My first date with Tom was like coming home after a long, arduous trip. We hadn’t seen each other for more than 13 years, yet when I walked into the restaurant and saw him sitting there, I instantly realized how much I had missed having him in my life.
We first met when I was in college—I was dating a friend of his at the time. I liked Tom right away, and for the next few years we were fast friends. Then my relationship with his friend ended, and Tom and I lost touch. Thirteen years later, Facebook brought us together again.
I was living in Madison. Tom was in Neenah. We exchanged emails for a couple of months to get caught up on each other’s lives—which had grown in amazingly similar directions. One day Tom called to say he was coming to Madison and asked if I’d like to meet him for a drink. That was our first date, in September 2008. Six months later, he moved to Madison. Six months after that, we were engaged.
Almost immediately, our families wanted to know our wedding plans.
At that time our “plans” were to go to the courthouse, get hitched, and head home. We were excited about getting married, but the actual wedding just wasn’t a big deal to us. When we shared our courthouse idea with our families, however, it was apparent that our wedding was a big deal to them. They were disappointed we were considering getting married without them.
Peculiar Girl readers should know I never advocate doing something just because others say you should. In this case, though, our families’ desire to share in our wedding day gave us reason to take pause and think about what was most important to us.
We decided we were taking the easy way out.
A courthouse wedding with just the two of us meant we could avoid issues that could potentially cause conflict with some family members—like not having a church wedding, not serving meat, yada yada. Plus, we realized we were being a bit selfish keeping the whole celebration to ourselves.
After talking about it further, we realized that having our families there would make our wedding day more special. And if we were creative, we could plan something memorable and personal without breaking the bank. The total cost of our 30-guest family wedding came in at just under $2,000 (not including our rings). Here’s how we did it…
We made a list of the things that really mattered.
We questioned everything. Most of the weddings we’ve been to included bridesmaids and groomsmen, floral bouquets and arrangements, a professional photographer, wedding favors, open bar, a tiered cake, and a dance reception with a DJ or live band. Did we really need all of those things?
For us, the answer was no. We just wanted to have a simple ceremony and share a nice meal with our families. Instead of spending money on expensive flowers, cake, and photography, we could put more money toward a fantastic honeymoon, and we wouldn’t have to come home to a pile of bills.
A vegan menu was a must, so we started by talking to caterers.
Having a vegan reception was something we wouldn’t compromise on. Many caterers I talked to weren’t comfortable designing a vegan menu, so I started asking our favorite restaurants about catering services. Teresa Pullara of Bunky’s Café, a delightfully eclectic Italian and Mediterranean restaurant, was up to the challenge of creating a menu for our wedding. And since Bunky’s has a separate room for private parties, we decided to have our wedding and reception there.
A lot of people assume vegan food consists of little more than tofu and sprouts, so we challenged Teresa to design a menu that was so tasty that no one would even realize it was vegan. As an added bonus, Bunky’s pastry chef has experience baking vegan cakes so I didn’t have to do an extra search for a vegan baker.
It was Teresa’s brilliant idea to do a made-to-order pasta bar for the entrée. Guests could choose their pasta, sauce, and veggie toppings, and the chefs would sauté it up on the spot. It was fun, and delicious… the guests loved it.
We opted for a luncheon reception to keep the alcohol costs down. Here’s our complete wedding menu:
Hummus and pita
Tomato and olive bruschetta
Stuffed grape leaves
Made-to-order pasta bar featuring fresh vegetable toppings including Portobello mushrooms, bell peppers, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, and garlic.
Chocolate vegan cupcakes
Unlike many wedding venues, Bunky’s doesn’t charge guests to rent the party room. We paid only for food and beverages, plus tips for the servers. This was biggest chunk of our budget. Food and wine came to just over $600, and the cupcakes were around $100.
I’m so lucky to have so many creative friends.
My friend Martha is a talented graphic designer. She created the perfect wedding invitations for us. Bunky’s party room is decorated with tons of funky stuff from the 1950s and ‘60s. I wanted our invitations to give the guests a feel for the venue. Here’s what she came up with:
Since we needed so few invitations (19), paying a friend to design custom invites cost far less than ordering them online or from a stationery store.
Martha also designed our Save the Date cards, RSVP cards, and thank-you cards with the same look and feel as the invites. I had everything printed at a local print cooperative for less than $40. Postage cost around $30 including stamps for the outer envelope, RSVP envelope, and thank-you cards.
Next up: what to wear?
Did you know that the white wedding gown was originally a symbol of wealth, and not of purity, as many believe today? Prior to the invention of washing machines, white was the most impractical color for a garment, as it was nearly impossible to keep clean. Wearing a white dress made it clear to guests that the bride’s family was wealthy enough to afford a dress that would only be worn once.
When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, she wore an extravagant white wedding gown. In those days, many took their fashion cues from royalty, much like we do with celebrities today. Still, only the wealthiest of families could afford to splurge on white wedding gowns for their daughters.
In 1920, Coco Chanel introduced a knee-length white wedding dress that cemented white as the universal color of the wedding dress for many women in the Europe and the U.S.
I found a beautiful, informal wedding dress at a resale shop for $60. I wore shoes that I already owned and bought some fantastic vintage earrings on eBay for $8.99. (It cost me an additional $20 to have a local jeweler convert them from clip-on to pierced.) I also bought a few inexpensive sparkly hairpins from Hobby Lobby.
Tom wore a charcoal suit that he already owned, but we bought a crisp white shirt and a new tie for the occasion.
For the ceremony, we wanted something very personal.
We wanted a civil ceremony but beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to look for in an officiant. I searched the online listings for officiants in our area, but I didn’t find anyone that really resonated with me.
I expressed my frustration to a friend, and she suggested I call Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s office. The Chief Justice had officiated their ceremony, but I assumed it had been a personal favor because the groom was an attorney. It turns out that the chief justice enjoys performing weddings and considers it part of her civic duty. I called her office and found out she was available on our wedding date. She agreed to do the ceremony, and she was open to us providing a custom ceremony script.
Because of her position as a Wisconsin Supreme Court judge, the chief justice is not allowed to accept compensation of any kind. So, not only did we get a prominent Wisconsin figure to officiate our wedding, but she did a fantastic job, and she did it for free!
We had the officiant, but what was our ceremony going to entail?
Tom and I are both writers, but crafting a wedding ceremony turned out to be harder than we expected. I found examples online of what other couples had done, and we used them to help us create a ceremony that reflected our individual personalities.
Tom belongs to a Zen Buddhist meditation group, so we included this reading from the Buddhist Marriage Homily:
To say the words “love” and “compassion” is easy. But to accept that love and compassion are built upon patience and perseverance is not easy. Your marriage will be firm and lasting if you remember this.
One of my favorite parts of our ceremony was the exchange of rings, where we exchanged these words:
I give you this ring as a symbol of my love
And as a reminder that I have chosen you
To be the one to share my life.
It was a short ceremony, but I loved the way it turned out. We did a few other unconventional things, such as walking down the aisle together.
We also chose unconventional music for the ceremony. Our processional song was “Moon River,” and for the recessional Tom chose “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates. It’s such a fun song and helped set a light, happy mood for the reception.
A few family members helped us with music and photography.
Our niece and her boyfriend are accomplished violinists, so we asked them to perform our ceremony music. They did an amazing job, for the cost of some sheet music and a little extra for their trouble. For the reception, we burned a few CDs worth of music from our iTunes libraries and had the restaurant play them on shuffle.
We would have been happy with a few decent candid shots captured by our guests but my sister-in-law, who is an avid hobby photographer, stepped up and offered to be the official photographer for FREE. She got some amazing photographs of our special day, and we are so, so grateful for her generosity. Check out our wedding album on Flickr.
The venue was so colorful; we didn’t need to spend anything on decorations.
Since Bunky’s party room is so wonderfully appointed with vintage kitsch, we hardly needed to do anything to make it feel like a wedding. Teresa set the tables with the restaurant’s colorful vintage linens and china. All I did was spend a few dollars on some small potted herbs that made the room smell amazing, and were available afterwards for guests to take home.
If we had it to do over, we wouldn’t change a thing.
We had an absolute blast at our wedding. The ceremony was touching; the food was amazing, and having our families there just added to the joyousness of the day. I’m really proud of the special, personalized celebration we created. Some couples spend more on the bridal gown than we spent on our entire wedding.
If you’re currently planning your “dream” wedding, ask yourself this. Whose dream is it, really? The wedding industry spends billions of dollars annually to help ensure that your wedding includes their products. You don’t have to do it their way. If you want to so something different, go for it!
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