Our $24K Epic Garden Party, Theatre Kid Wedding Was Everything

Good luck ever getting this dress out of your mind’s eye

Maddie, arts admin at the theatre & eamon, maths teacher

SUM-UP OF THE WEDDING VIBE: An epic weekend garden party, filled with love and family.

PLANNED BUDGET: Original—$10,000 | Revised—$20,000
Our budget was $10,000 for a different wedding entirely (60–70 people, in a community hall). Then both sets of parents announced that they wanted to help out. Eamon’s parents gave us $5,000 to do with as we willed; my parents gave us up to $20,000, which was incredibly generous, but came with the proviso of a large list of family that needed to be invited. Our new budget was $20,000.
NUMBER OF GUESTS: 137 invited, 103 attended
LOCATION: Brisbane, Australia

Where we allocated the most funds:

The Bar. $5,500 on alcohol + $800 for extra costs for mixers, staff, glassware, etc. We had two of our catering staff pouring until about 11:30 p.m. (they were enthusiastic and lovely, but not so experienced, so the servings were generous to say the least), and then it was serve yourself. A few friends, notably my best maid’s fiancé, generously decided to serve a few mixed things and shots for a while, but it was rather haphazard—exactly as we planned. Part of the reason we had the wedding we did (on private property, us organizing and supplying everything) was that we wanted to a DIY bar, with full quality control of liquor and the ability to party until everyone passed out. We chose top shelf spirits, as well as wine, beer, and bubbles that had emotional significance (the bubbles we had used to toast when we bought our first house, the red I once gave Eamon after a fight, and the white was chosen with friends at a pre-wedding dinner). This meant some very, very nice whiskies got mixed with cola towards the end of the night (to Eamon’s dismay), but it also meant the party danced until 4 a.m., and everyone had an excellent, and debaucherous, time.

Tent and Rentals. Equal top expense was the marquee hire, which included chairs, tables, the sound system, and lighting.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Wedding website and paper goods. Approximately $350 for both. I love getting mail that isn’t bills, so I was keen to do posted save the dates and invites. While I investigated letterpress, and for two seconds considered the APW DIY letterpress tutorial, I couldn’t bring myself to spend that much money or time on it. Instead we did our own save the dates using a printable from Etsy, which cost about $20, on some fancy paper from an office supply store that fit though the work printer (sneaky!). We tried to do a similar thing for the invite, but the Etsy lady fell through pretty spectacularly, so we went with Minted instead. It was about $250, which was a bit more than I had imagined we would spend, but I loved them, and I was at the point where paying more was worth it not to have any added stress. I built our website myself on the Wix platform, which was easy to use and had maps, RSVP, and wedding registry apps you could add to the site. It cost about $45 for a year of it being live, and meant that we only had the wedding invite to send, without any of the usual enclosures (and my people are pretty flaky, so an online RSVP system was a big stress saver). We printed all of our own table numbers and place names, and overall the postage was the biggest cost (single letters are 70 cents each in Australia).

What was totally worth it:

Sam, our stylist. $1,500 for her and her team to come the day before the wedding to style the ceremony garden and reception marquee, and then to come back the day after and bump it all out again. This included her supplying all the decor, like silver candelabras and signage, and everything required for dinner service such as glassware, cutlery, flatware, etc. She even styled the “bathroom” and made port-a-loos look halfway glamorous. Her style is mismatched vintage, and she has so much stock that we were easily able to find what worked for us (though I basically took one look at her website and said, Yep, I will have picture number three).

What was totally not worth it:

Flowers. $400, which in retrospect we didn’t need, as my mother-in-law raided her garden to give us more than enough greenery and flowers for the roof centerpiece. Much to my mum’s disapproval, we didn’t have bouquets or lapel pins. My favorite quote of this discussion was her asking what I would do with my hands on the day. I suggested they would be on the ends of my arms like always.

Also? Stressing about chairs.

A few things that helped us along the way:

Friends chipping in to DJ and make playlists, and family helping organize a dinner the night before and a hungover breakfast the day after.

My incredible squad making my wedding dress dream a reality.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Doing my own hair and makeup was a good choice, as it made me feel in control and shortened the prep time considerably.

Plastic chairs are totally fine. I spent a rather silly amount of time on the Internet trying to image search for pretty weddings with white plastic garden chairs. All the ones I saw had Tiffany chairs or Americana ones, which were $10 a seat, rather than the $1.80 ones I wanted to use. Despite the lack of support on Pinterest, I went with it. It was fine. They were chairs and people sat in them successfully. (Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was to get photos of my normal chairs up and searchable on the Internet for anyone else as neurotic as me.)

Similarly, port-a-loos, totally fine. It might be that they are more common in Australia, but despite some wedding websites suggesting we pre-warn guests about this (What!? Where does that even go on the invite?), nobody had an issue with them. In fact, some guests took pictures of how we had styled them for Instagram hilarity.

Have an alternate shorter skirt to wear, once you get to the falling over silly stage!

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Having the bridesmaids shoot confetti cannons (with water-soluble confetti for those environmentalists out there) at the end of the ceremony in lieu of holding bouquets. Watching Eamon and his medieval re-enactment friends convert the croquet mallets into swords and have a mock battle. Spinning around with my niblings on the dance floor to get the party started. Nothing like dancing with three kids under six to make you lose your inhibitions about daggy dance moves. Hugging my mum, surrounded by family next to the fire pit, while my cousins spun yarns and had people falling off their chairs. The surprise cake my maid of honor bought for our dear friend’s thirtieth, which we cut and ate at midnight. Realizing the stress and planning were all worth it, as I relaxed into one of the best parties and nights of my life. Somehow, despite the fact that I was planning for all of the best people in my life to be at a giant party celebrating love, I hadn’t realized how much fun I was going to have.

Other Things I’d like to share:

Our beautiful venue cost $3,500 to have it to ourselves for the whole weekend. This included the four cabins and the main house, which slept all the key family and wedding party members.

The fantastic food, with a lovely head chef and catering team, came to $3,300, which was an amazing deal. For this, the head chef Fiona did canapés in the garden between the ceremony and reception, followed by a family-style dinner service and dessert of sticky date pudding or apple crumbles (two family favorites). We didn’t want a cake, I was pretty insistent on family-style service, and we had the usual random assortment of gluten-free, vego, dairy-free people you get in a group of this size, and she managed all of it with aplomb. If you can’t find people who can help you, my suggestion is to widen your search out of town. Our wedding site was about forty-five minutes from the major city of Brisbane, but the quotes I was getting from caterers based there were all pushing the $8,000 mark, and they would all have to prep food offsite and have it in bain-marie for a few hours, as there isn’t a dedicated catering kitchen on site. Fiona was based in Gatton (a country town an hour the other way), was under our budget, and had her own very decked-out mobile kitchen. Everyone raved about the food, and she even bought some of the nibbles over while we were getting our photos done so that we didn’t miss out. We ended up giving her and her team a substantial tip of about $500, as they were incredible.

We initially were going to go kid free, because I was worried about noise, and crying, and running around during the ceremony, and then distractions and knocking over candles during dinner. Then our wedding got bigger (thanks to family contributions that came with the proviso that extended family had to be invited, which I was great with) and I read this post.

And I realized that it was right. We were talking about maybe five kids, all of whom I’m related to, and inviting them wasn’t just the right thing to do for the reason of making things easier for their parents. It was the right thing to do to keep family and the multiple generations connected, and so I relaxed about the whole thing. Midway through planning I changed my mindset/theme to “awesome, not perfect,” which helped a lot mentally. We ended up with one teenager, three kids, and a surprising number of very young babies (four one- to three-month-olds), which was mostly surprising in the sense that these were not around when we first planned our guest list!

I am so glad they were there and involved. We had the kids hand out the confetti envelopes when everyone arrived. I concur about kids being the first on the dance floor, and dancing with three people who came up to my waist and who were so delighted to be dancing with me was the sweetest.

Tips for having children at your wedding: Here’s what worked for us. We had a kids’ end of the table, rather than a kids’ table, so their parents were next to both their children and other adults. That way the kids could hang but remain under parent supervision (we had long banquets rather than rounds which made this easy). After reading that article, I dropped some crayons and coloring books on the table. The kids loved them, but it was most appreciated by their folks, I think, for the welcoming idea of it. I was thanked for the coloring books about five times over the two days, so definitely $12 well spent. (Thanks APW.) We also set aside a lounge room as a comfy quiet space for the families if they needed to go there to nurse or put baby to sleep.


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