laney, director of communications & emily, naturalist
Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A karaoke-filled, giant-puppet-accented, self-catered backyard party for 120 of our closest friends.
Planned budget: $4,000
Actual budget: $5,500
Number of guests: 120
LOCATION: St. Paul, Minnesota
Where we allocated the most funds:
Tents, chairs, tables, tablecloths, karaoke, port-a-potty—all of the rental pieces really added up! I’m glad that we sprung for extra seating and enough shade for everyone, but I was surprised by the cost of renting everything for the weekend. In the end we spent about $1,600 on rentals, not much less than we would have paid for a few of the venues we investigated.
Where we allocated the least funds:
With a $4,000 budget for 150 invitees, we tried to cut corners anywhere we could. We spent the absolute least on our outfits and the physical space. I found my dress on Etsy for $50 and made a little paper floral crown to match. Emily got some great deals on slick duds from Banana Republic. We used my parents’ backyard for venue (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and traded landscaping sweat equity for a free and beautiful backdrop for the festivities. Emily’s father, Bill, and stepmother, Trina, contributed all the beer, wine, and champagne, and Emily’s mother made more than one thousand cookies for a cake-replacing cookie buffet.
What was totally worth it:
Hiring a photographer! Emily and I went back and forth on whether or not we wanted to spring for a professional or rely on friends and family to capture the day. Neither of us love having our picture taken, and I felt strongly that this was a significant expense we could safely cut. The more we talked it through, however, the clearer it became that photos were a meaningful way of celebrating family and friends and remembering their attendance. A friend recommended Evan Frost, a photojournalist who works for our local public radio station and moonlights as an event photographer. Evan gave us a great deal and was a delight to work with, and the photos he delivered were beautiful, candid, and perfectly captured the emotion of the day.
What was totally not worth it:
Both Emily and I have experience planning large-scale events for our jobs, and initially we thought that we could throw the whole thing together with limited help from friends and family. We worried about burdening them with tasks leading up to the event, and we hated thinking that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy themselves during the party. That worry, and the stress it caused as we tried to plan things alone, was completely not worth it. As soon as we asked for help, our friends and family were right there. There was still a lot to do, but it didn’t feel overwhelming.
A few things that helped us along the way:
Spreadsheets! Binders! Lists! I come from a long line of Type A women, and as soon as my mother was given free rein to help, she compiled a (no joke) twenty-two-page wedding planning document. That little doc was the only reason we had things like a program, for example, or a welcome table.
Leaning into our strengths and passions. Emily is a dedicated forager of mushrooms and other wild edibles, and she is an amazing builder. She collected hundreds of black trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms for dinner and guest gift bags, and built a solid, gorgeous dance floor over three garden beds in the space of a weekend. I’m a former caterer, and I dredged up all of my big-pots knowledge to plan out the meal. I tapped my former coworkers at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre for puppet rentals. The things that people will remember about that day are things that we loved doing and that reflected who we are as a couple.
Having incredible, talented friends and family. My best friend was our officiant, and she knocked it out of the park. Our pal EG volunteered to be KJ for the night, and she was transcendent. My parents and Emily’s mom drafted out of town friends who went above and beyond as volunteers, manning the kitchen, creating signs, stringing lights and puppets. My sister acted as our day-of coordinator, and she loved the experience so much she’s considering wedding planning as a career.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Stop worrying so much about money. I had a tough time spending this amount of money on a single day, and throughout our planning process my sweet and patient wife had to coax me into every purchase that was not—strictly speaking—necessary. In the end, I was grateful to her. I’m glad we had an extra tent! I’m happy that we had beautiful gift bags and white chairs and multiple strings of cafe lights and pork for the meat eaters (Emily and I are vegetarian). All of those things made our guests feel more welcome, and that’s what this was all about.
Favorite thing about the wedding:
Our first dance. Emily and I both love to move, and twirling around with her to Luther Vandross over our handmade, hand-painted dance floor was something that I want to fix in my memory forever.
Something else We’d Like to Share:
It’s okay to make last minute changes if things aren’t feeling right. Emily and I had initially planned on a two-day camping wedding at a Minnesota state park. We sent out save the dates, reserved the space, and started making plans. We love to camp, and it didn’t occur to us that others might… not. The spot we chose was scenic but secluded, and the non-wilderness accommodations were limited. When family members and friends started calling with questions about nearby motels, we realized that we were asking a little too much. With three months to go until the day of the wedding, we canceled our reservation and moved the party to my parents’ backyard. It worked out! In fact, looking back, I can’t imagine it any other way.