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  • Writer's pictureJessica Morgan McAtee

D.I.Y. Whimsy Wedding

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

We got married in 2013 in a destination wedding for less than $3,000 including airfare and accommodations. It was perfect. We had a marvelous time and we are just as married as folks that spend tens of thousands on their big day.

We may even be a bit happier!

There are plenty of other ways to have a budget wedding, but since my day was so magical I thought I would share what worked for us in a time crunch and on a minimal budget.

Here is how we did it...

The Engagement

By the time we got engaged, we were itchin' to get married. We didn't want a lengthy engagement or to spend a fortune on the event. Plus, we wanted to move in together and had resolved not to do so until we tied the knot.

We chose to get married six weeks from the day we got engaged, mainly because I had dreamed of a fall equinox wedding (around September 22) to correspond with the Monarch migration and he proposed on August 10th!

This means we had to act quickly and get very creative. So, we brainstormed and asked our favorite people to contribute their talents in lieu of gifts.

He took me to the jewelry store to pick out my ring. I didn't include my diamond cost in the previously mentioned ($3K) budget.

He wanted a flexible ring for safety reasons and so his rubber ring set me back $7. It's sort of like a break-away cat collar. It easily tears if it gets snagged rather than rip his finger off. This was important to him.


The first thing I had to do was get clear on what I really wanted. My priorities were

1. To marry my dream man (check)

2. To savor time with friends and family

3. To incorporate the talents of my loved ones to make memories instead of acquire stuff as gifts

4. To have personal touches that were meaningful to me and my future husband, Kelly.

Fancy wardrobes are nice, elaborate flowers pretty and spectacular venues are fabulous. Yet, we decided these "things" weren't our focus. Plus, venues don't generally have openings 6 weeks out.

I asked him what was important to him. He said the food. He requested tacos (always his first choice). Easy enough.

I am a butterfly girl. Monarchs migrate to Mexico in the fall, so tying in tacos with Monarchs was totally doable. The theme was in and I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. My vibrant colors were orange and turquoise with hints of red.

Location & Venue

My family had just been through a devastating few years financially and emotionally. It is in times like this that the important things surface and we realize the best parts of life involve those we love. This guided my planning and served as my north star.

My father had just built a spectacular, new mountain home in Tennessee. Kelly and I lived in Florida, but Tennessee is much more affordable so we opted to get married on their porch.

I designed photo invites from and mailed them out immediately.

Fall in eastern Tennessee is enchanted. Flights and lodging are affordable. Kelly booked a quaint honeymoon cabin for us as well as a larger cabin for his close family. This way, they didn't have to worry about finding rooms.

We invited around 150 people, but with a destination wedding and 6 weeks notice, we were lucky if half could show up.

Bridal Shower

Since most of my friends were understandably not going to make it to the wedding, I asked them to participate by making Mexican party flags at my shower. They brought scissors and I provided the colorful tissue paper. The flags were hung over the reception area at the wedding, so their mark was there and the decor was very meaningful to me. Most of them also forgot the scissors they brought so we ended up with enough scissors to last until our 75th anniversary.

The shower had a Frida Kahlo theme, in keeping with fun, artsy Mexico. We wore felt uni-brows and big flowers in our hair.

Long Distance Planning

I was trying to plan from out of state. This meant I would have to ease up on control and just let things flow. My focus was getting married to my favorite person, not perfection.

It was easiest to make a Pinterest page of what I liked and share it with my mom, sister, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles and everyone else who was pitching in to make our day special.

Kelly wanted to wear his suit and since he lets me call most of the shots, I was fine with that. Meanwhile, I ordered a dress online from China for $100. After having it altered, I had another $80 invested.

I wanted colorful accents, including foxy heels. I found an affordable turquoise pair and painted monarch wing patterns on them.

Group Effort

My sweet mother and her artsy friend set up the buffet, decorations and got flowers from the local grocery store (I'm not picky!). We hired other friends to be servers and keep the buffet stocked.

A musical aunt and uncle provided live entertainment along with my father who is a drummer and loves a party.

I have an aunt who bakes delicious cakes and is a photographer. I sent her my dream cake from a photo online and she nailed-it! She also captured our day in photos.

Another aunt is a fabulous cook, so she made the meat for the tacos. Kelly was very pleased.

My cousin is super skilled with make-up and hair-dressing, so she dolled me up.

My brother-in-law helped with last minute signs to direct folks to the ceremony (we still laugh at this).

Other family members pitched in. Mom and Dad helped in dozens of ways. They also made my wedding arch out of twigs from the forest. Their pastor officiated.

My sister helped with food. We made table decor, seating assignment cards and bought string lights. We ordered table cloths, runners, lights, lanterns and other decor online.

A friend heard me say I wanted a unique bouquet. Instead of flowers, I wanted something artsy with butterflies and feathers. She made me the perfect solution.

Rather than choose bridesmaids, I invited my closest friends to join me if they were able. Any of them that could make it would stand with me. Two dear friends from kindergarten graciously came. I didn't need them to spend exorbitant amounts on dresses. I just asked them to wear any shade of red. Their dresses looked stunningly similar and I am so grateful that they stood by me. It meant so much.

The day was absolutely wonderful. Many of the people we love were able to celebrate with us. But, some were not. To honor those that had passed and the commitment of marriage, we had a table where we displayed the wedding photos of our grandparents, parents and siblings.

The house was darling. Dad picked up some

hay bales to add to the southern flair.

We borrowed chairs and tables from their church.

My dress wasn't my favorite, and it didn't look how I envisioned it. But, it didn't really matter. For me, the most important part was marrying Kelly and being surrounded with friends and family.

We wrote our vows. My grandmother and sister had written me letters when I graduated high-school about how to find my perfect husband. Those were read at the ceremony. The entire evening was customized for us.

We went away that night with full hearts and precious memories.

I would do it all over again.

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