Monday, July 11, 2011

How to throw a cheap and fun wedding in New York City part 1

Wedding price tag is a choice

Word on the street is it is really hard to throw a budget wedding in New York City. That just isn't so. It's hard to throw 120 person wedding at the Pierre on a budget. It's really easy to organize a fun and inexpensive wedding in Manhattan - it's just a matter of ditching what the wedding mags have nailed into you, using common sense and embracing the unique opportunities the city has to offer.

The average wedding here costs 50K+. You can get married here for $35. A 50K wedding is a choice.

I really dislike weddings

Before I get into the nitty gritty I should say a couple of things. I strongly dislike weddings. When I was a kid loved them - then I went to a spate of weddings, one after the other when I was fresh out of college. Then another spate in my mid-twenties, including my first. All but one of these events was a grand affair, in a hotel or museum or historical house. The invites all came on pearlized white stationary. Every couple registered for the same pricey stoneware. Every single one served chicken. Each one drove me closer to financial misery (particularly my own) and they all blurred together. I was happy for my friends, but debt-ridden and stressed.

By the time my own marriage was kaput, the highly commercialized nature of weddings made the institution of marriage look deeply false. My own looks-like-40K but cost 20K was looking like the biggest mismanagement of funds in early 00s.....and that's up against some pretty stiff competition.

Realizing what is important and inherently likeable about weddings

It wasn't until my brother's wedding a few years ago that I remembered why I liked weddings as a little kid. It's a special party that celebrates something new and something happy. When I was a kid the last thing I thought about was the food, flower arrangements, bride's dress or how many attendants there were. Actually, I generally didn't like the dresses or flowers or music. A few of the weddings I attended back then were self-catered or pot-luck. None of that mattered to me. What mattered was that something exciting had just happened and my family was having a great time.

That was the attitude my now-husband and I decided to import to our own wedding.

What we wanted

Fun, inexpensive, fancy house party-like atmosphere with family and friends who were happy for us. We settled on 60 of our nearest and dearest. No political invites. No families either one of us had yet to meet. We invited the people who send us Christmas cards and who visit us in the hospital. We wanted old friends to meet, families to bond and for everyone to walk away with a positive impression of New York City.

We didn't want a dime to come from our parents....we are in our 30s for crying out loud.

Problems we faced

Very few - with the exception of unrelenting and increasingly intense pressure from a few family members to hold a wedding well beyond the combined incomes of the bride, groom and parents and possibly a few aunts and uncles thrown in too.

"You have to have a band". "You must have it in a club or a grand hotel". "You must hire a valet service"

We took this sort of behaviour with a grain of salt. We chose to view this pressure as a fundamental difference in priorities and attitude, and ultimately meaningless and short term in nature.

The budget

We initially tried to organize a wedding for $2000. This is possible. We did figure out a few restaurant-based scenarios where this budget would work (Thursday afternoon wedding), but almost immediately we ran into a few conflicts with the schedules of immediate family members. By moving the wedding to a Saturday (Friday and Saturday weddings cost the same amount of cash here), and given a few of our limitations (no friends or family had adequate space to lend; wherever we held it had to be wheelchair accessible) we upped our budget to the 5-8K arena.

Our process

Keep it simple. Keep it fun. Use your head, not wedding wedding magazines.

The break down

Timeline: We started to plan the wedding at the end of December. We got married in May. Despite having to leave town repeatedly for work, five months was more than enough time. Other than booking the restaurant early, we could have probably pulled the whole thing together in under two months.

Venue - $0

We had so much fun finding a venue. My husband and I basically restaurant hopped over the course of 3 weekends in January. I used a database of restaurants in the city (like menupages and NYMag) and searched for the terms "romantic" and "$ out of $" and developed a list of 50 restaurants in our desired locations. We ruled out all restaurants that didn't respond to emails or phone calls immediately. That left us without 30. We then ruled out anything that was far from train stops. That left us with about 25. We broke up those 25 by neighbourhood. Across three Saturdays, we dropped by the restaurants, had a drink and an appetizer at the bar and sized the place up. We made it to restaurant number 8 when we found...

Bobo (West Village)

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how happy we were to have our wedding at this restaurant. Bobo is imbued with a fantastic whimsical spirit, brought in no small part by the truly lovely staff (so sweet!!). The restaurant specializes in locavore American fare and frequently holds farm to table events. The interior is designed to give you the feeling that you are having friends over for dinner in your really, really beautiful house. We took out the entire top floor of the restaurant, which has a private bar and a gorgeous back deck. The venue cost nothing because we met a minimum price requirement. We would have hit that requirement anyway. Personable staff, eco-friendly and beautiful to boot - restaurant 8 was it. We were sold.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

Food, cocktails, wine, beer and gratuity - $5200

The food and drink were, obviously, our greatest expense. We chose to have brunch for 60 people. On top of assorted fruits and cakes and an intro cocktail, we served 4 brunch dishes (amazing eggs benedict - with bright orange yolks, chicken salad like no other, a divine orange and watercress salad and really decadent french toast sticks) with a few sides at approximately $45 a head. The event planner really worked with us to design a wine and beer option that worked for us.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

Invitations - $310 + postage $40.

In retrospect, I kind of wish I had these designed as a pdf by a vendor on Etsy. We considered an evite invitation, but my sister-in-law had a little extra trouble getting responses from guests when she tried it. We settled for an invitation at minted that ended up reflecting the design of the restaurant (similar colours. The downstairs bar area has a birdsnest chandelier). I went in for the little wrap around stickers for the outer envelopes. I have no explanation for that.

Marriage License - $35

Technically, this cost $50 because we lost the first one. Yup. Two days later, we ended up holding a second, and really cool wedding that cost $50. More on that later.

Officiant - $0

Our dear friend agreed to become a clergy via the Universalist church. It was really important to me that we have a sincere and chill wedding. In that spirit we chose to do the following:
a) have no attendants
b) not have an aisle walk or giving away of a bride
c) have a short ceremony - short, as in, 5 minutes tops
d) no rehearsal

Our friend, my husband and I wrote emails to one another hammering out a wedding ceremony that would last no longer than 5 minutes. We actually did this while I was on the opposite coast, about 5 days before the wedding. When we first clocked it, it came in at 2.5 minutes, so our friend extended his introduction so he could chat a little bit longer about how we knew each other.

Music - $15

We used my iPod. We didn't play music during the ceremony, but we set up playlists for eating, before the ceremony/after eating and a first dance. Over the course of January to May I took suggestions from my friends for happy music that would be suitable for eating (not too jarring) and to hang out and possibly spontaneously dance. The day before the wedding I still only had about an hour worth of music - so my Dad dialed through his iPod while my mother and I ran some errands and made a fantastic list of songs - many of which I had, all of which I wanted. At best, I spent and additional $15 in music.

Photographer - $700

I found Shaun Baker on Craiglist. He is a trained photojournalist-style photographer. He was incredibly friendly and an all around nice guy. He was exceptionally priced (this price includes engagement photos), spent many hours with us and was very professional. He mainly shot photojournalistic photos, but spent some time taking a few posed shots. He offers many different packages and worked with us to cover off the important hours of the wedding. He did a lovely job and gave us two discs of literally hundreds of photos.


Rings - $247

My husband proposed with one ring which we returned before settling on a antique emerald cut aquamarine stone in a filigree white gold setting that we found on eBay ($110).

My mother, her family and my brother agreed to give my husband my grandfather's ring. He was very touched and truly excited to wear it.

As my engagement ring is sizeable (the stone is almost 9mm long) so the wedding band needed to be slight or I wouldn't be able to bend my finger. I found this 14K white gold ring on Etsy ($137). The vendor, Seababejewelry was really great to work with and altered the hammering pattern for me slightly.

Earrings - ($24)

I love earrings but I never buy them. We chose to wear a few shades of green the day of the wedding, so I picked up these prehnite drop earrings from Etsy vendor Kerrihale.

Bracelet - ($40)

I found this bracelet (below) on eBay. I've since worn it as well as the earrings about once a week since the wedding.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

Photo credit: Kerrihale jewelry


Dress - $220

I spent approximately two 1/2 hours searching for and trying on wedding dresses. My husband decided he really liked the "Gracie" by J. Crew, a fold-over halter dress made of silk mid-weight tricotine. It was not the first dress that caught my eye. When we left the J crew store, I found it on eBay and bought it. It is an unusual and very pretty dress, with a kind of Valentino feel to it. Very cool.

Dress cleaning and alterations - $100

Purse and shoes - ($143)

I paired the dress with Nina d'orsay shoes (Culver) in apple green ($89) and a purse designed by Etsy vendor J Carter ($54). I've used both of these items since as well.

Tie - ($15)

My poor husband. The only item we bought new for him was a wide silk tie we found in Housing Works for $15. I then cut the tie down to a 2 inch width the day before the wedding (15 minute upcycle project for another post).

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

Undies and such - $100

So the thing about silk tricotine is that it is pretty clingy, so I had to invest in my first set of lightly shaping underwear and seamless strapless bra. I can't remember the brand name of either of these pieces. I picked up the items at Le Petite Coquette. In retrospect, I wish I shopped around for the slimming underwear a little bit, as these ones tended to give me a pot belly that I don't actually have.....which I feel should be fundamentally against the aims of the product...but whatever...

Hair - $70

I can't do hair. I lack the skills and the I went to a J Scott salon and had my hair put up in a pretty ponytail with a bit of bump. No try outs or test runs. If a hairstylist can't do a pepped up ponytail, they have no business being in a salon. It looked effortless, was very simple and it stayed in place until the very second I pulled it out at the end of the night.

Make up - $0

I did my own. Bride make-up is heinous. I used the Benefit smokey eye palette, which I use with a light touch most days anyway.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

Favours -

My husband's sister sent us some candles to give away, but I had already ordered mini chocolate bars from Vosges (in Bacon, Amalfi, Naga and Habana). The guests loved them. We had talked about taking a pass on the favours, but the average cost of a 4-5 weekend in NYC in May is around $1000 per they were expecting favours, we were going to give them favours.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

Cake - $150

NYC has a mandatory $9 per plate fee for any cake that is brought into a restaurant from an outside vendor. We opted instead for a retro, strawberry pudding cake in the shape of cube - made by Bobo's pastry chef. It was pretty amazing tasting - a very fun cake.


Flowers - $50

My bouquet, 4 pink peonies. I grew up with peonies in my backyard. I first learned about evolution watching ants eat the sugary gum off of peony buds. On a dare, I eventually ran down West 4th street with my wedding guests trailing me. I ran across 7th Avenue and tossed my bouquet high up into the air behind me. It was caught by a passerby woman and her girlfriend. My guests and strangers applauded - we rushed over to introduce ourselves to the couple.

My husband wore a flower clip I had purchased for my hair, but found too large for my head. This was eventually given to one our guests who wore it in her hair for the remainder of the night.

Ring pillow - $0

I took two tourist handkerchiefs that I had anyway, one from each of our home states, and turned them into a ring pillow.

Table decor -$0

The restaurant has flowers brought in every day. The table service included a beautiful plate of fruit and coffee cake. With the soft light coming in through the windows it looked perfect.

Guest book - $20

I bought a vintage index card file on Etsy and filled with address cards I made on my printer at home. I used the image from the invitations and similar colours to make the tabbed cards.

Place cards
- $60

This is the only item we actually purchased for decoration. The wedding was casual, but for a variety of reasons, it was really, really important to have assigned seating. I have really unsightly handwriting due, in part, to hand injuries. It's actually difficult for me to write for very long - so I hired Etsy calligrapher NWJCalligraphy to write out my seating cards for me.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

After party - $500

We knew our time at the restaurant would seem really short and that we really wouldn't get a chance to spend time with our guests. Our apartment is a little small for an after party, so we opted to buy a few hours at a local karaoke bar. This is really easy to do provided you a) do not restrict the entry of other customers and b) buy a nice chunk of alcohol during off hours. We wanted to arrive at 5:30 pm....when no one is out singing karaoke, so the manager was game. We dropped about $500 on beer and a subway sandwich platter. Our guests had a blast, and we were able to invite a few work and new friends a
s well.

I haven't mentioned the karaoke bar here because I wouldn't recommend their services to another party. The first manager I dealt with was fantastic, but the one that came in about two hours after we arrived and as we were tying up, tried to shake me, and then the first manager, down for more cash...which didn't work. We opted to pass out the remainder of the drinks we purchased and head to another, and final bar. My suggestion to anyone who tries to organize this sort of after party is make life simple for yourself by choosing a bar with one mana
ger who will be on duty all night.

Photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

All of that said, it was a pretty great night.

Transportation - $15 taxi to ceremony, $5 metro card charges for ride home

We took the train home at 1 am. It was fantastic. Odd stares, but really romantic. We were played out, out of place and just filled with relief and happy memories. It is one of my favourite moments of our wedding.

Thank you cards - $40 + $25 postage

A lovely set made by Etsy vendor PinkInkPaper. I contacted the vendor and asked for a white stamped, black thank you card with black envelopes. When I ran short, she shipped me another order right away. When I received the wrong number of envelopes, she UPS me news ones immediately. She is a fantastic vendor that I will use again and again for Christmas cards and the like.

Total - $8374

Could it have been cheaper? Absolutely. In retrospect there are lots of little things I would change (i.e. type of underwear, size of cake, buy flowers from a stand that day, not cab it down, less on jewelry, not do hair at all, get my husband to write out seating cards)

Final thoughts

Our wedding was a lot of fun. The planning process generated a lot of family anxiety and I think that sometimes distracted us from the real goal - get married, be happy. During the brunch, I was thinking about how people had behaved in the lead up to our wedding and stressing about not keeping to our original budget. While I was doing this, a friend of ours spontaneously jumped up and gave us a wonderful toast.

She said many loving things about us, but she said one phrase that ended up being the important statement made that day.

"Sometimes people will be hard on you, not understand you. That's their business. You will hate your jobs and worry about money. That's okay too - because at the end of the day the only thing that really matters that you have each other to come home to. That's what counts. Don't forget it".


HammClov said...

Who knew you could throw a wedding so cheaply in NYC! How crazy is that! I can't believe you took the subway home, how New York.

gh said...

hi there, i am helping a friend plan a wedding and wanted to ask which were the 8 restaurants u looked at? bobos looks awesome but was curious about other budget friendly restaurants. many many thanks!

La Petite Coquette said...

Hey there, Sorry for the delay. In Brooklyn we considered Aurora, Traif, Bubby's, Rebar, Superfine and the art space Smack Mellon. In Manhattan we considered Public (for a very small party), One if by Land, and Bobo. On the list, but unvisited before we made our decision- Ici, Vermillion (damn tasty), Good, Peasant (so pretty), Savoy and Aria (which is super cute, but entirely open and best for a small party).

How many guests is your friend considering? We seriously considered getting married in the Park and then having people for brunch at an upper east side cafe (Cafe Sabarksy, Demarchelier, Vespa or the King's Carriage House). We also thought about getting married in the park and holding a barbecue in the backyard of one of the upper west or upper east side bars that has free event space in the backyard.

H has a list of about 50 restaurants, which I will post here shortly. Do let me know if you have more questions in the meantime.

Jude Forman said...

I was married at Bobo this past October and I feel exactly the same way about it as you described. Finding it was a blessing because I came a cross it online (I'm a New Yorker, but I had to plan the wedding while I was living in Tel Aviv)... it was PERFECT in every way, and Grace and the staff were flawless. The food was amazing, the room is magical. Ending our 60 person brunch on the deck upstairs with a cocktail and our closest friends was really special, too. What a gem.

Jude Forman said...

I was married at Bobo this past October and I feel exactly the same way about it as you described. Finding it was a blessing because I came a cross it online (I'm a New Yorker, but I had to plan the wedding while I was living in Tel Aviv)... it was PERFECT in every way, and Grace and the staff were flawless. The food was amazing, the room is magical. Ending our 60 person brunch on the deck upstairs with a cocktail and our closest friends was really special, too. What a gem.