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Meg’s BFF’s $12K California Lake Wedding

A custom wedding dress from Lace & Liberty—and Flower Kids!

Gina, Graphic Designer & Lucas, House husband 

sum-up of the wedding vibe: We wanted everyone to dress like their best self and have a very good time, and it came true.

Planned Budget: $7,000
Actual Budget: $12,000 (Plus a free dress and some industry discounts via Meg)
Number of Guests: 120
Location: Mission Viejo, California

What made it special (and hard):

Having everyone I love come together, dressed to the nines, and celebrate with us. Some people came from far away, including Virginia, Texas, and Oregon—it felt really special.

I’m so glad the day itself was so special, because planning was hard. I am not a naturally organized person, so an event this big did not come naturally to me. My man of honor, my best friend Jacob, was never taught to want a wedding or think about how to pull one off, because little boys just aren’t taught to want that. As a result, he had no idea how to help me, and neither did Lucas.

Everyone came directly to me with their questions, ideas, and opinions… and there were a LOT of opinions. I was so concerned about coming off as a “bridezilla” that I often said yes when I meant no or avoided asking for specific things that I wanted. My husband made himself available, and most questions were answered on our website, but people still skipped right to me. My phone went off constantly. And all while maintaining a full-time job and freelancing!

So, I need to be real for a second: it was bad enough that there were some days where we considered eloping instead, because I was so stressed out. Organizing everything, keeping the cost down, and managing other people’s (actual and perceived) expectations really made things rough. If I could do it again, I would be more assertive for sure.

Where we allocated the most funds:

The wedding party gifts ($900) were not a crazy amount of money, but they added up fast, especially since we had a large wedding party. They all helped so much, and I wanted to be sure they knew that we were grateful.

The venue ($2700) was the best deal we could find, but it was still a lot of money. If I had known everything would end up so far out of budget, I would have just paid for one of those package deals they offer at all-inclusive places—but when we were still searching for a venue, the cost seemed out of our reach. Now that I know how expensive and stressful it can be, I might have done things differently.

 

Going into planning, I had assumed that weddings were expensive when people got crazy. I thought if I just did no chocolate fountains, it would be inexpensive. But the reality is that all of the venues had various costs. Some of the all-inclusive places were really beautiful and we could have let them do everything, but they were $20K. Or venues would be really low cost, but you had to provide everything through their approved and very expensive vendors. So, the original issue was that we just didn’t understand how much things cost and how much we would have to do—and how stressful it would be. I’ve been involved with other events, and my sister runs a few different events every year, but it didn’t really set in that money and weddings are different. And at a lot of the events I had done before, the company or venue had all the assets and infrastructure, so they didn’t have to pay for them.  

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Eventually, though, we found The Clubhouse at Lake Mission Viejo through a family friend (you need to be a resident of Mission Viejo or sponsored by a resident in order to use the clubhouse). It was within our budget, and included seating, sound, lights, and air conditioning (which were à la carte at most other places), so we grabbed it! The food was catered by a nearby Italian restaurant, Peppino’s, and was great, but of course feeding 120 people was costly. We found them through the venue, and they were actually really amazing: they provided tableware and staffing as part of the package, including a bartender (we paid for a second bartender to stay after food was served, as well). And it’s a local, family-owned business, too.

We purchased the booze ($1700) at Costco, and we paid a bartender to serve it. It worked out very well, and probably was the best value, even though it felt like a lot of money.

Lastly, we went over budget on the decorations ($2000). Some of them didn’t even get used, but the venue looked very pretty in the end.

Where we allocated the least funds:

We got away with the cake, the flowers, the rings, my dress, hair, and makeup for a steal! Our good friend, Natalie, made a very beautiful, succulent-themed wedding cake for us, along with several other desserts at cost ($250). My sister-in-law’s mother, Patty, made the most beautiful succulent and wildflower arrangements and centerpieces, also at cost. Patty grew most of the succulents and combined both fake and real flowers from the market in Los Angeles. She put them in various decorative containers that my mother-in-law and I had been collecting from secondhand stores and repainting, which came to $550 total. We purchased the rings from an artist on Etsy. We didn’t want diamonds, which helped to keep the cost way down ($450).

I was lucky enough to get my beautiful dress for free courtesy of APW and Lace & Liberty. I am grateful that my wedding date lined up so well with the launch of their plus-size line, and I have a plus-size body, so I was able to be their sample model. It has to be the most beautiful garment I have ever owned or worn. Lucas purchased his suit for $200 at a little shop in LA (which he can’t remember the name of), and he looked smashing! My makeup was done as a gift by my friend Emilee, a makeup artist, though I purchased most of the products myself ($250). And my hair was by a friend of a friend for very little ($100, plus $50 tip for driving out to the venue).

What was totally worth it:

Our photographer: Christina McNeill was perfect. And the dress! I know I didn’t pay for it, but it was just so beautiful, I would have!

What was totally not worth it:

I paid very little for the tablecloths and runners, but really should have rented. Meg told me so, but I didn’t listen. Aside from that, I could have spent way less on decorations and I doubt anyone would have noticed. Also, I wish I had splurged on my hair. It was beautiful, but I feel like it could have been more… me.

On Having Flower Kids:

When I was small, it was a serious goal of mine to be the flower girl in someone’s wedding. I wanted to wear that fluffy dress and escort flowers down the aisle while everyone looked at me and cooed over how adorable I was! Alas, it never happened. My mom said it was because I had to know the bride very well, and even when I DID know the bride, there was always a younger, cuter girl more closely related to the bride or groom. Eventually, I was told that I was too old. It’s very reminiscent of the way women are taught their value in general, and it makes me upset just thinking about it. So, I decided that my wedding would have opportunities for any little girls in my life to play out this extremely special role, even if we ended up with more than one flower girl. I invited several girls in my life, including my two young nieces, my cousin’s daughter, and my friend Meg’s daughter. They were all the right age, and I figured they would enjoy it. In truth, I made a point to include all of my child-relatives in the wedding in any way possible, because I wanted them to feel included in this big family event.

We had it all planned out, with a group of three flower girls (after a few new entries and dropouts for various reasons) when I heard from my sister that Meg’s son was very upset that he couldn’t be a flower girl. It turns out that he and my (much older) nephew had discussed the role of flower girls (mostly, that they are usually only girls) at an event they both attended. Meg’s son, who enjoys a well-made, sparkly dress and a tasteful garland, was very distraught that he could not participate. I’m told there were tears over the subject.

When I heard this, I reached out to Meg. Lucas and I had discussed it, and we invited him to participate as a flower kid. I gave him the option to wear a dress or a suit, according to what made him happy, and he ultimately chose a dress.

Watching the kids float around in their fluffy pink gear made me very happy. There were some tears (because that’s the norm for any group of young children), some premature flower-dumping, a last-minute need for a flower child shepherd (my sister-in-law), and a ring-bearer who didn’t even make it down the aisle… but it was absolutely perfect. I would not change a thing. Not only was my wedding magical for Lucas and me, it was also probably magical for those kids, and I hope they remember it always.

A few things that helped us along the way:

The support of my friends and family, financially and emotionally. Also, the team at APW and Lace & Liberty. We could never have pulled off such a beautiful day without any of them!

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Be more assertive, and spend less on decorations. Also, rent tablecloths… renting saves a lot of time and effort. And buy more food, because we served buffet-style and some people got a little less by the end.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

I loved the whole day, but my favorite-favorite part was the fact that everyone I love got together, dressed to the nines, and celebrated with us. Including some people who came from very far away.

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