stefania, community coordinator & anthony, high school college counselor
Sum-up of the wedding vibe: We ate, drank, and danced the night away with help from our family and closest friends.
Planned budget: $10,000
Actual budget: $15,000
Number of guests: 85
LOCATION: Riverdale, New Jersey
Where we allocated the most funds:
The venue fee, rentals, food, and drinks made up 58 percent of our budget. Early on in the wedding process, we decided a ballroom or banquet style venue wasn’t our thing, and while we found venues like wineries and barns alluring, they were out of our $10,000 budget. Then I learned about the Glenburn Estate, a historic home, with a barn, on five acres of land. We instantly fell in love with the beautiful structure, open space, and greenery. The rental fee was a bit pricey considering there weren’t any traditional supports like a caterer or bar, a maître d’, or any staff to set-up or clean up, and we had to rent a tent, lights, and dance floor. However, the space was ours for the entire weekend, which meant we had a built-in space for our rehearsal dinner, and having a non-traditional wedding venue gave us the ability to get creative with our budget and have an affordable Saturday, child-friendly wedding.
Where we allocated the least funds:
Originally photography was a big part of our budget, but our options were still limited by our budget. Then, we heard about Corey Torpie Photography. Her photojournalist approach to wedding photography matched perfectly with our vision and, once a year, Corey offers free high-quality wedding photography to a couple with a tight budget who give back to their communities. We still can’t believe she chose us as the lucky recipients! We LOVED working with her, and our friends and family still can’t stop talking about our pictures.
Other places we saved: We decided to spend $6 to send virtual save the dates via Paperless Post and skipped party favors altogether. As for the invites, a friend graciously offered to design our wedding invites, and we saved money by printing through Vistaprint and gluing them to paper panels we bought online via Cards & Pockets. The final result was a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind invitation for about $2.25 an invite.
I did my own makeup, and while I also planned to do my own hair, my friend and bridesmaid who knows me all too well foresaw that plan ending with a grumpy bride in a frizzy ponytail. She paid for a hairstylist to do my hair, and it ended up being one of the best gifts on that 85-degree fall day. Flowers also don’t come cheap, so we decided to buy carnation bouquets from Sam’s Club and bulk flowers from Flower Moxie. It took a lot of hours to coordinate orders, pick up, deliver, and assemble, but the tradeoff was we got flowers for us, the bridal party, and table decorations for about $350 (including tools).
What was totally worth it:
When we decided to have our wedding in a non-traditional venue without a wedding planner or day-of coordinator, we knew we were signing up for a HUGE DIY project. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but for us it was worth it. From spray painting signs to squeezing ten pounds of limes to make the signature cocktails to the many hours of set-up and clean-up, it was a lot of work but we enjoyed the whole experience. Although we didn’t plan for it, it was a great bonding experience with family members and friends. They did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves to bring our vision to life. Sharing that time with them was heartwarming, at least for Anthony and me—they might tell you otherwise.
What was totally not worth it:
Stressing about a Catholic ceremony. Anthony wanted a Catholic ceremony, whereas I had envisioned a ceremony performed by a friend, partially because I am still trying to figure out how the teachings of the Catholic Church align (or don’t) with my personal beliefs. I had my doubts and fears, plus the ceremony came with a hefty price tag, but relationships are about communication and compromise. We decided to have a Catholic ceremony as long as I didn’t have to do anything that made me uncomfortable. We found a priest that was very easy going and created a welcoming environment for us (read: he didn’t lecture us for living together or because I don’t go to church on Sundays). I even really came to enjoy the Pre-Cana (marriage preparation) classes that were required. The classes facilitated great conversations that every couple should have, without forcing any specific religious beliefs on us. That initial stress ended up not being worth it, and it was a beautiful ceremony that we were both very happy with.
A few things that helped us along the way:
Chapter One of Meg Keene’s A Practical Wedding Planner book! It got us to think and talk about our wedding mission statement, emotional goals, and planning priorities. Whenever we had ideas that were either too complicated or too expensive, we reflected on that conversation, and it made it easy to let go of things that weren’t necessary to meet our wedding vision. It really helped reduce the stress of wedding planning, and it made it feel like OUR wedding—not just a day planned by the bride.
We’ve also already mentioned a few ways our loved ones helped along the way, but we really can’t emphasize enough how much they helped us. Everything from our best friends planning the rehearsal dinner to letting us take over their homes for hours of crafting to labeling invites to family taking over clean up when we were a bit too hungover. It even went outside our immediate circle of friends like, my sister’s college friends who helped out the morning of the wedding and dealt with the vendors while we were at the church. We realized paying for help doesn’t have to be your only option. You never know what can come when you ask for help.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Expect that not everything will go as planned, especially for a DIY wedding, and it will be okay. A month before the wedding our priest was reassigned. The night before the wedding we had to completely rearrange the floor plan. The morning of the wedding my bouquet had slightly browned. The DJ arrived late, and our best man had to do some serious confrontation with the vendor. At the end of the day, things worked out and none of these incidents took away from the amazing party we wanted and all the love and fun in the air.
Favorite thing about the wedding:
Our families are separated by distance. They live across the U.S., Ecuador, and Puerto Rico, and sometimes plane tickets are only bought during somber occasions. The last time my dad, aunts, and uncles were all together was seven years ago for their brother’s burial, while the last time Anthony saw all his aunts and uncles together was when his paternal grandmother passed away ten years earlier. This time they all came together for a celebration. For one night we were all together, happy, full of joy, and immune to all of life’s difficulties. We also got to see cousins, that are like our brothers and sisters, but haven’t seen in a few years. We had our younger nieces and nephews running around freely while the grown-ups danced the night away. We had friends from elementary school reuniting and college friends catching up on life. We even watched my seventy-year-old aunt dancing to “Bad and Boujee” with Anthony’s cousin. All our loved ones, mentors, and best friends gathered for us from near and far. These are the people that have given us encouragement, love, and laughter everyday leading up to our marriage, so our wedding was just as much about them as it was about us. The icing on the cake was the speeches by our best men and maids of honors. Their speeches brought it all together.
Other things we’d like to share:
For our Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican families, music, dancing, drinks, and food is never absent from gatherings, be it a baby shower, birthday, or weekend hangout. When it came down to our rehearsal and reception, we wanted to have all that be front and center. Pernil, rice, beans, and curtido de cebolla y tomate at the rehearsal with tons of merengue, salsa, and reggaeton blasting at the reception. Spanish is also very important, especially since not all our family members are bilingual. We spent many hours making sure our wedding website, church readings, and wedding program were available in Spanish.
These wedding choices came fairly easy, but some other choices required more thought. We decided early on that we wanted a wedding that was reflective of us regardless of what “norm” or tradition we were breaking or embracing. I wasn’t crazy about the father giving away of the bride because, while I didn’t want to walk alone, it personally felt too rooted in patriarchal traditions, and because my parents had recently separated, I wasn’t comfortable with having them both walk me.
My little sister, who was one of my MOHs and a big part of getting me through an emotional year, held my hand as we walked down the aisle. Anthony and I entered the reception announced as “Mr. Anthony Miranda and Mrs. Stefania Trelles.” Instead of a garter and bouquet toss, we dedicate that time to honoring all the special men and women in our lives, regardless of relationship status, by doing a men’s only dance to Bruno Mars’ “24k Gold” and a women’s only dance to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Our DJ also ran with the idea and turned it into a fun “battle of the sexes” dance that brought EVERYONE onto the dance floor and kicked off our dance party. When it came to the father-daughter and mother-son dance, we did not want to exclude his dad and my mother, who we felt equally deserve the spotlight. I ended up dancing with the fathers, he danced with the mothers, and it somehow worked out. Ultimately, what we are trying to say is that there is no wrong or right for a wedding or marriage, regardless what you might read or hear. Do what feels right to you and your partner.