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.
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.
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.
Was there anything you would have done differently, in retrospect?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What were your top 5 favorite things about your wedding?
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Top 5 least favorite?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- The wedding had to end and everyone had to go home.
- 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!”
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.
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!
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.
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
Congratulations, Elissa and Nick!