Names: Mike and Alison
Occupations: Mike – mild-mannered computer technician; Alison – full-time biology student
Wedding location: Rainier Chapter House, Daughters of the American Revolution in Seattle, Washington
Wedding date: June 10, 2012
Wedding budget: $8,000
Approximate guest count: 55 and ⅜ (Not everyone could make it.)
How would you describe your wedding? All of our favorite things: costumes and board games and time travel and cake and friends and family and also, we got married!
What was your favorite part of your wedding? There was so much! I think the best was that we’d put together such a great team that once we arrived on-site, our worries evaporated and we just had a great time. We assembled a group of friends and vendors who were genuinely excited about helping us and thoroughly geeked out about their part in it.
What did you splurge on? Photography was really important to us. Mike and I both volunteer as event staffers, so we know how a big event can turn into a haze of barely remembered moments. Photos mean we’ll remember.
We couldn’t talk ourselves out of Madres catering, either. They’d been very impressive from the very beginning. Anyone who’s been to a bunch of catered events knows that there are two kinds – catering that’s good and catering that’s good enough. If Madres ran a restaurant, I’d be excited to go there as often as I could. I dream about those shrimp cakes.
What did you save on?
- Dress. I found my dress on Etsy for under $300! If you take your time and don’t let yourself be discouraged, you really can find the dress you want.
- Handmade paper bouquets and centerpieces. I think the paper and supplies ran us a little over $100. You could do it for even less, I just really like fancy paper. And at the end of the day, most of the centerpieces and little boutonniere-sized flowers I made were taken home by guests, too!
- No booze. We had a dry wedding, just tea and lemonade and water and coffee, no alcohol. We added a note to our wedding site and program about a pub crawl after the reception, and several of our guests joined us at a bar down the street from the venue.
- Venue. The venue itself was inexpensive and easy to work with, and they provided all of the furniture and tableware, and even an iPod dock for our music!
- Shoes. My shoes came from my existing wardrobe. It’s surprisingly difficult to find lime green shoes and I already had a few pairs.
- A new approach to dressy dudes. For the men, getting over the tuxedo idea saved us a bunch of cash. Our best man came in costume pulled from his own wardrobe, and Mike bought a nice plain suit for the same amount of money we’d have spent renting a tux.
- Volunteers rather than gifts. The biggest money-saver was probably asking for volunteers instead of gifts. In an apartment as small as ours, more stuff is almost a calamity. Once we convinced our friends what we really wanted was help, things came together very quickly. In fact, a few friends we’d intended to pay donated their services entirely!
Was there anything you would have done differently, in retrospect?
I think I might have arranged in advance to have someone pick me up from my hair appointment. I thought it’d be easy to catch a cab to the venue, and it usually is … when there aren’t a bunch of commencement ceremonies going on all over town.
There were no cabs. Thankfully, Mike was able to come pick me up in his smoke-belching rattletrap of a truck. (I should note that he insisted I describe the truck this way.) We arrived a little bit late and I’d had time to freak out about everything, but in the process I’d also texted everyone I could get a hold of to let them know what was going on, and we didn’t drop a beat.
What was your biggest challenge in planning?
When we first started out, we had no idea what the wedding would cost, so we waited until we had a better idea. And if we’d answered any of those questions in the beginning instead of trying to wing it, we could have saved ourselves a lot of headaches.
If there is a lesson to be learned from our mistakes, it should be to establish the budget at the beginning of planning.
What lessons did you learn from planning or from the wedding itself?
A wedding is a socially appropriate opportunity to shout your love from the rooftops, to say “this is who I intend to build a life with.” It doesn’t have to be anything else. I learned that we could make it the party we wanted and throw out or ignore or mutate all the parts we weren’t comfortable with, the parts that weren’t us or our families or our friends.
What were your top 5 favorite things about your wedding?
- NO ONE QUESTIONS THE BRIDE HAVING A FLASK OF WHISKEY. NO ONE.
- Our vows.
- Our good friend and officiant’s excellent ceremony, and our readings.
- Costume party!
- Board game reception!
Top 5 least favorite?
- No cabs. I mean, really? I thought I was going to pop a vein in my head.
- Close friends who couldn’t make it to the wedding.
- Crinolines are difficult!
What was the worst piece of wedding advice you received?
The notion that there is a “right way” to design your wedding, and that someone other than you gets to decide what that is. Don’t let others define your needs for you. The only way to do a wedding wrong is to let it turn into something you didn’t want.
Think about your deal breakers: What are a few things you must have or must avoid for your wedding? Once you know what you’ve got to have, it’s really easy to compromise on the things you’re less interested in.
Any other bits of wisdom?
Be true to yourself and what you need.
A wedding is a big project with a lot of moving parts, and it’s a big event. We’re socialized to think of a wedding as something people just up and do, without need for specialized training or research, but it’s not like there’s a high school class on how to throw a tightly scheduled party for 40-300 people. I’m not kidding when I say people go to college to learn that sort of thing. Don’t try to plan or run this party alone. Ask loved ones to pitch in. Hire experts to help. Do research. Give yourself lots of time. If you do the research and ask for help, you don’t have to lose your mind planning a wedding.
Hire vendors who are genuinely excited about your plans and can’t stop talking about how they can help. They’ll be there for you, and the results will be better than you imagined.
The wedding industry will sell you on tradition any chance they get. Be wary of “tradition,” and realize that if a lot of these traditions are only a few years old, you can definitely create your own new traditions too!
Budget breakdown with vendors
Photography: A little under $3,000 for an engagement session and wedding package with a few extra goodies. Firstlight Photography
Catering: Just over $1,700 through Madres Events.
Venue: About $1,500, including tables, chairs, linens and tableware. DAR Rainier Chapter House
Email invitations and wedding website: $30 per month through Glo.
Cake: $300, the designer is a friend of ours. Clever Cake Studio
Dress: Roughly $270 for a custom designed dress. Pixie Pocket
Shoes: Came from my wardrobe, but were between $120 and $200 new. These shoes last forever if you take good care of them, can be repaired by the manufacturer, and look awesome. Fluevog
Suit: $250. Men’s Wearhouse
Paper and other supplies for the centerpieces: About $100. Paper Source
Centerpieces: My centerpieces were half of a flower ball. Here is a good set of instructions.
Favors: $135 for 100 gorgeous 20-sided dice. We called them directly about the Precision Gaming dice (they’re really pretty) and they were amused by the idea when we explained they were for a wedding. We got a discount out of it! Gamestation
Stockings and garter belt: Something like $30. It’s easy to spend a lot more here! Sock Dreams
A super shout out to our bride and groom for showcasing the memorable fun that can be created when you embrace who you are. With their help, other couples can save cash as well as learn how to make a number of the projects at home. What else could a girl want?