Last year, we got married in the Bay Area. It took a solid month of planning plus 6 months of lead time, but it all came together in the end. I thought it’d be fun to share our planning and the thought process behind it, as I solidly stalked r/weddingplanning and A Practical Wedding while planning ours, and loved reading other peoples’ budgets.
Originally, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to have a wedding or not. It seemed like a big big hassle to do all that planning. A nice dinner or something casual with friends sounded just as good! But my partner had a more traditional wedding in mind, so after discussion one night over dinner, we decided to go for the whole shebang. Funny, right? Seems like the opposite of typical gender roles.
Unfortunately, for the planning part, we did fall into typical gender roles where I did bulk of the work. I do enjoy planning things, and S’s strengths in general are not in organization, but… it’s still kinda unfair.
Anyway! I went into planning mode and started reading up on things. There are so so so many tips out there on how to plan, how to save money, how to make perfect Instagrammable DIYs, and so on. I’m not a very fancy person and wanted to skip some of the unimportant stuff (to me), but I did want to have a nice, reasonably upscale party to celebrate with family and friends. I value my time and definitely didn’t want to do crazy DIYs or turn into a complete frugal-saur! I think we mostly ended up with the right balance of fancy and frugal, although there were inevitably things I would’ve done differently in hindsight.
So I’ll basically walk through the planning process, starting from the big ticket items and moving to smaller. If you want to skip to the end, there’s a budget overview.
Location, Location, Location
This was a really tough one for us! Both of us grew up outside the US, I went to school on the east coast, S went to school on the west coast, and we were both working on the west coast by then, but in different locations. So our friends and family were basically scattered around everywhere. We settled on having the wedding in the Bay Area, basically to make it most convenient for most of our friends. Guests come first, right? 🙂
In terms of actually picking a location, I researched a bunch of locations in the Bay Area (ugh, it’s so pricey out there), and they ranged from $2000-5000 for just the site. Then one day I was randomly clicking around one of the state park websites, which is a really popular location due to it being $2300, but because of that is typically booked up a year in advance. And I randomly found a Sunday daytime opening from someone’s cancellation! Reserve, stat.
It was actually really nice having a daytime wedding. It gave it a more casual, fun feeling. It was also more convenient for people who wanted to explore the city afterward, or who had to fly back to the east coast for work on Monday.
I suppose a restaurant was also another option, but I wanted some of the pageantry and fanciness of a traditional wedding ceremony and reception 🙂
Worth it? Yes! Except it was abnormally hot that day, and the venue didn’t have AC. Free sauna, woot. Mother Nature wins again.
Number of Guests + Food
The more the merrier! We were actually worried about not enough people being able to make it because everyone was scattered around the country. So we basically invited everyone reasonable, and about half of them (91) were able to make it. About 15 of them flew from across the country, which really blew me away and made me feel like they really valued our friendship 🙂
After setting the guestlist, picking the caterer was actually pretty easy. The venue had a list of allowed caterers, and their quotes were about the same for the amount of food we wanted. Not much brainpower required here! They were full service (handled setup, teardown, and service), and even included a cake, which made life easy. Fewer choices = better, in my opinion.
Cost: 91 guests * $100/person for food (including setup, teardown, service) = $9100
Worth it? Yep. Full service catering = no mess, no worries.
I honestly knew nothing about photography, but a lot of people told me that photography is the one thing that’s worth it, since that’s the one “souvenir” you get after the wedding (apart from your spouse 😛 ) After browsing a ton of websites, I started to get an idea of what style I wanted (more natural/quirky, not the washed out boho style that seems all the rage now). I got a bunch of quotes ranging from $1500-$5000. Ouch!
A lot of those online tips recommend asking a friend to take photographs. Buuut I feel like that could be a lot of burden on your friends, unless they’re extremely enthusiastic about photography and volunteer themselves. There are tons of amateur photographers out there, but I could see the difference in the composition when I looked at their sample photos. I’m perfectly happy to pay for an experienced photographer! In my opinion, anyone worth their salt should be charging for it (but the opposite is not true – an expensive photographer does not guarantee good quality). I found out later that the photographer we picked actually had a B.A. in photojournalism, which made sense.
Cost: $3800 for 2 photographers for 8 hours
Worth it? Bay Area inflation strikes again, sigh. But the pictures turned out fantastic, so I consider it worth it.
Hair and Makeup
I don’t wear a lot of makeup normally (concealer and blush), so I’m not very confident about makeup. I didn’t want to worry about my makeup coming off during the day, so I thought it’d be better to rely on an expert. I searched online and found a great, albeit pricey, lady who was experienced with Asian makeup. Also, as a treat, I had her associates do the hair and makeup of my bridesmaids, my mom, and my mother-in-law. Since the wedding was in the daytime, they had to show up at our house at the crack of dawn to get everyone ready.
Cost: $250 for a trial, $400 day of, plus 5 people * $200 per person = $1650 for everyone.
Worth it? Ehh…. I probably regret this one the most. I could’ve experimented more in the months beforehand (and it would’ve been fun!) and done my own makeup. But I enjoyed treating the ladies in the family.
I guess I’m kinda weird, because I don’t really like flowers at home in normal circumstances. Mostly because I don’t like when they start looking all droopy, and then they dry out and I have to throw them away
But I did want to have nice flowers for the photos… I like things looking pretty, ok 😛 A lot of people seem to DIY their flowers, but that’s not really my jam. Especially because flowers have a time dependency. You can’t arrange them a month before (unless you’re doing paper flowers, which I didn’t like the look of). I didn’t want to get stressed out poking my fingers with flowers and pins the night before the wedding.
So after ruling out DIY, I looked into pre-arranged options. Costco had some pretty decent shipped flowers, but the designs were more plain (e.g., 1-2 types of flowers). The ones at the grocery store were fine, but they looked more casual, like you just grabbed them from your garden. I guess I’m pickier than I thought. You pay for quality, right?
We ended up getting the less important flowers (the table centerpieces) in-store from Costco, and the more important flowers (things that were held/worn and would appear in photos) at a florist.
Cost: $580 at a florist (1 bridal bouquet, 4 bridesmaids bouquets, 6 boutonnieres, 2 pin corsages) + 12 centerpieces * $20/centerpiece = $820
Worth it? I think this was a good balance of frugal-ing out on the guests’ flowers and fancy-ing out on the flowers for ourselves and for the photos.
Ok, this one is kinda unusual, but I’m a big fan of lion dance (I used to be part of a club during uni!). So I really really wanted lion dance to come to our wedding! I did a whole bunch of research online (reaction from my partner: STOP IT with the drumming videos), found a group in Chinatown, and contacted them. Communication was pretty sketchy, but I figured that’s how I knew they would be legit old-school 🙂 And they showed up and did an amazing job! Especially in the brutal heat, those lion pants are really hot (from personal experience).
Worth it? YES. About 10 performers showed up and they had instruments, acrobatics, and props. I wasn’t sure how the guests would react, since most of them weren’t very familiar with lion dance, but people seemed to enjoy the acrobatics.
- Giant heads: One of my favorite things was these giant cutouts of me and my partner’s heads (Build-A-Head). The guests took instant photos of themselves with the giant heads and pasted them into the guestbook. It was super fun, and looking through the guestbook now makes me crack up real hard.
- Signs: I made the signs in Adobe Illustrator, then printed them at Costco (I swear I’m only marginally obsessed with Costco). We put them in frames and stood them around the venue. And now they grace our home walls as a nice memento of our wedding day 🙂
Cost: $50 for the guestbook, $25 to print the signs
Worth it? These DIYs were worth it because they could be prepared way in advance, required minimal setup the day of, and are in our house now and make me smile.
I’ve been a bridesmaid once before, and I never wore that dress again (I actually donated it… shh, don’t tell). It just doesn’t happen, people! So for our wedding, I wasn’t initially going to have bridesmaids, but at the last minute, I changed my mind. Luckily, the girls already had bought pretty similar dresses in a pastel color scheme, so it worked out fine. With their bouquets, I think they looked pretty unified in the photos, don’t you?
Housing and Pre-Party
Getting a huge house to put my family in was one of the best decisions we made. Since our families were flying in, we had to put them somewhere, and S only had one-bedroom apartment at the time. AirBnB to the rescue! I found this awesome house with 4 bedrooms where everyone could stay together. It was was even designed by a famous architect, Julia Morgan, who did Hearst Castle. It was great to spend more time with family, made coordination between people much easier, and was a gorgeous photo backdrop for the “getting ready” photos.
We also used the house to skip the rehearsal dinner and have a casual house party for all our friends the night before the wedding. We loaded up two full shopping carts of food at Costco and invited everyone over. It was awesome to spend more time with them, as the wedding day itself was a whirlwind!
Cost: $500/night x 4 nights = $2000 <– what we did
Worth it? 100%. Having more time with family and friends from near and far = priceless.
The total cost was… dum dum dum… $26k (not including housing or rings). S had been working for a few years, and I had been working for about a year, so we had enough savings for this. We paid for it out of our own pocket, and our family actually gave us about half of it back as a gift. It’s probably super gauche to say this, but if you’re curious, we received about $1000 in cash gifts and $1500 worth of gifts from our Amazon registry.
It was a blast overall! Although it’s a huge chunk of money to spend, it was incredible seeing everyone together (and also slightly nerve-wracking, if I may be honest, to see if people could gel together). If there’s one big thing I regret, it was not having enough time, especially to hang out with our out-of-town guests. We only had a 7 hour time slot for the setup + ceremony + reception + teardown, so it was kinda rushed. The pre-party helped, but there were still so many people to talk too. Plus half your time is basically spent taking photos (it felt like we were a tourist attraction, lol). A good alternative to spend more time together (if I were to do it again? 😉 ) might’ve been a destination wedding or at least more weekend activities.
How do you feel about blowing a big wad of cash on a wedding? I’m still somewhat torn, although it was fun. Are there things you would save/splurge on?