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


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.


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