Our $15K Knoxville Wedding Was A Joyful, Exuberant Celebration

An art gallery wedding filled with food and fun

Hannah, Art Historian & Pete, School Psychologist

sum-up of the wedding vibe: An easygoing and emotional party celebrated with great food, boisterous dancing, and tons of loved ones.

Planned Budget: $10,000 to $12,000
Actual Budget: $15,000
Number of Guests: 160
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Where we allocated the most funds:

Our venue, food, and booze were the biggest allocations. It’s just plain expensive to feed and water a lot of people, no matter how affordably you try to do it. Our venue is a nonprofit art gallery that showcases a lot of local artists, so we figured it was a good way to give back to the community and be in a beautiful and unusual space all in one. We’re both from the Northeast but wanted to give our guests the Knoxville experience, so we chose barbecue for the food. We didn’t have a formal sit-down dinner; we had all of the food out so people could munch away throughout the evening and had a mix of both standing and sitting tables. My dad wanted to make sure that our families and friends who had traveled so far were well taken care of, so he took charge of the bar.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Photography. Pete and I are both pretty picky about what kinds of photos we like and don’t like, so I shopped around for photographers that specialized in family portraits instead of wedding photography. Kelli Guinn-Olsson came up immediately and she was perfect: her photos are gorgeous, she was so much fun and so relaxed, and, critically, she was willing to do an hourly rate since we really wanted to prioritize some good family photos and portraits of the two of us over getting ready shots.

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Flowers and Decor. I love flowers and we wanted lots and lots of them but had almost no preference about what kinds. My mom is one of those annoyingly gifted people who is good at everything, so she did all of our arrangements, my bouquet, and Pete’s boutonnière using grocery store flowers. She’s an interior decorator and stager, so she brought vases and all of the funky furniture and props we used for our ceremony.

Paper Goods. My best friend Katie is a graphic designer, so she designed both our incredible paper invite and the digital save the date we sent via Paperless Post. The instruction to RSVP was to email, call, or text us, so we saved on RSVP cards and extra envelopes and postage. She also designed our programs, which we just printed at home.

Apparel. I did my own makeup and had my usual hair cutter style my hair. Since I wanted something fairly simple, she charged me for a shampoo and a blow dry instead of the full special occasion updo. Pete tailored his suit because he’s an amazing human, and I got my dress and crop top on sale.

Rings. Etsy, my friends. Our rings were affordable and lovely, but with the caveat that you should really check the credentials of your jeweler. I took my Etsy engagement ring to get resized and was told that it was structurally unsound and needed some real work to make sure it was safe for everyday wear. It’s beautiful and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I wish I had done a little more research.

Dessert. A friend of ours is a sensational baker and she did our cupcakes. They were fantastic. I want one right now.

Entertainment. My dad and brother put together our playlists on Spotify and we tapped another friend to be our MC for the evening. It worked out perfectly. Everyone danced their faces off, our MC was hilarious, and we only had to rent speakers.

Favors. We scrapped favors and did a raffle instead! It was so much fun to send a few lucky people home with themed gift bags instead of fussing about 160 favors most people wouldn’t want or take.

Videography. We rented a camera from the university where Pete is doing his graduate work and just taped our ceremony and the toasts. Totally worth it and completely free.

What was totally worth it:

Everything. I wouldn’t do a thing differently. I would like to say that some of the stress wasn’t worth it, but in actuality it helped me focus and stay organized. We had determined what was important to us and what wasn’t early on, so that meant I was mainly stressing about things that I truly cared about.

Other things that were SO worth it:

Day-of coordinator. Angie Froemel was a fricking hero. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to relax the day of and let go of some control, but she was absolutely wondrous and handled everything without a blip.

Premarital counseling! We actually got married twice: in a civil ceremony on Saturday officiated by a family friend and in a small, bare-bones Catholic nuptial Mass on Sunday. Our Saturday officiant did Skype counseling sessions with us, and we had a weekend retreat for our Catholic wedding. Both were enormously helpful for us to keep our focus on the marriage and not the wedding and gave us space to talk about Serious Stuff.

Splurging on my shoes.

Not having a bridal party. That eliminated so many details and meant we could ask people to participate in other meaningful ways like readings and toasts. We also felt more comfortable asking people to help out with setup and breakdown because we hadn’t burdened them with any asks before the wedding.

What was totally not worth it:

We used wildflower paper for the raffle name tags with the idea that we would plant them behind our house after the wedding. That definitely did not happen.

A few things that helped us along the way:

  • A Practical Wedding! What a godsend.
  • A detailed timeline: Angie’s timeline kept things moving smoothly and also helped us plug any logistics gaps beforehand.
  • Tapping people well in advance for setting up and breaking down.
  • Our families and friends were so, so helpful the week before the wedding in helping us take care of last-minute details, and a lot of people were so helpful during the entirety of our engagement. We could not have done it without them.
  • Emailing final logistics reminders to all our guests on Thursday and telling everyone not to text or email me on Saturday. (Almost) no one did.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Make three lists before you start planning. One for things you definitely want and want to handle yourself, one for things that you want but don’t mind delegating the end product, and one for things you definitely do not want. We knew exactly what we wanted in terms of catering, for example, so we made those decisions by ourselves. We also wanted a lot of flowers, but didn’t have a strong opinion on what they looked like, so I told my mom to have at it and surprise me. We didn’t want certain things at all, but reminding myself of that closer to the wedding date when I was stressing about “What if this isn’t a good wedding” was necessary. It’s so easy to lose the forest for the trees. Don’t go on Pinterest unless you are looking for something very specific. I had a minor crisis about wearing a veil after spending too much time looking at other people’s weddings. So silly! And yet it felt so important in the moment. Whatever your budget is, add 25 to 30 percent. I used to do event planning, so I was feeling very smug about having a reasonable cost forecast, but ultimately I was off. Nothing was dramatically underestimated, but $50 or $100 here and there really adds up. Don’t beat yourself up, be willing to cut things to make it work, and don’t get hung up on the exact numbers. Seriously, eat something beforehand. I was so sure I was not going to be that person that doesn’t get to eat at her wedding, and yet I was having such a blast and trying to talk to everyone that I ate like four bites. Learn from my mistakes.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Our first dance, to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston, where we asked everyone to join us on the dance floor instead of awkwardly dancing by ourselves. Everyone was dancing so fiercely that the cord to the speakers was loosened and the music started cutting out, so everyone just sang at the top of their lungs until it was fixed. Everyone sang along to our last song too, “Anna Sun” by Walk the Moon, and stood around cheering and clapping for us afterwards. It was completely overwhelming in the best way. Our ceremony was so wonderful. It was funny and moving and we both cried and I loved every second of it. My aunt made a beautiful stole for our officiant, who is a dear family friend, to wear with all of this symbolism personal to me and Pete. Just one more thoughtful, loving touch that meant so much.

Something else We’d Like to Share:

We kept some of our flower arrangements but we donated most of them to Random Acts of Flowers afterward. They picked them up from the venue and repurposed them for hospitals and nursing homes. We also donated a bunch of our leftover food to a homeless shelter. It was a lovely way to offload a bunch of stuff that we didn’t need and other people would appreciate and spread the wedding joy around. The raffle allowed us some mic time to thank everyone who had worked so hard and traveled so far. It meant so much to us to be able to thank them publicly. We also sang happy birthday to two people who were celebrating their birthdays that weekend! We planned the whole dang thing in six months, and it was the perfect amount of time. We didn’t have time to dither over unimportant details, and we still had enough time to get vendors that we wanted.

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