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How We Did It: Joann & Bryan

$10K wedding (with a free venue)—break it down!

* Joann, Teacher and Counselor & Bryan, Teacher, Builder of Beautiful Things, Leather Craftsman, and Renaissance Man * Photographer: Stephanie Rae Hull of Centric Photography *


Invited: 65

Actually Attended: 55

I wasn’t prepared to have all the feelings I had, when some of our loved ones had to decline—all for very, very, very good reasons. These feelings, ranging from sadness to jolts of (unwanted) anger, really surprised me, and I had to take a big step back from the whole thing to scratch my head at why it was impacting me so. Even though I am a longtime APW reader and therefore theoretically knew about the 10–15% ratio of guests that will end up declining, in my head I was very much, “It’s a tiny wedding! Everyone I love will come for sure! RAINBOWS FOR ALL!!!” First lesson: learned.

Planned Budget:


Actual Budget:


Actual ACTUAL Budget:

$10,000 (If I’m not cheating and count our wedding attire and rings)

Do you remember that scene, in Season 7 of Friends, where Monica has just been told by her parents that they spent the Monica Wedding Fund, that they’d promised her as a little girl, on their beach house instead? She is freaking out that she won’t be able to have her Dream Wedding Scenario # 1 of a rustic Italian feast and lilies, and Chandler says that he has some money tucked away, scribbles the dollar amount of what he has saved up so far for their future, and she says:

Monica: (To Chandler) How great are you, you little saver?! I mean, the-the amount you have is exactly the budget of my dream wedding!

Well. In that moment, as my quasi-feminist, just-starting-to-squirrel-away-some-hard-earned-Gap-employee-money, fifteen-year-old self, I was indignant that Monica would be so damn cavalier about the nest egg that Chandler had spent a lifetime saving up for. “No way I’ll ever waste so much money on a party,” I thought. Fast forward to almost a decade and a half later, when I declared to my then fiancé that we would be spending no more than five thousand dollars on this thing. Maximum. Non-negotiable.

This number was purely arbitrary, as we could afford to spend more, but I was bolstered by my old anti-MonicaGellarism, and my newly acquired views of the Wedding Industry Complex, in all its markup glory. For months, when anyone asked me about how planning was going, I’d describe some brief details of Saturna Island, or the parade, or the ribs and cornbread, but I’d always end off with a confident: “AND we’ll be spending no more than $5000!”

In retrospect, that number became a silly goal that I imagined would make me feel like a proud superhero (Look out! Here comes ThriftyGirl to the rescue!), but only became a kind of self-imposed prison when making decisions that would have been way less of headache if I wasn’t being so fastidious with my budget. Second Lesson: (sheepishly) learned.

Where We Allocated The Most Funds: Our photographer and our caterer. I was just about to write, “That was a no-brainer decision,” but then I realized that, because of my uptight budget goal, I hemmed and hawed over hiring a professional photographer for months, even though photos as a means of having a lasting keepsake is basically one of my most cherished things ever in life. It took a lot of reading APW for me to become wary of having a friend take your photographs, before I took the plunge. And although both the food and photography combined took up the entirety of the original budget, it was the Best. Decision. Ever.

Where We Allocated The Least Funds: The flowers were all courtesy of my mom’s bountiful garden, as well as a handful of lavender that I stole from a roundabout in my city (thanks, Vancouver!) in order to make boutonnières with. The venue was also gratis, as we got married on B’s dad’s front lawn on the island, and then had the reception at The Shorehouse, which is an outdoor communal/recreation space on a piece of land where his family has a share in as part of a co-op. Many of our friends, including ourselves, camped there for the better part of a week. Our DJ was a good friend of B’s, and he did it for a bro-price. We potlucked the dessert as well as the hard liquor bar, and spent $250 on a nice selection of craft beer that was served by our good friends on their makeshift canoe bar (Yukon tradition).

What Was Totally Worth It: Having a ceremony that might have been longer than the average one, but was so meaningful to us. We wanted to weave in the tradition of the Chinese Tea Ceremony, and although it is often done before the western ceremony, or in the privacy of just the immediate family, we wanted all our guests to witness the blessing of our marriage by our elders on both sides of the family. We are also pretty passionate wordsmiths, so there were many readings and sharing of our personal vows.

Oh, and the parade. The parade was worth it times ten thousand. The playlist we blasted from a graffiti-covered SkaFest van as our guests twirled and danced behind it, is here, should you want to have a listen.

What Wasn’t Worth It: Stressing about whether to rent a tent or not. When I was sticking to my stiff budget, there was no way a $1300 rental could factor into it, but after thinking about the logistics of stringing together several tarps to act as a tent, some wonderful APW readers luckily convinced me that, if it were to rain, I would have regretted my choice immediately, and wished I could pay someone millions of dollars to make sure my guests were safe and dry. Thanks, APW readers.

A Few Things That Helped Us Along The Way: Asking our dear friend, Courtney, to be our stage manager. She kicked our wedding’s ASS (in the best way possible). I literally have no idea how we could have done it without her calm but assertive spirit. Our family and friends also went above and beyond: from loaning us two hundred feet of white Christmas lights, to my girlfriends doing my makeup and hair, to my father-in-law and his partner providing all the wine that they made themselves, to all the guests that pitched in to transform our venue site from our hippie camp-out to wilderness-wedding-chic-worthy.

My Best Practical Advice To My Planning Self: Don’t worry about whether people will get along: they are all amazing adults and new friendships will organically happen. Trust me. Don’t worry about your mom’s family being uncomfortable with being cold, or not eating food they’re used to, or being left out because some of them speak mainly Chinese: they love you SO MUCH—even if they haven’t seen you since you were five—and you will feel their support like a laser beam into your heart.

It’s okay to care about stuff that you might think is perhaps shallow because it is aesthetic in nature. So, take some time to reapply your lipstick and your hair before photos. Just because you’ve been camping doesn’t mean you can’t check the mirror, for fear someone’s judging you!

And that great advice that you heard on APW where your friends and family don’t just magically change just because you have a wedding? It applies to you too. You will not suddenly turn into someone else. Because of your intuition and hypersensitivity to the feelings of others, if there is minor drama, you will not just miraculously “not even notice” just because that’s what you keep reading. You will notice, and you will care, because that’s just the kind of (highly draining) compassionate person you are. That is okay.

Favorite Thing About The Wedding: The love. The kind that radiates from family reuniting for the first time in twenty years; the kind that comes from meeting nieces and nephews; the kind that emanates from your dad as he gives the most heart jerking speech ever, starting with, “When I phoned my ninety-one-year-old mother to tell her my daughter was getting married, she asked me, ‘Is he Chinese?’ I said, ‘No…’ and she said, ‘Whaaaaaaaaaaat???’ Let me tell you, I could not care less about that fact. Not. One. Bit.”; the kind that happens on the dance floor when everyone links arms to sit on the floor in a big circle for the last dance and impromptu sing-a-long; the kind that can only be explained by the look I shared with my husband on the hill on top of the long grass, as we saw each other for the first time, all made up.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that a wedding isn’t just a party. It is your bright, shiny past colliding with your bright, shiny future, in a crossroads of the most enveloping joy I have ever felt.

Touché, Monica Gellar, touché. You win, this time.

The InfoPhotographer: Stephanie Rae Hull of Centric Photography / Location: Saturna Island, British Columbia / Venue: The Shorehouse/Meadow of The David Elford Land Holdings, Ltd. (privately owned by a co-op B’s Dad is involved with) / Joann’s Dress: Nicole Bridger / Joann’s Shoes: Bought in a little shop in Italy in 2005 / Joann’s Earrings: Anthropologie / Wedding band: Satomi Kawakita / Sister of Honor’s Dress: ModclothMaid of Honor’s Dress: Spotted Moth

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