Our $40K Stan Mansion Wedding Chicago Wedding

A Love Letter In Dance Party Form

Lindsay, Pediatric Occupational Therapist & Jay, jd/mba student 

sum-up of the wedding vibe: A love letter lived out in the midst of the hypest dance party imaginable.

Planned Budget: $30,000
Actual Budget: $40,000
Number of Guests: 190
Location: The Stan Mansion | Chicago, Illinois

Where we allocated the most funds:

The venue, transforming the venue (flowers, uplighting, drapery), and food and alcohol.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Surprisingly, the photographer. Jay hired Sarah Crost to secretly photograph our proposal, and those pictures were phenomenal and I will treasure them for the rest of my life. But since Sarah was new at the time, and I like to make things difficult, I decided I wanted to research and meet with a few other photographers. There was one photographer whose pictures I loved online, but I had to set up a phone call to get her pricing. I fell in love with her on the phone. I remember thinking mid conversation, “No matter what her prices end up being, I’m going with her.” Until, after forty-five minutes into the phone call, she told me her packages started at $6,000. Wedding planning is hard and time consuming, and I had just wasted forty-five minutes falling in love with a vendor I could never afford. It felt so mean. (To any engaged people, my advice is to politely insist on knowing the vendor’s pricing prior to a phone call.)

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I wanted to make sure Jay and I genuinely liked our photographer because that would be the one vendor who was literally by our side the entire day. There was another photographer that was more reasonably priced, had lots of experience, and whose pictures I liked on Instagram, so Jay and I moved forward with meeting with her at a coffee shop. What I thought was a “get to know you” coffee, turned into an anxiety-inducing hour-long meeting where we were drilled on a million questions we had not even thought of yet. When she declared to Jay, “There is no way you can make your cocktail hour since you aren’t doing a first look,” I knew it was over. Homeboy was making the cocktail hour, and no one was going to tell him different. As disappointed as I was with how the meeting went, deep down I knew I was already too type-A and didn’t need this person further stressing me out on my wedding day. But I still hemmed and hawed for a couple days because I liked her pictures.

A little beat up and worn out, I met with Sarah. And what a breath of fresh air she was! She instantly put me at ease. She was willing to be flexible and didn’t badger me about our nonexistent timeline. When she talked about her passion for wedding photography, she renewed my excitement. I just loved being around her: she was quirky, calm, and gentle. Honestly, I was still nervous to sign on with her because I felt like she was relatively new to wedding photography. But I trusted her creativity, her eye, her work ethic, and her dedication to us and her craft, so I took a chance. It didn’t hurt she gave us a huge deal since we were one of her first clients, either. And you guys, look at these pictures. I could cry. She was the best decision we made. What an artist.

What was totally worth it:

The gospel choir and the videographer. The ceremony meant just as much to me as the reception, but I was shocked to discover any resources to help plan it were so limited. I knew I wanted it to be genuine to Jay and me, which meant most traditions like unity candles or sand were out of the question. (Nothing against them, it just wasn’t our style.) We ended up meeting with our pastor a few times to get a rough template down, and we decided we wanted the main focus to be our personal vows to one another. From there, Jay and I crafted the sermon together and picked two readings. I had the idea for a gospel choir. It seemed far-fetched at the time, but my good friends who are in the business of making people’s dreams happen gifted the gospel choir to us. We are deeply grateful to them. I will never forget walking down the aisle and locking eyes with Jay while the gospel choir roared the chorus of “Blessings” by Chance The Rapper. I still get goose bumps and teary eyed thinking about it.

At the last minute I decided to hire a videographer, the fabulous Gene Yoon for our ceremony and the first half of the reception. My biggest regret is not hiring him the entire time. Just do it, you guys. You think you won’t want it and then your fiancé/husband who never cries wipes his eye as you are reading your vows. Your grandparents two-step to “Stir Fry” by Migos, and you will never be the same. A certain friend makes their dancing debut to “Pony” on the dance floor, and people are still texting you about it three months later. You’re going to wish you had those moments to relive on video, I promise you.

What was totally not worth it:

We probably could have done without the late-night snack (we had a taco bar). Quite a few people mentioned to me that they thought it was really cool, but the majority of our guests were too busy dancing to take advantage of it.

A few things that helped us along the way:

I had a specific vision for my wedding that went beyond decor. I knew how I wanted the day to feel, which meant I needed to truly love each vendor and have them love us. Because as much as I wanted to make sure I liked them and their craft, I also wanted each vendor to feel invested and buy into our vision for the day, so I made a short two-page PDF about Jay and me.

The PDF is now the first thing I recommend to every newly engaged couple I know. It gave each vendor a chance to know us on a more personal level, make connections (“Hey, we went to the same college!”), and start an actual relationship. And because I think it gave insight into what I would be like as a bride, a lot of vendors were willing to work with our needs. The venue we ending up choosing was initially not in our budget, but after I sent them our PDF, they waived the parking and security fee and gave us a significant discount. We ended up becoming friends with so many of our vendors, which made everything more fun. Our cake person drove over an hour to be at our final walk through a month before our wedding. She literally just makes the cake the day before the wedding and delivers it the day of, but she came anyway because she was “so happy to be included.” Our drapery and lighting vendor surprised us with string lights down the stage for our reception. I will always remember walking into the room and being floored. I can’t get over their kindness. Make a PDF, be gracious to your vendors, and all you will feel is love on your wedding day.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Make your deadline for all wedding things to be done a week before the wedding day and stick to it. Seriously. Then you can enjoy that week and you are not in a panic when inevitably something does come up—like your lash extension person gets lash glue in your eye and it is red as a lobster and you have to make an emergency eye doctor appointment three hours before your rehearsal dinner. Because I am here to say, that can happen. So many people told me my wedding would go by so fast, and it would all be a blur. I was committed to not letting that happen. In order to be present the entire day, I put away my phone and gave our day-of coordinator five different people to call before she ever contacted me should something go wrong. Then I soaked in the precious time with my very best girlfriends, and experienced every moment to the full with Jay and my family. I didn’t go in with this expectation, but it ended up being one of the best nights of my entire life. Do what you’ve got to do to be present… it will be worth it.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

The dancing. By far, the dancing. Oh my god, how do I even begin to tell you. Our crowd had some eclectic music tastes; a large portion of my family is from small-town Oklahoma, half of Jay’s family is Indian, and we prefer hip hop and R&B. But our DJ somehow created a vibe and vision that I will be reminiscing about for years to come. No one ever stopped dancing. Seriously. There was two-stepping to “Stir Fry,” I saw people practically make love on the dance floor (sorry, Grandma), and I’ve never seen a crowd go so wild to “Wipe Me Down.” If I had known our friends could dance like they did that night, I would have called So You Think You Can Dance in advance.

Something else I’d Like to Share:

I was really thankful to have a year and a half engagement, because it gave me the time and space to plan moments that would be meaningful to us. Understandably, so much of the planning goes into the logistics of the reception. But having the time to write our own vows and share them with one another in front of the people we loved most is something I continue to cherish deeply. I also sorta tricked Jay into hiring someone to choreograph our first dance (hehe, sorry Jay), and the process of learning a new skill with him was so fun. We kept it a secret from our guests, which made it even more exciting and sweet when we made our dancing debut to “XO” by Beyoncé.


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