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

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