How I Had My Dream Wedding — For Only $10K

Confession: Marriage was not something I planned for my entire life like some women do. I never subscribed to bridal magazines or dreamed about my perfect wedding dress. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I would ever get married at all.

Until pretty recently, being gay meant I didn't have the same right to wed, anyway. Plus, I always considered myself an outsider, a non-establishment kind of gal. If everyone was planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, I sure as hell wasn’t going to; I’d pop a bottle of bubbly and watch people be morons from the safety of my window perch.

Meeting my now-wife was a game-changer. After five years of dating (and just two weeks before Edie Windsor became a household name and brought federal tax breaks to the gays), we married in front of 100 of our nearest and dearest in what was easily the best weekend of our lives.

Going into wedding planning, I had no idea I would end up caring about the details so much, but as we began the process, I'll admit I turned into a bit of a bridezilla. I wanted to make sure the whole affair was beautiful and went off without a hitch. And that's a challenge most brides face, but it was all the more difficult because I had to find a way to do it without spending more than $10,000. Here's the story of how we planned the perfect day and stuck to our budget — and how you can, too.
Photo: Courtesy of Allison Hope.

Getting On The Same Page

When we started planning, we agreed on a few things up front: We didn’t want a stuffy event where people felt uncomfortable, and where everything seemed generic and just like everyone else’s wedding. And we didn’t want to break the bank. The last piece was non-negotiable: We could not afford to break the bank.

Living in New York City — one of the most expensive cities in the world — we knew a wedding could easily creep up in the tens of thousands of dollars. We made the decision to look for venues halfway between the city and where my wife's family lives, in the Hudson Valley.

There’s nothing new about the Hudson Valley as a beautiful setting for a wedding, so the price creep is real there, too. After checking out some places that looked idyllic (and which cost a pretty penny), we started to think more creatively. Could we rent a private house rather than an established wedding venue and host our celebration there? We understood there were many variables to consider. We knew we’d have to do certain things on our own (like getting liability insurance, which costs around a $100, and can be purchased online in a matter of seconds), but ultimately determined the cost was WAY cheaper.
Photo: Courtesy of Allison Hope.

Making Smart Decisions

We started looking on sites like Vacation Rentals By Owner and HomeAway, and eventually settled on Barn on the Pond, a beautiful restored barn-turned-home. The location was just starting to market itself for weddings, so it was still very reasonably priced, and we booked the whole weekend there. The venue would double as our wedding suite, and since it slept up to nine people, close friends and family would be able to stay, as well. In fact, the land also housed an Airstream trailer and acres of green where guests could literally pitch a tent and camp out for free. While that’s not for everyone, several friends took us up the offer.

The location also meant our guests had more affordable options for travel. We decided to hold the ceremony and reception in the late afternoon so that people could still travel there and back in one day if they preferred not to stay overnight.

We hunted until we found Chocolate Mousse Catering, which was amazing and delicious, but accustomed to producing local events in Poughkeepsie and other less expensive areas, and therefore charged us half of what caterers in the city or elsewhere in the Hudson Valley might have. We had plenty of food, with fresh appetizers, a full meal, and dessert, all prepared on-site. All of the food, spirits, wine, and beer were locally sourced from the Hudson Valley. We added cost-effective and fun extras like flavored syrups with seltzer and sparkling wine so people could create their own inventive drinks.
Photo: Courtesy of Allison Hope.
One thing we knew we wanted was a live band. We both agreed DJs weren’t us, and frankly didn’t fit with the theme of our rustic-chic affair. As any NYC bride can tell you, a full wedding band can cost upwards of $10,000 — and likely closer to $15,000. So, that was out. Instead, we hired a band called Megan Jean and the KFB, who we fell in love with after seeing them play at a tiny dive bar in Albany for a $5 cover charge. (Check them out playing our song at our wedding.) They charged way less than a traditional wedding band or even a DJ, and they were about one-hundred-thousand times better sounding.

We designed the invitations ourselves using Photoshop (admittedly stealing good ideas from existing cards we Googled), and had them printed on Shutterfly rather than going to an expensive wedding printer.
Little Details Make A Big Difference
The property had a fire pit that we ignited as the sun went down, and we distributed DIY s’mores kits (that we'd assembled ourselves), which were a huge hit. Watching the mélange of loved ones gathered around the fire, with the hills of the Hudson Valley visible in the background, and sounds of the band permeating the air, filled my heart with a love so deep that words can't do it justice.

We didn’t need much in the way of decorations because the beautiful setting of the barn (which also had a pond!) provided plenty of natural scenery. In the months leading up to the wedding, we collected cool-looking soda and seltzer bottles, which we filled with simple wildflowers and scattered on the tables rather than buying expensive bouquets. It gave a festive and classic touch, and cost next to nothing.
Photo: Courtesy of Allison Hope.
We were lucky to have a beautiful June Saturday for our big day, and we set up a badminton net and a bocce court, and handed out Frisbees. Guests were free to partake in the lawn sports, dance the day away, or eat and drink to their hearts' content on the various porches and outdoor seating areas.

We hosted a brunch the next morning (catered by the same company), and guests who stayed on the property or in nearby hotels joined us for day two of the celebration. We sent everyone on their way with full bellies, and distributed what was left of the food, along with unopened bottles of wine and beer.

Our wedding cost roughly $10,000, all in, and the entire weekend was as beautiful and elegant as it was casual and fun. Most importantly, it was us. And when all was said and done, I got to go home with my wife, who makes every day just as amazing and unforgettable as our wedding was.


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