A lot of crafty wedding blogs feature weddings where everyone involved seems to have some kind of incredible talent:
“My graphic designer brother designed all of our invitations!”
“My best friend is a professional florist and put together all of the flowers!”
I know my limitations. I am not even a little bit crafty. I can repair buttons and socks, poorly, and that’s about it, and I felt uncomfortable outsourcing details to my friends and acquaintances.
But we found our perfect (and fantastically inexpensive) venue in Southern Virginia, where my husband is from. My mother-in-law had suggested looking at local parks for venues, and one option had a beautiful lakeside gazebo for a ceremony and an indoor facility with a wraparound porch that would be a great location for the reception. We booked it sight-unseen (minus a largely ineffective Google search for “Claytor Lake State Park”) for $1,000.
(Getting married away from home? Keep this in mind.)
Flowers, food and more
After another excellent recommendation, we met with a local florist who very kindly took the few magazine photos I’d torn out and put together 12 beautiful mason-jar centerpieces with hydrangea and delphinium, and a bouquet and boutonnière for $400. She also very politely listened to me say “No” to just about everything – “No, we wouldn’t be having a bridal party”; “No, we don’t need flowers for the gazebo”; etc.
I found our photographer during a late-night Craigslist search. Her photos looked lovely, and she was just starting her business in the area, so when I asked her if she could photograph our wedding day for $600, she agreed. After seeing constant reminders that wedding photography can start at $2,000, I was incredibly happy to have found someone willing to work with our budget (and the photographs turned out beautifully).
Especially since our reception was dessert-only, our most important expense was the cake and pie we’d be serving, as well as the drinks (an open bar was a non-negotiable). We found a local baker who makes wedding cakes as a hobby; she created a delicious three-tier confection for $200. We picked up a dozen pies the night before the wedding, and we bought beer and wine from a wholesale liquor store, bringing our total food and drink cost to $650.
A wonderful friend made pennant flag bunting for the reception venue as her wedding gift to us, and it was the perfect (and only) decorative detail, in addition to the flowers. My mother bought my wedding dress, which came in at $750, because she knew I would buy something cheap rather than something I loved, and wanted me to be happy with what I was wearing.
My mother-in-law anticipated we’d need extra hands on our wedding day, and found a few local students who served drinks and cake (and kept it all replenished) for $100 each. We rented the cheapest chairs available for $316 (even though they were a less-than-attractive brown) because I reasoned that people wouldn’t be paying much attention to what they were sitting on. They didn’t.
When we started planning, I kept things simple because I didn’t want to add stressful detail after stressful detail to my plate. In the end, the simplicity made our wedding lovely, and kept us under budget.
The end result
I did my own hair, a friend did my makeup and I felt perfect.
Once we threw in the incidentals – the official’s fee of $150, the invitations I found at an online press for $275, the $40 guestbook, the $30 marriage license, and the quirky $70 cake-toppers that sit on our mantel now – we came in a few hundred dollars under budget.
Most importantly, the things we’d said “no” to didn’t matter. Guests commented on how much they’d enjoyed the wedding, and no one seemed to notice that we didn’t have a DJ (we used an iPod and speaker system), or that a professional hadn’t done my hair, or that my husband wore a navy blue suit he’d owned for years.
We even ended up in the DC/Maryland/Virginia edition of The Knot, and our photographer threw in a CD of our photographs to thank us (for which some photographers charge extra).
The wedding industry tries constantly to up-sell brides and grooms on so many items, and it was reassuring to realize that none of those (expensive) superfluities mattered.
At the end of the day, we have photographs we love, memories of delicious cake and happy friends, and the relief that we could throw a party without drowning ourselves in debt or liquidating our savings.