Michelle and Andrew’s Santa Cruz Celebration

Where your wedding was held: We wed on a huge enclosed lawn at a public park in Ben Lomond, California. We knew we wanted to have our ceremony and reception at the same place, and the Highlands House and Park in Ben Lomond was perfect because it was affordable, and we could start outside and move inside as the notoriously chilly Santa Cruz evening came upon us.We advertised the wedding as a wedding weekend, hoping that since it was being held on Memorial Day weekend, our family and friends could make a mini-vacation out of it. After the wedding, those who were staying in town met up on Pacific Ave. in downtown Santa Cruz, where we began a post-wedding pub crawl (and made it to last call!). The next day, we all relaxed on the beach playing more games and visiting. It could not have been more fun or more perfect.

What made your wedding creative: Leading up to the wedding, we would often get a kick out of relatives who would tell us how much they were looking forward to this “interesting” and “different” wedding. I suppose what they were referring to is the fact that we didn’t go with traditional simply for the sake of being traditional.
We asked our two best friends to officiate the ceremony together because we wanted it to be personal and we so admire their marriage. We opted to see each other before the wedding (gasp!) and take our portraits then so we would not lose time with our friends and family after the ceremony. Rather than have our guests sit and patiently small talk while waiting for us to finish taking photos and make a grand entrance, we joined them on the lawn to play games, snack and visit before dinner. And we let our small wedding party wear what they were comfortable with. My sisters both chose dresses that were completely their own individual styles, and Andrew’s buddies brought khaki pants and a white shirt with coordinating ties.

When it came to “traditions,” we defied wedding website advice and just let things happen naturally without a schedule (how it probably used to be not too long ago!). As dinner wound down, my dad spontaneously made a beautiful toast. We had our first dance because we moved inside the house and Sarah McLachlan’s “Push” was playing. And there was no cake cutting since the cupcakes were devoured immediately after we moved the party inside.As for the details, my artistic medium of choice is paper, with wood coming in a close second. We designed our invitations, welcome fans (programs), drink tags and all of the instructions signs, which were placed in photo frames I already owned. Armed with scissors, decorative punches, cardstock and scrapbook paper, stamps, ribbon, double-stick tape, and a very compliant home laser printer, we cut, folded, and taped until our fingers were sore.One of the aspects that took me the longest but was completely worth it was scanning in about 100 old family photos and using a web program to turn them into vintage polaroid-style images, which we hung on a line in the entrance to the house. Those were the source of much laughter and reminiscing throughout the evening.What made your wedding thrifty: I am the queen of recycling and reusing! I did not want to spend money on things that felt wasteful or bad for the environment, so I made an effort to use things I already had around the house or could borrow from someone else (lots of baskets, serving platters, photo frames, mason jars), and when I had to buy things, I tried to only buy things I could reuse or sell after the wedding. And I scoured the thrift stores and the flea market before I would pay full price for anything!

From the get-go, I tried to steer clear of any business that had the word wedding in its name. We cut back on vendors big time, only using our rental company for things we couldn’t buy practically (silverware, glassware, market umbrellas). Our tables and chairs were provided by the venue, and I bought bulk fabric at $2 a yard to cut into tablecloths. We ordered most of our food from a nearby BBQ restaurant, then made what we knew we could – a green salad, corn muffins, lemonade and iced tea, snack foods that didn’t need to be prepped (like grapes and strawberries, cheese and crackers, and Goldfish crackers!). My kid sister made cupcakes in lieu of a wedding cake. Dinner was served family-style, and all of the serving dishes came from a local dollar store. And instead of hiring help from a company, we posted to the UC Santa Cruz job board and got four amazing college kids who worked their tails off prepping the food when it arrived and making sure everyone was fed and happy.My aunts made my dress from fabric bought at a discount fabric store in San Jose. Andrew’s jacket came from one store on clearance and his pants from another. I made his tie out of excess dress fabric, a sewing project that only took about two hours. Our photographers, Jenny Lin and her team, are art students who graduated from the high school where we teach. We opted to play music from an iPod instead of hire a DJ. All of the flowers for the wedding were bought at Trader Joe’s for less than $100, and my sisters and I made the bouquets in less than an hour the day before. All included (even rings!), the wedding cost us just under $6,000.What made your wedding sane: First and foremost, knowing that we were not spending a lot of money that we didn’t have kept us really sane. We had been together nine years to the day on our wedding day, and one thing that kept us from getting married earlier was the feeling that weddings were a waste of money. At the end of our wedding weekend, we both agreed that it was totally worth it, but I’m not sure we would have felt the same if it had left us with debt.

The second factor in staying sane was getting help and being flexible. My sisters, parents, grandparents, and aunts were a huge help in the weeks leading up to the wedding. They were willing to take ideas in my head and turn them into tangible things, which was great.

On the day of, we had two major crises. The first was traffic and miscommunication that led to our set-up team arriving late. Instead of freaking out (too much, anyway), we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I ran around the venue in my dress setting up chairs, arranging tables, and unpacking stuff. The second crisis was leaving both my iPod and computer at my grandmother’s house 45 minutes away (Hint: put your system and your backup system in separate boxes). We ended up using one of our groomsmen’s iPod for the ceremony and my cousin’s iPod for the dancing afterward. Since it wasn’t our playlist, she volunteered to be our unofficial DJ for the evening and it worked out just fine.The last thing is almost a Team Practical cliché, but it is so true. We decided at the very beginning which of those wedding things were important to us (a meaningful ceremony, having fun, good food, feeling comfortable), then we cut back on all the rest. At every stage of the process, we asked ourselves, “Is this necessary?” I think that practice, not only in wedding planning but in marriage, helps to keep you sane, or should I say, practical.

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  • What a *lovely* dress! It makes me absolutely swoony.

  • Love this wedding. Can't believe how clever readers of this blog are. I'm also totally in love with your dress!

    And totally agree with you about doing things *simple and sane* is in fact just how people did it not too long ago.

  • I love this wedding! :) and I love santa cruz!

  • i love the photo of her sitting on the chairs by the window, so vintagey fabulous looking!

  • this wedding is beautiful and personal and very similar to what i want for myself.

    thanks for sharing it with us!

  • K

    oh goodness. i am completely smitten with this wedding. and this sane and wonderful bride! congrats michelle and andrew for creating a SUPER FUN wedding that didnt break the bank or cause unnecessary stress and insanity. definitely a practical wedding inspiration :)

  • Looks like an awesome wedding! Congratulations!

  • love, love, love the dress.

    And everything else. :)

  • This is so lovely! We are looking at Highlands House and Quail Hollow Ranch in Felton for our small wedding so it was great to see a party actually taking place in this venue!

    congrats to you both!

  • Beautiful wedding! I love that there was no minute-by-minute schedule… radical, but as you said, probably the way it was done not so far back. It looks like everyone had a blast!

  • This wedding makes me happy! Everything about it just seems FUN. That dress, by the way, is spectacular. Do you think you can share the pattern?

  • What a fun, down to earth, chill wedding. From the photos I NEVER would have guessed that it was only $6k. Makes me wish I spent less on mine!

  • her dress is just beautiful. i was on the hunt for a lovely tea length number but it never materialzed for me…

    what a beautiful wedding. mine is coming up in five months! i can' wait.

    thanks for the daily inspiration.

  • Meg

    Oh Autumn,
    What you spent doesn't matter. What matters is that you were happy, that it was meaningful to you. This is exactly why I usually edit out budget numbers. There is something to be said for reassuring people you can do a wedding on XX amount of money, but remember we are ALL in different situations. Comparing what we spent doesn't make sense. What makes sense is offering each other emotional support, and doing what is right for you, your partner, and your loved ones – if that's 1K, 10K, 20K, or 50K. Being grounded doesn't have a price tag.


  • Oh my, the dress it totally swoon-worthy.

    I wish I had inherited my grandmother's talent for dress making.

  • "being grounded doesn't have a price tag."

    amen, meg.

  • Michelle

    Thanks, Meg, for featuring us! And thank you all for your wonderful compliments. My 70 year old aunts will be thrilled to hear that you all loved my dress as much as I did. They'll probably say, "Of course" and then laugh all in sync like they do.

    As for the budget, it may help to know that my original budget was half what we spent, and it's taken me awhile to stop telling myself that I really could have gone without this or that.

    But in the end, we were okay with what we spent because it made sense for us. I couldn't pull my wedding off for $2,000, but I was totally inspired by the ideas of someone who did. And it did help me to know that it was possible to come in under average.

    Despite going over my budget, up in front of my loved ones with my one someone, money and practicality didn't cross my mind. I was just enjoying that moment and that warm, tingly feeling. Every time I look back at the photos, I get it again. You can't really put a price on that.

    And for MaryKate, my dress was a modified version of McCall's M5001.

  • Oh. My. God. Michelle, yours is the most perfect wedding ever!

    Your dress! Wow! And all the casual happiness of the day :-D

    If I were ever to get married, I would follow the same thinking as you – "Do we really NEED it?"

    I hope your future is happy and full of love :-D

  • what a beautiful wedding… i truly enjoyed reading about it.

  • Hi Michelle

    Any chance you could share the name of the web program you used for the polaroid pictures??

    Lovely wedding BTW.

  • Michelle

    Sure thing. The program is called Poladroid, and after converting the photos, I had them printed at Walgreen's as 4x6es, then cut them down to size.

  • cr

    Oh, I just love this wedding…the dress, the details, the setting it's all so beautiful!

  • This is such an inspiring wedding. I am (gulp!)just starting the planning process and this makes a lovely wedding seem possible on a smallish budget! Thanks for sharing.

  • This is fabulous. I am in the early stages of planning a SC Mountains wedding for next year, and I am leaning heavily towards Highlands Park or Quail Hollow Ranch, which was how I stumbled upon this blog entry. I just wanted to applaud you for such an awesomely thrifty, simple, yet really special event. This is exactly the kind of wedding I want to have, and while I know it will take lots of DIY effort (which is my style anyways), it's really inspiring to see that it CAN be done right in this area for a reasonable amount of money. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • Awesome. Really cool party, venue, dress.
    Santa Cruz is a 'county in the running' for when we get married…but we don't have time to plan yet, so I'm just enjoying some blogs here and there. :D