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

Featured Sponsored Content


    Gorgeous. Just all out gorgeous


  • Emmy

    “…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.”

    This punched me in the gut. It’s so true, and beautifully put. Your wedding experience was very similar to mine, from trying to stick to an arbitrary low budget to worrying maybe a little too much about the feelings of others to the tent worry. Congrats!

  • Thank you so much for being honest about your budget and your concerns about it. I struggle with this too!

  • Jennifer

    Your wedding was gorgeous, and the Monica Gellar references were perfect :)

  • Sister of Honor and Maid of Honor – smart! This is a lovely post.

    • and Man of Honor too! Husband had three Best Men.

  • Kirstin

    Your post just brought me to tears. Not because it was sad at all, but because this statement was entirely beautiful:

    “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.”

    This. This is what I want.

    • KateW

      That was how I felt at mine too.

    • APracticalLaura


    • Gina

      This is just so so beautiful. I just got married this past Saturday (still can’t believe it!) and I asked my husband what he was thinking during our first look (we both shed some very happy tears). He said “I could see our past, present, and future all at once.”

  • SamanthaNichole

    “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. <>”

    Yes, yes yes. Unimaginable pure joy. I want to live my wedding over and over and over for all of the love I felt.

  • MLCinPRC

    Awesome words for an even more awesome wedding. From a fellow arbitrary 5k budget bride-to-be-lessons learned, wisdom received, and thank you for that.

    • Michelle

      Also guilty as charged of saying, “I refuse to spend more than 5k on this party!” So many beautiful words!

    • Copper

      for me it was 10k, but given my location (LA) the sentiment was pretty much the same. My budget creep has been similar too.

      • Margaret

        I thought the exact same thing – we could totally have a wedding and not spend more than 10K- but we are also in LA and as I didn’t want to travel a crazy distance to have a cheaper wedding, we realized right away that 10K was never going to get what we wanted. And sometimes, it’s worth it to pay for convenience.

  • Chanel

    “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.”

    That is my favorite description of a wedding, ever. It’s exactly how my wedding felt to me.

    • That is officially the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. GAH! Why do I have to go to work now?? I just want to troll the comments (in a good way) and give everyone virtual hugs! Maybe after school, then.

      In the meantime, as I am definitely now late for being a responsible professional, so for queries about the parade and more pictures, I’ve written about the nuptials in a less pragmatic, more feeling-y way over on my blog. xoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

  • Casey

    So, so beautiful!! Your advice to yourself rings so true – no one will magically have a changed personality just because it’s your wedding, but it doesn’t matter because (as evidenced by this post) you can still have an amazing, love-filled day!

  • Katelyn

    Loved this post…and for all you Friends fans…

    Monica: What else did you think about?

    Chandler: Well, stuff like where’d we live, y’know? Like a small place outside the city, where our kids could learn to ride their bikes and stuff. Y’know, we could have a cat that had a bell on it’s collar and we could hear it every time it ran through the little kitty door. Of course, we’d have an apartment over the garage where Joey could grow old.

    Monica: (laughs) Y’know what? I-I don’t want a big, fancy wedding.

    Chandler: Sure you do.

    Monica: No, I want everything you just said. I want a marriage


    What a beautiful post. We are getting married on Saturday and right now i have ALL THE FEELINGS from this. Thank you for sharing

    • Copper

      fistbump to the other october 12th-ers! This whole week I’ve just been waking up going “It’s SO. SOON.”

  • AllieM

    This was beautiful and awesome. Can you explain more about how your parade worked? I’ve never heard of anything like it and it seems like such a great idea!

    • Our ceremony site was roughly 20 minutes away (walking) from our reception site, so B decided that we should parade there. I am WAY less fun than he is, so I took some convincing, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole day. Directly after the ceremony, we gathered everyone and had a toast, and then the van with the speaker system started to drive away, and we said “follow that van!”

      On our wedding website, we gave people ample warning, and challenged them to ‘locomote’ in a creative way. My sort-of brother-in-law rollerbladed the whole way with a cape and mask, y’all. Most people just walked. I bought balloons and made parade flags for people to wave. In general, it was just a great way to blow off some steam and celebrate together before dinner and dancing!

      pictures here:

      • AllieM

        Thanks! amazing. Best wishes to you in your new marriage!

  • MK

    So beautiful, both the story and the photos and the telling. Wow. This was a perfect APW post–practical and educational and heartwarming all in one. Hugs all around!

  • I did like this post overall because she says some great things and I could relate to it. I too set kind of an arbitrary budget and then had to reconcile it with myself when we went over it. I totally agree about Monica Gellar, and I’m not totally humbled by spending more on my wedding than I would have liked to.

    What I didn’t like about this post was that it’s billed a “how we did it,” as if it’s going to give practical advice about how to have a lovely (and this wedding was lovely!!) $5,000 wedding when really it was about someone having a lovely $10,000 wedding for just 65 people, and one of the reasons it was done for $10,000 was because the family was lucky enough to have a co-op on a fantastic island and make their own wine. Well heck, with all that was donated and with the small guestlist and the free venue, I would certainly hope the wedding would be $10,000 or less. And what are the rest of us whose parents don’t have these things (or those without parents at all), or who absolutely CAN’T exceed their budget supposed to do?

    Still, this was a lovely post. I loved some of her insights. I just didn’t appreciate some of the talk about budget, given her circumstances.

    • Amy March

      Oh that was actually my favorite part! I like that it included info about all the low cost items they were able to secure, because then when I look at their wedding I know what parts of it I could afford.

      • Yes! And also, I took from it more of an overarching concept of looking at all the things you think you want at your wedding, figuring out what you can save big on, what you want to splurge big on, and working out how much the one can enable the other. Although the particulars of my wedding were pretty different from this one, we took a very similar approach.

        • Annnnnnnnd because I hit Submit too soon, I’m replying to myself to reply to Sarah to say, I do totally sympathize with your underlying concerns/frustrations. If your “what is everyone else supposed to do?” question was rhetorical, I apologize for the essay, but:

          In this, as in so many other scenarios, if you (switching to the general “You” at this point, please don’t think I’m lecturing when you’ve already dealt wtih the budget question for yourself!) don’t have money to throw at things then you’re probably going to “pay” differently – in terms of time, effort, and creativity – in order to get a similar result. That could mean any number of things, depending on your resources and talents, from obsessively researching to find hidden low-cost options (and not-so-hidden ones. Not everyone owns property on a fabulous island, but even in hyper-expensive Manhattan, getting married in Central Park costs, what, $25?), to DIY growing/ sewing/ cooking/ crafting or trading some service of your own for the services of someone who does.

          It sounds like Joann went over budget because her priorities changed as she and Bryan progressed through the planning process. But I am totally a believer that if the bottom line absolutely cannot change, if that dollar amount has to remain priority number one (which is a reality for a lot of us), then it is possible to stick to it. That may mean the vision has to change, which sometimes sucks to think about. But my hope is that after our weddings, all of us will look back and remember the reason we were there and not just the things we couldn’t afford.

          • Breck

            Perfectly said, Liz.

            Also, I think this kind of falls into the category of “not all posts will be relevant to you.” There are other How We Did It posts where couples stayed closer to or under their initial budget and others that offer some more practical advice on how they accomplished that, but this was about Joann and Bryan’s experience with their evolving budget, including the donated items and free venue.

            I love that APW publishes such a wide variety of posts–there’s always something to nod your head at, disagree with, learn from, etc.

      • Teafortwo

        Yes! From pictures it can be so hard to tell, but it is helpful to know that someone else could afford to get everyone roaringly drunk, for example, because they served homemade wine instead of paying $50/head for an open bar package. I also love hearing about how much gets donated to people’s weddings (like potluck dessert) because I think hearing about other peoples’ generosity frees me up to ask friends for things, and realize that they will actually be glad to contribute.

      • Emmers

        Ditto, yes, favorite part! Love knowing that sometimes important things cost, but you can make decisions about things you don’t value as much, and work it out. So helpful!

    • Teafortwo

      I think the point is that the series is called “How We Did It” not “How You Should Do It.”

      I loved how realistic this post was about budget and budget creep. And I also thought it was helpful how the budget was sort of broken down for us – $5K for photographer and food, $7500 once you figure in the rest of the party, $10K including wedding attire and bands. Our parents were both very generous for our wedding, and my partner and I didn’t want to exceed the amount they had given us.

      Then his ring cost…four times what I thought it would. It’s beautiful, it’s made from fair trade and recycled gold and it’s going to outlast any other mementos from our wedding, probably including photographs. Maybe one day one of our grandchildren will wear it as a wedding band. Planning a wedding involves a lot of compromise.

      • I am now picturing a character in my head called the Budget Creep. Love that term. (He’s kind of a bastard).

    • Copper

      I think that my biggest takeaway from really fabulous looking budget weddings is that there ALWAYS seems to be donated, comped, or discounted stuff going on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered how someone did what they did with that budget, and it turned out that their BFF was a pro photographer or a dj, or their parents owned that gorgeous farm and barn they used. It’s how that budget works, and I don’t think that’s something to shun, but rather an inspiration and a reality check—what can you do yourself, what resources for unexpected free or cheap stuff are local to you, what talents of friends can you make use of? And if you come up with nothing, then it’s time to adjust the expectation of what the result looks like to fit your budget or visa-versa.

    • Alison O

      I totally get your frustration with the “well what do the people without XYZ amazing free resources do?”, but I actually think that’s part of why providing the budget and details in this post is helpful…to set realistic expectations. I disagree that it was billed as anything in particular, since the title just says “how we did it”, not “How We Had a Lovely $5,000 Wedding”, and in the body of the post she is transparent about the costs and freebies. On some sites I just see a pretty wedding post that has the tag “budget wedding”, and when I start tallying up how much the things I see in the pictures would cost me to obtain, I’m skeptical that it would come out to what the average person would label as a “budget wedding”. (Whole ‘nother can of worms.) What is probably lurking underneath some of those weddings is major free stuff, whether a venue, alcohol, etc. I’d rather have all the details be transparent, so I’m not frustrating myself wondering why I’m not able to pull off the same kind of event for as little dough as it made me think was possible.

    • I totally was apprehensive about sending this post in as a “How We Did It”, primarily because talking about money so frankly is a pretty scary enterprise for me. And you know, two years ago when I was newly engaged and had all sorts of opinions about how much people spend on Things, I, too, would have balked at black and white figures like $10 K on 55 people.

      I guess my point, that others have helped me articulate (thanks guys!), is that this is how our wedding trajectory ended up, with no intention of indicating that we were right or wrong. It just is and was. I used to judge people that would throw that amount of cash at something like a party, and now I don’t. I get how it happens. Some things were practical and necessary, like the tent, and some things like the wedding bands (which cost about $1200 between the two of us), are beautiful and we deserve them. Full stop. I decided that I didn’t need to feel guilty about spending my hard earned, squirreled away, teacher salary (don’t even get me started) on Things, that that didn’t mean I was a bad person.

      If you want to know more practical advice, like how we would have done it if we didn’t have The Shorehouse (which we are undeniably lucky to have), I can answer those too.

      • those are all good points. I guess, as someone else suggested, “how we did it” is more in the tone of “how we managed to pull it off”or “what we did, because it’s interesting to see how people pull everything together” and not “how-to.”

        and I totally relate to the change from judging folks with big wedding budgets, to then adjusting your own budget and not feeling guilty about it. I thought weddings cost like, $5000-10,000 before I started planning one. Now my wedding is going to cost me over half of my (very modest) yearly salary – and I don’t think I’ll regret it one bit.

    • Jasmin

      I think some of the things you mention are circumstances, but some are certainly also choices (and I say this as someone on a $5000 budget–and also a teacher–in one of the most expensive cities to get married in). For example, they chose to have a small guest list, and maybe that’s a “sacrifice” that didn’t matter to them in the grand scheme of things (quote marks because for people from small families may seem like a lot). We have just about the same number of invitees (and nearly all of them from out of town), plus we’re getting married on an “off” day in an “off” month, and our wedding is heavily DIY, yet we’re still getting married at a country club, serving plated meals, and I’m sure doing other things that are WIC-approved.

      I can totally relate to wanting to know how much things cost–one of my first criteria for vendors is whether they have a price point on their website so I don’t waste my time. But I think the nature of a post like this, on a finished wedding, can’t help but show how it all “worked out” (because of friendors, favors, discounts, whatever) because the bride and groom have already let go of/moved on from all the things that didn’t work out exactly how they would’ve liked.

  • Emily

    This is entirely one of the best APW posts ever. Pinning to my secret wedding-sanity board immediately!

  • Jessica

    I love this! It is so perfect, and comes at just the right time for me. Newly engaged, I went into wedding planning committed to a $7- 8K budget. We are inviting 75 people so it felt possible… until I remembered things like wedding bands, pre-marital counseling, name change fees, etc. So anyway. Your first lesson learned I am taking to heart… and calling it 10K from the start. And it will be fine.

  • Aw yeah! This post is so great. It feels a little like old school APW! Love it, love, love it. I’ve been seriously missing these. How we did it– great stuff.

    I love that it’s a chance to explore creativity in how it goes down. Folks can “steal smart” and apply it to their own weddings if they so choose to fit their own budgets. Yet, budgets -as the bride and groom choose- are honest in these posts. I think it’s good to have a better dialogue about what actually gets spent without shaming anyone.

    Joann and Bryan, your wedding sounds like it was fantastic. And Joann, I love all the “bright shiny.” Such a wonderful way of putting it.

  • Emmers

    I love these “how we did it” posts. They are some of my favorite, since there’s beauty (with photos), and also practical tips. The best of both worlds, in planning a wedding! This seemed like such a beautiful wedding, and I really appreciated the general cost breakdown and other tips (like how a tent seems like a lot until it rains).

  • Heather

    I love that you talk about the whole inclusive cost, and the budget creep happened very early on to me- As students, its hard to save up money, so while fiance and I both came up with 10k as our initial, no we won’t spend more than that, absolutely not- researching how much the things we wanted would cost (good food, pretty venue, nice photos, booze, dancing- the works lite) in one of the largest cities in the States was a bit of shock. So, now the budget has been revised to probably around 15k, potentially up to 20k if more of our out of town guests RSVP yes than we’re expecting and you include dinner the night before (which we’re hoping to do cheap and inclusive- it’ll be our alter ego wedding that we would have done if we weren’t able to throw money at this- our Texas taco and tamale wedding with booze bought in bulk from Specs and in our apt complex’s Club room- I’m almost as excited about that as I am the actually wedding the next day :D It is amazing how quickly the money can get spent. I just wish there were more APW Texas vendors so that I could use that as a filter for finding people!

  • LifeSheWrote

    So, so beautiful. Loved the pictures and the sentiment. Just right.

  • I’m so glad they’re still publishing “How We Did It” posts; when Liz announced the relaunch and talked about new features that had gone away, I was afraid these were one of them! I love these kinds of posts– even though my circumstances are always very different from the couples profiled (I myself am going to have lots more than 65 guests) I still love learning about the different ways to allocate money during the wedding planning process. I especially enjoy reading about what was and wasn’t worth it– it’s always good to hear what people actually end up appreciating, and what wasn’t worth the bother.

    This post was particularly well-done; love the Monica Gellar references!

  • “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.”

    I love that definition. :)

  • ruth

    Love this feature and wish you had them when I was planning my wedding! How do we submit a “How We Did It” post?

  • So much of this wedding resonated with me.
    My $5000 budget for a wedding on Vancouver Island has been amended to $7000 and now to $8000 but I tell myself, I’m not going over it.

    I supposed we could, if we really wanted to, but I just moved 5000km across the country and the cost of that has left us in not as great financial terms.

    So I keep having the “do we rent a tent” conversation with my partner (or borderline argument with my mother).

    I just am so fixated on keeping this 50+ person thing under my budget. And frankly, I don’t have someone donating wine, or lights or my hair, or anything. All I have is my parents’ home where we will do this thing. And while I’m so thankful I’m not shelling out for a venue, there are still so many little expenses I have to plan for.

    And that damn tent that blows my budget completely.

  • pixie_moxie

    this reminded me so much of my experience. Thank you for sharing!

  • Stacey_tee

    Love! Such a real portrayal of how we all feel I think at some point during our planning & execution :) Thank you for sharing!

  • Liz