This couple spent $12,500 on an 18-person pandemic wedding worth $40,000

This story is part of CNBC Make It's Millennial Marriage series, which profiles couples around the world and details how they planned and paid for their wedding.

When Kayla and Andrew Picciuto Elia got engaged in February 2020, they dreamed of a 300-person Memorial Day wedding, complete with numerous musical acts, an epic dance floor and free-flowing wine.

But when the pandemic hit in early 2020, they knew they had to change their plans. The Santa Barbara residents decided to cancel their big May wedding in favor of an intimate ceremony and dinner with just 18 family members in July. It was still "glamorous" and "divine," Kayla, 29, says.

The small size and mid-pandemic timing weren't the only things that made the couple's big day unique. They spent just over $12,500 for a wedding that had a sticker price of $40,000, thanks to help from their friends and connections in the wedding industry.

"At the end of the day, what we realized was important was family, togetherness and also food," Andrew, 33, tells CNBC Make It. "Sharing a meal and celebrating with family and breaking bread with family were all the key elements that we wanted to include."

Pivoting wedding plans amid a pandemic

Andrew first noticed Kayla in 2015 when she took "his" seat in a coffee shop they both frequented. But she was the one who finally broke the ice months later when the coffee shop was evacuated due to a fire alarm. "So what are you reading right now?" she asked as they stood on the sidewalk outside. (His answer: "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck.)

They quickly became close friends and started dating in July 2017. "He spoke the unspeakable and asked if I was in or out," Kayla remembers. She was all in. 

They also started a business together, Party Proper, in December 2017, providing DJ and sound services for weddings in the Santa Barbara area, which they run full-time.

At the end of 2019, they decided they were ready to get married and made vague plans for a wedding at the end of 2020. But when they found out Kayla was pregnant, they decided to speed up the timeline. "We felt an added urgency and excitement to get married as soon as possible," Andrew says.

"We just did things in our own order, and I'm fine with it," Kayla says.

They sent out invitations in early March for a Memorial Day celebration. But less than a week later, their home state of California went into lockdown in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. Within a few weeks, it became clear that their big wedding wasn't going to happen.

They still wanted to get married before the baby arrived. While they knew they could easily go to the courthouse and call it a day, they weren't sure they wanted to go that route. Would they be disappointed by a smaller guest list? Would a stripped-down version of their vision be just as meaningful?

Ultimately, they decided the wedding was about celebrating their love for each other and pivoted to a small, family-only ceremony and dinner before the arrival of their baby. They hope to be able to plan a bigger party later on. The inspiration for the event went from a music showcase with a crazy dance floor to "a desire to showcase our love for each other," Andrew says.

"We focused on our baby. We focused on each other. We focused on togetherness," Kayla says. "These were always values for us, but they had new significance because of the intimacy of our smaller wedding." 

Planning the wedding budget

As Kayla and Andrew planned their smaller, 18-guest wedding, they set a budget of around $10,000 for the day. They felt comfortable with that amount, but they also wanted to keep costs down so they can still afford a larger party later on. To help minimize expenses, the couple asked friends and industry colleagues to donate or trade their services. They paid for the rest out of their savings, plus some help from their parents to cover the cost of the food.

"It really all worked out because of the community that we've built and the generosity of our friends," Kayla says.

The couple also gave their friends free rein to execute their services however they wanted. "We just said we want it to be fun and funky and wild. Do whatever," Kayla says. "I don't think that happens very often with vendors. Oftentimes the bride or groom comes with a vision and says, 'I want it to be exactly like this,' which I think takes away some of the playfulness that creatives seek. It's just really nice when your clients trust you. And so we said, 'Just said go for it.'"

Here's a look at how their wedding expenses broke down, versus the full value of the services:

  • Wedding planner: $500 (Real value: $8,000) A friend, who runs Array Creative Design, donated her services, but the couple paid $500 for supplies and a generous tip.
  • Photographer: $0 (Real value: $7,300) James and Jess Photography donated their time.
  • Videographer: $0 (Real value: $6,500) In keeping with the couple's desire to be creative, their videographer, BStudios, shot the entire wedding vertically and livestreamed it on the couple's Instagram so friends and family who weren't able to attend could watch.
  • Reception venue, dinner and drinks: $6,000 (Real value: $6,000) After the ceremony, the couple hosted a five-course meal at The Lark, one of their favorite restaurants. 
  • Ceremony venue: $0 (Real value: $3,000) The Hotel Californian donated space for one hour.
  • Engagement ring: $2,000 (Real value: $2,000) The couple picked out the ring together at Apres Jewelry in Los Angeles, the same day Kayla had her first ultrasound. 
  • Florist: $500 (Real value: $1,750) The florist, Alexis Ireland Florals, donated her time, and the couple covered the cost of the flowers and a tip. 
  • Wedding bands: $1,500 (Real value: $1,500) Andrew's band cost $1,100 and Kayla's cost $400.
  • Audio equipment rental: $0 (Real value: $1,000) They used the equipment they own for their business. 
  • Vocalist and band: $0 (Real value: $700) Live music would typically cost $350 an hour, but three of Andrew's family members, as well as one additional musician, performed as a gift to the couple.
  • Bride's outfit: $450 (Real value: $450) Kayla bought her wedding dress from Free People for $150 and a sequin duster from Blanka Boutique for $300. She also wore a matching sequin mask, in true 2020 fashion.
  • Champagne toast: $500 (Real value: $500) They purchased wine from their officiant, a friend who owns Satellite wine bar.
  • Groom's suit and shoes: $500 (Real value: $500) Both were purchased from Nordstrom.
  • Wine for rehearsal dinner: $300 (Real value: $300) The couple hosted an outdoor pizza party for their rehearsal dinner. They bought the wine and Andrew's parents covered the food.
  • Marriage license and fees: $300 (Real value: $300)
  • Bride's hair and makeup: $0 (Real value: $200) A friend who does hair professionally did Kayla's hair, and she did her own makeup.

The hotel gave Kayla and Andrew the space for their ceremony in exchange for using the wedding as an opportunity for "content creation" to demonstrate how the venue could be utilized for small events. Andrew also DJed there for free on July 4.

Other trades were more personal. The couple's photographer is a close friend, and Andrew had DJed both his wedding and his brother's wedding in the past at no charge. So when it came time for Andrew and Kayla's wedding, the photographer was happy to repay the favor. 

The couple spent $500 on the invitations they sent out for their original wedding, but they were able to get their deposits back for everything else. For the smaller wedding, they invited guests via email.

Getting a deal

The couple only spent $12,550, including the engagement ring and wedding bands, for a wedding valued at $40,000. But they don't view it as getting a deal. Rather, they see it as a testament to the relationships and the community they've built among Santa Barbara's wedding industry. 

For other couples who want to save on their wedding expenses, they recommend creating a clear budget and digging into which pieces are absolutely essential. 

"Be very explicit in defining what are the key elements that are important to your wedding," Andrew says. 

Looking to the future

Kayla and Andrew are still looking forward to spending three times as much on a big party once it's safe to do so. Their dream of lighting up the dance floor with family and friends hasn't gone away. And most important, their son will be there to join them the second time around.

While they plan to spend more next time, they're also want to be more diligent about keeping track of wedding expenses. Now that they have a child, taking control of their finances has become more of a priority. 

"This was such a year of financial reckoning for us," Kayla says. "We're in a place now where we consider every cost."

But for now, their pandemic wedding was everything they could have asked for. 

"We wanted a really lovely five-course meal. We wanted amazing flowers. I wanted to be all in sequins," Kayla says. "But if you stripped all that away, what's behind that is our love. And that's what's going to take us through the rest of our lives."

What's your budget breakdown? Share your story with us for a chance to be featured in a future installment.

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