We Answered the “Elope or Don’t” Question with a Private Ceremony and $10K Taco Truck Reception

With a little left over for some fancy wedding night glamping


Jessica, Degree Facilitator & James, PhD student and Lecturer 

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: We went from an intimate weeknight beach ceremony to a casual DIY reception with our friends and family.

Planned Budget: NZ $10,000 (US $7,554)
Actual Budget: NZ $14,000 (US $10,575)
Number of Guests: Invited—74, Attended—66

Where we allocated the most funds

We spent the most (almost a third of our budget) on photography, followed by the band and taco truck. I really wanted to have professional photos taken, as neither of us is particularly comfortable in front of the camera. We were just going to have speakers and a playlist, but we were in a pub one evening and heard this amazing band playing—just two guys, but so talented! I spent ages trying to track them down, and managed to get a great deal as they were just starting out in weddings. I have a feeling they’d be out of our budget now, though! The taco truck was our other big-ticket item, but was actually very affordable compared to other catering options we looked at.

Where we allocated the least funds

Flowers, cake, and venue hire. All I wanted was a flower crown, but my Gran convinced me to have a bouquet too, which we had made by the same florist who did the flowers for my parents’ wedding! For the tables, James’s mum and Nana grew us a range of herbs, and planted them in pots I spray-painted. They looked effective and doubled as favors for people to take home. My mum, Gran, and I baked and iced the cake to save money, and used family recipes for the fruitcake and rich chocolate cake layers. After researching and visiting a lot of “wedding” venues, we decided to go the DIY route and hired a community hall (that came with tables and chairs) for NZ $350, which was a bargain, but did mean a lot more work.


What was totally worth it

Our photographers—they were really flexible (and let us split a package between two days), made us feel comfortable, and we were really happy with the photos. The tent—staying in a luxury tent for our first night of marriage was unique, and a really good way to chill out. There was no cell phone reception, and there was an outdoor bath and jar of marshmallows waiting to be toasted by the fire. Making our rings—we went to the workshop not really knowing what to expect, but it was great! It took the whole day, but wasn’t too difficult, and they feel really special and meaningful to wear now. The band—they really created the atmosphere at the reception, and tied the whole event together. The venue—we shopped around a lot for the venue. Even though the one we booked was the cheapest, it actually had all the things we wanted: a large outdoor space, a place for the taco truck, and an indoor area in case of rain. The taco truck—for the price we paid, we got a much better deal than any catering company could offer, and they added to the atmosphere.

What was totally not worth it

Jess: Worrying about people not liking our decisions because they weren’t traditional. I was surprised at how many people had opinions about our wedding, and got really stressed trying to accommodate them all. In the end we compromised where we felt it was worth it, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

James: The wedding premium! We looked at lots of venues, and were disappointed at how expensive they were compared to the quality offered. Also, the inflexibility of venues, with restrictions such as wine-only, having to use the venue’s caterers, and poor menu choices. Looking back, I’m glad we didn’t stretch our budget and book one of those venues, as we wouldn’t have had the same experience and I think our reception wouldn’t have been as fun.

A few things that helped us along the way

Jess: This website! Because this was basically a DIY wedding, we used many APW articles to figure out logistics. The most valuable advice I found was for calculating numbers of drinks, timelines for the day(s), spreadsheet setups, and most importantly, the reminder to have a pack-down plan, not just a setup one! I also appreciated seeing weddings with different budgets, including some amazing events on very small budgets, which gave me the belief that maybe we could pull it off (compared to some vendors at a bridal show, who literally scoffed at our budget).

James: Jess’s efforts and organization contributed a lot to the wedding being a success. Being realistic in our planning—for example, not falling in love with one idea or venue and blowing the budget. We had ideas but were OK with letting go of them if they weren’t practical or ended up being too expensive.


My best practical advice for my planning self

Jess: Trust yourself and your vision. Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean they won’t like it when it actually happens. While you will be made to feel bad for your small budget, it’s actually a blessing in disguise, because it will force you to be creative, and come up with ideas you never would have thought of if you could have afforded an all-inclusive package. Hire some outdoor lights!

James: Work with your partner in the planning. While you might not have the grand vision, you can be a sounding board, offer different perspectives, or be the person she needs to vent to! Don’t get bogged down by tradition; it holds people back from having an enjoyable day—like having both ceremony and reception on one day and feeling exhausted, or having a first dance if you are uncomfortable.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Jess: Lying in the outdoor bathtub on our wedding night, looking up at the stars, knowing we still had another celebration with family and friends to look forward to in two days’ time.

James: The whole thing! I liked the ceremony because it was intimate and a different atmosphere than if there had been eighty other people there. I liked the tent afterwards, having the ability to unwind and talk with Jess about being married before having the reception, and being able to BBQ steak for dinner and wear shorts. For the reception, I liked the casual, relaxed atmosphere; people appreciated the significance of our wedding without it having to be a super formal occasion.


Anything else

Jess: Find out what the legal requirements are. After I realized rings aren’t part of the legal ceremony in New Zealand, I found a way to make the reception more ceremonial by having us exchange rings there. We passed the rings around and had a ring-warming, which I hope made people feel included in the celebration of marriage.

As much as we wanted to “elope” with just us and photographers, we learned that weddings can’t just be about the couple. Only a month before the wedding (after over a year of planning), James and I had a long talk and decided to compromise and invite our parents to the ceremony. It was really important to them to be present for the actual exchange of vows, and although this changed the dynamic of the day, we think it was the best decision for the dynamic of the family.

I honestly have no idea how couples manage to have both the ceremony and reception on the same day. I feel like we had the best of both worlds because we got to have time alone as a newly married couple and then also have a big party with the ones we love.

James: Don’t listen to other people, listen to your partner. Trust your partner and yourself in terms of what you want from a wedding. If you want formal, go for it; if you want something else, then that’s fine too. People will screw their noses up initially at whatever your plan, but as long as it’s your own plan, you will be happy on the day!

As a groom I felt like I was expected to do nothing, and let the bride organize the whole thing, but I think it was a good experience to help, and enjoyed at least helping where I could even if it wasn’t totally fifty-fifty. I think focusing on the experiences rather than material things was a good call—e.g., making rings, staying in the tent, having a band—instead of spending our budget on things like favors or chairs. Although Jess was a bit embarrassed by them, no one cared about the plastic chairs and we saved a lot of money because they were free with the hall. Finally, having enough good food and booze means people will have a good time!



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