Mixed feelings: Our wedding.

There’s been lots of action happening on the wedding planning front. Turns out, even a small wedding is a lot of work!

Neither Josh nor I are really into weddings. We both think the idea of walking down an aisle in front of a bunch of people, flubbing some awkward/personal vows, giving speeches, having a “first dance”, etc., etc. is all just about the worst thing you could ask either one of us to do.

We knew before we got engaged that the traditional wedding was not for us.

In the beginning, I felt pretty strongly about eloping, or – at least – getting married, just us, alone. But, Josh (more reasonably, perhaps) felt strongly about having his family there to see us get married. Not an outlandish request by any means, but it did open the door to having some form of wedding, beyond just a simple, private ceremony.

We spent a few weeks deliberating possible ideas, all intended to be low key and low budget:

  • could we have a backyard BBQ? (turns out, a tent rental alone would run us $2k, not to mention tables, chairs, catering, porta-potty rentals, etc. – hey, you can’t plan an outdoor wedding in NS without a tent!)
  • could we have a simple dessert-only reception at the house? (But… our house really isn’t big enough to host any more than 20-30 people).

What do we want in a wedding?

At the very beginning, we set a few goals to keep us focused on planning a day that was truly about us, and one that would make us happy. At the end of the day, we want:

  1. To get married
  2. To be true to ourselves & be happy with whatever plans transpire
  3. To have a low-stress, easy-to-plan celebration
  4. To celebrate with a few close friends and a few close family members
  5. To have a celebration that we can afford without much additional saving (i.e., something that is well within our means so we aren’t altering spending habits, or getting stressed over money)

We eventually landed on a format we are both happy with:

Our ceremony is taking place in a Dartmouth city park this summer, in the company of our parents & siblings only, followed by some family photos taken on the waterfront. We’ll then join a larger group of family and friends for a happy hour and buffet dinner at a nearby restaurant on the waterfront to celebrate our marriage.

The plans came together pretty quickly, and we’re both pretty happy with the outcome. It’s a day that is truly ‘us’ – we get to have a ceremony that we’re comfortable with, followed by a simple dinner afterward with a small group of our nearest and dearest.

Rough patches.

The past few weeks have been a little bit trying, and I’ve struggled to not let what other people think affect me. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to marry Josh. I can, however, do without the associated drama. I definitely go through ups and downs, switching from being super happy about the day we’ve planned and can’t wait for it to happen, to feeling like I really just want to cancel it all and go get married in secret tomorrow.

(I *know* the day of will be fantastic and we’ll enjoy ourselves tremendously and will look back on it all so fondly – it’s just the process of getting there that I’m not really enjoying).

I think most family and friends have been relatively understanding about our wishes, but, not all have, and hearing about it is such a drag. I think many people truly don’t understand the industry that surrounds getting married, and the debt people take on to make it all happen. The latest stats show that last year, the average wedding in Canada was expected to cost over $30,000 (including a honeymoon).

We both have great incomes, but we’re not hella rich, so the idea of this is simply ABSURD in my books. There are so many things I’d rather do with $30k. I can’t even fathom such a thing. (But hey, that’s just me!)

But still, there are relatives who are (vocally) disappointed not to be invited, and friends who don’t understand why they can’t actually see us get married, or why they can’t bring their brand new boyfriend/girlfriend. Everyone wants to be more involved, which is so, so generous, and so lovely! But, it’s just not us. We don’t want a big wedding; we don’t want a fuss.

I totally get that our wedding may be a bit of an anomaly, and that we’re breaking most of the traditions. But why follow tradition unless it’s something that’s really meaningful to you?

I keep getting so many questions/comments from the people I wouldn’t expect them from. So many assumptions about how we’ll do things, like:

  • During your rehearsal dinner… (We’re not having a rehearsal dinner)
  • How many people are in your bridal party? (We don’t have a bridal party)
  • When you’re at the head table… (We don’t have a head table)
  • Me and my (brand spanking new) partner will be there! (Your partner wasn’t invited…)

I try not to, but sometimes I can’t help but feel a little hurt when my answers to these questions are met with disappointment. Let’s think about this realistically – why does anyone care that we won’t have a head table?!

Money matters.

At the outset, we asked ourselves how much money we would comfortably and happily spend on our wedding:

  • My number: $5,000
  • Josh’s number: $5,000 – $6,000

I’m a person who (to a fault, probably) loves lists and budgets and basically anything in Excel. So, naturally, I have a budget breakdown for the big day. Here’s where we’re at:

Item Cost Estimate
Dinner 3,000
Appetizers 350
Dress + appropriate underwear 800
Alterations 200
Shoes 100
Suit 500
Alterations 100
Shoes 100
Makeup, Hair & Nails 250
Flowers – bouquet 50
Marriage license 130
Officiant 100
Flowers (for tables) 120
Decorations & jars for flowers, guestbook, etc. 310
Photographer 500
wedding bands 700
City park rental 110
Hotel room 250
$7,670

Some of these numbers are actuals, and some are estimates. But it’s clear that either way, we’re over budget! We’re not stressing over it too much (I willingly spent double my initial dress budget, for example), but it’s crazy how it all adds up so fast, even with so few items on a list.

Oh, and I get that this looks like a “cheap” wedding – but seriously, when’s the last time you dropped nearly $8k on something?! It’s a lot of money!

(Plus, the cost of the engagement ring, and a honeymoon – which we are doing, but have not finalized. It’ll be whatever we can manage with a couple thousand dollars).

Cost-savers.

We came up with some ways to keep our costs down, and also nixed many of the expensive traditions:

  • Hired a friend as our photographer.
  • Ditched the wedding cake (our 3-course meal comes with dessert, anyway).
  • Getting flowers from a local farmer. The florists in town wanted about $100 per centerpiece (and we’re looking for 15 centerpieces!), so I hooked up with a local farm who is going to grow a selection of wildflowers for us, and I will arrange them in jars myself.
  • I found a local rental company for decorations, so instead of having to buy the 45 candle holders I’d like, I can rent them for a dollar a piece. I’m also getting a Just Married banner, signage, a polaroid camera, and a few other odds and ends. All on rent, and all super cute!
  • Ditched the bridal party – which is a huge expense, either for the bride & groom, or that cost gets passed on to the party, which I don’t like the idea of. It cost me the better part of $2,000 to be my sister’s maid of honour last summer. I wasn’t comfortable asking someone to do that, and I also couldn’t afford to do it myself. So, we’re not!
  • Our JoP discounted her rate to perform our ceremony, given there isn’t a rehearsal dinner or a lengthy ceremony.
  • Kept dinner numbers to 50 guests, a number the restaurant is happy with (lots of business for them, and therefore aren’t charging us to use the private function rooms or the balcony overlooking the water).
  • Guests did not get automatic +ones.
  • We’re sending email Save the Dates and invitations, pointing to a website, instead of having to buy materials, design, print, and mail hard copies.
  • Nixed the dance/DJ.

Guest list.

Fifty guests doesn’t sound that small, but trust me, IT IS. Right off the bat, after immediate family members are accounted for, we’re down to 35 guests, or, 17 guests each. There are over 40 people on my dad’s side of the family alone, if I account for all of their spouses, children, etc. Not a fun task to whittle that down!

This is why our guests did not get automatic +ones (something not everyone is happy with, so if you’re going to enforce that rule, be ready for some flack!).

Ultimately, we tried hard to stick to our guns and invite only the people nearest and dearest to us – people that, as a couple, we both have strong, personal relationships with. This does exclude a lot of friends, and a lot of family members, who are without a doubt also very close to us. If you’re going to stick to a budget, you have to slice and dice somehow.

What I’ve learned.

I suppose that no matter what you do, how you plan it, or who is invited, there will always be someone who is unhappy. The name of the game is to keep it all in perspective, and remind yourself that it’s just a party!

At the end of the day, Josh and I will be married – and on our own terms! – and that’s really the only goal.

Our engagement story.

Engaged on the Skyline Trail!
Engaged on the Skyline Trail!

I said I’d write something about our engagement, and here it is!

Flashback to several months ago when I was whining about everyone constantly asking us when we were going to get engaged/married/etc. What I didn’t say in that post is that roughly around the time we moved into our home (October 2014), we discussed marriage at length and decided we would in fact get married. The priorities at the time, though, were a couple renos on the house, followed by the need to save some money for an engagement ring (Josh) as well as for a wedding (both of us). We had known for a while that we would soon be engaged, and the pressure from friends and family was getting old – we were on a path of our own!

So… Fast forward to October 2015, Thanksgiving long weekend, and Josh and I were on a camping/hiking trip in the Cape Breton Highlands. What a beautiful trip! It was my first time in Cape Breton and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Incredible to think that such a place exists in the province we live in – a place that looks so drastically different from the rest of Nova Scotia, with its mountains, valleys, and breathtaking coastal roads and trails.

We camped (okay, fine, ‘glamped’) in an Otentik in the Broad Cove Campground (Otentiks, by the way, are half cabin/half tent accommodations that give you the feeling of camping, but, without having to sleep on the ground or in a legit tent – which, let’s be honest, are the worst parts of camping!). The campground was incredible and we loved staying in the Otentik – it came with a charcoal grill, firepit, picnic table, as well as solar-powered lights and USB chargers for our devices – how cool!

Our Otentik.
Our Otentik.

On our second day in CB, on October 11, we set off to hike the Skyline Trail – something I’d been wanting to do for years. I was ecstatic and loving every minute of it. Little did I know, Josh was having a near heart attack – he wrongly assumed the trail would be dead (it was off-season, after all!). But instead, the trail was pretty packed, and we were passing other people every few minutes. Not quite what he was hoping for as a place to propose!

We hit the peak of the trail and enjoyed the incredible views at the look-off decks. I knew at this moment that Josh was stressing about something – he kept looking over his shoulder and was so distracted, I don’t think he heard a word I said! After a few minutes, we decided to pack it in and head back, this time taking a longer, more rugged route back as few people were choosing that option over the nicely paved, flat trail.

We hiked through the woods for a little while before coming up to a bench, where Josh suggested we take a break. He said he wanted to get a snack, and turned to rummage through his backpack. He turned around with a ring, and dropped to one knee before asking me to marry him.

(And of course, given Josh’s luck, a whole family of hikers had come up the trail at this point and were lingering a few feet away, waiting for Josh to finish so they could continue on! They awkwardly muttered “congrats!” and kept going. Awkward. Hilarious. I expected nothing less. Haha.)

We spent the rest of the hike back talking about how excited we were, and Josh filled me in on a few of the little secrets he had gathered during the ring-buying process (like him pretending to go to work one day, waiting for me to leave, and coming back home to accept the ring from the courier, as it was coming from Saint John, NB. And the story of him talking to my dad a few weeks prior and asking for his blessing before proposing. It was so touching to hear about all the things he went through to make his proposal perfect. Which, by the way, we both agree was *imperfectly* perfect).

After we finished our hike, we decided to stop at a pub along the Cabot Trail for a late afternoon bite. It being the Thanksgiving weekend, I was stoked about seeing a full turkey dinner on the restaurant’s menu (hey – we had been hiking for a while, and I’m not one to turn down turkey & cranberries!).

The beautiful Cape Smokey.
The beautiful Cape Smokey.

Josh, on the other hand, ordered fish & chips, which proved to be the worst decision of all-time. You’ll see why. Anyway, we enjoyed our meals, warmed up, had some wine, and were ready to head back to the campsite. We had a beautiful drive back, and were preparing to post up for the night. I gave my family in New Brunswick a call to let them know the good news – it was perfect timing, as my brother, sister, parents, and grandmother were all gathering for their Thanksgiving meal. My mom put me on speakerphone so I got to tell everyone our news at once! They cheered and congratulated us and it was truly such a lovely phone call. It was actually the only call I made, given we had little to no cell service. I was dying to tell everyone, but at the same time loved being alone with Josh before sharing our news with the world.

A few hours later, as we cooped up in the Otentik, had a couple drinks flowing, and I think we were playing a game of Scrabble, when Josh’s belly started rumbling. We assumed it was just from the beer, and carried on with our evening.

We went to bed a few hours later, and I was woken abruptly to the sound of Josh, out on the deck of the Otentik, in the rain, completely puking his guts up (I know, disgusting, but trust me – it was actually *worse* than it sounds!). The rest of the night was a constant rotation between running outside, to running the 5 or so minute dash to the washrooms nearby. It was exhausting and terrible and was actually the first time I had seen him sick. He then tells me that at the restaurant he had a brief moment of doubt, wondering if his fish was properly cooked. (I’d say it wasn’t!)

Fast forward a few hours, he finally passed out around 4am. I couldn’t sleep. I let him sleep until about 8:30 before waking him up, as we needed to check out of the park and head back to Dartmouth that morning. The poor guy rallied through and we went on with our day. Needless to say, our first night as an engaged couple was nothing short of romantic!

After telling friends and family about what had happened, we agreed that it was all a life lesson preparing us for marriage – for better, or for worse, after all!