Deciding to Self-Officiate Our Wedding Was the Best Decision


(Editor's note: That teal wedding dress is definitely the second best)

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Christina, project manager & Sam, client LIAISON

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Declaring ourselves a family in mid-winter with a community-oriented festival of joy.

Planned budget: $14,000 AUD

Actual budget: $13,325.16 AUD

Number of guests: 130

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Where we allocated the most funds:

Photography was our most expensive item, hands down. The only other categories on which we spent over $1,000 were the venue, the alcohol, and Sam’s suit.

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Where we allocated the least funds:

ditching flowers: We didn’t have flowers or an officiant, so spent no money there. We set up a “So Kind” registry filled with things people could do to pitch in on our event. Our delicious afternoon tea for 130 people was crowd-sourced (including our amazing cake, made by my enormously talented friend Melanie). Volunteers helped with setup and pack-up. A close friend served as our stage manager.

Hiring friends: We also saved money by drawing on the talents within our community instead of hiring established vendors. A friend who’s studying design put together our beautiful ceremony arch at a low cost. We had a long-standing dream to begin our ceremony with a short video of us, in our home, telling the story of our relationship, and my talented brother helped us put that together.

We paid friends and friends-of-friends to bartend, check coats, and keep the buffet tables topped up with food. I used to be one of those people who read wedding posts and thought “Well, it’s easy if you have super-talented people in your close circle of friends, but how many people have a professional-photographer BFF?” And then we were actually planning one of these things, and every time I put a call out on Facebook asking, “Does anyone know someone who…” I proceeded to be totally bowled over by the range of talent in our extended community and the number of people from different parts of our lives who were willing to help.

our music: The venue included a complete media system, so our iPod playlist and video screening cost nothing. The venue was also large enough to accommodate both our ceremony and our reception, so we saved money by having just one venue for both. (At the end of the ceremony everyone cleared away the chairs they were sitting on, and viola! A dance floor.)

We used compostable plates and cups, which were considerably cheaper than hiring crockery and glassware.

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What was totally worth it:

Officiating ourselves: This forced us to put a lot of thought into every single word that would be spoken at our ceremony. I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the result for us was a relaxed, intimate ceremony which deeply reflected our values. We felt really confident that we were communicating exactly what we wanted to communicate.

Not having assigned seating: We were able to flexibly invite new friends and new partners of old friends even after our initial invitations went out, and to say “yes” to everyone who asked if they could bring their children along. It was great to feel so relaxed about the number of people who were coming while our RSVPs rocketed past the expected 100 all the way to 130 guests.

Choosing to do setup ourselves: We met with a professional day-of coordinator and as she described her services (taking setup completely off our hands, coordinating the food, etc.), I could feel my heart sinking. It made us realise that we actually wanted to be actively hospitable: to set the hall up as a warm and welcoming space for our guests; to bake muffins and cookies to feed them; to spend the morning of our event at the venue filling out allergen information cards for each food item so that nobody would have to go hungry.

Personally welcoming our guests: Before the ceremony, we stood in the entrance greeting our guests as they arrived, handing out programs. It was such a joy witnessing the huge smiles on people’s faces when they saw us, and getting to hug everyone as they arrived.

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What was totally not worth it:

There was very little that was not worth it. There were a few small things that weren’t perfect (having too much iced tea; failing to track down the remote control for turning the projector off once the video was over), but nothing’s perfect.

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A few things that helped us along the way:

The help of our family and friends, without whom we would not have been able to pull off an event for 130 people on our budget. APW’s advice about logistics. Deciding early on that we would go with the first option which we felt good about for each category (venue, dress, decor, etc.) rather than spending additional time researching further options.

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My best practical advice for my planning self:

Trust your gut; don’t spend time agonising over things. When you feel like can’t find any viable options to make something happen on the cheap and it’s not fun anymore (*cough* ceremony arch *cough*), put a call for help out to your community and/or throw money at it. You will be surprised how inexpensive “throwing money at it” can be.

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Favorite thing about the wedding:

Three things. First, our resolutions (vows):

S: We each resolve to look after ourselves, to make sure that our own needs and interests are not neglected.
C: We resolve to do what we can to stay healthy, each looking after our own bodies and minds so that we are capable of being in a healthy relationship.
S: We resolve to ask for each other’s help when we need it, or want it.
C: We resolve to seek professional counselling if we need it.
S: We each resolve to be attentive to the division of labour, and to do our own share of housework and emotional labour.
C: We resolve to give each other the freedom and space to change our views as we grow older, and to always seek to know and love each other as we are.
S: We resolve to make decisions together and, as far as possible, to take each of our interests into account equally.
C: We resolve to talk to each other about the important things and the unimportant things, about ourselves, and about the things and people that surround us.
S: We resolve to express our feelings and needs to each other, even when that’s difficult.
C: I resolve to really listen to you, to do my best to understand what you really mean when we talk, and to say what I really mean.
S: I resolve to really listen to you, to do my best to understand what you really mean when we talk, and to say what I really mean.
C: We make these resolutions in the sincere hope that our mutual commitment to uphold them will sustain a healthy and happy relationship into our old age.

Second, the video we made with my brother introducing ourselves and our #FamilyOfTwo. We wanted everybody present, even those who came as the guest of someone we invited, to feel like they knew us at least a little bit. People really got into the video, and we received loads of comments afterward about how nice it was for our guests to have that additional insight into who we are.

Third, the super-goofy, very hammed up lip-sync performance we did to “The Song That Goes Like This” from the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot. This finished off the evening (at 7pm); we weaved through the crowd as we performed, finishing right in front of the exit. Ended with a flourish, waved to the audience, dashed out into the night, giddy with delight.

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Anything else to Share:

We called our event a “commitment ceremony.” We have loved ones who would have felt misled if we’d invited them to a “wedding” but then didn’t have any of the traditional trappings, and calling it something different turned out to be an effective and simple way of managing expectations. We’re already common-law spouses, so there was no need to sign any legal paperwork (which also allowed us to avoid having an officiant say that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” legally required at weddings in Australia).


The Info:

Photography: Jerome Cole | Wedding Location: Melbourne, Australia | Wedding Venue: Functions on Chapel | Christina’s Dress: Bariano | Christina’s Skirt: Coco Tutuhouse | Christina’s Shirt: Rhodes & Beckett | Sam’s Suit: Suit Shop | Cakes: Melanie Bakes Cakes | Registry: So Kind

 

 

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  • zana

    This looks like a lovely commitment ceremony!

    FYI, from an American perspective, some states have special marriage licenses for self-officiating (i.e., Pennsylvania…somewhere else with Quakers?). So, at least in these states, your self-officiated wedding can be a legal ceremony as well. You do, however, need 2 witnesses for the legal bit ;)

    • Clare C

      I read the whole article assuming this amazing commitment ceremony was happening in just such a US state, so excited to find out at the end it’s Australian!
      As a fellow Aussie, who also wishes we didn’t have to have an officiant say those words and would love to self officiate, this is an awesome example of how it can be done…sending to my partner right now! Thank you so much for sharing.
      All the details are beautifully perfect…
      The greeting guests at the door
      The community helping out
      The couple as active hosts
      Those resolutions
      The Spamalot exit…can I live in your celebration?!

      • Christina Helen

        Aw, thanks! So glad to hear you found some inspiration here. =)

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    • emilyg25

      Pennsylvania and Colorado! We’re from the former and married ourselves. I wish it was available everywhere because it really is just so special.

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  • Achernar

    Hi from another super-excited Aussie here! Your commitment ceremony was gorgeous and…..your dress. Amazing. Would you mind saying where you got it?

    • Christina Helen

      Thanks! I was so pleased with that dress. ❤ I got it from Bariano for $150, and then spent another $100 on hemming. I actually had a $900 budget for my dress but soon discovered that I’d waaaay overestimated how much a lovely non-white dress would cost.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      That dress is fantastic.

  • NolaJael

    Ugh, that dress is amazing.