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

Monday, July 21, 2008

From Conception to Reception


People pretty much thought we were crazy. A wedding for under $2,000? On a Saturday evening? In July? With just seven months of planning?

At times, we thought we were crazy, too. As we piled 64 rock-hard avocados into our shopping cart at Sam’s Club four days before the wedding, I wondered, “Can we really make guacamole for 80 people on our wedding day? Will these avocados even ripen in time? What were we thinking?”

But it was important for us to make it work. We were tired of all the propaganda from the Wedding Industrial Complex telling us that we needed the perfect flowers or the perfect centerpieces to make our day perfect. We didn’t want to obsess about surface details or let the wedding overshadow our relationship. We wanted our wedding to be sincere, authentic, and memorable—a wedding focused on community and connection, not my wedding dress. We were convinced that we could make it work in a budget-minded, hand-crafted, eco-friendly way.

And—with the help of good-natured friends and family, a little luck (the rain stayed away), and a solid plan—we managed to pull off a stress-free wedding that was the truest expression of ourselves. It was better than we expected. It was full of seriously fun quality time with our friends, family, and—most importantly—each other.

Here's the story of our wedding planning process from its conception in a Mexican Restaurant to its climax with a choreographed dance to Prince’s “Kiss”.

Our Planning Process

My friend got engaged a few months before I did. By the time I baked a celebratory engagement cake and showed up on her doorstep, she had already purchased several bridal magazines and started a file folder to capture all her wedding ideas and inspiration.

Instead of starting with the details—dress, flowers, centerpieces, invitations—Matt and I took a different approach while planning our wedding. We headed to a good Mexican restaurant to brainstorm our goals and vision for our wedding.

As a teacher, I learned to create lesson plans though a backwards-design approach. The idea is to start with the end vision first. You ask yourself, “What do I want students to know and be able to do by the end of this lesson?” Once you’ve answered that question, you can then plan the smaller activities that align with the end goal.

Matt and I applied the same approach to our wedding. We wanted to figure out the big picture before we let ourselves dwell in the details.

Over chips and salsa, we reached consensus about the goals of our wedding:

  1. We want to bring family and friends together to reconnect and form new friendships.
  2. We don’t want the experience to feel overly-orchestrated. It’s a celebration of our love, not a show.
  3. We will fight consumerism by spending only $2,000 max. The Wedding Industrial Complex is conspiring to make us think we have to spend more money. But we want to make the event special with sincerity, not money. Plus, we need to save money for a house, and we certainly don't want to start our life together in debt.
  4. It will be good for the environment and connected to nature.
  5. We want to have real time to spend with guests. We want to be able to spend quality time with our friends and family. We don’t want to follow the traditional pattern of a few wedding “events” where the bride and groom only have time for a “meet and greet”: rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch the following morning. We want more of a family and friends reunion. (Side Note: One of my favorite memories from the wedding was waking up and eating the homemade breakfast provided by the B&B. My friends and I just sat and talked for two hours every morning.)
  6. We will make all the decisions ourselves so our wedding represents us (hence another reason why we need to pay for it ourselves).
  7. We only want to be surrounded by our closest friends and family.
  8. We want to be relaxed and fully present.

Our goals helped us stay focused on what really mattered to us throughout the entire process. For example, when we were working on the invitations, I was convinced that we had to have photo stamps. I couldn’t imagine anything cuter than our faces on a postage stamp. But it wasn’t in the budget. And frankly, when I reviewed our eight goals, I just couldn’t seem to connect the photo stamps with a single one. Darn.

Early on in the wedding planning process, there were other factors that complicated things. Namely, my mother-in-law. She was kind enough to help us search for locations, but she kept pushing us toward venues that were way out of our budget. Being the amazingly nice and generous woman she is, she continuously offered to help finance the wedding. However, we didn’t want to violate Goal #6. We knew that as soon as we accepted financial contributions, we would be forced to widen the circle of decision-makers from two to four. And the wider that circle gets, the more difficult the process is and the more likely the wedding starts to represent our parents’ tastes and preferences instead of ours.

Needless to say, those first few weeks were a bit stormy. Luckily, we anchored ourselves with our goals and hunkered down for the bumpy ride.

Two Big Decisions

Honestly, one of the most difficult parts of the wedding planning process was trimming down the guest list (or should I say, “going at it with a machete”?). The list started out gigantic. We knew we had to cut it back because of Goal #5 for our ideal wedding: “We will have real time to spend with guests. We want to be able to spend quality time with our friends and family. We don’t want to follow the traditional pattern of a few wedding ‘events’ where the bride and groom only have time for a ‘meet and greet’: rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch the following morning. We want more of a family and friends reunion.” We knew that the bigger our wedding got, the less opportunity we would have to genuinely connect with our guests.

We had to look at the wedding guest list through an honest lens. I noticed that there were people on the list who were pretty much only there because I had been invited to their weddings (even though we aren’t particularly close friends). I cut those people from the list. I also noticed there were people on the list with whom I wanted to be closer friends. I just wasn’t. Those people got cut, too. Finally, I noticed there were colleagues whom I felt obligated to invite. I applied the following litmus test: “When I move on to my next job, will I still be friends with _____?” If the answer was no, they were off the list, too.

Luckily, we had the primary say over our guest list because we paid for the wedding ourselves. Of course we consulted with our families and made a few adjustments, but we made sure we would only be surrounded by our closest friends and family (none of our dads’ golf buddies, for example, or family friends we hadn’t seen in ten years).

While we were dwindling down the guest list, we were simultaneously scouring the state of Colorado for a suitable location. We didn’t want to get married in Matt’s hometown (Bloomington, IN) or my hometowns (Tampa, FL and San Diego, CA) because we didn’t want the wedding to be dominated by one side. We were living in Denver, and we figured it would be much easier to plan a wedding that was within driving distance of our home.

We quickly realized that finding the perfect location was way more difficult than trimming the guest list. The wedding location determines a lot about the wedding. It’s like the first domino that starts a chain reaction of other falling dominoes. It determines how casual or formal the event feels, what the catering options are, what kinds of fun things your guests can do, how many people can attend, how much decoration will be needed, etc.

Matt and I had a very difficult time selecting our wedding venue. The mountains of Colorado are a hugely popular wedding destination (especially in the summer), which drives up costs everywhere. Our budget kept us out of the more traditional wedding venues in the area, as well as our desire to avoid the “wedding factory” feel. We didn’t want to be “just another wedding on today’s agenda.”

We also knew that we wanted to be able to rent out an entire place because we wanted all of our friends and family to stay together. We were trying to create the feel of a friends and family reunion.

By the time we started planning our wedding in late December, there weren’t a lot of weekends left that had full availability of the entire site. Argh!

Then there was the beauty piece. We wanted a placed that was aesthetically pleasing. And we wanted our guests to be comfortable. And we wanted it to be affordable for them (since they were already paying for plane tickets and rental cars).

In the end, it came down to two choices (which, ironically, had opposite names: Sunshine Mountain Lodge and Shadow Mountain Ranch). Shadow Mountain was more beautiful. The cabins were cuter and the property seemed more situated in the mountains. But, the owner wasn’t as great as Cathy and Cory, the owners at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.

Cathy and Cory were so kind, welcoming, and helpful. We decided that it was better to go with the less aesthetically-pleasing place because relationships matter more to us than photographs or guests’ first impressions.

Originally, we wanted our ceremony and reception at the same site because it’s more environmentally-friendly. But we couldn’t figure out how to make it work at Sunshine. Then we came up with the idea of having the ceremony at a B&B up the road (which we could also use for overflow guests). We managed to find a lovely lake with picnic tables already there. No need to rent chairs! All of the dominoes started to fall in exactly the right way because the initial domino was the right one.

With the guest list and location decided, we were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Then it was time to focus on some of the fun details like doling out jobs, making the invitations, and finding rings.

Community, Connection, and Commitment

When you undertake the seemingly crazy task of planning a wedding with a small budget, you have to think outside the box. When it came to the idea of traditional wedding vendors and wedding rings, we did exactly that.

At one point in the planning process, I received the following e-mail advice from The Knot: “The more guests feel involved with your wedding, the more likely they will have a great time.” So what was the website’s advice for helping guests feel more involved? Creating a detailed ceremony program.

We took the advice more literally. We asked our friends and family to serve as the photographers, caterers, hair stylists, DJs, bartenders, officiant (see photo above), florist, traffic directors, and videographers.

This approach had multiple benefits: 1) We saved a ton of money. We didn’t have to dish out thousands of dollars to multiple different vendors. 2) We avoided much of the stress associated with Wedding Industrial Complex interactions. We didn’t have any of the oh-this-is-a-wedding?-then-it-will-cost-three-times-more. 3) Our friends and family felt more invested in and connected to our wedding because they helped make it happen.

We tried our very best to give each person one small piece so they weren’t overwhelmed. And—with the exception of all but the fajita maker—every job happened before or after the ceremony and reception, so people could fully participate in the action. We hired the owners of the B&B where the reception was held to heat up the food, set it out, refill it, and clean up.

One of my favorite memories took place in the hours before our ceremony. Matt and I worked elbow-to-elbow with our closest friends, chopping lots of stuff for homemade guacamole, salsa, seven-layer dip, black bean and corn salad, fajitas, and quesadillas. We worked with urgency while laughing and chatting. People constantly passed through the kitchen in the main lodge and offered their support. It reminded me that weddings are about community, connection, and commitment.

In addition to our DIY, budget-friendly approach to staffing our wedding, we also had an unconventional approach to our wedding rings. We asked our friends and family to donate their old gold to an environmentally-friendly jeweler, greenKarat. The company melted the donated gold, credited our account with more than $1000, and created new rings. Our invoice came to $109.

vintage ring pillow

During the ceremony, the rings were carried on a ring pillow crafted from the hat Matt’s grandmother wore in her wedding 54 years ago. We acknowledged the longevity of their love and thanked our friends and family for letting us incorporate a piece of their history into ours through their donated gold.

We tried to carry the DIY, budget-friendly, and eco-friendly ethos throughout the rest of the wedding planning process, too. Luckily, we were able to do this for the next phase of the planning process: attire.

Wedding Attire

Many of my friends got married the same summer I did. It was fun to compare notes during the wedding planning process. During one conversation, a dear friend said, “Yeah, our wedding isn’t too expensive either. Aside from the food at the reception, everything is pretty reasonable.”

I reminded her, “Aren’t you having your dress custom designed? How expensive is that?”

“Oh, that. I forgot. The dress costs about $2,000.”

That was our entire budget!

I wanted something comfortable. I wanted to be able to dance and walk around and hug without limitation. I didn’t want to have to change into a more comfortable dress for the reception. I also didn’t want something that was dragging on the ground.

And there it was. On Target clearance. A perfectly suitable white sundress for a mere $15.

I say “perfectly suitable” rather than “perfect” because it had its flaws. Number One: there was so much extra fabric it made my waist look bigger than it is. Number Two: it was a little plain.

I decided to remedy both these problems with a little DIY, handmade action.

I fixed the first problem by creating a simple sash. Because I was trying to be friendly to the environment and my budget, I simply used fabric from an old piece of clothing. The clothing had significance to me because I purchased it while traveling through India right after I met Matt. I used some thick interfacing to prevent any crinkling, and I sewed on some buttons.

In terms of the second problem, I decided to do some customized embroidery along the bottom. First, Matt and I designed the story of our life together. Since our first date involved a frolic in the sprinklers, for example, we depicted two birds splashing around in a bird bath.

In order to save even more money, I used the same fabric to fashion a tie for Matt. Even though I had never undertaken such a feat before, I knew I could turn to the internet for help. After a Google search and an online tutorial, the tie was complete. Voila!

For the final touch, I used the fabric to make flower pins for our wedding party (thanks to another internet tutorial!) and a matching bandanna for our dog, Hoss.

As fun as it was to spend time hand-making items for our wedding, I had to pull myself away to focus on more significant undertakings: writing our own ceremony.

The Ceremony

Matt and I wanted a ceremony that engaged our family and friends—that inspired them to listen and reflect. We wanted them to think “Wow, that was meaningful,” rather than, “Thank goodness that was short and the party can start.”

That’s why Matt and I decided to write our ceremony from scratch. Basically, we invented our own symbolic gestures that were both more interesting because they were novel and were more representative of us and our lives.

wedding quilt ceremony

  1. Quilt-Wrapping: Instead of signifying unity through a candle lighting ritual, we were wrapped in a quilt made from the fabric of friends and family to signify unification, the warmth and support of friends and family that are needed to sustain a healthy relationship, the comfort we bring to each other, and the bond between us that will continue to develop. On our wedding website, we asked guests to send us a small piece of fabric. Then—thanks to the help of another internet tutorial—Matt and I turned them into a quilt.
  2. Tree-Planting Ceremony: Instead of reading something about how love takes effort, we planted a resilient Live Oak sapling to represent the growth of our love and symbolize that marriage—like a tree—requires constant nurturing and nourishment.

We also wrote our vows from scratch. We decided to follow the following format: “I love you because…” followed by: “Because I love you…”

  1. Matt, I love you because you make me laugh out loud on a daily basis, like when you come up with alternate names for our dog, Hoss, such as Hoss-tage, Hoss of Pain, or Hoss-car Myer Weiner.
  2. I love you because you challenge me to be a better person, like when you made me promise to tell the Penske truck people that we scraped the moving van.
  3. I love you because we create adventures together, like Halloween scavenger hunts or road trips out West.
  4. I love you because you care so much for other people that you inspire all of us to be more caring. You do things like put toothpaste on my toothbrush and leave it out for me or come home on the worst day of winter with slippers and a Chia pet herb garden.
  5. I love you because I smile every time I wake up to you and when I come home to you. We play together, brainstorm together, create together, read together. Your hand always feels comfortable in mine.
  6. Matt, because I love you, I promise to treat you the way you want to be treated and with the respect you deserve. I promise to build trust with my words and actions. I will be your cheerleader, your nurse, your editor, your therapist, your teacher, your student, and your partner in adventure. I will deeply appreciate all of your positive qualities and not let the passage of time dull that appreciation. When life challenges us, I promise to focus on the resiliency of our love. And if I stumble and fail to live up to my promises, I will look you in the eyes, hold your hands, and apologize with sincerity. I will be my best for you.

Yes, we worried that we would freak out our families (Matt’s is Irish-Catholic and mine is Presbyterian). But in the end, people said it was so beautiful and sincere (even our families).

The Welcome Picnic

At a lot of weddings I’ve been to, I’ve either felt like I was part of the “in crowd” or I was on the outside. If I’m in the wedding party? I’m part of the in crowd. If I’m not invited to the rehearsal dinner? I’m on the outside.

Matt and I didn't want to have those kinds of divisions at our wedding. We wanted to spend quality time with everyone. That’s why we opted for a Welcome Picnic instead of a traditional rehearsal dinner. In order for it to fit within our strict budget, we had to simplify: make-your-own sandwich bar (including organic meat from Whole Foods!), chips, watermelon, iced-tea, lemonade, and homemade chocolate cherry dessert with vanilla ice-cream.

The event was held at the same B&B where the reception was held. Approximately half the wedding guests were staying on site with us, so it was a very casual affair. People helped themselves to food and an assortment of fun activities: football, hot-tub, S’mores around the campfire, board games, a swing dancing lesson, volleyball, etc.

One of our main goals for the wedding was to give our friends and family an authentic opportunity to get to know each other. It’s a hard task, especially when small talk is the norm among strangers.

To combat the small talk conundrum, we fashioned name tags for our guests to wear at the Welcome Picnic. Instead of “Hello, my name is…” the tags read “Ask me about:” Each guest has three or four quirky things on their tags.

diy nametags

The tag of my friend, Camella, for example, said: “Ask me about: Ashtonga yoga, raising chickens, DJing a radio show, and why you shouldn’t buy corn.”

It was quite a bit of work (aren’t most DIY projects?), but it was well worth it in the end. They really helped build the kind of connection we were going for.

The Welcome Picnic helped connect people from different families and friend groups. When it was time for the reception the next day, people had already formed new friendships.

The Reception

Sometime in the middle of planning a $2,000 wedding, it occurred to me, “Why not think of it as a reunion instead of a wedding?” Weddings tend to focus on surface things like flowers, attire, and centerpieces. Reunions tend to be about fun.

When it was time to plan the reception, we focused on just that: Fun. We rented out an entire B&B in the mountains of Colorado. We set up tables in a grove of trees, and our guests feasted on homemade fajitas, tamales, guacamole, salsa, nachos, seven-layer dip, black bean and corn salad, frozen margaritas, and six different types of cakes.

After dinner, we gathered everyone on the flagstone patio for our first dance. Matt and I stood in the center of the dance floor, surrounded by a semi-circle of our wedding party. Our friend, Nick, announced that it was time for our first dance. Matt and I stared lovingly into each other’s eyes. The music started. It was “Kiss” by Prince. We immediately started scissoring our hands and gyrating our hips. The entire wedding party joined in and we performed a choreographed dance, complete with a semi-strip tease by Matt’s brother.

The dancing continued on the patio, while other guests traded their wedding finery for bathing suits. Some trekked to the campfire to tell ghost stories, while others broke out Scrabble and Uno. We also showed a video of our lives together.

The guests helped themselves to wedding favors: hand-made cilantro seed packets with directions on the front and our personal guacamole recipe on the back.

seed packet favors

I danced and talked and cooked a S’more and played some games and talked some more. Late in the evening, I donned my bathing suit and got into the hot tub with my best friends from college.

It wasn’t about the dress, the flowers, the centerpieces. It was about community, connection, commitment, and old-fashioned fun.

Wedding Advice

There’s a line from one of my favorite songs that says, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger” (Ooh La La by Roonie Wood and Ronnie Lane).

So, dearest brides and grooms (or brides and brides or grooms and grooms), here’s the advice I would give myself if I were planning another wedding:

(10) Start with the Big Picture, Not the Details

Sit down with your fiancé and figure out what kind of wedding you want. What do you want to be able to say about it when it’s over? What do you want your guests to say? How will you make your wedding memorable, relaxing, and fun? Develop a list of your goals and vision and then move on to the smaller details. Always ask yourself, “Does this small detail align with my broader goals?” Make decisions accordingly.

(9) Make It Happen

Once you know what kind of wedding you and your fiancé want to have, make it happen. Don’t let your parents’ preferences and tastes, your insecurities, or your budget get in the way. Have courage, stand your ground, and be creative. Your wedding should represent you and your fiancé, not anyone else.

(8) Limit the Guest List to Your Nearest and Dearest

Your wedding is not a show. It’s a celebration of your commitment and your community. You will feel much less stressed and nervous if you are truly surrounded by your closest friends and family. It’s your day. Don’t let anyone else commandeer the guest list for their own purposes.

(7) Distinguish Between Wants and Needs

When you’re planning a wedding, everything feels like a must-have. Use the 10-10-10 rule that was featured in O! Magazine: when making a decision, ask yourself: “What will be the effects of this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?” It will help you keep everything in perspective. Not everything is important.

(6) Don’t Let Your Wedding Overshadow Your Relationship

Planning a wedding takes a lot of compromise and consensus. It’s highly likely that you will disagree and probably even fight. Just remember that your wedding is only one day of your lives together. Don’t get too wrapped up in it.

(5) Build Relationships with Vendors

Working with others to bring your wedding to fruition is a very stressful process. There has to be a lot of trust. Do your best to build relationships with people along the way. They will have more investment in the wedding and be willing to go above and beyond for you. You will have fewer doubts about their reliability.

(4) Don’t Forget the Ceremony

Don’t get so caught up in the invitations, dress, flowers, reception, music, and catering that you neglect to put the same kind of thought and attention into your ceremony. The purpose of a wedding is to publicly declare your commitment and seek support from your community. It’s important! (And make sure your guests can hear everything that’s said during the ceremony.)

(3) Dress Comfortably

It’s your wedding. You should enjoy yourself. Make sure you can walk, dance, and move comfortably from head to toe, from ceremony to reception. Seriously.

(2) Moderate Your Wedding Porn Viewing

Don’t spend too much time reading wedding magazines and blogs. Yes, they give you ideas. Yes, they are fun. But mainly they just make you doubt things you’ve already decided on.

(1) Just Breathe

Planning a wedding is stressful. Your expectations are high and the stakes feel high even higher. But remember: No matter what happens with the details (the weather, the vendors, the food) you will be married in the end. And anything that goes wrong will make a great story.

When you become too irrational, just curl up next to your partner and remind yourself that the marriage matters more than the wedding.

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Anonymous said...

You are amazing. From the get go, we've had a defiant attitude towards getting sucked into the shiny, impersonal, wedding market, and already two weeks in, I'm pulling my hair and hating every bit of the planning. Our number one goal is to make this a memory that won't be represented as a meaningless memento stuffed in a reject memory box. You cleared and reinforced our goals and have definitely given a boatload of creative ideas. Thank you so much for taking the time to give us your story and thoughts, and congrats!

V. Wetlaufer said...

I just went back and re-read this post to rein myself in from a recent wedding-planning freak out.

I love that you backwards-designed your wedding! It makes perfect sense. (I'm a teacher and that is my curricular design philosophy of choice as well!)

I just wanted to say THANK YOU for sharing all of this. Yours is one of three wedding blogs I read and I read it because it makes me feel better about myself and my wedding not worse, like some of them who feature the $5000 tiara I just-have-to-have. You are a much-needed, very welcome presence on my Google Reader. :)


Jenny said...

Thanks for posting this. I actually work for a bridal magazine and my first day at work after getting engaged I thought I was going to throw up. There are so many expectations and requirements people seem to think we need and it can be so totally overwhelming.

I've been resisting the best that I can and I thank you for the reminder that other people's expectations don't need to be satisfied at our wedding. The more I think of it, the more I love the idea of a relaxed reunion style gathering.

Kaitlin Wainwright said...

wow. i am in love with many of these ideas, as well as the general concept of a wedding out of love, not out of money.

thank you for sharing all of this with the world :) very beautiful indeed!

Catherine VandeVelde said...

Thank you so much for sharing the details of how to stay focused on what's important! With my short engagement and a wedding this next April, this is wonderful advice. I especially think that focusing on what end result we want is so valuable!

sonrie said...

This was just what I needed to read. With friends engaged and going all-out Bridezilla, I am thinking that I just may be planning a wedding in the next year or so and this is the way I would want things to happen. Thanks for sharing your story and congrats!

Anonymous said...

What is going through my mind right now, is wow, what a fun wedding that would have been to attend. Good on you guys! I am using you as inspiration so we dont get carried away with ours. We are also clear that its not about the flowers or gourmet food. We want something that is about us, meaningful, simple, and a chance for our family and friends to witness our union and have a good time and mingle.

Anonymous said...

WOW! I am so glad to have found this blog! It's an amazing chronicle of your wedding journey. It's so easy to forget the important sentiments and get caught up in the commercial, superficial trappings. I will definitely be using some of your rules/goals in planning our celebration! CONGRATS!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much for sharing all this! I have just started the planning process & stumbled across your blog. Thankyou for putting some things back into prospective! I have a question though in relation to your guest list! How many people did you end up with & did you invite all immediate family including cousins? I'm just not sure I can invite some & not others.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ AlleyCat:

Matt has a huge Catholic family. We thought about not inviting the cousins but decided to in the end. We invited all immediate family + cousins (although we made it clear that cousins were guests of their parents and therefore were discouraged from bringing their own guests). We also limited our friends to our closest (i.e., no random colleagues or friends we really don't keep in touch with). We had 80 in the end (partly because none of our family lives in Colorado, so they had to make a trek to attend). Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

This wedding seems PERFECT. Thanks so much for sharing. I've sent the link to my mom, sister and fiance saying "This is what I'm talking about!" The only fear I keep coming back to in my planning is that an outdoor reception seems a perfect way to keep it fun and inexpensive and gorgeous but what if it rains? We are planning a wedding in early fall in CT and I just hate the idea (and cost) of tents. Any ideas from other brides?

Rain Girl said...

i am amazed, bowled over, enchanted and applauding. so, so proud and happy for you.

this is my first time at your blog, and i am going to print out this entire story and keep it in my wedding file. i am getting married next year and planning a low-budget, low glamour wedding. your wedding has given me idea, yes but more than that, hope and a feeling that the impossible can also happen.

thank you so much for sharing this... *hugs*

zoliepup said...

Um, Wow... I guess I'm on the right track with our wedding.

I really appreciate this post, and am so glad to have read it. I know I'm going to come back to it again and again. It seems that you went into this being incredibly mindful of what you were doing... and it shows.

I slip in and out of the mindfulness. I think, in a way, it takes more energy to be so present in the situation.

We're doing a weekend wedding with a welcome BBQ for everyone. We were planning on games, arts and crafts for the kids, and bocci ball. No one will be an outsider at our wedding and there will be plenty of things for everyone to do.

I haven't thought much about the ceremony yet, but I think you've just inspired me to. That is, after all, the reason we are gathering in Tahoe in July.

Thanks for putting this all together in pixels for us to read!

Anonymous said...

I think i can start planning now. I've been (gasp) putting the wedding planning off because I simply couldn't get into the idea of having panic attacks over napkin colors. I love a boy and I want to live my life with him- why does it have to "officially begin" with pomp and stresscomstance? Is that really necessary?? I've only ever been to ornately formal productions that left me feeling suffocated- I didn't want to put my friends any family through a wedding like that. Your wedding sounds amazing- exactly the feel I am looking for. Reunion, not wedding. I love it- thank you for your clarity!

Anonymous said...

I bow in the gravel -- wow, you have impressed me! Not only did I like your style of writing, but your many wise ideas were so inspiring! I am getting married in only three months and haven't come too far with the planning yet, mainly because I have been focusing on trying to choose between a thousand little pretty details, when it is the big picture, the end goal, and the love that matters. Thank you so much for writing this blog to counterbalance the "porn" ! Anja from Sweden

Anonymous said...

Wow! I have always wanted to have a wedding close to this kind. This gives me a lot of courage to be sincere and unconventional, to know it can be done!!
Thank you very much for the ideas! I really love the quilt.

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! your wedding planning was just pure genious. i have been engaged for two yrs. mostly because i have been afraid and tired of all the propaganda from the wedding industry like you said.. brainwashing us to think that we need to go all out. i am so relieved and excited to plan my wedding, now. i have known that i have wanted something small,intimate, and very different from the norm. i was sure glad that you shared your wedding details. they were very beautiful and sincere. i especially loved the dance! you have made my day..thanks!

Kristina G. said...

This is awesome. Although I am no where near planning a wedding, I knew that when I was going to, it was going to be a very diy, family and friend involved affair. Your blog lets me know that it is actually possible! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Congrats to you on your marriage and thank you so much for sharing! As a member of the Wedding Industrial Complex who is struggling with her mission of helping clients create meaningful, authentic events vs. going for the quick payoff of extravagant and over-the-top, this is just what I needed to see today. Wishing you a lifetime of happiness together. . .thanks again!

Anonymous said...

This is just what I needed to read! When we got married I got so frustrated trying to plan our wedding and the whole 'wedding machine' I threw my hands up and we went to the courthouse. Now 10 years later we are planning a renewal vows ceremony. I almost got sucked back in again. Thank you for sharing your story, it brought me back to my senses.

Y said...

ROCK. OUT. I loved your wedding. It sounds like you had so much fun and your vows were honest and so personal. We're doing pretty much everything ourselves and people will just have to use the wetwipes cause we're serving BBQ no matter what!!!

Thank you for sharing your story!!

Anonymous said...

I just have to say that I love your approach to wedding planning. I am in process of building a database to help bring brides and vacation rental owners together since I also see the great value in the ability to spend quality time with family and friends. I can't wait to plan my own budget wedding using great advice from brides out there that aren't afraid to challenge the norm! Thanks so much for leading by example.

Anonymous said...

WOW you have just given me a second light into the way i am thinking about our wedding.
Its only early days for me and already im like 'ok krys take a step back and think about that again'.
Iv never attended a wedding, but i am an event manager, i like to make decisions but i also like the input from my fiance, (whom cnt make decisions) so trying to make choices together seems impossible.
After reading your blog and bookmarking it to keep refering back to for a smile and positivity im feeling alot more certain about what we would like rather then what we should have.
Love your work and thanks for the inspiration.

krys and june xx

andream.steveh said...

Man I wish I had found this website about 8 months ago. I am wrapped up in the middle of the wedding industry right now, partly due to the fact that I agreed to let my parents help pay for things. I'm pretty sure my fiance and I could have had a $2000 wedding too if my parents hadn't been involved.
So now things are all fancy and high-end with my $12,000 wedding. But your post has helped inspire me to bring the wedding back to earth and keep it simple. Thanks for being inspiration for all of us!

Anonymous said...

We tried to keep our budget at $2000 also, but failed ^_^;; My dress was $50(orig.$1400 dress, the dress shop was going out of business, the dress was in really bad shape with beads falling off and tan make up everywhere inside, but I know how to fix beads and clean the dress so there is no dirt or make up left, Everyone thought it was new - but it took 12 hours for the task!). Cake $150 (25 individual cake of 3" diameter and one 9" cake), $300 hair & make up, $90 favors (pear magnets and salt & pepper shakers in pea pods), veil $50, just plain one + swarovsky crystals I bought sewn on by myself. Titanium wedding bands: $600 total. $300 on two dinners for all the guests (20 guests - korean bbq, noodles, fried foods, salads and other stuff) and cabin (22 people cabin put down $900 and rest covered by the guests, for three nights four days on weekend). Wedding service by highmountainweddings.com which includes limo, champagne, bouquets for bride and maids, boutonnieres, and exchange of vows and taking us to the beautiful location at emerald bay, photos: $1200 (including state park fee) good wine from ferrari carrano (healdsburg) winery $150 and for non-drinkers, sonoma sparklers(at bevmo!) $50. Sodas, beers, Plates, Utensils $100 from costco. My own Bouquet I specially wanted: 30 assorted tulips from Proflowers (delivered straight to cabin the day before)+ribbons, bouquet cuffs I made $60. Acrylic Nails I can do $10 (don't do it if you don't know how to do it nicely). Maids gift (Cape to be worn over their dress + alteration to match the dress) $60. Maids dresses (I didn't want them to pay for it - bought $300 dresses at the fore-mentioned shop for only $10, self-cleaned, got it altered for size for $40 each - bridesmaids think they're new because there's not even a spot of dirt!): $100 My husband's tux + alteration $650 (couldn't avoid this since his step mother cleaned his closet in their house before we had a chance to pick up stuff and she gave away the versace suit he was going to wear - my husband's well-built so he cannot fit into normal suits without heavy alterations) Caketiers+decorations+candles at cabin $100 Games were brought by everyone who could think of them (ps2 rockband, all kinds of card games with my 500 poker chips case, board games, karaoke machine by my best friend):free games! Shoes: wore what I have. Jewelry: wore what I had: pearl collection my husband gave me for engagement. miscelleneous fees including gas and stuff to drive to lake tahoe: ~$300

Overall We spent somewhere around ~$5000. But it was so worth it! The cabin had spa, sauna, huge kitchen, deck with heat lamps, pool table, poker table, etc. etc. Guests had option of staying with us, but also didn't have to. Couples got priorities in rooms and was first come first serve (in payment), and singles paid less to sleep in the livingroom.

ereagh said...

Wow, I really loved this. Even though I have a larger budget, I appreciate the spirit of how you guys planned your wedding and the Values you infused into the whole event. I just emailed the link to my fiance, I know he'll feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

sara - i hope that you're still checking in with this blog, because i'm in need of help. my fiance and i have long planned that our wedding would fall within the larger picture of a family/friend, laid-back reunion of sorts. with multiple communal meals. and as many of us staying together as possible.
now, in the beginnings of actually trying to sort out where to host our happy weekend...i'm running into stumbling blocks and a refusal to think outside the box (and apparently health codes?) as none of the b&bs/inns i speak to are willing to let guests in their kitchen for food preparation. this is regardless of the fact that my family would rent out the entire facility. while i understand this...i'm wondering how you worded your request when you were talking to the different B&B options you considered?
thank you so much for your time...

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi Laura,

I'm sorry to hear about your frustration! We had to find the most laid back B&B possible. The owners, Cathy and Cory, were willing to do anything to make our event exactly the way we wanted it. It meant that we had to compromise on the aesthetics (the buildings were older and pretty basic), but it was totally worth it. It also helped that the B&B was off the beaten path. They do a lot of reunions and retreats, so they were used to people wanting to use their kitchens. Best of luck to you!

jes [a mountain bride] said...

I am inspired.

Thank you for being so honest about your wedding planning journey - it's a remarkable read! I'm sure I will frequent your site a zillion times in the upcoming months as our wedding is planned.

Missa said...

sigh, I'm so glad I read this. I just got engaged to my boyfriend of TEN years (highschool sweethearts) two months ago. We waited so long to get married because we never really saw the need to have a huge wedding, but now that we're thinking about a family the time has come and we are ready to publicly commit to one another.

Thank you for writing this. I've always said that I don't want a typical wedding, but the more I try on gowns and the more I read bridal magazines, and the more I gush over my ring and talk to my bridesmaids, the more I'm succumbing to the craziness!!!

I need to remind myself that I've never really had fun at a wedding, that I don't want an emcee forcing my guests to eat their salad or dance and instead that I need to create a memorable experience.

Time to take a step back. We are fortunate enough to have monetary contributions from both of our families so we COULD have a $30k wedding, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed it ends up feeling like US rather than some boring New York wedding.

Time for me to read your whole blog, haha.

Anonymous said...

i am so glad to have come across your blog. i come from the philippines and here, DIY is unheard of. people think that having a great wedding equates to having the designer gown, imported flowers, four-tiered fondant cakes and expensive china and silver. i balk at the thought of cathedral ceremonies and grand ballrooms.

so reading your blog is a godsend. i don't have a lot of money, and several times i've wanted to cry because i couldn't have what i thought i wanted to have in my wedding. thanks to you, i've realigned my vision with my fiance's (he tends to be the more practical one), with our budget, and with what the wedding is really supposed to be--a celebration of love and life. thank you thank you thank you!

Anonymous said...

I wish I had read this blog a year ago and had been more adamant with my fiancee about keeping our wedding small and the costs low so we actually had some money to start our life together. The Wedding Industrial Complex should be outlawed. Congratulations to all of you who have managed to remain rational and not spend an outrageous amount of money for a one day event.

Anonymous said...

I love everything you are saying, truly - but sometimes we just don't have a choice when it comes to a lot of aspects of our wedding. Marrying into another culture that considers weddings to be a time to throw the biggest party ever... and if you don't get invited to someone's wedding that you barely even know it's a direct insult - you have a lot to deal with.

Ideally, we would have liked to do a much smaller wedding, and do a lot of things ourselves, but when your wedding OOT, it makes it that much harder.

It's great that you're giving advice, but honestly sometimes a ridiculously large wedding can not be helped, no matter HOW much a bride and groom protest.

Debbie said...

You are so inspiring, I know you have heard this about 2000 times by now, but it is so true! I ecspecially love your 10-10-10 rule. I have already booked most my vendors, but plan to keep to a tighter budget and concentrate on the friends and family that are coming!!

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow everything that you guys did seemed like a success. I would definitely like to try to make my wedding happen within $2000. Very inspiring! Would you by any chance post up a picture of your wedding rings? Would love to see how that came out.

Kelly said...

your wedding was amazing! I wish I'd found your blog before I started planning!

Frances said...

You are truly inspirational. I feel so much better after reading your blog. I have been so stuck on how to plan a wedding with hardly any money and got so caught up in the craziness of where and how that I just did not think it was possible to find a solution. I love your idea about the Quilt. I started sewing pillows to raise money for my wedding and the idea of asking friends and family to donate fabric for a quilt is a fabulous idea. Thank you and Congrats to you and your husband!

jordan said...

wow ..just wow.

this is EXACTLY the type of wedding we want. exactly. and we're really concerned about money too, so all of your ideas really helped.

we don't plan on being married for another couple of years but i've already started planning in my mind & we've talked about what WE want for our day. we'd like to be outside, grow our own flowers, have family help out with music and planning, etc. we want it to be a reunion as well - our idea was to rent out this boy scout camp across from my family's cottage & make a whole weekend out of it.

your wedding looked beautiful, sweet and fun. i hope ours turns out as good as yours did! :)

the Lady said...

This is So. Cool. Your wedding brought tears to my eyes, it's really what I want. Thank you for sharing.

Mandy said...

This has really helped me put things concerning my wedding into perspective and made me re-realize what's really important about the whole shin-dig. Thank you so much.

bamagirl3525 said...

Oh, bless you! You are a SAINT. Thank so you much for condensing seven months into one easy-to-read post. This will prove so useful for me in my own planning process: I want cake-and-punch at the church, he wants a shindig with a bar. We'll be on a tight budget (We're both in grad school), but I know your experiences will help us meet in the middle to create a meaningful experience for both us and our families and friends.

Thanks again!

Cassie said...

Might I just say Thank You! I am planning a wedding with just as little fuss and it seems as though no one other than my fiance can accept that I don't want to stress the small stuff. My mother is freaking out because I don't want a cake topper, and I'm wanting to pull my hair out, not over the wedding, but over the fact that no one can leave me alone about it!! I really appreciate that you have the real point of getting married in mind, it's not about the wedding it's about the union between two people in love.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for writing this. im getting married in september. my fiancee is in college and we have very little to spend on our wedding. the feeling of reunion is exactly what we want on our day. i was feeling a little overwhelmed and stressed about how we were going to pay for it when i stubled across your article, i feel better. BBQ and a keg it is! thanks again.

Salt, Sweat, Tears and the Sea said...

This has got to be the most inspiring wedding story that I have ever heard. Your vows made me cry!! I'm not kidding..thank you so much for this. I have some many ideas now for my wedding. This is so real, so genuine, so hopeful. Thank you thank you thank you.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog at just the right time. Just today I IM'd my fiance to complain about centerpieces - and I've always said "who the f**k notices centerpieces?" It's like the wedding industrial complex is sneaking in while I'm asleep and whispering in my ear. :)

Thanks for reminding me of what the original plan was.

Unknown said...

This is an incredibly inspiring wedding story. I cried reading the blog. Thanks for making it real and you.

amyhowe said...

THis is awesome, I am going to put it on my page so people that I am photographing weddings for can see how much they can save!! BTW, VOWs were totally awesome and had me tearin up!! Amy

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your page yesterday and was amazed. This is exactly what I've been trying to explain to everyone that I want. My fiance and I have both been married before and we have three children between us, so money is very tight. At this point in our lives, we just have more important things to spend our money on than a big wedding. I had the big church wedding the first time, with every decision made by everyone else but us, and I hated every moment of it. My fiance got married at the courthouse, and he insists that he is not doing that again. We have lived together for six years in unwedded harmony, but decided that we were both ready to make our commitment permanent. The first thing we did in planning our wedding was sit down and make a list of the things that were most important to us (i.e. comfortable clothes (me), a band (him), etc.)We then picked the top three off of each list to help us prioritize what was most important to us. Not surprisingly, our wants sounded alot like yours. We just wanted to have all of our decisions be important and reflect what was important to us. When we started discussing our plans with others, we got blank stares or comments like "You're going to be so disappointed when things don't work like you want them..." Thank you for showing us that it can be done. My mother is making my dress (a very comfortable one that I can wear all day) and dresses for my girls, which I feel makes that part more meaningful and we are going to write our own vows too. None of this 'til death do us part' stuff. Thank you again for confirming my decisions and showing us that it is possible.

Anonymous said...

I was young (23) when I got married, but aware enough not to be sucked in to all the hoopla. I remember someone trying to sell me something for the 'best day of your life' and my response was that if the best day of my life is at 23 what do I have to look forward to.

For sure it is up there as a great day, but 14 years later, the birth of my children also rate pretty highly!

Unknown said...

First of all u have to know that im from ARGENTINA ( a beautiful country on the south of america!) i was so nervous because ill be married in a month with my 2 years and 5 month boyfriend haha so....i have to say that God bring me to your blog i was so bad and sad cause im unemployeed since 2nd march and i decided to marrie a month before that and you know that is a problem nowadays but instead of all I NEEDED TO READ OR HEAR A PERSON SAYING U CAN MARRIE WITH A BIT OF MONEY IT IS NOT NECESSARY SPEND A LOT OF MONEY but not only saying that SHOWING TOO thanks God Ive found this blog it was an enormous help for me and helped me to be calm! I pray to God to bless your relationship, encourage every day to love protect and help ourselves and now that He is super happy for the dauther He has cause she was and is a help for a lot of people! Thanks a Lot!.....Muchas gracias! (in spanish that was thank you very much!)God bless your family too! Kisses and hugs from Argentina

Anonymous said...

I am a second-time bride. My soon-to-be husband is a second time groom. Together we have four children; two are ages 12 and two are age 15. We live in a manufacturing community in northcentral PA, one of the hardest hit areas of the current recession. Needless to say, saving money is paramount for the planning of our September wedding. I am inspired by your approach to your wedding planning. You clearly possess maturity and wisdom beyond your years! Even though I've been through this before, I admit I have succumbed to the fear and anxiety that surrounds the traditional expectations of hosting a wedding reception. You have helped me more than you can imagine. After reading your post I feel centered and more confident about asking my family and friends for more help. Thank you for sharing your story. You'll have to develop your "love" story into a book. It is sure to be a bestseller!

Rebecca said...

"But they were all the familiar things: With this ring, I thee wed. Love is patient, love is kind. To have and to hold from this day forward."

Far out, I was only saying to a workmate the other day, who is thinking of planning her wedding, how weddings are like being on a process line these days. They all have the same feel, use the same love is patient saying, all use Canon in D to walk down the aisle.... It seems to be all about money, outdoing the wedding you went to previously, doing one better than someone else. And while doing this, brides actually use the same thing. My idea of the perfect wedding was just like that growing up, BUT, after meeting "the one" like you, the whole feeling of a wedding has changed. Now all I really care about is the love we share, and the two of us celebrating that love together and making that committment. I wish I could meet more brides like that, just like you, to spread the original meaning behind a wedding!!

Love your blog!!

Dan said...

OK...truth in advertising first...I'm a wedding photographer. There I said it. Now for a $2000 wedding idea: Make little cards with your email address on it and the following; "Give Me Your Best Shot!" with instructions for your guests, all of whom have digital cameras or camera/cell phones, to send you 3 to 5 of their best pictures. The crazier the better.

Sometimes guests get better shots on their cell phones than I get on my $5000 pro camera. So have them send you their best shots!

Get 'em all in once place, go to "blurb.com" or one of it's clones and learn how make a book (it's easy).

There, now you've saved $2000 on a photographer. Hint: You have to be relentless in bugging everybody about sending their pictures to you!

Cheers, Dan Derby

p.s. love the website!

Emily said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story. I have been looking for inspiration for a simple, small, affordable, and wonderful wedding but haven't come across anything until now. Thanks for the fantastic perspective.

Anonymous said...

Well I love economic wedding.
I think I am an economic wedding photographer too. (=


Unknown said...

I don't see any costs for the venue, just a $120 credit from lodging. I'm assuming the fact that the guests stayed there give you free access to the facilities you wanted. How did you end up with a credit even after hiring the B&B staff to help out?

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this! My fiance and I are having a small backyard wedding at my parents' home this September. Your ideas really reinforce the decision to keep it about the marriage, rather than all the "wedding" extras. You rock!

Anonymous said...

I wish I had found your blog a year ago. My fiance and I are getting married in two months and are having the traditional, over-the-top American wedding blow-out. Not that I'm ungrateful or dreading the day by any means; however, in retrospect, I think I'd be much happier at this point if I'd stuck to my guns about keeping the wedding very personalized, eco-friendly and only having the people that matter the most there to support us. It's how my fiance and I wanted it in the first place, and it's true that financial support from families can dictate how the celebration goes. Your blog is inspirational and from the pictures your wedding looked just perfect. Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

This is so much like what I have been hoping to have in a wedding but never thought was possible. I've never liked all the hoopla about weddings and was never comfortable with the idea of spending much more than a couple thousand for what amounts to a big party, which most guests will not even enjoy. It's so nice to see someone else who rejects all that unnecessary expense and formality as well. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into this blog, sharing your great story with us! I know I will be using many of your suggestions in the future. I particularly LOVE the quilt idea!! Thanks for the great ideas, inspiration, and guts to go through with such a relaxed and fun wedding. Congrats!

-Huntsville, Alabama

Anonymous said...

I wish I would have seen this a few months ago before all my main vendors were booked! Makes me half regret having a big wedding because I want the same sentiments and goals you had. I loved how inspirational this story is!! All I could say was wow! Wishing you and your husband the very best. :)

Anonymous said...

This would have been wonderful to read if you hadn't been so condescending. I get that you didn't want to shell out thousands of dollars for your wedding, but don't hate the people who can/do. You had a lot of great ideas, but unfortunately, you sound like an asshole in your pretentious presentation.

Pretty. Good. Food. said...

As simply as I can put it...

Thank you.

Thank you for offering some sanity in a world of bridal magazines and expos.

I'm getting married in 6 months, and reading through your blog has brought a much needed sense of peace and clarity.

You are absolutely right, it's not about the flowers, the favors, the menus, the reception hall, it's about the person you're marrying.

So thank you. Thank you for bringing me back to planet Earth. I was getting a little too comfortable on planet Bride.

oh, and Mazel Tov. :)

Anonymous said...

Great story! Congrats! I came upon this site because I am looking for ideas to make the tablecloths with fabric I am quilting! In fact the concept or theme is Home Spun with everything used as favors, decorations to be just that. It's a second time around for both, money is really not a problem, lucky us. But to feel like we have alot of personal touches, will be forever remembered. My Mom, bless her heart, has just sent me some vintage fabric to look over for our very own quilt. The center will be made from an old muslin sugar bag with the printing "U and I Sugar" ..is that too cute or what?...:) Thanks for the post! Best Wishes for a long and prosperous loving life!

Unknown said...

Hey, I just wanted to say I love the ideas that you promote here. I think this thought process can be helpful to brides and grooms everywhere.

One thing I had a question about though, is in your sidebar where you list all of the wedding costs, I don't see the cost for the venue rental. Was that free because of your guests all staying there, or how did that work?


Unknown said...

hi! this is a great idea and it looks like a wonderful time. one question: did you have to pay for the ceremony and reception venues? i don't see that included in the cost list.

Anonymous said...

I love the name tag idea - did you ask guests to send this to you in advance, or were these things you knew about everyone?

Liz said...

thank goodness for you. can we be friends? or maybe i can give you my parents phone number and you can let them know that its not just me "being crazy", but that Love, Friendship and Community are much more beautiful than tradition and expectations....you give me hope. And ideas! I love the nametag one...did you develop peoples "ask me about" or did they?

Dawna said...

This is just what I needed to read. :)

My fiance and I got engaged on Friday, and we're slowly starting to think about the wedding. This post gives me a lot to think about, and something to share with him so we can (in a few weeks, after the hearts stop dancing around our heads) start thinking about what we want, where we want it, and that kind of thing.

I've browsed your blog before this, but now that it's officially going to be happening, I'll take a more focused look.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this!

HeatherDG said...

Wow. This was awesome! I totally bookmarked it, and when I find myself in a "bridezilla" meltdown, Ill come back to read this. I dont think Ill have toooo many meltdowns, our wedding is in septepber of 2010, and ive pretty much got it all planned out. All to do now is to actually CREATE all my DIY items, which is pretty much everytying. Each time i take a shopping truip to tthe city, I buy the materials for one project. I also scour our local classified website for people selling werdding items. Thanks so much for reminding me that its NOT A SHOW! Lol.

Unknown said...

Thanks for such an inspirational blog post, wooow! We are (almost!) 1 year ahead of our big day, and your "questions to ask yourself" are such an eye-opener. I sent my answers to fiance, and he will sent his to me. I def bookmarked your blog, keep up all the good work! ~ Sandra

Megan said...

I LOVE this. & I just HAD to tell you Thanks! I'm one of these brides that have already lost my mind & suddenly there it was in the middle of your blog. :) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank you for posting this! I absolutely loved reading about your special day, so much so that I'm going to post a link to this very post from my blog (I hope that's okay). I stumbled upon your blog as a newly engaged woman, and my fiancé and I are trying to plan a cost-friendly wedding. This was so helpful and uplifting. Thanks so much!

Unknown said...

i love your story, and I love how well you articulated your goals, plan, and advice for others. thank you so much!

Shannon said...

This is perfect! We're planning a wedding with a $2000 budget too. On a Saturday in June. We have 10 months to plan though. Except we haven't done too much yet, so those months are slipping away. :) Thanks for your site!

Laura said...

Dear Sara & Matt,

Congratulations to you both for taking this wonderful step together, and with such sincerity!

You've both set a beautiful pioneering example, and more helpfully, which is well documented.

At the risk of being repetitive, thank you.

- Laura
(2000 EUR bride ;)

sarah said...

thank you. thank you thank you. i needed that today.

i needed to be reminded that my goals are not rediculous, that i'm not required to have things that i don't want, (even if my mom and aunt think flowers are an absolute necessicty,) and that if you can have an awesome wedding for $2k, there's absolutely no reason i can't do it for double that. thank you.

Unknown said...

Thank you, thank you for this post and for your advice!! It's so good to see someone else who isn't considering the average $10,000=$20,000 "average budget" for a wedding perfectly acceptable and expected for a "decent" wedding!!! We're about the same budget-wise, our biggest expense was our rings ($1200), which my fiance bought 2 years ago when he still had a good job... anyway... we're planning the actual wedding for under $1000, and are having such fun planning everything and doing things ourselves! One of my nearest-and-dearest told me the other day, if you just wait a couple of years till after you graduate (I'm in nursing school) & have been working for awhile, you won't have to worry about the money and can have a big fancy wedding! I had to explain to her, we've already waited long enough to get married, and what it comes down to is our families and loved ones are there and we are celebrating that we can finally become husband & wife!!
Thank you again!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wedding advice. This really helped put my wedding planning into perspective. I have a 5k dollar budget but feel really overwhelmed. All my bridemaids are in different cities so I feel Like I don't have any help...My mother helps where she can but I pretty much feel all the decisions are on me. Somethings I feel like I want to go to a park and say our vows, eat some food, dance and be done. But I feel guilty if I don't throw the perfect party and make sure everyone is full. So I am sure I will continue to read this blog Thanks!

Anonymous said...

You have such wonderful ideas. I'm planning a wedding in six months and trying to do it for $2500. I was looking at your expenditures and was confused by the credit for lodging. How much did it cost to rent the place? Why is it a credit. Also, after adding everything up (not including the lodging credit, which is confusing) the total came to $2072. I'm renting a place similar to this for my wedding and even though it's cheap, it's still taking a huge chunk out of my budget. Please explain to me why your lodging is a credit and not an expenditure. I'm so confused. Maybe I'm too tired from reading millions of wedding ideas all over the net.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Anonymous: Here's a post I wrote about how we got a credit for the lodging. I hope it answers your questions!:

From the very beginning, Matt and I knew that we wanted all of our friends and family to stay in the same place if possible. We wanted to wake up and eat a leisurely breakfast with them. We wanted to pass by them and say hello. If we were going to bring all of our nearest and dearest to the same place for a weekend, we wanted it to feel more like a reunion than a wedding.

When we sent out our electronic Save-the-Dates, we asked guests to complete a survey that gave us information about whether they thought they would be able to make it or not (100% likely, 75% likely, 50% likely, or 0% likely). This information gave us a more accurate idea of how many people to expect.

I hoped that if we found a B&B that fit our guests exactly, we would be able to rent out the entire place and use the facilities for free. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the perfect-sized place. We either found places that were too big or too small.

Simultaneously, we found out that Matt's family wanted to stay at a place that was a little less rustic.

In the end, we decided to book a place that could accommodate almost all of our friends on site, while our families stayed at B&Bs down the road (we spent lots of time with our families in the days leading up to and after the wedding).

Luckily, we found an inexpensive place, which wasn't easy to do. We intentionally had to look outside the city to find something reasonable. (Estes Park, CO, is a mecca of expensive weddings.)

To find the "perfect place," we had to make compromises. For one, the B&B was situated on a somewhat busy road, which wasn't ideal. Also, the cabins were rustic. However, the innkeepers were absolutely amazing and the price was right. We certainly compromised some on the aesthetics of our wedding, but we realized that community, connection, and fun were more important to us than the aesthetics.

So, we were able to rent out the entire place for $750 a night. We then came up with a price per night for our friends that seemed fair: $25 for a bed in a dormitory situation and $35 for a bed in a cabin. Since we weren't sure how many people were going to come and who would want to stay on site with us, we came up with a price that would at least ensure we had enough money to pay the B&B.

In the end, we were able to completely fill the place and have money left over that we used to pay the innkeepers to help us during the reception. We paid them $50 an hour to heat up the food, set it out, refill it as necessary, and clean up.

Even with that expense, we still had $60 left that went toward our general wedding budget.

And over Christmas, we received a card from a friend with a check for $50 ($25/night for two nights). That means we actually came in under our $2,000 budget (as opposed to $12 over, like we originally thought).

If we had had more money to spend on our wedding, we wouldn't have put that money toward centerpieces or a fancier cake; we would have completely paid for our guests' accommodations.

Good luck with your search! Securing the right location was one of the most stressful pieces of our entire process.

Rose said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My fiance and I are in the process of planning our wedding, and one of the biggest mental roadblocks for me has been the ceremony. Neither of us want it to be particularly religious and we want it to reflect our personalities, but we just haven't figured out how we want to do it. I love everything about your ceremony. Actually, I love everything about your wedding. Thank you so much for sharing this, and I hope to use some of your ideas to personalize our wedding.

christina said...

all i can say is thank you. this was just what i needed to plant my feet back on the ground and stop from spiraling away into a wedding whirlwind.

Allison Bullock said...

Our wedding budget is $3000 (including rings). It must be a teaching thing; I'm a teacher too and I took the same approach as you! Let's hear it for design-down planning! I just have to say THANK GOODNESS, someone else who was disillusioned by the whole wedding industry. I was beginning to think I was the only one who didn't care about chair decore, chocolate fountains and plastic cake toppers.

Judy P. Wilson said...

It all sounds idyllic and wonderful. I'm just curious to know what your plans were in case of rain. We are planning as low budget a wedding as possible, but we need to rent a tent, tables, chairs, etc. I'd love to hear from you. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I'm knee deep in trying to pull off a similar wedding and am so excited to hear how well yours went and that it is possible and even enjoyable to plan an intimate, memorable wedding on a shoestring budget! May I ask how you did the invites?

Elizabeth said...

You are an inspiration. I had some nebulous thoughts in my mind about what I wanted but your clear thinking and planning (and excellent ideas) means that my wedding might become somewhat of a clone of yours- but how could that be a bad thing?

I am also concerned about what could be done in case of rain, but I think I'll take the risk.

Thanks for reminding us about what is really important.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to see that this was done by someone else. My fiance and I are getting married in 6.5 months and we limited our budget to $2000 too. I've had several arguements with family about who to invited, where to have it, what to eat and we've even been called arrogant- funny since we're paying and it's our wedding! So far we're getting away cheap because we're pooling our resources. My fiance's mother has tons of friends and among them is a caterer, photographer, bartender, and JP- all owe her favors. We plan on just having hamburgers and hotdogs and maybe steak tips with side dishes; going to the NH State liquor store and dropping $300 on liquor and mixers; doing the flowers ourselves; got the my fiance's ring on amazon.com for $50 and put mine on layaway until paid off; mom bought my dress; tuxes are $50/rental; music will be off the iPod; and for decorations I'm saving glass sauce jars to hang from trees with candles inside them at night. I can't wait. Thanks for writing all of your story, it really makes me feel sorry for those who spend thousands and psyched for us!

Anonymous said...

I think this wedding was wonderful and perfect for you, but I am saddened by what often felt like a tone of judgment towards people who had different, more traditional wedding styles. Perhaps that is not how you meant it to come across, as it doesn't seem consistent with your stated values.

Jade said...

Thank you for sharing how you planned such a beautiful celebration of your love and committment, centered on values that were important to you. My fiance and I are hoping to do the same.

I particularly am interested in how you were able to create the type of experience you did during the reception. I want to also have dancing, games, swimming, and other activities during that time without having to faciliate them.

In reading your post, it seems your guests freely floated to whatever activity they felt drawn to. How did that come about throughout the day? Did you make an announcement? Did you have individuals pull different guests into different directions?

Anonymous said...

I came upon your blog and really, really appreciate your spirit, determination, and the willpower it must have taken to resist falling into all the infamous wedding "traps". That said, when I read your take on the traditional ceremony it left me feeling a little put out. For those whom church & faith are not an intimate part of life, perhaps it isn't important to have a traditional church ceremony. However, my fiancee and I were both raised by our very loving church communities and neither of us can imagine our wedding without the rituals, the texts, and the church family that have been so important in both our lives. My hope is that our friends will be understanding enough to realize that the presence of a minister, the words of scripture, and all that "routine" church talk, for us is anything but meaningless.

Amanda said...

Thank you for making this blog! I have never, ever been one to dreamily leaf through wedding magazines (in fact they kind of make me nauseous) and I would love to do a wedding similar to the way you did yours. Thank you for all the wonderful ideas and references! I get so sick of people saying "It's your big day, don't skimp on ______." When to me, all those ______s don't matter nearly as much as the spirit of the event and the marriage that follows afterward. Thank you again!

stephanie said...

My fiance and I knew what we wanted from the get go....a money saver, LAID BACK wedding. Everyone has either knocked us for it or tried to convince us otherwise. the point is, we just don't have the money; and even if we did I STILL wanted a simple FUN wedding to remember. Anyways, after everyone I talked to, everthing I've read or seen on t.v....THIS is the most inspirational piece i have read. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who looks at my wedding this way. Thank you soo much for posting this. You saved me from being sucked into typical wedding chaos.

Thanks again!

Grey'sFan said...

Me and my fiance have only been engaged for a month and a half and I'm already feeling extremely overwhelmed. We've already fought and argued over details with the planning process (he isn't sure we can plan a wedding for $5000 and I can't understand why he can't give me a date). Like the other comments, I have already read many websites, bought many magazines, and talked to a lot of people. I really just want to thank you for posting this. It made me calm down, realize its ok to not have an exact date yet, and reassured me that it can be done with a budget of $5000. Your ideas are awesome!!

Thanks again

Kel said...

Thank you for such an amazing site! I'm truly amazed at your determination and wisdom. My fiance and I are in the process of getting married, there are a lot of worries and unanswered questions in our heads. However, I'm so glad I've come upon your site, which has inspired and reminded me what's the most important of a wedding. It takes so much courage to be different and to do things that are not in the norm, but your story has truly given me the courage to do what's important to us. Thanks again for your amazing site! Best wishes to u & ur family

de Lovely Affair said...

Amazing. Thank you is all I can say. Beautiful, after my own heart and true inspiration to keep on the path of having a wedding for US not THEM.

Fleur said...

I'm talking to my father tonight. I don't know what the budget will be exactly, I guess it will be a little more than $2000. But I really hate paying a lot for things I can make myself an better, or when there are other solutions if one's willing to let go of stereotypes. I like to think of the reception as a huge party and I've always wanted to throw one. So it's gonna be so much fun actually sitting down and starting planning. Thanx the advice, I'll head them all! (Even wrote a post about them...)

Thank you loads!

Lyssabeth's Wedding Officiants said...

What an amazing blog. I just read it from start to finish. I'm going to pass it along to all of my couples (I'm a wedding officiant).

I love that you planned and executed the entire event according to your vision and values. It's clear your married life started out just the way you envisioned it and I predict a long, happy and creative life together.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful adventure!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I am not even sure how I found it, but fate must be leading the way! Your story is so inspirational and I will keep it in mind as I plan the rest of my life with my man. : )

Anonymous said...

Your words are exactly what mine and my fiancee's vision is. When talking about the formality of a wedding I had cringed my nose and my girlfriend said "what is it that you really want"...and I replied..."I want to get married and then have fun hanging with our friends and family". From that moment on we were set to have our ceremony and reception as laid back as we were and anyone who didn't like it could leave. Thank you for keeping us inspired to have the wedding we want...where our slogan is...if it's not consumable, reusable, or recycleable then it's not for us!


Jessica said...

Wow, thank you so much for posting this. I have been engaged for eight months now and haven't started planning the wedding yet because I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the idea of invitations, flowers, decorations, standing in front of so many people...but it isn't about any of that! Thanks so much for posting this and reminding me of the things that actually matter.

Jessica said...

Comment #100 - Thank you so much!! I will be entirely grateful to you for writing this. My fiance and I are on a very limited budget, and I didn't even think I could get away with a $5,000 wedding before reading this. My fiance's roommate is having his wedding this summer, and they are spending around $27,000 - the bride's dress is $4,000!! I felt really really insecure that our wedding wouldn't match up - wouldn't be as important. But you helped me realize what actually is important - is it things or is it connections with those around you. So, thank you so much!! I am now looking forward to creating this wedding right.

Write This Way said...

You guys are my new heroes. We are trying to do a casual lakeside wedding & trying to not get deterred by the "voices" telling us what we "should" be doing. We are also arriving to our destination w/friends early, turning our wedding into a 3-day family & friend lovefest. Nice to hear that it can be done-- & get ideas for doing it. And so true; at the end, you are married, and that is the important part. Thanks for the voice of sanity!!

Unknown said...

I just read your wedding story and absolutely love it. I sent a copy to my fiance. It is very grounding. We are just starting to plan our picnic wedding at our home in less than 2 months!!! We have a ten month old boy too, so this is going to be an adventure. With the love and support of friends and family it's going to be perfect!! And thank you thank you for sharing your process, it's helping to jump start ours!!

Unknown said...

I love the make it personal line. That means more to me then the food and I will do my best to stop looking at wedding porn. it's hard. but thanks for putting this out there.

Autumn Murphy said...

I just need to say, I love what you did with your wedding! More people need to think like this! Weddings are about joining together, not having the biggest and shiniest of whatever you see!

My husband and I got married on July 4th, 1999 in a small, casual "backyard" wedding that still 10 1/2 years later we get compliments on. We spent just over 2500 dollars (hooray for DIY!!) and I still get a chuckle when I see the surprised look on people's faces when I tell them that.

You guys had so many great and inpsiring ideas! Makes me wish I was planning my wedding! lol

Thanks so much for sharing them all with everyone. Hopefully more people will take your advice and return to the community that a wedding once was.

Jess said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was on the verge of believing that $500 was a reasonable price for a wedding dress when I've never, never, ever believed that, and your advice has brought me back to reality. I am inspired to reclaim my wedding, and I sincerely appreciate your words of wisdom.

Angie said...

Hi Sara! Just want to say thank you for this post. I showed it to my fiance a couple months ago and then we sat down and made our "wedding pillars." So far it's been very helpful in creating our vision. Thanks again!

SistahFox said...

Thank you for this.

Joselle Palacios said...

Let me add to the shower of thanks. I was just about to sign a contract with a caterer we can't afford and feeling all knotted and guilted up inside. I don't know what we're going to do instead. It's nearly midnight and my arms are sore from reading so much wedding porn. But this post has reminded me what I wanted me wedding to be about and, most importantly, my marriage. Thank you.

gina said...

What a great story and blog! I am the maid of honor in my best friends wedding and think your vision for your wedding was great. When it's my turn I hope to use your posts as a reminder of what can be done- rather then what everybody does.

Unknown said...

On the brink of throwing in the towel and eloping, I stumbled across your blog. It's a relief to know we're not alone in wanting our wedding to be more about our relationship and connections with others than... well, everything else. Thanks for smacking me back down to earth.

Richelle said...

Someone from the Knot shared this link with me and I love your story! I have only just begin to plan a wedding on a $3000 budget and already I'm disliking every minute of it, I feel overwhelmed and don't want my wedding to be like every other one I've ever been to. Thanks for the great advice on making your wedding about relationships instead of a show!

jessylynn said...

i want to say thank you so much your story has completely put my mind at ease.My fiance and i have to pay for our wedding ourselves yikes!But we don't really like traditional weddings(we think they're really boring)so yours sounded like so much fun.The only thing is that we want to do a destination wedding and a party for anyone who cant go.I'm not so sure we can make it 2000 dollars but if we could be somewhere around that it would be great if you have any advice pleeeeease let me know thanks so much!!

Steph said...

Like everyone has said, thank you! I hope you realize what an inspiration you are to everyone (especially fellow wedding planners on a budget). We've only just begun planning and we've hit a few road bumps along the way, and I've already found myself reminding me of why we're actually doing this to begin with. You are so right. Planning can be stressful enough without family getting involved and financial constraints, but your story proves that you can overcome all of that. You've given me the confidence I needed for the few months of planning. Thank you again, and I wish you and your marriage all the success in life!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed reading this account of a budget wedding. I have been married twice and did each on less than $5000 including rings and honeymoon.

Now I have the opportunity to get married again. My husband s converting to judaism and so we will be married jewishly. This wedding will be even more budget friendly than I have done before. I wilo be making my own dress..which was paid for with gift cards earned with credit card pouints, so no money there. The ceremony and reception will be at the synagogue, and the invitations will be photocopies or emails. I project that thsi will cost well under $1000 and be a meaningful comfortable affair. Thanks for the help gained reading your story.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sara!

What can I say that hasn't been said? I LOVED your blog and it gave me hope. We were going to have our wedding in October (10/10/10), but have up-ed it to July 31! We have a month and a week or two to plan our potluck DIY wedding, but I know we are up to it!

We were already planning to do many of the things that you had recommended, such as creating a flickr group so that guests could upload their pictures of the event.

Ours will be at a picnic site called Old Church at a regional park in California. Thanks for your clarity, inspiration, and helpful encouragement!

Megan said...

You are my new hero!! I never thought it would be possible to pull off a wedding for just $2000, but you have proved to me that it can be done. I am newly engaged and just starting the ideas and inspiration stage of the wedding planning process. I look forward to reading your blog and gaining great insight into how to make our wedding a special day on a very tight budget! Thank you so much for giving me hope!! :D

AutumnO said...

I have stopped reading at Sunshine Mountain because I have to go somewhere. But I am already inspired!!! I'll finish reading later and maybe post again! Awesome.

Anonymous said...


I loved your blog! I'm getting married in a year and I have found that wedding planning can be very stressful. Thanks to your blog I no longer feel that way.

My fiance and I are having to pay for our own wedding, which is great because we can't go crazy with spending. So when I came across your blog I was in amazement that you and your husband were able to pull of a budget friendly wedding.

You had so many wonderful ideas on your wedding blog that I will defiantly take into consideration. I think I'm going to recruit a lot of my family members and friends to help me out with the wedding. Everyone I know is pretty creative. I'm a very crafty person so I plan on making all the wedding favors, wedding programs, boutonnieres, decorations, wedding invites, wedding pillow, etc. I even might have my finance and I grow our own flowers for the wedding. The more things that I can make by hand for our wedding, the more money my fiance and I will be saving. Which I believe to be true!

For our wedding I'm trying to keep the cost down. I'm going to start a wedding binder. I don't want a huge expensive wedding bill in the end. My fiance and I have created two separate wedding accounts.

I live in a small town with family near by. For our wedding reception it has to be indoors. Where I live it gets windy and cold at night. We also get a lot of fog. So I can't have my older guest at the wedding freezing their butts off in the summer. I've found a nice hall for my fiance and I to have our reception at. In fact it's way under a thousand dollars. It's so affordable for us! Not only that, I've even located a local restaurant that caters too. Their prices are also inexpensive and so affordable. I don't plan on getting a fancy wedding cake from a bakery. I might just get myself a store bought wedding cake. My moms friend owns a dress shop and she can get me a great deal on a simple wedding dress.

You're blog has inspired me to want a beautiful wedding on simple budget. I'm so excited now to plan my wedding knowing I can do it on a budget. I've got so many wonderful ideas and I can't wait to use them. I've even found things that I already own that I plan on using at my wedding. That excites me too! I do think I can out beat the wedding industry by having a nice wedding of my dreams without having to spend huge amounts of dollars. Thank you for giving me hope and allowing me to not feel so stressful!

-Jodi :)

bride's mom said...

I love the feel of this blog, although it seems to convey that if you want the white lace and roses that you are somehow untrue to the value of marriage or something.

As the mom planning most of this wedding, I am somewhat bound by my daughter's choice of church and amount of guests. The church charged $500, and the best/closest/large enough venue was $650. Our biggest problem with a reception venue was one where we could do our own food (much of it donated by friends).

My daughter wants the silk and lace version. She's not unreasonable, but we both wanted it classic and elegant, as well as friendly and fun. I am naive enough to believe we can do it.

Mr. Dad said nothing over $3k, and then the dress on sale was $500 and then you need a slip and shoes. The church has no reception hall, so you see what that cost us. Anyway, I think that we'll come in around $5k, thanks to - as you said - building relationship with vendors, and a DIY MOB.

Bride/daughter told me the other day that the groom's family cannot afford a restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, and I found myself really dissappointed. Then I scolded myself for being so judgemental. How could I slip into this? The groom's mom works full time, father isn't well, and she is willing to make a homemade meal for a huge crowd of people she doesn't even know (sounds like the reception, doesn't it?). How sweeeet of her, and I hope we can all sit around and laugh.

Anonymous said...


Your wedding quilt is beautiful. I've decided to make one for my wedding. I'm doing it as a semester long school project. I'm so excited to immerse myself into the world of quilting. I can't wait for my classmates to see this quilt I make. I myself would like my fiance and I to display this quilt at our wedding. I think it will be beautiful project that him and I will cherish forever!

-Jodi :)

Stefanie said...

I completely stumbled upon your blog months ago when I was beginning on planning our wedding. I don't even remember how I found it. Probably one of my random frantic searches for ideas on how to have a "budget" wedding. When I starting reading it was like a breath of fresh air. I finally thought "Oh my gosh, I can do this." Although it has been tough on us to stick to our guns and do things the way we really want to do them instead of the way we are "supposed" to do them. Whenever I get in a funk I just read your blog and it's totally inspiring! Thank you!

Unknown said...

Thank you Sara n Matt... a beautiful write up.. good bless you

Anonymous said...

If I married the man I wanted to before he passed away, this is what our wedding would've been like. I feel the love you have for each other through this awesome story.

Nicole said...

Wow! Your wedding should be an inspiration to many brides! What an intimate and perfect affair!

Anonymous said...

This blog is great. Our budget is a bit larger, but I still want to have a natural feel to it. I am Buddhist and my fiance is not religious at all. I want an outdoor ceremony that is peaceful and focused on our commitment to each other. I don't want some person I barely know reading a chosen script of meaningless vows. I want everyone involved!

I wish I could have a small guest list but my mothers side of the family is fairy large and every Sunday is like a reunion to us so I am very close to all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, ect., but I know that a stuffy reception is not going to be our thing. Right now we are on the search for an outside venue by a lake or pond. That would be perfect. Thank you for this blog. It reminds me I don't have to spend $100 a plate for food or have a crazy open bar or favors no one will take home. I will visit this blog often!

It made me feel so much better about me wanting to create my own ceremony from scratch!

Jennifer & Rick said...

Early this Saturday morning I woke up just in a panic - there is a wedding show in my community today, I know I need to go, my Mom and Dad want to go, but I am just so uncomfortable with it.

Now I know why I am uncomfortable - because it is not me and your post help me understand that. We will go to the wedding show but now I am relax a bit because I know a beautiful day is coming without the Wedding Industrial Complex.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Incredible. Although your wedding production was initially motivated by budget (at least in part) what you ended up with was, in my humble opinion, a wedding day celebration as it's supposed to be. I've been to more weddings than I can count (as an entertainer) and the best ones had only partial elements of what you've designed here. Your blog should be required reading for everyone planning their wedding.

Anonymous said...

ROCK ON. Such inspiration. I am planning a similar "budget" wedding with a backyard style. Having the hardest time finding a venue for the same reasons you stated. This article hit home for me so much and put a lot into perspective. I am a wedding photographer who attends VERY expensive weddings every saturday, however it is not at all what I want. Although I am going to recommend this blog to all the brides I work with because even those planning a 20k wedding can still benefit from SO MUCH of the advice here. Yes its great for DIY budget weddings, but applies to so much more. Thanks for writing it and good luck for your very bright future.

Anonymous said...

Both of u guys ideas were awsome. Im planning my wedding for this comming up february and im freeking out about were to start. And after reading about ya its been so easy. and also on a $2000 dollar budget ggod for ya. I just wanted to say thanks and hope life treats you both well. Wishes to you both

Unknown said...

So great to read about a wedding designed out of love and the event! We did our wedding in very much the same fashion, we spent a little more - we splurged on a live band... and for us it was so worth it. We had the same approach and many of the same features - his father married us and wrote our vows on my parents' property (our guests also stood in a semi-circle around us), we made the food (TX BBQ), my mom made my dresses and my husband's shirt (decorated with his family crest that we digitally redrew from a sad, bitmapped web image), a homebrewing friend brewed special kegs for the reception, I designed the invites and worked at a sign shop so my boss' gift was printing everything for my wedding for free, and instead of a unity candle we set off fireworks, our guest take-home gifts were jars of jelly we made from peaches and wild grapes on my parents' property. I love to hear you say you approached planning it as a reunion, which was the philosophy we took in planning our wedding as well. I can't recommend that thought process enough - it kept us focused on love and family, plus we would get so excited to see a group of such cherished people every time we sat down to work out plans. It was a lot of work, but very little fuss over the little details that sometimes can cause quite a stir in the stress of it all. It was such a wonderful day, even years later, we'll sit and remember the fun... and our families still talk about what a great time they had (which was our main goal - for everyone to have a good time - mission accomplished!)

amanda said...

thank you for this!! i am trying to make a camping/destination wedding work on limited budget at a special spot for us in the caribbean where we went on our first trip together. i was soliciting help from someone in the area --an ex pat who now does wedding planning. when i told her my budget was $3000 she said she can't help us without a realistic budget and that the reception alone would cost $10.000. it's great to find a community of like-minded thrift spenders wanting to make the day special not commercial! thank you!

T E said...

I discovered your blog through another blog, The Broke-Ass Bride, and I really feel that you've reminded me of what I need to remember when I start planning a wedding ceremony with my husband. We're planning on doing a ceremony after purchasing a home later this year, and honestly, we don't know where to start exactly concerning the venue. Thanks for keeping up your blog!

Hello. said...

I adore everything you two did! What a wonderfully emotive and authentic experience! Wishing you so much happiness in your lives together! Thanks so much for this summary! OXO

Anonymous said...

I was reading some of the comments on here and had a question. Why in the hell would anyone that can afford a big elaborate wedding be reading a blog about a DIY wedding and commenting negatively about the tone of the blog? Why bring negative energy to someone that is just telling their story and their reasoning for conducting the wedding the way they did? I think that a little self-reflection is needed for these individuals. Don't let your guilt rain on someone's parade. As for the blog, love all the ideas! My fiance and I are going to be conducting a similar budget wedding after trying to plan a show and realizing that we probably would be separated before we even got to the wedding day. We will be referencing your blog quite often I am sure! Thanks for not being a bore!

JL Harris said...

What a great blog. My wife and I laughed and wish we could have been there to enjoy what seemed like a great wedding event. Congratulations!

Alicia Marie said...

I really enjoyed reading this story, it is very inspiring. However, I just wonder how much the guests had to pay to attend the wedding with both families from out of state. My finance and I decided to get married where we grew up because we would be the only ones traveling, not the whole guest list. I've attended weddings where it has cost me an arm and a leg, I didn't want to do that to our guests. We could have saved money by having the wedding where we currently reside, but decided to spend more money ourselves so our guests didn't have to be as burdened. I wonder if there are others out there who made the same decision we did? I am very grateful that this blog has reminded me to look at the big picutre.

MsFionaSmith said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog. This is exactly what I think a wedding should be about.
I really needed to see this, and greatly appreciate the effort you put into your vision.
Be well.

Laurel said...

Thank you so much for this post. I just got engaged under a week ago and was already getting worried about the budget. My fiancé and I are both in college and currently unemployed, but plan on getting jobs as soon as school is out, so I have been unsure of the amount of money we'll have available. I estimated that $2,000 would be reasonable for us, and I found your blog searching google for tips for planning a wedding in under $2,000. I found everything you said to be very insightful. I also would prefer a relaxed (but still elegant) wedding. Several years from now, it's the memories that will count. I'd rather remember it as being fun, relaxed, and meaningful, than being stressful and formal. Once again, thank you! I enjoyed reading this post.

Amber said...

I love your ideas! Especially the icebreaker - ask me about. I cam totally going to use this for our rehearsal!

Unknown said...

wow. Thank you!! I just starting the wedding planning process and this is exactly what I needed to read. It's a crazy wedding world out there and this is the best advice I've heard so far. Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! For the advice, the perspective, and the inspiration

Rachel said...

I just got engaged, and we're planning on doing pretty everything ourselves or with help from family/friends. My very talented best friend is making my dress and the bridesmaid dresses, I have a sister who works part-time as a florist who can get flowers from a wholesaler, my father is the minister... you get the idea. A beautiful, meaningful wedding is definitely doable on a small budget, and it's great to see other people doing it. The marriage is the important part; the wedding should be fun. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a wonderful and amazing day! Most of all it sounds like fun!

Anonymous said...

Sara, this post is absolutely amazing. I could really use a friend like you in my life right now. I'm not sure if you ever check back this way, but I wanted you to know that just like the hundreds of other comments: this is exactly my mind set and just exactly the type of wedding my fiance and I want to have. The entire post was so inspiring, relieving, and all-around amazing. My mind was blown, and your vows and ceremony format literally brought tears to my eyes. We are getting married sometime in May 2012, and I hope with the help of the guidance you've posted here I will be able to manage the warm, friendly, budget wedding of our dreams. This so so sooo much what we want. We want the wedding to screams our names and personalities, bring everyone together, and celebrate LOVE. Thanks so much again for all of your insight. - Chelisse

Kisha said...

Thank you so much for posting your story. I'm in the beginning stages of planning and I'm all ready stressed out! It is really a relief to hear that things can be done differently and successfully. You're pretty amazing :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Chelisse! I'm still here! You'll find lots of kindred spirits on this site and others. Wishing you the very best!

VanClar said...

Thank you! I really needed the reminder :-) . My budget in US works our to be roughly $3333. I know we can stick to it!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading about your wedding!! We are trying to accomplish many of the things you talked about with making the wedding more of a reunion and a time for fun and laughter. Your story was truly amazing and inspiring!!

Anonymous said...

I may have missed this but was your wedding space free? I don't see it included in your expenses (on the right) and I know that was the biggest expenditure for my wedding!

pampeacock said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I got engaged last year, and in the beginning my fiancee and I had a clear picture of how we wanted to get married; simple, sweet, inexpensive, quirky and non-traditional...a complete reflection of us. Now a year later, in finally starting to plan (after his brother's big-deal wedding) we were starting to feel overwhelmed and get pushed into the "supposed to" mentality. Reading this has really reaffirmed for both of us that we should and can do it in our own way, and that it will be beautiful. You have truly inspired me to stay true to what is meaningful to us. Thanks again and good luck in your life and your marriage.

Kayla said...

This is amazing and inspiring. I have many of the same views as you (there's no one to impress, it's about our love, we're keeping it simple). I just began to plan my wedding for next fall with a budget of $6000 which I thought was modest, but you proved a beautiful wedding can be accomplished for much less. I think I'm going to steal you dress idea. Thanks for the inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing all of this! Your priorities are exactly what we're looking for, but we were starting to get distracted by all the "wedding porn" out there. Thank you so much!!!

Anonymous said...

:*) you made me cry! i love y'alls LOVE STORY <3 have a HAPPY HAPPY life together forever & ever!

Total Traditionalist said...

Sara and Matt,

I must commend you for staying within your budget while making the day what you want it to be. In saying that, I must say that I couldn't even finish reading your entire blog because it all seemed just a bit too touchy-feely for me. Obviously that's your taste and I respect that, but I think I'll stick with my traditional wedding plans. I've only been to traditional weddings and I know the bride and groom were stress-free so I'm not too worried about it. Thanks for the ideas though!

Kay said...

I cannot believe my fiance found this blog a week before our wedding - if only we'd found it in the BEGINNING! You touched on so many of the "pressure points" that stressed and disappointed me throughout this process, and you even provided insight and solutions to many of them as well. I hope other brides benefit from your wisdom earlier than I did. Even though it's too late for our wedding, it still made me feel better to know that there is at least one other bride out there who would understand why we are using an iHome instead of a DJ, mini cupcakes instead of a traditional wedding cake/groom's cake, a friend for a photographer, and flowers crafted from recycled construction paper and tissue instead of real ones. I was really worn out from justifying our non-traditional choices to others, so this really recharged me. Thank you!

Eminet said...

Loved reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It made us feel like whatever we are planning can be done and we are not the only ones trying to do our special day in our own way. My fiancé and I are in the early stages of planning a wedding. We also want a weekend long weekend. So far trying to find the right place that fit our budget has been a challenge. Going through your expenses and trying to see how you did it, we noticed you have no lodging cost (some credit even). How did you do that? If you don’t mind sharing. Did your guest pay for their own lodging? Did you need to deposit some money ahead?
Thank you!!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks, Eminet! Here's a link to a post where I explained how we did it. I hope it helps! Please let me know if you have follow-up questions:


gRiSeL™ said...

OMG! What an inspiration your wedding story is!!! I want a wedding just like yours whenever my time to get married arrives. YES--weddings are a public celebration of love and commitment, not money or a show for guests to see. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!!! May GOD richly and abundantly bless you and your husband!!! :D

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed it somehow, but how many people did you have on your guest list??

Thanks!! :)

Chelsea said...

This is amazing! I'm going to echo gRiSeL: You are such an inspiration! I've been looking at wedding magazines and websites all over the place and I've been getting overwhelmed with all of the "important" details! While my partner and I are fortunate enough to have a bit larger budget, I am taking your advice about goals and values to heart. You have completely changed my perspective of what I want our wedding to look like.

I actually printed out this post and put it in the very front of my little planning folder with my favorite of your goals highlighted so I can keep reminding myself of what's important every time I jot down another idea.

Thank you for opening my eyes to what a wedding should really be about!

Anonymous said...

I found your wedding to be very inspirational! First off, it really captured what a wedding is about, the ceremony of two people who love each other and sharing that love with their loved ones! I am currently helping my sister plan her wedding and will forward some of this advice to her!
More than anything I enjoyed your tips, which help others do what you did and help celebrate the ceremony at its purest form. I liked how you said to start with the big picture and not the details. It reminds me of another wedding blog that I read that focused on the meaning behind a wedding. It shouldn’t be planned according to what others might want to see and influenced by what’s on TV. It should be what the bride and groom imagine their wedding to be like. It should solely be planned to their liking.
Which then links to your number 9 and making it happen. I completely agree with you and do letting parents or a budget prevent you from having the wedding you want. My sister is only having the civil wedding for now, but she still wants the princess dress. Our mom thinks she should have a simple dress for now and wait until she gets married in a church to have a lavish dress. My sister did not take my mom’s advice and is still getting the dress of her dreams for HER wedding. At the end of the day, she is old enough to know what she is doing and be making these decisions with her spouse.
Those tips were extremely helpful!

Lisa said...

I absolutely love this whole story. You two sound very similar to my fiancé and I. Thank you for sharing your story, not only for the tips, but because broken down into "goals" makes it (for me) much easier to adhere to. This is just brilliant. Thank you!!!!!

Eva said...

Congratulations on keeping your values and pulling off your dream wedding!

I totally agree, that the most important thing is to reflect yourself. The real meaning and value of the event will come from the love we put into it.

Thanks so much for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

I know it's been a few years since your beautiful wedding, but know what an impact your words and wisdom still carry! My fiancé and I are also planning a $2000 wedding celebration and I'm thrilled to see that we're not the only ones who don't want to be sucked into the "wedding industrial complex." Thank you so much for creating this page.

Anonymous said...

This entire time the wedding planning process has just felt so completely stale and now I know why. The last thing I want is another run-of-the-mill wedding. It's our day, our true beginning together and I want it to be special, memorable and to completely represent us.

You've given me the strength to stand up to my mother who has commandeered the guest list and is adamant about invited her 4th and 5th cousins whom I've met maybe once or twice in my life. You've given me the strength to go against to the conventional wedding standards and create a celebration that will be uniquely mine.

Seriously this post was like a breath of fresh air. So awesome and helpful!

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