Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Society Gone Astray

I have these spells (um, luckily they're more like fleeting moments) when I covet other people's [more expensive] weddings.

Take last night, for instance. Although I make a conscious effort to steer clear of bridal magazines and other sundry "wed"sites (both of which are really just glossy store fronts for the Wedding Industrial Complex), I stumbled upon Offbeat Bride, a website and blog devoted to, obviously, offbeat weddings.

Woo-wee! Such fun stuff. The blogger has a section for "Wedding Porn," which is just picture after picture of other people's weddings. I had pangs for offbeat centerpieces and [more expensive, again] offbeat dresses and locales.

But then a brisk slap in the face woke me from my stupor (no, it wasn't from Matt). It was from this tagline on the site: "The average American wedding costs over $25,000. I encourage brides to find innovative ways to spend their bridal budgets — if you’re going to spend money, do it on quality independent vendors and thoughtfully-made merch."

So, yes, the site is about offbeat weddings. But only on the surface. The dresses are different colors. The hairstyles are funky. The wording on the invitation is quirky. But at its core, the message is the same: You have to spend a lot of money to have a special day.

It reminds me a lot of the organic movement. At its onset, it seemed like our savior. Healthier, better for the environment--what more could you ask for? And then the local movement came along. We suddenly remembered, "Oh, it's not particularly healthy for the environment (and therefore us) to cart organic fruit all the way from New Zealand."

It's the same with an "offbeat" yet still expensive wedding. It looks different on the surface (and yes, admittedly, it's better than conventional), but it's still materialistic and consumeristic--two things we have to fight if we ever expect to have change in this society gone astray.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Using Our Good Friends

Talk about being resourceful and finding ways to use your friends' super powers in order to make this a memorable and fiscally responsible event. Our bon ami, Nick Schmidt, has agreed to share his sound system and his DJ-ing skills with us for the evening, manning the PA and MC-ing when needed. Not only is he a hep cat, but he has a wide heart and is excited to donate his time and his special skills to the event.

The fact that we will be using our good friends to make the event possible is something that is at the heart of what we are trying to do. Friends helping to make food for the reception, friends taking photos, friends doing Sara's hair, friends altering Sara's dress, even a friend conducting the ceremony. All of these things are typically high-paying and impersonal steps involved in coordinating a wedding.

So, rather than having an event soaked in decisions that we have paid others to take care of, we are having a fun time trying to infuse every aspect with creativity, resourcefulness, affordability, and us.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Russian Doll Gone Wrong

I'm far enough into this wedding-planning business to know that if you try to stick within a budget, compromises are necessary.

Take the invitations, for instance. We budgeted $50 total (including Save the Date cards, invitations, RSVP cards, and postage). We had no problem sending electronic Save the Date cards. It's better for the environment and the budget. Plus, we had the added benefit of being able to send a Survey Monkey survey (for free!) that gave us an opportunity to poll our guests about the likelihood of their attendance.

Onto the invitations: we are anti-envelope inside envelope. I mean, really. It's another one of those clearly absurd practices that all of us kowtow to and thus perpetuate. You know what I'm talking about: the big envelope to hold all the other envelopes. Then the envelope for the invitation. Then the envelope for the RSVP card. It's a Russian doll gone wrong.

We decided to go with a single postcard (to save money on postage and to spare the environment). A quick scan of the invite list revealed we only have one Luddite couple to worry about. (Okay, I confess, that's a bit of an exaggeration; it's just that they aren't particularly tech-savvy). For those guests, we will enclose the postcard in an envelope, along with all the other wedding information everyone else will be able to look up online at our free wedding website.

We decided to go with materials already in our house: water-color paper, water-colors, copy paper, and spray adhesive. We'll only have to pay for a refill of the water-color paper.

The compromise came with the stamps. I really, really wanted those customized stamps with our photo. I mean, how cute and personal is that? But the postcard sheets are $13.99 each. And we're sending around 80 invitations. So it's above the $50 mark. Even now I'm having trouble compromising. I really want those stamps! Maybe we could buy three sheets of them (60 stamps) and just use them for the majority of our invites? Is that tacky? Is it worth the money? Isn't it better to come in under budget yet again? Or save money for another area that matters more for the guests?

Yes, the answer is yes. It's one of those details that seems like something that will make all the difference but it really just matters to me.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Understandable and Manageable Steps

Tonight was Sara and my first introduction to the Jewish tradition of Shabatt. A friend invited us over to celebrate the day of rest as well as his birthday, leaving us with strained vocal chords and full stomachs.

As Jesse (our host and birthday man) said the prayer, he began by honoring his wife, the "neck" of the family, responsible for pointing the head. His soliloquy led into words of praise for her beauty and care for their family. Also speaking rhetorically, "You wonder why I'm so happy at school, it's 'cause of these guys [his family]".

Following Jesse's speech, my hosts put me on the spot, asking, "What do you love about your fiancée?" It took me a second, because I was not sure if the question was serious. When I realized that, indeed, it was serious, the first thing that I thought of was Sara's ability to solve problems leading to magnificent solutions. Take, for example, our current dilemma of planning a wedding. The task appears to me as a series of challenges, an endless gauntlet of trials leading to a day full of friends, copious amounts of food, and dancing. To her, the task of planning a wedding is an endless amount of opportunity, ripe for backwards-planning. Her active-organization genes start to kick in.

For those not familiar with Sara, her first question is, "What is our goal? What do we want our selves and our guests to feel after the wedding?" This becomes a point of reference from which all decisions will be made. After posing these questions, Sara then spends her days, with a journal in tote, writing down queries, ideas, and drawbacks; it is a virtual flow chart and project plan wrapped into a nice, unassuming, even feminine-looking, bird journal.

After her ideas have been drawn out to fruition and her doubts have been erased, this journal leads to the creation of an endless series of Excel charts and Word documents, which ultimately culminate in a dutifully prepared and thoughtfully orchestrated event.

Certainly, this is only one example of the many reasons that I love my dear Sara. Her ability to take the routine and taxing and turn it into a series of understandable and manageable steps, leading to wondrous outcomes is a skill that leaves me basking in her masterfully orchestrated events with a smile and a bounce in my step.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008


I find it quite amusing that a quick Google search for "2000 dollar wedding" yields this site first and this site second: "What to do with your $2000 wedding dress." The fact that our entire budget is equal to people's dress budgets continues to astound me.

I'm still feeling pretty good about the $15-dress-in-a-box. I'm thinking a colored sash around the waist and some embroidery around the bottom would really make it special. I'm leaning toward trees and birds and flowers and other Colorado-in-the-summer things. I'm having very old-fashioned cravings to curl up on the couch and spend a month doing the embroidery. Matt can even do the drawing so it can be a team effort. It seems like a good compromise between an entirely store-bought dress and a hand-made one.

And I'm going to machine-wash it before I do the embroidery. That way, I'll know I can wear and wash it post-wedding. I'm a little worried by the fact that the tag reads "dry clean only." I'm most worried because it's a clearance dress and if I ruin it, I might not be able to replace it. Plus, if I replace it, it would become a $40 rather than a $20 dress.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

It Even Has Pockets

It's interesting to compare my do-it-yourself, budget wedding planning experience with the experience of my dear friends who are concurrently in the throes of wedding planning. When I explained to one of them that Matt and I are attempting to throw a seriously budget shindig (i.e., $2,000 max), she replied, "Oh, the only thing we're spending a lot on is food." Remembering that she was having a nifty dress personally designed for her, I asked, "So how much will your dress cost?" The answer? [insert the cost of my entire wedding]


There was a brief, fleeting moment during this whole process when I thought to myself that I might need to get a real wedding dress. I knew they were over-priced. I knew I would never be able to wear it again (unless I drenched it in fake blood and wore it on October 31st). I knew it would probably be uncomfortable (sidenote: my other wedding-planning friend explained that brides' dresses are not designed to be put on independently). I even knew there is an entire racket around the cleaning and preserving of dresses. One such company was sued because it would only pretend to clean dresses and would get away with it by sealing them in boxes with ominous warnings along the lines of, "The preservation of this dress is no longer guaranteed if the seal is broken."

Give me a break.

But I wanted a real dress. I warned Matt of my irrational craving. I told him to get used to the idea. My plan was to buy one, wear it, and then sell it on craigslist.

Luckily, that craving passed without much notice. Instead, I started searching for organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo dresses. You know, something that wouldn't be so environmentally damaging.

Unfortunately, the dresses I found were pretty much dismally ugly. Instead, I tried the budget route. Did you know Target actually has wedding dresses from $99-$159? But they look too much like real wedding dresses (I really am over my primordial craving).

So I tried bridesmaid dresses instead (they do come in white, you know). The nicest ones were out of my budget (Matt and I did budget a hefty $200 for my clothing).

As of this moment, I've decided on a white sundress. Yes, it arrived in a tiny box. But that made me smile. Yes, it needs some sort of sash, so it doesn't add the freshmen 15 onto a single spot on my hips.

The good news is I just found a good sash material, while cleaning out our craft room, and I even have a necklace, shawl, and shoes to complete the outfit. I'll have to see what Matt thinks when he gets home from the Houston Marathon.

The best part? The dress was on clearance and only cost $20, including shipping and handling. And, it even has pockets!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

We Must Be Kindred Spirits

Apparently we picked the right place for our reception site (which is also the place Matt and I, as well as 30-something other guests, will be staying).

When Matt sent in our $200 deposit, he also sent a photo of us dressed up in our Halloween costumes. When Sunshine Mountain Inn sent an e-mail message to acknowledge receipt of the check, they attached a Halloween picture of their own: Curious George and the man in the yellow hat.

We must be kindred spirits.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

I'm Naturally a "Pleaser"

My mom and I are just getting over a temporary row that saw me mistakingly not inviting my relatives, to inviting my relatives and cousins, to questioning my ability to plan for four levels of hotel expectations, to shouting over the phone, to making-up over email, to talking calmly on the phone and ending with "I love you." Leading me to say that that's not an ulcer in my stomach, that's wedding planning.

Negotiating the dynamics of planning a fiscally conservative and hands-on wedding by abandoning the traditional $26K budget, abandoning the role of groom as stoic and removed and the bride as princess-like and in a daze of flowers and gowns is something that is causing tension, if not on my family's side, in me.

I'm naturally a "pleaser," and it brings me great joy to bring others joy and comfort. So, in recent days to know that I am upsetting a balance between Sara and myself, or my parents and myself, leaves my nerves rattled asking whether holding a fringe wedding is worth its $2000 weight.

Rebounding from the past several days has provided me with greater insight into my family, Sara and into myself, fortifying my commitment to making this our day. And despite the immediate problems, calmer seas are ahead, though, and it seems the worst is behind us. Perhaps, like a band-aid, it will only hurt for a minute.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

We'll Make It Work

[insert huge sigh of relief]

We have booked a date (July 18-20, 2008), a location for the ceremony (Meeker Park Lodge), a location for the reception (Sunshine Mountain Inn), and we have a plan for catering (we're going to do it ourselves with the help of the B&B owners at the reception site, as well as our good-natured friends).

The whole thing is very DIY, very budget, and a little ambitious, but we'll make it work. We always do.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

No Closer to a Solution

Eleven and a half hours of driving later we have come to one conclusion: Planning a fringe wedding on a $2,000 budget with six months to spare is not easy.

The day began with us printing off directions to our two contenders (Sunshine Mountain Inn and Shadow Mountain Guest Ranch). We hastily created our wedding binder, gathering up brief descriptions of the lodges along with questions that we wanted to ask the respective owners.

After arriving at Shadow Mountain Guest Ranch and taking in the scenery of this lush Rocky Mountain home with cabins drizzled about, we were greeted by a grizzled man Sara compared to Santa Claus in a Harley jacket. Actually, greeted may be too strong a word. He stared at us as I asked, "Are you the owner?" "I'm the one you're looking for," he responded. "Well, this is Sara and I'm Matt," I said. "I know, I talked to you on the phone. First question: Why in the hell would you want to get married?" Sara piped in, "For the tax breaks." Without waiting for a response, he began to lead us on a tour of the cabins.

Inside, the cabins were finished with beautifully polished wood furniture. Some cabins even had small lofts where one could make a fort. As for the more practical features, the cabins contained full kitchens and bathrooms, large living spaces, with unspoiled beauty of the woods in the backyard.

As we traipsed on down to the rec room (where the reception would be held), we were greeted to the sight of last night's party. Apparently, the son of the owner frequently has parties there, and the rec room still had mummies, lights, cobwebs and candy left from their Halloween bash three months ago. Nonetheless, the owner, after describing his exploits in beer-pong last night, told us about possible setups for the wedding, the most appealing being in front of the pristine mountains and lakes just outside the rec room's deck.

When we asked about options for catering, the ideas left as soon as they arrived when he said that there aren't any good options in the nearest town, suggesting that we bring a caterer in from Denver. As you all are aware, our budget will not allow us to bring in expensive food, nor a cook, from two hours away.

The owner after a long coffee table discussion inside of his home ended up being an incredibly genuine grandfather, burnt out from the 14 years that he has spent catering to his guests' whims. It turns out, as we announced in previous postings, that he intends to sell the resort just as soon as someone makes a reasonable offer, making booking his site a gamble at best.

...8...9...10. One contender down for the count, another waiting for its fight. We put our car into drive and headed down the icy highways toward Sunshine Mountain Inn.

Just over five hours, one package of cheese (with a plastic knife), one package of Wheat Thins crackers, and one dead cow carcass (in the middle of the road) later, we arrived at our destination. Run by people just as genuine as we remembered them with cabins just as warm and cozy as they felt on our previous stay at the Inn, we were greeted with an enormous dilemma on our hands: where are we going to hold a beautiful ceremony and what will our guests think of sharing rooms with up to six people? On top of that, when we asked the owners about the cost to feed our guests dinner, they responded that it would be $15 a head. Now, a normal couple booking their wedding would laugh at this price, as they typically run $50 a head, but ours is no ordinary wedding. $15 for 100 guests would take up three-quarters of our budget, making it utterly impractical.

Closing the cover to our binder, the wind blowing our car doors closed, we began the night time drive home no closer to a solution than we were at 8:50am. We had only rustic spaces for our guests to stay, our wedding photos would feature State Highway 7, and our guests would have no dinner.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

One Special Day in a Long Line of Many Special Days

So I took advantage of the flight from Florida to Denver to finish one of the wedding books I received as a Christmas gift from Andy.

During my layover in Houston, I proceeded to march right into Borders and return the book (using the gift receipt) for a store credit of $15.62. Since Matt and I spent $7 buying the domain name for this site, I believe we now have $2,008.62 to spend. I don't feel guilty about my deceit; the book was in perfect condition (and it's for a good cause).

Those extra $8 will come in handy, considering the fact that our current budget is very unrealistic. Here it is: (no drum roll please--it's actually pretty depressing)

Location = $250
Photography = $50
Catering = $600
Alcohol = $400
Flowers/Decorations = $50
Party Favors = $50
Additional Food for Snacks= $100
Save the Date Cards = $0
Invitations = $50
Sara's Clothes = $200
Matt's Clothes = $0
Airport Bus = ?
Scrapbook = $50
Music = $0
Marriage License = $10
Cakes = $150
Thank Yous = $40
TOTAL = $2,000.00

There isn't even a miscellaneous section. Yikes!

In all seriousness, I feel really good about what Matt and I are attempting to do. The more I read wedding books, the more I realize that I don't want to put all my roulette chips down on one number. A wedding is a big deal because everyone is coming together in one place at one time, but it will be one special day in a long line of many special days. I want to put lots of planning into it, but, in the end, I don't want to go crazy (mentally or monetarily).

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Heck of a Lot Cheaper

Matt, Andy, and I watched a reality TV show today entitled, "Rich Bride, Poor Bride." Interestingly, the show only seemed to feature rich brides. Oh, now that I think about it, I suppose the couple that had budgeted only $15,000 was supposed to be the "poor" couple. Huh.

The rich couple spent $8 on each invitation. Something is seriously wrong with that picture.

Toto, maybe if we were in Kansas, weddings would be a heck of a lot cheaper.

In other news, our planning is progressing nicely. We've got a list of invitees, and we're close to securing a location and a date. Because we're taking financial ownership of the wedding, we have a lot more autonomy than we might otherwise have. For instance, we don't have to kowtow to familial pressure to invite long-lost cousins or golf buddies.

And we've started thinking about the talents and resources of our friends and family and how we can tap into them. My friend, Paul, was a photographer for our college newspaper. I know someone out there would get a kick out of being the bartender.

And, I think Colorado might just be the best state in which to get married. A marriage license is only $10. We can solemnize the wedding ourselves. No blood tests are required. And, to boot, if Matt were my cousin we could still march down that aisle together.

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