How We Had a Fabulous 145 Person Wedding in the Desert for $20K (Despite a Surprise Hailstorm)

Nothing like walking down a makeshift aisle to a chorus of Vuvuzelas

 Becca, TV producer & Justin, TV writer & producer

SUM-UP OF THE WEDDING VIBE: Making it as easy as possible for people to have the most (drunk) fun possible—AKA a slimmer itinerary of events, more opportunities to enjoy the time, place, and each other. And then it rained!

ACTUAL BUDGET: Probably a little north of $20k—I kept an eye on it until a couple weeks out, when we stopped sweating the details too much
NUMBER OF GUESTS: 145 or so—some great last minute adds!

Where we allocated the most funds

The venue, which included the food, beer, and corkage. That came to about $15,000 for the space rental, amazing service from the entire Inn staff, food and drink at the ceremony, as well as a light brunch the next morning. Additionally, they let us set up any time on Saturday and clean up anytime Sunday. My job is all about doing the same type of things on a schedule, and I really didn’t want the wedding to feel like I was working, so this was an awesome selling point.


The Inn was incredible—not only was it just the sort of space we wanted (our family and friends were able to book out the whole place for the weekend), but when it suddenly hailed and rained in the high desert ten minutes before our ceremony, they moved the whole shebang from a big lawn to a tiny tent within minutes. And the bartender kept pouring drinks in the rain. Hell yes.


Where we allocated the least funds

We really tried to limit all the geegaws and events that somehow just accrue on a modern wedding, i.e. programs, favors, garter and garter-adjacent things, fancy flowers, showers, luncheons, table settings, cake cuttings, first dances, bouquet tosses, and receiving lines. If it didn’t feel enjoyable to us to pay for it or sit through it, we booted it! And especially if we hadn’t heard of or couldn’t intuit what something was for (ESCORT CARDS), it was gone.

We were also lucky to have many talented and generous friends who donated stellar services at or below cost. Our desert spread, invitations and paper goods, the decor and flowers, the bridal party’s hair and makeup, choosing wine and champagne, my flower crown, and our day-of coordination were all handled by talented women who are our good friends. My sister wove a beautiful rug for us to stand on for the ceremony; our officiant was my best friend’s dad (who is a judge); friends helped us with last minute details like alphabetizing place cards, and my mom, aunt, and I made the punch cocktail from scratch.

What was totally worth it

The booze and the vuvuzelas!

Originally I’d thought a wedding without a massive gourmet meal just wouldn’t convey our gratitude to our nearest and dearest, but when we looked at the cost it was easy to decide on burgers instead. Ha! Most wedding food is whatever anyway, so why not something that’s just simple and delicious? We also made that choice so we COULD retain a thing that would make it our wedding, which is Chatham Artillery Punch, a superfluously alcoholic cocktail we bust out a couple times a year. Keeping the punch, along with deciding to start serving before the ceremony, meant everyone was good and liquored up when the rain came, and the new development became a fun thing happening to partying people instead of a problem.

We landed on vuvuzelas right after we decided not to do favors—we couldn’t think of anything that didn’t feel like a thing people would just have to find space for in their suitcases or yet another tote bag, and had decided to just forego it. Then I suggested vuvuzelas. We both thought the idea of loud bleating throughout the ceremony and reception was funny enough to be worth the $240 cost, and it satisfied my lifelong dream of ordering a gross of something from Oriental Trading Company. They were originally how we planned to give out seating assignments, but turned out to be the sole musical accompaniment to my walk down the aisle under a rain soaked tent full of our tipsy loved ones. We were right: it was very funny, as well as bizarrely heart warming.

Our photographer was also totally worth it, and a more generally applicable answer to this question! Even with the Photo Stream our family and friends contributed to, we wouldn’t have the beautiful portraits that we never would have set up ourselves, and we’re so glad we do.

What was totally not worth it

This answer has two closely intertwined parts. The first half of the answer is that it was totally not worth it to worry about whether our families and guests were going to enjoy themselves, particularly with some of the less traditional choices here and there. A small example of this is the aforementioned burgers (would people be annoyed they’d hauled themselves out to the desert and then been fed a burger?), and a bigger and more difficult example of this was choosing not to do father-daughter or mother-son dances (would they know they we still loved them but didn’t want to ask our guests to stare at us dancing with our parents for three minutes?).

The second half of the answer is then worrying about whether we should make different choices, even though we liked those choices for ourselves. In such an emotionally laden event, all you can really do is go on your and your most trusted person’s gut, so we (and especially I) should have just skipped the wishy washing.

Which is another way of saying it wasn’t worth it to worry about whether the wedding was for ourselves or for other people. It’s a bit of both, but in the end the only experience we had of the wedding was ours, and we had a great time.

And also not sure if you heard, but it hella rained right before the ceremony, so everything got shoved into a tiny tent, our DJ took off without telling us, and the entire agenda was shot to pieces. We didn’t end up doing anything but getting hitched, eating semi-cold food while our friends toasted us in a windstorm, and then dancing to our buddy’s Spotify DJing. So just try not to worry, it’s a party, it’s your singularly expensive party, you’re gonna have a great time!

A few things that helped us along the way

Perusing but not obsessing on wedding websites—APW, Offbeat Bride, even The Knot if we had a decorum question or two. These are great references, but for me personally, I couldn’t live and breathe wedding—I’ve had a lot of great parties and I’ll have a lot of great parties, and keeping it in perspective helped keep it enjoyable.

My family was really helpful without being pushy. My sister got married five years ago, so her and my brother-in-law’s recollections and advice were pretty fresh. My parents in particular gave us a nice wide berth to just do our thing, including handling the budget how we saw best even though they were paying for it. My parents in general were just easy and hands off but there in a heartbeat if we needed something. They really killed it as parents from planning to the wedding itself.

Having friends contribute many of the elements of the day actually gave us a nice reason to connect with them in the months leading up, and talk and reflect about the wedding in a way we might not have with wedding professionals. They also listened to me rattle on about details and decisions even though I’m sure it couldn’t have been that interesting, but it was part of my process, and I’m grateful to them for it.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Giving yourself limits or things you just won’t give up is helpful. As much as I like to think I’m thrifty and resourceful, we could have easily had a much more expensive wedding if we didn’t have a bottom-line number. And as much as we occasionally worried it was a hassle for people to get out to the desert, we knew that was the place we wanted to be in for this day, which kept our search and planning focused. Et cetera!

Chill bride alert: I realllllllly didn’t want to “assign” dresses or even colors to the bridesmaids, because I wanted everyone to feel like themselves, so I tried to give them a pretty open palette and general guidelines. I could kinda tell that that was more rather than less stressful for some of them, and I tried to be as helpful as possible: I looked at every dress they emailed, did a lot of e-styling and emailing myself… but it turns out you can dig your heels in on not forcing a choice on people just as hard as dictating some dumb dress. If you can tell they just want to be told what to wear, just tell them what to wear, mama!

The only other thing is that I sometimes struggled, not being an overly wedding-oriented girl, with whether I was, in any given moment, being “too wedding-y” or “that kind of girl” or avoiding feeling too Pinterest-y. It was a worthwhile struggle because I got to reflect on, you know, culture and womanhood and my place in it, but I also wish I had just given in to experiencing it a little more. My bridesmaids were really helpful in this regard—ladies be ladying!

Favorite thing about the wedding

Coming into that tiny tent with our family and friends crammed in on their feet, playing their vuvuzelas and singing “Bride bride bride bride!” because no one could remember the words to “Here Comes the Bride.” It was like walking into a 150-person hug—so much more fun than the wedding we had planned, and an overwhelming demonstration of why we love all those people.


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