How We: Planned Our New England Church Wedding

Budget, meet reality.

Caitlin, NonProfit Lawyer & Alex, Business Systems Consultant

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Traditional and fun with our favorite people.

Planned Budget: $10,000. I guess if we’re thinking realistically, $12,000. Fine, maybe $15,000, but definitely not more.

Actual Budget: $30,000

Number of Guests: 140

Where we allocated the most funds The original budget, arrived at before really beginning to plan, was the largest amount we could possibly fathom spending on anything at that point in our lives (this figure had been adjusted upward from $5,000 over my several pre-engagement years of reading APW). With the APW community and book bolstering our confidence in throwing the wedding we wanted, our budget didn’t spiral out of control in a WIC-mandated orgy of excess. Rather, the total price eventually doubled our initial highest budget because 1) we wanted to hire professionals, preferably small businesses, to execute some wedding tasks for which they were experts and we were not, 2) wedding professionals need to be paid fairly for the valuable services they provide, and 3) DIY supplies (like booze) still cost real money. Food and photography were our top expense priorities. The cost of good photography was the one area that we were fully prepared for going in, and Amanda was definitely worth it.

We really wanted a sit-down dinner for 140 guests, even knowing that this would be an expensive option, so that set our potential minimum food budget pretty high to start. We worked out a reasonable budget with our caterer, and the food was delicious. It was still a little painful to have what felt like a “budget” menu for such a large amount of money, though. We wound up spending more than I ever thought we would on a church and hall, but the hall was much nicer than we expected when we started looking, and we fell in love with it. The combination of a beautiful old New England Unitarian Universalist church (we both grew up UU) with a beautiful hall was exactly what we wanted, even though the price was probably closer to a country club wedding than a typical church wedding in the end.

Where we allocated the least funds We omitted favors and hotel bags entirely, and had no decorations in the church or the hall except for table flowers (half were the bridesmaid bouquets, half were my mother-in-law’s centerpieces for the rehearsal dinner) and Shutterfly prints of Instagram photos on the tables. There were several points in the final month where I knew we would have been totally overwhelmed if we had taken on more DIY. White tablecloths plus 140people in fancy clothes can visually make up for a lot of missing decorations.

What was totally worth it The dozens, probably hundreds of hours that my mom, my aunt, and I spent in designing, pattern making, muslin making, and dress assembly. This project was only a little stressful at times and overall was incredibly fun, giving me some serious quality time with my mom and resulting in exactly the dress I had casually sketched a year before.

Having a big wedding party. We each had nine attendants, plus four junior bridesmaids. My mantra when people reacted to the size of the wedding party was, “I’m not going to regret having a big wedding party, so why not?” Finding a band that would play interesting music during cocktail hour and run our carefully curated playlists during dinner and the dance party. Alex did an amazing job with the playlists and they worked perfectly (we both knew that neither of us would enjoy having someone else choosing the songs or order of the songs to be played at our wedding).

What was totally not worth it Trying to plan it all myself, without family help. Handling all of the logistical details myself was by far the easiest option for us as an engaged couple (Alex does a lot more housework than I do and he really stepped it up during the heat of wedding planning), but I didn’t realize until a few months before the wedding that my mom was hurt at not being more involved. Given the option to do it over, I would have talked with her about planning a lot more explicitly at the beginning instead of assuming that she wouldn’t be interested.

A few things that helped us along the way When our original coordinator disappeared three months before the wedding, Emily from All the Fuss Events graciously stepped in to help. Being able to hand all off the lists, timelines, and decorations over to Emily on Wednesday meant that we were able to be relaxed and present while greeting our guests, attending the awesome rehearsal dinner (planned and executed entirely by my mother-in-law), and prepared for the wedding on Saturday. Using A Printable Press for the invitations, confirming that the template purchase included an unlimited personal use license of the design, and then putting our Leaf Wreath logo on every piece of paper for the event. We even got a stamp made of the logo; I hand-stamped our cocktail napkins with it, and now we have cheap personalized stationery for thank you notes and correspondence.

My best practical advice for my planning self Consider all-inclusive type venues a little more carefully at the outset (this goes hand in hand with developing a more realistic budget estimate, but that one might not be a lesson we could have learned without going through the whole process). While we loved our wedding and all of our vendors, I wrote off the more comprehensive venue route early on because of expense. If we had known how much we would wind up paying in the end, we might have found a venue that required a lot less planning of the nuts and bolts like rentals, vendor coordination, etc.

Favorite thing about the wedding Having all of our favorite people (or at least a quorum) in the same place at the same time, and being able to give them a great party. This was our goal before planning, and we were so happy to be able to make it a reality.

Total Wedding Budget and Vendor Breakdown All totals inclusive of tax and gratuity

  1. Caterer: $7500 (family-style service for 140 with one chicken entree and a selection of vegetarian sides)
  2. Photography: $3600
  3. Venue: $3000 (church sanctuary with organist for service, pretty fancy church parish hall for reception, plus extra time on top of hall fee for caterers to prep)
  4. DIY beverages: $2000 (~$1,000 for wine, which my in-laws provided; $520 for beer, $550 for non-alcoholic and coffee service, with lots of everything left over)
  5. Day-of coordinator: $1800 (significant deposit lost to our first hired planner, who disappeared, and the rest in fee and gratuity to the consummate professional who came to our rescue three months before the wedding)
  6. Rentals & disposables: $1750 (bare minimum tableware, barware, servingware, and linen rentals/disposables/purchases for 18 tables of 8 or 9; the tables and chairs were included in the venue)
  7. Licensed bartending service: $1250 (3 bartenders for 8 hours)
  8. Flowers: $1200 (an altarpiece and bouquets/boutonnières for us, our parents, 9 bridesmaids, 9 groomsmen, and 4 junior bridesmaids; reception table flowers were a mix of leftover arrangements my mother-in-law made for the rehearsal dinner and the bridesmaids’ bouquets in mason jars)
  9. Reception music: $1000
  10. Wedding party and parent gifts: $1000 (wedding party of 18 plus four junior bridesmaids)
  11. Wedding rings: $950 (would have been at least $300 less on a discount/wholesaler site, but we chose to go with Brilliant Earth for ethical/ecological reasons)
  12. Officiant: $750 (his fee plus a charitable donation to the Unitarian Universalist camp where we met him)
  13. Groom’s outfit: $700 (Indochino suit and shirt with coupon, Bostonian shoes, DIY cufflinks)
  14. Bride’s outfit: $600 (this includes about double the amount of dress fabric we wound up needing, some veil tulle and a comb, plus $50 for shoes and $50 for sash options)
  15. Hotel: $600 (bridal party home base for two nights)
  16. Shuttle: $575
  17. Bride’s hair and makeup: $550 (including trial)
  18. Invitations: $500 (Printable Press template and printing plus postage)
  19. Videography: $250 (HD video camera rental and professional editing services)
  20. Lunch for entire wedding party on wedding day: $230 (Panera)
  21. Non-floral decorations: $200 (a $15 pack of printable table tents as escort cards, $0.12 Shutterfly prints of Instagram photos for table decorations and place cards, a $50 Costco photo canvas for a guest book, programs, and menu cards printed for pennies… that was pretty much it, on top of the all-white palette provided by our linens and tableware)
  22. Dessert: $160 (6 9” round Whole Foods cakes, ordered two days before the wedding)
  23. Save the Dates: $90 (cost is mostly envelopes, labels, and postage; I made the save the dates themselves with a free trial of Photoshop and printed 80 of them for $5 with a Snapfish coupon)
  24. (Sadly needed) umbrellas: $50
  25. Marriage license: $35


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