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We had a (Fancy) $17K Northern California Wedding for 95 People

Miracles do happen

brynna, Nonprofit fundraiser & marcus, attorney

SUM-UP OF THE WEDDING VIBE: A light, bright, and joyful brunch celebration.
PLANNED BUDGET: $17,500
ACTUAL BUDGET: $16,500
NUMBER OF GUESTS: 95

Where we allocated the most funds:

We spent the most on our hotel venue, which included food, drinks, waitstaff, a room at the hotel for one night, a coordinator, and all taxes. Initially, we wanted to get married in a local art gallery. It’s a beautiful, industrial-chic blank space. However, once we calculated ALL of the costs associated with a venue that essentially includes only the four walls (“We have to rent forks?!”), we decided to go all-inclusive. This was by far the best decision we made and we were reminded of that several times along the way. We also spent quite a bit on photography and the live band. Brynna decided to splurge on makeup and hair for all bridesmaids and moms the morning of.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Our otherwise-amazing venue double-booked our wedding date about four months out. So, we had to change our date. This was actually no big deal to us, since we weren’t emotionally attached to the date whatsoever. We sent out “change-the-dates,” fielded a few questions, and everyone showed up on the right day. Yay! Also, the venue agreed to cover the cost of alcohol and waive the $750 room fee for the inconvenience.

Cake: We bought six cakes from a local bakery (P.S. this is way too much cake for ninety-five people) and had one specially decorated.

Decor: For centerpieces, we thrifted and spray-painted over a hundred vases in the months leading up to the wedding. We made the backdrop with construction paper, string, and some gold spray paint. All of the signage was made from IKEA frames and construction paper.

Rehearsal dinner, after-party, and next-day picnic: The rehearsal dinner was at a local pizza place, with unlimited pizza, salad, and drinks. After the reception, guests were invited to join us at the local coin-op arcade. The next day, we had a picnic in a public park near our house, catered by Chipotle.

What was totally worth it:

Sticking to our vision. Neither of us had thought much about our wedding before we got engaged. Before we started planning, we did the mission-statement exercise in the APW planning book. We landed on a bright, colorful brunch celebration with live music. Once we had that portion decided, anything that felt outside of that vision was eliminated: a DJ, dancing, plated dinner, send-off, etc.

Although our vision of a daytime wedding was confusing for some people (“What are you going to do afterwards?!”), we are so glad we stuck to our guns. We didn’t want an “epic dance party,” since we aren’t big dancers. We didn’t want to spend all day getting beautified when we could be spending time with our guests. On a more symbolic note, morning represents such a lovely promise and sense of excitement for what the day can bring, which we thought mirrored the ceremony quite well. And we love brunch food!

Also worth it:

The spray tan.

What was totally not worth it:

Luckily, we were able to stay in budget, so there wasn’t much we regret spending money on. We waited until the last minute to work on writing our ceremony; it turned out fine, but it really shouldn’t have been an afterthought. We would dedicate lots more time to this process if we did this again. We did incorporate a ring warming, which was part of our initial vision, but we didn’t put TOO much thought into it beyond that.

A few things that helped us along the way:

Our venue discount helped a ton. Because of it, we were able to have a slightly nicer rehearsal dinner and cover our guests’ drinks at the arcade following the reception. Excel spreadsheets for tracking everything from budget to guests to to-do items to seating charts to day-of timelines. Our wedding coordinator Tina, who was included in the price of the venue, was INCREDIBLE, and we couldn’t have done it without her.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Don’t even look at Pinterest. Just don’t. If your wedding doesn’t fit a certain mold, it’s okay and your guests won’t care. Make a shot list, even if you’re sure your photographer won’t need one. We didn’t and are missing some photos we would have liked. Trust your partner to own certain decisions. It keeps both of you from feeling overwhelmed when you know your partner is “in charge” of certain aspects.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Marcus: Seeing our friends and family who traveled from all over to be with us that weekend was incredibly special. Also, the food was fantastic!

Brynna: The pace of the whole weekend. Nothing was rushed and we really did get to enjoy our guests. It’s so hard to choose a favorite thing!

Other things we’d like to share:

After the wedding, you’ll likely end up with a bunch of stuff (decorations, guest books, etc.). Think ahead of time how important or useful that stuff will be once the wedding is over and allocate funds accordingly.

For us, a glamorous wedding was never in the cards since we had a fairly low budget. Instead of letting that limit us, we embraced it, changed our expectations of what a wedding should be, and had the best day of our lives (really!).

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