When Elizabeth Ulrich learned that her father had pancreatic cancer, she and her fiancé, Will Fanguy, 30, scrapped the $8,000 wedding they’d been planning for almost three months and put together their nuptials in just eight weeks -- on a reduced budget of $5,000 -- to ensure that her father would be able to walk her down the aisle. Ulrich, 27, shares how her family came together to help her downsize her Big Day.
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A few months after our engagement, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
From the start, Will and I wanted our wedding to be small and meaningful and, for us, that didn’t translate into hiring a ton of vendors and renting a huge venue. It wasn’t that we had some innate aversion to big, fancy weddings -- we just wanted something simple. But, as my dad’s doctor’s bills piled up, we had to cut our already small budget.
Even though we had already booked a venue and a caterer in Nashville, we decided to move our wedding to San Antonio and to push up the date from November to July. We knew that, in the end, we wouldn’t miss the shrimp and grits and the rest of that Southern menu we planned so carefully with our caterer -- but we would miss having my father there. We couldn’t risk it.
With just a few months to plan a new wedding from scratch, at times it felt like we were planning the 'little wedding that could.' We couldn’t have pulled off a wedding for less than $5,000 without a groundswell of support from our family and friends.
My brother Lucius and his wife Keri agreed to host the ceremony and reception at their charming San Antonio home, even though it meant clearing all of the furniture from the first floor of their house.
We knew we couldn’t afford a sit-down dinner with all the tables, chairs, place settings and so on, so Will and I went with what we knew: food carts. We fell in love with food cart culture when we lived in Portland, Ore., and I stumbled upon a Moroccan food truck with the cutest retro paint job during a late-night Google search. We surprised our guests when Wheelie Gourmet pulled up into the driveway of my brother’s home and it was such a hit. And the best part? No caterers crowding the kitchen and, since they drove away with the mess, there was no late-night cleanup.
My mom and I also spent a good week before the wedding sitting on my living room floor, hand crafting everything; from bunting made of vintage fabric to sparkly paper garland that we hung throughout the house. My niece Sequoia and sister Naomi, my maid and matron of honor, flew in from Oregon with some gorgeous paper lanterns and handcrafted paper flowers that really transformed the house into a crafty wonderland.
For my bouquets and all the floral arrangements spotting the house, my sister, mother, niece and I found a flower wholesaler and picked up whatever blooms caught our eyes, including bunches of pink carnations, the favorite flower of my husband’s late mother. One of my favorite memories from wedding planning was flower shopping as my niece followed me with a calculator in her hand, keeping track of the budget so I could focus on all those amazing blooms. It was just such a sweet gesture. My bouquet wasn’t blog worthy -- I can’t even tell you what flowers were in it -- but it was something we made together.
I do get a bit envious when I see photos of brides with fantasy bouquets filled with peonies and poppies or when I see perfectly appointed tables lined with succulent arrangements. I am so in awe of the wonderment a great florist can create.
With our budget, however, there were just some dreams we had to break up with. But working within tight, seemingly impossible restrictions makes you get creative. It also makes you focus on what’s important -- the little moments and the sentiment of the day.
The only thing we refused to scrimp on was our photographer, Stef Atkinson, who we met not long after our engagement. We decided to splurge and fly her from Nashville to Texas because we couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. Stef not only shares our love of Holga photographs and my obsession with detail shots of vignettes, but she also had that certain something we couldn’t find in anyone else.
My family and I knew that the shots she captured could be the last photos we had with my dad. Stef handled that pressure with such grace and kindness. She took our vision and made it better than we could ever imagine.
And while I’m sure a gorgeous cathedral may have been more photogenic for our ceremony, on our wedding day, as Will and I met for our first look photographs before everything started, we walked through each room, looking at how it all came together. There was love in every plate of treats and in every flower folded by hand. It was the embodiment of the “make do and mend” mantra we follow in our everyday lives. Our unexpected wedding suited us and celebrated what we loved, and that’s all we wanted from the start.
Now, I can’t imagine saying my vows anywhere other than in my brother’s living room. Our 30 or so guests were within arm’s reach. I could see their tears and hear their laughter. I felt that they were there, fully in that moment with us.
My dad passed away a few days after the wedding, and I’m just so grateful that we all stood shoulder to shoulder for one last time together.
Click through the slideshow below for photos and more details of Ulrich and Fanguy’s Big Day. (All images were taken by the couple’s wedding photographer, Stef Atkinson.)
I adorned the cardigan I wore over my tea-length gown with vintage brooches and a retro sweater clip, and I wore a handmade headband that featured reclaimed bits of vintage jewelry. Will paid for his wedding garb with savings bonds given to him by his grandparents on his father's side. He had saved them since his grandparents passed away when he was six years old. He had promised himself that he would only cash them in to buy something special.
My brother and sister-in-law's house, where our wedding was held.
My brother and sister-in-law's living room where we had our ceremony.
Will and I priced officiants and found the cost astronomical, so we asked our friend John to officiate the ceremony as his wedding gift to us.
Will and I spent a lot of time thinking of sweet, joyful ways we could honor and include his late mother. We used the vast collection of vintage Nancy Drew novels she gave Will to add interest and height to table displays. We also placed a small stack near our makeshift altar. My favorite element of all was my wedding gift to Will: a vintage Fleur de Lys brooch pin I found on Etsy. He chose two favorite photos of his mom to place inside, and he wore it on his suit jacket instead of a boutonnière. He carried his mother with him above his heart all day.
In front of Wheelie Gourmet. They served the best gourmet street food, which is not an oxymoron, I promise!
Our guests dined on pitas filled with chicken tagine, beef gyros, sweet potato and Belgium fries and Moroccan mint iced tea.
My mother baked dozens of treats so we could save money on a cake. She pulled my old Betty Crocker cookbook off the shelf and baked tons of vintage-inspired goodies -- everything from brandy balls to coconut tarts and the most beautiful array of cake pops.
The bar menu and a cake baked by my mom
To reflect my undying love of vintage, we used tons of pieces from my personal collection, repurposing a working typewriter as our guest book, scattering vintage train cases and luggage about and filling my collection of milk glass with flowers. (After my wedding, I launched Stockroom Vintage, a Nashville company that rents vintage props and pieces to brides, photographers, stylists and the like.)
Me with my dad and my mom.
Dancing with my dad
Did you pull off a fantastic wedding for $5,000 or less? Share your story with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org