One year later: On Being the Bride, Photography, and Planning a Wedding for Under 10k.

Quick note, the photos in this post are not by me, they are of me, by our amazing wedding photographer Gabe Aceves.

This weekend my husband and I will be heading out to Western Michigan to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we were in our backyard with 85 of the people we love most in the world, exchanging vows, crying like babies, chowing down on pizza, and dancing the night away. Our wedding day was one of the most amazing days I’ve ever had, and I’ve never felt so loved and cared for by the people in my life as I did in the weeks leading up to it.

Being the bride was something I had been nervous about from day one. Because I work in the wedding industry, people had high expectations for our wedding. In the weeks after our engagement, I can’t count the number of times people said to me “I bet you’re going to have an awesome wedding because of your job! I bet you know exactly what you want.” The pressure was on, and being a chronic perfectionist and over achiever, I began to stress about not being able to live up to the hype. I had no idea what I wanted. I didn’t even have a vision, yet alone a way to make it come to life. The only thing we knew was that we wanted to get married at our home, which also happens to be the home where my grandparents raised my father and his siblings, and that I wanted to spend the most out of our budget on photography.

It wasn’t until we were lying in bed one night, discussing ring bearers, that Mike made a joke, and a vision was born. “Instead of ring bearers, they should be Ring Bears, with little ears and noses.” I immediately responded “I know you’re joking, but we’re doing that.” The circus wedding was born in that moment. That summer, Mike and his Dad set to work painting our old wood house, and getting it in shape for the wedding, and I began figuring out how to have a beautiful wedding, that our guests, would enjoy on a 9k budget.

Being in the wedding industry, I see a lot of articles on how to have a fabulous wedding on under 10K. They almost all include this gem of advice: If you have a relative with a nice camera who takes good pictures, see if they will do it as a wedding gift. It’s hard for me to read these words and not roll my eyes as my pulse starts to quicken. More than once, I’ve had inquiring brides tell me they’ve decided to go with a friend who wants to get into wedding photography, only to have them email me back a month after the wedding, regretting that decision. I never say I told you so, I only say I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how sad I would feel if I looked back on my wedding photographs and felt they didn’t accurately and artfully document that day in my life. It IS possible to have a wedding on under 10k and not scrimp on photography. My wedding costs us 9k, and over a third of that was spent on our photographer, and my wedding was pretty damn beautiful if I say so myself.

Obviously, I’m biased, but I think photography is the one area of the wedding day you can’t scrimp on. In 20 years, your guests aren’t going to remember (or care about) what you fed them. The invitations you sent out will be biodegrading at the bottom of landfills around your state. Even your dress will probably be sitting in a box in the back of a closet, only to come out when your future daughters want to play dress up.

In my opinion, you can’t afford to scrimp on photography. I know this may sound self serving, given I’m in the business of making money from photography, but I believe in my heart of hearts that I would feel this way even with another career. The value we got out of making photography a priority in our budget is immeasurable. Gabe did so much more than document our day. Having Gabe there was like suddenly finding myself with an extra cousin, he fit right in, from having a homebrew with my father in law to playing volleyball with my cousins at our rehearsal dinner. But Gabe was so much more than just a pleasure to wok with. It might be hard to believe based on the photos in this post, but I don’t consider myself the most photogenic person. Gabe took some of the first photographs of me in my life where I feel I look flawless and beautiful. His demeanor helped Mike and I to feel so comfortable in front of him, and as a result, we have photos that are not only beautiful, but also represent us. He took so much care documenting my family and friends who were there that day, which I know will be a blessing to me as I grow older. I know a day will come, hopefully very very far in the future, where the photograph he took of my father and I dancing and laughing to My Girl will mean more to me than anything I own. That’s what good photography does for people. It doesn’t lose value over time, it gains it. It helps you remember the faces of the people you love most in a time when you need that the most. Good photographs are there for you when you’re missing someone, or when you’re feeling down, or when you’ve got spit up from a 5 month old in your hair and just need to remember, for a moment, that there was a time when you were glamorous and perfect.

So how did we do it? How did we spend a third of our 9k budget on photography and still manage to have an amazing event? If you’re planning a wedding, read on. Here’s my list of real tips for brides on a budget who want to make photography a priority.

1. The guest list: I didn’t want to meet anyone new on the day of my wedding. I wanted every face I looked at to be a face that I know well, and love. For us, that meant we only had about 85 people at our wedding. 85 of our favorite people.
2. The Venue: This is a huge one, find a space, in your budget, that is already beautiful, so you don’t have to spend a ton of money putting lipstick on a pig. This could mean an involved search, but it’s worth it. I’m partial to backyard weddings, obviously.
3. Your friends and family members are creative: Do you see all those amazing hats my bridesmaids and myself are wearing in those photos? They look incredible, right? Well, they didn’t cost me anything. My sister made all of them as a wedding gift, and they are one of my favorite personal touches from the wedding day. See that awesome ringleader in the red coat and tophat officiating our wedding? That’s my brother in law, a former performer, who logged onto the internet, got ordained, and performed a marriage ceremony that, to this day, my friends and family members still talk about. See those beautiful bridesmaids, in the purple and green? Those are my cousins, who sang a beautiful song during the ceremony. See the amazing lights strung through the reception and the big top over the dance floor? My dad, brother, and my uncle threw that together the morning of my wedding with nothing more than some lights from Target, some zip ties, and some poles. My advice to you is to look at the people you love, and see them for the talents they possess, and then exploit them… nicely. Say please and stuff.
4. You are creative: Ask yourself what you’re good at and how you can use that in your wedding. For me, I designed the invitations (complete with kissing booth tickets). I also did the flowers myself, with help from my cousin and bridesmaid, Cheyenne. My wedding flowers are still my favorite wedding flowers I’ve ever seen. I apologize to my brides and clients who might be reading this, but none of you have been able to top them, yet. Take that as a challenge, if you will.
5. People don’t care how much you spent on food, so long as it’s tasty:. We have a great Italian restaurant in our town that does amazing gourmet pizzas. We fed 85 people on $600 dollars, and the pizzas had yummy ingredients like fresh basil, eggplant, housemade chorizo, and artichokes. We even had gluten free and veggie options within that budget. I’ll take that over buffet chicken that’s been sitting over a sterno for an hour at $25 a head.
6. People don’t care how much you spent on booze, so long as gets them drunk: I’m lucky enough to have married into a family with a strong tradition of home brewing. Through a series of clever conversations, I managed to get my father in law to come to the realization that the only sensible solution for alcohol at the wedding was for him to brew all the beer. This is what I wanted all along, but I managed to make my father in law feel like it was his idea. You might call this manipulation. I call it strategy. Think outside of the barbiturate box. After three drinks, none of your guests are going to care that the bar isn’t stocked with their favorite brand of rum.
7. Clothing matters: One thing Mike and I both believed going into our wedding, was that we wanted it to be as easy as possible for our bridal party to be a part of the day. “Grey pants, white Dress Shirt, we’ll supply the tie and you can wear whatever shoes you want.” That was all we told our groomsmen. The ladies were given a color and told to find a knee length, A-Line dress in it, and an animal print, and told to find a pair of shoes in it. Everyone was able to make their own decision if they were going to splurge or save when it came to what they wore on our wedding day. Mike’s suit was something we agonized over; I think I may be pickier about groom attire than I am about wedding dresses. Finally, we found a suit from ASOS. Throw in a nice J Crew gingham shirt, and Mike was dressed for well under $200.
8. Personal touches save you money: We’ve all been there. You’re surfing pinterest late at night and you come across a beautifully detailed wedding with personal touches galore and you think “I hate those people.” The wedding looks extravagant, and expensive, and more importantly, financially unattainable. Well, if you saw my wedding on Pinterest, you’d probably feel it was unattainable, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s not. People think the personal touches cost more money, but they actually save you money. When you have a limited amount of money to work with, you’re forced to get creative and personal, rather than just throwing your money at a florist and saying “Do your thing.” For example, the ticket table runners at my wedding worked in perfectly with the theme, and cost… $12
9. Know your crowd, and know yourselves: This is my last bit of advice. In the end, a wedding is a celebration, and it should feel like one. Mike and I worked hard to make a wedding that we knew that we, and our guests would love being a part of. We wanted to give our guests a good time, and more importantly, not bore them. So many people came up to us at the end of the night saying how our wedding day had made them feel like a kid again. Hearing that from our friends and family let me know I had accomplished my mission. I had lived up to the hype. And all for under 10k

With all that being said, here is our wedding, lovingly made by family and friends and beauitfully captured by Gabe Aceves.

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  • Awesome post Heather. And ofcourse amazing photos of your wedding!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • this post is so so great. and I LOVE YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS! ahhh! such a great wedding, it looks like it was amazing!

  • This is a very cool wedding. Love the shot jumping in the lake with the dog – genius!! Brilliant

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