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


Featured Sponsored Content

  • Kaybee

    I never, ever use the word “fabulous.” But DAMN, girl, that makeup is fabulous! Kudos on making a beautiful dress too. Color me impressed.

    • CaitlinSumner

      Thanks!! I am so glad to have gone with the bright red lip. And my mom (and aunt, with some key seamstress help) deserve all the credit for the dress.

  • anon

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for all this incredibly detailed and helpful information about costs and logistics! It’s wonderful of you to take the time to put this together. I’ve found this to be the most helpful of the budget breakdown posts I’ve seen so far. And that dress is dynamite!

    • CaitlinSumner

      Aw, thanks! I really am not sure that I would have come around to acknowledging the eventual scale our budget earlier without going through the planning process, but I definitely would have liked more information about the cost of rentals, etc. while planning. It’s one thing to say, “oh, I can easily do better than that all inclusive place charging $25K, we just need some rental stuff and an a la carte catering menu, how much could that be?” and another to actually add it all up.

  • Jecca

    Ok, I have to admit that the thing that got me bouncing up and down in my chair was the picture of the timeline! I love me some planning docs.

    • CaitlinSumner

      Haha, our photographer Amanda was super excited to take that shot :) Google Docs for the win.

      • Megan B

        It makes me wish I was better at spreadsheets because I’d love to remake it!

    • MC

      That was what made me go, “Ooooh!” as well! I mean, so many other lovely things about the wedding, but damn, that is a good-looking timeline.

    • Jen

      I was excited too, but mostly for the Kimballs outing. Please tell me that the groom and groomsmen went and ate lots of ice cream along with the golf. Almost makes me wish it were later in the summer so that it’s time their seasonal molasses ginger ice cream (if you’re in MA or NH, I super recommend it!)

      • It was rained out! We will have to get back up there sometime this summer.

  • Fiona

    I love this detailed price breakdown! It’s amazing how totally reasonable expenses can add up.

    • Thanks! I hope this will help APW planning couples who have a practical, lower-budget mindset but still want or need to do things in a more “traditional” way for whatever reason.

  • Marcela

    How fantastic is that DRESS?! And you and your momma made it yourselves? Dang girl.

    • CaitlinSumner

      Thank you! It popped into my head right around when I got engaged, and I had watched enough Say Yes to the Dress and browsed enough boutique sites to know I wasn’t going to find it in life, especially in my size. My mom made the pattern through a lot of trial and error based off of my sketch, and she and my aunt did the sewing. It took a lot of weekends, and it totally satisfied my moderately crafty urges so that I didn’t have to get into any other big DIY projects :)

      • KEA1

        Hah, I logged in to comment specifically to say THAT. DRESS. :) Gorgeous job, and it looks stunning on you!

  • Sara

    This my favorite ‘How We Did It’ so far, mostly because of the ‘Planned Budget’. The breakdown is so helpful.

    Also, I am slightly dismayed that you made the dress because I want it! So gorgeous!! I absolutely love your hair and makeup as well.

    • CaitlinSumner

      Thanks! I’m so glad to see that sleeves are a rising bridal trend for 2014-2015. For anyone craving a sleeved dress and without family dressmaking expertise, I looked at a number of Etsy dressmakers who had sample dressed with sleeves (especially if you like lace).

  • I loved reading this post! I’m definitely coming from a place of my budget being 15k…ok 17……ok probably 20… oh 25(!)? It’s just reassuring to see someone have the same sort of struggle (especially when your guest list is over 130). Thank you for the detailed break down of the budget too, it definitely has me feeling a little less guilty over spending more than I thought I would. Every picture looks beautiful. Congrats!

    • Emmers

      Me too!

    • CaitlinSumner

      Thanks! That evolution was hard to stomach as it happened, but we were lucky to have an improving financial situation during our engagement to accommodate that (or we would have had to make some big changes). It is hard not to feel badly about when you start with the idea from the wedding blogosphere that $20K+ weddings are “WIC weddings” and if you don’t want all of the WIC trappings, you should be able to do it for under $10K. APW starting to have more about budgets later in my engagement definitely helped with this.

      • meleyna

        “It is hard not to feel badly about when you start with the idea from the wedding blogosphere that $20K+ weddings are “WIC weddings” and if you don’t want all of the WIC trappings, you should be able to do it for under $10K.” x1000000

  • l_weston

    This post. I have been hoping APW would feature a more “traditional” wedding in terms of size, budget, and location. We did pretty much the same thing you did for our upcoming September wedding. “Oh a wedding doesn’t need to cost more than 10K, I can do that,” two weeks later after figuring out how much stuff really costs (even reasonably prices for the service), getting the 190 person guest list from families, and then add it all up, we needed to double the budget. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making me feel better about the summed cost of our wedding. It sucks you had to feel the budget shift, but I really appreciate you submitting it. Stunning dress, btw!

    • This! I kept seeing weddings in my original budget range and beating myself up for not spending less; I constantly have to remind myself that I have twice the number of guests that a lot of these weddings had.

    • Thanks! I think APW is really helping bridge that gap in the minds of brides and grooms who don’t start from the perspective of “All the WIC!!” or “Totally handmade on a shoestring budget!” (Those two planning modes are totally valid, obviously).

      • Nora Rose

        Love this. I was feeling my wedding wasn’t that practical but it’s so true. It just adds up if you have so many family members.

    • sara g

      “Oh a wedding doesn’t need to cost more than 10K, I can do that.”
      Heh. I was blissfully ignorant and imagining a lovely <$5,000 wedding, and then reality struck. We have a fairly small guest list (expecting 70-80), but our total cost is going to be somewhere around $11-12k I think. And we are cutting a lot of corners to get it that low.

  • Anon

    We’re also planning to have a bridal party with 9 on each side, so it’s great to see how that looks. It’s a lot of people, but there are folks I’d regret leaving out if we made cuts. I really like your mantra about that, because I feel like I’ve been apologizing a bit. I love this:
    “I’m not going to regret having a big wedding party, so why not?”

    • CaitlinSumner

      Yes! I think (I hope) it took some pressure off for our attendants who aren’t local to attend all of the pre-wedding festivities. Make sure to plan your photo time carefully and think about what group shots you really want–we only had time for one set arrangement of each of the two parties, then one big one of all together. I didn’t really realize until afterward that those Pinterest-linked wedding party features with many different poses/settings were probably done on a different day, or they allocated multiple hours just for the wedding party on the day (we spent 2/3 of our formal photo time with our big families, and 1/3 with the wedding party). Totally still worth it!

    • Amanda

      We had a wedding party with 9 on each side as well and I have to be honest, I loved EVERY SINGLE WEDDING SECOND! My husband and I are both a little older (29 and 36) and we just felt like that at this point in our lives we had acquired so many people who meant so much to us. When we were planning and people would find out and give us “that look” I would always just smile and say, “I know, I know it’s totally ridiculous but the most important part to us is involving all of our closest friends and family.” And I wouldn’t trade any of it for a minute. Our wedding party They were fun and relaxed and helpful and so TOTALLY excited to celebrate with us and it made the whole event. It’s what I will always remember the most. Also, we had a GIANT, oval head-table and had spots for not only our whole wedding party but also all of their spouses (and babies) because we felt like, at this point, the spouses are just as important to us as the bridesmaids/groomsmen. I will never forget looking down the table and seeing my best friend’s husband holding his his baby and laughing with another bridesmaid, and watching my step-son chatting with my brother, and my best friend from college talking to my husband’s best friend from college. It makes my heart so, so, so happy. Good luck to you and your large wedding party! I hope you enjoy every beautiful, chaotic moment.

  • Hayley Tuller

    Now, can the bride right a post on how to achieve the highly coveted, oh-so-perfect retro red lip? FABULOUS.

    • CaitlinSumner

      That was all my makeup artist, Jamie :)

  • meleyna

    I really, really like this. What I thought was a very generous budget of $20k for max 100 in Phoenix is likely going to be doubled by the end of this.

    For the first half of wedding planning, I was very frustrated with my fiance. I felt like he was just spending to spend. He worked for over a decade in the industry, so I felt like all of the excess was coming directly from WIC expectations he had worked with for so many years. Once we finally had a Big Discussion, I came to understand more of where he was coming from.

    I am not overly close with my family, and have very, very few close friends. While my part of the guest is strictly family and friends I am close with, I felt like he was inviting everyone he has known at some point in his life. But then I realized what I love so much about my fiance is that he is a caretaker. He is inviting everyone he knows because they have at one point taken care of him. He is now inviting them to share a milestone with him, and is sparing no expense because he wants to take care of them. It isn’t WIC pressure, but simply a part of his character. He doesn’t feel his wedding in an imposition, he just wants to treat everyone in his life who have at some point done the same for them.

    When we first started with all of this planning, I figured we’d do something small “at this point in our lives.” We have kids, homes, and secure career. But isn’t this all the more reason to celebrate? We aren’t showing off, we are simply taking care of those who have taken care of us.

    So good for you, Caitlin and Alex. You did what you wanted and it was GORGEOUS.

    *end novel*

    • CaitlinSumner

      “[W]e are simply taking care of those who have taken care of us.” Yes! The single thing that resonated with me most from the APW book was the exhortation not to put your guest list on the chopping block if it’s important to you. Would our wedding have been cheaper with fewer guests? Most likely. But it mattered so much to be able to show our appreciation to our families and friends for all of their support in this way.

      • Kathryn McKinney

        A few months into our wedding planning, after seeing just how much it would cost to invite everyone on our list (we’re actually getting our reception venue for free, but damn if we don’t make up for it in having to rent just about everything) I decided to not invite cousins, as that was the part of the list that started to get “out of control” (my mom had four brothers). At first it was a relief, we CAN have our wedding for the budget we intended, but then I started to think about the cousins who traveled to come to my mom’s memorial service, and just couldn’t feel right not repaying their love and support with an invitation to a happier event. And if they’re coming, then I’d have to invite the whole lot (could “punish” the ones who weren’t there for the sad stuff).

        So now it’s bigger and pricier than imagined, but I’m alright with that because I know it’s the right thing to do and I sleep easier about it. This was a great post because I think it really debunks this preconception that anyone spends “a lot” on a wedding isn’t necessarily loosing touch with reality, but often responding directly to it. I stare at my budget wondering how it all adds up to so much, given we’re scrimping and saving and diy’ing what we can, but it does.

  • JenClaireM

    I so appreciate this post. I also thought we could do our wedding for much cheaper than ended up being realistic for the number of guests we had. (Turns out, it’s expensive to feed almost 200 people, even when you find a reasonable option for doing so!) And I also had moments of feeling bad about not being able to do it for cheaper, although in the end, I also realized that we were still making thoughtful, cost-conscious decisions – stuff just adds up!

    Also I just want to echo everyone else’s comments that your dress is STUNNING. I’m so impressed by your, your mom and your aunt’s abilities!

    • CaitlinSumner

      Seriously, it costs so much to feed people (with a professional cooking and non-guests serving) even when the pricing is totally transparent and reasonable.

  • EF


    from one masshole to another, I love this UU church. and how wonderful are these pics. *sigh of delight*

    hadn’t even thought of using the printable press logo on future stationary — i’ve ordered the logo too — but what an awesome idea. totes stealing it!

    • APP is awesome, I had to double check that they were ok with using the major design element from the invites for other personal use based on the license we purchased (they were not doing logos at that point). I love my wedding stationery stamp!

      • ACB

        Hi Caitlin, where did you get a stamp made after you had the logo? Thanks!

        • I used–a lot of the other places I checked required a black version of the logo, and I only had the gray one from my invites. accepted the gray image and made a perfect stamp (very detailed). I recommend them in general for getting stamps made.

          I will say that if anyone is following my lead in making a stamp from their Printable Press invite logo, they should make sure that this kind of personal use is still included in the license you purchase with the template from APP (since the logo product line was launched after my transactions with them). And especially if your stationery is one of the designs for which they offer the logos, you should seriously consider purchasing the rubber stamp from APP. I totally would have if they were offering them when I was in the market.

  • Erin

    Thank you so much for this! We’re doing something very similar and I can already relate to a lot of your experience. I had this vision of a tiny $10k wedding. I was going to stick to it no matter what. After we signed the first contract, we realized that it wasn’t going to happen. I’m still having a hard time reconciling what I wanted to spend with what we need to spend, even just on basics like linens or, you know, a marriage license. We also want to support great professionals and you have to pay them good money.

    The other day, as my fiancé and I were walking into a vendor meeting, I went on a bit of a rant about what kind of advice I’d give a newly engaged person (even though I’m still fairly newly engaged). My biggest revelations so far were that really traditional ballroom or hotel weddings are not necessarily exorbitant and DIY certainly does not mean cheaper.

    And I just have to say, the pictures of you and your husband are dreamy and you look stunning (the hair! that lipstick! that dress!).

  • Jenni

    What a lovely wedding! Your budget trajectory is quite familiar. I agree with you 110% on the importance of hiring professional, small-business experts (in fact, Emily from All the Fuss Events is my planner too!). I’m not crafty. I don’t have family and friends gathered in one place that can all pitch in with their own time and energy. When they are in one place the day or so before the wedding, I want to *celebrate* with them, not rush around doing a million DIT tasks. So, we have to pay money instead. When I start to freak out about the budget numbers, I think instead about the people we’ve hired, the confidence I have in them, and I can relax (a little).

    And THANK YOU for the budget break-down. It’s such a comfort to see similar looking numbers!

    • Good luck with your planning! The other part of that freak out comes from not having a lot of DIY decor (if you’re not crafty or you just don’t want to), because it feels so minimalist but is still expensive.

  • Rachel

    This was so very helpful to hear! We’re in a similar situation; started with a $15,000 budget and are now reaching $25,000. I was thinking recently if I read one more “we did our wedding for $5,000!” article I might hyperventilate. We’ve done everything possible to make it as simple as we can. And I totally hear you on the need to include your Mom. It is a very a big deal to most Moms and I’m learning very quickly how much it eases the stress when I let mine take things off my plate. Everything at your wedding looks beautiful! I love your hair and make-up so much! Congrats!

    • Thanks! Good luck with everything, and don’t beat yourself up even more if you wind up exceeding a round number with psychological value (like $25K or $30K). Even after I had come to terms with the general scale of the budget, it was hard to go over $30K (and I was happy when some items came in under budget at the very end so I could say “$30K”).

  • sara g

    Love the price breakdown! And I must know, which Whole Foods cakes did you get? Because we’re totally going that route too because their cakes are damn good. Were 6 cakes a good amount for 140 people? We’re having 70-80 so I’m honestly not sure how much cake to realistically expect people to eat.

    Beautiful wedding. I can just feel the love. Best of the best wishes to you and your new husband!

    • We did two of the chocolate mousse (I think, the fanciest chocolate cake on offer at that location), two carrot cake, a chocolate raspberry, and one other that I can’t remember. Other than the bite I took for the cake photos I didn’t have any, which was fine with me at that point in the day (little appetite from all the excitement, plus we actually got to eat a decent amount at dinner). If your budget allows you might want to do 5, but I’ll bet you’d be fine with 4. In either case, just ask the caterers or planner or friend in charge to cut them small (squares in a grid rather than wedges). Next time you’re at WF, look at the cakes, imagine a 4×5 grid, and see if that would produce a big enough piece for your liking. You can also do their sheet cakes, we decided to go with the more expensive round cakes so we could get the more interesting flavors. Good luck!

      • sara g

        Thanks! We’re going to do a cake scouting trip this weekend, so it’s great to hear from someone else who did this how it ended up working. :)

  • I was admiring the schedule spreadsheet photo near the beginning of the post when I spotted “golf/Kimballs” and realized where in New England this wedding took place! I grew up in Westford, and then moved to Carlisle. Kimballs forever and always!

    • Nice! The Kimballs adventure for the groomsmen was sadly rained out but I love it :)

  • Emma Klues

    Obviously this is an awesome and helpful post but all I want to say is YOU ARE SO PRETTY! These photos are awesome and your hair and dress and everything just looks bangin’.


    I love the photos.. a great guitar shot!

  • Pingback: Caitlin and Alex Featured on A Practical Wedding Today()