Mackenzie, Curriculum Developer and Teacher Trainer & Chris, Journalist
sum-up of the wedding vibe: A loving and personal group effort a decade in the making.
Planned Budget: $20,000
Actual Budget: $21,000
Number of Guests: 130
Where we allocated the most funds:
Catering. There is so much amazing food in NYC and we wanted to serve our guests a meal that we would be excited to eat on a night out. Since I frequently travel abroad for work to places that do not traditionally serve fresh produce or where veggies are not safe to eat (I work primarily in crisis and conflict-affected areas without clean water), Chris and I have developed a tradition of eating tacos with as many colorful, fresh fixings as possible on my first night back from a long trip. Enlisting our favorite Mexican taco place in the city to cater therefore couldn’t have been more appropriate.
The folks at Tacombi were so kind and accommodating, helping us craft a killer menu, putting together batch specialty cocktails from ingredients we provided, and modifying their usual service routine to keep our rental costs down. That said, it was still our biggest investment. We’re not big fans of cake, so we kept the fresh vibe going by serving local fruit popsicles from People’s Pops for dessert. We absolutely loved the food (yes, I managed to eat a meal and two popsicles!) and we are still getting compliments.
Where we allocated the least funds:
The music, flowers, and stationery. From the get-go, we knew we wanted to include all those things, but also acknowledged that doing them the easy (vendor) way was going to blow our budget very quickly.
We didn’t hire a DJ, which saved on funds, but we definitely allocated a lot of time to crafting perfect playlists for before the ceremony, and during the cocktail hour, dinner, and the reception. Chris and I are known among our friends as insatiable music lovers and when we realized we would end up telling a DJ exactly what to play and when to play it on our wedding day, we figured we could just do the music ourselves instead. Chris did an amazing job collecting and sequencing each song individually for all six hours of the night, and everything that played resonated with various points in our life together.
Knowing we wanted the day to feel simple and low-key, we deliberated over whether or not we needed to enlist the help of a florist to get flowers on the tables and in my hands to walk down the aisle. After reading many an APW post about DIY flowers and asking those around us for ideas, my NYC-based family offered up their kitchen for a flower-arranging evening of cocktails and takeout the Thursday before the wedding. We ordered the flowers in bulk (totaling about $250) and set out cutting and putting stems together in what ended up being one of my most fond memories of the weekend. That relaxed time spent working together with family was really special.
As for stationery, I happened upon a big online printing coupon in my inbox right around the time we chose our date, and we made sure to take advantage of it! One of Chris’s childhood friends, a graphic designer, kindly offered to design a save the date and invitation for us, and printing them online cost us a total of $40. We saved lots by going with the standard, free envelopes that came with the printing and opting for online RSVPs (which worked like a charm!). We also nixed programs and created place cards ourselves on printable DIY business card paper.
What was totally worth it:
Making the best choices for us, but keeping the experiences of our friends and families in mind, too. We figured that, even though we were investing time and funds in our wedding day, we didn’t want to expect the same of our guests. I know this approach can be controversial (it’s supposed to be our time to do what we want, right?), but we were really proud to plan a day that was a reflection of us and our love, while also being fun and low-key for everyone there.
When looking for venues, we had three criteria. We wanted an area that was important to our relationship, had the industrial, no-frills aesthetic we envisioned for the day, and would be easy for most of our guests to get to. Hosting the ceremony and reception at the incredible Greenpoint Loft in the city where we’ve made our home, and where so many of our loved ones are located, was perfect. Those few who don’t live in the New York area were able to stay with friends or in Airbnbs close to the venue.
We have great friends and siblings that we wanted to include in the ceremony, so we ended up having a rather large wedding party. But before we asked anyone, we researched ways we could ensure that the cost of being a groomsman/bridesmaid would be as low as possible. In the end, the groomsmen rented suits online, which was nerve-racking (for me) but ended up great. They wore their own shoes and we gifted them ties and tie clips. The bridesmaids wore custom pleated skirts I ordered on Etsy and white crepe camisoles, for a total of just $65! We finished off the outfits with satin sashes made from ribbon I found on sale in NYC’s Garment District.
What was totally not worth it:
Cutting corners with staffing. While we enlisted lots of help for the details of the wedding, we decided to forgo the cost of hiring help for setup and breakdown. We’d planned on our catering staff and coordinator putting everything together, and realized a little too late that the logistics of making the day happen were more intensive than we’d bargained for. Things like transporting all the homemade décor and prepurchased beverages in and out of the venue, hanging lights, putting up signs, and lighting candles were all doable, but they took attention away from actually coordinating the people in the wedding. Ultimately, this made it more stressful for everyone involved. Though it all worked out in the end, I wish we had asked our friends for help, or bitten the bullet and paid for a few more hands rather than leaving many tasks to few people in order to save a couple hundred dollars.
A few things that helped us along the way:
We utilized the amazing talents of our friends and families, and it paid off in a big way. I was nervous to ask for help at first, since I didn’t want to impose on people’s busy schedules. However, I’m so glad we did. Involving those we love in creating the day made every part of the process fun and personal.
In addition to the friend-designed stationery, the table numbers were created by my father, and the repurposed wine bottles we used as water pitchers were collected and stripped of their labels by friends on a sunny spring afternoon. (The bottles were also used by two of those friends at their wedding a few months later!) A bridesmaid and a groomsman, both very patient, helped us saw tiny toy animals in half, which Chris and I spent a weekend gluing and spray-painting to create gold magnetic place card holders. On the day itself, another dear friend officiated a ceremony full of jokes, memories, and vows that Chris and I designed. For the first dance, a groomsman (a fellow alumnus of our a cappella group) played and sang our favorite song, with a bonus saxophone solo from our officiant.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Set priorities and then chill. When planning, we were very clear about our overall priorities and stuck to them. However, we weren’t as good at setting priorities for the actual wedding day. I knew things weren’t going to go a hundred percent right, but because we hadn’t determined what issues we would try to fix (if they arose) and which we’d let slide, every little thing that went awry felt like a big deal to me. That made it hard for me to enjoy everything around me and be in the moment. Looking back, I wish I’d thought more about getting the photos we really wanted (we missed some key family and detail shots that I’m still bummed about) than where the signs were placed (who cares?) or how much beer we had left (that’s why we had bartenders!). I eventually hit my groove and stopped caring about those things, but it wasn’t until a few hours into the night. Were I to plan it over again, I’d make a list of our top priorities for the day, communicate those priorities to everyone involved in making it happen, and then let go and focus on having fun from the get-go.
Favorite thing about the wedding:
Across the board, we were thrilled with the musical choices we made for the day. Forgoing the DJ was the right choice for us—instead, our self-made playlists were full of songs that were fun and important to us. Some were sappy love songs we’ve enjoyed together, others were songs we’d sung together in our college a cappella years, and in between were tons of songs we wanted to belt with our friends on the dance floor. Our first dance song, Tom Waits’s “Picture in a Frame,” was particularly special—Tom Waits is one of the first artists Chris and I bonded over, and hearing it sung and played so beautifully by two of our oldest friends felt like the perfect way to honor our past together and celebrate our future. Of all the memories of the day, that first dance is the one that can still get me teary.
Anything else TO SHARE:
I was proud to wear heirlooms from both Chris’s and my families: a garter that has been worn by three generations of women in my family, and my engagement ring, which originally belonged to Chris’s great-grandmother in Romania. These tokens were tangible and humbling reminders of the good fortune, love, and efforts of so many that went into our wedding day.