The Secret to Planning a 40 Person Miami Wedding with Only 21 Days and $1700? Grilled Cheese*

*and a water gun fight. And fresh donuts. And pancake bacon cupcakes. And bubbles.

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Nat, Management Trainee at a construction materials company & Juni, Silkscreen Printer, Illustrator and Designer at Hej Juni 

sum-up of the wedding vibe: A laid-back hang out full of grilled cheese and laughter.

Planned Budget: $2000
Actual Budget: $1700ish
Number of Guests: 40

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Budget Breakdown:

Venue: $0—friends’ backyard
Photographer: $600
Food Truck: $550
Dessert: $100
Cake Stand and Cupcake Stand: $55
Favors: $55
Papel Picados: $60
Flowers: $20
Disposable Tablecloths: $40
Tents: $0—borrowed from our church
Stationery: $0—we skipped formal invites
Makeup and Hair: $0—Juni did these herself
Borrowed Tables and Chairs: $0—thanks to our lovely friends
Rented Tables and Chairs: $70
Tips and Gifts for Vendors: $100

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Where we allocated the most funds

It was a spontaneous moment when my husband and I decided that we would have a belated reception to celebrate our courthouse elopement. Armed with a modest budget and three weeks’ time, we didn’t have much to work with. Even then, it was a no brainer that we would splurge on photography and food. These two categories alone took up about three quarters of our budget. We knew for sure that we wanted the food to be knockout amazing and to have a photographer to capture the good times. We found our wonderful photographer, Julia, while I was desperately searching for photographers in the South Florida area. Keep in mind that we were looking for someone on three weeks’ notice who wasn’t booked on a Saturday in the middle of wedding season. Almost everyone I emailed was fully booked, but many of these photographers generously included recommendations of other local photographers I could contact. One of those recommended gems was Darling Juliet Photography. She was a lifesaver—she was available (a huge deal when your party is three weeks away…), her portfolio was gorgeous, and she fit in our budget.

We knew right away that we would like to have a food truck parked in the backyard, serving up freshly cooked food to our guests. There are plenty of fantastic food trucks in Miami, and I thought this would be the easy peasy part of planning. Surprise! I was wrong. I ended up pulling my hair out over this one truck that just refused to talk to me in any way. No one ever picked up the calls, I emailed three different email addresses multiple times, I left voice messages. Nothing. No call backs, no email replies. It was bizarre and frustrating, but I should have known to just turn my attention elsewhere. We ended up contacting Ms. Cheezious, which is in our humble opinions THE best grilled cheese food truck in the universe. The staff there were prompt in their responses and offered us a mouthwatering menu. If anyone’s ever in the Miami area, please do yourself a favor and hit up Ms. Cheezious. Pro tip: the pulled pork grilled cheese is mindblowing.

For dessert, we drove thirty minutes to the closest Krispy Kreme and bought four dozen donuts. Worried that wouldn’t be enough, we also ordered four dozen mini cupcakes from Cloud 9 Bakery. The cupcake flavors were pancakes and bacon, and guava and cheese. Pancakes and bacon! Guava and cheese!

If we’re not “cheating” and include Juni’s outfit, it cost almost as much as the food and photography did. The reason we didn’t count it in our budget is that the outfit was technically custom made for a more formal event for our family. The original custom-made outfit included the amazing glittery bodysuit and a floor length skirt. I switched the skirt out for a tea length one I already owned for this more laid-back reception. Side note for extremely petite brides like me, if you’re also despairing at wedding dress sizes and the ridiculously sized sewn in bra pads, getting a custom-made dress was one of the best decisions we made. I was so nervous and stressed about spending so much money on a piece of clothing, but the whole experience was incredibly body positive and affirming for someone who has spent her whole life in clothes that are too loose in some part of her body. Bonus: I now own extremely comfortable and beautiful separates that I can keep wearing.

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Where we allocated the least funds

We spent zero dollars on our venue, makeup, and stationery. Dear friends graciously let us borrow their backyard, and I did my own makeup because I dislike having people fuss with my hair and face. We did away with paper invites altogether, which was an extremely hard decision to make. As a stationery designer, I wanted so badly to design the prettiest invitation suite anyone had ever laid eyes on. But no matter which way we tried to swing it, it was added cost that we couldn’t afford, and it didn’t quite make sense to send out invites for a party only three weeks away. We set up a Facebook event and talked to people in person. In the end, the money saved was well worth it.

We spent a grand total of $113 on decor. We kept things simple with disposable tablecloths from Walmart (Yup, Walmart for a wedding reception guys. No shame here) and colorful papel picados I found on Luna Bazaar. The flamingo cake topper was from my own shop, which I obviously gave to myself for free. We dropped by our local florist the day before and spent $20 on loose flowers that we arranged into glass soda bottles we had been saving.

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What was totally worth it

Blowing off formal invitations so that we could splurge on awesome food. We are firm believers that good food is essential to having a good party. Almost every guest told us how awesome the food was and how much they enjoyed their dinner. That’s a big win in our books. Hiring a professional photographer was also worth every penny. I know that if Julia wasn’t there to capture the moments for us, I would have been constantly worrying that every happy moment of this party was just slipping away undocumented. Having a photographer around left us free to enjoy the party and be a hundred percent there to soak in the joy of celebrating with loved ones.

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What was totally not worth it

Chasing after that one food truck that, for whatever reason, never ever responded. Both this truck and Ms. Cheezious had rave reviews, but we thought that our lactose intolerant guests would be inconvenienced if we had grilled cheese. In the end, Ms. Cheezious absolutely killed it, and they even had a special coconut based “cheese” for our lactose intolerant guests. We should have spared ourselves the angst and moved on way sooner.

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A few things that helped us along the way

Our lovely friends who let us use their backyard helped immensely. Not only did they offer up their backyard, they went out of their way to help make guests comfortable and even arranged for bubbles and sidewalk chalk for the little kids. Almost all our tents, tables, and chairs were borrowed from various friends. This saved us a significant sum of money and we ended up paying only $70 to rent a handful of chairs from a local party place. Looking back, everything ended up looking a little mismatched but, in my opinion, totally awesome. Our friends contributed so much, and I’d rather enjoy that love than have perfectly coordinated things.

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My best practical advice for my planning self

Three weeks isn’t a terribly long time to plan a wedding reception. It sure isn’t enough time to make things perfect and get all the things you ideally want. That’s totally okay. Take a deep breath, remember the whole point of this party is to celebrate your joy with friends. They love you and are so happy for you, they couldn’t care less about how many dairy free options there are or whether the chairs match. They will come anyway and love the heck out of you.

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Favorite thing about the wedding

Toast time. This was entirely impromptu; we hadn’t planned for formal toasts because it wasn’t a wedding ceremony. By this time, a chunk of our guests had already gone home. Those left were sitting around the table drinking rum and coke out of red solo cups and laughing our butts off at the sweet yet funny speeches our friends were making. I have wonderful memories of sitting on my husband’s lap and laughing so hard I thought my face might split in half. Another favorite moment is when our friends went crazy over the water pistol favors and started a mini water fight during dinner. Priceless.

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Credits

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