How We: Planned an Intimate, Weekday Wedding for $2K

Short, sweet, and full of love

Ellie & Chris 


One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Intimate and heart-felt ceremony, short and sweet reception.

Planned Budget: $1,500

Actual Budget: $2,000

Number of Guests: 30

Our Story

Chris swept me off my feet during winter break at my university. We met, of all places, at a bank where he worked. After an exchange of a few emails, he asked me out for coffee. I remember sitting across from him in this cozy little pub, thinking how at ease I felt, and I had this strange feeling wash over me that “this is what being on a date with your husband would feel like.” Comfortable, intelligent conversation. Witty jokes, unpretentious chatter. It felt right.

We dated for two years, during which time I met Chris’s incredible daughters from his previous marriage. Those two tweens are my sassy little angels, and it’s been an honor getting to step in and co-parent them as they transition from little girls into little women.

Near our two-year dating anniversary, a large mass was found in my abdomen. Surgery was required. Chris and I were scared, because the lump was so large and showed a complex structure that lead to a chance it could be cancer. Two long months passed between discovering the mass and having it removed, during which time we didn’t know what we were facing. It gave Chris and me a lot of time to talk about our lives, and the night before surgery, acknowledging that minuscule chance that always exists that something could go wrong on the operating table, I forced myself to say goodbye to my best friend. I told him what I would want from him if I wasn’t beside him anymore. We wept together.

Just a few hours after surgery we got the news that the mass didn’t appear cancerous, and we’d have the official results in a few days. The mass hadn’t spread, however, which was a good sign. I was sewn up with one less ovary, but for now, I would live. What a strange thing, to face the possibility of the end of your life. The next few days in the hospital with Chris were long and surreal. The recovery process back home was painful but problem-free.

The whole experience was four months long, from discovery to recovery. In that time, Chris and I had a lot of time to think about what it meant to be committed to one another. Sickness and health and all. It felt wrong to be facing scary surgeries as boyfriend and girlfriend, it felt so impermanent. We even considered marrying each other unceremoniously before the surgery. After the surgery we were certain marriage was for us. Chris proposed, and we were married two months later. After everything we’d recently faced together, a long engagement wasn’t the right way to go. So we left out everything that didn’t feel sincere, and did just our thing.

Where we allocated the most funds

Our photographer. Originally Chris didn’t even want a photographer, dismissing the importance of having images of our wedding day. We argued about it for a while, and even though we got Raven for a great deal (she gave us an APW discount, plus worked with us since we only needed her for two hours), Chris wasn’t super excited about having a photographer. He hated being in pictures as a kid and still hated it now. He said it felt uncomfortable and awkward, unnecessary. So it was important to me that I found a unique photographer who would take more candid shots and had the right personality. After working with Raven, and especially after seeing the pictures, my husband was shocked he ever argued about it, and is so happy with the result.

Where we allocated the least funds

The wedding party. The flower girls, Chris’ daughters, got some new shirts and accessories to wear, but the rest of their outfit came from their closet. I asked my bridesmaids also to wear something from their closets, and had them carry books containing elements from the ceremony rather than flowers—we’re all avid readers. One had a section cut out for our wedding rings, another had a section cut out for the necklaces I was giving to my new stepdaughters during my vows to them, and another contained our vows. Oh, and my veil, which was fifteen dollars on Etsy and I still wear around the house.

Also, our wedding rings. My engagement ring is from and cost a whopping $110. My husband’s wedding band was ten dollars, and my wedding band (made from stainless steel and lab-created gems) cost, I shit you not, A DOLLAR. And I adore it.

Decor was practically free. Since we were in an art gallery, we hardly did any extra decor. Our venue set up chairs the night before, and I set up three arrangements of carnations and baby’s breath (about seven dollars) in vases from my house, along with some doilies (one dollar) on stands around the gallery, along with frames from the thrift store (fifteen dollars) containing little stories about our love story. That’s it. Oh, and some balloons that were supposed to go outside and someone stuck by the altar. Shit happens, you just gotta laugh.

What was totally worth it

My bouquet and my dress. I bought flowers in bulk from a large flower seller, since I’d worked in a flower shop before, and made my own bouquet. I bought some extra carnations, and decided last minute to throw together some boutonnières for my family members to wear. That special touch cost me less than ten dollars, but I think it meant a ton to everyone to have that little extra something from me. My dress was a close second for the most expensive thing, coming in around $500, but I absolutely adored that dress. I wore it after the wedding on our ten-hour road-trip to Washington, D.C., stopping for barbecue in South Carolina.

What was totally not worth it

Sending out fancy invitations ordered online. Sure, some of my friends my own age probably got some Pinterest-style jealousy, but the announcements, invites, and shipping cost over seventy five dollars, and I just don’t think I got seventy five dollars worth out of it. I ended up sending out some additional invites online and they were just as cute.

A few things that helped us along the way

Some family drama arose amidst the planning, and I read somewhere online an advice column about making sure you’re not addressing ANY element about your wedding more than your vows. After I read that, I spent a good ten minutes everyday re-reading my vows, re-writing them, reviewing them with my husband, and practicing them out loud. It made the whole planning process feel much more sacred.

Our officiant was also incredible. She went above and beyond her call, helping me write and edit the whole ceremony.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Don’t let anyone other than you and your future-spouse tell you how to do your wedding. So what if it’s a Wednesday morning? So what if it’s a standing reception? So what if the only beverage is champagne and sparkling cider? So what? It’s your wedding, it’s your day, and nobody else cares as much as you do. Nope, not even your family, not even your best friend. And if they do, their priorities are not where they should be. Don’t let outside voices affect the way you want to enter into your marriage.

Favorite thing about the wedding

How offbeat it was while still maintaining a classic feel. Wednesday morning, non-religious, not even spiritual, no cocktail hour—just ninety minutes start to finish (including ceremony, reception, and pictures after). I absolutely loved how genuine it felt, and how everything reflected both me and my partner.

Other Thoughts

I thought people would care about wedding programs and a guestbook, so last minute I ordered some postcards for a “unique” guestbook, and typed up some programs. But you know what? I don’t think anyone even cared about that. I was so concerned with people thinking of my two-months-engaged, Wednesday-morning, tiny wedding as not quite legitimate that I did some things just to prove myself. But you know what? The personal things that I had in my heart the whole time counted the most. I pasted pictures from my friends’ weddings that would be there to a red poster-board and wrote a little message of thanks to them for all the inspiration and encouragement, and they were all FLOORED. It cost less than two dollars, but meant the world to those people.

I also want to mention that my husband’s family didn’t come to the wedding. Not because they didn’t love us (they’re our biggest fans), but because they lived in Illinois, and it was kind of last minute, and on a weekday. And that was all okay. It was also my husband’s second marriage, and he is in his thirties. Most of his friends are seeing more divorces than marriages—weddings just don’t mean the same to divorced or single men in their thirties and that’s okay. That’s why Chris didn’t have any groomsmen, by the way. For him, standing at the altar with his daughters on his side said a lot about where he was in life, and that was a very heartfelt and personal decision that he made. I just want people to know that it’s okay to do the guest thing differently, to acknowledge what makes your situation unique, no matter what.


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