Our $10K Wedding At A Girl Scout Camp In A Michigan Forest

216 acres of wedding goodness

Morgan, Creative communications & abe, exhibit tech

sum up of the wedding vibe: Our wedding at a Girl Scout camp was a celebration of our love for Michigan, our Scottish heritage, and our supportive community.

Planned Budget: $10,000
Actual Budget: $10,000
Number of Guests: 110
Location: Plainwell, Michigan

Where we allocated the most funds:

Food and cooking is such an important part of our relationship and also how both of our families express love for one another. We wanted our guests to come into the reception space and have the chance to eat right away, so we set up a grazing table with help from our families. My mother-in-law and I spent an entire day pickling vegetables for it! But we also bought meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts, and crackers. It was definitely a hit. The main meal was catered ($2,000), and all of the ingredients were locally sourced. Then we finished the night with donuts from our favorite local bakery, because what’s better than a more portable version of cake?

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We also spent $2,000 on our venue. It was really important to us to be able to provide accommodations for anyone that wanted to stay, and we wanted to find a spot that really captured all of the natural elements we love about Michigan. But all things considering, we got an amazing deal on our venue: 216 acres to ourselves for three days!

Where we allocated the least funds:

We ended up making a lot of things ourselves to save money. We are both very creative and do a lot of making in our careers. I do graphic design for a children’s science museum, so I jumped at the chance to design and create all of the paper goods for our wedding. We ended up spending $130 total on our invitations and programs, including postage. I also made the camp badges our groomsmen wore, the fabric banners we had around the reception site, my own veil with English netting that I dyed myself, and my hair comb. I learned a lot of new skills for this! Where’s the spot on your resume for all of the odd things you learn when DIYing your wedding?

My husband works in exhibits at the same museum, so we built a lot of things from wood we found cheap or salvaged, including giant Jenga for the reception, our ceremony arch, all of the signs around camp, and—our new pride and joy—the bean bag toss that we hand-painted to look like a topographic map.

What was totally worth it:

We did a lot of things ourselves, even when a lot of people warned us not to. We were really dead-set on having real flowers, and the only way we could make our vision work within our budget was to buy stems in bulk and DIY. I was so nervous about the amount of work, not storing them properly the night before, or miscalculating the number of stems that we’d need, but everything turned out PERFECTLY—better than we imagined. We bought our flowers from a local flower farm for $200, and we got so much for that price. It was really fulfilling creatively to do it ourselves, and I learned that all of my bridesmaids had this amazing hidden talent for floral design. Everything was so beautiful, the entire wedding was just dripping in flowers, and our reception venue smelled incredibly fresh, like a flower shop. We also bought ten pounds of dried moss from Amazon, and we were surprised by how far that stretched! We never expected to be able to create full runners, but we had enough for that and more. I was so worried about everything coming together in such a short amount of time, but it was one of the easiest parts of that weekend.

Abe’s best man is also a sound engineer, so he set up a sound system so we could hook up to a Spotify playlist instead of hiring a DJ. It seems like this is something a lot of people have strong feelings about and advise against, but it was perfect for us, and I’m glad we stuck with our gut. We are really, really picky about music, and we spent over a year hand-selecting every song and the order they would play in. It was a perfect mix of classic rock sing-alongs, ’90s R&B favorites, and synth-fueled guilty pleasures. I love dancing, so I was on the floor with my friends all. night. long. I had people calling me the next morning telling me they couldn’t move, they went too hard, the playlist was too good to miss a single song. I was right there with them! Having that level of control over the music was definitely worth it.

And finally, the venue really was worth it. It was a ton of work… it’s not for everyone. There were so many unexpected challenges that weekend that you wouldn’t have with a traditional venue. Just getting across camp added so much time to everything. But having the ability to see everyone the next morning, knowing everyone was safe that night, and having the chance to really make every inch of that space our own was incredibly special.

What was totally not worth it:

Doing anything at all besides getting ready and enjoying your day on the actual day of the wedding is so not worth it. I’m glad we created so many things ourselves, but I wish I had let go earlier in the day and given myself more time to get ready, drink some champagne, take pictures, and chill out! I started the morning working on last-minute details that really didn’t matter, and it quickly became so chaotic. I felt incredibly rushed by noon, and I know that stress radiated to everyone around me until I was finally dressed and ready to go. It wasn’t worth it; the day is too short to waste any moment of it stressing about details that literally no one cares about.

A few things that helped us along the way:

We had the world’s strongest support system of family and friends, and we’re so incredibly grateful for how much they helped us set up the day before and clean the entire campground afterward, even though we were all so dog-tired. We couldn’t have done this without their support. The reception really went off without a hitch because my parents had the forethought to gift us a day-of coordinator for Christmas the year before our wedding. I can’t stress this enough: If you’re doing a lot of your wedding yourself, having a day-of coordinator is so important if you can swing it. It really helped to be able to pass along our vision into her very capable hands and not need to worry about logistics when you’re trying to enjoy your day. It also really helped to take time before the wedding and really write down every last detail of how you imagine your wedding to go and look. You have all of these ideas and expectations in your head while planning. I’m a designer and a visual person, so I made diagrams of literally everything, and I ended up feeling really comfortable passing things off to other people because I knew they could see my vision too.

And finally, having a photographer that you really trust is huge. Liv was incredible, and she knows me and my style so well. She knows how much time and effort I put into the details, and she took an incredible amount of care into capturing them. When I finally was able to step back from everything and start to get ready, the first thing I thought was, “It’ll be okay. My photographer’s got this.”

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Everyone warns you, but things will go wrong! You think you’re prepared to take it in stride, but it’s going to be really hard. Just be kind to yourself in the process. We were so collected and ready to go the week before. Then we had a groomsman pull out, my sister and maid of honor broke her elbow, the weather was expected to be cold and rainy, and the camp director and only onsite employee left his job with no replacement by our wedding date. Things are going to happen, and whether they are objectively or subjectively terrible, you really will only remember the good stuff. I didn’t realize it until I was at the end of that aisle, standing in front of Abe. The sooner you believe that, the sooner you’ll actually be able to enjoy your day.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

The ceremony was actual magic. From the setting, to my grandfather (who will be celebrating his fiftieth wedding anniversary this year) reading something very special and meaningful to begin the service, to my mother-in-law officiating, to the handfasting with both of our family tartans… it felt very personal and intimate. Honorable mentions go to dancing through our entire wedding playlist with my friends and family until we couldn’t stand anymore, holding my friend’s beautiful new baby girl for the first time, the beautiful speeches from our maid of honor/my sister and best man, and walking around the campground after the reception in pajamas with my husband in the stillness of 2 a.m. because neither of us could sleep. That moment where we really could process that we actually pulled it off and take in the results of all of our hard work was the best.

Something else I’d like to share:

Sometimes something that you think is a burden can end up being your best asset if you just get creative with it. We’re from Michigan, so we knew that really amazing beer was a priority. In our venue, there was a massive industrial fridge out in the reception hall that was too large to be moved into the kitchen. At first, I thought it was going to be an eyesore, but then we realized we could embrace it and turn it into the most incredible self-serve beer bar. I used to work in graphic design for a craft beer distributor, so I could get bottles that were salvaged from broken cases cheaply. Abe and I ended up buying a separate fridge to keep all of the beer I was getting, so we really wanted to recreate that for people who knew us well. We filled the fridge top to bottom with more than fifty different Michigan craft beers, and it ended up being the number one thing we still get compliments on. People were trying new beers and sharing them with others as a way to meet new people. We both hated that fridge so much at first, and it ended up being so unique and perfectly “us.” A little creative problem-solving goes a long way!

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