Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget

When I first started wedding planning, I was super stressed out about costs.  With my expensive tastes in location, I didn't see how I could ever have the wedding that I wanted on our budget.  Add that to the fact that Daniel also has expensive tastes but in different areas, and I thought we were screwed.  Since she was the only person I knew at the time with an interest in weddings, my friend Laura heard most of my complaints, and that is probably why she gave me How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget by Diane Warner.  Now that I've read it, I have to say, "THANK YOU, LAURA" once again because it was definitely helpful for putting my nerves at ease.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is trying to plan a wedding on a budget.  If nothing else, it gives you the sense that you can accomplish your dreams without dumping tens of thousands of dollars into your wedding, and for me, that alone made it worth reading.  At the same time, Warner offers lots of good money-saving tips that are effective without compromising the aesthetic appeal of your wedding, something I have not found through many other venues (especially because I am not a crafty person).

Originally based on planning her daughter's wedding, this book goes through all of the major expenses of your average American wedding and shows you ways to do things on the cheap while still making them look, well, expensive in most cases.  She offers ideas of what to do as well as how to go about finding the places and things that she talks about which is what I really wanted out of this book.  If you really liked her ideas, you could basically plan your wedding following her guide and suggestions, and while that definitely is not something I plan on doing, it's helpful to have someone walk you through a way to plan your wedding without charging for the service (apart from the price of the book of course).

As you might have guessed from this post, I found the chapter on flowers most illuminating.  Her ideal plan, harvesting flowers from your friends and family, costs a mere $206, but the thing that really impressed me was that her "Fool Them with the Real Thing" plan which is basically buy your flowers from the grocery store and put everything together yourself still only costs $700.  And she isn't just talking about flowers for the wedding party.  This price includes decking out the venue in lots of flowers.  That is the kind of thing that really sets this book apart:  it really is how to have a BIG wedding on a SMALL budget, i.e. how to have everything you want for less than $10,000 (which will probably be my budget, more or less).

However, the book did have some problems.  A major thing that lacked helpfulness for me was not really her fault but me and Daniel realizing that there are a lot of things that we want to go all out on.  The biggest one for me is the dress.  As I said here, the dress is one of the most important aspects of the wedding to me, and it is one of the biggest things that I do not want to have to compromise on.  I'm going to spend about $1,200 on a retail dress (including alterations) because I want my dress to be perfect.  If I can find my dress at an outlet store, that's great, but I'm not going to expect it.  However, another thing I liked about the book was that it took things like this into account.  There is a pricing chart at the back of the book that allows you to see how much each thing should cost, and if I were to follow it, I wouldn't have a problem spending a little less on some things to spend more on my dress.  Daniel and I are going to have to be a little more flexible than we would like on things like food and convenience, but it should all work out in the end.

The real problems I had with this book were more regional and generational.  To a large extent, this book is written by someone who assumes the bride lives in a small town.  While she does go out of her way to include things in the big city, it always feels inserted, like she's not really writing for city folk, and much of what she does include about the city does not jive with my experiences.  And the small town stuff really doesn't help me.  Like assuming people have yards, and you have lots of friends and family to help out, and you know people who are really good at sewing, cooking, arts and crafts, etc., and there are places that sell things cheaply.  I'm not saying there aren't people and places in more populated areas that could fit these categories, just that they're a lot harder to find if you live in urban areas, and Warner often does not take that into account.

Another major thing that bothered me was that Warner often assumes you will be married in a church which was completely unhelpful for me since I'll be having an outdoor wedding.  Though she does make a few suggestions for non-church weddings, it is very, very common for her to give advice based on the assumption that you will be in a church, and this is useless for quite a few brides out there.

Also, though she does say in the beginning and end that you should do what's best for you without regard for other's opinions, she also makes certain assumptions about what you MUST have at your wedding that I found bothersome.  For instance, she says a wedding without flowers looks tacky while I know of lots of brides who are providing alternative decorations that look GREAT.  She also assumes that the bride and her mother will be planning the wedding while my family probably won't be involved much, but Daniel and I really want to share the planning burden.  But I think the biggest of these problems for me was that she assumes the classical structure of the bride pays for this stuff while the groom pays for that which is soooo not the way it's going to go down for us.  Even though she has a chapter for the groom's stuff, I felt like I missed out on advice for the stuff the groom is supposed to take care of.  I guess my main problem with this book is that Warner assumes certain things that are contrary to what I need, and it would have been nice for her to cater to a broader audience.

But like I said, the book was really helpful, and I am glad that I read it.  It may not plan my wedding for me, and there are a lot of tips that I won't be using, but it could still save me thousands of dollars which is all that really matters in the end.

A Day in the Life

If anyone's interested in my actual, genuine personal life with my fiance,

Friday, February 26, 2010

10 Most Daring Dresses: Spring 2010

I just had to share this with you:,%202010

It's the Knot's 10 Most Daring Dresses of Spring 2010.  The Knot and I are not the best of buddies, but they do have some fun pictures.  I actually like the first dress.  It looks more like a Cinderella dress than the Kirstie Kelly Cinderella line.  And I think the flowery pink one is kind of fun in it's fashion.  But no matter what, you gotta respect

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Location, Location, Location

In all likelihood, the site fee for the ceremony and reception is going to be our biggest expense.  What we really want is somewhere in California with an ocean view, ideally a nice cliff overlooking the ocean and covered with wildflowers.  Naturally, this is about as expensive as it can get, so finding a nice place that doesn't use up our entire budget is going to be our biggest challenge.  It's frustrating for me because this is really what we need to do first, even before setting a date, but since I'm not in California right now, we can't really check places out.  To make things more difficult, we don't know where in California we're going to be living next year which will further narrow our search parameters when we start looking for real.  Nonetheless, I have started doing internet research near locations we might be living next year, and I found some places that might be acceptable.

Oceanside Marina Suites

This is the only place I've actually been to myself.  Daniel and I checked it out while we were engaged before.  The instant we walked in, we knew we loved this place.  It's very nice looking, covered with palm trees and interesting decor.  The staff were SUPER nice to us, and we really felt welcomed.  The rooms are also particularly nice, each one being unique with a different theme.

Pros:  It's right next to the ocean which of course is what we want.  The staff were really willing to work with us to make the day great without us spending a ton of money on the location.  The total we would pay them would be $3,000 though that may have gone up since we were there, but mostly importantly, we could hire our own caterers, bring our own cake, etc. which would REALLY help keep costs down.  The fact that the ceremony and reception would be right next to each other would also be nice for our guests, so they don't have to drive in between.  And I love the gazebo.  I have a thing about gazebos, and I definitely want to get married under either a flower arch or a decorated gazebo.

Cons:  $3,000 still ain't cheap, especially because this is purely the site fee.  We would still have to pay for chairs and tables and just about everything else ourselves.  They had people who could give us a deal when renting them, but it would still be nice to find a place where that kind of stuff was included.  The biggest downside for me is that this location doesn't really have an ocean view.  It's technically in a harbor, and though we would be able to see the ocean from our room, we wouldn't be able to see it during the actual wedding.  Major downside from my point of view.

Capri Laguna


Laguna Beach is my number 1 location choice.  I LOVE that area.  It has incredible natural beauty, the "cliff overlooking the ocean" thing basically describes the entire area, and my parents got married there albeit underwater (long story, maybe I'll tell it later), so it has sentimental value as well.  Of course, being prime Orange County real estate, it's one of the most expensive places to get married.  However, the Capri Laguna has given me hope that I might be able to find somewhere to get married there anyway.

Pros:  Beautiful location and potentially not that expensive!  Rates start at a mere $1,200, and though we have to use their caterer, a sit-down dinner starts at $25 per person which is basically unheard of at most of the hotels I've been looking at.  If this place is as good as it makes itself out to be, it may very well be where we get married.

Cons:  The biggest con of course is that we haven't actually been there yet, but the wording they use for their price list also makes me think the site fee is more expensive than they let on.  Basically, I'm not going to get my hopes up for anywhere in Laguna Beach or any hotel for that matter until I've talked to someone personally about what exactly we're going to be paying them.

Nowheresville, CA

When I started looking for locations, Laura recommended a stretch of park in La Jolla, CA that was overlooking the beach.  Daniel and I checked it out, and IT WAS PERFECT.  Stretch of bowl-shaped grass, cut off from the rest of the park, right above the ocean with a perfect view.  I would have stopped looking there except for the tiny little problem that this is part of a very busy stretch of Southern California that would be flooded with tourists during the summer.  No privacy.  Daniel vetoed it.  BUT, it got me thinking that the best thing we could do is find a stretch like it but in a more remote area where we would still have our cliff for a small view to the government, but we wouldn't have a bunch of tourists looking over us.

This is where I need your help!  Are there any stretches of land near the ocean that you think are beautiful or that you think might work for a wedding?  Or a hotel near the beach that is nice but not too expensive?  Or a restaurant?  Or anything else really.  Anything you can give me would be helpful, even if it's just a general area.  I can find locations based on that.  I would really appreciate anything you can recommend on the California coastline.

Monday, February 22, 2010

And then there were flowers

When I first got engaged, I imagined my perfect wedding dripping in flowers.  I love flower-filled weddings.  I think they make the atmosphere beautifully serene while combining sophistication with the natural world which is definitely something I want for my wedding.

Then I started looking at how much flowers cost, and my dreams of flowers decorating the aisles and bouquets on every table evaporated.  Daniel and I are on a very tight budget.  Neither of us has any money and three of our parents aren't much better off at the moment.  Throw in my brother starting college next year, and we're basically counting on his dad and ourselves for funding which is a major part of why our engagement is so long.  Anyway, we're going to have to cut costs wherever we can, and the flowers were the first things to go.  Not only are they by far the most expensive decoration, but there are so many cute alternatives out there that it seems like a waste to pay heaps of money for flowers.

The major things that I wanted flowers for were (are?) my bouquet (which of course I will still be using real flowers for), a flower arch under which we could get married, and centerpieces.  I'll get to the arch in later discussions, but the centerpieces are very easy to replace with DIY (for the non-wedding blog educated reading this, DIY = Do It Yourself) options.  I have seriously considered the floating candles in a fishbowl idea which is nice because I have pyro tendencies and because we could buy oceany floating candles to tie in with our by the beach wedding.  Daniel and I also really liked the cupcake plate centerpieces we saw at a friend's wedding which would really minimize costs since we intend to serve cupcakes anyway.

However, I have been reading How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget by Diane Warner (book review will follow, but for now, I recommend it for anyone doing a budget wedding), and I'm starting to dream of flowers again.  Warner has an entire chapter on how to greatly minimize your flower costs, and I'm starting to think we might have some flower options after all.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up because we're going to have to take a good look at our budget before we figure out how many flowers we can realistically have, but there is one suggestion I definitely want to take.  Warner's first suggestion is to get people you know to donate flowers.  Now, I don't know very many people with gardens, and as I live in an apartment and move constantly, I can't grow flowers myself.  Nevertheless, my future mother-in-law has a green thumb, and I'm thinking of asking her to grow a bush or two for us as a way to cut costs and maybe increase the number of flowers we can have at our wedding.

So now I have a mission:  I need to research what kinds of bouquets and arrangements will work for us, find out what kinds of flowers can realistically be expected to bloom during the summer, figure out what kinds of flowers we need most, and see whether my mother-in-law-to-be and/or other family members/friends might help us grow our flowers.  Roses are a given for me since I love them and they're expensive, but having multiple kinds of flowers would probably be helpful.  With a bit of help from wholesale flower markets (another Warner suggestion), we just might be able to have the "flowing with flowers" wedding that I envisioned.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Groom-inations - #1

I'm Daniel.  I'm the Groom.

Since Nicole has started this blog, I figured that I can throw in a few thoughts every once in a while.  I'm not nearly as into wedding planning at the moment.  I really want to get through school first.  But she does get me thinking with all of her "look at this" and "what do you think of this?" etc.

What is my first Groom-ination?
I want to be a super groom.  I can kind of understand how it might be easy to fall into the trap of being a lame groom and letting the bride do too much of the work.  I don't want to do that.  How do I avoid this problem?  I buy this T-Shirt.

It's a bird, it's a penguin, it's SuperGroom!!

Search for a Theme . . . Maybe

One of the things the Ce and I had no trouble agreeing on is that we do not want a theme for our wedding.  At least, not a real one that we stick to.  I'm not really a theme kinda gal because themes always make me feel limited.  I want to include, well, everything that I want to include.

But at the same time, I do think that themed weddings look really good.  A friend of mine has a crazy awesome vintage lace and maps theme going on for her wedding, and the thought and detail she has put into it is not only extremely impressive but is bound to look sensational when the day arrives even though she's on a really tight budget.  It seems that much of her inspiration comes from the theme, and I'm afraid that if I don't have something tying things together, it will too overwhelming to try to decide how to decorate.  By the way, you should really check out Laura's blog, The Bride Side of Life.  She really knows what she's doing, and since she is the only person I know my age who is getting married, and because we started our dress hunting adventures together, I will probably be referring to her stuff often.

Here are some other themed weddings that worked out really well.  All of them are way too extreme for us, but some of them have cool ideas that I have every intention of stealing.  I'm going to refrain from going photo-happy out of respect, but you should really check these sites out!  They have some amazing ideas!

Pagan/Druid Wedding:

Mostly, I love the clothes at this wedding, but they have some nifty details as well, including chalices, scrolls, and a wedding dog!

Geeky Vegan Wedding:

The Ce and I both have geeky tendencies, so this wedding was like the wedding we'll never have.  But really, who wouldn't want a dinosaur at their wedding?  And I LOVE that they engraved their rings with the Star Wars reference, "I know."  Some of the ideas I got from this wedding that we would definitely think about using include naming each table after a fictional place and playing a "first Rock Band song" together.

Dia de los Muertos:


Not my kind of thing at all, but this looked really amazing.  I especially loved the bride's outfit.  That hat really made the wedding for me.

All of these weddings make me want to have a theme...but in the end, I still think we're better off incorporating things that we like into the wedding instead of sticking with something in particular.  Perhaps we can do something simple like sticking to a color scheme to help tie things together.  Since we'll be near the ocean, doing shades of blue and green seems like it would be easy and appropriate while incorporating colors we both like.  Or maybe we could do an eclectic theme, toned down to suit our tastes, that would encourage us to include various aspects of both of our lives.

What do you think?  Is it better to go all out on a theme and make your wedding look awesome or to stick with what you like and not give a shit about whether other people get it?  Should we do something basic to tie everything together or just not worry about it as long as everything looks good on its own?  Is it going to be much harder to get ideas if we don't have a theme?  I really want your opinions on this, especially anyone who has been involved in planning a wedding, I could definitely use your advice.

The Dress

I love wedding dress shopping!  I used to tell people that the dress was by far the most important part of the wedding, even more important than the groom.  I didn't REALLY mean that of course, but the dress is nonetheless the part of the wedding I have the most fun with, and having the perfect dress is really important to me.  I'll write later about my long search for the perfect gown, but for now I need your advice because I think I have found my dress!

For a long time, I was pretty sure that I wanted this dress:


I love the pick-ups, but the thing I really like about this dress is that it also has beading on the trim and has a beautiful train which set it apart from a lot of similar dresses I tried on.  I also really like the style of the beading on the bodice, and the sweetheart neckline really works for me.  The above picture really doesn't do it justice, especially with the gauze thing around her neck.  It looks a lot more impressive in person.  Anyway, I love that dress, but I keep coming back to this one:

I love that this dress is princessy and has pickups, but it's also unique in that it has a lot of beading in the front and back as well. And I do so love beading. It also has an olden-time aristocratic feel to it without sacrificing modern style which I really like. There are only two things I don't like about the dress. One is the point lines of beading on the bodice. They bug me, and there's nothing I can do about it. The other is the line of the sweetheart neckline. You can't really tell in the picture (and honestly, you can barely tell in real life too), but it sort of points up at the ends, and to me, this makes it look like there are supposed to be spaghetti straps there that got left off. Both of these things are small, especially since I love the plunge of the sweetheart neckline (which will hopefully provide me with some semblance of cleveage), but they bother me nonetheless. That and the fact that this doesn't say "outdoor wedding" to me have kept me from purchasing it so far, but I think the time has come to forgive the dress it's faults and go for it.

What do you think? Which do you like better? Or do you think I should keep looking (which frankly I'm going to do anyway because it's fun)?

Here this is a better picture of the Monalisa. It's not quite the same dress, but it's close enough, and the model isn't falling out of this one:


Saturday, February 20, 2010

About Us

I could write an entire blog just about Daniel's and my relationship. It's been interesting. Especially on paper.

The story of how we met is complicated in itself and requires explanation. We both went to Berkeley. Berkeley has a program called Decal (Democratic Education at Cal) which allows undergraduates to teach courses to other undergraduates, and everybody gets credit for it. Operating within Decal (slowly plotting to take over their website and become the only source for Decals in the school, mwahahaha) is a club called BookWorlds which teaches Decals about fantasy and sci-fi literature, and that is how Daniel and I met. It was my first day of the Harry Potter class, and Daniel, the current Thain (or for you less fantasy educated folk, President) of BookWorlds, walked into the classroom and gave a speech about how underrated fantasy literature was and how BookWorlds was trying to remedy that. The little freshman fantasy-lover was spellbound looking into those sparkling eyes, feeling like someone finally understood her passion for books like Harry Potter, and all I could think was "Wow, I wish he wasn't so much older than me."

We'll ignore the fact that I was in a relationship at that point and that Daniel had recently had quite the nasty break-up because we didn't start dating until four months had passed. In fact, we started dating a week-and-a-half before I went home for the summer, 400 miles away. We're real suave like that. The first summer that we were long distance, well, let's just say I never want to drive through the San Joaquin Valley again. When I went back to school, we had a brief stint as a normal couple before we moved in together (keep in mind that at this point we had been together for only 7 months, and I was only 19).

And then things got difficult. In August of 2007, Daniel left for law school in Chicago, and I left to study abroad in England. We didn't see each other for four months. Not fun. Thus ensued 2 years of long distance relationship. For most of it, I was at Berkeley, and he was in Chicago, but we did at least live together during the summers. Daniel officially (long story) proposed on September 14, 2008. The aftermath is very complicated, but let's just say I had a major meltdown while trying to figure out what I wanted my life to be about, and I broke it off on Valentine's Day weekend of 2009 while I was freaking out and needed to not have my future set in stone for a little while. I know that sounds really bad, but it really wasn't about us, and neither of us ever thought we weren't going to get married, I just wasn't ready to have to think about it at that point. In May, we moved back in together and have been living in Chicago since while Daniel finishes his law degree.

Anyway, I proposed to him on Christmas Eve 2009, and now we are happily engaged again, looking to get married during the summer of 2011. In our minds and for all practical (non-legal) purposes, we're already married. The wedding is more of a day of celebration and making it official than something that will actually change our relationship. By that I mean we've already done everything that married couples do except have kids, and we act like a married couple already, and if for some reason we were to break up, both of us would consider it divorce. For us, the wedding is just another way to show how much we care for each other and an excuse to have a rockin' party.

As a couple, we are partners in silliness above all else (I seriously think this is the most important part of our relationship, haha). We enjoy spending A LOT of time together. We're sort of an old married couple already because we enjoy a nice dinner and a good glass of wine much more than a party or club, and we really don't have a problem with spending Friday night in front of the TV together. We still like to go on dates, we intend to become wine snobs, we both really want a much later date, we play Munchkin on a weekly basis, and we are very proud of spending 17 hours at Disneyland in one day. There's so much that I could say, and I probably lost your attention long ago, but that should give you a pretty decent image of us as a couple.

OK, enough of that business, on to the fun stuff!

About Me

My name is Nicole. As of today, I am 22-years-old and living in Chicago, but I grew up in Southern California, and I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. I love the sun, the beach, traveling, fantasy, and Disneyland.

I am the princess bride. Not so much in the movie sense although the fiance (who will hereafter be referred to as "ce") and I do love it, but anyone I know will tell you that I NEED to be a princess on my wedding day. I love big poofy dresses that still retain some classiness, if I had the money, I would very seriously think about staging my wedding in front of the castle at Disneyland, and I have every intention of wearing a tiara while I walk down the aisle.

That said, not all of my tastes are extravagant. The ce and I both want a small, intimate wedding overlooking the ocean, and while I have every intention of looking like a princess on my wedding day, I really want it to be about us and to be romantic and tastefully simple, not so much a gala in Westminster Abbey. At heart, I love nature more than shiny things, and my wedding will probably reflect that to an extent.

So I guess what you really need to know about me is that I love being a princess on the outside, but that's not really me, and I want my wedding to be more than a fairy tale.

Sooooo, why am I doing this?

I wasn't planning on doing a wedding blog. It's rare for me to update these things with any kind of regularity, and I thought I didn't really need people to read about my wedding, so why bother? But the thing is, I'm looking at a very long engagement, and I'm the kind of person who needs to look at every possibility before choosing the best one (thanks for the neurosis, Mom). And as I start planning, I'm finding that I really want advice and opinions and help from my friends and family and from other brides, especially since I am almost the first of my friends to get married. Thus, I am creating this blog because I think I will post often enough for it to be worth it and because I want somewhere for people to go and help me make decisions about the biggest day of my life. And hopefully, your advice and my own research will help other brides find a way to get everything they want out of their big day without going into massive amounts of debt.

Classy Wedding by the Sea