How I’m Having A Logistically-Chaotic Wedding Without Losing My Mind (Or Budget)

As anyone who follows me on social media probably knows by now, I am a) getting married soon, and b) not a huge fan of weddings, much less the Wedding-Industrial Complex. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to a lot of weddings in my life, and I feel each time genuinely happy to celebrate with the people I care about, and to dance all night with Marc, tipsy on too much champagne and cake. There have also been many times that I’ve been at a wedding and had those pangs of “Wow, that’s gorgeous,” or “I would like something like that.” (Having recently been to an autumnal wedding at a Victorian museum of medical oddities, I would be lying if I said the sumptuous aesthetics of some weddings didn’t make me want to put down a check right then and there for something equally fabulous.) But ultimately, pre-and-post-engagement, I have found myself fairly steadfast in my conviction that a big, traditional wedding just isn’t for me.

If it were totally our decision, Marc and I would elope, both for cost and personal reasons (while we love our loved ones, we are both a bit embarrassed by very public and sincere displays of affection — my palms get sweaty even now, thinking of having to recite very personal vows in front of even the intimate group we have planned on). But it’s not just about us, and it’s important to our families that we put something special together that a few of us can celebrate, so we are happy to do it — and now that we’re fully in the planning stages, I can’t say it isn’t a lovely experience.

I should also add that, at the same time, I’m in the active-planning stages with the TFD team for our book tour, which is 11 events ranging from 75 to 175 people, for which we (along with our event assistant) are doing all of the booking and logistics, so those experiences actually much closer mirror the average wedding in terms of raw cost and scope, but because they are work events and therefore not subject to the desires and constraints of family and friends, I don’t think it’s a comparable experience, even if executing them thus far has been illuminating. Planning our wedding(s) has been a totally unique and separate experience, and one I want to do my best to be transparent about, as someone who freely gives her (often-negative) opinions on the issue.

Off the bat, I should explain why we are having two weddings. As most of you probably know, Marc is not American, which means that if we want to leave the country to have our ceremonial wedding (which we have to do, because several important attendees can’t make the opposite trip to the States), we have to get legally married in America a few months before, so that his visa can change over — he can’t leave the country while it’s in flux. While the idea of having multiple weddings probably sounds fancy on its surface, it is simply a question of logistical need, and the civil wedding is far from elaborate. We are doing it in February, when the flights for the few people making the trip from France as well as lodging for them is at its cheapest. The plan is city hall on a Friday afternoon, followed by drinks at a nearby bar and a BYOW dinner in a low-key restaurant, for about 17 people total. Marc will be wearing a suit he already has, and I plan to buy a nice-but-simple white-ish outfit (probably a skirt, top, and coat) for this ceremony. My goal here is to find something that feels special in its way and acknowledges the occasion but is comprised of items I can re-use, and which will also keep me warm. The dress code for everyone else is slightly nice but above all, comfortable and warm. It’s February in New York!

For this, between the dinner for everyone, drinks before, a night at a hotel downtown (for getting ready before with a few gals and then spending the night), my new outfit, and the various odds and ends, we anticipate spending around $3,500 for the 17 people. The small handful coming in from France — immediate family and one best friend — will be covering flights themselves, and our objective is to cover most of that evening’s on-site costs between the two of us, as our parents intend to help with the ceremonial wedding. I should also note that the very small guest list we reached for both events was partially intentional, in the sense that Marc and I both have extremely large extended families who would have immediately pushed the wedding over 100 if we extended it past a super-tight group, but it was also a necessity: a wedding that size on one continent or the other would have been financially impossible, and would have put an undue strain on the large number of extended family who would have felt obligated to make that trip, even if it was extremely costly. We felt that even that plane ticket is something you can only ask of the closest people, and our ability to offset cost for attendees was directly linked to how many of them were coming. I have found that being up-front and honest with family about logistical/financial constraints from the start, and finding other times to see them and celebrate on a more personal level, has been more than sufficient. Having a super-tiny wedding, though, is very different from having a 50-person wedding, where I do fear people can feel much more passed-over.

For the ceremonial wedding, which again we are having in France a) because it is easier for the Americans to make the trip, for various reasons, and b) because it is overall more affordable in the remote location we are doing it, the plan is fairly straightforward: Marc and I are renting a sort of sprawling villa-slash-chateau for about $6,500 for the week. The idea is that the 26 participants — friends and close family, including us — spend the week seeing each other and having quality time all together (which we never, ever get to do), punctuated by one pre-wedding dinner at the home, likely partially-catered and partially-cooked by family, and one ceremony/reception at a small restaurant in a nearby village (to be decided which one). We plan to bring all our own wine for all of these events, and estimate that the cost between the two dinners will be somewhere around $4,000. Our plan is to have everyone transport themselves to the event, but once on-site, the lodging is covered by us for the week and most of the food and drink is on us as well, because our biggest goal here is to make sure that a by-necessity international wedding is as not-a-burden as it can possibly be for the people coming.

To that end, all of the places where we could cut costs on the “traditional” front, we did. We are requesting no gifts, have no wedding parties, are very relaxed on any kind of “dress code,” and are encouraging our guests to spend their days doing what they like, rather than organizing on-site events that might be costly. As far as the ceremony, I am setting a budget of $250 for a navy dress (the guests will be in white and we will be in color, a somewhat-sneaky compromise I found to make it so that I “looked special” for the family members who want to see that without having to buy a bridal gown), we are eschewing most of the patriarchal/religious elements (secular ceremony, no father walking daughter down aisle, no aisle really to speak of, everyone reads something, etc etc), and we are putting all of our budget that would have gone into decor back into lodging, food, and wine. We plan to have a few flowers and candles and such, but I’m happy to take the restaurant we find as it comes, because I personally have always found that the decor is what you remember the least — good food and making sure everyone can make it financially are our priorities.

It’s not entirely clear yet exactly what our budget will be for the two ceremonies total, but our goal is to keep it under $25,000 total, of which we will be paying the majority. Yes, this is a lot for some people, and it’s also not a lot for others. It’s more than we would ever want to spend, but the truth is that when your loved ones are spread over two continents, you really have two options — incur the cost yourselves, or put it back onto your guests, and we decided years ago that if we ever did have a wedding, our biggest priority was covering the lodging for everyone out of pocket so that it would be less of a burden, which obviously drives up the cost. We are having the ceremony near to his family, so that things like cars, logistics, any extra needed items, etc, can be easily transported and borrowed instead of having to be bought or rented. (Our initial plan was to celebrate in Portugal, but we realized hosting things in a third country would add so many additional costs just in terms of on-site logistics.)

In creating the plan, we have compromised on many things, but feel even clearer and more convicted in what is really important to us: having the people we love together under the same roof for a few precious moments in our lives, something that we never get to experience. There is no one easy solution for us, and we are still finding every day things we can do differently to further reduce cost and headaches, but even in the planning stage, we have found that being as laser-focused as possible on the things that really matter to you very quickly help you budget in a clear way. Obviously, the fact that our celebrations are so small means that we have not had to deal with buying anything in bulk or having to rent large spaces or deal with vendors, which is fantastic. But our logistical nightmares have been from the sheer scope of how far everyone must go, and our acute awareness that the cumulative cost of various weddings on the average young adult are hugely impactful. Being empathetic — both in terms of what your closest loved ones want to experience, and what is realistic for your guests — has proven to us a great guiding light in this complicated process.

And while I don’t think I will ever be a “wedding person,” to whatever extent one can be that person, I have learned that there is something beautiful in treating love with the same degree of planning and attention that you treat any other big project in your life. Love is not just an emotion, it is the demonstration of care and sustained effort that make someone else feel seen, understood, and appreciated. I feel lucky to be able to do what we’re doing, even if I believe a lot of the big, traditional outward markers of “what a wedding must be” are not necessary to the endeavor. Everyone has to discover what it means for themselves, and while I’m sure my follow-up post after all of this is said and done will contain insights I couldn’t have dreamed of today, I am more confident than ever that what will have been important, and memorable, are the people around us and the time we get to spend with them. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Image via Pexels

  • Lauren

    Chelsea, this is the post we have all been waiting for! 🙂 Congrats to you and Marc.

  • PalePinkBeauty

    Congratulations Chelsea! I’m sure everyone will have a great time! One of my best friends is dealing with logistical nightmare of an Europe-Asia wedding and with more than 100 guests, they actually had to create their own website complete with detailed instructions for flights accommodations meal options rsvp etc. They used appycouple.com if anyone is interested! It also makes a unique substitute for a wedding invite 🙂

  • disqus_Q3Xw3KYgud

    Are there any posts in the archives from Lauren about her wedding? Thanks!

  • GemNoelle

    Great post! Any advice on budgeting/saving for a wedding?

  • Sara

    Just FYI, you will always (ALWAYS) spend more than you think you will. Having some wiggle room for when shit hits the fan somewhere helps enormously.

  • Megan Stacey

    This was so, so beautiful to read. I’m a professional wedding coordinator at a nonprofit venue (we’re a public botanical garden first, then a private horticulture college, THEN a wedding venue) and you’re doing it so, so right. That laser focus may feel like a burden, but it is truly a gift. Restaurant receptions are AMAZING and all the choices you’ve made sound beautiful.

    Guests dressed in white and the couple in colour is truly one of my favourite unique wedding ideas, and the fact that you’re doing it in France in presumably the summertime is like, just the best. *chef kiss*

    • chelseafagan

      Thank you SO much — what a truly kind thing to say <33

  • Wow I am a strict non-believer when it comes to weddings but something about this made me a little weepy (I’m not exaggerating!) The amount of care and consideration you’ve put in for friends and family is perhaps the most incredible and genuine public declaration of love I’ve seen in regards to a wedding. I hope people are as moved by this as I was and adopt similar attitudes to their own future celebrations. Thank you for sharing!

    • chelseafagan

      <33 Thank you! :')

  • Planning my March 2018 wedding now and we purposely picked a Florida destination wedding because 1. having everyone come to the west coast (from NY and DC) is too much to ask and 2. no way we could afford a NYC wedding. At least not anything that I’d be happy with in the end. We’re paying for it ourselves and are budgeting under 15K.
    What I’ve figured out is that weddings are like everything else in life: you figure out what’s most important and you spend your money on that. For us, oceanfront menu, food and a house rental for immediate family were the priorities. Things like a DJ (we’re doing music ourselves and buying Sonos speakers), booze (wine, beer, soft drinks only) were less important.