Stephanie, travel writer & Michael, computer programmer
Planned Budget: $10,000
Actual Budget: $12,000
Number of Guests: 38
Where we allocated the most funds
I spent months trying to find the perfect venue for the hundred-person outdoor wedding I had imagined, before I realized that it is crazy expensive to get married in the DC area. After some wailing and hair ripping we finally decided to cut our guest list way back, and after that things fell into place surprisingly easy.
Our biggest expense by far was food and drink, which made up nearly half of the entire budget. I was lucky to stumble onto the Beacon Bar and Grill in Dupont Circle, which had a lovely private event space and only charged us for what we ate and drank—no rental fee! Since our guest list was small we wanted to make sure the food and more importantly, the beer, were great. We had an open bar up to $1000, which turned out to be plenty for our four-hour reception. Afterwards people headed upstairs to party at the hotel’s rooftop bar.
Parking downtown is a huge pain in the butt so we used Uber for all of our transportation needs and to get everyone from the ceremony to the reception. It ended up running us around $300 but was totally worth it. All of the older guests thought it was very “high-tech.”
Where we allocated the least funds
Music and photography were two areas where we saved a ton of money. Despite the fact that Michael is a former wedding DJ, we opted not to have one at all, instead going with a carefully curated iTunes playlist. It worked well and everyone ended up dancing by the end of the night. All of the local photographers in the DC area were charging upwards of $4,000 so we decided it was cheaper to fly our photographer friend Erica in from Austin. We paid for her flight and hotel stay and she very generously did our wedding photography as a gift.
We also tried to cut costs on many of the smaller details. I cashed in my credit card points to help pay for the hotel. The invitations were ordered off of Paperless Post for only $119. Our minimal reception decorations (think candles in Mason jars) cost about $200 total.
Overall I was really happy with how we chose to spend our money.
What was worth it
My favorite detail was probably the cake, which was from the local bakery, Cake Love, and was a huge hit! Instead of having a wedding cake we just ordered 3 separate cakes—cheaper and people could choose which flavor they wanted. We even ordered some gluten free cupcakes for those with dietary restrictions. I am also glad that my mother insisted we have professional hair and make-up done. I looked and felt terrific!
After some planning mix-ups we ended up hiring a florist just three weeks before the wedding. The flowers turned out fine, and I particularly loved my bouquet (wrapped in lace from my mother’s wedding dress!), but I wish we’d just come up with some non-floral centerpieces and skipped the headache.
I’m not crafty but I’m good at outsourcing. Etsy was my best friend when it came to planning the (minimal) decorations. Since travel is a large part of our lives, we adopted the Pixar movie Up! as our decoration theme. We had a hot air balloon cake topper, picture frame escort cards, and a thumbprint guestbook featuring the house from the movie, all handmade by someone else on Etsy.
My best practical advice to my planning self
Stay away from Pinterest. That place is a rabbit hole of unrealistic possibilities that will slowly drive you mad.
Our ceremony venue was the DC War Memorial, an absolutely gorgeous Grecian monument near the Reflecting Pool. It only cost us $50 to get a permit and we didn’t need a single decoration—the place was so elegant and beautiful just as it was. Afterwards we were able to take amazing wedding photos around the Tidal Basin and the Lincoln Memorial.
Everyone had a massive sixty minutes of panic when our officiant showed up nearly an HOUR late. We almost had to commission my uncle to do a mock-ceremony. Luckily the guy finally appeared, just minutes before I was set to walk down the aisle.