June is here, and that means wedding season is in full swing! It seems more and more people I know are opting for non-traditional, casual weddings, but that could be my age – most of my friends are on their second or third marriage at this point, so they tend to be more laid back affairs these days. Having been down that road myself with one big traditional wedding and one family only ceremony under my belt, I have to say that there is something I love about a more casual relaxed event. Plus, with the average price tag for weddings my area being $20,000 to $30,000, you’ve got to consider what you could do with the cash if you take a more budget friendly route….like a down payment on a house or maybe world travel? I once hosted a small, very budget friendly backyard wedding on just 3 weeks notice, so I thought I would share my tips for pulling off a sweet and intimate ceremony that won’t break the bank.
Here’s how it went down:
An old friend of mine contacted me on Facebook. Marlana and I used to manage a ladies clothes store in the mall together in the late 1980’s when hair was big and permed, make up was bright and scary, and we all were wearing colored pantyhose to match our pumps and shiny little dresses.
(Yes, I’m grateful every single day this all occurred pre-internet and smart phones)
She ended up taking a transfer to Connecticut and I moved to Tennesee, then Illinois and Wisconsin with my son’s father. I eventually ended up back in Syracuse, and she and her family relocated to Georgia. We stayed in touch a bit on Facebook and one day she sent me a message asking about low key, budget friendly locations in Syracuse for an outdoor summer wedding. Her daughter Kiersten wanted to marry her girlfriend Abby which wasn’t legal in their home state of Georgia. It had recently become legal in New York, and since Marlana grew up here and they still some family and friends in the area they decided to have the ceremony up here and plan a bigger celebration with local friends at a later date.
We quickly dismissed the idea of having it one of the county parks because if it rained the day would be ruined. We looked into restaurants with outdoor areas, but were unable to find one with space available on such short notice. I had been posting a lot of photos of my recently completed deck and pergola and Marlana made a joke about how we should just have it on my patio. Eventually, we decided to do exactly that. Crazy, right?
I should also mention that the date fell the weekend after the NY State Blues Festival, which is an event I am heavily involved in planning and the day after a Margaritaville Beach party I was executing for one of my restaurant clients. This two week stretch ended up being a balls to the wall adrenaline fueled event planning bootcamp.
I switched into overdrive getting the garden and house ready. Entertaining is easy, but the tough part was that didn’t know much about either of the brides. I quizzed Marlana a bit, but ended up just trying to make it all look as pretty as possible.
(Please excuse these photos – they were taken with my old iPhone)
The first thing I did was drape my garden arch with some burlap that I had leftover from one of my projects.
I thought it would be pretty to have the ceremony itself at the arch on the steps, so I hung a vintage chandelier with candles and crystals at the highest point. The chandelier came from my mom’s house when she moved and I still had it stashed in my attic for just such an occasion.
I went to the farmer’s market the day before the wedding and found some fabulous wildflower bouquets for just a few dollars each and bought about 10 of them. I picked up a case of mason jars and wrapped some wire around the openings to make a handle and I hung them around the perimeter of the patio on mini shepherds hooks that I already had.
I had recently installed my old door fence across the chain link fence in the back, so I added a “Love” sign and draped some clear bulbs across the doors and along the perimeter of the patio. It was perfect!
I have a potting table in the back with a chicken wire frame mounted on the side of my neighbors garage that I normally hang small tools from.
I put the tools away and clipped photos of the girls up with simple clothespins.
For seating, I collected all the random wooden chairs from inside my house and some of my outdoor chairs and arranged them on the patio with an aisle down the middle. We were expecting around 30 people, and I ended up having plenty of seating. I also put a few small tables in the mix so that people had somewhere to set their drinks down.
Inside the house, I spread fresh flower arrangements and candles around in every room.
The one thing I was really worried about was a Plan B in case of rain. I have a very small house and I didn’t have any obvious spots that would be right to hold the ceremony. I finally decided to do it in front of my fireplace if it came to that. The only catch is that my TV is mounted above the mantle, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than having an ugly old wall mounted TV in the wedding pictures.
Eventually, I came up with this solution:
I wrapped the TV in burlap and spray painted some cardboard initials from the craft store which I then hung from the top with lace ribbon. It was a little odd, but I figured it was better than the alternative.
For the food I did my Epic Make Your Own Taco Bar, which a never fail crowd pleasing party option – chipotle shredded beef, chicken verde, homemade guacamole, pineapple mango salsa, jalapeno cornbread, chipotle crema, roasted potatoes, Mexican street corn salad, beans & rice and assorted cheese, salsas and tortillas.
The girls ordered a fun cake from a friend of mine:
For cocktails I made a big batch of sangria with fresh berries and citrus and of course I had some non-alcoholic options available too.
My awesome friend Karin Jean is an ordained minister, so I put the girls in touch with her to perform the ceremony.
Fun Fact: By day Karin Jean is a licensed body waxer, she takes care of my eyebrows and other unfortunate facial hair issues for me. 😉
It ended up being a great day! We had a little rain come through in the morning, but it was all cleared up by the time everyone arrived.
I spent about $250 on food and booze and another $100 or so on flowers, plants and other supplies. Even if you throw the cake in it came in under $500 for the whole thing.
Thinking about hosting a wedding at your house? Don’t be scared!
10 Tips for a Budget Friendly Backyard Wedding
- If you have a choice in the date, try to pick one that takes advantage of the time when your outside space looks it’s best. This wedding happened to be at the end of July, so there were a lot of things blooming in the garden and everything was in pretty good shape. If it had been toward the end of the summer my plants would have been looking a little rough and ragged and making it look nice would have been waaaaaay more of a struggle.
- Speaking of plants – flowers and plants are your best friends for a home wedding. Scope out your local farmers market a few weeks ahead of time for the best looking flowers at the best prices. I lucked out and found mine without planning ahead, but a lot of farmers will take orders so you can be sure to have enough. All the cut flowers I used came from the market and the grocery store, but I also used a lot of potted plants. I picked up lush, flowering baskets and used them wherever I could outside. They looked great for the wedding, and I knew I would be able to enjoy them for the rest of the summer. All the vases and containers came from thrift stores.
- If your event is going into the evening, adding candles inside and draping strings of lights outside will look magical for very little money.
- Choose a non-fussy menu that can be made ahead of time. My taco bar fits the bill perfectly, and people go absolutely crazy over it. You don’t want to be chained to the stove during the event, plus “make your own” bars are always more fun. I set up my bar area to be self serve too, with sangria, beer and dispensers of water and lemonade.
- Work with what you have. I utilized the features I already had in my patio area to make some cute little spots for photos. Do you have water feature, a graceful old tree or maybe a terrific view you can take advantage of? Walk around and take an inventory of what you’re working with.
- Think about how you’re going to handle parking. Be sure to tell your guests if there are any rules for parking on the street in your area, like the odd/even parking in effect on my city street.
- Don’t forget to stock up the bathroom. Pile lots of extra TP in a basket so that nobody panics and has to figure out where it’s hidden in a strange house.
- If you don’t have enough seating or tables, try to borrow what you need rather than renting. A friend of mine got married recently and she wanted mismatched wood chairs for her 125ish guests. She couldn’t find enough to rent (not to mention the expense), so I suggested she borrow them all. After all, I was able to come up with over 30 without breaking a sweat. Friends and family were happy to help, and it brought her chair rental expense down to zero – plus, it looked absolutely fabulous.
- Get all your deep cleaning done well in advance and put up your decor at least a couple of days ahead of time. It will make for a less stressful day, plus if there are any last minute adjustments you’ll have time to deal with it.
- Don’t do it alone! Because I was tied up the day before with my Margaritaville party, I was behind on prep the day of the event and starting to panic. I called my old housemate Mike to help me out and he was kind enough to jump in for a few hours and get me back on track. I should have been realistic and just scheduled him in the first place. I got my son to come over too, and he stood on the front porch to direct people around to the back and answer parking questions. I also had him remove the rows of chairs immediately after the ceremony and replace them with the patio conversational seating groups that I normally have out there.
If you are planning to hold your own wedding at home, I would emphasis #10 even more – make sure you get people to help you out so that you’re not worrying about the buffet table or making sure your guests have drinks when you should be enjoying your day. Even if you prep everything yourself, you’ll need a few sets of hands the day of to keep everything stocked, and you’re definitely not going to want to clean up the leftover food and sticky floors on your first day as a married couple.
So what do you think? Would you host a wedding at YOUR house?