Our $50K Not-Too-Traditional Indian Wedding

Let's get weird!

Tanya, Copy Chief & Scott, lawyer

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A fun Indian–American fusion wedding that nodded to tradition without being at all traditional, and incorporated our favorite things: music, laughter, great food and drinks, and a welcoming atmosphere.

Planned budget: $35,000
Actual budget: $50,000 (including Friday and Sunday events)
Number of guests: 175 (invited); 125 (attended)
LOCATION: Alexandria, Virginia

Where we allocated the most funds:

Photography was one of the biggest priorities for me, and Sam was the first vendor I booked (before we even had a venue). I fell in love with his work via his blog, and Scott and I both dug his relaxed vibe (and the fact that he’s in a band on the side!). And he was truly a dream: He kept us on schedule, somehow wrangling both groups of relatives to get through family photos lightning-fast; he made even camera-shy me feel totally comfortable; and he was just a calm, friendly, genuine presence in the midst of a chaotic day.

We also knew we wanted to have Indian food, and IndAroma stepped in to handle all the service and rentals with enough flexibility to allow us to customize things (we brought in all the alcohol and desserts, which they presented and served). They were super accommodating and even gave us our menu tasting complimentary—plus, all our guests couldn’t stop raving about the food.

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Finally, we didn’t want a venue that was too formal or religion-related, and we wanted it to be easily accessible for guests but still feel like a vacation from our usual haunts in DC. The Torpedo Factory was perfect: It’s got a funky, artsy vibe; it’s right on the water; it’s in the heart of Old Town, so there’s lots to do around there; and it’s easy to get to by public transportation.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Flowers and decor and paper goods, aka. the stuff that generally ends up in the trash after the day is over. We did an electronic save the date and then sent out paper invitations (which I designed) through Paperless Post. I designed the programs, the seating chart and table numbers (using album covers from our favorite bands), and all the wedding signs and had them printed at Staples.

I also DIYed all the centerpieces, bouquets, and boutonnières with my mom, MIL, and bridesmaids: we bought bulk flowers from Fifty Flowers and Costco and arranged them all the day before. This ended up being one of my absolute favorite parts of the wedding; I got to kick off the weekend by spending time with my best friends surrounded by beautiful flowers, and each bridesmaid got to make her own bouquet exactly the way she wanted it. (I also made my own bouquet and am pretty proud of how it turned out!)

My attire was also pretty inexpensive: I wore the sari my mom wore to marry my dad for the ceremony (about $20 for a new blouse and petticoat), and as I’ve always known a traditional white gown wasn’t for me, I found a gold dress for $99 from Saks Off Fifth (though tailoring cost considerably more).

What was totally worth it:

Scott and I are not traditional at all, so we weren’t interested in the “usual” wedding stuff: big white dress, fancy tiered cake, hand-calligraphied whatever. Instead, we put lots of thought into customizing every detail, from the sweets (Indian desserts, Buckeyes because Scott is from Ohio, and mini pies from a local DC bakery as a nod to my last name, which is pronounced like “pie”) to the song selection (Scott spent hours and hours making different playlists for each part of the evening) to the aforementioned flowers to the decor (we had a DIY photo booth with a table of funny props and some Fuji Instax cameras, a bunch of framed family wedding photos displayed, and a neon sign on the bar that said “Let’s Get Weird”—a big hit). Plus, we had three different types of music: a DJ, a live brass band during the cocktail hour, and a friend who’s a hip-hop artist who did a mini show live during the reception.

But my favorite part by far was the ceremony: Scott and I are both writers, and we ended up writing not only our own vows to each other, but pretty much the whole ceremony, incorporating our own spin on the Hindu wedding tradition of the “seven steps” and emphasizing equality and partnership in the language. It was honestly one of the last things to come together (and it was surprisingly tricky to find a totally nonreligious celebrant who could officiate in Virginia), but we ended up with something that actually reflected who we are and how we approach our lives and relationships rather than relying on prewritten statements.

What was totally not worth it:

I had hired a day-of wedding coordinator to help with setup because we only had two hours to get everything ready at the venue; she ended up being pretty disorganized (my family had to do a significant amount of the setup, and she kept asking me logistical questions throughout the night, which I was hoping not to have to deal with). It might have been easier (and cheaper) to ask a few responsible friends for help.

Also our DJ, who was pretty pricey and whom we decided on after interviewing many others, announced a first dance for us after we specifically told him several times we weren’t planning to do one (what a surprise that was), and didn’t do simple things like announce when the dessert table was open. The guests said he was great, though, so at least whatever mistakes were made weren’t too obvious to most people. We also spent many, many hours folding cardboard favor boxes and filling them with truffles as wedding favors for each place setting—it was a nice gesture but probably not proportional to the amount of work involved!

A few things that helped us along the way:

Google Sheets! Our initial wedding spreadsheet kept expanding and expanding until it ended up with, like, eighteen tabs. It was great to have everything in one place, accessible to anyone who needed to see it, and it was a massive help in keeping track of budget, payment due dates, RSVPs, gifts, and so on. APW was also a HUGE help for things like making seating charts and (especially) DIYing flowers; it seemed like every time I had a question and Googled it, an APW link popped up with exactly what I was looking for.

My bridesmaids were amazingly helpful, as was my family, who did a truly heroic amount of work setting up for the event and packing things up at the end of the night while I got to spend time with our guests. Our mega-talented friends were more than willing to help, from offering advice to doing my hair (thanks, Riat!) to taking photos at the welcome reception (thanks, Kate!). And my parents (and new in-laws) were always ready to weigh in with advice, look at venues with us, and generally embrace our unconventional vision.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Don’t stress out so much about arbitrary deadlines! I had read a lot about planning/booking timelines and worked myself up over getting everything confirmed and finalized ASAP—which, outside of a few big things (photographer, venue, caterer), largely ended up being unnecessary. We finalized our ceremony a few days before the wedding; due to a minor snafu, Scott’s wedding ring was delivered the day before. It turned out fine!

Favorite thing about the wedding:

The ceremony, especially the vows. Cramming the whole wedding party into a limo and toasting with champagne on the way to the venue. Seeing people from so many areas of our lives coming together to hang out, to meet each other and celebrate with us. Reconnecting with family members I hadn’t seen in years. Dancing with Scott and my parents to “Sweet Caroline.” The metallic sneakers with color-changing light-up soles we changed into at the reception. Seeing all the little details we had carefully planned out in person. Getting to dissect it all at the end of the night with my partner in crime, and knowing that a) it went pretty damn well overall, and b) even if it hadn’t, it’s still just one day in the rest of our lives that we have together. Oh, and not having to plan a wedding anymore.

Something else I’d Like to ShAre:

There were several times throughout the process when I felt overwhelmed, or like it was a ridiculous amount of time and money and effort to spend on a single day and we should just elope instead. And while I still think elopements are awesome and wonderful, I also know how few occasions there are to get everyone you love together in one place, and how important it is to embrace and celebrate all the joyful occasions you can in life. So some stress, some logistical headaches, and several fat checks later, I am really glad we had a wedding, and that I have those memories and photographs to treasure forever.


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