*Special thank you to my parents and Alexis’ Buffalo family for making this all possible. You guys were really amazing.
Getting married is supposed to be the happiest time of your life.
This is an important concept to remember as you begin to question your love, friendships, and the importance of spending the equivalent of a down payment on a starter home on one day of your life.
All we wanted was a simple wedding.
How to Have Your Dream Wedding for Under $10,000
If you are the type who thinks the silverware and floral arrangements are more important than the love you share with your partner then I would advise you to not read anymore. This is not written for you. It is written for the person trying to plan a wedding with meaning, authenticity, and a pretty slim price tag.
This isn’t about finding a dress that makes you sparkle like a queen.
Or paying $150 per head for food that will be cold and stale by the time the first fork digs in.
Or serving top shelf liquor to your friends and family who can only socialize when they are shitfaced.
This is about having a night that is true with the person you love the most.
Here’s how it works:
People leave with the memory of the love between the couple. They are there for love and they are there for you. They are not there for the chicken cordon bleu.
So possibly that is the first place to start. Finding a partner that you love. So you can focus on that. And not on all the money you’re going to spend convincing the rest of the world how in love you are.
I call it Inside Out Wedding Planning – when the love and connection of the couple is the driving force for the wedding planning.
There will be parents and in-laws and friends that “do this for a living” that will slowly and not-so-subtly try to hijack the planning of your own wedding.
At first you’ll go along with it because you think it’s ‘nice’ or ‘thoughtful’ or maybe you just haven’t spent a lot of QT with that person and this is a way to bring you closer together. It’s not. None of those things are correct. These people (in our case, person), bless their hearts, have entered a realm of impaired judgment. As well-intentioned as they may be, time will prove that their unavoidable bias has them planning the wedding they would like for themselves.
It leaves you in a bit of a bind. If you refuse everyone’s help then you are a pretentious couple and no one is invested in you. But if you just roll with every suggestion then you’ll end up with a wedding so out of control you won’t even recognize yourself on the day of.
It’s an easy fix. Spend time with your significant other and decide exactly what you want. Like, exactly. And start with how you want to feel. Not what you want it to look like. Feelings first, then design around how to create that experience
Ok, you’re planning exactly what you want. Inside out. Feelings first. Then, once you have a master list – venue style, sequence of events, type of food, aesthetics, themes, etc. – you assign tasks to your very generous and involved friends and families. And you make it specific. As with all leadership roles, if you give vague instructions and expect for the best you will fail down the line every time. Alexis and I created a brand sheet for our wedding that consisted of a full color board that all decorations had to comply with.
You may think it’s bossy or discouraging for those trying to assist but I have news for you, people love successfully completing clearly drawn out objectives. Our motley crew of organizers and planners went to work with so much passion that I cried when I watched them set the venue just hours before our ceremony. People really fucking care about you. And it’s easy to forget.
Wedding food sucks balls. There is no easy way around it. Even when you go to the “free” tasting at the fancy venue and have the food and think it’s delicious – it’s not. At least not on the actual night of. Because they are making for 100 + and because nobody eats at the same time and because, as I may remind you, nobody cares about the food.
Instead of obsessing over the food, figure out the way in which you want people to eat. As in, buffet style, food truck, heavy appetizers, formal sit down (please skip this), etc. Then plan a menu. Then find someone that will make it at their regular catering rate. Not the inflated, somebody’s rich parents are covering this tab, rate.
We had sliders, sweet potato fries, salad, chicken satay, and veggie skewers. We set it up buffet style so people could eat when they wanted and so that the focus stayed on everyone being able to walk around freely and hang out with whoever they wanted. All the anxiety about seating arrangements was gone.
I’ll put the total cost of our wedding at the bottom of this article.
I know brides have been dreaming about a wedding dress since the time they were little girls (is this still true anymore, btw?) but let me be the first, and hopefully last, person to say that it is more important to pick a dress that matches your style than something that is universally fancy and princess-like. If you’re down to earth and you throw on a sequenced dress with a 20-foot train and more makeup than a Cirque de Soleil acrobat not only are you going to feel terribly uncomfortable, but you’re going to look weird.
People will tell you that it’s your big day and you have to do all of these extra special things in order to feel pretty. But you don’t. You just have to go one notch up from a first date. Maybe throw on some fake eyelashes because they help the photos but dear god play it cool on the hair and makeup and sequins. When you walk down the aisle and look across at the person you’re about to marry, make sure they recognize you.
I realize this has been a lot of talk. And you want specifics.
Alexis was being fitted for a $1500 dress. It was vintage and cute and pretty close to her style but it made her feel uncomfortable to spend so much money on something she was only going to wear once because, let’s be honest, nobody really gives a shit about the wedding dress they have hanging in the back of their closet and the odds of having a daughter the exact same size with the same style preferences 30 years later is quite slim. Just spare your future child the awkwardness of finding a way to not have to wear your dress.
Anyway, all the ladies at the dress shop were gushing over how she looked in the dress – her arms, her butt, her collarbones – they loved it all. But she still didn’t feel comfortable. And there, off in the distance, was a simple, old off-white columned, vintage skirt with a silky wrapped top. She loved it. They all dismissed her. “Honey, that’s not something you wear on your wedding. It’s your special day.” Fucking robots. But thank god my wife has some grit. Off with the dress!
Skirt – $39.
Wrap – $79.
Wedding dress – $138.
Inside Out Wedding Planning. She got what she wanted and what she felt comfortable with and was rewarded with an almost unbelievable price tag.
Did she look less than wedding-like?
When she walked down the aisle to Lady Fingers by Herb Alpert people’s mouths were on the floor.
My brother was kind enough to offer to buy my suit as a wedding gift. I already felt guilty having him spend his money on me so we agreed to go to the Hugo Boss outlet store. I found an amazing two-piece suit, navy blue and tailored fit, for $300. It was classy and it felt great. After a $34 alternation to accommodate my giant ass, I had a suit that fit like a glove that fits well.
The engagement ring is the spanking that nobody’s savings account deserves. From two thousand dollars all the way up to 10 grand. And for what? A few months? So people can look at your future wife and think, goddamn, that dude must be ballin?
I know that some men/women think they have to impress with the engagement ring to get their partner on board or to get their partner’s parents on board. News for you – you’re with the wrong person. First of all, people are murdered to make the diamonds that we flaunt around on our fingers. And I’m not even trying to be political. Secondly, and no offense, diamonds are kind of boring. They don’t speak to any unique characteristics of your partner or your relationship.
I bought Alexis a handmade, vintage opal ring. I saw it and it reminded me of her. Only later did I find out that it was her birth stone.
Guess what? She loved it. Balled her eyes out.
For our wedding rings themselves – we bought each other gold Cartier bands. I got a single band and she got the trinity bands. She has been looking at this style of triple banded ring and loved them more than any other ring we looked at. One day, in San Francisco, we walked into Cartier and did the damage. Combined cost of $2000. We wanted to feel like Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Do your own. Or have your fanciest friend do it for you.
Wedding venues are a joke. In fact, a vast majority of the people in the wedding business are only there because they know they can price gorge your pants off. We saw it first hand. We had a family member that literally said, “We are not doing buffet, I’m not going to have it look like we are poor.” And I was thinking, I fucking love the buffet. But I could have folded. Because what other people think about us tends to be more important than what we actually want. And this is magnified by 10,000,000 when it comes to weddings.
Here’s the thing though – if you love your partner and you make your wedding about your love and not your table settings and gaudy balloons tied to chairs – then you are going to create a night so meaningful that everyone there is going to run home and want to kill themselves for not having what you have. And that’s the real goal isn’t it? To put your true love on display for the world to see, and maybe envy.
So the venues then.
Find a place that doesn’t specifically do weddings. A cool building or a restaurant that you love. Someone’s house that you cherished when you were growing up. Find a place that has meaning to you. And, even better, find a place that is usually closed on Sundays.
You might be thinking, Sunday?! That’s not when you have a wedding. You are wrong. Sunday is amazing for several reasons:
1) Venues are cheaper on Sundays by an average of 20%
2) Your half-assed friends and family will have a great excuse not to come – because they work on Mondays – and that means that only the people who truly love and care about you will show up. And it also means you’re not an asshole for specifically not inviting the people you don’t honestly even like that much.
3) Many restaurants are closed, so you can make a deal to rent the space you want.
We started the conventional route and reserved a gigantic, sterile museum hall. That set us back $1400. Then we found out they had an exclusive catering deal with a company I cannot specifically name because my wife will be upset with me even though I wanted to call them out by name and post this article on their Facebook page…. anyway, we were going to have to order the food through them.
This is when things got complicated.
We told ________ Catering Company that we didn’t have a huge budget for food. That we wanted to do something simple and inexpensive. After that moment they basically stopped caring about us. The best deal we could get – $9000 for 100 guests to eat chicken and salad.
Alexis and I went through a rough couple of weeks at this point. The wedding was going to empty our savings and I insisted on reminding her how a wedding was a bad idea in the first place.
We had lost our wedding – the joy, the plan, everything. We became like the many other couples who started with good intentions and ended up fighting with each other about how to get married.
And one day, after a 14-day road trip we took up the coast, it hit us – we were going to cancel the venue, say fuck you to the catering company, and plan our own wedding from scratch.
At the time I was making a GoPro film of our trip and thought that our wedding should have a film, because I’ve been a filmmaker for the last 5 years and Alexis has very often been my muse. And we were going to tap her network of friends who owned and managed restaurants and get them to let us have our wedding at one of their spots.
We found a great one. Closed on Sundays. And told them, “We have $4000 to spend on venue, beer & wine, and food. What can you do for us?” And it happened that the owner of this restaurant had been wanting to get into the event hosting business and said he would include everything (tip too) for $4k. Done deal. 95 people. Sign here please.
Because you should have a budget. And you shouldn’t go over. Negotiating is only hard because we are afraid what people will think of us if we can’t pay what they are asking. The reality is, people want to be useful. And when you lay out exactly what you have and exactly what you want, they will make themselves useful. And the whole interaction is more meaningful. And this is all of life but we have to stick with weddings for now.
We had the sliders, fries, salad, chicken satay, veggie skewers, and sweet potato fries.
We had beer, wine, and Prosecco.
We had 88 chairs facing an alter made by our super crew and an 80” screen to show the film we made about how we met each other and how we fell in love.
And all of this was $4000.
We took liquor out of the equation because we didn’t want a shit show for a wedding. Neither of us drink so we thought it was a healthy compromise. It also saved us a couple grand. And don’t be fooled, your friends will be just fine – they’ll bring flasks.
And then there were the decorations. Because if you don’t have high-end floral arrangements and copper ring napkin holders you are a loser.
I actually came very near fainting when someone explained to me how much flowers were going to cost – $3000:
“The things that grow in the ground for free?”
“Yeah but you need someone to style them?”
“Style them? Is it hard to make FLOWERS look pretty?”
Then Alexis had a brilliant idea, a Bouquet Brunch. All of the women got together the day before the wedding to arrange the flowers. We used a friend of a friend to buy the flowers wholesale ($500) and the ladies put them together in sake bottles that we had cut in half by our friend that owned a sushi restaurant. People had the time of their lives – both sides of the family got to meet and bond – and the flowers turned out beautifully (because they are flowers). Lots of Pinspo happening on that afternoon.
Photographers can cost a fork load. I should know, I am one. And for us, again, it wasn’t really about the photos – it was about the night. And you’re thinking, Yeah but I wanna hang a picture on my wall and remember my wedding forever. First of all, I will be shocked if you ever make it around to ordering prints and getting them on the wall. But if you do, and I’ve underestimated you, then I’m sorry. There are other options than hiring a professional photographer which will easily start at $2500.
We approached the situation from two sides.
Side 1 – we asked my cousin, a hobbyist and aspiring photographer who was looking to build a portfolio, if she would bring her camera and take pictures of 3 things – Alexis walking, us smooching, and us walking together.
Side 2 – I brought a good camera, set the settings for the room, and gave it to my friends to pass around the whole night. We had no idea what anyone was shooting, just that we saw a ton of flashes throughout the night. When we got the camera back there were a few hundred photos taken by a few dozen different people, all totally unique and really capturing the true feeling of the night. I Venmo’d my cousin $150 even though she adamantly refused payment.
*Bonus – Alexis’ friend showed up with his expensive camera and took even more photos as a wedding gift.
LOCATION (if you don’t live near your family)
Then there was the issue of us living in California and our families being in the Midwest. Not all of our CA family could make the trip because it’s far AF and expensive AF. So we had a West Coast Wedding Party for all of our friends that couldn’t make the trip to New York for any number of reasons.. And we had it at the restaurant downstairs from our apartment on the stone-paved sidewalk under the hanging market lights. She made breakfast for dinner and we made it BYOB so our friends were sipping wine out of red plastic cups and the whole thing cost us $600 for 75 people.
Technically, we had TWO weddings for under $10k. Both magical nights that ripped this cynic wide open.
Dress – $138
Suit – $334
Engagement Ring – $78
Wedding Rings – $2000
*Venue 1 (that we didn’t even use) – $1400
New York Venue + Food + Drink – $4000
Flowers – $500
Photography – $150
West Cost Wedding Venue + Food – $600
TOTAL COST FOR TWO WEDDINGS – $9200
*Note this price includes the $1400 we were not refunded because the venue had no moral compass.
What I took away the most – what made me cry for 45 consecutive minutes on the night of our wedding – was how much people cared about us and how willing they were to contribute. I’ve never seen so many people call in so many favors and work to make our night special. It was easily the best night of my life.
*We spent 2 weeks in Europe – Paris, Amsterdam, and Barcelona – for our honeymoon. We used the gift money to pay for the whole trip.