Our $45K Chinese-American Surprise Wedding In NYC

Surprise! It's our wedding!

Ellen, Calligrapher & William, Finance Professional

sum-up of the wedding vibe: Our goal was to throw a fun, low-key cocktail party or our friends.

Planned Budget: $25,000
Actual Budget: $45,000
Number of Guests: 65
Location: New York City, New York

Where we allocated the most funds:

Venue and food.

Where we allocated the least funds:

We allocated the least amount to our attire and our DJ. William wore a tuxedo he already had, and I picked a dress from Lovely Bride that was about $1,200. Attire wasn’t our biggest priority, and I loved that my dress was just a little bit over the top for an engagement party but low key as a wedding dress.

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What was totally worth it:

The venue was absolutely worth it. We planned our wedding in three months and Haven’s Kitchen was the first place we looked at. The space was unique because it was not a traditional ballroom wedding venue and that definitely helped us keep our surprise under wraps when we invited our guests. Haven’s Kitchen also helped us run scenarios that would help us stay closer to our budget.

Separately, keeping such a big secret for three months was absolutely worth it. The look on our friends’ faces as they came through the door, read our signs, and saw our outfits was incredible! It was EXACTLY the wedding we wanted. I loved that our guests didn’t have to pore over a wedding registry in anticipation of our wedding, dress up to the nines, sit through a too-intimate ceremony, or make small talk with fellow wedding guests they didn’t already know.

What was totally not worth it:

Nothing—I think it was all worth it.

A few things that helped us along the way:

We waffled on getting a wedding cake, but at the end of the day, we were gifted a cake from one of my father’s friends. Otherwise, I think we might have skipped the cake entirely in favor of our dessert table, which included milk shots and cookies and some of our favorite Canadian candies (a tribute to William’s Canadian heritage). Another thing that helped was Haven’s Kitchen’s amazing staff: Halle, the event manager, handled a lot of details that we might have needed a coordinator for. Halle took care of our furniture and linen rentals, communicated with our florist, DJ, and other vendors, etc., which both saved us the cost of the coordinator and the headache and worry of coordinating ourselves on the day of. Another plug for Haven’s Kitchen was that they had an onsite chef that tailored our menu for us. We didn’t need to worry about tracking down and figuring out the logistics of bringing in catering, which was a huge load off our plate, given we had only three months to put it all together.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Don’t worry what people will think. Over the span of our three month planning period, I second guessed myself countless times, worrying what people would think of the way we would celebrate our wedding, how they would handle the surprise, if they would be upset for being out of the loop. A week beforehand, I nearly called the whole thing off in exchange for an intimate wedding dinner with our family, some of whom were already flying in for the day. At the end of the day, I’m so glad that we went through with our surprise wedding the way we planned.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

I loved the intimacy of our ceremony and the way our guests came for a tame engagement party and ended up dancing all night long to celebrate our wedding. Our wedding started with an intimate ceremony with fifteen of our closest family and two friends each. We never wanted to recite our vows in front of a ton of people; it was an intimate moment that we wanted to keep to family. Everyone who attended played a role in our ceremony. My best friend officiated the ceremony; my sister-in-law, a pianist, recorded the processional music; my brother-in-law translated the ceremony into Chinese for our parents; my brother conducted a ring warming ceremony; our moms helped us light our unity candles; and our dads served as our witnesses on our marriage license.

Their involvement made us feel like they were collectively marrying us and blessing our union, and it was incredible to have so many hands with us. Twenty minutes after we were officially married, our guests began arriving for the engagement party we had invited them to. There were messages along the stairs and at the entry announcing that we were married, but a lot of our guests were still shocked when they rounded the corner and saw us in our wedding clothes. I think the surprise and glee at the entry really set the tone for the cocktail party that we wanted to throw for our friends.

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