$35K Jewish-ish New England Summer Wedding

With banging food, including a pickle bar(!), and a barefoot bride in the Vermont woods

Emma, Medical Simulationist & Johnny, sales

sum-up of the wedding vibe: A weekend celebration full of family, friends, and banging food in late Vermont summer.

Planned Budget: $32,000
Actual Budget: $35,000
Number of Guests: 250
Location: Waitsfield, Vermont

Where we allocated the most funds:

In true APW fashion we sat down at the beginning of our eighteen month engagement and talked about wedding priorities. We came up with the three wedding F’s: Family, Food, and Fotos. This informed our 250-person guest list, which included 31 kids under the age of five, and the decision to find a venue near where I grew up in the Mad River Valley in Vermont. We also wanted accommodations onsite for at least the wedding party and immediate family to rent for the weekend so everyone could feel like all that travel would be worth it, and we were glad most people stayed Thursday through Monday.

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We set out to find amazing photographers for the day. We sought out the amazing dynamic duo Sarah and Jeff Porter of APW vendor fame Two of Us Photography after seeing their work on APW and also from a high school friend’s wedding pictures. They were amazing the whole time, and we cannot highly recommend them enough. They were beyond professional and also gave us the magic blend of amazing ceremony and dance floor pics with beautiful portraits. They also had a great eye for finding kids on the dance floor. A huge gift to me in particular was looking at these pictures and feeling the ethereal bride-in-the-woods vibe while in my body, which was everything. They both felt like friends, and we were ecstatic to see them take a spin on the dance floor before wrapping up a long day.

It turned out that I also had two secret F’s that popped up along the way: Flowers and Fun. Fun ended up being inexpensive and encompassed a ’00s prom inspired Instax film photo booth that was a total hit. Johnny works for Fujifilm, so we got a discount on the film. Flowers on the other hand were the line item in our budget that kept rising, and we made cuts elsewhere to accommodate. Our nineteen centerpieces, bouquets, boutonnières, and corsages were from the lovely A Schoolhouse Garden, run by Nancy, the patron saint of opinionated but uninformed brides.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Between the two of us we have three brothers who at some point have all worked in the music industry, so we didn’t feel the need to get either a live band or a DJ. We made iTunes playlists, which fed into a great app called Wedding DJ app, and we rented a PA system for the ceremony space, and that was it. My brother tended to the playlist after a while, and he knows how to read a crowd. We got married in a field, so besides our chuppah ($300 for flowers on chuppah frame, $250 for chuppah frame), we didn’t feel the need to add any ceremony decorations. Once it was clear we would have at least fifteen kids under five there, we also made a kid zone that was sourced entirely from Ikea. It ended up being a huge hit and helped make our new-parent friends feel really at ease. My shoes were $0. I didn’t wear any all day, and it was great.

What was totally worth it:

Taking the time to sit down with each other and really carefully and intentionally build a ceremony around some of the Jewish wedding traditions that were the most meaningful to me and in a way that wasn’t alienating to Johnny’s family was critical. For us, that meant including the chuppah; ketubah; a very modified version of the seven blessings, where members of our families stood up in the ceremony to each say a blessing; and doing the Hora during the reception. We really paid attention to the pacing of the weekend because we knew it would fly by. One of the best things we did was check into our venue the Thursday before. We had rented all the rooms, and most of the wedding party came that early as well. We set up most of the reception space Thursday. We cannot speak highly enough about doing bookend events before and after the wedding. We did a semi-hosted meet and greet on Friday after the pizza and beer/cider rehearsal, and then we did a post-wedding out-of-towners brunch on Sunday morning. They are not for everyone, but they were immensely helpful for the feel of the weekend and creating an atmosphere for our guests in which they were not rushing around either at us or other family/friends during the reception. Our after party was s’mores and leftover cake around a campfire, and it was low key and lovely.

In terms of vendor selection, we looked for local and woman-run businesses to give our hard earned cash to, and we were not disappointed with the selection in Vermont. It was worth it to us to support our local economy and occasionally pay a bit more to find vendors who we could work with and whose aesthetic we loved. Overall, the idea that our wedding should be inclusive and intentional helped us direct our spending and our time. Big wedding parties and making sure stepparents, aunts and uncles, and sib-in laws got boutonnières raised our budget. Having four ceremony speakers and seven blessing givers made our “quick” ceremony longer. The sense of community was worth the time and expense and ultimately invaluable for us.

What was totally not worth it:

I stressed about wearing glasses at the wedding for months and it wasn’t the straightforward will-I-look-good-in-them stress. It was the “I’m a bad feminist for knowing I care if I wear glasses/Maybe I’ll get contacts/I wear these every day, this is my face” stress. Then about two weeks before the wedding I saw a bride on APW with clear-framed glasses, and I rush ordered a pair. They were a magical compromise. If I had been less wrapped up in the why and looked for possible solutions, I could have saved myself months of stress and the feelings of shame that came with that stress. Also, I’m sure I drove my bridesmaids a lot a bit of crazy with my request for not blue, not green, but deep teal bridesmaids dresses. In the end the they all look blue in the pictures. Mea Culpa.

A few things that helped us along the way:

My twin sister and her wife had gotten married at the same venue four years prior, so when we started brainstorming what we wanted in a venue, they were like yeah go check it out. We already had an ongoing relationship with the venue owners. They loved getting to do another of our family’s weddings, and it became a really easy decision. My sister-in-law was also amazing and stepped up to MC our wedding, and she and our venue coordinator, Helen from Lareau Farm Inn, were a fantastic ad-hoc team who kept the night rolling.

I also had a wedding ride-or-die friend. This was a friend who was getting married around the same time I was, who was also planning a Jewish wedding, and we were both in each other’s weddings. My wedding ride-or-die friend was invaluable because we got to talk about all of the bad, good, and mostly mundane aspects of planning an event over the course of more than a year, and we also were able to help each other out in the “is this a life thing, a wedding thing, or my family thing?” situations and not worry if we were bugging the hell out of our other friends and family about tablecloth colors. (Surprise, neither of us cared about tablecloth colors).

There has been a lot of pressure to DIY things for the type of wedding we were having, and my motto on that was “I’m specific but not artistic.” Etsy was a godsend, and we were very happy to research and find great artists to support while also getting to outsource any possible DIY projects. We also really collaborated with our artistic vendors, and our Ketubah is a great example of this. We found a bear print at a farmers’ market in Portland, Oregon, where we moved to shortly after the wedding, and then I scoured Etsy to find a calligrapher brave enough to write our vows out on an already printed piece of art. The printmaker in Portland shipped the ketubah to Buffalo, New York, and then the calligrapher sent it to us upon completion, and we love it.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Weddings are an emotional time for others around you, and being a bride doesn’t mean any of that will be put on hold for you. Everyone’s life continues around you, and those that seek drama will continue to do so. If you have people in your life that need a request spelled out for them clearly at normal times, do not expect them to surprise you with your secret wants or especially secret needs at your wedding/in the lead up to your wedding. People genuinely want to help you when they ask you for things to do.

Things will not go as planned. The grocery store you ordered lunch from two months ago for the wedding party will forget the order, and lunch will be two hours late. The barber shop the groomsmen are getting hot shaves at won’t remember your reservation. All you can control is your reaction and feelings that day, and it will make all the difference. Unsubscribe from all of those damn wedding checklist countdown emails two to three months before the wedding, and maybe your mom will be spared thirty-five phone calls of “Well, maybe we should do favors/welcome bags/whatever else I can put my nervous energy into” in the weeks leading up to the wedding.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Johnny’s favorite moment of the wedding is when our photographers, Sarah and Jeff, rescued us from a quickly forming and unplanned receiving line and told us to go hide together somewhere just after the ceremony. We got to take a beat, hug, and my sister-in-law ran over with a plate of pickles from the pickle bar (my one catering request) and threw bacon wrapped dates in both our mouths before running off.

My favorite moment was Johnny and I waking up at 6 a.m. the morning of, sitting on the porch outside our room watching the fog rise off the river and write our day-of cards to each other before we split up for the day.

Something else I’d like to share:

I chose to get into my dress with just my mom, sister, and dad which was a beautiful quiet moment in a somewhat hectic morning. My dad officiated our wedding, and in his preparation he had secretly asked for wedding advice from many of the older married guests. He gave out this advice at the ceremony, which made for a very communal feeling during our ceremony. Our chuppah was made by our aunt, from silk we had purchased in Japan. She painted it with the star map that was accurate to the night sky on our wedding night. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar and starts at night, the chuppah is not just a remembrance of our wedding date, but a painting of the beginning of our marriage. Lastly, the confetti cannons set off by guests on behalf of the bridesmaids at the end of the recessional aisle were a complete surprise and felt like a perfect way to set the whole tone of the reception and the after party.


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