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!

PLANNED BUDGET: $20,000
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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.


The Info:

Photographer: Evangeline Lane | Wedding Location: Twentynine Palms, CA | Venue Name: 29 Palms Inn | Becca’s Dress: Shareen Bridal | Becca’s Shoes: Seychelles | Becca’s Flower Crown: Katie Machaiek (amazing SFX artist and headgear fabricator) | Cake and Desserts: SOO N Food | Invitations and Papergoods: Graphic Designer Amy Fortunato | Rings: Simply Wood Rings |  Justin’s Clothes: Nordstrom Rack | Decor and Flowers: Hillary, a kick-ass Production Designer | Bridal Party Hair: Lara | Bridal Party Makeup: Heather, along with Carsen LaBella, ace Makeup and Hair Stylist | Punch Supplies: Bevmo | Vuvuzelas: Oriental Trading Company

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  • BB

    “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.”

    Yes, ma’am!

  • Erin

    Love it! Can I just say I totally feel you on the bridesmaid “wear whatever you want” thing? I tried to take that route and I could tell it was just stressing all of them out to the max, so I finally just went online and ordered 3 identical dresses. They were relieved. Sometimes being a “chill bride” is more work than its worth. They could wear banana costumes for all I care, but they care, so I picked.

    • clairekfromtheuk

      I hear ya ladyfriend.

      I went on about how they could wear what they wanted and they didn’t have to be matching. Then they came out of a changing room in one of the bazillion shops we went to, in matching dresses, holding hands, and sheepishly told me they *wanted* to be matching

      God love ’em

  • kate

    man, I so relate to almost everything you wrote – from the bridesmaid dress thing to worrying about being “too weddingy” to managing our expectations and worrying about others’ around a lot of ditched traditions and non-traditional choices. too bad this feature didn’t come out like 2 months ago. ;)

    anyway, this looks SO FUN and like exactly the kind of wedding i want to go to for all time.

    • Jess

      yeah, I’m so grateful I opened this one today. It reminded me to call my girlfriends and find some of that weddingy happiness I’m not letting myself feel for worrying about everyone else’s happiness. Because this wedding looks like FUN.

      • Becca Kinskey

        Wow! That is so great to hear! Enjoy it, every last weird to navigate moment!

  • Kate

    I am social media friends with one of the bridesmaids of this wedding and I’ve been DYING to see the pictures! Becca is a dream indie bride, so funny and down to earth and this all looked so dreamy and fun!

    I also said “wear whatever!” to my bridesmaids and it was just as much trouble as telling them what to wear. If they need to be told, it’s true, just tell em! Sometimes they just want to make you happy. :)

    • She is a dream!! Spot on.

    • Becca Kinskey

      Kate! Which BMaid do you know? That is a very nice thing you’ve said, I’ll take it! And I’ll also get some pics up on FB soon to feed the beast… I promise.

      • Kate

        Hi Becca! I know Ani from Shakespeare Camp waaaaaay back and we’ve kept in touch. I see that we have some other mutual friends on Facebook including Nina Ball and Nic and Brigitte Knerr. In any case, your wedding looks AMAZE and you looked gorgeous and best of all happy and chill when rolling with the punches. Major congrats!

  • Seriously one of my favorite weddings that we’ve ever photographed. Becca you are amazing! I had no doubt that you would write really sound advice but you’ve proven that you are even more eloquent and completely rad than I thought ;) Fantastic article, my friend! PS- Since Evan and I were shooting and didn’t get to taste any of the punch perhaps we’ll have to schedule a punch party date soon!

    • Becca Kinskey

      Oh my god, yes, totally! Since for some dumb reason we’ve followed up getting married in April with buying a fixer upper in September, there’s definitely a house warming looming on the horizon! But if we need to get drunk before then, and we probably will, we’ll hit you up!

      And seriously – I’ll say it right here on APW for all the world to hear – you were so fantastic and truly helped us articulate and plan for some of the more memorable moments of the day. Glad you got paid otherwise I wouldn’t know how to thank you! ;)

      • HA! Thanks for the laugh out loud chuckle this morning. You can 1. forgive us for not attending your fourth of July party 2. Invite us to your housewarming 2. Feed us punch

        <3 <3 <3

  • Rachel

    Yoooooooo! This is an awesome wedding. Does anyone know where to get those gold table runners? They are killer!

    • Jess

      Same exact thought.

    • Becca Kinskey

      These were also part of my Oriental Trading Company wish fulfillment-cum-wedding. Oh wait – Party City online actually! http://www.partycity.com/product/gold+15ft+metallic+floral+sheeting.do

      We cut them in half (width-wise) for the table runners though I wouldn’t have minded if we’d just used the whole width instead!

  • northstar599

    1. I adore your wedding philosophy. Rock on. 2. I’m sorry, your DJ… left? WHAT?

    • Becca Kinskey

      Yeah… he was a killer DJ who is a friend of a friend and definitely a character. Its more appropriate to what the day was, in some way, that he just took off, and it ended up creating space for our best friends, who we secretly wanted to DJ but didn’t want to ask to “work” our wedding, to do it anyway. House party vibes 4ever.

      • sujumyeolchi

        I aspire to embody your levels of chill (because i would flip out and maybe cry, and i think i’m often low-maintenance!) as well as your aesthetic. that last photo?!?! damn. this is one of my favorite weddings i’ve seen in a while!

  • Kay

    This whole thing is amazing, but how has nobody mentioned the woman in the light green suit with wedges yet? LOVE.

    • My favorite outfit! She looked KILLER.

    • eating words

      Yesyes, my favorite too!

  • Clare Caulfield

    This wedding has such an awesome vibe, love it And thanks for posting

    Unfortunately I think the headline is a little misleading-going in I was thinking “wow she has roughly the same budget as me and invited lots of people too, gonna show mother to prove it can be done” only to read that a vast majority of the usual vendor gigs were filled by friends. I have some talented pals too but I felt a little cheated by the heading as the end product would have cost a lot more without this in leu of gift style help. APW is so special in that it presents budgets realistically, I think this misses the mark

    • eating words

      I actually disagree. Everyone has a different way of allocating their spending, and on APW I never assume that they’re going to have a certain way of achieving a particular budget.

    • Becca Kinskey

      While I didn’t write the headline, if there’s any help I can be in explaining our process for hitting this number via all the means we did, let me try.

      We hadn’t actually intended to get so much help from friends, but when it was either offered or surprisingly easily agreed to, that was definitely a big weight off the budget. But – if it hits your parameters better – we paid for all the materials for these items ourselves, and we gave gifts and even paid a few of our friends, though they were kind enough to give us discounts.

      I work as a producer, so I went in thinking I knew all the tricks to put on a great but cheap show, and I was shocked at how quickly wedding expenses added up. So I absolutely empathize with trying to crack the wedding budget nut!

      Part of the mounting costs were due to the wedding industrial complex, and part of this are the geegaws & extras I mentioned in the post. Here’s an example of how I tried to budget around both of those.

      Wedding industrial complex: very hard to find a wedding venue in LA for the size of our party for less than 5k (just for space rental) for 8 hours. Solution: the Inn in the desert was $2500 (for space rental) for the weekend! Geegaw: a “nice” dinner catered by the Inn would have cost us $28-37/head. Solution: the burger bar cost us $20. I don’t remember if we had hors d’oeuvres which may or may not tell you something if you’re trying to decide if you should – perhaps ours blew away in the wind storm or just my benign fugue state.

      Maybe a better example: Even when we did keep a geegaw, we kept it in moderation. Flowers, for example, came from the LA’s wholesale flower market, purchased a couple days before by our lovely designer/friend (which we paid for), and we restricted them to just a bouquet for myself, sprigs for the bridesmaids, and boutonnieres/the lady word for boutonnieres for the wedding party. Friend & moderation discounts meant this cost us like $300 instead of… who knows?

      Centerpieces were succulent pot things – I picked up the succulents myself ($200 or so, plus pots at another $70 or so), and three friends and I spent a Saturday morning drinking & planting. Oh, also we smoked weed!

      Save the Dates, Invites, Place cards – our lovely friend Amy designed them for us for “free” (i.e her time, expertise & care), we paid approx $500 to have them printed, did all the folding, enveloping, addressing & stamping ourselves; you could replace Amy (though I would NEVER!) with Zazzle or Minted and start to hit the same price point. And we made sure to give Amy a nice gift.

      Our brilliant friend Saehee was just starting her catering & baking business and made our amazing desserts for cost (i.e. we paid for the supplies). That was a bit of serendipity, but I’m able to sleep at night thinking I was helping to support our friend at a transitional time in her life. And we gave her a nice gift.

      Etc.

      I hope none of this comes off as defensive by way of protesting too much, but the point is I would not have gone in to this thinking I would have had/asked for/been graced with THIS MUCH HELP, but it is actually what made the numbers work and in APW style I tried to be excruciatingly transparent about that, along with adjusting what we needed help with in the first place.

      And perhaps the greatest serendipity of all is living, working & friending in one of the greatest creative cities on earth, Los Angeles. Whatever anybody else wants to say, this town is a constantly spinning Lazy Susan of hiring, favoring, gifting, supporting, attending and reciprocating, and I know about 15 ladies who have whatever favor I can bestow coming their way for any special days they have in the future.

      Hope this helped!

      • Clare Caulfield

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed response Becca, lots of great ideas, thanks for sharing.

        • Becca Kinskey

          *tips cap*

  • LaikaCatMeow

    HEY I KNOW BECCA!! Would be lying if I wasn’t totally jealous and totally obsessed with the pictures that popped up on Facebook post-wedding. Really cool to see the “behind the scenes” — but now would feel really guilty also having a desert wedding! (It’s always been my first choice!!) Congrats, lady!

    • Becca Kinskey

      The desert is for everyone! Do it girl!

  • Kiera

    Beautiful wedding!! The advice about the bridesmaid dresses is super helpful as I’m doing something similar and am getting the feeling it is burdensome which is not what i intended!

    My complaint is with the title to this post; as many other similar posts go, it starts out about how a wedding went under a certain amount but inevitably the author states that many items/services were done by family and friends. I think it is wonderful that so many people have so many creative and helpful friends & family, but it skews the whole wedding budget topic.

  • Pingback: Desert Beauty: Becca & Justin | Shareen()

  • brakell-basicinvite

    Obsessing over the brides flower crown! Looks like such a fun and laid back day. Gorgeous!

  • Jaq Vega

    $20,000 is A LOT of money, and it does not look well spent (or even spent at all) from the look of these pictures…