Max, Artist, Designer, Grad Student & Gareth, Data Scientist
One sentence sum up of the wedding vibe: “Look like an elf, party like a hobbit.”
Planned Budget: $20,000
Actual Budget: $18,000
Number of Guests: 78
Location: Mendocino, California
Where we allocated the most funds:
Photography, which was a high priority for both of us, and once we saw Julie’s work we just couldn’t imagine anyone else taking our photos. This was a thousand percent worth it, and we are so happy with the magical images we got. (When we ended up behind on time and didn’t get golden hour sunset photos, Julie suggested we get up at 5 a.m. and meet her in wedding clothes to take more photos at dawn. And holy smokes I am so glad we did this, even if it was rough getting up that early the morning after.)
After that it would be dinner: the rentals and food added up despite our venue being free (or maybe because of it? A blank venue ends up having more costs). We got a good deal on rentals by paying the full balance up front, and there was a local discount too, so always ask about discounts.
My mom sourced and gathered all of the charcuterie and even got an extra fridge on swap shop to keep in the garage and fill up with cheese (she’s the best), as well as getting desserts from all over. My papa taste tested and then purchased all the wine for us when the local grocery was having it’s discounted case deal, and Gareth’s parents surprised us by bringing a few cases of Rosé up with them, which was very much appreciated.
Where we allocated the least funds:
Decor for sure. DIY totally helped us stay on (under!) budget here. I designed and produced the save the dates and invitations, and I did all the calligraphy. My mom made the napkins and matching aprons for the servers, and I allowed myself a week to do crafty stuff after my school semester ended and before the wedding, which is when I made all the banners and tassels as well as the wedding piñata.
We spent $0 on flowers because it felt like one of the easiest things to cut and both venues had such natural beauty. Instead of flowers we had ferns gathered from the forest the morning of by Gareth, and some white paper and candles on the table. I didn’t even intend to have a bouquet until Gareth mentioned it might be nice, so I made one for myself quickly in the morning before heading to the salon.
All the signage used felt letter boards ordered from Amazon, which were all gifted to family and friends after (I kept one that now hangs in my studio), and even the sweetheart table signs were something I already had left over and just repurposed. The only splurgy decor item was the wedding flag, which was flying from the playhouse next to our sweetheart table and it was only $100.
One of my favorite items was the kissing tent, and it was a totally scrappy solution to the in-ground clothes drying rack in a corner of the backyard. Since it was not removable, my mom suggested draping it with textiles, filling it with pillows, and calling it a kissing tent. This was totally free—all of the textiles were hers or borrowed from friends and I brought some led light strings to add to the ambiance—and I saw quite a few couples sneaking over to check it out throughout the evening.
What was totally worth it:
The whole thing! I was team elope, and only planning a wedding because it was important to my partner. I never expected to feel this way, but on the day I realized I would totally do it all over again because it really was so magical and special to get to share it with our friends and family.
Crafting our own ceremony. Having my best friend (who introduced us and then sent us to a masquerade ball together after dressing me up just like a fairy godmother—true story!) be our officiant, and writing our own ceremony was incredibly special. This was totally daunting, but in the end some very important conversations about what partnership meant and what we wanted from our marriage led to a truly personal ceremony. People came up to us after (and wrote later) to tell us it was the most personal and meaningful ceremony they’d heard. Saying the words we’d written together was incredibly special, and we were very proud of how well it represented us.
Getting married in my hometown was a huge advantage. All the vendors knew me and my family, and we got deals for things like, being able to set up on Thursday and take down the following Wednesday, or my papa doing some work for them previously. There were also just so many offers of help, there were always extra hands there if my mom needed assistance.
Also, paying for our wedding ourselves, which often when I looked at numbers felt way scary, but in the end really allowed us to do what we wanted and have autonomy over our day.
What was totally not worth it:
Hair and makeup. The vendor was fine, but communication with her was awful. She took weeks to get back to us and was very reticent to do a contract with us. My mom had to go there in person to get it. Day of, I was done late after being bullied into getting my hair styled. At that point they informed us we had to pay for makeup and hair separately but were unable to give us totals. We were getting “Where are you?” texts from our photographer and day-of coordinator, and it made us both feel rushed and frazzled and late for photos. I wish we’d just given our pre-prepared envelope with check and cash tip to my mom and had her sort it out, which I know she’s capable of. Instead we spent a half hour figuring it out. Lesson learned.
The DJ, who we didn’t have great communication with. I had to tell him day-of what our first dance song was. Our guests contributed requests, and we made a kick butt playlist, and he didn’t play anything on it. He also showed up late and left early (miscommunication), but luckily we had asked my cousin who is an amazing electronic DJ to do a set to close out the night, and she stepped in and DJed the entire party. It was totally amazing. We are very grateful she got us out of that tight spot.
A few things that helped us along the way:
We learned so much about communicating with each other. We learned it’s okay to delegate and ask for help. I was too stressed and busy to plan, and Gareth wasn’t interested in taking it all on, though he was involved in most decisions and contributed a lot. However, my mom did very much want to plan our wedding! So we gave her our budget spreadsheet and an overview, and she took it from there.
My hometown is a small and tight-knit community (my high school class was eighteen, just for size context) and everyone knew me and my family, so we definitely got some really good deals. In addition to rentals, the bathrooms were free to us (my papa did a trade for them), our day-of coordinator, the cottage we stayed at in town, the brownies and lemon bars, even our breakfast the morning of our wedding were all gifted to us. The whole town did everything they could to make my partner feel welcomed, and it was truly a community-wide effort, which made the week leading up to it as we were getting everything ready so incredibly positive and love filled.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Just do what you can, don’t sweat the small stuff, as long as you are both there and happy to be getting married… everything else is just (wonderful) extras.
Also, to go with my gut more. I saw myself in a green velvet dress, but that seemed weird and too out there. I’m so glad my partner was a champion of me being me, so I got to have my dream wedding outfit (and also all the magic pixie dust from my dressmaker Aleksandra who made my dreams come true, and now I’m getting it hemmed and get to wear it for pretty much every fancy occasion for the rest of my life!!). I got so much pushback against this because so many people felt (and said loudly) that I would not look or feel bridal, and that I was missing out on the experience of wedding dress shopping. But I felt so beautiful and so much more like myself than I ever would have in a white gown.
People have opinions about everything, and there were times when I cried because of thoughtless things that were said: to not have a wedding party, to have very unique rings, to have a piñata and fire truck exit, to get ready together, I could go on. But I am so happy for each choice we made that went against the grain but felt like us.
Favorite thing about the wedding:
Max: The walk to the ceremony. It was less than ten minutes, just the two of us, grinning and walking past all these locations of memories from my life. As we rounded the corner we could see Cypress Grove and the spot just down road my parents got married thirty-five years earlier. Arriving to our wedding ceremony together felt really good. It felt like how we wanted to begin our marriage.
Gareth: The speeches. Hearing stories from loved ones about us as individuals and as a couple, about how the community had come together for us, and how they were all wishing us a happily ever after. We cried, we laughed, we cheered.