t admit it), cried a little bit. Because it was perfect.

We have some amazingly talented friends, and Chiara is part of a community choir, who did the music for the ceremony. Live music on the grand piano, with an amazing sax player, a flute, and the community choir were fabulous. Seeing everybody we loved in one place. Getting to hug them all, and celebrate with them. Doing a keg stand in my wedding dress at the after party.

Other Notes:

There are lots of articles on APW about planning a wedding in a short amount of time, and I just want to say it really is possible. We had three and a half months, and it turned out amazingly.


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