2/10

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Name: Elissa and Nick

Occupation: College Advisor + Medical Tech

Wedding Location: Pasadena, California

Wedding Date: June 20, 2015

Number of Guests: 80ish

Budget: Less than $15,000

How would you describe your wedding?

Pretty traditional in structure, though we wrote our service with the help of a Unitarian Universalist minister so that people of all faiths would feel welcome. Overall, we wanted it to feel like a fun backyard party, but in fancy clothes. Our priorities were an outdoor ceremony, delicious food, quality drinks and good music that everyone knew and could enjoy.

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What was your favorite part of your wedding?

Having all of our far-flung friends and family in the same place. People traveled from all over the country to be with us on our big day, and it meant more than words can express.

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What did you splurge on?

We were pretty good about balancing the costs of all the pieces, so I don’t feel like we really broke the budget on any one aspect. I was originally planning on walking down the aisle to a Simon & Garfunkel song, but Nick had the idea to find a harpist to play before and during the ceremony. She played a Beatles medley as our guests were seated, and the bridal party all entered to Elvis’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” The harp was such a unique and beautiful touch, and I am SO glad I let Nick talk me into it.

What did you save on?

So many things! Nick’s dad is a videographer, so a friend of his did the filming, and he did the editing as our wedding gift. We also bought a lot of supplies from Costco and antique stores, and made all of the decorations ourselves, including the ceremony backdrop, the centerpieces, the table runners and even the bar! We hired college students to help with set-up and serving, and hired our harpist through a local music school. We also decided to do a small cake to cut and a table full of assorted desserts, in lieu of a big expensive wedding cake.

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Was there anything you would have done differently, in retrospect?

  1. Hired a day-of coordinator. I almost hired an awesome one, Events by Holly Gray, but a friend volunteered to be my day-of point person at the last minute. A professional day-of coordinator would have taken all the stress off of my friends and let them relax and have fun.
  2. Planned a grand exit at the end of the night. We wanted to stay and say goodbye to all our guests, so we ended up being the last ones to leave the venue. It was pretty hectic trying to get everything cleaned up and out of the venue on time, and weird to see all our hard work getting disassembled.
  3. Invited more people! Life happens, and many guests whom we thought would come couldn’t. We had lots of extra spaces left over, and there were many friends I would have loved to have invited if I hadn’t been so conservative/nervous about the headcount.

What was your biggest challenge in planning?

Finding a venue! I had a couple of freak outs during the first few months of our engagement, as I couldn’t find ANY venues that coordinated both budget and style. In total desperation I ended up revisiting the first place I ever liked, but had rejected because of their availability. It turns out I had misread their website the first time around, and it ended up being absolutely perfect for us.

What lessons did you learn from planning or from the wedding itself?

I ended up throwing all my pre-engagement ideas about my wedding out the window once I actually started planning. My fiancé had some awesome ideas and perspectives, and it was fun building our big day together – I didn’t realize when we started how much he wanted to be a part of the planning! And decorations and cool details are great and all, but as long as you have food and music, everyone’s going to have a great time – so don’t stress about the little things. Most of all though, it really does take a village to do anything big in life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be gracious when you receive it.

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What were your top 5 favorite things about your wedding?

  1. The ceremony. It was over 100 degrees on the day of our outdoor wedding, but shade from the trees fell just right across the ceremony site so that it was still warm, but pleasant. Sunbeams streamed through the trees, birds sang and a butterfly flew around us at the beginning. It was an incredibly surreal moment in time, but there was so much laughter, love, and excitement.
  2. The food. We had our favorite taco place, MexiCali in downtown L.A., set up a taco bar with your choice of freshly grilled meat and veggies. Our appetizers and wedding cake were from our favorite Cuban restaurant, Porto’s, and we had a variety of homemade cupcakes on the dessert table. I only wish I’d been able to eat more!
  3. The music. I gave our DJ a list of songs I’d collected from the MoTown and Seventies Hits Pandora channels, and he filled in the rest with some killer oldies and party favorites. I can’t remember a single song being played that I didn’t love! I danced so hard that I ripped both a strap and the train off my dress.
  4. How authentic it was. We had lots of guests tell us afterward that it was one of the best weddings they’d been to, because it was inclusive, low-key, and … tacos.
  5. A family member Skyped my grandma during the ceremony, and at one point I was able to turn around and see her grinning from ear-to-ear on the phone screen.
  6. Bonus: Nick and I met when we lived in a three-unit apartment complex, all rented by 20-somethings. There was a core group of about 10 or 12 friends who either lived there or hung out there during that time, and were there for the beginning of Nick and my relationship. At one point we all came together on the dance floor for a giant group hug, singing our hearts out. It had been years since we were all together in one place (minus one couple who moved out of the country), so it was an incredibly moving and memorable moment.

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Top 5 least favorite?

  1. I didn’t budget enough time in the days leading up to the wedding to get our DIY projects set up, so we were running late on the morning of. Because of this, we didn’t get a chance to take many pictures before the ceremony.
  2. I’m still on the fence about this, but I kind of wish we had done a seating chart! I’ve been to so many weddings where guests moved chairs around and sat where they wanted to despite the chart, so I figured we’d just let our guests choose. But I’ve also enjoyed going to weddings where all the various friends and family got to mingle more with each other over dinner, instead of just out on the dance floor.
  3. Things that were out of our control, like the hot, humid weather and traffic woes (e.g. President Obama’s surprise visit to Pasadena on the day of our rehearsal dinner).
  4. The wedding had to end and everyone had to go home.
  5. We only get to have one wedding. I have so many more ideas!

What was the worst piece of wedding advice you received?

I can’t remember any bad advice, but I had to learn to shrug off all the people who only had negative things to say about wedding planning, like “Oh, you’re about to be so miserable!”

The best?

I got so much good advice from friends, family, and of course The Broke-Ass Bride, but I think my favorite was a reminder to take a few moments alone together as a couple during the reception, to be in the moment and be thankful for everything that’s happening.

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Any other bits of wisdom?

  • I highly recommend pre-martial counseling. It led us to much deeper conversations than usual about important topics, and reminded us that the wedding is ultimately about the start of a marriage, not just an evening of partying.
  • I’m also really glad we have the ceremony on video, because I can’t remember much about it except how excited I felt. It was so nice to listen to the words again, and see details that I’d missed in the moment.
  • Despite my best efforts to be careful while eating, I spilled a big dollop of guacamole on my lap during dinner. Right after, an excited guest accidentally spilled their drink on Nick’s shirt. My wonderful mom saved the day both times with club soda, a Tide pen and a clean towel. Have all of these things at easy access during the reception!

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Budget breakdown

All prices are approximate, and just for the main categories. Even with all the little miscellaneous costs here and there, we ended up sticking pretty darn close to our original budget thanks to extensive research and negotiating.

  • Venue $2,500
  • Food (buffet dinner + appetizers) $2,200
  • Photographer $2,000
  • Bride and Groom’s outfits $1,000
  • Alcohol $800
  • Rentals (tablecloths + dishes + glasses) $700
  • DJ (friend of a friend) $600
  • Decorations $600
  • Flowers $500
  • Minister + Counseling sessions $400
  • Harpist $300
  • Paper goods (PaperSource) + Printing $250
  • Cake $150
  • Event Insurance $100
  • Hair + Makeup: Free courtesy of a wonderful friend, plus about $100 in products from Sephora.

Vendors

Our vendors were all incredible to work with, and I’d recommend each of them in a heartbeat for being kind, flexible, and responsive.

Venue: The Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church

Appetizers and Desserts: Porto’s Bakery

Catering: MexiCali Taco

Photographer: A Sight of Love Photography

Rentals: Ace Party Rentals, North Hollywood

DJ: Cee Brown

Harpist: Jacqueline Marshall

Florist: PoppyHill Flowers

Print shop: Color Images Copy and Print

Hair and Makeup: Sarah Rocksdale

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Congratulations, Elissa and Nick!

Elissa Stooker
  • 2/10

    Right after I got engaged, my mom called me from her local bookstore. “I’m looking through all these wedding guides — is there one that sounds good to you? Here’s one called The Broke-Ass Bride’s Wedding Guide — haha!” We chuckled over the great name, and she ended up mailing me a couple of bridal magazines to start with. Little did I know then what a role The Broke-Ass Bride would have in my life over the next year and a half!

    I first submitted to be a Real Bride after a vendor basically laughed at my budget, telling me to call them back when I found more money. I already was feeling like even the most basic wedding items were laughably expensive, so to hear that what I felt was a significant amount of money wasn’t enough really got me hot under the collar. In addition, I was having trouble finding online wedding resources for Southern California that weren’t a few years out of date, so I hoped that at the end of my process, I could have a list of great recommendations for SoCal couples with perfectly fine budgets.

    So in the midst of starting a Master’s degree program learning about statistics and theory, I also began researching weddings. And researching. And researching. While I planned to blog about the vendors and resources I was finding, I discovered a lot of feelings instead — from stressing about (and getting over) my self-image in my engagement photos, to waffling back and forth about changing my last name, to a surprise stint in the intensive care unit a month before the wedding that really made me re-evaluate my priorities, blogging about these things became a release valve for wedding stress. This was my much more environmentally-friendly version of putting a message in a balloon and releasing it into the wind.

    Professionally, I’m a college advisor. I help students, mostly freshmen, choose their classes and acclimate to life in college. Much of my job is often just to be a sounding board, and to ask questions like “have you thought about it this way instead?” I firmly believe that just by talking out an idea — putting it into the universe — you will come to your own solution. I spent probably two weeks agonizing over what I wanted my veil to look like, but after publishing one blog post and reading a few insightful comments, I knew I had to take a leap of faith on an idea and ended up loving what I chose. Now, when my recently engaged friends ask for advice, I tell them to just get all their wedding thoughts out of their heads. On paper, on a blog, into the air of a Korean restaurant or over a glass of wine and a whole container of hummus and chips (true stories).Real Bride Elissa:

    Credit: A Sight of Love

    So thanks, BABs. You gave me a place to throw my ideas and see what stuck, and thousands of friendly shoulders to lean on, so I didn’t drive my poor besties too crazy. Because of all my researching and all the networking I’ve been able to do, I was able to throw an incredibly fun, meaningful, reasonably-priced wedding and get my incredibly fun and meaningful marriage off to a great start, without going in debt! It turned out my budget was definitely enough to have all of the elements we dreamed about and then some. The things that didn’t work out and seemed like they were going to be disappointments ended up leading to even better situations. And our fabulous family and friends gave their time, energy and more to make us feel loved and part of the community. The other thing I tell my engaged friends is that all your current stress is WORTH IT. All of a sudden it will be over, you’ll have some awesome memories to laugh over, and you’ll be so proud of all the work you did.

    People often ask me if marriage feels any different; it doesn’t really day-to-day, but standing up there in front of your loved ones and vowing yourselves to each other really did feel like pulling tight an invisible knot. There were definitely times in the planning process that our ropes felt a little frayed, but together, we’re stronger. And that same sentiment goes for your relationships with your wedding party and your relatives. Always remember you’re not alone in this; that’s why I’m so grateful to The Broke-Ass Bride for welcoming me into the family. 

    Real Bride Elisa: Riding Off Into the Sunset

    Photo Credits: A Sight of Love Photography

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Elissa!

    Are you interested in becoming a Real Bride with Team Broke-Ass? Apply today!

    Elissa Stooker
  • 2/9

    for_richer_or_poorer

    Sign available from Etsy seller HeritageDesignsTH I was hoping to post this week about our Save the Dates (they are turning out really cute, btw). Instead, I’m heavily preoccupied with a life curveball that was thrown our way at probably the most inopportune time. Dear BABs, I apologize in advance for the vagueness of this post, but there is a level of privacy I’d like…

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    2/8

    US

    Here's a big HELLO to all my ladies out there bride'n on a budget! I will start this off by saying that I am super stoked to be here sharing my journey down the aisle with y'all! My name is Heather, and I am a lady who knows how to pinch a penny when it comes to weddings! I have always kind of been obsessed…

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    2/5

    Faceted Wooden Ring Box by Woodstorming

    Faceted Wooden Ring Box, $90+ by Etsy seller Woodstorming Hello BABs! Today's Broke-Ass Advice post is geared toward our BABs-to-be, and maybe some BA-Grooms-to-be, too! If you've been struck by Cupid's pointy little arrow and you're itching to get your proposal on and start forever right now, I've got some suggestions for you that I hope will reduce the stress and fear of the whole…

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  • 2/4

    Allure 2851

    Happy Thursday, y'all! I am super excited for today's CAI/GOI post because it features one of my favorite dress styles. Reader Marie commented on this previous post with: "I tried on a dress that was very similar to this one from Allure Bridals, and fell in love this weekend! I'm hoping to find something that's well under 1000, could you help? I'm in love with…

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    2/4

    Photo by Shaina Sheaff

    Photo: Shaina Sheaff Photography Hindsight’s 20/20, right? Oh, it’s great to look back with all of your knowledge accumulated through experience, but when you’re in the thick of things, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. This truism applies to planning a wedding about as nearly as anything I’ve ever experienced. You get inundated with advice: some well-meaning, some completely self-serving,…

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    2/2

    matt402

    Now that the wedding is over, the holidays have passed us and Matt and I have enjoyed our honeymoon (we just got back from Disney!), my eyes are turning toward some of the leftover wedding things we have and I’m starting to wonder what I should do with them. There are some items I’m definitely just going to sell. Others I’d like to hold on to…

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  • 2/1

    Fifth Heaven Silver Dollar Ring

    Ring available from Etsy seller FifthHeaven I can't believe January of 2016 is over! It seems like this year is flying by, and that means my wedding is fast approaching and planning activities are really starting to take off. I'm now in a super busy planning stage where vendor emails and contracts and payments are flying fast and furious. With that, comes the reality: All…

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