Our $13K Colorful DIY Wedding Was A Blast Of Pure Fun

Tacos, inflatable dinos, balloons, and flamingo floaties

Stacey, Magazine editor & max, university student advisor

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A super playful, colorful wedding with food trucks, inflatable dinosaurs, bolo ties, and a mariachi band.

Planned budget: $10,000
Actual budget: $13,000
Number of guests: 175
LOCATION: Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Where we allocated the most funds:

Food and drink! Though we started off with the idea that we might just do a cocktail reception, ultimately we wanted to a) eat a delicious meal on our wedding day and b) make sure our guests had full bellies so they wouldn’t get too drunk. (It turns out that no amount of tacos could have prevented the hangovers that were to come, but we tried.) It could’ve been much more expensive than it was—we used food trucks from local heroes Tacofino and Vij’s Railway Express and the per head price was almost half of what catering companies were quoting—but feeding 175 people adds up no matter what. We also wanted to have an open bar, and though we got a deal on some kegs from a friend who used to work at a brewery, and Max’s parents took care of the wine, it turns out everyone really wanted to drink hard liquor, so our bar staff had to run out halfway through and restock… so that racked up a bit of a bill we weren’t expecting.

Where we allocated the least funds:

We got a steal of a deal on the venue. The Russian Hall had just undergone renovations when we stumbled upon it, and they’d never actually done a wedding before, so they charged waaaay less than the industry standard. And they had library-style chairs and folding wooden tables that worked just fine for our needs, so we didn’t need to rent any furniture at all. There were also lots of things we just skipped all together because we weren’t excited about them or didn’t care. The goal was to have a fun party and personal ceremony, not to follow every tradition. We were happy with paper plates and napkins from the food trucks, so we didn’t bother renting plates or cutlery.

We skipped paper invitations in favor of good ol’ email, and we passed on wedding favors all together. Our rings were both passed down from family (mine from my grandma who had passed away a few months earlier, and Max moved his signet ring, gifted by his mother years ago, from his right hand to left during the ceremony). Max’s mom did the flowers—she used to be a florist—and his dad took care of the wine. My mom planned out (and paid for) all the desserts. And we both got our outfits off the rack (mine from Ted Baker and Max’s from Simons) so we probably spent less on those than most people. Oh, and we made our own playlist (and had a lot of fun doing it), so no DJ. We used butcher paper instead of proper tablecloths, so we saved money there AND gave our guests somewhere to doodle (we put crayons on every table). And since we were getting married in town, we just cabbed home afterward—no hotel or limo costs to worry about.

What was totally worth it:

A day-of coordinator. This was a last-minute decision. We both love planning and producing events, so we were pretty confident in taking charge of the wedding from the beginning, but as the date began to creep closer, I started having nightmares about missing the party because I was too worried about the logistics of whether or not the taco truck showed up. We decided it was a good investment to hire somebody to handle any day-of problem-solving so we could actually enjoy the party we planned. It turned out to be well worth it: when the bar ran out of booze and ice, when a wedding crasher wandered in off the streets, when it turned out we miscalculated the spacing for seating and had to revise the room layout on the fly, she was on the case, and we were none the wiser.

We also splurged on some very silly surprises for the dance floor: we bought three inflatable dino costumes and asked some friends to come hit the dance floor in them; we hired a mariachi band to show up unannounced so we could bully a family friend into singing “La Bamba” for everyone; we threw some flamingo pool floaties into the mix, and they were a hit. Oh, also, 11 p.m. greasy pizza was a slam-dunk. All hail the midnight snack. Since our venue was so reasonably priced, we were lucky enough to be able to rent the hall for a few hours the night before and the next morning as well, which meant we got to take our time setting up and taking down. I can’t even imagine how we would have got it all done on the day of the party. Another decision I’m happy with is that we didn’t bother getting the photographer to document the “getting ready” part of the day. That allowed us to extend the time he was at the actual party instead. (We also did our bridal party photos before the ceremony, which allowed us to actually spend time with our guests from start to finish instead of taking a break in the middle… highly recommended.)

What was totally not worth it:

We decided to have some signature cocktails (a “Dark and Stacey” and a “Maxwell Mule”), but getting the special ingredients for that was a little pricier and slowed down the bar service. We got a bunch of colorful Solo cups because we thought it would be most cost-effective than rentals for the cocktails and draft beer, but people didn’t reuse them like I thought they might, so the bar staff wound up having to go buy more plastic cups halfway through the night, which meant they were probably more expensive in the long run. My best friend made us an AMAZING alcohol calculator, but we really misjudged how much wine and beer our guests would want to drink (they turned out to prefer cocktails), so we wound up with like six cases of wine and an extra keg and a half.

A few things that helped us along the way:

Deciding on a firm guest list number first off was essential. It helped us find the right venue and build from there. Being honest with each other and our families about what was important to us and what wasn’t (for example, we were pressured to make a registry and said no, and it worked out just fine). Taking advantage of friends with connections was great too: an event-planning friend helped me get a discount on wine glass rentals.

We used Wunderlist to make a game plan and assign tasks to each other. A shared Google Doc for tracking expenses and research was helpful too. My best friend made us a really great alcohol calculator. Friends were so, so, so helpful and lovely. We had a big crew come help us set up on Friday night, blowing up balloons and stringing up lights and setting up tables, and then back again Sunday morning to help us pack everything away. Our parents took charge of so much, too (flowers, wine, cake, setting up, providing some financial support), and we’re so grateful.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

People love to help and love to feel useful, so remember that giving them a job to do or a specific responsibility will not only make your life easier, but it will make them feel happy and helpful too. Just remember to feel grateful and not guilty about it. And if you don’t care about something, and another person does, why not let them take the reins? My mom was very enthusiastic about the cake, so I gave her full permission to take it and run with it. We love planning and producing (we put on comedy events and shows, and I love planning theme parties) so putting on a wedding was a lot of fun for us, but I know not everyone is a spreadsheet/timeline nerd, so my advice would be to ask a friend who loves making lists to help you out. They’ll be delighted.

About the dress, my advice would be this: Don’t worry about wearing something “bridal”; worry about wearing something awesome. I actually wound up buying two wedding dresses. In the first few months of planning, I was resentful of the amount of emphasis there was to find the “perfect dress” (planning a wedding can be hard when you’re a principled feminist who has a lot of problems with the wedding industrial complex, whoops), so I bought a white bridesmaid dress in haste just to get it over with. It was boring but I was firm that it was functional enough and that it didn’t really matter what I wore. But then a wise friend suggested that I might want to actually feel excited about what I would get to wear on my wedding day, so I started over and went to Nordstrom and looked at dresses that felt more like me, and I wound up with a Ted Baker dress that was really special and elegant, but also colorful and fun, and as soon as I tried it on I couldn’t wait to wear it again. (AND IT HAD POCKETS!)

My advice on the photography would be this: If you want lots of pics of your guests, tell your photographer that. We forgot to, and looking back at the photos I really wish we’d emphasized that we wanted tons of snapshots of our friends and family throughout the night, too. Also, try not to drink too much. You want to be present and soak in every moment, and that becomes increasingly difficult when your cousin starts pressuring you to do shots.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

We wrote our own ceremony and vows, and I loved hearing our officiant bringing everything to life and making each other laugh and cry. The speeches were amazing, too (one of my bridesmaids arranged for two other friends to do a dramatic re-enactment of our relationship). And we loved loved loved the dance floor—all our favorite songs playing, dancing with my co-workers and family, seeing inflatable dinosaurs groove to Next’s “Too Close,” watching the flamingo pool floaties get passed around.

Other things we’d like to share:

The motto for our wedding was “look good, have fun” and everybody complied. Our wedding definitely wasn’t Pinterest perfect—the helium balloon display didn’t work out quite right, and we had to shuffle all the tables off to the side during the ceremony because of a miscalculation during layout planning—but it was perfect to us. We were laughing the whole time. It was so amazing over the next few weeks to hear everybody’s recaps from the wedding—to hear how much fun they had and how delighted and surprised they were by our personalized touches. For us, getting married was an opportunity to say thank you to our family and friends and to celebrate our happiness, and I think we pulled off a day that did just that. The next morning we woke up a little sad that it was all over… but we’re already talking about how we can top it with a big tenth anniversary blowout.

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