How We: Planned Our $12K Art Gallery Wedding in Chicago

We were the happiest, so everyone else followed suit

Kristi, Marketing Director at a breast cancer foundation & David, Account Manager at a financial software company

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A heartfelt, homemade, super fun celebration of love, commitment, friendship, and food (and a horse head mask).

Planned Budget: $10,000

Actual Budget: $12,000

Number of Guests: 130

Where we allocated the most funds

Our biggest expense was the venue. We used a nonprofit art gallery, which saved us some money and provides us a tax write off, but it was still the highest line item. The space at The Chicago Urban Art Society is beautiful and completely DIY, which was something that was important to us. They allowed us to use any vendors we wanted—such a rare find in Chicago!

After the venue, our biggest expenses were all pretty equal, between $1,000 and $1,500 each for photography, rentals, flowers, and food and alcohol.

Where we allocated the least funds

We didn’t hire a DJ—we went the iPod route and used a good friend to MC. Although I lost sleep over the playlist and whether or not people would dance or if it would work, David was confident that he could pull it off and it would still be a raging fiesta… and it totally was! Everyone danced and the only problem was that the mother/groom dance song wouldn’t play, which turned out to not be a big deal to David or his mom.

We used our very generous friends and their various talents whenever we could. A graphic designer friend designed our invitations and printed materials, and we printed them through vistaprint; David’s dad officiated; another friend was our day-of coordinator; my musician college pals provided beautiful and emotional music for the ceremony; one of my very creative besties put together all of the flower arrangements for us; another one of my best gal pals did my make up… the list goes on and on! We could have never pulled off such a heartfelt (and affordable) celebration without them.

What was totally worth it

Photography was the most important thing to us and we definitely scored a true gem in Bri McDaniel. Bri found our request on Fearless Photographer’s website and was so generous to give us a discount just because she and her fiancé wanted to travel to Chicago and check out our city. It was a little scary not meeting our photographer in the flesh until the night of our rehearsal dinner, but we couldn’t have been happier with Bri and Phillip and choosing them to shoot our wedding!

We were also extremely passionate about providing our guests with delicious food and a large amount of alcohol. We chose a local taqueria, De Cero, to cater and they did a phenomenal job. Tacos are a staple in our home, and we couldn’t imagine our first meal with all our best people being anything else. We chose to DIY our bar, providing a few beer and wine options, and margaritas as the house cocktail. It was a lot of work making sure the alcohol got to the venue and that we had enough of it (we ran out of cups, so people drank wine from the bottle toward the end) but it was totally worth it.

Meticulously planning timelines and delegating tasks before the week of saved me! I customized the templates on APW to fit our wedding and was obsessed with making sure I had every detail planned (I didn’t—it was still great) and it completely kept me from being an anxious wreck the week of the wedding. I was calm and peaceful—exactly how I wanted to feel.

What was totally not worth it

Worrying about whether or not everyone would have a good time and be happy. We were the happiest, so everyone else followed suit.

A few things that helped us along the way

APW, our family and friends, and Google Docs. We are truly so lucky to have friends and family that offered to do whatever they could, whenever they could, to help us before and during the wedding.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Don’t listen to anyone but yourself and your partner. When grandparents get upset because you didn’t register for traditional china, or someone complains about not being given a plus one, or a bridesmaid won’t buy her dress until the last second—just let it go and remember that you’re marrying your partner and in the end of all this crazy wedding mania, that’s all that matters. Don’t lose sleep over crafting projects in the middle of your living room floor, and don’t forget about your social life while you’re engaged, but do put your heart and soul into your wedding if that’s what you want to do. It’s the best, most fun, most emotional, and potentially most stressful party of your life, and if you care about it, care about it with your whole heart. It’s yours, and it will be perfect no matter what.

Favorite thing about the wedding

We chose to write our ceremony and vows, and hands down my favorite part was listening to David’s vows and then reading mine to him. I had read millions of times that during the ceremony, magic occurs and suddenly you’re the only two people in the room. My nerves before the wedding didn’t buy it, but it really happened. He was the only other person there and his beautiful words will forever be burned in my memory.

I also loved the horse head mask that wouldn’t leave the dance floor. I’m pretty sure everyone wore it at least once, and the photos are some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Other notes

We DIYed the APW geometric backdrop and it was the most fun project I worked on! It was a huge hit as our photo booth backdrop.


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