I’ve always wanted to do a series about inexpensive but great weddings and since it’s a busy end of the week, I thought you’d appreciate getting to know a few more cool people. The following three days will feature three couples and how they had the day of their dreams without sticker shock.
A special thank you to my friend Ally for putting me in touch with this couple. They seem like fantastic people who know how to throw a wedding!
Name of Happy Couple: Paul and Tobyn
Location of Wedding: Ceremony-Old, out of use UU church in Westbrook Maine, Reception-The backyard of our apartment in Westbrook Maine
Date: July 9th, 2009
Total Cost of Wedding: Including rings our total cost was around $5,000, without the rings it was around $3,300
What are some of the ways you saved money?
We saved money in almost every thing we did just by planning the type of wedding that we did. With this said, I have gone through our wedding step by step below. I have found the easiest way to portray what we did is by breaking it up into its various components to give a small taste of what the wedding itself was like as well as the planning.
Number of Guests: We invited probably around 130 and right around 100 came.
Save the Date Cards: We sent out save the date cards, which were post cards we created through an online site. I just downloaded a picture of the two of us and typed in a little note. They were really easy and cheaper to send then cards. With postage they cost us about $40.
Invitations: We bought a couple pages of blank cardstock with envelopes and a tree hole punch. We designed the invitations on our computer and printed them ourselves. Paul punched out all of the trees (which was something like 160 punches and resulted in some blisters). For the RSVP cards we just got some little cards that could be used as postcards and printed them up with our home printer. These cost us about $60 all together including postage… we didn’t even run through all of the ink in our printer.
Clothing: I bought my dress for $210 at a small bridal shop in Portland Maine. It was actually a bridesmaid’s dress, which is what made it cheaper, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It cost me $35 to have a few alterations done. I bought my shoes from Zappos a few days before the wedding. They were sort of expensive, $85, but I was able to justify this because they were really cute, pink flats, made in an eco friendly way by Patagonia and I knew that I would wear them a lot after the wedding. For jewelry I just wore a pair of fake pearl earrings I got at Macey’s for $24.
Paul got his outfit mostly at JCrew and spent about $75. He wore linen pants, and a pink button-down shirt. He wore some shoes he already owned, and wore the tie that his dad had worn for his wedding.
Wedding Party: We didn’t exactly have a wedding party. We decided pretty early on that this was not a tradition we wanted to carry on. Instead we decided to involve our closest friends and family in the ceremony. I asked the girls who were involved to wear any dress in any shade of pink. We didn’t really give any direction to the guys, they just wore what they wanted, and to be honest I can’t really remember what that was.
Ceremony Site: For $100 we rented a beautiful UU church whose congregation was, sadly, on its way towards dissolution. We were told we could pretty much do whatever we wanted in the church, we would just have to clean before and after. They also were ok with us using the basement as a backup for our reception in case it was bad weather. This was at no extra charge unless we actually used it, in which case they said we could give them another $100. With this backup plan we decided we didn’t need to rent a tent (which would have been a tight fit for our yard). The weekend of the wedding they made us an extra key to the building so that we could get in whenever we wanted. This turned out to be incredibly helpful. The church was just about )½ mile away from our reception site on the other side of the river.
Ceremony: We asked my grandmother (who is 81) if she would officiate our ceremony for us. We aren’t part of a church and really wanted to have someone who we were close to. This was the only place that we ran into some friction with our families, however, once they came around to the idea that this wasn’t going to be a traditional wedding, we were given all the support and love we could have asked for. Gramma was a tremendous help throughout the process of planning the ceremony. She gave us homework at one point and asked us if we would answer a couple of questions in writing for her: Why, after six years of being together did we want to get married? And what role, if any, did God play in our decision? We both really enjoyed answering these questions, and she ended up using parts of our answers in what she said during the ceremony.
Here is a little summary of how our ceremony played out: My 14 year old sister played the piano while the guests were taking their seats. My older sister and my dear friend from high school greeted people at the door and then walked down the aisle holding hands. Our moms walked down next holding hands. Paul and I walked down the aisle together (we came out of two different doors, met in the middle and walked arm in arm) while my brother and his girlfriend played guitar and banjo and sang the medley of Somewhere over the rainbow and what a wonderful world.
Paul’s longtime friend opened the ceremony with a Princess Bride quote (can you guess which one?) and then did a wonderful reading of a poem Paul and I both love. Paul’s dad and sister and one of my other close friends from high school each read a poem or reading (ranging from Tom Robbins to Shakespeare). Paul’s mom read a children’s book that I had found called Our Nest (which we later used for our guest sign-in book). Another dear friend sang (beautifully) a StoryHill song, and my mom read something she had written. My grandmother read an excerpt from a book, talked about how we had asked her to officiate for us, and read excerpts from our answers to her questions.
Towards the conclusion, all of these people, and my Grampa and Stepdad as well, stood in a semicircle behind us while Paul and I read the vows that we had written together. My older sister delivered our rings to us on a balsam heart pillow my mom had made for us. And off to the side our friend (the husband of my friend who sang) managed the sound system and started up the CD player with Mason Jennings for us to jump off the stage to and walk back up the aisle (after the exchange of rings and the kiss… some traditions are good to hold onto). And that…in a nutshell…was our ceremony.
One of my favorite parts was just looking out at the group of all our family and friends that had gathered together to help us celebrate. There were about 100 people there and I think we made almost all of them cry and laugh…it was blissful.
Reception Site: Last August we moved into our current apartment. In October we got engaged. Sometime around November we asked our landlord if we could rent the backyard from her for our reception (our apartment is a duplex, we are upstairs and she is downstairs). She told us we could certainly have it in the back yard, but that we didn’t need to pay her. So, we had a large lawn, on a gently flowing river, for free. Not a bad deal. We did a number of home-improvement projects to spruce the backyard, but the only one of these that really cost us money was buying a bunch of annual flowers to plant in pots and around the yard. I think we probably spent around $100-$150 on these, and we are still enjoying them and will be for the rest of the summer. We also scraped and painted a and with our landlord’s help, turned it into a little bungalow that we used as our “Honeymoon Sweet” (most of the paint came from our landlord’s basement… we chipped in $8 for pink trim).
Reception Set Up: Our original plan was to have picnic blankets for people to sit on to eat. However, since all it has done this summer is rain (except on our wedding day) the ground was too wet. Instead we borrowed some tables and chairs from the church ($0). Over the past few months I collected a bunch of tablecloths from yard sales and thrift stores (around $100-$150). However, some of them are really nice and will be used again (You may notice that this idea comes up again and again in our planning. One way we decided to save money was to try to only buy things that we, or someone else would use again. We spent as little as possible on things that were only good for use at our wedding).
We went light on decorations; the yard itself is so beautiful it didn’t need much. What it did need was some lighting. Around Christmas time we gave Paul’s mom the task of buying a lot of Christmas lights as they went on sale: We ended up with a case of them (around $50). My little sister made paper lanterns for the lights, which looked really pretty. The lights were strung up by a fairly large gang of us the day before and the day of the wedding. There happens to be a flag pole in the middle of the yard that we were able to use to make a canopy of lights. It felt like we were underneath a tent, only you could look up and see the stars. It was beautiful (in fact they are still up and may remain up until winter).
My Grampa and my Uncle brought over two 10×10 tents they had for their decks in CT and we set one up for the band and one over the food in case it rained.
My mom made signs out of shingles and magic marker to put around the yard that said things like Honeymoon Sweet, Pee Break (pointing to the porta potty) and Pea break (pointing to the garden).
Food: We decided early on that we wanted our wedding to have the feel of a community event; of people coming together to celebrate and have fun. One way we thought we could accomplish this was to have a potluck wedding. We asked people in the invitation (only the people who weren’t traveling a long distance, which turned out to be about )¾ of them), to bring their favorite dish with a recipe card attached instead of other gifts. We ordered a few things from a co-op to supplement, but in the end I don’t think we really needed to. We spent around $250 on our co-op order getting some natural sodas and seltzers, olives, and wheels of cheese.
Cake: My sisters helped me make our wedding cake. It was a carrot cake decorated with cream cheese frosting, Batchelor’s Button flowers from our garden, and the hideous plastic cake topper that was on Paul’s parent’s wedding cake. We also made 6 or 7 one-layer-heart-shaped cakes (same kind) to supplement.
Alcohol: One of my aunts brought a case of wine as her potluck contribution. We got two kegs of local, organic beer, which cost about $375. We decided we didn’t want any hard alcohol. We also decided that we weren’t really going to do any of the traditional reception things like have a time for toasting, so we didn’t feel we needed champagne. I was completely satisfied with this decision. It turned out that we probably could have gotten away with one keg, but it was nice to give people an option of flavors and to not have to worry about running out.
Tableware: We ordered plates and utensils from a green party supply store. They were the compostable kind. We spent about $50 dollars first but when they arrived I decided that we should have extra plates, and we needed bowls and coffee cups as well. We put in another order from a different green party store and spent another $75 or so. We definitely ended up needing them…however…they arrived about 3 days after the wedding. Our dear friend Jim came to the rescue and ran out to the grocery store at the start of the reception and picked up what we needed. It all works out in the end.
Glasses: Oddly, this is one of the areas we felt extravagant as far as how much we were spending. I got it in my head that I wanted to use canning jars as cups instead of using plastic or renting glasses. We do a lot of gardening and canning so I thought it would be perfect to collect a bunch, use them for the wedding, and then be able to use them for canning. So…I became a little obsessed with looking on line for something of this sort.
Finally Paul and I ran across these really cool looking ones, made in Germany, that said “Frucht & Fun” on them. They were uniquely shaped AND Amazon was having a 4 for 3 deal so we went ahead and ordered about 130 of them. They came to about $260, which felt like a lot, but again we were able to justify the cost (I am queen of justifications). My mom, little sister, and I cut out a bunch of birch bark hearts and a group of us tied them around the jars with ribbon. We set sharpies out at the drinks table so that people could write their names on their glass so they could keep track of their cup for the night. These ended up looking like party favors, even though that wasn’t our intent, and some people really wanted to take them home. This worked out ok and we still have enough to keep us in canning for about the next ten years!
Flowers: Like I mentioned before we planted a lot of annuals around the garden. For other flowers we sent my friend and Paul’s sister to the farmer’s market the morning of the wedding. We had scoped it out the weekend before and knew that there were a lot of sunflowers and other flowers. They ended up coming back with some beautiful bouquets and spent $85. This included my bouquet and a few larger bouquets for the church. They were so beautiful!
Music: Originally we were just going to hook up our iPod to a PA for the reception. Somewhere in the middle months we started thinking about how wonderful it would be to have live music, specifically a bluegrass band (even more specifically Old Crow Medicine Show, but that might have been a far reach), to help set the tone we were looking for.
Paul is a singer/songwriter himself and enjoys anything having to do with music, so he got online and did a little research. We emailed a few Maine bluegrass bands and one (out of 4 o 5) got back to us. They were going to be in the area the weekend of our wedding and were willing to play for us for $700 (down from $1100 because they didn’t have to pay travel costs). We had never heard the band before, but listened to a few songs online and decided: 1.) That they sounded fantastic and 2.) That since we weren’t providing food for our guests and we were doing everything as low cost as we could, that it would be really nice, and ok, to splurge on the band. We were so excited and when we went ahead and booked them it was a big relief for us. We got this feeling that now, even if we totally messed up planning every other part of the wedding, people could at least enjoy a live band.
Rings: Paul got me mine back in October when he proposed to me. It was made by a small, independent, jeweler in New Mexico (he did a lot of research to make sure they used materials that were ethically and environmentally collected). My ring is a wedding band (as opposed to an engagement ring) and exactly what I wanted (without knowing it). I decided that I didn’t want another ring and a couple months before the wedding stopped wearing it so it would feel special to have it put on during the ceremony. I had Paul’s ring made for him. I worked with a small jeweler in Vermont who was willing to work with me to get the cost as low as possible (for a handmade ring and not one from a large jeweler). I asked Paul’s family if they had any old jewelry that I could have to melt down into his ring to cut down on the cost. Once I started working with the jeweler though I sort of stopped thinking about the cost and just totally enjoyed the process of designing this ring and loved the fact that it was going to have his grandmother’s wedding band melted into and be a surprise to him. So I think that the total cost of our rings was around $1600.
PortaPotty: We rented one regular old portapotty (although we did get a free upgrade to one with a sink and a “flushable toilet” because they brought the wrong one). It cost $130
Photography: A close family friend who is a professional photographer shot our wedding for us at no charge other than a hotel for a night for him and his family ($140). He just gave us the CDS of pictures and we will print them out.
Paul’s uncle gave us a video camera for a gift and used it to videotape the wedding.
Reception: The reception was wonderful. The weather remained perfect for the entire night. We arrived to our yard by way of paddleboat to a large group of people waiting for us. It’s hard to capture the whole night in a paragraph, but here are a few highlights: The band was great, there was a ton of delicious food, people were dancing on the lawn, and dancing with sparklers, Kuub was played, my sister hung pictures of when Paul and I were little and from earlier on in our relationship, the band handed one of their guitars over to Paul and he sang a song that he had written for me, we had an impromptu cake cutting, and impromptu “first dance”, our guests all mingled and talked and laughed, there were children running all around, and the night ended around a little campfire with S’mores.
What really made this all possible was the fact that everyone pitched in, and contributed their time, skills, and resources. Rather than being an imposition, this format allowed for everyone to feel connected in work towards a common goal. Having lots to do allowed people to get to know one another in comfortable ways. It allowed us to see everyone in settings besides a receiving line. And it imbued even the small details with the quality of things done by people who care for you.