(Walking back down the aisle after saying "I Do")
Let me just say that I am not one of those brides who DIY-ed everything and claims to have spent like $150 total on her wedding. We made the decision early on that we wanted to have our wedding in Boston and invite a fairly large crowd (we were prepared to have about 120 people, and ended up with about 100 which felt perfect). This meant that we couldn't hold it at anyone's home (no one we know in Boston has so much space), and therefore we would likely need to hire professional caterers (most venues require this for liability reasons). We had very generous support from our parents to make this wedding possible, and while it was far more than we could have spent on our own we also managed to stay below the national average for weddings (in an expensive city, nonetheless). To keep within our budget while also getting what felt like a dream wedding, we made a list of our priorities and splurged on those things while trimming or eliminating everything else. In wedding planning, hundreds of experts and blogs will tell you about everything You Absolutely Must Have, and the only way to throw an affordable wedding seems to be to ignore this advice and just focus on the things that are most important to you as a couple. Also having 22 months to plan was painful at times, but allowed us to shop around for vendors, find some really great deals, and even lock in rates that by the time our wedding rolled around would have been much higher.
Here's a basic breakdown of the details -- as you can tell, we were absolutely in love with everyone we worked with and feel so incredibly lucky. I did include some basic financial info in a few instances in case it's helpful to other couples, but I'm always happy to talk at greater length with anyone who'd like more detail. Basically I'm desperate for other people to get married in Boston and use our vendors because they were all so awesome, and the money thing can be so taboo to talk about but is obviously a huge part of the process.
Ceremony and reception venue: Arlington Town Hall
Located right on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, MA about 4 miles from Harvard Square, the Arlington Town Hall is the active home for the Arlington city offices and local functions like Town Meeting, school concerts, etc. However, it's also a gorgeous, historic building (101 years old in 2014) with an incredible reception hall and lovely outdoor gardens. The very reasonable rental fee includes use of all the indoor and outdoor space, and the funds are used to maintain and restore the building which we really liked. Plus the fee is the same whether you're holding a wedding or any other kind of event, which feels nice when the wedding industry seems out to gouge you at every turn. We held our ceremony outside under a tree, our cocktail hour also outside in front of a fountain, and our reception in the auditorium. It was the first and only venue we visited, the first thing we booked for our wedding, and we received so many compliments from our guests about the space. We couldn't have been happier. Plus the space was big enough to allow us flexibility for a great rain plan, which was so reassuring when the forecast was totally up and down the days prior to the wedding.
We got married under a tree in the gardens
Cocktail hour on the brick patio near the fountain
The inside of the Town Hall, as it was being set up before the reception
Caterers: Capers Catering
We love food, and it was one of our top priorities. We spent almost 50% of our budget on food and drink, and it was 100% worth it. Capers was a pleasure to work with during the planning process, they handled everything so smoothly on the day-of, and the food was incredible. As we made the rounds to visit with our guests, I swear most plates appeared to be licked clean. They were nothing short of amazing on so many fronts -- from logistics to food to decor.
Day-of wedding coordinator: Michelle Schaufeld, The Day Of
Given my background in event planning and my control freak tendencies, I knew right away that I wanted to splurge on having someone help with the complex logistics involved in a wedding. However, I also knew that I had the time and interest to do most of the advance planning myself. Michelle specializes in day-of coordination, which was perfect -- she checked in with me every few months during the planning process to see how I was doing and offer ideas on vendors etc as needed, and then about 2 weeks before the wedding I gave her all the information and she and her amazing team took over all the logistics so that Sam and I could completely immerse ourselves in experiencing our wedding day. Before the wedding day, Michelle was a godsend. On the wedding day itself, everything was so easy that I found myself asking, "everything went so smoothly, did we really need the coordination?" That was proof of how amazing Michelle was -- I know from past experience working on events that there were a million things going wrong and needing attention, and the fact that absolutely none of it made it to me and Sam to deal with is testament to her incredible work.
Photography: Orlando Claffey
We like photography, but we were not going to splurge on the insane prices that most wedding photographers charge. Most people were quoting us anywhere from $2,500 - $10,000. Orlando's background is in photojournalism but he started doing weddings a few years ago, so we were able to lock in a very reasonable rate (and then he had another full wedding season before our wedding even rolled around) and his photojournalism style was really appealing. He did an awesome job directing us in the staged couple, wedding party, and family portraits, but for the rest of the evening was so unobtrusive while capturing some really special moments.
Members of the wedding party peeking through the trees to where Sam and I were seeing each other all dressed up for the first time (aka the "First Look")
Flowers: Andrea D'Amelio Designs
Flowers were another place where we didn't want to spend a fortune. The Town Hall and gardens are so beautiful on their own that we knew we didn't need much to decorate them. Originally I thought I might do the flowers myself, but my coordinator convinced me that given my lack of experience with flowers and the fact that they really can't be done much in advance, it was going to make a big difference to enlist a professional. However, she recommended Andrea because she knew how flexible Andrea could be in terms of style and price points. Andrea was so understanding of our budget constraints and made me feel like a star client even though I know our order was very basic (just 14 simple centerpieces in pasta sauce jars that I'd been collecting, a sunflower each for the bridesmaid bouquets, and a bouquet for me). Her work was gorgeous, and she was so friendly to work with -- I never felt pressured to go with anything more expensive or involved than we wanted.
My incredible bouquet
Much heavier than it looks, good for clubbing difficult bridesmaids into submission
Hair and makeup: Hair and Makeup by Natalie
I wanted to look like myself on my wedding day, but also feel confident and beautiful. Natalie is a true talent -- she made me feel like the best version of myself, and also did hair and makeup for my bridesmaids, mom, and mother-in-law in the various styles they wanted. We spent 6 hours with her getting ready on the day-of, and it could have been awkward spending that high pressure time with a stranger -- but she was fun while also being totally professional. Her rates were also exceedingly reasonable given the research I did on other vendors -- definitely worth it given the quality of products she used and her skills. At the end of the day after 14 hours of sweating, crying, dancing, crying, more dancing, etc I still felt like a million dollars.
Where we started
The finished look
Officiant: Melinda Drew, Justice of the Peace
We weren't sure what exactly we wanted in an officiant except that we knew didn't want something religious because we come from fairly different religious backgrounds, and we ended up finding a Justice of the Peace, Melinda, who was awesome. We did want the ceremony to be very special and it's not that we wanted to cheap out, but the great thing about a JP is that their fees are governed by law (for Massachusetts JPs, $100 in the town where they're registered and $150 in any other town in the state), so it ended up being a very affordable option compared to what many other kinds of officiants can charge (especially since we don't belong to a church congregation).
Sam's incredibly talented siblings provided ceremony music for us, and for the reception we prepared our own dinner and dancing playlists from itunes rather than splurging on a DJ or band. We had to put time into thinking about how to get people dancing and the flow of songs, and we spent about $100 buying new music on itunes. But I think everyone had a great time dancing, and it was absolutely worth it to save the $1500 that it would have cost to hire a DJ. We asked Sam's brother, The Best Man, to help us with a little bit of emceeing to make the transitions between toasts, but we tried to keep it all very simple so that he could enjoy the evening for the most part.
Maddie and Isaac, our exceedingly talented ceremony musicians, who I'm lucky enough to call my sister- and brother-in-law now
The Arlington Town Hall came stocked with its own tables and chairs. Based on photos of other weddings there it looks like many people still rent tables (the free ones are rectangular and many people prefer rounds, and the chairs aren't the prettiest), but we went with the free options and didn't regret it for a minute.
Transportation: Malden Car Service and UberSUV
We hired a car service in advance to send a sedan for me and Sam and the end of the evening, but to get to the venue earlier in the day we relied on UberSUV -- I was a little nervous because you can't order in advance, but I checked the Uber app for weeks in advance and there was never a wait of more than 10 minutes from either our apartment (where I was getting ready with the girls) or the hotel where Sam's brother was staying (where Sam was getting ready with the guys) so we took the plunge. It would have cost us about $250 for two SUVs from Malden Car Service (other places seemed comparable), versus about $80 for two UberSUVs. It's not a huge savings in the grand scheme of things, but when you're devoting so much of your budget to big ticket items (like the food), the little things are really the main thing that can make a dent in the budget -- and they do really add up. I don't think our Uber driver knew what hit him when he showed up and realized he was transporting a wedding party, but he was great.
Although we would have loved to provide transportation for all our guests, one of the advantages of holding the wedding in the city was that there is decent public transportation and easy access by taxi. There was also ample public parking at the Town Hall, so we let guests know that they could leave their cars overnight if they had driven and wanted to take a taxi home. We made little signs to put in a few places mentioning the transit options to encourage everyone to get home safely.
Wedding night accommodations: Gift
Originally we planned to just stay in our apartment on our wedding night since we were getting married three miles away and splurging on a two-week honeymoon. Some of our friends thought that sounded crazy, so as their wedding gift to us they reserved us a lovely room in a nearby hotel (The Charles Hotel) and included breakfast the following morning at the incredible Henrietta's Table. They also included a gift certificate to Uber, which was perfect given our plans to use Uber to get to the wedding.
Decor and printed materials: DIY
I DIYed most of the decorations and printed materials, including:
* Most of the decorations for both the ceremony and reception
* Guest Favors
I'll post more about all the DIY in future posts. In total we spent about $400 on all the above things, including mailing the invitations.
Attire: Assortment of low-cost and already-owned
I absolutely loved my dress -- I can't imagine a more perfect gown for myself (even though before finding it, I had no idea what I was looking for). It's definitely the most expensive dress I've ever bought, but I got it from David's Bridal and with the alterations, undergarments, and dress itself I spent about $800 which is a steal compared to what most places get away with charging. I liked that David's has so many affordable options that I felt like I had a wide variety of options to pick from, rather than getting stuck with the cheapest dress at a more upscale boutique. For accessories, I wore $20 blue flats from Payless Shoes, a pearl necklace that belonged to my grandmother, earrings that my dad gave me in my stocking for Christmas, and a small clutch that I sewed myself (for emergency items like advil, bandaids, etc). Sam wore a suit and shirt he already owned, and a tie that matched the ties we got for the groomsmen from Express (which doubled as the groomsmen gifts). I asked my bridesmaids to wear blue dresses of whatever shade and style they wanted, and then gave them statement coral necklaces that I found on Urban Peach Boutique as gifts.
Our beautiful wedding party
Ignore the gymnastics, just focus on my blue shoes
Rings: Renaissance Jewelry (on Etsy)
For wedding bands, we wanted something very simple and inexpensive. I absolutely love my engagement ring (which is lemon quartz with diamond accents, and a white gold band), and I really wanted something that wouldn't try to overshadow it for my wedding band. However, my engagement ring also has an unusual shape so it would need to have a custom-made band if the wedding band were to lie flat alongside it, which wasn't something we wanted to splurge on right now. Thus we thought we'd go for very inexpensive bands right now, allowing us the flexibility to replace them down the road if we want to spend more money (or, more likely, if one of them gets lost or our fingers get fatter, or whatever other things might happen in the next 60 years).
I did a lot of research on metals, and ultimately decided that titanium was the right thing for us because it is inexpensive, is super lightweight, doesn't tarnish easily, is very durable, but is also soft enough to engrave (unlike other metals like tungsten, which are harder). I found a shop on Etsy, Renaissance Jewelry, where we were able to buy both our rings and get them engraved for $40 each. They seem great so far, but again this gives us flexibility in the future without feeling like we sunk a lot of money into jewelry right now. Sam's is this 4mm men's ring, and mine is this 2mm women's ring.
We got them engraved with a quote from Arrested Development, which is one of our favorite shows that we've watched over and over since we first started dating: "We finish each other's sandwiches." (The Disney movie Frozen stole this quote from Arrested Development, to be clear). Sam's ring says "We finish each other's..." and mine says "...sandwiches." It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's personal and reflects our love of laughing together (we'll both contend that Arrested Development is the funniest show ever, at least Seasons 1&2).
Sam's hand during our morning-after brunch -- gotta get used to seeing a ring on his finger!
So that's a basic overview, I promise to share more about the DIY in future posts (once I get the professional photos back, since our friends and family seemed strangely focused on taking photos of people rather than decor...).