How We Planned a Casual Montana Barn Wedding for $8K

With cloudy skies and a chance of double rainbows

Dani, Artist and University Employee & Chris, Musician and IT Professional

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Casual Montana wedding, with a chance of thunderstorms and double rainbows.

Planned Budget: $9,000

Actual Budget: $8,000-ish; you stop counting after a while.

Number of Guests: 70

Where we allocated the most funds

A good portion of our money, generously donated by my parents, went to the venue, which was just out of this world beautiful. Sure, it may not look like much, probably a bit shanty to those looking for a bit more indoor plumbing, but we fell in love the moment we first checked it out. The people that run the Barn were an absolute treat to work with. The setting was so beautiful that I didn’t feel the need to decorate very much: just some simple gilded glass, butcher paper for drawing, and blue tablecloths. Plus, there was a large orange tabby named Bob that greeted us and the guests. Can’t get better than that!

We decided from the get-go that an amazing photographer was extremely important to us. Luckily for us, I just so happened to know a top-notch photographer from a previous job. Loren and Katie, his wife, were worth their weight in gold. Or printer ink—whichever is more expensive. Being the generous person that he is, Loren also gave us gorgeous engagement photos. He and Katie made everything seem so comfortable, even when we were being staged for photographs, it was still so fun. They were ninja artists, grabbing candids, making everything feel so natural.

Of course, we decided that splurging on food would be a good idea. We believe that a wedding can be beautiful, the service lovely, but if the food sucks everyone will remember and comment on that. Not that we think food *needs* to be expensive to be good; it’s just in a small place like Bozeman, good catered food (that was willing to deal with my silly dietary restrictions) tends to be a bit expensive. Food for Thought, in Four Corners, Montana, was so lovely and so open to what we had in mind. Who doesn’t love breakfast? Especially breakfast for dinner?? They were more than happy to help us create a menu that was both different and just damn delicious.

Where we allocated the least funds

We probably spent the least on flowers—only about a hundred dollars. We scoured Costco’s floral section and the small selection at the local market. There are only a couple floral places in town, and the flowers I had in mind were different enough that I decided, “Hell, I can do this.” So I did. The day before the wedding. I made the bouquets, my floral crown, the boutonnières, and while I sat down to stave away the impended pre-wedding migraine, my lovely Ladies made the corsages for our mums. Our wonderful friends, while helping us set up the morning of the wedding, cut the remaining flowers and arranged them for me while I was kicked out by our Day-Of Coordinator Lauren to go get ready.

We spent absolutely zero dollars on music. Chris, being the music sleuth he is, put together a playlist, slapped it on the laptop, and borrowed his Dude’s speakers, which thankfully were powerful enough to be heard for the ceremony.

Also, stationery. This was another one of those, “Hell, I can do that” moments. Shortly after getting engaged, I ran to Photoshop and drew up our invites, RSVPs, etc. It was alarmingly fun to do! Except for the printing and cutting. Thank goodness for industrial office paper cutters!

What was totally worth it

Having my dad get ordained and officiate the ceremony. Ever since I was small, I always imagined my dad performing my ceremony. When I first asked him, he was a little hesitant, worrying that he would “ruin” the ceremony by getting too emotional. I was so happy (and relieved) when he told me that we would get himself ordained. Using the lovely APW archives, I built a little ceremony for him to read and gave him some space, telling him to include something a little sappy—like when he knew Chris would be a great husband. Instead, the day of, during the ceremony, he pulled out a whopper of an emotional bomb, saying my meeting Chris was the best thing to come from our move from California to Montana. I just about lost it.

Our Day-Of Coordinator, Lauren Caselli, was also worth her weight in printer ink. I actually met her because of a comment on APW! She went above and beyond the call of duty helping us come up with a table arrangement, staying from setup at 10am, and cleaning every little thing until late in the evening. She handled everything with grace and consideration, and not once made us feel strange about the decisions we were making. If there was something that went wrong at the wedding, we sure didn’t notice—she kept us calm and let us have fun while she handled all of the details.

Wedding pie. I do love a good cake every once in a while, but we’re more pie people. Plus, our local bakery, the Wild Crumb, makes out-of-this-world pastries and pie.

What was totally not worth it

The stress. Sure, it got me through making all the decisions that needed to be made, but man, the heartburn, the lack of sleep—it was totally and completely bollocks.

A few things that helped us along the way

Our friends and family were absolutely incredible. They were up and at it the day-of, with doughnuts and breakfast booze, and helped up set up the entire area. I’m so grateful for each and every one if them. Of course, APW helped me keep my sanity throughout the planning process. Dem spreadsheets—damn.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Ask for and take advice from other married (and not married) folks, but with a grain of salt. If you don’t think that something that worked for them would work for you, don’t feel obligated to do it because you asked for the advice.

Also, if someone asks to help, let them help you! (So long as you think that they’re up to the task, of course.) Even if it’s the smallest thing. I had a hard time reconciling the fact that when people say they want to help, I’m not wasting their time.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Dani: The fact that my dad got ordained to perform our ceremony.

Chris: The final dance.


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