Our $5K Family-Focused Fall Wedding In Virginia

With the most sentimental DIY wedding dress

Fionnuala (“Fin”) + Will
One sentence sum up of the wedding vibe: Our wedding was a dreamy, intimate, handcrafted, string light lit evening made possible by our friends and family.
Planned Budget: Well, our budget for our pre-pandemic plans was $20,000. We changed directions two months before our date so we didn’t have much time to rethink our budget. However, the actual expenses came out to be much, much less.
Actual Budget: ~5,000
Number of Guests: 29
Location: Fin’s Family Home, Spotsylvania, Virginia
Photographers: Leah MacDaniel of Flit Photography and Emily White of Tintype RVA

Where we allocated the most funds: Our highest-budget items were split between photography (including a digital photographer, a tintype photographer, and lots of 35mm and polaroid film), an incredibly talented florist, and the overall decor design. The rest of the budget went towards our attire, dinner, and dessert.

Someone gave us the advice that a DIY-wedding isn’t necessarily cheaper; that became 100% true when the cost of vintage glassware, second-hand rugs, string lights, and candles started adding up. However, we worked together to buy things that we wanted to add to our home anyway and resold the rest afterwards to make some of that money back.

Where we allocated the least funds: Although DIY’ing consumed much of our budget and energy, it also saved us money in lots of other areas. The biggest win was Fin’s dress! She and her mom designed the dress together and spent hours picking out embroidered flowers, hand-dying them to fit the palette, and arranging them together on a dress that Fin’s mom sewed. They were even able to include special touches, such as fabric sourced from Fin’s baby clothes, her grandma’s hand-me-downs, Will’s mother’s christening outfit, and so on. The process was really, really special, and no store-bought dress could ever match that.

We also didn’t spend anything on the venue (it’s Fin’s childhood home), a wedding coordinator, an officiant, or a DJ/musician. We had six select friends contribute by setting up the bar, shucking oysters, playing guitar, officiating our wedding, safely serving the food, making a Spotify playlist, and managing our Zoom stream. Our parents generously gifted the alcohol and the tent, table, and portable restroom rentals to ensure we could keep everything outside and COVID-19 friendly regardless of the weather.

What was totally worth it:

  • The effort to climb on ladders and string all the lights during the week before the wedding. We can’t imagine the night without the ambiance of warm twinkle lights.
  • The florals! We had planned to spend a lot less on flowers for our pre-pandemic wedding because they didn’t get priority in the budget. However, we increased our floral budget when we decided to go small since we had more wiggle room with our budget. The ceremony tree added SO MUCH to the vibe of the day.
  • The tintypes. We hired a photographer who specializes in tintype portraits to come out and take a few special photographs for us. She developed them on-site with her mobile darkroom van and we will cherish those forever.
  • Oysters! If you’re having a fall wedding and if you love oysters as much as us, they made the perfect appetizer and late night snacks. Our chef friend, Hosea, made several mignonettes and shucked into the night.

What was totally not worth it: Spending many months believing things would get better and trying to continue with our pre-pandemic plans with 130 guests. We were really sad that our community as a whole couldn’t be there in person, but it was such a relief to spend the day with far less worry that someone would get sick. We had to massively pair down the guest list by containing it to just immediate family, our two living grandparents, and six friends (who we made sure to put to work). We had clear boundaries of who we were inviting to the smaller ceremony and stuck with that. The rest of our original guest list was extremely understanding and relieved in some cases that they could still attend via Zoom. We plan to have an anniversary party in the future when we can safely gather again.

A few things that helped us along the way: Our community was incredibly supportive. Fin’s parents were working on projects up until the last minute. When we changed venues, Will’s parents paid for the rentals that we didn’t originally budget for. Our siblings and friends were jumping up at every point in the evening to help out and take any remaining stress off our shoulders. We also had really incredible vendors who worked with us to either adjust our plans for a much smaller event or transfer our deposits to a future party. Their flexibility put us at ease. And APW’s templates for a budget and a day-of plan. We didn’t hire a coordinator so we used both of these to help everyone get on the same page.

My best practical advice for my planning self: Let go of control. The following unplanned things happened, and the day was perfect anyway:

  1. The family cat got stuck in a tree.
  2. Fin forgot the rings in our apartment an hour away.
  3. The hair & makeup person was an hour late. We used that hour to eat Taco Bell and nap.
  4. The custom-made coozies caught on fire.

Favorite thing about the wedding: Everything, but the ceremony was extra special. Our best friend Shane officiated one of the most special ceremonies we could have dreamt up. It was important for us to recognize our loved ones throughout so we included community vows and a ring warming ceremony. We live streamed on Zoom which allowed us to record it and watch it back later. Something about having it at home with less than 30 people made it feel so safe to be vulnerable. There were lots of happy tears throughout.

Anything else: My stepfather ended up really sick in the hospital (not COVID-related) seven days before the wedding. My mom sat by his bedside until he was discharged while simultaneously coordinating small details for the wedding. Life is precious and not all weddings can wait until 2021 or 2022. I’m so glad we were able to celebrate with our older family members by striking our original plans, asking our guests to self-quarantine/get tested prior to coming, and practicing all kinds of consent at the wedding.

Another thing is that we both truly believe that the way we spend our money is one of our greatest powers in this world. We knew this wedding would cost us a lot so we chose vendors that we know are talented, but also we know align with our values outside of the wedding industry.


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