Scenes from our budget-friendly engagement party

Last month, Theo and I had our engagement party! Here’s what we did and how we did it.

Let’s start with (modern) traditions. Traditionally, the engagement party takes place within a three months of the proposal. It’s the sweet spot between carefree, just-engaged life and the start of serious wedding planning. Traditionally, the bride’s parents host the engagement party. It brings future wedding guests together for the first time and they start getting to know each other. Traditionally, you didn’t invite people to the engagement party that you weren’t going to invite to the wedding. We ignored most of these traditions.

Weddings are very personal. We’re not a young couple getting started. At the time of writing, I’m 39 and Theo is 52. We’ve been living together for five years, and we own our home. Our parents are not paying for our wedding. I’m a minimalist and Theo loves second-hand items and upcycling. We want our wedding to reflect our environmental and feminist values.

Weddings are also full of hard decisions. The first one we had to make was about where to get married. Theo’s family and friends are in Australia; mine are in the US. Regardless of where we get married, we know a significant number of people won’t attend. Most of our family members will never even meet. We decided to get married in the US and have our engagement party in Melbourne.

We thought about having our party at a restaurant or warehouse venue, but that wasn’t our style. If we were getting married in Australia, we would have a small wedding at home. So, we decided to have our engagement party at home. Theo suggested late February, which worked out. It was near the fifth anniversary of my arrival in Australia and exactly one year prior to the wedding. We decided on a rustic, backyard barbecue, and we did almost everything ourselves.

The guest list

We invited 59 people – family, a few of our closest friends, and some clients and coworkers. We had to manage surprising expectations including:

  • The idea that RSVPs are a suggestion
  • That because it was a backyard party, it wasn’t a big deal or anything special
  • The idea that we were serving only finger food
  • Having to defend our choice to serve burgers and snags instead of steaks
  • Explaining that “casual dress” can be more than board shorts and beach thongs

We had 13 cancellations in the 24 hours before the party. In the end, we had about 30 guests.

The stationery

I bought our engagement party invitations, thank you cards, and save-the-date magnets from Vistaprint. Since most people will throw them away, I wasn’t keen on spending a lot of thought or money on cards. For the invitations and thank-you cards, I chose an existing design and edited it. I had them printed on recycled paper. I mailed them in plain white envelopes that I addressed myself the old-fashioned way, with a nice pen. My coworkers got the digital version. Guests that attended the party took home the save-the-date magnet and I mailed the others.

Total spent, including postage: $75.

Tip: Order Vistaprint’s free sample kit to see the paper sizes and options first hand before ordering online.

Setting the scene

Theo worked hard to get the house ready. He got rid of a lot of stuff. We ripped out our old, dried-up veggie garden to make way for the serving area. He mowed the grass, cleaned, and painted. Theo said that the backyard hadn’t looked that good since he bought the place.

We used our mismatched tables and chairs and vintage painters trestles to hold glasses. We also have old street signs, vintage suitcases, and cameras that we used as props. Theo also built a large dinning table. I bought LED string lights, pom-poms, and chalk boards.. For centerpieces, we filled jars we had with fresh flowers. We placed them on white doilies along with a little succulent plant from my garden, and a tealight. In the end, we didn’t buy a lot of new items.

We had a photo booth guest book that I made. This was one of my favourite things. We filled an old suitcase with props from the $2-shop. We used a 10 x 12, Westcott, blue chroma-key backdrop. I made the guest book and used black paper; people signed with white pens.

Most of our purchases came from the local op-shop, Kmart, or $2-shops. The most expensive items were the Fuji Instax Mini 8 camera (Harvey Norman) and the film (ebay).

I used Spotify for the music. I created four playlists and played the music using my iPad connected to a large speaker.

Tip: If you’re using Spotify, download the playlist to prevent interruptions if the wifi goes out. Also, password-protect your device to prevent people from changing the music.

Total spent: $150.

The food

We bought all the food and drink. For entrée, we had chips and dips, and homemade bruschetta. The main meal was beef or vegan burgers (with optional condiments, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, beetroot, and egg), four kinds of sausages, and three kinds of vegan salads. Theo made the burgers and we made all the salads. Dessert was a beautiful and delicious semi-naked chocolate mud cake and a three gluten-free slices from Pastry Paradise in Lalor.

We served on sturdy cardboard trays with wooden utensils and paper napkins, which was later recycled. For drinks, we had beer, wine, bubbly, soft drinks, and water served in glassware that we had or purchased from the local op-shop or Kmart. Most of these we kept for future parties. We also had a few wedding themed stubby holders that I bought on ebay.

We didn’t want to work at our party so we hired Soirée Made Simple. They sent two young women who prepped, cooked, served, and cleaned up. They were brilliant. After they left, I realised the dishwasher was on and there wasn’t much left to clean up.

Alcohol was our biggest cost, followed by food. We had little food left over, but we had a lot of drinks left over. Most people drank beer and more people drank white wine than red.

Total spent: $1500.

Scenes from the engagement party

We’re lucky to know a few photography enthusiasts. Rather than hiring a professional, we took a chance on someone we know – Sandra Alesiani. The results were great. Within two weeks, she delivered 140 beautiful photos.

Engagement party invitation wedding

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

Wedding engagement party

The aftermath

The party was a hit. The weather was good and we had a great time. People ate, laughed, and danced. Guests complimented us on the space, music, food, and cake. Everyone loved the photo booth. But preparing for the party was stressful. After it was over, there was a moment when I thought to myself, “Too much work. Too expensive. We should elope.”

The next morning was delightful. We lingered in bed with coffee and leftover cake opening gifts and reading all the cards everyone gave us.

Since the party, I haven’t done any wedding planning, but the big day is now 11 months away. Better get to it.


Bakery: Pastry Paradise • Photography: Sandra Alesiani • Waitressing service: Soirée Made Simple