How We Put Together an Appalachian Lovefest with Soul for $14K

Our community was everything


Kate, board-certified behavior analyst & Dan, physical therapy doctoral student

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A community-built, 100-guest Appalachian fest of love.

Planned budget: $10,000

Actual budget: $14,000

Number of guests: 100


Where we allocated the most funds:

The food and photographers together took up more than half of our original budget, and they were worth every penny. Our photographers, Carolyn and Geoff, were beyond talented. We were so grateful to have them at our wedding, not only because they basically stepped in as impromptu event coordinators (and kept us on schedule!) or because they captured our day more beautifully than we could have imagined, but because their wonderful presence made our wedding so much more special. They made our vision come to life, and the photos will be our favorite wedding keepsake for decades to come. CR Catering was one of the only caterers in our rural town that used organic, locally sourced meats and produce, and hosting a sustainable, vegan-friendly wedding was one of our highest priorities. And they didn’t disappoint—our guests raved about our reception dinner for weeks after!


Where we allocated the least funds:

We spent two years thrifting, flea marketing, and handcrafting our decor and tableware, and almost all of it doubled as household decor after the wedding. The art pieces hang on our walls, the suitcases are stacked up as bedside tables, the centerpieces decorate our windowsills and bookshelves, the picnic blankets became our bed quilts, we turned the twelve embroidered table numbers into a giant wall clock, and the collection of 200 mismatched dinner and dessert plates are the start of our budding wedding rental business in St. Louis, Missouri. The ability to repurpose almost everything from the wedding made it cost-effective and ecologically sustainable.

Our local florist sold greenery by the bucket, typically used as filler for floral arrangements. We saved significant funds buying buckets of greenery instead of flowers, and saved even more when our talented bridesladies volunteered to make the bouquets and arrangements. To add some color to the palate, we picked up radishes, beets, carrots, and herbs from the local market. We were able to compost the locally grown greens, and our guests packed up the herbs and veggies in our screen-printed “thank you” tote bags to juice or cook at home!


What was totally worth it:

Marching to the beat of our own drum! We started bucking wedding traditions even before we got engaged, when I bought my own engagement ring and sold it to Dan to propose with. For our ceremony, we had half our guests sitting on quilts, we incorporated a metta (compassion) meditation and community vows because these unusual traditions were meaningful to us, and when we couldn’t choose between two people we loved to officiate, we asked them both (one of our best decisions!). At our co-officants’ suggestion, everyone pronounced our marriage together at the end of the ceremony, shouting in unison, “We, your community, now pronounce you married people!” For our reception, we skipped the bouquet and garter tosses, drew couples’ names from a hat when guests clinked their glasses, convinced the band to let us karaoke a jazz number, and had six small cakes instead of one big one! The cakes became a special way to commemorate the weddings of our parents and grandparents, all twelve of whom are still married or were together until death. By embracing the traditions we found meaningful, ditching the traditions that didn’t mesh with our ideals, and building a few of our own traditions along the way, we were able to create a wedding that was completely true and personal to us.

On the flip side, we’re also glad that we considered a few special wishes of our dearest friends and family. I jokingly granted my mom three wedding wishes, and her biggest wish was one I wouldn’t have ever predicted: she wanted me to wear something—anything!—on my head. I hadn’t previously considered any sort of hairpiece, but it led me to discovering that my mom’s bridal veil matched my dress perfectly. It was such a touching moment when she placed her veil on my head and walked me down the aisle. Dan’s father also requested that we open up the mic to everyone for toasts, and those impromptu toasts ended up being one of our favorite wedding memories.


What was totally not worth it:

Hiring a day-of coordinator wasn’t on our short list, but we decided to bite the bullet after careful consideration and reading rave reviews about great coordinators on APW. Unfortunately, our coordinator became increasingly unresponsive in the month leading up to our wedding and dropped out the day beforehand. Though the person who was supposed to reduce wedding stress ended up causing the most stress, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After hearing the news, our community came together in an incredible way to help us pull off every aspect of the ceremony and reception. Friends and family collaborated on setting and cleaning up, our photographers kept us on schedule, and we made all the reception announcements ourselves (and since Dan is a bit of a ham, our guests loved that!). Though we wished our guests could have spent more of the weekend relaxing, we were so moved by the magnitude of our community’s love and help. It felt much more personal and community-oriented, and that do-it-together vibe made our wedding even more meaningful and memorable to us.


A few things that helped us along the way:

Not so much things, but people! Our community came together in a profound way in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to our wedding. My superhero mom visited vendors and venues while we wedding-planned from Nashville, my aunt sewed a corset into my vintage wedding dress, my sister spent hours helping us assemble wedding zines, my brideslady sewed her own dress, my cousin crafted the cake and dinner menus, another cousin (a surgeon!) sewed up my dress without a needle when I ripped it during pre-ceremony photos, a dear friend single-handedly concocted the entire cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres, Dan’s jazz band toured across America to land in Tennessee in time to play at our wedding, and folks swooped in to take on countless last minute details. The ceremony site the morning of the wedding was a sea of friends and family members laughing, crafting, lifting, carrying, arranging, sewing, hanging, and more. I spontaneously burst into tears at multiple points during the weekend, overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and the amazing community we had inherited over the course of our lives.


My best practical advice for my planning self:

A few months into our engagement, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Though seeking help (about five years overdue) opened doors to resources that were invaluable for managing wedding planning stress, there were still challenges. I managed a whopping three hours of sleep the night before the wedding and had a full-blown panic attack the next morning. With beans for sleep and frayed to my last nerve, I didn’t look or feel how I’d hoped to on my wedding day… And it was still the best day ever! Although I didn’t perfectly accomplish wedding planning with GAD, there were a few things I learned along the way:

1. Choose DIY projects that make the maximum impact with the minimum effort. Our guests still talk about our larger-scale projects, even though several of them were completed in a single afternoon. In hindsight, some of our smaller DIY details (for example, cross-stitching twelve table numbers) didn’t have enough impact to be worth the stress.

2. Make a practice of picturing worst-case wedding scenarios and making peace with them. That may sound bizarre, but your wedding is bound to differ from your expectations, and you’ll be better-equipped emotionally if you’re flexible with your vision. I made this a part of my daily meditation practice: thunderstorms calling off our open air dance party? No problem, we can dance in the hallway if we have to. A well-meaning relative taking mid-aisle cell phone pics during our unplugged ceremony? It’s totally cool, maybe they’ll get a great snap. None of the things I pictured going wrong actually happened, but I felt mentally-prepped when other things went awry during the wedding weekend. I found myself letting go of my rigid expectations more easily than I would have without this practice.

3. Make self-care a priority the night before the wedding! I got carried away trying to spend time with everyone the night beforehand, but nobody would have minded if I’d excused myself at a reasonable hour to take the time for activities that would have helped calm my nerves. If I could have one do-over, I would have left the Friday festivities before midnight and taken a long, hot bath.

4. Whenever possible, choose vendors that get stuff done, but who also feel like friends. Vendors that make you feel good will do wonders for your wedding stress. Our photographers, Carolyn and Geoff, spent a year swapping YouTube videos with us, talking the finer points of Hall & Oates, and sharing advice from their wealth of experience (my favorite tip: “I have had people regret wearing too much makeup, but I have never had a bride regret not wearing enough makeup”). By the day of the wedding, they already felt like close friends. The venue manager, Marty, took the time to get to know us and made us feel at home at Sugar Hollow Retreat. Marty and I both cried when we said goodbye! It was a godsend to have people who made me feel relaxed and comfortable in my own skin, especially when the anxiety got so bad I wanted to crawl out of it.


Favorite thing about the wedding:

Having a wedding weekend! Our venue is typically used as a retreat and family reunion site, so we were able to rent out the whole grounds for the weekend. Since the venue was very remote, almost everyone camped or rented a cabin on site and spent time with one another. Dan’s parents generously hosted a barbecue welcome dinner on Friday, and my parents generously hosted a Southern brunch on Sunday (disclaimer: we didn’t include these meals in our $14,000 budget), so we had the opportunity to spend quality time with each of our guests. We had dozens of people warn us that our wedding day would go by in the blink of an eye, and they were right! The three day weekend allowed us to get the most out of our whirlwind wedding.


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