How We: Planned A Kid-Friendly Wedding In Tennessee

With a dash of hula hoops

Arden, Children’s Minister & Biff, Genetics Grad Student

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A kid-friendly traditional wedding followed by a joyful reception, complete with hula hoops.

Planned Budget: We intentionally didn’t set a strict budget and just tried to pay a reasonable amount for each major wedding-related expense. That said, I thought we’d end up between $20,000 and $25,000.

Actual Budget: $27,855

Number of Guests: 191

Where we allocated the most funds

Catering and photography were by far our biggest expenses. Photography was my number one priority for the wedding. Silverbox Photographers had shot the wedding of a friend from church five years ago, and my mom and I had instantly fallen in love with her pictures. We’d check out Silverbox’s blog every now and then in the intervening years, and when I got engaged I was thrilled they were willing to travel from Columbia, Missouri, to Franklin, Tennessee, to photograph our wedding. I knew feeding nearly two hundred people wouldn’t be cheap, and for a while during the planning period I worried we’d invited too many. But on the day of the wedding, it was SO GREAT to be surrounded by so many of the friends and family members who helped raise us and shape us into the people we are today.

Where we allocated the least funds

Music and decorations. I spent four dollars on an app (Louder Logic) that would allow the songs to crossfade into each other and under two hours the week before the wedding making the playlist for the reception, and that was it. I don’t consider myself a “music person,” and I got TONS of compliments on the playlist. If I could do it, you can do it! Though my playlist was twice as long as it needed to be, and I was pretty bummed my back-to-back combo of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “All the Single Ladies” didn’t make it to air.

As far as decorations went, we bought mirrors and votive candles for the tables and a couple small things to make signs for the gift table, and that was mostly it. We borrowed strings of extra globe lights from a neighbor and glass vases from friends. The day before the wedding, a group of us trekked out to a nearby flower farm to cut wildflowers, and then a couple of family friends arranged them for the centerpieces; it saved us a ton of money on flower arrangements and they looked great!

What was totally worth it

Making the wedding kid- (and parent-) friendly. I’ve babysat a ton of kids over the years, and it was really important to me that as many of them as possible be able to attend the wedding and have fun. I spoke to several families ahead of time to assure them that their kids would be not only be welcome but were specifically encouraged to come. Our scripture readers and ushers at the service were all kids I used to nanny. We made little goodie bags for the reception for the kids that included sunglasses, flashlights, balls, and other age-appropriate small toys. I printed up a bunch of “Arden & Biff’s Wedding Activity Books” complete with coloring pages and scavenger hunts, and we had prizes for the winners of the scavenger hunts. We provided hula hoops and glow bracelets at the reception (which were enjoyed by guests of all ages).

I’ve never loved the bouquet toss tradition (it’s really only fun if you’re a kid), so I made it kids-only; boys and girls were invited to participate, and the winner got a Target gift card (a.k.a. Kid Gold). I was a little worried beforehand that some of the older, more traditional guests might be aghast at our more relaxed, family-friendly vibe, but I heard no complaints and everyone of all ages seemed to have a great time.

Also totally worth it was not having speeches at the wedding. I hate to be the center of attention, so toasts always seem a little mortifying to me. We allowed our parents and bridal party to make speeches at the rehearsal dinner, and in front of that smaller crowd they were much more manageable.

What was totally not worth it

Worrying about all sorts of things that ended up being fine in the end. Biff’s parents totally took care of the rehearsal dinner, so we really didn’t know what to expect going in, but it was wonderful. I stressed a lot about how to compromise our visions for the wedding with our families’ expectations. I worried that family members who prefer more formal gatherings would disapprove of my more laid-back choices and judge me. I worried. Period. But it was absolutely fine. The day of the wedding, I didn’t feel like anyone gave my choices a second glance—they were much too busy having a good time.

Also not worth it: a first dance. Going in, I was mostly approaching the first dance as a chance to pick out an awesome song. (Full disclosure: I’ve been collecting potential first dance songs in a playlist since before I met Biff.) I forgot that having a first dance means slow dancing in front of HUNDREDS of people for an excruciating amount of time because “Have a Little Faith in Me” is over four minutes long. (We honestly spent ninety percent of our first dance asking each other why we didn’t choose a much shorter song.) If I had to do it again, I would definitely not have a first dance.

A few things that helped us along the way

So many APW posts, particularly the ones on buying alcohol and how to have a fun wedding. Reading APW also helped me think critically about the planning process and helped me realize that I cared more about how the wedding felt than how it looked.

I also think planning the wedding from across the country was really helpful in our situation. It saved me from feeling the pressure to have to DIY too many things (“I can’t transport it across the country!” is an excellent excuse) and also kept us from obsessing over the wedding details, because we just couldn’t see them ahead of time. We also were helped enormously by my parents and other family friends on the ground in Tennessee, who did a lot of the heavy lifting while we were in California.

I’m particularly indebted to Liz Moorhead, whose wedding graduate post gave me the idea to make a guestbook full of old family pictures. Up until I read that, I’d hated all guestbook ideas, but fell in love with Liz’s book and had a wonderful time pouring through old family photos and creating my own guestbook of family wedding photos.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Pick the stuff you really care about, and go with your gut. At various points of the planning process I felt pressured to make different choices, and I’m so glad I stuck to my original plan. That said, don’t be afraid to compromise on little things that aren’t that important to you. Life’s too short to argue about napkins.

Also, it’s going to take ten times as long as you think to cut out all of the invitations you printed yourself. Budget your time accordingly.

Favorite thing about the wedding

I loved how the whole event was marked with a playful vibe from beginning to end, often in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated beforehand. During the wedding service, our pastor talked about how playfulness is a defining characteristic of our relationship, as evidenced in our love of board games, trivia nights, and hula hoops. She also started her homily with the speech from The Princess Bride: “Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togethew today.” How awesome is that?

We ended the ceremony with an impromptu high-five. From our exit in a cloud of bubbles, to decorating ourselves with glow necklaces, to engaging in an unplanned “first hoop dance” after our first dance, the whole day was fun and joyful and full of play. I loved how that theme carried through the entire wedding, and how representative it felt of us as a couple.

I’m not gonna lie: I also loved how well the hula hoops went over. I love to hula hoop, and making the hoops was one of the only DIY projects I did for the wedding, but I wasn’t sure anyone else was going to be excited about it. I was expecting the hoops to sit in a corner untouched until I started hooping at some point and convinced others to join me. I was thrilled when we walked in the door of the reception and literally every child was already on the dance floor with a hoop. The hula hoops were a hit and we loved every second of it.

Full Budget Breakdown

Catering: $7,825 for a buffet-style dinner for 191 (including a quesadilla station!), plus linen rentals
Photography: $7,550 for eleven hours of coverage, plus digital files, album, travel fee, and hotel
Rings: $2,515
Wedding attire: $1,350: wedding dress $805; alterations $205; veil $190; tux rental $150
Reception venue rental fee: $2,000
Church rental: $425
Flowers: $981: bouquets and boutonnières $760; wildflowers for centerpieces $221
Cake: $683
Alcohol: $526 (We overbought, but were able to take it back.)
Cash gifts: $1900 for tips for waiters, pianist, and sound technician, plus thank you gifts for the officiant and the two friends who arranged the flowers and coordinated the wedding
Invitations: $404: design $186; printing and paper $218
Save the Date magnets: $200
Stamps: $140 for invites and for thank you cards.
Favor donation: $360 (In lieu of favors, we made a donation to charity—the Eve Carson Scholarship at UNC, our alma mater.)
Hotel Room: $481 for three nights
Hoop supplies: $140
Decorations: $165 for mirrors, candles, glow necklaces, etc.
Kids’ goodie bags: $110
Marriage license: $100


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