My wedding recap (+9 ways to save $$ on your big day!)
May 20, 2018
When we got engaged at Christmas, I knew I didn’t want to have a long wait til the wedding. David and I have been dating since February of 2014, and living together since 2016, so the idea of waiting another year (by some surveys, average engagement length is almost 15 months!) seemed very drawn out. I’d been imagining a smaller, more casual wedding, with just some close friends and family, and I do event planning for many parts of my nutrition work…honestly, I thought it would be a snap!
As it turns out, a wedding of any size isn’t exactly “snappy,” but I think everything went about as smoothly as it could have. My decisive nature, organizational skills, and deadline oriented work style all kicked in, and David was pretty helpful, too! We toured about 8 venues over 2 weekends before deciding upon Gunston Hall, founding father George Mason’s family estate built back in the 1700’s, which has truly spectacular views outside (with an indoor option in case of bad weather). The idea was to have a gourmet picnic, complete with a delicious spread, lawn games, and summery drinks. We choose a Sunday afternoon to keep the mood more laid back, were able to book the space for just 5 hours (most rent for 8-12), and kept the guest list small and mostly local (more on that later), which all contributed to allowing us to have everything we wanted without spending too much.
Because, weddings are expensive – and the “W” tax is real! If we had millions of dollars, would we have done things differently? Wholeheartedly, yes. But is a one-day party worth a down payment on a house…the cute, country reno house where we’ll start a family? Call me a kill joy, but nope, it’s just not! Not to us, anyway. So for those of you who are with me on that, I wanted to share a few things we did that helped things stay reasonable. At the end of the day, we spent about $11,000 total and had 68 guests on a gorgeous May day that we’ll remember forever.
Look for a public venue
We considered trying to have the reception on private grounds at first, and even looked at some rental properties online, but most places aren’t set up to host more than a dozen people or so, and some tack on huge surcharges for party hosting. I also spent a long time considering venues in Maryland (Gunston Hall is just across the river in Virginia), since many state parks, counties, and even cities own properties that they’ll rent out for events. Don’t rule out community centers, either! What’s hit or miss at these is the staffing, and you definitely want to have competent, professional people to help facilitate and coordinate. We visited each one in person. Some have dedicated event people who are extremely knowledgeable, others act like wedding planning is tacked onto a longer job description that they wish they didn’t have. Nicole, our contact at Guston Hall was not only a wealth of info about the history of the grounds, but had answers to all our questions without missing a beat, and really made us feel confident that she knew how to run their events efficiently and tastefully. Renting there for 5 hours cost $2,500.
Flowers and decorations: keep it simple
Of course, this is the area where DIYers can really shine, and Pinterest is full of ideas for you. I decided to use small succulents (planted in glasses from Goodwill) and white orchids (from Trader Joe’s) as table decor, which doubled as gifts for guests. I made the cake topper out of Scrabble tiles (David and I bonded over our shared love of word games). We had a table of pictures of both of us from childhood with our families through the years, including many with my cousin and his father to honor their memories.
I also made my own bouquet, and boutonnieres for David, my dad, and our officiant (the fabulous artist and our dear friend, Jon Mort). If you’ve never styled flowers before, this might not be the time you want to start trying, but if you have an eye for design and choose a color palette to work from, this will save you at least hundreds of dollars.
Find a friend who bakes
I didn’t want to have a traditional tiered cake, and wanted to include something I could make somehow, so we had 4 cakes on porcelain stands that were a fun pottery project for me! (Actually, they were far harder to make than I imagined, and I barely got them done in time! But keep your eye out for them to be featured in food pics in the future.) My sister and David’s stepmom volunteered (or were gracious enough to accept) to each make two cakes, so we had four different flavors – coconut cream, chocolate with mocha filling, yellow with orange cream filling, and a gluten-free cornmeal cake that had raspberries and lemon curd. For decoration, I bought different flowers at Trader Joe’s, and I found a wax online to dip flower stems in so they could safely be inserted into the tops of the cakes. I LOVE how they turned out, and they were every bit as delicious as they were beautiful!
Don’t buy a “wedding dress”
I love the wedding dress shows. I don’t know exactly why, since I think most of the dresses are totally over the top and that too many women chase a trend instead of choosing what looks good on their figure…but something about the searching, trying on, and “saying yes” process is just fascinating to me! And the cost – holy cow. Some people will spend more on a dress (or two) than most cars! I thought about borrowing a dress, so I tried on my cousin’s (it’s gorgeous, but was a bit too formal) and my mom’s (would have needed a lot of alterations!). Then started searching for non-bridal white dresses. My goal was to keep it under $800, so I was looking at white or ivory gowns that weren’t billed as wedding dresses. I also visited Anthropologie (which somehow has some that are very reasonably priced in the BHLDN line, despite the fact that they also sell $300 blouses). But the dress I ultimately fell in love with was from Nordstrom, in the Katie May bridesmaid line. I guess I can thank Pippa Middleton for helping to popularize the ivory bridesmaid dress – many come in lots of pale colors! It retailed for $295, but I found the right size, unworn, on Poshmark for $200. Alterations were $115, so I had room in the budget for a sparkly belt that has a fleur de lis clasp from Anthro – $140.
Get shoes you’ll wear again
Ok, I might lose a lot of people here, I know – if you are a Shoe Person then by all means, indulge! As someone who works from home, on a farm, and at a pottery studio, my opportunities to wear nice footwear are very limited. Ever since getting snagged by an ad on Instagram for Rothy’s (the comfortable, colorful flats made from recycled water bottles), I have been totally sold on the idea of building up a collection. David gave me a pair of red ones for Christmas (as the decoy gift, before he proposed), and I decided to make their navy pair my “something blue.” I glammed them up with a pair of my grandmother’s clip on earrings (my “something old”) and have worn them many times since. I love that they’re machine washable and have a non-slip rubber sole…next on my list is a pair of their loafers! Get $20 off yours by using my link 🙂
Consider the guest list
I have a very large extended family, and over the years of living with roommates in group houses, I’ve lived with over 40 people (no joke!) in my adult life. David and I each have made many friends from college, grad school, and our social and professional circles over the past 10 years in DC. When we wrote our list of everyone we’d invite, it was over 250! Even for a more casual wedding, we knew with that many we’d need a big budget. After our closest family, we each had about a dozen friends and +1’s. Some of my closest friends have moved far away, so I used length of friendship and proximity as limiting factors, and David (who grew up in the DC area) invited his circle of oldest friends. I can’t tell you how to make those hard calls – there are many people I wish would have been able to be there! – but I can tell you that the day moves so fast that even with a smallish wedding, it was hard to feel like we had quality time with most of our guests. My closest but faraway friends all said it didn’t affect how they regarded our friendship – the good ones will be there for you no matter what!
Take the time to get bids from caterers
This was the most expensive part, at $4500 – not including alcohol! I searched around a lot, spent hours on phone calls, and many people told me they couldn’t do what I was asking for (a big spread of cheese, meat, fruits, veggies, dips, and some hors d’oeurves) for under $6k. In a major metropolitan market, food & service is pricey…but there are also lots of options. In the end, we went with Absolutely Perfect catering – a bold name for a company, but they lived up to it! We had a team of three people, a gorgeous display, and bar that we stocked ourselves (again, Trader Joe’s).
Don’t make hair & make up come to you
A glam team will definitely set you back. I got my updo done at Ulta ($75), and my makeup at Sephora ($45 for a 45 minute appointment with a purchase of $50). You have to be a little flexible for this – I didn’t get to do a trial for my hair, and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. But the general idea was there, and it looks great in the pictures. I wanted pretty natural makeup, and I was totally delighted that Desiree was not only on board but AMAZING at what she does. Check her out here! Make sure you budget enough time for this (I added an extra half hour to each appointment and in between as padding), and have a friend drive you around.
Ask for help
You’ll need it. I asked each member of my immediate family and cousins to contribute in a way that made sense for them. My sister Lora was my day-of coordinator (and did an amazing job!), my cousin Ali was my driver and support day-of, Kaila handed out programs, my brother Lucas and David’s sister Gracy read verses, my mom did the prayers, and my brother Blake made giant bubbles and took some drone video of the reception. My dad and David’s mom toasted us. Friends and family brought lawn games, and everyone who came made us feel loved and supported.
And I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention our fabulous photographer, Ana. She and her second shooter for our day, Matt, were 100% fantastic and I think have the best photography service value in the area. You can see more shots from our day in her blog post – I’ll treasure these forever, and am so glad I have them to remember the look and feel of our wedding. If there’s anything else you’re curious about, please let me know!