Broke-Ass Category: Wedding Inspiration

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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
  • 1/26

    save_the_date

    Our first official wedding correspondence is going out in a week or two (as soon as I get around to DIY-ing them) — our Save the Dates. Everyone we’re close to knows that we’re getting married. It shouldn’t be a secret or surprise to anyone when they arrive in the mail. It’s also not as if our wedding and getting married doesn’t already seem real; my dress is ordered, our venue is secured, our photographer is booked.

    For some reason, sending out the Save the Dates brings up another wave of the “I can’t believe this is really happening” feeling all over again. I will be both relieved and anxious to drop these bad boys in the mailbox.

    Relieved because that’s another thing to cross off the to-do list (or Trello board, which is what I’ve been using to stay organized but that’s a topic for another day). Anxious because other people are officially involved now — people we love and care about. In other words, elopement is off the table, and there’s no going back now.

    I love wedding planning. I am a solid decision-maker. I am convinced that we are going to have a lovely wedding, and our friends and family will have a wonderful evening. With that being said, there have definitely been a few times where I look at this production we’re creating (albeit a relatively casual one) and think how much easier it would be to run away with my fiance and go somewhere, anywhere, and get married alone and scrap the whole thing.

    But alas, we’re definitely past the point of no return now, and the Save the Dates simply solidify that. From here on out, friends and family are making plans, preparing to attend and we’re preparing to be the centers of attention which is neither of our favorite places to be. Not to mention, it would absolutely devastate my parents, and I’m confident my future parents-in-law as well.

    Our Save the Dates will be on burgundy and kraft brown card stock that we’re purchasing from a local store called Broadway Paper, a rubber stamp from Etsy and some undetermined doodads from Joann Fabrics. We have jute string and ivory lace and we haven’t decided which we’re using yet. I purchased gold and black ink pads as well. I’m looking forward to sharing photos with all of you, dear readers, once they’re completed, hopefully next weekend!

    Have any of the other BAB’s out there felt this way about their Save the Dates?

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    Photo by Shaina Sheaff

    When it comes to your wedding decor, there those things that you automatically think of: centerpieces, table linens, altar decorations ... As my wedding date neared, I realized I'd forgotten something pretty important: I didn't have any signs! Pretty and functional, your wedding signage keeps folks from having to guess when it comes to where to go, what to do and, well, what to drink.…

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    12/8

    04-Blueprint-Registry-Lifestyle

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    12/8

    Sneak peek pic from Julie and Matt's wedding

    One of our sneak peek photos provided by SK Photography One of the things I was most excited for as my wedding approached was the free time I was sure I’d have once everything was said and done. For the past four years, any time Matt and I weren’t at least trying to think about the wedding, I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt. In…

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  • 12/2

    Real Wedding: Diana and Tom's Handmade, Personal New York Celebration

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