Our Pennsylvania Wedding Was a Family-Created Affair (and Under $3K)

Our community helped make this happen


Juanita, educator and freelance writer & Stephenson, federal agent

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A low-key wedding pulled together with the help of our community.

Planned budget: $2,000

Actual budget: $2,700

Number of guests: 70


Where we allocated the most funds:

Food and the groom’s outfit—between the rehearsal dinner, the cake, and the reception, most of our funds went to food. While neither meal was especially grand, we wanted to make sure that everyone who came would be well fed. We especially wanted to treat our wedding party and family at the rehearsal dinner and found a really lovely Chinese buffet that we were able to keep the costs down on, but give people a lot of options for dinner.

This was the groom’s first suit purchase, so we wanted it to be a suit that fitted him well, would have him looking fantastic on his wedding day, and he could wear into the future. Part of the cost was that he had to get everything that day: suit, shirts, and shoes. It was well worth it though, he was incredibly handsome when all was said and done.


Where we allocated the least funds:

Photography, decorations, and paper goods. Here is where our community really came into play making our wedding dreams come true. We were young and didn’t have a lot of money (thankfully the not having much money has improved), so many of our family and friends stepped it up and offered us awesome things either for free or super inexpensively. My aunt and grandmother helped pay for and supply all of our paper wedding goods (programs, invitations, postage). A family friend who is a novice photographer—who took some absolutely lovely shots of us and our guests—offered to take our photos that day free of charge (though we did give her a love gift out of our gratitude). Stephenson’s sister created all the beautiful decorations, including the boutonnières and bouquets for the wedding party. I love that they were crafted from hymnals and romantic literature with sprigs of dried lavender and that I still have my bouquet to enjoy to this day. I also did my own hair and makeup with a little help from my maid of honor.


What was totally worth it:

Even though I was raised in Boston and by that point Stephenson had been living in Boston for over five years, it was 100 percent worth it to have the wedding in Pennsylvania. It was really important that our extended family could be there, especially our grandparents. New Holland, Pennsylvania, was a lot easier for our extended families to get to (as they hailed from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Indiana). While we did hit some bumps at times (like only being able to communicate with vendors over the phone and having to make a whirlwind trip down to get our marriage license), it was worth it to have so many of our family and friends around us on that day.


What was totally not worth it:

Worrying about my shorter, more informal dress. I knew it was going to be a lunch-time simple affair and I knew from the beginning I was not going to have the princess dream wedding (even if we’d had the funds for it), but even though some had expressed concern over my dress (which a friend gifted to me), so many people complimented me on the dress and how I looked in it. It came from my favorite store, ModCloth; it has pockets; and I got to enjoy it again (I wore it to celebrate our first anniversary a few weeks ago).


A few things that helped us along the way:

Our community was so integral, from generous financial gifts down to the willingness to put in time and effort to make our wedding a beautiful meaningful day—we could not have had our wedding without them. Knowing from the beginning what was most important to us helped, and making sure most of our family wouldn’t have to travel far, keeping costs low, and having a ceremony that was meaningful and highlighted our devotion to God and each other. Keeping those things in mind it was easy to say no to things that took away from that.


My best practical advice for my planning self:

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember who you are. I love a beautiful dress, but I’ve never been a fancy person. I don’t wear makeup most days, and I’m much more comfortable in jeans and a tank top at my favorite diner than a fancy affair in a ball gown. While I didn’t go as casual as I could have, I wore a dress that fit my style, and I kept my hair and makeup simple—if a little fancier than my everyday look. Also, I wouldn’t have tried so hard to keep things traditional just to keep people happy. I was overly concerned with some people’s feelings that we were getting married too young. We were and still are young, but we felt that marriage was exactly where our relationship was headed. As it turns out, even the naysayers who loved us were more than willing to step up to help our dreams become a reality once they saw that we really were committed to each other.


Favorite thing about the wedding:

Having so many of our loved ones surrounding us that day. I was so glad that we had valued making it more doable for family to travel. Also Stephenson is not someone who smiles that much—especially in photographs—and having so many pictures of him grinning from ear to ear is such a gift to me.


Anything else To Share:

That having an inexpensive wedding doesn’t mean you’ll have to skimp on things, but you do have to change your ideas at times. I knew that we would have good food, but it wasn’t going to be amazing food on our budget. We had beautiful decorations, solid photos, and our favorite people around us. I don’t especially remember the taste of the food, but I remember the hugs from my grandparents and dearest friends from college.

It wasn’t a fancy affair, but it was perfect for us and we didn’t start our marriage with even more debt (thanks, college loans). Don’t be afraid to ask for help; you might be surprised how people step up. And PS: Chinese buffets are super great places to host rehearsal dinners. Everyone will find something they like, you’ll have a beautiful space, and everyone will leave happy and full!


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