How We Planned: Not Your Mama’s Cape Cod Wedding


Four Weddings (Not the TLC Version)

MacKenzie, Teacher & John, Attorney

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Not Your Mama’s Cape Cod Wedding

Planned Budget: $50,000 (for a wedding, a reception, a rehearsal dinner, three post-wedding parties, and a honeymoon)

Actual Budget: $44,000

Number of Guests: 30 at the wedding, about 50 at each of the three parties (~180 people total with some overlaps)

Where we allocated the most funds

The parties and reception came in around $17,000 total (food, booze, rentals, etc.) for almost two hundred guests in all. Apparel was $3000, which included one wedding dress and two party dresses for me, a new suit for my hubby, and his sword.

Where we allocated the least funds

Perhaps decor? The flowers were about $1500, which is inexpensive according to the WIC, and were so plentiful and awesome, but a lot of the other decor elements came from eBay—vintage doilies, vintage picture frames—or we found them ourselves. We got all of the vintage bottles at Dead Horse Bay. We didn’t have a band or a DJ, but we did have an acoustic guitar duo who played through cocktail hour and into the reception. They were just perfect ($850). We had pies instead of wedding cake. They were delicious.


What was totally worth it

The flowers; the awesome caterer—she was like having a super kind, thoughtful, mellow extra mom; my dress—on sale at BHLDN; and everything that I wanted for a fraction of what I thought I was going to have to pay. Our photographer was amazing. I can’t believe how great our photos are. She was so easy to work with and I’m still astonished by how affordable she was. Also, we had a woman who hand-rolled cigars as our “favor.” She was a total hit! And the heat lamps. It was really cold the night before the wedding. I freaked out and my mom went on a quest for heat lamps the morning of the wedding. The weather warmed up, but the added assurance of the heat lamps was totally worth it.

We saved a lot for the wedding ahead of time. Ultimately, my partner and I both contributed $10,000 each to the wedding fund, my family contributed $20,000, and his family contributed $10,000. We had $50,000 to work with, but my partner suggested we plan as if we only had $40,000. That way, dipping into our contingency budget wouldn’t mean actually going over budget. I know $50,000 sounds like so much money, but all in all it covered four days of events for our actual wedding weekend, three additional parties post-wedding, and a week in Hawaii. And we still came in well under budget. Being budget-conscious throughout the entire process was totally worth it. Also, going with the less expensive option early on (i.e., no letterpress, no gown from a traditional bridal salon) meant that I had more flexibility when other items came in over budget or when we encountered unexpected expenses (like outdoor heaters).

What was totally not worth it

The stationery. I thought having all of these parties would be a difficult thing for some of the traditional (Paper Source) and less traditional (Minted, etc.) vendors to work with. My stationer, however, was late with multiple deadlines, sent me the wrong quantities, and the RSVP postcards she designed disintegrated in the mail. That headache wasn’t worth it one bit.

Also not worth it was all the worrying and a lot of the planning. I spent a day on Etsy picking out a hair flower and a veil. That did not need to take a day. Despite having a day-of coordinator, I still did all of my vendor coordination. I think for the wedding/rehearsal dinner alone there were more than fifteen different vendors. That was ridiculous.

The weekend was over-planned. I had always dreamed of playing golf during my wedding weekend, but in reality, I would have much preferred the three hours of time just hanging out on the compound. Yoga the morning of the wedding was great, but I probably could have just done some on my own with my besties instead of hiring someone to come to us and trying to make it a “thing.” There were enough “things.”

A few things that helped us along the way

The APW day-of timeline and Vertex42 budgeting and guest list spreadsheets. I was relentless about tracking everything, even ribbon and stamp pads, and it felt really good to still come in under budget. Pinterest was very helpful when talking to vendors. My mom did all of the paper goods for the ceremony and reception, as well as our chair signs. Our photographer and caterer made me feel like they had our backs, and they really did. So many people pitched in the days leading up to and the day of the wedding. I have a lot of guilt about this.

My best practical advice for my planning self

DO NOT PLAN FOUR WEDDINGS!

Seriously, it was too much. We really didn’t want people to feel left out. Our wedding guest list was pretty simple and when it came time for party invites, we never had to say ask ourselves if someone made the invite list cut—they all did! That was really nice. It did mean, however, that we planned one wedding plus reception and three more parties for the weeks to follow. Not to mention a rehearsal dinner and my husband’s birthday (the day before our rehearsal). There really isn’t (or I couldn’t find one) a template for planning “post-wedding” parties so, for me, I felt like I was doing way too much. I think if we could do it again, we probably would have gone smaller. Also, “getting married” that many times is exhausting. By the time we showed up for our last party, we were well oiled wedding machines, but we were also kind of over it. We were so happy to see everyone, but we were also so ready to just be married and lay on the beach.

I worried too much. The APW book was my everything. I read it cover-to-cover more than once, but I could not stop worrying for the life of me. The church for our ceremony was hot. I remember standing up there, hoping that everyone wasn’t uncomfortable and silently complaining about the heat. The wind kept blowing the candles out at the reception. I hate that I worried about this. Our aisle was really very narrow and my dress was made of very delicate lace and as my husband and I turned around to walk out, I quietly whispered, “Don’t step on my dress.” I hate that I couldn’t have been more chill. To say instead, “If people are hot they will fan themselves/take off their suit jackets,” “If the candles go out, someone will light them or someone won’t—fuck it,” “So what if he steps on my dress. It’s just a dress.” I feel like an APW bride would say those things, and yet, this APW bride just couldn’t get there.

Other Notes

I don’t really know where to start. We had a really nice wedding followed by three really nice parties for our friends and family. But I have some lingering funny feelings about our wedding (and parties). There is so much to be proud of: it was all beautiful; people had a great time; our vendors liked working with me; and yet… Wedding planning, for me, was really hard work. It took a lot of time and energy and help, but not surprisingly, despite my best efforts it wasn’t a perfect day (or weekend). And I had to learn along the way, though mostly in hindsight, that my wedding was a special day for me and my husband, but for my vendors it was (just) another job that may or may not go perfectly, and for my guests it was (just) another wedding among the tens (hundreds?) of weddings they will attend over the course of their lifetimes. Maybe this should take some pressure off of me, but trying to undo all that the damn WIC had put in my brain over the past thirty years was a lot to ask while also planning a marriage.

I’m from the West Coast (Seattle) and John’s from the East Coast (Boston). Brooklyn, New York is where we’re making our home, for now. We got engaged in August of 2012 and after a short engagement trip to Paris (sigh), we settled on Fall 2013. I’m a public school teacher in NYC, Rosh Hashanah weekend would provide me with a couple extra days off surrounding the wedding AND I’d have the entire summer leading up to the wedding to get everything in place. September 7th. Done and done.

We quickly realized, however, that a big wedding at a traditional venue wasn’t going to work for us for a number of reasons: most were booked until spring/fall 2014, the guest list got very big very quickly, and myohmy this was looking pricey.

On our way to venue shop on Cape Cod the fall after we got engaged, I casually mentioned that if this big wedding didn’t feel right, maybe we could think about something smaller.

We ended up at his parents’ house later that day and mentioned this alternate plan—a small wedding (on The Cape?) followed by hometown parties in Boston, Brooklyn, and Seattle. His dad was game, when his mom got home from work, she was game, and we drove home that weekend smiling, brainstorming, and feeling like we jut might be on the right track. We went to dinner that Sunday night at our favorite neighborhood joint, finally feeling some relief and excitement about our big day(s). And then we told my mom. And she cried. That was very hard.

Our actual wedding was, basically, the people who would have been our wedding party (had we had a bigger wedding) and our immediate families. It was thirty people in all. We all stayed on a “Compound” on Cape Cod so that we could have time to bond. There were lawn games and beer in the days leading up to the wedding. I was rushing around like a mad woman. Despite wedding planning for thirteen months, including making it my full-time job for the two months before our wedding, I still felt busy when the weekend rolled around. Walk-throughs with vendors, deliveries of rental items, greeting guests, answering questions, directing people traffic, writing thank you notes—it felt like a lot to do. I had so, so wanted to show up to our wedding weekend, hand out spreadsheets to everyone in sight, and then to just sit back, enjoy, and not answer a single question. That was a mismanaged expectation on my part because, at least for me, that was not what being a bride was all about.

The reason for all of this is because my husband and I very much so did not want to have one of those weddings that were long on tasks for others (guests) and short on gratitude. We’ve heard horror stories of a wedding where, in order to save money with the caterer, a guest had to take home all of the garbage from the reception. I know that there are guests who would be more than happy to do that. Heck, I’m probably one of them, but that wasn’t the vibe/feel we wanted for our day. It was important for us that our guests were shown a good time and that, as my husband liked to say, “They didn’t see how the sausage was being made.” I kind of wish I would have known how to ask for more help, but so much of the initial, big stuff (photographer, caterer, dress, venue), didn’t feel like it would be possible to delegate, and the little stuff was just easier to do myself than explain it to someone else.

Some of my mom’s comments post-wedding were really hurtful. It’s one thing if I notice that a candle didn’t get lit, or that a decor item is missing, or that the salad plates are actually salad bowls, but it felt like a whole other thing when it was what my mom wanted to talk about in the days and weeks following the wedding. It was an imperfect day, but I don’t need to be reminded of that. I’m sorry you didn’t like your hair, mom. I’m sorry that the pastor got the date we got engaged wrong. But can’t you just tell me, “Good job, honey,” “What a beautiful day,” “Everyone had such a wonderful time.”

Favorite thing about the wedding

The wish lanterns were pretty awesome. Mine took a nosedive into the water, but having (almost) all thirty of us out on the dock, a little tipsy, working together to making wishes and sending them out into the universe was pretty great. The speeches were lovely and so touching. People we happy for us and that felt really good. Also, we really wanted our wedding not to feel like two communities coming together, getting to know each other, celebrating together, etc., and I think we accomplished that. People played golf and corn hole; they went kayaking and for walks on the beach; they shared multiple meals together.

Also, our flower girl was four and perfect. She practiced for months and was so jazzed about the day. She held her basket in her right hand and threw petals with her left. She realized during the ceremony, though, that there were only petals on the left-hand side of the aisle, so, surreptitiously (for a four-year-old), she proceeded to try to even things out on the right side with the remaining petals from her basket. I saw her doing it a couple of times, and there is a cute photo of her, standing in the pew, hand in the basket.


The Info:

Photographer: AE Stelzer | Locations: Cape Cod, MA; Boston, MA; Brooklyn, NY; Seattle, WA | Venue: Captain Heman Smith House, Post 390, Backyard, and Cafe Flora | Dress: BHLDN | Hairpiece and Veil: Etsy | Bridesmaid Dresses: BHLDN and J.Crew | Suit: My.Suit | Florist: J.Smith Floral Design | Day-of Coordination: The Perfect Plan | Vintage Doilies and Handkerchiefs: eBay | Rentals: New England Country Rentals

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  • MisterEHolmes

    The note about the flower girl trying to “fix” the petal dispersion is PRECIOUS. I hope you send the photo to her family; that’s one I’d treasure!

  • Anon

    That last picture is magic :)

    I would love to hear more about your post-wedding parties – who was there, whether you kept traditional wedding elements, etc.

    I hope that when all is said and done, you enjoyed your weekend. I see joy in your pictures, but much of your narrative has an air of sadness to it.

  • Kaya

    I so appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness. My wedding is about 6 weeks away, and so much of what you said resonates with me, especially all of the conflict that you wrestle with between the parts of the day that you loved and the parts of the day that you didn’t. I have a feeling this will be a post that I’ll come back to before and after my wedding.

  • Kayjayoh

    ” …my wedding was a special day for me and my husband, but for my vendors it was (just) another job that may or may not go perfectly, and for my guests it was (just) another wedding among the tens (hundreds?) of weddings they will attend over the course of their lifetimes.”

    This is something I have been trying to keep in my heart during the whole process.

  • Kater

    Great write-up! God bless you for having 4 weddings.

    I completely feel you on this: “Despite wedding planning for thirteen months, including making it my full-time job for the two months before our wedding, I still felt busy when the weekend rolled around. Walk-throughs with vendors, deliveries of rental items, greeting guests, answering questions, directing people traffic, writing thank you notes—it felt like a lot to do. I had so, so wanted to show up to our wedding weekend, hand out spreadsheets to everyone in sight, and then to just sit back, enjoy, and not answer a single question. That was a mismanaged expectation on my part because, at least for me, that was not what being a bride was all about.”

    That was me, too. We had a Fri-Sat-Sun thing at a family camp last fall, and while I thought I had planned THE SHIT out of everything, there was still so much to do that weekend: coordinate crap & payment w/vendors, tell people where to go, handing out stuff, answering questions, unloading chairs, responding to texts telling some guests who were en route what the address was (that was prob my biggest pet peeve!). We had lots of generous help from supportive family & friends, but I didn’t want to ask too much of people and have it ruin their weekend (a la your example of someone being asked to take home all the trash).

    I totally wanted to be a breezy bride & just put my feet up but it wasn’t meant to be. It was still a blast, and many of our guests told us how much they loved the relaxed vibe – so I’m glad we were able to pull off an overall laid back feel. From the pics, it looks like you did, too. Congratulations!

  • Kat91314

    I’m curious….we’re getting married on the Cape this September…..can I ask where on the Cape you were? And congrats on your wedding! I know it was hard (and not always fun) to get there, but you’re married!!

  • LM

    I really appreciated your thoughtful discussion of your wedding. I loved my wedding and I also felt guilty that I wasn’t more laid-back about some things during the actual event (worrying if people weren’t dancing, irritation when some people didn’t immediately respond to the invitation to come watch the father/daughter dance…). I definitely spent more time thinking about how I was *supposed* to feeling than I would have liked. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time and love my wedding. It just means that it was an overwhelming and big day. Also, I am not, and probably never will be, a laid-back person, so perhaps my expectations on that front were a little skewed. Anyway, it’s nice to see that other people have had similar experiences.

    • MC

      “I am not, and probably never will be, a laid-back person.”

      This (and many parts of this post) resonates with me so much. My fiance told me recently that the thing he wants most for the wedding is for me to be relaxed and un-stressed the day of. As sweet and loving as that sentiment is, I know I can’t realistically expect to be totally zen on a day when so much is happening.

  • macrain

    “The reason for all of this is because my husband and I very much so did not want to have one of those weddings that were long on tasks for others (guests) and short on gratitude.”

    Here at APW we are all of course big fans of asking for help, but I think everyone has different ideas as to exactly what that means, and I’m sure brides here run the complete spectrum. We have asked for a LOT of help, but it’s mostly with the wedding related events. For the wedding itself, we’ve hired at DOC and will put everything in her hands so our guests can just sit back and enjoy (and hopefully we can too!).
    A ton this really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • Guest

      I’m really struggling with where to be on the spectrum with help. I know there

  • Amy March

    This:

    Also, going with the less expensive option early on (i.e., no letterpress, no gown from a traditional bridal salon) meant that I had more flexibility when other items came in over budget or when we encountered unexpected expenses (like outdoor heaters).

    Is why this is pretty much my favorite post of all time.

  • D

    “The reason for all of this is because my husband and I very much so did not want to have one of those weddings that were long on tasks for others (guests) and short on gratitude.” You have been very, very thoughtful towards your guests, it shows from your writing that you cared so much about everyone’s well-being and them having a good time. I do understand your fear of imposing on your guests though, last weekend I actually catered the food at a wedding for 180 guests. They had asked 3 former roommates as waiting staff (unpaid) for drinks during dinner, and to take care of the bar all night without giving them much information about how everything was supposed to be done. So when we arrived in the afternoon we met these 3 guys who were completely stressed out and when we left at midnight they were still busting their asses to serve all the guests their drinks. Right there and then, I pledged to the universe that I will never, ever expect any of my wedding guests to put so much work into my wedding no matter how small my budget is.
    So praise you, and your lovely imperfect wedding. Congratulations on your marriage!

  • Nicole

    Oh man, I’m getting married Saturday and I could totally see my mom spending Sunday morning’s breakfast casually mentioning and complaining about all the things that went wrong. I think a pre-emptive let-me-bask-in-happy-wedding-glow strike is in order. Thank you!

    • Megan

      This is my mom too. Fortunately, she didn’t actually do this following my wedding, but she’s done it plenty following other big moments in my life. Example: I invited her to my first big public speaking gig, and the very first thing she said after was, “You talk so fast!” It wasn’t until the next day that she said that I was awesome and she was proud of me. The thing with my mom is she usually comes around to the thing I want to hear, but it seems to occur to her on a delayed time frame. Sadly, as a result, I found myself holding her somewhat at arm’s length during wedding planning, as a sort of self-preservation tactic. Good luck to you, and the rest of us with these kinds of folks in our lives. May we continue to get better at communicating our needs to them.

    • JDrives

      Yep, I was thinking the same thing – I’m calling a moratorium on what-went-wrong discussions until well after the wedding. Or heck, maybe never! It’s not like I need to learn my lesson for next time! I hope your mom will agree to protect your post-wedding basking!

    • Jade

      My exact thoughts too, my mom (and dad) are big on the “debrief
      and dissect” thing after big events, will have to keep this warning in mind.

  • Violet

    Kudos for owning your feelings- all of them! Sure, we talk a lot about “wedding zen” here. But we also talk about how no one really changes just because it’s a wedding- and I think that generally includes the people getting married. I’m not a zen-y person, so I didn’t anticipate wedding zen. Good thing too, ‘cause I didn’t get it. If you’re an often-looking-for-flaws sort of person, it’s natural you’d do the same for your wedding. Doesn’t make you less of a bride, or that you love your partner less, or ANYTHING. There is no bigger meaning, other than that’s who you are (I think, if I interpreted this piece correctly). Even if that doesn’t describe you well, I’m sure it describes someone, and that person shouldn’t feel badly about it, either.

    In wanting to make sure our day wasn’t too packed, we had a leisurely timeline. At one point, I remember standing around during the cocktail hour, looking at everyone. I was thinking, “So, this is my wedding. Huh.” Then I felt bad that I had such a blunted response, and THEN I worried that’s what I’d remember about the wedding. Well, sure, I remember that moment. I also remember lots of others- some better (giggling during vows) some worse (sad my friend couldn’t fly in because of government furlough). Whatever. They’re all valid, and I’m gald there’s a space like this where we can say that without people being all, “Oooooo, you didn’t love your wedding!” Yes, I did. I just reacted in my usual way. *shrug*

    • NicoleT

      This comment really hit the nail on the head for me! I’m a worrier and now I can prepare myself to expect that that’s what I’m going to be like on my wedding day. Although, thanks to this post and your comment, I won’t worry so much about my worrying ruining my wedding memories.

  • enfp

    Great post. This was so honest about the emotions involved, as well as insightful into logistical issues. This is why I love APW so much. Plus, you know, the gorgeous pictures!

  • Erin E

    Yes. I feel your conflicting emotions and the disappointment in yourself for not being able to “get there” (to a place of wedding zen). I didn’t get there either. Here’s hoping the coming months bring some clarity to your wedding journey… as well as the space to step back and appreciate the parts that WERE wonderful. From here, there look to be many :)

    Also, I considered having 3 parties too – in different cities so that we could celebrate with friends from many places. I ended up choosing the logistically easier option of one wedding day/party, but always kind of wished I’d gone for the multiple fiestas. FWIW, the grass still looks a little greener on your multi-party option, but I appreciate your perspective on how hard it was to pull all the parties together!

  • “I probably could have just done some on my own with my besties instead
    of hiring someone to come to us and trying to make it a “thing.” There
    were enough “things.””

    I’m someone who likes to try and make “things” for all kinds of events as well. I get carried away. I need to remember to stop and let them happen organically. I like the organic, unplanned “things” a lot better anyway.

    • Ann

      So very true. I’ve been trying to avoid the “things” but friends will have an idea and it will sound fun and then they want to run with it… and I feel guilty for saying “no” because, well, wouldn’t it be fun? Yoga is the perfect example. A friend of mine is a yoga instructor and I’d love to practice the morning of the wedding but then am I obligated to invite others, who do I invite, do we have breakfast too? And then, when you have no bridal party, who do you hang out with the morning of? And then I make up “things” when what I really want is to just hang out with people.

    • Sarah McClelland

      Yep. It’s how come there is a 2-part bachelorette and 3 showers in the coming months. The “things” are so great! And people’s love is just so stinking hard to say no to! It’s the best kind of problem to have, but… Still problematic.

  • EmilyRose

    I read this post this morning and have been musing on it all day. This is why I love APW. It seems like the dominant wedding narrative, from other blogs etc, is that your day will be perfect, magical and largely effortless – maybe because we only see the glossy end results and none of the struggle. Posts like this are the antithesis of that and are so refreshing because of it. Beautiful, person-filled images, genuine emotions, raw honesty and real people are more inspiring to me than 1000 styled shoots. This is why I keep coming back, and why I’ve forsaken all other [wedding blog]s. Thanks so much for sharing, Mackenzie!

  • CJ

    Thank you for the honesty regarding your wedding day and wedding planning. I am so excited to marry my partner and celebrate with the people we love, but this wedding planning? It’s been hard. I started it sure that we weren’t the type of people to stress over every single detail and that this would just be another fun project together. Instead, it has been stressful and draining. We’re both snippy and overtired in our final stretch, as we try to make sure no detail falls through the cracks. The love we have is not a question, but the wedding planning just doesn’t feel how I expected. Thanks for helping me to feel a little less alone.

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  • Samantha Lynn

    Your Cape Cod location is amazing! Did they allow to book for a weekend, or did you have to commit to the full week?

  • Sarah McClelland

    Yes. This. All of this.
    13 months of planning, and a rehearsal, wedding and open house (just 3 things thank God!) but I’m the same way. I worked in theater for long enough to dwell on little things and have since been in the service industry where the name of the game is taking care of guests… It sounds like you went through a lot and I’m so thankful you put it all out there. I’m struggling with how much help to ask for and how to find the middle.
    We really are so hard wired to think that its all going to be sunshine and smiles on our wedding weekends but it really can be hard to hand over those spreadsheets- and even harder to ask folks to take them. I hope I live into the idea that I will be over the moon if at the end of the day our guests are well-fed, nothing caught on fire, and we are married that I will be over the moon, but I feel like I’m going to be the one who wants to nitpick.
    I’m so glad there is a place in the world where that’s okay.

  • Elinor

    Love this Cape Cod wedding. Such a beautiful place to get married. Xo.