Accidental Wedding Hack and the Benefits of Thinking Outside of the Box

I absolutely LOVE weddings! A friend of mine makes fun of me because I attend so many weddings throughout the calendar year. On average I go to about one wedding a month. I think my record was 7 weddings in the month of June a few years ago.

There are 5 siblings in my family of which I am the eldest. My brother is the youngest and we have 3 lovely sisters  sandwiched between us. My brother was the first of the “boys” to get married and he and his wife had a lovely outdoor wedding at a hidden garden oasis in Pasadena, CA.

I never asked him how much he spent on his wedding because frankly, it’s none of my business. It was definitely a classy and gorgeous wedding with all the beautiful perks, so I’m guessing it was in the ballpark of the average wedding in America. According to a 2016 poll of 13,000 wedding couples conducted by The Knot, the average American wedding cost was $35,329. Wow! No wonder this is such a huge industry.

I grew up within the wedding industry so I never realized how indoctrinated I was. I was an altar boy growing up and weddings were a treat because we received some pocket money for “serving” at the Saturday weddings. My mother usually sang at the wedding ceremony so it was easy to catch a ride to the church.

My mother was also a florist and specialized in balloon decorating. (Yes, there was a time when balloons were a huge part of wedding decor). Most of my childhood weekends were spent helping my mom and the neighbors decorate for wedding receptions. The neighborhood trio included a florist, a cake maker and a balloonist.

As a teenager I had helped decorate so many weddings, anniversaries and birthday parties that I started to help coordinate weddings and parties. It gave me a good perspective of what is needed to have a wonderful party and reception.

The  eldest of my 3 sisters was engaged in October 2017 and my thoughts started imagining what kind of wedding would be perfect for her. I knew she wanted easy and simple with minimal fuss. They were leaning towards a backyard reception so my dad started prepping the yard by building a dance floor, building a bar, cutting down trees and turning a few of the remaining stumps into bar tables and benches, hanging lights and transforming a nice backyard into an amazing backyard. My dad is really handy. I’m really proud of him!

I would have chats with my sister about what she wanted. What she didn’t want. What she knew her husband to be wanted or didn’t want. What certain other family members needed or wanted and the puzzle started to take shape.

A Saturday date was finally picked which worked with everyone’s schedule and February 10th, 2018 was going to be the day of the wedding. Things were starting to fall into place, but my sister was having second thoughts about the church venue. We were experiencing some interesting weather patterns and as the wedding date approached, rain was predicted for the day of the wedding.

With the expectation of rain, the backyard wedding plan needed some adjustment. We started pricing tents and elevated flooring and heating lamps. The budget easily doubled in price with these new expenses. The idea of renting a hall was back on the table, but unfortunately the Banquet Hall I manage was already booked and so were several of the local banquet halls I had helped design.

We started looking at lots of local restaurants and fraternal organizations which had banquet rooms. The wheels started turning and at this point the wedding was less than 10 days away. My dad was getting frustrated with my sister’s indecision and was getting ready to book a hall which was recommended by the neighbor.

A week before the wedding my sister had a work meeting at St. Peter’s Italian Church on the northern edge of Chinatown near downtown LA. After the meeting, she peeked inside the church and fell in love with the quaintness and simplicity of the church. She gave me a call and excitingly told me how much she loved it. I told her to check with the rectory to see if it was available because the wedding was only a few days away.

She called me back and said she had good news and bad news. The good news was that the church WAS available, but the hall across the parking lot was already booked. I jokingly told her to inquire about the event. Maybe they would be willing to switch dates with her.

To make a long story slightly shorter, although the church was available, a Valentine’s Day Dance Fundraiser was scheduled for 6:30 pm the same day as the wedding. This is where the story becomes more interesting. I think because my sister and I were already thinking outside the box and exploring various options, some different questions popped into the conversation.

The hall is rather large and could accommodate over 400 people. It turned out they had already sold about 100 tickets, so it would be impossible to change the date. The Valentine’s Dance included a live band, DJ, a sizable dance floor, a coffee/espresso/cappuccino bar, 2 bottles of wine and 1 bottle of champagne per table, a 5 course meal and a cash bar.

The tickets were a great price for everything included. They even offered a discount if you bought the full table of 10 seats. With some out of the box thinking, and flexibility of expectations, my sister ended up buying 210 tickets at the discounted price and because she had made their fundraiser so successful they included dedicated time for their first dance and speeches, a song list for the DJ to play and they opened the hall & bar 90 minutes early so we could have a private reception with our family & friends immediately following the wedding before the dance began.

The dance was spectacular and the 400+ guests all got along swimmingly. There was so much dancing and eating and laughter it was almost as if the whole event was planned this way from the start. It ended up being the perfect weather for a wedding and the photographer took some beautiful family photos outside the church.

Just remember, keep an open mind and you open yourself up to even greater opportunities. My sister was able to have the perfect wedding for a small fraction of the American average, PLUS the check she wrote for the venue was 100% tax deductible. =)