Erica & Rachel

*Erica, Unitarian Universalist Minister & Rachel, Housing Advocate*

Interestingly, especially given that APW’s original tag line was “Creative. Thrifty. Sane.,” we don’t spend a lot of time on APW talking about budgets. In fact, for years we’ve edited out numbers from wedding grad posts because we found that it was a flash point for readers. If someone was spending less or more than you, what did that MEAN?? (Hint: Nothing.) One of our goals for the next few months is to find a way to ease into discussing numbers safely. To start, we thought this week we’d showcase weddings with different budgets that are still very APW, so we can all see that joy is just joy. First up, Erica’s thoughtful post about balancing priorities and realities. (Plus, DIY photography! Hurrah!)

Hi, I’m Erica, the one in the green dress. When Rachel and I sat down to plan our wedding, we decided to start by listing our top priorities. Rachel went first, and her list of priorities matched mine so exactly that I thought, “Yes, I am absolutely marrying the right person!”

Our priorities were:

  1. Meaningful ceremony
  2. Beautiful location
  3. People we love in attendance
  4. Being gracious hosts to our guests

We also decided that we wanted to spend no more than $5,000. While this was not one of the main priorities, it was a very close second in terms of importance. The reason for this wasn’t really because we couldn’t afford more. With the help offered by our parents, we could probably have afforded to spend up to twice as much. But that wasn’t the kind of wedding we wanted. We wanted to get married as simply and meaningfully as possible.

As we were planning our wedding, we kept coming back to these priorities. There were other things that were important to us, but if they clashed with any of the priorities, we dropped them. For me, what this meant, especially in the early stages, was a constant conversation with myself about whether the things I wanted really fit in with the wedding we were planning.

Take dress shopping, for example. Our first foray into the world of dress shopping involved me convincing a rather reluctant Rachel to come look at the wedding dresses in the local used clothing store. Despite her initial reluctance, as soon as Rachel began trying things on, she got totally swept up in the moment, and very excited. After watching her for awhile, my resolution to get married in green began to waver. I wanted to try on the pretty white dresses, too! So, I did. The first one I tried on was this gorgeous dress. It looked very good on me. A part of me wanted to get married in that dress.

But it also weighed a ton. And it was quite formal. I had this conversation with myself for the first time. “I really want this dress. But I don’t want the wedding that goes with this dress. I want this other wedding we’re planning. The simple, getting married in a field in a green dress wedding.” So, I didn’t buy the dress. Instead, my mother took a week off from work and we made my dress together. We had a blast, and I got a dress that fit wonderfully into our wedding.

The most difficult part of planning, for me, was when our second-most important priority—the $5,000 budget—conflicted with the top priority of graciousness. We wanted to feed our guests well, though simply, but in order to stay in the $5,000 budget, we really couldn’t hire a caterer. We tried a bunch of different options to make this work, but in the end they all fell through. Potluck? Most of our guests came from over an hour away, so this didn’t seem fair. Make the food ourselves? Then we realized what that would mean for 150 or so people. Buy a bunch of cold salads from the grocery store? We weren’t sure this would quite be gracious enough, and also the grocery store never returned our phone calls. Finally we decided to hire a caterer, and go over budget by $1,000 to make that happen. I sent an email to every caterer in the area telling them what we needed in terms of food (a challenge since Rachel and I have very different dietary needs) and what we could pay.

Only one caterer wrote back—Kathryn of Village Roots Catering in Vermont. We were incredibly lucky to find her. She took our dietary needs in stride, and created a feast of seasonal local foods that was delicious and stayed within budget plan B. People loved the food. It was a huge hit. So, we felt that we had succeeded in being gracious to our guests, with Kathryn’s help.

Of course, there were parts of keeping our priorities that were pure joy. Planning the meaningful ceremony was one of these. This was, by far, my favorite part of the planning process. I am a Pagan Unitarian Universalist. Rachel is a Quaker. Our officiant is a Christian minister, one of my closest friends from seminary. So, this was an incredibly interfaith wedding. It was also a wedding crafted by three people who care deeply about ritual and about the ritual space that can facilitate something as big as getting married.

The conversations I had with Rachel about our ceremony were the vehicle to do the real work of being engaged: figuring out what this step meant to us, and how we wanted to begin our married life. We talked about symbolism and tradition. We talked about what a marriage covenant is, and what we wanted in our covenant. We talked about what vows we needed to make to facilitate the keeping of our covenant. We talked about having faith in each other and in our marriage. When we sat down to write our covenant, we began using the language “our relationship.” Toward the end of this part of the process, I realized we needed to change it to “our marriage.” We both had this “Whoa! Marriage!” moment. This was where we did the work to get ready for the huge step we were taking.

When we brought our officiant into the mix, the process was wonderful in a whole new way. As someone who helps other people plan their wedding ceremonies, it was so wonderful to be able to trust this other person to hold us through the process and to make it all come together. She did an amazing job, as we knew she would.

At the end of this process, we ended up with a ceremony that spoke deeply to us about the commitment we were making. We also managed to communicate this depth of understanding to those in attendance, too, which was wonderful.

To pull off this “simple” wedding, many things had to be done by our family and friends. To save money on food, we asked those who live nearby to bring dessert. We had a flower and table arranging party with the bridal party before the rehearsal. We asked one of Rachel’s friends to be our day-of coordinator, and she and her wife worked like crazy to make sure everything went smoothly. We had so much help from so many people. All of this was coordinated by Rachel, who wrote job descriptions for each thing we needed and did all the recruiting. All of this was stressful to set up, but meant that we did not stress about any of it on the day of the wedding. I was shy about asking this much of people, but the vast majority of people said yes when asked and were happy to help. Yay to our family and friends!

I am proud of our wedding. Throughout the planning, even when it was hard, we stayed true to our priorities. We had the wedding we had both envisioned, the wedding we wanted. We had a wedding that was very “us,” in that sense, but that took the guests’ experience into account and was designed as an offering to those in attendance, as well as a celebration of our relationship. We were launched into our married life with our priorities, and our values, intact.

The Info—Photography: Friends and Family / Venue: Camp Plymouth State Park / Food: Village Roots Catering / Rachel’s Dress: A Trace of Lace, with alterations by Make it Sew / Ceremony Bouquets: New Leaf Organics

Featured Sponsored Content

  • PA

    I. Love. This. Post. So much of it (down to numbers, even!) is spot-on for the wedding my fiance and I are planning. (Ish. It’s in less than 3 weeks. Things should probably be set by now!)

    I have to say, I had this exact same moment: I really want this dress. But I don’t want the wedding that goes with this dress.

    In any case, beautiful pictures and a wonderful piece with a lot of food for thought–thank you for sharing!

    • Another Meg

      I am going to copy that sentence into my wedding binder. And maybe tape it to my computer monitor at work. “I really want this dress. But I don’t want the wedding that goes with this dress.”
      I’ve had this moment about eight gazillion times browsing on the interwebs. (Two year engagements can do that to you, I think.)

    • That was a big thing for me: wanting the dress, but not the wedding that went with a dress. That thought was the thing that had me go through two separate dresses, after falling in love with a third.

    • Susie

      I also want to exactly the “I love the dress but not the wedding that goes with it” so many times – so well put! Switch dress for any other detail as well…

      Love your simple yet meaningful day, congratulations to you both.

  • Amy March

    So excited that we are going to be talking numbers. And I love the flexibility of this couple- pot luck won’t work for our guests, but, speaking as a baker, I bet people loved having a chance to show-off/share their love with you :)

    • k

      Yes, I too would love to see more posts that talk about actual numbers/budgets, both the “here’s how we managed on X dollars” and “here’s how we decided what was important and where we wanted to spend our money” aspects of the planning.

  • Oooh money talk! I think this may be difficult, as you predicted, Meg.

    I think the problematic phrase here may be:

    ” we could probably have afforded to spend up to twice as much. But that wasn’t the kind of wedding we wanted. We wanted to get married as simply and meaningfully as possible.”

    because it may imply that a more of expensive wedding would have been less meaningful.

    • One More Sara

      While I agree that this was maybe not the best choice of words, I think that for this discussion to work here, we all have to kind of agree to pay more attention to the spirit of the writer and not try to analyze everything, making it into something it isn’t. I’m having a more expensive wedding with the help of family, and I wasn’t in the least offended. I realized what she meant, she didn’t know me (or the kind of wedding I’m having) so she obviously isn’t purposely trying to bash my choice to spend a bit more money than they were.

      • meg

        Indeed. Look, we edit posts and try to take out ANYTHING that anyone might read as judgmental. But at a certain point we do try to just trust that everyone knows that people who share their stories here have good intentions, and stay true to what the writers said.

    • Sam

      I don’t know that I agree with what that phrase implys, respectfully. I get the feeling that she was pointing out that sometimes money towards special little details can make a wedding feel more meaningful, but they wanted a balance between simple and meaningful. That meaningful for THEM meant simple. And that the simple was part of their values as a couple.

      I am in the same boat, my mother offered to spend WAY more than I was thinking. And in the end, a lot more than I was comfortable with. But as the planning process progresses, I find that I am sticking to that, mostly. I am doing the same thing they did in that when it’s something that means a lot, that is part of the core value of the day, it’s worth a bit of extra money. And maybe something else gets slimmed down a bit more.

      • In the context of the whole post this line absolutely makes sense, especially as you read later in and realize that when budget met clashed against their other wedding priorities, the other priorities won. To me that made it clear that staying low cost was important, and part of what was “simple and meaningful”, but that the exact number spent wasn’t necessarily part of that.

    • Erica of this post

      Hmm… Yes, I can totally see how it sounds like that’s what I meant, and that is certainly problematic. But that isn’t actually what I was trying to say. I was trying to say that we wanted our wedding to be simple – in a certain sense of the word. But our ceremony would not be described as simple. It was longer than average, and had all kinds of ritual items, and incorporated elements from a bunch of different sources. So, I think I was trying to find a way to express the Quaker sense of simple – which is frugal in some sense but willing to spend time and energy on things that are meaningful. I feel like there’s got to be a perfect word for this that I just can’t find!

      Of course, it is possible to spend far, far more than we did and still have a deeply, profoundly meaningful experience.

      • I didn’t think you meant that more expensive meant less meaningful – I don’t think anyone on APW does! I just think if we’re going to discuss $$ we might need some more heavy-handed editorial input if we want to avoid the problems Meg foretold. That phrase really stuck out to me and I’m not sure it should have made it through (given that it clearly wasn’t your intention to imply what I thought readers might infer).

        (and the fact I had to clarify my remarks just proves communication with words alone is hard!)

        • Maddie

          Interestingly, that line actually DID get edited (well, Erica’s whole post got edited a bit for length, and I specifically remember cleaning that line up for length and clarity). We probably could have used a heavier hand while editing and taken out the word meaningfully, but I think that would have changed the point of what Erica was saying. They didn’t just want a simple wedding, they wanted a simple and meaningful wedding. But I don’t think that there is a judgment being made that simple IS meaningful (or if that was the case for them, I didn’t read it as implying that someone else’s more expensive wedding would be LESS meaningful. Just that it wouldn’t have been right for them.)

          That said, we specifically showcase weddings with all kinds of different budgets and spending priorities on APW because, as Meg said, we believe that joy is joy no matter the dollar sign attached to it.

        • meg

          What Maddie is saying is that as ever, we had heavy-handed editorial input here. We do that, and then we try to clear all edits with the writers. But APW is a strongly edited site. The thing is, you’re never going to see what we took out, you’re going to see the editorial choices we let stand (and that was one we tweaked and let stand). I’m ok with that sentence, in that I think it was said in a good spirit (as Erica clarified), and it’s part of a week where we’re showing different perspectives up against each other as a clearly stated editorial choice. To do that and to edit out people’s unique perspectives would be silly. We trust you guys to not take it personally.

      • Striving for simplicity can be an expression of a *couple’s* values (which is not to take away from another couple that chooses to spend more). We have professed living simply to be one of our values and occasionally we digress from that. Setting a strict budget for ourselves made us evaluate WHY we were considering money on a certain thing.

        FOR US a more expensive wedding with some trappings we really didn’t need would have been less meaningful. We’re not a particularly aesthetically driven couple and that worked for us. I can see how for other couples that attention to those smaller details could be EXTREMELY important. (I can also see how the luxury of spending a little extra money for a lot less work can be attractive sometimes too. I was thinking that after I put my 11th pie in the oven the day before the wedding.)

  • k

    Hurrah for the $5K wedding! That was our budget too and we ended up pretty much bang-on, due largely to the incredible generosity of some amazing friends and family. One of my favourite things about our wedding was that our biggest line item expense was thank you presents for the friends/relatives that organized the food, made the cake, officiated, let us get married in their backyard, took photos, etc. That was definitely money I felt really *good* about spending.

  • Sarah

    I think it’s really helpful to identify the things that are important to you, and how much time or money you’re willing to spend on them, if you plan on sticking to a small budget (or any budget). We knew food was important, the place we had it was important, what we wore, and our rings were important to us. That said, we spent almost the entire budget on the venue/food/drinks, everything else we were able to relegate to a tiny portion of the budget. We were happy with being able to keep our wedding related costs at about $6000.

    That said, we *didn’t* have a lot of other things which would have been nice, but we decided against. At some point, if you want more things (which is not a bad thing) they will probably end up costing more. We didn’t have dancing or music really, a rehearsal, a wedding party, places to sit during the ceremony (it was outdoors and very short), or decorations aside from picking venues that were inherently pretty. Those things might or might not have enhanced the day, but they also would have cost more – in either money, or mental energy for planning.

    It’s great to see other peoples’ thought processes on the budget issue.

  • I must say, half of the reason I love this post is because I also had an interfaith (Pagan-Christian) lesbian wedding with a redhead. The other half of why I love this post is because you guys are awesome. Congratulations!

  • My wife and I had a very similar discussion (about priorities and budget and how those things went together), so this was very interesting to me. And congratulations!! :)

  • You just put into words exactly what my confused brain is going through after dress shopping. Thank you!

  • Jashshea

    Your hair! Your hair with that green dress!? A white dress would have surely been lovely as well, but ALL REDHEADS MUST WEAR EMERALD GREEN.


    Thank you for speaking so frankly about money and spending it in ways that make sense for you and your family (baby family and larger). For me, one of the most bewildering parts of wedding planning has been my formerly (cheap) frugal parents turning into WIC-olytes – “But it’s your WEDDING, why wouldn’t you want to spend $X on a dress/other wedding thing!!?”

    33 days to go and I still don’t really have an answer for that. Good on you two for sticking to what was important.

    • KEA1

      I am replying to your comment specifically because I would like to see the term “WIC-olytes” catch on. %) BRILLIANT!

      And, as for the money thing, I actually have had a conversation about this recently in the non-wedding-planning sense, but I think it applies to weddings too: as long as the actual needs are paid for, discretionary funds can be used for whatever the person/couple decides makes the most sense for them. That’s true regardless of how much discretionary money you have. And I really appreciate a hard look at numbers, whether it’s in wedding grad posts or in vendor spotlights or whatever.

  • Ana

    Rachel’s smile makes me smile. As much as I’m trying not to have expectations about how I’ll feel on my wedding day….I hope I can look as joyful as Rachel does in these pictures!

  • I have had so many “I don’t want the wedding that goes with this dress” moments! Part of me feels like I’ll regret not taking the chance to wear a ball gown and veil. And since my fiance and the guys won’t be in uniform, there won’t be a sword line, which is kind of a bummer. But I don’t want the formal wedding that goes with that ball gown and sword line. I want the wedding that goes with the simple J Crew dress in my closet.

    Thank you so much for putting into words what I need to remind myself. And congratulations!

  • Pingback: Friday roundup! | WeddingLovely Blog()