How We Made Our Epic Italian Destination Wedding Happen for Under 20K

Historical architecture, a golden sunset, and... fully clothed cannonballs into the pool, duh.


Lydia, Team Leader & John, Social Media Consultant

sum-up of the wedding vibe: A destination wedding weekend bringing old and new friends from across the world together to celebrate love and life.
Planned Budget: £10,000 (~$15,200)
Actual Budget: £12,000 (~$18,200)
Number of Guests: 35



When we first started planning our wedding a year and a half ago, my main aim was to find a venue where I could walk down an aisle that hadn’t ever been used by another bride. I didn’t enjoy the sort of self-critical and competitive nature that the all-inclusive “wedding factory” type places brought out in me with the ability to view two hundred past weddings in the same space. This brought a lot of challenges, essentially ruling out most hotel/villa destination wedding locations in Tuscany—with our budget solidly ruling out the rest! I considered a wedding planner based in Italy, but just couldn’t justify spending ten percent of our budget on someone taking a role I felt, with enough effort, I could complete myself. I eventually found Riva, after two to three months of searching, by looking at photographer’s blogs for styled wedding shoots.

We had to have full occupancy for two nights as we wanted a prime weekend in May, and this took a large amount of our budget, but we didn’t have to pay a venue rental fee; just the cost of booking all the lofts. We covered a large percentage of the fee for all the rooms, and asked our guests to contribute just what a hotel room in Florence would have cost for the two nights—giving us a bit of breathing room and giving them a gorgeous room for a cut-price cost! Riva Lofts also handily came with an amazing caterer who completely understood the vibe we were going for with very little guidance needed.

I also spent a long time looking at photographers, while we had what felt like a big budget (£2000/$3100) for a photographer, it seemed as soon as I started looking that my standards were a lot higher than my budget! In the end I was emailing photographers I knew I couldn’t afford asking them for recommendations of photographers I could afford with a similar style to theirs! I was sold by Matt‘s portfolio as he just seemed to capture every fun, natural, beautiful moment and when we chatted with him on Skype there was a lot of beard love between photographer and groom! In the end, he was fantastic to have on the day—remembering where we had misplaced the programs, making us relax and laugh, and endearing himself to every single one of our guests.



I didn’t even want flowers. Well, to be clearer, I didn’t want to spend £200 (~$300) on flowers! About a month before the wedding, I found out that there is a flower market in Florence on a Thursday morning. As we arrived in the city on the Wednesday night, I figured we would take fifty euros, flower tape, some twine, and some scissors and just wing it with whatever white flowers we found there. Obviously, as soon as we saw the peonies, we fell in love, and they ended up complimenting the green in the color scheme beautifully. Although making the bouquets was HARD and far more time consuming than I expected, they were our favorite purchase for the wedding, and I’ve never been so proud of something I made with my own hands. I tearfully carried the wilting bouquet on the train to Bologna the next day as I just couldn’t bear to leave it behind.

We also didn’t want to spend a massive chunk of our budget on our wedding outfits, both of which were purchased online and on sale. My mum, who is fortunately not just talented but also unafraid to try anything creative once, added the sparkly embellishment to the waist on my dress and created the removable underskirt so that I could have the “long, white wedding dress” experience while still being able to dance and move and not overheat in the evening!



I had to talk John round to the idea of a first look—although he was happy to break with tradition in so many ways for our wedding, he really had a lot of investment in that first moment down the aisle. Our eventual agreement was that we would do the first look and the photographs around Florence, but then we would separate for the rest of the day (from 10am to 5pm) and he wouldn’t see me again until the aisle-moment, an idea which actually worked out to be quite magical as it meant I also didn’t see the reception and ceremony area until I walked down the aisle as I was hidden away! But this meant that we got the most beautiful, romantic first look, and just one of the most surreal mornings of my life walking around Florence at 7am, having our photos taken while Italian passers by shouted “Auguri!” (roughly translating to “congratulations”). Oh, and of course, we have the photographs, which speak for themselves!



When we first started planning we were totally set on being as budget as possible. I wanted no flowers, no decorations, no boutique wedding dress. I would do my own music, my own stage-managing, my own hair, my own makeup. (Most of which I followed through with!) I think, although this attitude works for some, sometimes trying not to spend money where it is needed can be so much more stressful and so much more of regret than just spending the money. We were dead-set on doing our own playlist and our own sound setup but it was difficult across language barriers, and we just aren’t professionals in that area who know what an outdoor sound setup needs! Our wonderful venue owner emailed us about six weeks out suggesting a DJ. We thought about it for a couple of days, and we realized that we were never realistically going to get together the ten hours of music needed and organize the sound system and to just spend the money. He was the absolute hit of the wedding and everyone was on the dance-floor from the first dance until gone 3am (when my sister’s boyfriend slipped the DJ extra money to keep playing!). I just wish I had removed the stress from the situation and opted to go with the DJ much earlier, not feeling like it was a failure as a “budget bride.”



I set up a wedding website which really helped get information across to guests, and it really seemed to get people excited; we also used this to set up our honeymoon fund. I also set up a Facebook group which meant I could post information to just the guests and could include information about things like “What is a ring warming?” and “What does an unplugged wedding mean?” with links and more information than would fit inside a normal program. Our guests also used it to send each other tips as they arrived and departed about airport security, etc. It just came in really handy. We also used this to crowdsource a list of songs to send to the DJ last minute, which guaranteed to get everyone on dance floor.

Generally being organized really helped. With an eighteen-month engagement, we started planning early and had all the big stuff ticked off with a year to go. This meant when we got closer to the time we could focus on things like writing the ceremony and helping our guests with their travel plans, not stressing about dress fittings or photographers. John’s main priority was also getting all the people he wanted there, so discussing our plans with our guests eighteen months out meant we were never under any illusions about who was going to be there, and it gave our friends from across the world time to plan their trips and save money. It really helped to remove the sending invite and waiting for RSVP stress too.



It’s okay to not be “too cool” for this whole wedding planning thing. I basically spent a year and a half faking being completely in control and on top of things, because admitting I was stressed or worrying about details would be admitting that I was invested and I cared about the result, which would mean if it went wrong then everyone would know how disappointed I was and how much effort I had put into a disaster! I’m sure everyone could see through my faux-casual facade anyway so I was only really kidding myself, and I missed out on a lot of support by shutting people down and keeping a lot of stress internal. And guess what? When you’ve faked out that you didn’t really work much on your wedding, and it all goes amazingly to plan and you want to celebrate and show the world? Well at some point you’re going to have to admit the amount of work you put in and why you are so proud. So just own it from the start.



For me it was the ceremony, I had put so much focus on the first look and the reception that I had kind of forgotten that the ceremony was important! Fortunately my dad agreed to officiate and worked with us on the ceremony in the months leading up to the wedding. On the day it was my favorite part—we had a ring warming, community vows, readings from our sisters, and personal vows, which ended up being almost identical. I cried my eyes out, and when I looked out at our guests I could just feel the emotion and how special the moment was. I couldn’t believe that there was anything more to the day than that because just that would have been more than enough.



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