One of our guests told me that our wedding had helped her open her mind as to what a wedding could be. It got me thinking that I should probably share some of the things we experienced and learned in the process of doing our very DIY, intimate, semi-casual low-waste wedding.
I’m sharing our experience, our learnings, and even our budget, in case it helps any others out there who might be trying to decide whether or not having a DIY wedding is right for them.
My partner had been married once before, and I wasn’t certain that having a wedding was something that was really important to me. We had talked about the possibility of having a wedding on several occasions, but because we both very much felt married, neither of us really felt the inclination to take it very seriously.
I also don’t have a relationship with my immediate family (parents), and I wondered what was the point? We already had a common law union, and in Canada, that’s pretty much the legal equivalent of being married. We were already business married; if anything, we more legally intertwined than most married couples. So why get married?
It started when we moved to the Sunshine Coast in January 2017. We bought a house on the coast, and we were falling in love with it more each day. We had a huge yard, and began talking about doing some kind of house-warming party.
More and more we loved the idea of doing something here in our backyard where we could bring our closest friends and family. We started toying with the idea of a housewarming, which evolved into talk about a low-key wedding. I knew that if my sister and her kiddos were going to make it, that I was going to have to give her plenty of notice.
Talk became action when I finally sent Ben a Google calendar invite that said “Get married in backyard?” and he accepted the invite.
I figured we could do something small and intimate that would feel like a party without the stuffiness or serious vibe of many traditional or religious weddings.
DIY vs Planner
This effectively gave us just over 4 months to pull everything together.
Our original vision was to have a small reception/party, but no ceremony. This evolved into a small ceremony without rings, and then eventually into a real ceremony with rings. It’s not that we were necessarily opposed, but we didn’t want it to feel too formal or traditional.
As more and more people began to RSVP, we realized that our initial numbers were greater than we expected, and wondered if we should look into hiring a planner to help us with some basics. This quickly got thrown out when we got a quote that started at $6k for 30 guests that included all sorts of fancy-pants stuff that we didn’t want or need (bridal hair and makeup, boutonnieres, music, marriage commissioner, etc). Our actual numbers would have brought the costs closer to $10k.
We realized that no one else could really envision the casual garden party vibe that we were going for, so we decided to DIY it, getting lots of pointers and suggestions from friends who had been there before.
Please note: This is not a knock against wedding planners. The value of the wedding package was actually quite reasonable given how our costs broke down, but it simply felt overkill for what we were looking for.
We thrifted, DIY’d, borrowed, and rented wherever possible, and made a conscious effort not to create more waste through the entire process.
The whole process was a lot of work, but I feel it was absolutely worth it to get the vibe that we wanted. Here’s how things worked out with our DIY low-waste backyard wedding:
What we did
I REALLY wanted to make my own dress, but my sewing skills were rusty, and I didn’t trust that I would have enough time to pull it off. I scoured many second-hand wedding dress websites and thrift stores, but unfortunately didn’t find anything in my size.
I ended up buying my dress online for ~$400, which was much more than I wanted to pay, but after a few months of searching relentlessly, I decided that I would splurge on one I loved and resell it afterward.
I figured there were so many other ways that I could save money and material that I would make it work.
My shoes were $20, I made my own necklace and earrings, and made a flower crown from flowers in the backyard. I did my own makeup and hair, and got eyelash extensions the day before which meant I wouldn’t have to worry too much about mascara running down my face in case I got teary-eyed, haha. I stained my lips using blackberries from the garden so I wouldn’t have to buy another lipstick. (I only have 1 colour of lipstick and it’s hot pink, and I wanted a more natural look for this occasion.)
Ben bought his suit through Indochino; it was a great deal and allowed him to customize every aspect of the suit, so it fit perfectly and was exactly what he wanted. He wore his favourite pair of shoes.
TOTAL COST: ~$1250
FOOD + DRINK
We looked into several catering options on the coast, and came *this* close to hiring one. Before confirming anything, however, I checked in with my good friend Brigitte (a personal chef now living in Sonoma) to see if there was any way she could help prepare the food for us (I also really wanted her to come!). We ended up deciding that we would cover her travel and expenses along with groceries and labour time, and that we could make it work.
This was an extremely generous gift from her (we paid her, but not nearly as much as the time she put in!), and we feel so lucky that this worked out the way it did. It allowed us to spend time with Brigitte and Carl in the days before the wedding, and they fit in like family. Brigitte put together an incredible vegetarian taco bar for us, complete with queso fresco and salsa appetizers.
- Mexican Rice
- Frijoles Borrachos (Beans with Cilantro, Jalapenos and Beer)
- Sweet Potato and Black Beans
- Chili-Lime Tofu
- Zucchini-Corn Poblano
- along with an absurd variety of salsas, sauces, and toppings
We ended up with a total of 55 guests, a handful of which were last minute RSVPs. We likely couldn’t have accommodated for the extra guests if we had booked caterers, so DIYing the food in our kitchen worked out really well.
Brigitte + Carl prepared all the food in our kitchen in the days leading up to the event which allowed us to keep in close communication about any grocery or supplies needed.
I hired a friend of a friend and her daughter to help us tap kegs, pour drinks, set up glasses, tidy food plates, and keep water jugs full. I also got help the day before with 5 hours of food chopping and prep to help our chef, and this was immensely valuable.
Our in-laws graciously purchased the wine and beer for our guests, and the liquor store gave us a wholesale discount of 10% on the wine.
- 8 bottles of champagne
- 10 bottles of red
- 10 bottles of white
- 2 mini-kegs of beer
- 1 mini-keg of cider
- 6 large bottles of watermelon lemon juice
We had a bit of beer and red wine left over, though we ran out of white wine before dinner had begun, so friends ran to the store to pick up more bottles!
We ordered 60 assorted cupcakes and 24 mini-cupcakes which didn’t last long! I would probably have ordered more of these, as they were clearly a hit.
Food, chef, helpers, servers, cleaners: ~$2,500
Drink costs: $150 (~$600 gifted)
VENUE + RENTALS
Our venue was our backyard which made things pretty easy (and cheap), and allowed us to accommodate a large group easily.
We rented plates and cutlery so we didn’t have any disposables. We took our best guess with the order regarding quantities, and we updated our order closer to the date.
- 10x10 tent
These were delivered on the morning of the wedding, which meant a lot of running around. I wish we could have received these the evening before, as it would have reduced some of the stress on the morning of the wedding.
Our friend Constance was our wing-woman in the days leading up to, during, and after the wedding with setup, decorations, and clean-up. It takes a village!!
After some panic in the morning about how we would get everything set up in time, we called in the troops (friends and family) to help us. Since we didn’t really have any instructions, we relied on everyone to make executive decisions to set things up while we were both getting ready.
Total rental + delivery cost: $900
We originally weren’t going to hire a photographer, because we weren’t even going to have a ceremony; it seemed a bit overkill and we thought it might blow the budget.
Of course if you talk to ANYONE they will tell you that it’s the one thing not to skimp on, and I would have to agree on this one. I’m SO GLAD we decided to do this!
My good friend and neighbour Leah introduced me to Lindyn (who I’d already been following on Instagram!), and ran the idea by her of photographing a slightly non-traditional wedding. Lindyn doesn’t typically do weddings, but she made a special exception for us because she thinks we’re cool. 😀
I immediately wanted to be friends with Lindyn, having her there on the day not just as our photographer, but as our friend. I knew she would fit in well with many of the other self-employed heart-cantered guests who would be there!
She included a preliminary couples photo shoot for us which gave us a chance to get to know her and feel comfortable in front of the camera. She blew us away with these photos; the whole experience was incredible, and she even sneakily ordered us celebratory champagne at the restaurant that we went to after our session with her.
She spent more than the promised time taking photos, and really helped us capture the whole vibe of the day. Within days she had provided all of the glorious edited photographs, allowing us to download as many as we wanted, and use them as we wish. This is a cost that I was more than happy to pay, and cannot believe the value we got here. I’ll definitely be hiring her for a future business shoot!
BORROWED + THRIFTED + GIFTED
- 75 mason jars. We used sticky chalkboard paper and chalk markers to make reusable labels.
- linens for tables and napkins
- battery powered tea lights
- multiple threads of hanging lights
- glass jars and vases for tea lights and flowers
- wedding arch
- disco ball
- bouquets (my aunt bought several bouquets, and our photographer purchased some from a local woman who grows wild flowers in her garden)
- mixing bowls, baking sheets, baskets
- extension cords
- balloons for signage
- driftwood for decorations
- Giant Jenga
- Guestbook, wedding album, thank you cards — $200
- Misc decorations + supplies — $200
- Rings — $140
- Coolers + Buckets — $100
- Chalkboard — $35
- Bench — $50
We used The Knot to make our wedding website for free, and Honeyfund to collect optional wedding gifts.
Reflections / Observations / Learnings / Challenges
We did have some challenges around choosing our guests, as I am sure most people do. How do you decide where to cut it off? As I hadn’t been in communication with either of my parents for years, and we wanted to keep it small (and drama-free), we decided that we wouldn’t invite my parents. In order to not further alienate them, we decided to keep our invites to mostly immediate family, with the exception of a few family members. Yes, we did offend some family along the way, which I learned through the grapevine.
I’m not sure there’s any way around offending some family or friends along the way, especially if you choose to go small.
Music + Dancing
Ben originally didn’t want to do a dance floor, but enough of our guests had inquired, that I suspected our guests would make one happen whether there was a dance floor or not. We made some playlists, but decided to give our guests free reign to play some of their desired songs later in the evening. This ended up causing a bit of tension toward the end of the evening when people had different ideas about what they considered “danceable” music.
I wish I’d had more time to add some of my favourite songs to the list, but I ran out of time as we got closer to the date! I also wish we’d created our own dance playlist, but overall, I think this went pretty well, and the dancing was more than a little entertaining.
One of the most challenging parts of the experience was accepting help, generosity, and generally having people fuss over you.
I hadn’t really picked up any flowers, and was going to cut some from my garden. My aunt ran out and bought some big beautiful bouquets, and I immediately felt guilty and struggled to accept/receive. I was thinking of how I would say “I will pay you back for those!” and decided that I wouldn’t worry about it, and would find a way to express my gratitude at another time.
Family and friends showed up on the morning of to help us out, but I just didn’t know how or what to delegate. I called in a friend to help me delegate and get shit done on the morning/afternoon of the wedding. Everyone did an amazing job at making executive decisions, and helping me figure out what to put where, but it was a bit stressful not having a specific “plan” or vision I could share with people.
Luckily I wasn’t too attached to the outcome, so I was able to just let it happen, and was grateful for the decision-making.
I wish we’d enlisted a few more helpers first thing in the morning to help us set up the party rental supplies; we were sweating all morning running around to unfold tables, chairs, plates, etc., and this was something that a few more hands could easily have helped us with.
Challenging my perception of weddings
As I think about my friends words, and how our wedding changed her perception of what a wedding could be, I realize that my own wedding had the same effect on me.
We had both played down our wedding for so long, making sure people knew it “wasn’t that big of a deal,” and that it was just a simple party. But it was so much more than a simple party.
I have never before experienced the kind of high that comes from having all of the most important friends and family in your life in one room (or backyard to be specific), beaming love at you. It was one of the most incredible and beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. It’s indescribable. It is probably one of the only days in your life where you may experience that level and intensity of love, community, and connection.
There was not a single person who attended that we didn’t hand-pick. We were so thrilled for each person to finally have a chance to meet the other important people in our lives.
Going through that experience together as a couple is such a special experience, there’s probably no other time you’ll experience something like it.
Hopefully sharing our experience leaves you with some insights and take-aways, whether you’re planning your own wedding or not!