The Wedding Budget Diaries:
Real Weddings. Real Couples. Real Budget Breakdowns.
This installment of the Wedding Budget Diaries comes from personal finance expert (and personal friend of mine) Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez. Stefanie and her husband Jon used their values and priorities to guide their wedding decisions, even if it meant planning their big day in the most expensive city in the country!
Though the total budget for their wedding was higher than the majority of real weddings we feature here on TB$B, there are some major mantras, guiding principles, and insights to be gleaned from Stefanie’s wedding planning process. We hope you find this inspiring and motivating in your own wedding plans!Jessica
Couple: Stefanie O’Connell & Jon Rodriguez
Wedding date: August 24, 2019
Location: New York, NY
Ceremony & Reception:
Ukrainian Institute of America
Guest count: 70
Color Scheme: White with Greenery
Theme: Elegant NYC
Dress code: Suits and Gowns
Music: Live Band Silver Arrow Band
Food: Cocktail hors d’oeuvres and dinner buffet Harvest and Revel
Why get married in New York City?
We had our wedding in THE most expensive place to get married in America, according to the Knot – New York City – where the average wedding cost is $96,910.
Why? Because New York City is deeply meaningful to us.
My husband and I met backstage on the touring production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas The Musical. He, a stagehand, I, an actress – a classic ‘showmance’, culminating in a first kiss at the opening night party following our first performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
We were building our respective careers with Manhattan as our home base and the rest of the world as our workplace. We’d both worked tours across Asia. I’d spent time as a singer on a cruise ship circling South America. And shortly after meeting, he spent six months touring Europe with Riverdance. But a few years into dating we committed to planting our roots at home in NYC.
I pivoted into a writing career while he made the leap to working on Broadway. And we both made took a chance on moving in together to a shared apartment in Harlem.
New York City served as the backdrop to the story of our relationship and our lives as individuals. So when it came time to choose a location for our wedding, New York City it had to be.
Setting Our Wedding Priorities
With our focal point set, we had two priorities while wedding planning – personalization, specifically, incorporating elements of my Ukrainian culture into our wedding ceremony and reception. And community – figuring out how to create a sense of group celebration all weekend long. We wanted to enjoy, not only the formal moments of the wedding, but all the other moments of family coming into town and friends getting ready together, and everyone winding down the weekend as a community.
Like everything else in NYC the key to both of these priorities was location, location, location.
First, the location of our wedding ceremony and reception – the Ukrainian Institute of America. My mother’s family immigrated from Ukraine to New York City in the 1950s, and the Institute became part of their framework for celebrating their culture and community in America. As members of the Institute, we were able to secure the space for a significantly reduced price.
Also known as the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, The Ukrainian Institute is architecturally stunning, designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1978. The main ballroom, which served as both our ceremony and reception location, has floor to ceiling north and westward facing windows, overlooking Central Park on one side and The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other.
Flowers & Décor
Wholesale Flowers & Vases, NYC flower district: $350
The Ukrainian Institute also functions as a gallery for various Ukrainian art exhibitions during its public hours, so the entire venue was already beautifully decorated with culturally significant artwork on every floor. We didn’t feel the need to add much to it, so we opted for the most basic table linens and chairs, supplemented with flameless candles from Amazon and flowers we purchased from the New York City flower district and put together ourselves the day before.
Our only other décor was personal – family photos of our respective parents’ and grandparents’ weddings, my mother’s Ukrainian embroidered cloths, and the traditional Ukrainian Korovai, an intricately woven wedding bread, celebrating my family’s cultural history. And a selection of traditional Ukrainian tortes for dessert added a touch of sweetness.
While our wedding venue was stunning, it didn’t come with much beyond the space – leaving the logistics of everything from bringing in plates and forks, to stocking and staffing the bar, up to us. While this gave us some opportunities to save (for example, by providing our own liquor), it also came with so many surprise costs – like ice!
It might sound silly, but once you’ve already committed thousands of dollars to your wedding, it can drive you a little crazy when these kinds of extra costs keep getting tacked on – an extra cost per person to cut a cake that YOU’VE provided, and additional for coffee. So when I heard the ice was going to cost even more per person, I was done.
I spent time an hour or two a couple of days before the wedding walking around the neighborhood of our wedding venue figuring out where we could pick up ice instead. Ultimately, I only saved around $30 and spent a lot of time and energy on figuring out the ‘ice problem’, which wasn’t really worth it. But that’s the thing about wedding planning with a budget – it’s hard to know which savings are actually going to be worthwhile in the end. Providing our own alcohol and mixers was definitely the right call.
To satisfy our second wedding priority – community – we decided to provide a home base for everyone to enjoy extended pre- and post- wedding celebrations, splurging on the Penthouse Suite at the Hotel Beacon on the Upper West Side.
We opted for this location to avoid the madness of midtown Manhattan, provide easy access to our wedding venue, (located just a quick cab ride across Central Park), and to enjoy the spectacular private terrace with panoramic views of New York City that came with the suite.
The private terrace essentially served as our secondary wedding venue. We catered a Friday night dinner, Saturday breakfast and lunch, and Sunday brunch on the terrace. Guests were free to come and go as they pleased – creating a casual, celebratory environment all weekend long.
I’ll be holding onto the memory of standing on the private terrace with my soon-to-be husband the night before our wedding, just after everyone cleared out, practicing our first dance while overlooking the New York City skyline.
My dress was a deep V-neck Pronovias gown with a sweeping train and plunging back, requiring little else to create a classic bridal style. I finished it off with simple teardrop earrings and a silver headpiece from a friend who wore it at her wedding a few years before.
I was never someone who fantasized about my wedding, much less wearing a designer wedding gown. I didn’t even want to go to a designer boutique and be tempted because of the prices. But after a not-so-enthusiastic trip to a more affordable wedding dress shop, I impulsively made a solo appointment to try on some dresses at Pronovias.
And as I feared, I fell in LOVE with a designer dress. At a price of over $3,000 with their in house alterations, I couldn’t commit. So I went home and Googled the dress to see if I could find a used wedding dress of the same style.
As luck would have it, I actually found it listed for resale on Tradesy, new with tags from a bride who never wore it, for half the price! I ultimately paid $1550 for the dress, and my hope is to sell it for at least $1,000. Plus, she threw in a veil I never wore. So if I can sell that too, I might be able to come out of this at a cost of only a couple hundred bucks for a dress that made me feel like the ultimate NYC bride.
My husband wore a custom made grey suit from Alan David, adding to his formal wardrobe for future celebrations.
I scrolled through Instagram for Hair and MakeUp recommendations. Ultimately, I settled on getting everything done the day of – no pre-wedding trial, which helped us save more money.
To round out our New York City style, we snapped photos everywhere from the steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art to Central Park.
Taxis & Lyfts: $84.93
Yes, I took a taxi to my wedding. Not only was it cheap, but it made for a great photo opp. (How epic is this taxi-exiting shot? So Sex and the City!)
Our final major splurge was the live band we hired to play at the reception. I negotiated to bring the price down as much as possible by limiting the hours of actual performance time and the number of musical pieces. Ultimately the cost differential between DJ quotes and what we paid for live music was less than $1,000 and the upgrade to live music was worth it to us!
We kept our printing and invites super simple which helped us save on both printing and postage costs. Our all-in-one invites from Minted didn’t require anything more than a simple postage stamp, and the RSVP card postage was even cheaper, needing just a postcard stamp!
Month of Wedding Coordinator
Wedding coordinator: Pollyanna Events $2,760
While I did the majority of the wedding planning, pulling it all off was a total group effort. From our coordinator, who managed the logistics of getting our various vendors set up in the space, to my mother-in-law and brother-in-law’s girlfriend, who braved the NYC flower district with me and hauled stems from storefront to storefront until we found everything we needed – spending the day putting centerpieces together. Not to mention my mom, dad, sister and three brothers who hauled the boxes of liquor, supplies and décor from their home in Connecticut to the bridal suite to the wedding venue and back. So many people put in work to make the weekend a success.
Things We Skipped or Skimped On
While we had to pay a plating fee to our caterers, our cakes were traditional Ukrainian tortes baked by friends and family members. We also ordered one regular carrot cake that I picked up from a bakery the day of the wedding, but not having a traditional ‘wedding cake’ certainly saved us a few hundred extra bucks.
We decided to skip wedding favors as we felt they didn’t provide enough value given the money, time and energy cost to purchase and distribute them.
We grabbed our marriage license at city hall in advance of the ceremony, so I was able to write out a personalized wedding day ceremony script, 9 minutes in length, and we had my brother read it.
Instead of a wedding party, we opted for a processional made up solely of our family members. The bonus: I saved on hair, make up and bouquets for would-be bridesmaids, and they saved on dresses. We still took photos together though!
There are so many of these memorable moments from our wedding weekend that I wish I could hold onto and live in forever. On the more entertaining side, three people broke their shoes during the reception, including me! In all fairness, my shoes were close to 10 years old, but with the help of my coordinator and her team’s super glue, I was back on both feet in no time. But my mom, who also broke a shoe, went all out barefoot to make the most of dancing to the live music. The next morning we stumbled upon the shoe sole of the third victim. If that’s not a sign of a good time, I don’t know what is.
With a nod to the traditions passed down through generations to shape us into the people we are today, and a deep love of the city we call home, we ultimately built our wedding around who we are as a couple. The thing we heard over and over from our guests was the best compliment we could get, as well as the best advice we could give, ‘It’s all just so – you.’
In Conclusion: Plan According to Your Priorities.
In the end, we spent over $40K on our big day. While that might not seem “budget” to some, when you consider the average cost for our location is closer to $100K, you could say we were pretty savvy to pull it off for less than half that cost.
The vast majority of our wedding budget went to feeding and hosting our friends and family for three days, which aligned with our values.
For our wedding, as in our life, we tried to splurge on the things we cared about and ruthlessly cut the rest. It wasn’t cheap. But it was worth it.⠀
Music: Live Band Silver Arrow Band | Catering: Cocktail h’or derves and dinner buffet Harvest and Revel | Photographer: Love Framed | Month of Coordinator: Pollyanna Events | Hair and Make Up: Beauty By Natalia | Hotel: Hotel Beacon | Groom’s suit: Alan David | Flowers & Décor: DIY (NYC flower district, flameless candles from Amazon, printing: FedEx Office & Moo.com) | Dress: Pronovias (purchased on Tradesy)
Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more pandemic wedding resources here.