Our $40K Colorful Nigerian-American Carnival-Themed Wedding Dance Party

christine, data analyst & john, systems engineer

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Big interracial, intercultural colorful DIY carnival themed dance party with fusion food, fun games, fantastic people and a parachute exit.

Planned budget: $30,000
Actual budget: $40,000
Number of guests: 173
LOCATION: Baltimore, MD

Where we allocated the most funds:

The food! It made up almost half of our budget at approximately $18,000 (alcohol was an additional $1,100). Food was really important because I am Nigerian and we had a fun theme so I wanted to make sure they could incorporate both those concepts! We also splurged on photography with 2 photographers for a total of $2,515 (including a friend’s discount). The photos were incredible and worth every penny.

Where we allocated the least funds:

I don’t really care for flowers so we opted for paper & cloth decor which I like to believe saved us some money. The venue was also much cheaper than many others in the area, since they had done very few weddings. It only cost us $3500 for the ceremony & reception. I also bought my wedding dress right off the rack from a second-hand store for $800 & John’s mother did all the alterations (including adding colored tulle under!). My best friend (and maid of honor) is a graphic designer and I’m a web developer so the website, invitations and guest book were all professionally designed for free! We also went to a local craft brewery and got beer directly from them that was overstock. They gave it all to us for free!

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What was totally worth it:

Because we had a huge guest list, we couldn’t invite every special person in our life and wouldn’t have time to talk with a lot of people during the wedding day, so we planned a weekend full of activities including a trip to the local aquarium and a day at the local amusement park with additional wedding photos taken. The theme park trip including lunch for everyone & hiring a photographer ended up costing an additional $4000 on top of our budget, but I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to take photos with Tweetie bird in a wedding dress with my best friends to well worth the cost in the end. Also the time spent on the decor (it was all DIY) was well worth it seeing what was a pretty plain banquet hall into my carnival dreams!

What was totally not worth it:

To be honest, stressing at all. I sacrificed my mental, emotional & relationship health stressing about this big event. In the end, other than the guest list & the venue that we had some push back on, we did everything we wanted to do. Including our honeymoon and additional events, the wedding cost the same amount as my MBA which seemed absolutely CRAZY, but we didn’t splurge on anything that wasn’t important to us. More importantly, thinking about the money we spent, John & I already owned home, had no debt (took on none for the wedding) and were generally financially secure, so in the end, though it was a lot of money, it didn’t negatively effect us nearly as much as the stress did.

A few things that helped us along the way:

We had an amazing couple’s therapist (Stephanie Bathurst at PsychCare in Columbia, MD) that really made sure we were & stayed strong as a couple. Our wedding planning (and good friend) was incredible. Prior to getting engaged, we had never been to an actual wedding before so there was a really steep learning curve we had to overcome, so it was so helpful to have someone that would answer to my list of literally 100 questions! Our incredible friends & family also helped with everything from coming over and sewing pinwheels for the centerpieces to designing the invitations to sculpting the cake toppers! The Bridechilla podcast was absolute, essential listening during the entire planning process. It made me feel so much less like a freak when I wanted unconvential things or had no idea what an usher was.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

If something is making you stressed or sad, stop doing it. This seems so simple but is incredibly challenging in practice. Toward the end of planning, I was better able to allocate when I was feeling overwhelmed which really helped in not feeling resentful or depressed. Though, if you ask for help from friends & family, make sure to take into account their quirks. If your friend is always late, don’t put them in charge of something that they MUST be on time to. Your friends & family won’t change, even for your wedding.

Also, the people that will be mad at you for a decision you make about your wedding are not the people you want to be catering to. I told myself that a lot when someone was upset about the guest list or venue choice. To counter that, I always made sure that the people that would never complain had extra accommodations for the weekend, i.e. high chairs, recommendations, etc.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Sharing ourselves with everyone & bringing so many people together! It felt so surreal to see the most important people in our lives come together in the same room. On top of that, it felt amazing to show our full selves to everyone. We got to incorporate everything we loved into our day, from the music, to the Nigerian food, to our love for theme parks with our carnival theme & trip to Six Flags. Everyone got to be part of all of that! The last hour on the dance floor was pop punk power hour featuring all the bands I grew up listening to like Fall Out Boy & Paramore–it was the best feeling in the world to see everyone (especially people in my family I would have never expected) singing every single word!

Anything else:

It’s okay to love wedding planning, I absolutely hated it. Not everything needs to be high quality. We ended up buying plenty of things from the dollar store because it only had to last 6 hours. Having a rain plan that you actually like is really important – it rained all day! Having extra events was well worth it to be able to see everyone. Plan your guest list before planning anything else. Google Drive is a god send and remember to read all your contracts!At the end of it all, I really needed “closure” so I wrote a big recap blog that shared all my to do lists, budgets, checklists & spreadsheets. It was therapeutic to put it all down on paper & it feels great to be able to share a link to friends when their time comes! If you find yourself feeling like you miss planning or feel incomplete, try to find something that helps put a cap on things!

[creditPhotographer: Marlayna Photography | Location: Baltimore, Maryland | Venue: Maryland Historical Society | Wedding Planner: Virginia Michele | Christine’s Dress: OLEG Cassini from Love & Lace Bridal | Men’s Attire: Men’s Warehouse & OTAA | Caterer & Cake: Chef’s Expressions |  Six Flags Photographer: Devin Trent | Videographer: Editing Life Video | Cotton Candy & Popcorn Machine: Party Plus Bounce Rentals | DJ: James Nasty | Photobooth: Pixilated [/credit