How We: Had A Fun, Relaxed, And Joyful Arizona Wedding

Seriously, don't worry about the chairs.

Maureen, Chemical Engineer & Harley, Probation Officer

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: It was a fun, relaxed, amazing day, and we were completely surrounded by the love of our favorite people.

Planned Budget: $12,500

Actual Budget: $13,300 (Doesn’t include Maureen’s dress or Harley’s suit, which were gifts. The budget was $14,500 if you include those items.)

Number of Guests: 99 Invited, 72 Attended (76 people to feed including us and photographers)

Where we allocated the most funds

Catering (and alcohol) was 30% of the actual budget. Photography was 20% of the actual budget, as was the venue. The venue was a buy-out of a bed and breakfast for the weekend, so it also included accommodations for two nights for us and six guests. It was important to us to have delicious food, but we couldn’t afford a sit-down meal for the number of guests we wanted to have, so we opted for a cocktail party. Best. Decision. Ever. It allowed us to have the wedding at our venue of choice (which couldn’t have accommodated a sit-down meal for eighty) and it made it so all our guests were interacting with each other.

Where we allocated the least funds

For flowers, I fell in love with Billy Balls (craspedia) and found a great source for dried ones. This had numerous benefits… they were cheap, could be assembled way ahead of time, and would last a long time, so they are now on display in my home (and the homes of several of my friends). About three hundred stems shipped for under $100. We used them in the centerpieces, bouquets, and boutonnières. The total for decorations was about $300. My mother made all of the fabric runners, and my maid of honor made the aisle decorations (and bouquets and boutonnières). We used iTunes for our playlist and it worked great, so $0 spent there.

What was totally worth it

Having the wedding in Arizona to make sure important family members would be able to attend. My dream of a wedding on the Oregon coast or in an orchard in the Columbia River Gorge would have made for some amazing photos, but having the people there was ultimately more important. Also, our desserts! The cakes and five different desserts were amazing. My only regret is we couldn’t really take very much of the leftovers on the plane.

What was totally not worth it

Worrying about chairs for our ceremony. There wasn’t room for seventy chairs in the courtyard, so we ended up having thirty chairs for immediate family and older guests, with everyone else standing during our short (about ten minute) ceremony. I spent so much time worrying that people would be upset about standing or confused or whatever, and I didn’t hear one word about it. It was wonderful to be completely surrounded by our loved ones during the ceremony, and people were able to see us and hear us perfectly.

A few things that helped us along the way

Harley’s dad and his wife took charge of organizing the vendors and setting up the rentals and decorations… we didn’t have to lift a finger. Our wedding would not have been nearly as beautiful without the help of my maid of honor, Carrie. She crafted her heart out in the months leading up to the wedding, and everything looked wonderful!

My best practical advice for my planning self

People are adults, and they can figure out for themselves if appetizers and desserts will be enough food for the evening, as long as you let them know what to expect. Obsessively checking will not magically affect the weather, so just let it go. Be sure to use way more sunscreen than you think is necessary on your pre-wedding hike so you don’t have tan lines in your strapless dress (fail).

Favorite thing about the wedding

Feeling all the love from our most important people. Having our friends that have never met become instant best friends. Saying our vows to each other. And Harley smashing cake in his best man’s face… that was fantastic.

Other Notes

It truly felt like there was wedding magic going on… from the perfect weather in Scottsdale (it has been a hundred degrees that time of year before), to Harley’s sister’s cat miraculously not destroying my dress despite vomiting on the garment bag and trying to climb up it the night before we left for the wedding. The wedding wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe posting a guard on the laptop running the playlist… the song my mother thought was hilarious to throw in? Not in the plan. The after party runs a super-close second to the actual wedding, and oh, how I wish our photographer had still been there to capture the parade of us and all our friends through Old Town on the way to the bar. Note to any after party goers… while the bouncer may decide ID is optional for the bride and groom, he will not be as lenient with the thirty friends trailing behind them!


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  • JSwen

    Beautiful wedding. Did your officiant need a microphone for your outdoor ceremony?

    • MM

      Thank you! We did not use a microphone. I think being in a courtyard, surrounded on 3 sides helped with that. We did have to turn off the fountain in the courtyard, however.

  • Jules

    I LOVE billy balls! I didn’t know they came dried. Great great tip. Your boutonnieres are fab!

    Also, I find the fact that the cat scaled your dress hilarious since it all ended up okay.

  • AJ

    “Obsessively checking will not magically affect the weather, so just let it go.” Ha, this was me! I cross compared, accuweather, & wunderground every few minutes in the weeks leading up to our outdoor wedding.

    • Lily

      oh my god, this is me RIGHT NOW. I had never heard of wunderground until now… you gave me something new to do! ;)

    • sara g

      Ugh, I did this obsessively just for our engagement photos this last weekend. (It poured rain anyways.) I’m going to be a nervous wreck when the month before the wedding rolls around!

  • lw

    Love the bridal jewelry! Where did you get it?

    • MM

      My mother actually made the necklace, earrings and bracelet using pearls from a necklace that belonged to my grandmother.

  • swarmofbees

    Hooray for Arizona weddings!! The desert picture is so beautiful. I too am having a wedding in Arizona so that the most important people can be there. I think that really trumps the admittedly beautiful wedding you may have planned elsewhere. Plus, you can have gorgeous desert wedding pictures! I am looking forward to lots of Saguaro pictures, though as we will definitely be married on a 100+ day, we may not last that long for outside pictures.

    • Rebekah

      We just got married in Tempe on Saturday, and although it was 78 the weekend before and will be 75 this Wednesday, it was 100. I heard no complaints, but definitely was another person adding to all the traffic on Weather. com

      • swarmofbees

        Congratulations on getting married! What bad luck with the weather, though. At least no one was complaining.

    • swarmofbees

      Also, I love the picture of the two little girls looking up to the grandmother, perhaps?. Such a cute picture :)

    • Yay AZ weddings! As a Tucsonan, it always warms my heart to see some AZ weddings. We had a winter reception, so heat wasn’t much of an issue for us. (We did hold an inside event, however, because we desert dwellers are very wimpy when it comes to cold- which for us means anything under 60 degrees fahrenheit.)

    • scw

      I love the desert picture too, and laughed a little when I read the line about the wedding looking better on the Oregon coast or an orchard. the photos are already amazing!

    • Oh, but desert sunset photos are the best. We took a bunch of engagement photos with saguaros at sunset and I love them. :)

    • Alyssa M

      Yay Arizona brides! Lived in Tucson for a while, so I appreciate the desert logistical issues. Feeling the need to point out that AZ isn’t all desert though! We’ve got mountains! And my AZ wedding will among the pines :)

      • swarmofbees

        I am so jealous of the weddings I see up in Cottonwood or by Prescott. Those are so pretty too!! Perhaps weddings are just pretty (if pretty is what you are going for).

        • Alyssa M

          Definitely weddings are just pretty. I mean, the number of courthouse weddings on APW I’ve been awestruck by? I think AZ is great because we’ve SO many different settings for weddings. Deserts, canyons, red rocks, pine trees, Verde Valley, industrial downtown Phoenix and Tucson, and they’re all so pretty!

  • emmers

    Ahh, so exciting!! We are also having a cocktail reception, for many of the reasons you mentioned. And maybe an IPOD dance party. Any more tips about either of those things?

  • Lily

    Gorgeous!! Do you have a clearer/closer photo of your hairdo that you could share? I luurrve it and would love to have a clear close-up to show my hairdresser.

  • scw

    we are only going to have a few chairs at our ceremony, too, and it’s a decision I’ve been a little stressed out about. I love the idea of all our loved ones gathering around us in a cluster, but have been worried that it won’t work as well in practice. I’m so glad to hear that it worked out for you! I wish there were more pictures of what a ceremony like that looks like.

    • YetAntherMegan

      I’ve been to standing outdoor weddings where the standing worked and where it didn’t. The main difference is the ground people will be standing on. Standing on a flat surface for a relatively short ceremony is fine. Standing on a not insignificant hill facing downhill requires a *much* shorter service or chairs for balance and foot/calf/hip reasons.

      • scw

        thanks for that advice! ours is actually inside – we’ll be getting married on the landing of a staircase and everyone else will be huddled around (plus a few chairs for those who want to/need to sit) – so we don’t need to worry about the ground, but that’s good advice.

  • Ashlee

    I definitely like the idea of dried flowers (both pretty and practical, as you talked about). How hard was doing your own arrangements? Maybe APW could do a tutorial (or your MOH could)? I know there are the DIY fresh flower tutorials, but I’m guessing the techniques are a lot different with dried? I had been looking at an Etsy vendor who does bouquet packages, but it’s still not much cheaper than fresh cut (though being able to get and store them ahead of time may be reason enough), so I like seeing your success with the DIY route.

    • MM

      So our centerpieces consisted of several stems placed in tall bottles…no technique required! I sent my MOH the APW tutorials on building a bouquet. Pretty sure it was just adding a few stems at a time and lots of floral tape. She said the smaller bouquets were easy, but my big one was a bit of a pain. But, considering a bouquet that size was at least $75 on Etsy, we decided it was worth the effort.

      • Ashlee

        Awesome, thanks for the info!

      • Carrie Smallwood

        Building your large bouquet was really only difficult because of my freakishly small hands, trying to grip around a large number of stems ;) I found that the easiest way to do it was to start with a small bouquet (about 10 stems), and then gradually add more around the edges. I would turn it upside down after each time I added more, and lightly tap it on a flat surface so the top would be completely flat. Once I had the number of flowers I wanted added to the bouquet, lightly gripping it in one hand to allow movement of the stems, I used the palm of my other hand to gently push down on the outer flowers to give it the rounded shape. I then wrapped the stems with lots of floral tape to hold it all in place. On the day of the wedding, I used more floral tape to add live baby’s breath around the outer edge of the bouquet, and then added the Chevron bouquet wrap that had been sewn in advance. :)

  • This part really spoke to me:
    What was totally worth it
    Having the wedding in Arizona to make sure important family members would be able to attend.

    We live in Arizona. But had our wedding in Utah for the same reason. The night before our wedding, with freezing temperatures outside and snow predicted for the next day, my uncle pulled me aside at dinner and asked why we were getting married in cold Utah rather than warm Arizona. I told him it was so Grandpa, his dad, could be there. He agreed that was the perfect explanation. The next morning we got married with a blizzard outside. But Grandpa was there. He died before our first anniversary. Getting married where we did was totally worth it.

    • swarmofbees


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  • Elizabeth

    “People are adults, and they can figure out for themselves if appetizers
    and desserts will be enough food for the evening, as long as you let
    them know what to expect.” <– What I have been saying to my mother who is freaking out about the fact that we are not having a sit-down meal and *gasp* there will be no meat!

  • deepbluedream

    Just have to ask because I keep hearing about “after parties”… Is it not normal for weddings to last until 2:00 AM or even later? Where I come from, you never hear about after parties because the wedding reception goes on until everyone is ready to drop! Then you get a cab home and go to bed. Hahah.

  • meleyna

    AZ represent! We are also doing a bed and breakfast buyout for our reception, but in Central Phoenix. Fingers crossed for perfect weather in mid-October!

    Also, Tracy Dempsey desserts? SO jealous.