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  • Writer's pictureBrookelynn Darwin

A June Bride on a Budget. Or, how to do a $30k wedding for $15k

Chase and I were married 5 years ago on June 25th, 2016. At least once a week since, one of us will turn to the other and say, "Remember our wedding? It was such a good day."

Chase grew up camping in Yosemite. It's where he proposed, and it's where he always imagined getting married. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that a wedding at the Ahwahnee, or (what was then known as) the Wawona Hotel, was VERY expensive and left little room for personal touches. "You get the space for X hours, you get what they have on sight, and everything starts at $150/person." So I hunted for alternatives and finally stumbled upon a blog post of a wedding that had been hosted at a private home in Midpines, CA, just an hour outside Yosemite. I remember sitting in my car, on the phone with the owner, negotiating on the price for a four night stay...oh...and a wedding of about 70. He tried to play hard ball, but his compassion got the best of him and took pity the girl with champagne dreams on a beer budget. Out of gratitude and respect for the him, I won't tell you exactly what price he gave me...but it was cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap. In fact, it was one of the most affordable elements of our wedding which is astonishing because the venue can easily be the most expensive thing on the bill. If you can get creative with your venue, make it your top priority. Don't overlook the simplicity of an open meadow or the charm of a historic home. Even an urban loft can be absolutely transformed with the right flora. Picture gigantic monstera leaves, a long and elegantly set table...Ahhh, if only we could have a hundred weddings. It really isn't fair that if your marriage remains intact, you don't get anymore weddings. I think you should be rewarded for the milestones. For every five years that you are still chugging along, you get another wedding. That should be the rule.

Since it's not the rule, and this would be my one shot, I wanted to savor every minute. We reserved the house from Thursday through Monday and held all of our events onsite, including the Friday night rehearsal dinner and a brunch Sunday morning.

The design of the space was fairly simple. I let nature do most of the work, thrifted some vintage lawn games for cocktail hour, and chippy windows to hand-letter signs. I realize now that this must be so very "out" and the giant plywood or acrylic seating charts are "in." Don't worry about that. Trends change, especially in the wedding world. You can almost guarantee that what you do now, will be on the ever accusatory "Wedding don'ts" article next year, so do what makes you happy, not what's trendy. I lean very cottage core for my own events. Our wedding had some 90's elements to it, which in 2016 wasn't trendy but sort of is. C'est la vie.

Our wood invitations were by far the most involved and unnecessary diy of the entire event. They turned out beautifully, but they were so much work, still sort of expensive, and in the end, no one is really going to save it. Some people say invitations set the tone, but you can create something just as elegant for far less effort. If I were to do this again, I likely would simplify this detail. While we're at it, lose the favors too. If you want to thank your guests for attending, spend the money on an open bar. They can live without the personalized magnet, but they might enjoy a manhattan.

I spent every ounce of energy and money on the wedding and very little on myself. I remember being a flower girl for my cousin Adrienne and when she lifted her dress to put her garter on, she had the most perfectly smooth, tanned legs. Looking back, it was the 90s and she was most likely wearing tights, but I always thought, "Someday, on my wedding, I'm going to have legs like Adrienne." In reality, I forgot my face wash and had to send my father in law to town for a disposable razor. My legs would have their characteristic razor burn, shielded under my dress, and I would turn my focus back to the wedding.

My dress was handmade by my sweet cousin Danielle. Lovingly sewn over so many late nights of laughter and probably some tears. It was a wonderful, stressful process and that skirt is to die for. It was a work in progress right up until the wedding, sending me into a constant spiral of stress. In hindsight, I might buy my dress very early on...but I'm not sure I'd want to give up all the fun we had working on the very special one my Danielle made for me. My advice to future brides is, to make sure it's one of the first things you check off the list, make sure it suits your venue, and definitely opt for the more flowy, comfortable dresses that have been fairly popular in the last 10 years. I tried on some traditional structured dresses and they weighed about 20 lbs and were extremely restrictive. My dress may not have hugged every curve perfectly, but it was SO comfortable all day.

When the flowers arrived, I felt calm for the first time in three months. The flowers had made it. Now we could get married. For me, it just doesn't feel like a wedding without them. I used to sit in my Aunt Jody's floral studio salvaging discarded flowers from the trash as she worked on arrangements. She let me help wrap boutonnieres and I would go with her to wedding venues watching in awe as she transformed entire rooms with lilies and roses. A year before our big day, Jody took me to the Original Los Angeles Flower Market, taking note of what was in season, and scooping up a few things to make samples with. Afterward, we grabbed breakfast at Poppy and Rose. It's now my flower market tradition. Our florals were mostly eucalyptus, pepper berry, LOTS of garden roses, hanging amaranthus, coffee berries, hydrangeas from Jody's garden, and a few peonies in my bouquet and crown. They are staying in season later and later. Lucky for June brides.

The ceremony hoop was the show stopper. Made of pvc pipe, it was spray painted green, and wrapped in moss. Jody added the florals on the wedding day. I drove up with it on my car and it looked like my Kia sportage was wearing a flower crown. It is by far, my favorite detail of the wedding and I refused to leave it behind so on our last day, Chase cut it down for me and my Kia wore a flower crown again, for at least a month following the wedding. For a while, it was hanging in our room over our bed. I think someday, I'd like to put it in our garden and grown live vines all around it.

Logistically, the cost of all the flowers was a little over than $700. If Jody wasn't also gifting me her time and expertise, I would estimate our florals to have cost at least $3k. If you have a florist willing to help you, accept it. If you don't, hire a florist. It's that simple. Don't attempt to do this yourself. Don't have a family member who has never worked with flowers do this for you. Jody spent hours that day, and even with the help of others, and 30 years of experience, she was still pressed for time. Floral designers know flowers. They know which ones wilt quickly, which ones are extremely delicate. They have an artistic eye. Trust them, use them. Don't become a floral designer/bride on the day of your wedding. You will either end up with something disappointing, or sacrifice time and peace of mind.

The ceremony took place at 6pm as the sun was just starting to set and trickled in through the trees. We kept it brief. My grandfather officiated, opening with a prayer and moving remarks. He read Union by Robert Fulghum. Chase and I wrote love notes to each other and recited vows. And then we were married. It was probably the part of the day I felt most present and it's the part I relive the most. As a little girl I always though "ceremony-shmeremony." But it was my favorite part of all.

Afterward, we dined on wedge salads, prime rib french dips, with green beans almandine, and rosemary potatoes. All whipped up by the talented owners of the local donut shop. Have you ever been so impressed by a donut that you entrusted your entire wedding menu to the maker of said donut? Well, I have, and it was one of the best choices we made. If you are in Mariposa, CA, stop in at Donuts A-Go-Go and don't leave without a cup of wild rice soup.

We bought wine and champagne from Trader Joes, beer from Costco, and my brother-in-law created custom cocktails for us. Mine was Gin and stone fruits, Chase's was Whiskey and Peaches. I named mine, "The June Bride." Chase called his, "And The Giant Peach." Not, "The Giant Peach" no, no. "AND The Giant Peach." It doesn't make sense. Oh yes, can I please have an "And The Giant Peach?" I fought him on it. I lost. I'm trying not to be so bossy.

Someone told me before the wedding to make sure on the day, you step back with your spouse and take everything in. During dinner, we stole away to our balcony which overlooked the property. I remember standing there with my husband, looking down at everyone having dinner by candlelight and I'll never forget that. I remind brides to do the same now.

In the end, the only things we rented were the tables, chairs, and hay bales. There are some facts of life that you don't learn until you go through the process of planning a wedding. One of them being that you can rent hay bales for a dollar a day. I also learned that eucalyptus need a surprising amount of water, and that after you are married and sitting on the front porch with your new spouse, you won't care that the candles won't stay lit because of the wind. You will only be able to incessantly repeat some version of the phrase, "we're married" as the sun sets and everyone you love is getting tipsy by the lake. All of the things that stressed you out to an unhealthy degree before the wedding, will simply blow away, on the very breeze that is preventing your candles from catching.

All Photography by Evangeline Lane

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