How We: Planned Our Family-Centered, Activity-Filled Wedding

Indian and Midwestern traditions meet

Anne & Pramode

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: An Indian-American, Midwestern family farm wedding weekend filled with lots of love and helping hands (and off-road vehicles).

Planned Budget: $19,000

Actual Budget: $28,000. Our original, aspirational planned budget meant that we would be cutting a lot of things including transportation for guests, welcome bags, a full bar, and gifts for the wedding party. It also didn’t account for the Hindu ceremony that we later added to the weekend. Throughout our planning process we realized that these and other “non-essentials” actually felt essential to making our family and friends feel welcomed and included, especially after a long trip to a hard-to-reach area, so they were built back into our revised budget.

Number of Guests: 85

Where we allocated the most funds

The reception. The food and open bar (around $6,000 total) and the tenting, port-a-potties, furniture, dinnerware, and other rentals (around $5,000 total) were by far the biggest expense of the weekend. What we didn’t realize when we started planning was that having a fully outdoor wedding on a family property requires nearly everything—from bathrooms to trash cans to glassware to lighting—to be brought in. Though we were able to borrow some things from family, most of the things we needed had to be rented.

Where we allocated the least funds

Well, the venue cost nothing! The farm has been in Anne’s family since the 1800s. However, of the things we needed to spend money on, we spent the least on flowers and decor. The farm is absolutely stunning so the outdoor tent needed very little dressing up.

Almost all of the decorations were DITed by the bride, the wedding party, and family. Anne crafted about two hundred tissue paper poms in advance and shipped them to the farm, where she and groups of friends and family fluffed them up them on-site. Anne also crafted the little gold spray-painted animals and stamped place card tags, took the photos of the farm used in the guest book, and designed the programs. The wedding arch, which has been used for multiple family weddings, was borrowed from Anne’s aunt’s garden and decorated by her father and sister. The rest of the decorations—mercury glass vases, little wooden birds, gold confetti—were holiday decorations bought at a deep discount from craft and home goods stores.

The flowers were a mix of baby’s breath ordered in bulk, wildflowers from the farm, and peonies purchased from a local farmer. The bouquets were assembled by Anne and the bridesmaids while getting their hair done the morning of the wedding, and Pramode and the groomsmen assembled the baby’s breath centerpieces the day before.

What was totally worth it

Hiring a day-of coordinator.

We often joked throughout the planning process that we were planning the most difficult event possible: a weekend of events at a rural, non-wedding venue, with no public transportation; outdoors, in an area with variable weather; at which ninety-five percent of guests (including ourselves) were flying in from out-of-state. Our wedding, which in the initial stages of planning was supposed to be a low-budget, low-stress, simple afternoon affair, slowly morphed into an extended weekend including:

  • Bachelor and bachelorette parties on Wednesday and Thursday
  • A wedding party brunch, hosted lunch, rehearsal, traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, dinner, and bonfire on Friday
  • Farm activities (including a shooting range, fishing, ATVing, horseback riding, farm tours and hayrides), a barbecue lunch, the Western wedding ceremony, and reception on Saturday
  • A goodbye brunch on Sunday (which turned into a full day of grilling and drinking leftover liquor on Anne’s dad’s back porch)

Because of the complexity of the weekend we were worried about how we were realistically going to pull everything off without running around like crazy people—and we didn’t want to rely solely on our families and friends to stage-manage our wedding.

Anne handled the bulk of the advance wedding planning because spreadsheets, to-do lists, and timelines are her thing, but being able to hand off all of those plans a few days before the wedding was worth every cent. We could concentrate on our marriage and our precious time with our far-flung circle of family and friends while the coordinator was concerned about things like making sure the tent was set up in the right place and finding outdoor space heaters to rent when unexpected cold weather came through. That said, we still received a lot of help from our families—from baking our wedding cake to giving farm tours to flipping pancakes at the goodbye brunch—for which we are extremely grateful. They were happy to do it and our guests loved the Indiana hospitality!

What was totally not worth it

Worrying about how to manage the cultural differences when it came to wedding planning. While planning our wedding it became apparent that there was a mismatch of expectations about some elements of the wedding: for example, the Indian weddings Pramode’s family is used to involve a fully hosted experience for the guests, including multiple catered meals and gifts. In addition, it was important to Pramode’s family that we would be married in a Hindu ceremony. The wedding we had been planning and saving for didn’t include these things.

It was important to us that all of our guests felt comfortable and included, and so we decided reassess our itinerary and our budget to include the elements important to both of our families. Navigating that process—discerning was what meaningful to both sides, deciding what felt right for us, and managing expectations—was a really helpful experience in communicating and setting boundaries as a new family. And, at the wedding itself, we heard from a lot of our guests how much they enjoyed being able to participate in both the Indian and Western elements of our wedding weekend.

A few things that helped us along the way

The spreadsheets, how-to posts, and open threads on APW were a huge help in putting together an event with so many moving parts. Ideas we picked up from other APW posters were big hits—like the “Field Guide to Your Fellow Guests” booklets we included with guests’ welcome bags, with photos and bios of every guest. Our wedding website (made by Anne using WordPress) and multiple Google Docs for ride-sharing, vendor payments, and day-of itineraries kept everything organized.

We also relied heavily on reviews of vendors on sites like Wedding Wire. Since we were planning a wedding from two thousand miles away, we were really concerned about how we were going to find vendors that would be a good match for the type of wedding we envisioned. We also ran into some culture shock: the area where we got married is a series of small, rural towns and reputation means a lot. What this meant was that our vendors asked that we take their word on a lot of things; we actually didn’t have formal contracts with several of them (including our caterers!) because it just wasn’t a thing they did. This scared the heck out of me (and my contract-loving fiancé), but they all were true to their word and everyone delivered. However, having read all of their glowing reviews ahead of time eased our nerves.

Pinterest was a double-edged sword. Though it provided some great ideas for homemade decor, we eventually had to cut ourselves off because our lovingly planned celebration had begun to seem more inadequate with every scroll. Do I love photo booths and apothecary jars filled with candy? Absolutely! Does that mean my wedding will be a bust without them? No way. Life is long and we’ll have many years to take silly pictures with our friends and eat our weight in gummy bears (without stressing about them on our wedding day).

My best practical advice for my planning-self

Stop being afraid to ask for what you need. It doesn’t make you a crazy person or your wedding an imposition (thanks, APW!). All those people who said they want to help? They really, really do. And if what you need is a minute alone to make your cat-eye eyeliner the way you want it, or if you would rather keep dancing with your cousins a while longer instead of going outside to wrestle a wish lantern, it’s totally okay.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Reading our vows to each other for the first time and realizing that all of our guests are crying along with us. Standing in a sunlit bedroom with my new in-laws while they teach me how to pin my sari. My little cousins playing wiffle ball in the field outside our tent during the reception. Roasting marshmallows with the groomsmen at the bonfire. Riding ATVs through the woods with my bridesmaids. Family members cheerfully handing out piles of blankets, sweaters, and scarves they brought from their own homes to chilly guests at our unseasonably cold Hindu ceremony. The epic dance party that included my cousins rocking out a guitar solo from “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a Swiffer. When everyone spontaneously circled around us, singing and swaying, while we danced our last dance.

The love from our friends and family is what made the celebration so special, so ultimately my favorite part of the weekend is the fact that everybody was invited to every event of the weekend, making it a “choose-your-own-adventure” trip for our guests and giving us time to visit with every one of them. We had the opportunity to spend a weekend in our favorite place on earth, with nearly all of our favorite people—and it was the best possible way to begin our marriage.


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