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Pizza! Sparkles! Lavender! This Santa Cruz Garden Wedding Has It All

Just wait til you see the sequins on this dress

AUry, Postdoctoral Research Scientist & Eric, data consultant

sum-up of the wedding vibe: A day spent reveling in the joys of sharing food and the outdoors with the people we love.

Planned Budget: $30,000
Actual Budget: $47,000
Number of Guests: 142
Location: UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California
photographer: Ahava Studios

Where we allocated the most funds:

Food! Our food ended up costing what we originally thought we wanted to spend on our entire wedding. We had some harsh reality-checks on costs when we really started getting into planning, but enjoying good food with the people we love was central to how we pictured our celebration. Our experiences with our local wood-fired pizza and ice cream vendors were fantastic and absolutely worth what we paid.

The rental cost at the UCSC Arboretum was very reasonable, but we were responsible for renting everything from chairs and tables, to garbage cans and an additional portable restroom, to lighting. We enjoyed having the freedom to really create the ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and dancing spaces from scratch but we were a little naïve at the beginning of the process in thinking that we were going to save money by going with a venue that didn’t include a lot of things to begin with. We ended up spending that money on the things we needed to make the raw space work.

Where we allocated the least funds:

We spent less than $100 on flowers. We didn’t feel like we needed a lot to begin with since our venue was a garden. However, Aury dreamed about having lavender and rosemary for bouquets and dinner tables. In the most magical twist of fate we discovered Deerhaven Lavender Farm in the Santa Cruz mountains a few months out. On the Thursday morning before the wedding we gathered a few family members and went to pick lavender (and rosemary!) at the farm. Aury and her matron of honor made their own bouquets and Aury’s mom created arrangements in the 100+ cement bud vases that Aury and Eric made for the tables in the months before the wedding. The lavender and rosemary cost about $50, including plenty of extra lavender (which we’ve since hung and dried). We also ordered boutonnieres for Eric and his brother/best man at about $20 each.

We also received some incredible gifts from our family and friends that made our celebration feel especially personal, while reducing some costs and allowing us to add elements we wouldn’t have otherwise included. Aury’s mom used to work as a professional costume designer for dance companies. She made her own wedding dress when Aury’s parents got married as well as many of Aury’s childhood halloween costumes, and Aury had a very specific idea for her wedding dress and she and her mom spent the duration of our nearly two year engagement figuring out how to realize. Getting to work on this project together was such a special piece of our wedding celebration. Aury’s mom also did alterations on Eric’s suit, which we found on sale, and made table runners for the dinner tables. Aury inherited her grandmother’s engagement ring and wedding band set and the gold bracelet she wore was a gift from Eric’s mom.

Aury’s matron of honor, Anna O’Connell, is an incredible artist and designer and gifted us the design of our stationary suite, signage, programs and snack tags (we commissioned the portrait of us from Lili Mandrell, and paid all supply and printing costs). The professor who organized the conference where Aury and Eric met has been a friend and mentor to us for several years and became ordained in order to officiate our wedding. His son is a budding musician and played pre-ceremony piano and violin solos as our guests arrived. One of Aury’s friends plays ukulele and agreed to play for our ceremony. We borrowed lawn games from Eric’s friends. Three of Eric’s other friends work in the local brewing industry and gifted us kegs and bottled beer (we hired a bartender and purchased wine, whiskey, and non-alcoholic drinks). We also found our fantastic photographer, Stephanie Haller of Ahava Studios, when she was running a promotion which reduced our photography costs by $500.

What was totally worth it:

One of the first pieces of advice we received when we started planning our wedding was to hire a day-of coordinator. This absolutely made our wedding day and the whole planning process more enjoyable. Connie Sanchez met with us regularly starting several months ahead of time and her invaluable experience helped us to prepare for logistical details we never would have thought of otherwise, especially with the UCSC Arboretum being such a blank slate. We rented a beach house 10 minutes away from the UCSC Arboretum for us, our wedding party and their partners to stay in starting a few days before the wedding. We were also able to host brunch at the house for all of our guests who could stop by the morning after the wedding. Renting the house was one of the best decisions we made. The space was absolutely perfect for brunch, with several different indoor and outdoor areas where groups of people could hang out. We also loved being able to have friends and family stop by and chat as we took care of final preparations at the house in the days before the wedding, and spending late nights enjoying the house’s hot tub and fire pit throughout the time we were there.

What was totally not worth it:

We have no regrets, but the night before our wedding could have been less stressful. We had a small rehearsal dinner with a Chinese tea ceremony and also arranged a bonfire at a nearby beach for all of our guests who were already in town. Despite our best efforts at getting the word out about the difficult parking situation at the rehearsal dinner restaurant we needed to delay the start of the Chinese tea ceremony and then the copious amounts of food arrived slowly. Ultimately Aury and Eric ended up rushing to change while most of the rehearsal dinner guests were still eating dessert in order to make it to the beach to see everyone there for 15 minutes before it closed for the night (strictly enforced by beach patrol). In retrospect we wouldn’t have forgone any of these pieces of our celebration but might have opted for an earlier start to the rehearsal dinner and planned more wiggle room so that we could have been less stressed about the timing.

A few things that helped us along the way:

Leaning on our people was essential. Sometimes we asked our friends and family for help (preparing printed materials and snack favors, transporting things, a last minute boutonniere issue). Sometimes it just appeared (Aury’s aunt showing up to our sunny, outdoor rehearsal with cold water, Eric’s brother’s fiancx whipping an energy bar out of her bag for a hungry Aury hurrying out the door to the ceremony, our friends singing an impromptu, a capella Dancing Queen in a circle on the dance floor when the generator cut out). Our celebration wouldn’t have been what it was without our community. Being engaged for almost two years really helped us to spread out wedding-related costs. Also, while we paid for the majority of the wedding expenses from our own savings we did receive substantial gifts from both of our families during our engagement that significantly reduced the stress surrounding financial decisions.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Be honest and realistic about what wedding planning will be like for you. We were fortunate enough to have family and friends who were by and large very supportive and a budget that accommodated what we wanted to do, and wedding planning was still stressful. We loved our wedding and have no question that it was worth the effort but actually accepting that this process was indeed hard was even more helpful than trying to stress less about things. We were both very involved in the planning process, but while Aury is the more enthusiastic planner in general she is also the more anxiety-prone of the two of us. With this in mind, about six months prior to the wedding she committed to a regular exercise schedule and also started seeing a therapist once a month. If there is a routine or resource you can engage to help you manage, and even enjoy, parts of the planning process and the time preceding your wedding and marriage, prioritize it.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

It meant so much to us to be able to celebrate our marriage with our friends and family. Our goal was to create an event that would be relaxed and fun for everyone. We also really appreciated the opportunity to express our love and gratitude directly in our ceremony and by making our own toasts to our family and friends at dinner (in the week before the wedding Aury got really nervous about crying during hers but Eric encouraged her to do it anyway. The crying was worth it). Like many APW couples, we wanted our wedding to reflect us as genuinely as possible and were very intentional about whether or not to include traditional wedding elements. We ended up being really happy with the choices we made and it was so special to hear from our family and friends how thoughtful and personal they felt the whole celebration was.

Anything else:

Navigating the value of weddings in our current culture is complex. On the one hand, wedding-related expenses and expectations have increased exponentially in the past few decades. It often seems like it’s all just too much and too stressful and not worth it. However, because marriage is still commonly recognized as a highly meaningful life event, weddings and the surrounding events can offer unique opportunities. For us, spending time with family and friends from many different places (including at our respective bachelor/ette celebrations) and taking on large creative endeavors were incredibly valuable parts of the experience. These are things we likely would not have prioritized nearly as much at this moment in our lives, or asked others to prioritize, if we hadn’t been getting married.

Our biggest DIY undertaking was a portable, 22′ photo “wall” displaying pictures from the dawn of our respective existences to the present. We loved being able to visually reflect on the roles our family and friends have played in our lives, reminisce on the time we’ve shared with them, and give a window into the chapters that each of them may have known less about. It is absolutely important to set boundaries around how you can and want to celebrate your marriage, but within those boundaries if there are elements of the experience that you think will be really joyful and fulfilling give yourself permission to go all in!

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