Morgan, dog trainer & Brendan, drummer
Sum-up of the wedding vibe: An intimate and laid-back party in celebration of love and the ways it can transform you.
Planned budget: $5,000, then $7,500 after research
Actual budget: $7,959
Number of guests: 180 total (110 at the ceremony and dinner, additional 70 at the dessert reception)
Where we allocated the most funds:
Food, rentals, and photography are where the bulk of our spending went.
We didn’t want to compromise on good food. It was suggested that we do a potluck to keep costs down, but with so many out of town guests we didn’t want to add that stress to anyone’s plans (or our own!). Instead, we limited the ceremony and dinner to family and a few close friends that would have been part of our wedding party if we had chosen to have one. Appetizers were platters we picked up from Costco. Our favorite vegetarian food truck, Goatocado, catered the meal and provided compostable plates and utensils. We then had more friends join us for our dessert reception and surprise late night pizza delivery.
While our venue was free (my parents own the farm), an empty barn meant we still needed to rent a large tent for the dinner area as well as tables, chairs, glassware, and linens. Add in lighting and an upgraded port-a-potty and that accounts for about a third of the budget.
We briefly debated hiring a student photographer or crowd-sourcing our photos from guests to try to keep the total budget under our original goal of $5,000. But we read time and time again to not cut corners with photography in particular and increased our budget as a result. We are SO glad Nadiya was recommended to us and that she shot our wedding instead!
Where we allocated the least funds:
Our attire, music, stationery, and flowers.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a dress and fell in love with a reproduction 1930s ball gown at a local vintage shop. It happened to be my size, the only one, and the only dress I tried on. I got really lucky and it was perfect aside from needing a few small alterations!
Reception entertainment is another area where we saved a lot of money. The groom made a nine-hour playlist that covered the pre-ceremony, dinner, as well as the entire reception with the use of a free Spotify trial. Brendan’s band also played a set during the reception, so no DJ or wedding band costs required!
My godmother gifted us stationery for our ceremony and dinner invitations, and we used Paperless Post to invite friends to the dessert reception.
Many of the flowers were potted and planted after the wedding. My aunts picked up fresh flowers from Trader Joe’s the day before the ceremony, arranging centerpieces and cutting and tying the bouquet that day.
What was totally worth it:
It was totally worth splurging on the Giant Jenga set for a unique guestbook we will enjoy with friends for years to come. Compromising and going with Costco cakes instead of custom cupcakes was another good decision, as everyone enjoyed the dessert and we got so many compliments! Surprising our late-night guests with pizza to keep the party going instead of bothering with send-off materials, and staying up dancing until almost midnight was worth it, too.
The tent was another worthwhile expense. We had multiple people try to persuade us to pass on a tent to save a lot of money, but we are so glad we budgeted for one and weren’t left scrambling when the ten-day forecast showed rain every day leading up to the wedding! It poured right up until guests started to arrive too. And had it been a hot, sunny day as we were expecting for May, the shade would have been appreciated anyway.
Being flexible with our wedding date was also helpful. Not only were we able to book Nadiya within a short five month time period on our second preferred date, but we were able to ensure that my grandfather would be well enough to attend the wedding. Sure, five months isn’t a whole lot of time to plan, but it kept me from obsessing too much over each detail and helped me see the big picture. More time would have created more anxiety for me. With an off the rack dress and family farm venue, we didn’t have the same constraints as many other couples.
Also totally worth it was our photographer, Nadiya Nacorda. Nadiya was such a joy to work with, and we are thrilled with our photos! They’re gorgeous, and Nadiya was able to capture the love between Brendan and me as well as the beauty of the farm and the wedding itself. Her work is so personal and unique, and we are so glad we have wedding photos we are obsessed with.
Nadiya’s goal as a wedding photographer is to be inclusive and to feature diverse couples whenever possible. At first glance many people assume we are just any other able bodied, cis-gender, straight couple when in actuality Brendan is a transgender man and I have a Medical Alert Service Dog, Delilah, who was our ring bearer and present for the photo shoots. Both Brendan and I wanted to team with Nadiya’s photographic skill and company vision to tell a narrative that is a positive representation of an adult trans person that is loved, which is so needed by so many. We wanted to show people, especially trans youth and people with disabilities, that finding love is possible and something you deserve to have in life. Brendan and I knew we could trust Nadiya with telling our story authentically and respectfully, and she went beyond our expectations.
What was totally not worth it:
Our initial stress and disappointment when we realized we couldn’t have our ceremony outside as planned due to the forecasted downpour. We changed the plan to be inside the barn, on a platform in the corner of the dance floor. My family worked their magic and decorated the area beautifully and it made the ceremony that much more intimate.
A few things that helped us along the way:
Reading through the archives of APW helped us figure out what a realistic budget looked like and gave us so many ideas. Just as importantly, it helped us feel validated in our unconventional choices!
Having online RSVPs was another big help—everything electronic made planning so much easier. I had never made a website before (unless you count Myspace) but found Wix simple and easy to use, plus it was free.
We could not have had as many guests at our wedding if the venue, stationery, wine, liquor, and honey for favors were not gifted to us. It never hurts to ask, and definitely pool your resources. We were surprised and moved by how many people wanted to help and were genuinely excited to contribute.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Find someone and pay them to be your coordinator for the day. They will be worth every penny! Even if you map out minute-by-minute what you expect your wedding day to be, it is always helpful to hand over the responsibility of getting things done on schedule to someone else while you’re the one getting married.
And if you decide to make your own playlist for the reception, someone needs to handle queuing everything and working the P.A. system. Figure out who that person will be, make sure they understand how to work the equipment, and pay them too. DJing requires a lot more attention than it seems.
Give yourself more time than you think you need for everything. Decisions take time. Writing vows takes a lot of time, especially if you are a perfectionist. Definitely take the week off work prior to the wedding if you can (so, so glad I did). We planned to take our honeymoon months after the wedding too—that took a lot of stress off of us and we needed a few days to recover and do nothing after. If we were on our honeymoon, the FOMO (fear of missing out) during those rest days would have been intense!
I made it my goal to be a bride-chilla and managed to remain calm when things did not go perfectly because I did not put unrealistic expectations on our wedding day and plans. By a few hours in, the hem of my dress had mud on it from the rainy day ground, and everyone was shocked at how much I didn’t care. I realized it was inevitable that my dress would get some dirt on it from being a barn wedding in the first place and accepted that it was going to be a muddy day.
Favorite thing about the wedding:
Our vows and ceremony, hands down! Cocktails were served and kegs were tapped as soon as guests began to arrive. We mingled with our family and friends before the ceremony and got to laugh and relax. We knew our ceremony wouldn’t be long by choice and decided to skip the chair rentals, so almost everyone was standing and it made it that much more informal and laid back.
My uncle began the ceremony with a summary of our relationship that had everyone laughing and in good spirits. His opening speech was a funny and heartfelt summary of our story, and explained how we had met before Brendan had begun his gender transition. It was love at first sight for Brendan, but not for me. After a few years of friendship, I fell in love with Brendan after he came out as transgender. I had to see and meet Brendan as his true self before I could fall in love with him.
After the introduction Brendan and I read our own vows to each other, and a lot of happy tears happened. Because our vows were so personalized along with the entire ceremony, it felt very intimate with our loved ones there to support us and our love as a couple.