Our $40K Egalitarian, Dance-Filled Midday Wedding

Green Wedding Dress FTW

zoe & sam

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A joyful, egalitarian, laid-back, fun midday celebration with lots of dancing!

Planned budget: $32,000
Actual budget: $40,000
Number of guests: 110
LOCATION: Berkeley, California

Where we allocated the most funds:

Food was one of our top priorities. We’re both big foodies, and we love to cook, drink, and entertain. We wanted our wedding to feel like a gussied-up version of the parties we throw at home—lively, laid-back, nothing fussy or overly formal. We chose a full-service caterer, so they also handled rentals, floor plans, bartending, and setup/breakdown/cleanup. That made our lives much easier!

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Manali Anne Photography was probably our favorite vendor. Not only does she take stunning photos, but she’s super-responsive, flexible, transparent with her prices, and really bubbly and fun to be around. She even gave us (multiple) rides in her car, including a ride to the venue on the morning of the wedding! We ended up blowing our photography budget and buying two albums from her, just to give her more of our business.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Sam wore a suit he already owned. Zoe made her own veil and bought her dress on sale (then spent almost as much again getting it altered!). She also did her own hair, and her sister did her makeup. We had generous help from family and friends. Our parents, siblings, and friends helped us gather and transport items so we didn’t need to rent a van. Zoe’s parents designed and printed the seating chart and welcome signs. A friend who works at a brewery hooked us up with beer and cider kegs at no cost to us. Another friend gave us paper fans leftover from her wedding to use as party favors. (They were a big hit in the California summer sun!)

What was totally worth it:

We spent a lot of time and money getting the reception lunch right. From the beginning, we insisted on a meal that was not only genuinely delicious, but could accommodate as many of our guests’ food restrictions as possible. The staff at Carrie Dove Catering helped us plan a fresh, seasonal menu (hello, gazpacho shots!) that had multiple food options for almost every guest. We had folks who are pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, allium-free, and lactose-intolerant, and they were all able to just serve themselves from the buffet.

Getting partial wedding planning services was totally worth it. Jessica Franklin from Dreams on a Dime was a lifesaver! She helped us find vendors, reviewed every contract, and gave advice on things we never would have thought of (like buying versus renting flower vases). As our day-of coordinator, she was so efficient and fit in so smoothly with our crowd that a lot of people assumed she was a fellow guest.

We’re both involved in the local social dance scene, and many of our friends are dancers. Even though it was a daytime wedding, we really wanted our guests to dance their faces off. On our RSVP form, we asked people to “Tell us one song that’s guaranteed to get you on the dance floor,” then gave the resulting playlist to the DJ. He ended up playing nothing but songs from the list, and our guests were so happy. We had nearly three hours of music and there were people dancing the whole time—on a Sunday afternoon!

What was totally NOT worth it:

The first wedding planner we hired ghosted us—she just stopped responding to phone calls, texts, or emails. We never found out what happened and couldn’t get our deposit back. Lesson learned: make sure all your vendor contracts have a cancellation clause!

We arranged a round-trip shuttle for our guests between the venue and downtown Berkeley. The shuttle going to the venue in the morning ran late, and hardly anyone used it—they mostly took cabs or carpooled. If we had to do it over again, we’d just book the shuttle for the return trip to downtown.

We ended up WAY over-ordering both wine and cake. We’re happily storing (and drinking) the extra wine, but we had to scramble to get through an entire leftover half-sheet cake!

A few things that helped us along the way:

Our terrific vendors, from the florist to the DJ to the invitation designers. Our rabbi, who helped us create a wonderful, traditional-yet-egalitarian ceremony that our guests are still gushing about months later. Our friends and families, who listened to our incessant wedding talk and insisted on helping us out (even when we were reluctant to let them). Google Docs and Google Sheets. Sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.

My best practical advice to my planning self:

Figure out your priorities early on, and stick to them. We wanted a ceremony that reflected our values, delicious food that everyone could eat, and lots of dancing. We got some pushback from potential vendors, especially around the food, but we stuck to our guns and had the party we wanted. Ask questions. Ask lots of questions. Ask about prices up front, and repeatedly during the process. Ask about anything you’re unsure of, and keep asking until you get an answer that satisfies you. Your vendors do this for a living—their brains are there to be picked!

Let people help you. This was our biggest mistake. We didn’t know how to ask people to tackle specific tasks, so we ended up doing way too much ourselves. People kept saying, “I want to help! Tell me how I can help!” And we just… didn’t. Eventually a few folks strong-armed their way in, saying, “X is clearly stressing you out, I have experience doing X, I’ll take care of it.” And they did! It will all be worth it. All the stress, time, and money will be worth it to see your loved ones’ faces lit up with joy!

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Zoe: Instead of a formal processional, we walked down the aisle together to the “Peter Gunn Theme” (aka The Blues Brothers theme). Our guests started cheering and clapping when we came through the doors! It made me feel so loved, and really set the tone for the rest of the day.

Sam: After the ceremony, everybody was celebrating together and dancing together, and that was quite delightful. It was wonderful seeing our families and different groups of friends meeting and having fun and getting along well.

Other things we’d like to share:

One unexpected bonus of an afternoon reception: everything was over by 5 PM. We hopped the shuttle back, showered, changed into comfy clothes, and met back up with friends for sushi and karaoke in the evening. At the end of the night, we told our Lyft driver that we’d just gotten married; he pulled out a harmonica and played the entire “Wedding March” from behind the wheel! It was the perfect end to a day full of music, laughter, and love.

Our wedding was the day after Charlottesville. We weren’t following the news much that weekend, and only learned of the magnitude of what happened after we emerged from the wedding whirlwind. There were a lot of emotions to sort through—sadness and joy, heartbreak and hope. Although neither of us is observant, we are especially glad now that we had a Jewish ceremony, which mixed our favorite traditions with our progressive, humanist beliefs. Combined with an unabashedly joyous celebration afterward, it felt like putting our own little stake in the ground.

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