A DIY, I Do
How to Achieve a Non-Traditional Wedding on a Dime
by Derick Stevens-Jones
When I got engaged three years ago, I couldn’t legally marry my partner in my home state. Sure, it doesn't seem too much of a foreign concept now, but when we got engaged I really couldn’t imagine any state in the South legalizing my right to be married. At the time there were 35 states that had passed same-sex marriage legislation, and as I sat in my bedroom dreaming of the day Louisiana would make that ruling, it seemed to never come. Until one day it did — nationwide — and nearly two years to the date when the Supreme Court ruled in favor, I legally married my best friend on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
I knew I wanted to have a simple wedding (and not just because my budget wasn’t other worldly), but I didn’t spend my younger years dreaming of my wedding day. For me, I never thought I’d be married — at least to a person I wanted to be with. I just imagined I’d be with a woman, this would be “her day” and life would move on.
Luckily as I got older I began realizing what and who I enjoyed and that meant something to me. In 2013 I met my now partner, Evan (even though we’re married neither of us identifies with the term “husband”). I had dated previously, but this was the first person I saw a future with. While we may be pretty opposite from each other, he complimented me in a way that I had never seen or felt before. Our relationship had hurdles, and in our first year of being together, I knew he was “the one,” whatever that meant. In 2014 we got engaged (via Facebook albeit, because that’s how we met) and while I didn’t immediately start thinking about our wedding, I knew it was going to be completely different from any other one I had attended. I knew we were going to wear shorts because it’s hot 11 months out of the year; Everything else would follow. I was determined to pull off my “dream” wedding and assume the role as the wedding planner. Since I have experience in events and pop-up shopping (I own my own vintage clothing business), planning a wedding couldn’t be hard, right?
Actually, it was the most seamless event I’ve ever thrown — and I did it all for under around $500. It all started with our invitations (I spent all of $28 for cards, envelopes and stamps). Instead of buying a box of matching invites, I thrifted them. They were funny, and everyone got a different one. From there out, I knew this was the tone I was setting for a non-traditional wedding to remember.
So, listen up — if you’re LGBTQIA+ and getting married this is the only advice you need : do whatever is in your heart that makes you happy.
I spent a significant amount of time listening to others about what I “should” and “shouldn’t” do when it came to my wedding day, but the fact is there is no right or wrong way to get married. If you’re privileged to have families who are hands-off in the planning process, you really can do anything you want. While both sets of our parents are supportive of us, we decided it was best to handle things ourselves. That’s not always the case for many queer couples, and while we did rely heavily on our own finances, our parents were there to help us when we needed them.
There’s a lot more than this, but I wanted to give you a little snapshot of how I got to my big day. Here are five questions you’ll ask yourself (and sure to be asked by others) when planning your wedding:
1. Where are you having the ceremony?
My wedding was the first non-traditional (and queer) wedding I ever attended – (Side note: my partner and I both identify as queer).
It sounds silly to say out loud, but it’s true. I have spent my entire life going to heterosexual Christian weddings, so it’s safe to say many of the traditions and values belonging to that type of wedding just weren’t for us (we are not Christian, either). During my original planning, our date was scheduled for November 19, 2016. We wanted it to coincide with the release of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (you’ll quickly learn we’re both big Harry Potter fans), so we were planning for a fall wedding. It was to be outdoors and while we were able to achieve nearly everything we wanted on our actual big day, things quickly changed when we moved away to New Mexico in early 2016. Everything was put on hold, and as fall turned into winter our date came and went. We weren’t that upset, and honestly knew we wanted to be home in Louisiana for it. After our year adventure in Albuquerque, we moved back home and from day one hit the ground running. Luckily I was working on a fashion show at the time, so in a trade, I was able to secure a venue for our wedding day. We were married inside a non-traditional venue, one that had never been used before — The Agora Borealis, an artist marketplace in downtown Shreveport. I knew being surrounded by art, local art at that, and a place I felt safe in was important to myself and my partner.
Since we aren’t religious, having a traditional minister marry us was out. We spent a long time thinking about who was the right fit, but after learning that anyone can be ordained, we chose a close mutual friend who has known us since we got together — the owner of the Agora. She had never done this before, so it was a lot of firsts for everyone, but she did a fabulous job with her reading. If you know the person who’s marrying you, it’s much more sentimental, regardless of who it is. Also, since we chose to have our wedding at an artist marketplace, we also decided to register there. We wanted to make sure to give back to the community who gave to us, and it felt fitting for our wedding. Just because something hasn’t been a venue in the past doesn’t mean it can’t be one in the future. Find a place that speaks to you and everything else will fall into place.
Here’s the thing — be open to change. Be open to trying new things and thinking outside the box.
2. What are your colors?
I can’t tell you how many times I was asked “What are your colors?” after I announced I was getting married. Apparently, that’s the go-to question when you’re engaged. You're supposed to have colors and flowers and maybe even colored flowers. You're supposed to have a lot of things, but I didn’t have specific colors. Instead, I had ALL the colors.
This is what was freeing about my wedding — the non-need to match. I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve attended where I had to search for the right shade of blue or have a tie custom made for me because it had to be the exact color. I knew I never wanted that, so we decided right off the bat that our colors would be a combination of all the colors, and instead, we would have a subtle magical theme.
Yep, you guessed it, Harry Potter.
I tried to explain to someone that our wedding reception would feel as if Molly Weasley had magically whipped it up, and it did. All of our decor was thrifted or handmade, and since we had a tight budget, we really made it count. Since we weren’t going with a traditional color combo, we decided to stay with our own color palette for our attire and wear all black. We didn’t ask our wedding party to coordinate because we wanted them to be comfortable. We also chose to have surprise boutonnières made for us with only one request: to include the color purple.
It’s OK to have favorite colors, and it’s OK to do whatever you want to, just don’t get lost in the details. Your wedding day is a celebration of you, not which colors you decided to choose.
3. What do your rings look like?
When we got engaged, I didn’t buy my partner a ring. I have seen people take out big loans or ask their parents for help, but that never seemed right.
During the time of our engagement we were knee deep in running a business, and basically all of our extra funds were being funneled into it. Even if I wanted to buy a ring, I probably couldn’t, but in all honestly, it never seemed like something that meant anything to me or us. When we were in New Mexico we talked about having wedding rings made for the ceremony, but never saw it come to fruition. Even as I sit here typing this, I am not wearing a wedding ring.
Rings are an important symbol, but you don’t need a ring to be married. We chose to borrow rings as placeholders for the ceremony and decided when the right rings present themselves, we’ll know. What we do know is that we aren’t buying anything new and we’d prefer something vintage. Antique stores and vintage shops are great places to find secondhand rings, as well as pawn shops and local jewelers.
We plan to get rings eventually, but the right ones just haven’t presented themselves. We’ll know when we see them, and it may take years to find, but that’s OK. Rings are just rings.
4. What about party favors and decor?
Nearly every wedding I’ve ever attended has had some form of party favor.
Usually they’re cookies or candy or something sweet to munch on. Perhaps it’s a photo booth with the happy couple’s name on the print out picture. One of the more recent weddings I attended (my best friend’s) had trail mix as her party favor since her and her husband spends a lot of time outdoors together.
In keeping with our theme, I went with wands and chocolate frogs.
I knew I wanted our party favors to stand out, so I decided to make them myself. Handmade anything always catches my eye because generally it’s one of a kind. I made over 70 wands from chopsticks, hot glue and layers of paint. I enlisted my best friend to be in charge of the frogs (she made them for our wedding shower so she already had the mold). I printed out strips of paper with our names, punched holes in each and tied them with mis-matched ribbon to the wands. Each one was different and complimented our eclectic theme quite nicely.
As far as decor went, I knew I wanted to create garland. Since our venue was an artist marketplace, we were already surrounded by beautiful work and incredible one-of-a-kind items that fit our theme nicely. I made garland from free scrap fabric and used it on the stair railings in our reception area.
I knew I wanted vintage table clothes, but up until a few weeks ago before the wedding, had come up short at every estate sale and thrift store I managed to come across. Usually I’m good at finding these things when I don’t need them, so of course, they were nowhere to be found. A chance yard sale in my neighborhood led me to find six beautiful tablecloths just in time for the wedding. I decided to mix and match with scarves, sheets and other pieces of fabric to create a layered look.
Instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on flowers, we opted to create arrangements from one of our local community gardens. With the help of our friends, we were able to include some rather colorful flowers in shades of violet, goldenrod and pink. Paired with all the fresh greenery we could get our hands on, our table settings also included “books” from the Harry Potter realm such as "A History of Magic" and "Magical Drafts and Potions". Little trinkets helped pull together the mismatched vases and other elements of my vision.
Table settings can be as exuberant as you want, but they don’t have to cost a lot. If you have access to a community garden like we did, or plan far enough ahead and can grow your own flowers, this takes one of the bigger burdens of decision making out. Not having to match them with anything? Even better.
5. What kind of food will be at the reception?
Since we traveled to New Mexico, my heart has been captured by the Southwest.
I’ve always had a love of Tex-Mex and true Mexican food, so we knew we wanted to make sure we had a little flavorful flare for our food choices. If you’re like me and have a family who loves to cook (and you’re wedding isn’t like 400 people), preparing your own food isn’t that much of a chore. Because of our love of the southwest, we chose to have a salsa bar with multiple options, mini chicken street tacos, tamales and enchiladas (though they weren’t flat like in New Mexican cuisine).
I enlisted the help of my now mother-in-law and her (my) family to coordinate our food. Fresh tomatoes and peppers were picked from my parents garden. Everyone got their hands dirty for this, and to the surprise of many of our guests, no, our food was not catered by a fancy restaurant (but thanks for asking!). I also decided to make a punch fit for any high school party because why not? Instead of providing a bar I was able to secure enough alcohol for the punch and have some left over for a little extra spiking. Plus beer. Plus wine. Plus non-alcoholic drinks for the kids. All together I spent less than $150 on food and drink (and all the fixings) for about 70 guests, and trust me, they were all happy with it.
If you can, make the food yourself. Sure, it’s a lot easier to have it made, but you’ll end up saving exponentially. Plus you can taste test the entire way in the comfort of your own kitchen!
Recap: Weddings don’t have to be expensive to be grand.
I knew that when the time came, I wasn’t going to be able to spend a lot. Saving pennies and looking to our friends and community, we were able to pull off a spectacular wedding that showcased our personalities for just at $500. And I didn’t even use a wedding planner. Here’s how we did it:
Invitations — $28
Why buy new? Thrifted mismatched invitations with envelopes for 45-50 only cost us $2; stamps, $26.
Venue + Tables/Seating — Trade
We were fortunate to have one of the biggest costs relieved from us, and while we know this isn’t applicable for all, get together with your friends and brainstorm. When in doubt, someone's home is just as intimate (and usually free).
Decor — $9
Handmade garland from scrap fabric, free; books recovered with craft paper, $2; handmade candles, gift; vases, borrowed; thrifted table cloths, $7.
Flowers — Free
Various types from a community garden, gift; boutonnieres, gift.
Party Favors — $15
We made magic wands for 75 guests and spent a total of $15 on supplies (chopsticks, paint, hot glue, ribbon). Attached were chocolate frogs provided by a member of our wedding party.
Cake — $43
We opted to have two cakes, one for all of our guests we purchased from Sam’s Club, $43, and one created as a gift by a friend of ours.
Food — $100
This is where spending can get tricky, but if you’re lucky to have a family willing to cook, you can do what we did on the cheap. We spent $80 total on chicken and all the fixings to feed 75 guests. Crockpots were used to serve. This includes the price of napkins, plates, flatware and other items.
Drink — $62
Four bottles of alcohol (donated), fruit punch, fruit and other punch supplies, $38; wine and non-alcoholic drinks, $24.
Attire — $21
We wore clothing we already owned but purchased one new piece we did not have.
Music — Gift
While we had our own music shuffling in the background, we also opted to ask our friends to sing and play at our wedding as our gift.
Photographer — $200
You will never find a wedding photographer at this price. Ever. I’m lucky enough to have worked as a newspaper editor with a fabulous photographer (and friend) who has taken our photos a time or two. Her discounted price was also given to us as a gift.
Officiant — Gift
The woman who allowed us to marry in her venue was also the officiant and insisted she take care of the costs of becoming ordained. The price, after shipping costs, came to around $50, but can vary state to state.
Marriage License — $32
Does this really need explaining?
Honeymoon — Gift
We have yet to go on a “true” honeymoon, but my best friend (who helped with the chocolate frogs) and her husband decided to surprise us with an overnight stay at a local hotel on our wedding night. It was a much needed gift to our long (and rewarding) day.
If I’ve learned anything from this entire experience it’s that wedding’s can get the best of you — just like any other event. If you aren’t used to throwing them and you’re taking on all this yourself, consider bringing in a friend to help. Split up the work and let others be involved to make your day magical. And if you’re like us, your friends will ask to help. From helping create our dream wedding cake to a beautiful, handmade banner with our names, our community and friends came together to pull off a day we’ll never forget. We are forever thankful.
And in the wise words of Albus Dumbledore (who we quoted in our wedding vows):
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”
Gallery Images by Henrietta Wildsmith