John, engineer & jenny, ux researcher
Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A camp-style weekend getaway in the California Redwoods, complete with board games, dancing, a personal ceremony, and s’mores around the campfire.
Planned budget: $32,000
Actual budget: $36,000
Number of guests: 82
LOCATION: Ben Lomond, California
Where we allocated the most funds:
We spent the most on the venue for ourselves, food for our guests, and photography for memories of a lifetime. We’re both nature lovers, and we really wanted to get married in a place that embodied the natural beauty of majestic and rugged Northern California. Luckily, we found that at the Sequoia Retreat Center nestled within the Santa Cruz Mountains. The moment we saw the ceremony site, an amphitheater surrounded by a ring of towering Redwood trees, we knew this was where we wanted to get married. In fact, the ceremony site was so beautiful on its own that the only additional decorations were Boston Ferns that our wedding coordinator picked up from a local nursery!
We also love playing host and pampering our guests, so it was a no-brainer for us to allocate a big budget toward making sure our eighty-two guests were well fed. Again luckily, we didn’t have to go far to search for a caterer. The Sequoia Retreat Center has an excellent catering team who really outdid themselves in creating the most scrumptious cocktail hour appetizer spread, three-course dinner reception, and never-ending dessert bar. Our venue allowed us to bring our own wine and beer, so we did just that—after organizing a tasting with friends, giving us another way to celebrate! Guests left stuffed; mission accomplished. And finally, we wanted a good photographer so we can relive our day over and over. My friends warned me that “it’ll go by in a flash,” and it did. So we’re glad we had the super talented Evangeline Lane capturing our day.
Where we allocated the least funds:
Stationery, wedding cake, and officiant. We didn’t like the idea of our wedding leaving a trail of paper waste, and were also slightly appalled at how much paper goods cost if we wanted the whole programs-to-menu package. So instead, we passed on having programs, and DIYed the menu and seating chart with the help of our talented designer friends, Amazon Prime for card stock, and our trusty home printer. As for the wedding cake, we were lucky that my new mother-in-law loves baking and has been practically waiting for a lifetime to bake a wedding cake for her children’s wedding. We were her first-ever wedding “client,” and everyone absolutely loved her cake! And instead of hiring an officiant, we found it more meaningful and special to be married by our friend, who was more than happy to get ordained just so he could say the words, “By the power vested in me…” and pronounce us husband and wife. He was the best officiant we ever could have “hired.”
What was totally worth it:
Our wedding coordinator, Rebecca from Danzante Events. She was a force to be reckoned with. We knew we needed a day-of coordinator to make sure everything went smoothly on the wedding day, but Rebecca turned out to be way more than that. She started reaching out to help three months before the wedding, and spent half a day at the rental shop helping us pick out table decor, even though that wasn’t really her responsibility. And when the DJ we found had to withdraw from our contract three days before the wedding, Rebecca swiftly rescued the situation by finding us a DJ who was familiar with the venue, sent him our song list, and he did an amazing job!
What was totally not worth it:
I would say the hundreds of dollars we spent on the shuttle between our hotel block and the venue. Because of the narrow winding roads of the venue, there was only one shuttle company we could hire. The company did a great job, but the shuttle only had seventeen seats. If we factor in the amount of work coordinating the shuttle schedule with our guests and the total number of guests it shuttled that day for us, we probably could have saved money by paying for people’s Uber rides instead.
A few things that helped us along the way:
APW, of course! That’s how we found our photographer and florist. I also used APW’s budget template to get started outlining a budget. As for the rest, it was definitely our friends. We were lucky to have many talented friends and family, and we were not shy at all to leverage their collective pool of talents, which included shooting our engagement photos, designing the signage, choreographing our first dance, designing a cake topper… the list goes on and on. They saved us a boatload of money and made our wedding even more special to us.
My best practical advice for my planning self:
Don’t try to “have it all” because the glossy wedding magazines and Pinterest suggest that “you need it all.” When we internalized what we cared about and what was the most impactful toward our guests’ happiness, it really allowed us to prioritize the budget and be ruthless with cutting out the stuff that didn’t matter to us, like paper programs, videography, and specialized silverware rentals. At the end of the day, we felt like we did have it all.
And, trust yourself and the people you’ve chosen to surround you on your wedding day. Trust that you’ve done your best while planning to take care of your guests’ needs, and trust that you’ve hired the best team to do their job.
Favorite thing about the wedding:
The speeches. The four speeches we had that night brought us through a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Our two close friends who kicked off dinner surprised us with a live performance of their own rendition of “Be Our Guest” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, where they swapped the original lyrics to lyrics about me and John. We were laughing our heads off. Then, the best man followed with a heartfelt speech that sent us into tears, only to laugh again at my maid-of-honor twin sister’s hilarious speech. Even as the words of the speeches start to fade over time, we will never forget the emotions we felt that day.