How We Planned a Foresty, 125-Person Central Seattle Wedding for under $20K

We created one community, and it was perfect

Ciara, dancer and teacher & Gavin, vfx artist

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A laid-back woodland wedding in the middle of the city.

Planned budget: $17,000
Actual budget: $19,500
Number of guests: 125
LOCATION: Seattle, Washington

overhead view of wedding shoes and parfumeMan getting ready for his wedding, buttoning his suit jacket

Where we allocated the most funds:

The areas we spent the most money are also probably the places we saved the most! These things could have been giant splurges, but we managed to find great quality services at reasonable prices, which meant that we were able to invest somewhat equally in every aspect of our wedding, rather than splurging in one place and sacrificing in another.

Photography: This was our largest single expense. Before we even got engaged, we had agreed that weddings were, to some extent, elaborate photo shoots, and we wanted to make sure ours was captured by someone great. Thankfully, our perfect photographer wasn’t in the highest price bracket, and we got our dream pictures for $3,000 instead of $7,000.

Dinner: While it was one of our biggest expenses, we barely made the minimum cost of our taco truck order, at just over $2,500, and we got a lot for that price! The generous staff at Poquitos even wrapped up extra meat from the taco cart to bring us burritos for snacks at the reception.

Drinks: Between water and soft drinks for the park, and booze at the late-night reception, we spent as much on drinks as we did on food (and were still short of our venue’s drink minimum by $5)!

Closeup of woman about to put on her earring Wedding party of men getting dressed, tying their ties. A bride putting on her green floral crown closeup of wedding sign

Where we allocated the least funds:

Dessert: The most delicious cakes and ice cream in our area are also no-frills businesses. We only spent $175 on our cakes, and $125 on the ice cream, though we had to do a little extra legwork to get them to the venue. Comparatively, the $400 for our pies and their no-hassle delivery felt like a worthwhile splurge. At the end of the night, we ended up sending entire cakes, pies, and pints of ice cream home with guests, and came home from our honeymoon to gallons of ice cream in our freezer, so we definitely could have spent much less.

Flowers: The entire cost of flowers for the wedding was somewhere around $400, which included an indecent amount of lilies, as well as dahlias, greenery, and floral supplies. It even included the bride’s bouquet, which was pre-made by a Pike Place Market florist for a whopping $20.

Paper Craft: By designing and printing all our own invitations, thank you notes, envelope labels, and all the signage for our wedding, we minimized expense to about $300 in exchange for a bit of sweat equity and late night Photoshop sessions.

Transportation: My mom sponsored a town car to take the ladies and me to the park and pick up some of my family before the ceremony, and we rented a U-Haul for $60 to carry all the stuff around, but other than that, it was a drive-yourself kind of affair.

Guests at a wedding sitting on picnic blankets A couple standing at the altar during their ceremony outdoors Closeup of a woman putting a wedding ring on a man

What was totally worth it:

The People: Having our favorite, favorite people around us all day was overwhelming in a most incredible way.

Having both, for both of us: Maintaining a philosophy of “Why not both?” We had two receptions: a taco truck and yard games at the park followed by drinks, dessert, and merriment at Sole Repair. We had cake and pie and five flavors of ice cream for dessert. We had dancing and board games at our indoor venue. We had two signature cocktails: Bailey’s on the Rocks for the groom, and a Blueberry Mojito, for the bride (our color palette was blueberry, lemon, and mint leaf). We visited Italy and France and Spain on our honeymoon. Generally, we made sure it was a celebration of, by, and for both of us, bringing our preferences and families together into one big, beautiful mish-mash.

Wedding party attire: Giving the wedding party free reign on their attire, with some ground rules: grey suits for the guys, matching skirts (about $75) for the girls. This allowed them to be themselves on the day of, keep costs low, and still maintain a photo-friendly level of coordination.

Pre-Marital Counseling: As far as actually spending the rest of our lives with one person, pre-marital counseling was amazing and worth every penny. Everyone needs to find a good therapist and DO IT. Seriously.

Man and woman newly married, making their recession down the aisle after Closeup of two hands with new wedding rings, a rainbow shining across

What was totally not worth it:

We handmade twenty-one picnic blankets. We ordered a giant roll of pure white (not natural) canvas, carefully picked and mixed the paint colors, and then spent three long days in our friends’ driveway taping a patterned mask on each one, painting them, and letting them dry. I drew up precise maps of where each one would go. In the end the blankets weren’t really visible in any photos and there was only a very brief window of time before they were covered up by seated guests.

bride and groom look out a window. black and white photo. A man and woman dance in the woods on their wedding day a bride stands silently by herself in the forest

A few things that helped us along the way:

We were very hands-on for this, so we probably turned down more help than we needed to, until we were in the final push in the last two days before the wedding, and all hands were on deck. Logistically speaking, our most used tools were an extensive Excel spreadsheet for keeping track of the budget and guest list and a timeline checklist that I ripped out of a wedding magazine. APW’s article “How to Stage Manage Your Wedding” was also a constant reference. I had a couple of good friends with stage managing experience helping me throughout, and a designated Stage Manager on the day of.

a wedding guests plays badminton as the sun shines behind her A taco bar A child eating a taco A man and woman dancing during the reception Closeup of weddig cake top

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Don’t skimp on transportation! Make sure all the important people have a way to get between the ceremony and reception quickly and efficiently. We had the first dance, cake cutting, and toasts immediately after we arrived and didn’t realize that Gavin’s mom was still driving around looking for parking! We had to hold the toasts (and cake eating) for another twenty minutes before she finally made it. (Ooops!)

And, this warrants all caps, RECORD THE TOASTS. Your friends might give bad toasts, and you can just ignore the videos. But few things are more heartbreaking than having your family and best friends give heartfelt, tear jerking, laugh-out-loud, once-in-a-lifetime toasts, and then have no way to relive them.

I also realize now that the most satisfaction in planning and perfecting all of the details was in creating a wedding that Gavin and I felt at home in. It was something that reflected who we are and what we like. It’s really only now that I understand those details were for me and us—not the guests, not the photographer, not the wedding websites. After the wedding, it is so easy to think, “Oh, man! I was so excited about those signs I made. They were totally on-brand, but they weren’t even displayed and there are no pictures to prove their existence. How will anyone know my wedding was amazing?” Besides the fact that the wedding was amazing for the vibe, not the things, it’s taken me a long time to realize that it was really more about how satisfying it felt to tie the details together: picking our font and colors, adding our little silhouette logo to everything, putting the same pattern on the blankets and the signs. If I went back, I would probably do all the same work, but make it less about proving myself and more about the excitement it held for me.

A couple eating their wedding cake best man giving speech at wedding reception bride and groom laughing at best man's speech guests clinking their glasses after a toast

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Ciara: The whole day was dreamy, from waking up one minute before our alarm to our downstairs neighbors blasting “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny” to the moment we went to sleep. In all of the magic, it was the quiet moments that stuck out: Dropping a bottle of champagne on the walk to my sister-in-law’s apartment to get ready and delightedly offering it as a libation to the city wedding weather gods, my talented friends playing the ukulele and singing before and after getting ready, seeing my grandma at the ceremony via Skype (thanks to my uncle and cousins), and walking down the aisle with my husband. Perhaps best of all, was having our photographer drop us off a few blocks from the reception site and wandering through Capitol Hill all dressed up and totally on our own. We meandered through the park where we had our first date and popped into the local bookstore, where we just sat reading random books until it was time for us to make our big entrance at the reception. It was so sweet and peaceful and such a simple treasure.

Gavin: For me the wedding was less about coming together with Ciara (after all, we had already been living together for several years) and more about bringing together all of the important people in our lives who have shaped who we are. Ciara and I didn’t grow up in the same state, we never went to school together and as a result, our respective friends and extended family had never met before the wedding. From people dancing together on the dance floor to shared board games, badminton, and lively rehearsal dinner conversations, the wedding was an incredible experience of mushing together each of our separate living histories, inside jokes, and stories of youthful hijinks into one place, and hopefully in doing so we began the process of building one big circle of friends and family. Nothing embodied this better than the toasts, which to my surprise ended up being these incredible, hilarious, and moving stories that helped bridge our two respective histories into one shared future. (Also, the tacos were everything I hoped for.)

man and woman kissing on the dance floor wedding guests dancing

Other things we’d like to share:

While there were a thousand things that were distinct about our wedding, it was really important to me to mix up the processional. I feel pretty weird about the whole “father giving the bride to the groom” dynamic, and even about giving one of my parents more of a spotlight than the other. I wanted to flip that whole tradition on end, and put a lot of thought into doing it in a way that would honor everyone.

Our little grove in the park allowed us to enter from two sides, so we had everyone from Gavin’s side enter from the right, and everyone on mine enter from the left. One at a time, each person in line met their counterpart at the top of the aisle and walked down it together, starting with the bridespeople and groomsmen, then maid of honor and best men, then our moms, then dads. Finally, Gavin and I entered from either side, met at the top of the aisle, and walked together through our family and friends to the altar. It felt right for us, and symbolic of the way we approached our marriage: stepping into it together, as equals, and bringing our people into one community.


Featured Sponsored Content

Please read our comment policy before you comment.

The APW Store is Here

APW Wedding e-shop

go find all our favorites from around the internet, and our free planning tools

Shop Now
APW Wedding e-shop

Planning a wedding?

We have all the planning tools you need right now.

Budget spreadsheets, checklists, and more...

Get Your Free Planning Tools