By Shaunté Kinch

11 months of planning, saving and paying = the wedding of our dreams. Weddings are all about personal choice. It's whatever works for you. There is a lot of give and take in the decisions that need to be made, as more often than not the bride and groom have different ideas about the wedding. I wanted a small elegant wedding. Antoine wanted a large wedding that included all of our friends and family. We met in the middle and budgeted for 150 people (although we ended up with 170). The guest list was absolutely the hardest part of the planning. Your heart (and sometimes your family and friends) want to invite the world but reality and your bank account make that an impossible task. A lot of people expected us to have a destination wedding. It was important to us that the wedding was easily accessible for our families. We decided to have it in Virginia where we met. With most of our families being between New York and Virginia everyone would be able to drive if not fly.

If you're planning and looking to save money, some things we learned are:

Sunset at the Chrysler museum of art

  • Rent tuxedos from either Men's Wearhouse or Jos. A Bank. They have an app for your phone that allows you to see when groomsmen have been fitted and who has paid and who hasn't. Most likely the groom will be able to get at least one free rental or suit.
  • Borrow or purchase a used wedding dress. Several options include local bridal consignment shops, and online stores such as:
  • Keep the bridal party small. This reduces the cost of gifts and wedding flowers.
  • DIY everything that you can, from decorations, to programs, to food. Food is the most expensive part of the wedding. Which leads to….
  • Keep the guest list small.  

(disclaimer: we are in no way saying we actually did all of these things)

We were extremely particular in our desires for high quality and the museum had a limited list of vendors to choose from. So how do you make this all happen? First find out if your family will be contributing to the cost of the wedding and if so what amount. Then determine what you can contribute and save, the sum of this is your "no debt wedding" budget. We established a joint bank account. For our entire engagement this account was used to save and pay for the wedding.

Wedding planning was excellent preparation for our marriage. We learned to compromise, budget together, and execute a plan. This showed us that, together, we can do anything we put our minds to!

One Day and Counting... 

After the rehearsal/Welcome dinner on the spirit of Norfolk

Groomsmen received custom cufflinks with the city they live in and the location their familes descended from. Antoine wore New york and Barbados at the wedding.

For months I had been in super project manager mode. I had spreadsheets on spreadsheets on spreadsheets. We did have a wedding coordinator, however only YOU know exactly how you want things to go. Even the day before the wedding I still had a checklist running through my mind, I wanted everything to go as planned. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to enjoy the wedding because I couldn't quiet the organizer in my head.  Sometime that night the inner planner decided her job was over. I exhaled, the list in my mind disappeared and I inhaled excitement. I thought to myself, "I'm a bride. I'm getting married tomorrow. Our family and closest friends are here. This feels SO dope! I'm going to sit in this moment and take it ALL in". 

Our welcome dinner, the night before the wedding, took place at the same location we met in 1997 during Hampton University's Homecoming - on the Spirit of Norfolk dinner cruise. It was absolutely fantastic. Because we had 100 attendees on the boat, they gave us priority boarding and allowed us to do our speeches and toasts before dinner was served and the party began. Antoine's dad gave a great toast. He shared how proud he was and that he was sure Antoine had made the right decision. He likened it to when he married Antoine's mom 40 years prior. We then handed out gifts to our parents and bridal party. Most of the gifts were from different countries we had visited or represented the global backgrounds of our wedding party. Watching both of our families and friends sing along to songs by Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder as they dance together in harmony really made us feel special. The DJ coordinated particular Reggae and Soca songs to play to make the party that much better. Antoine's 15 year old son, Amari, really stole the show by showing off his dance moves. This was meant to be. A dream come true!

The Day We've Been Preparing For

Was it really here? The big day. Were we really getting married?  For months, Antoine had coordinated groomsmen from Toronto, Oakland, Houston, Virginia, New York, and Boston. I practiced saying "Shaunté Kinch" instead of Shaunté Otey and scripting my new signature thousands of times. Thinking of all the drives from Raleigh to Norfolk to meet with all the vendors; from the venue and wedding coordinator to the photographer and videographer to flowers, lighting and the caterer, going to wedding shows, taste testing cake and planning with the DJ. It was all over. The show was about to begin.

People were flying in from all over. Hotel rooms were filling up and we could feel the excitement in the air. Mini family reunions were taking place. Old friends were reconnecting after many years and new friendships were being created. It was as if everyone had known each other for years. It was a truly happy and joyous occasion.

Antoine opening his gift, a James bond edition Omega watch engraved with the phrase: "i do"

We all made our way over to the Chrysler Museum of Art. The bridesmaids were getting ready in their dressing room. The groomsmen were joking around and reminiscing in theirs'. Antoine's sister delivered a gift from me and I opened one from him. The best man - Peter Rivera and Antoine's good friend Ryan Robinson decorated our vehicles for our reception exit and drive home as husband and wife.

The videographer walked in to pin microphones on Antoine and the minister (my Aunt Co - how special is that!). He let them know that the camera and internet connection were good to go so that we could stream the wedding live on UStream for those loved ones who could not attend (over 400 people watched the wedding live).

the first look, right before antoine saw shaunté in her dress for the first time

Keith Cephus, the photographer signaled that it was time to go outside and take some first-look pictures so that we could catch the sunset. This would be the first time that Antoine would see me since the day before; and in my wedding dress no less......

travel themed cake and custom cake topper

The wedding honestly happened as close to perfection as one could expect. All of the planning was executed to a "t". One suggestion we would give to any aspiring couple to make your day extra special is to make it yours. Put your mark on everything. Antoine and I thought through every single detail. Our wedding was travel themed and Black Tie. The guests looked sharp in tuxedos and gowns. The guest table had a globe and the guest sign-in book included pictures of us from all of our travels. The venue was an art museum with artifacts from all over the world. The cake was tiered suitcases with the world on top. The cake topper was a bride and groom customized to look like us with a suitcase that listed the locations of our honeymoon. 

A steel pan band played during cocktail hour to represent Antoine's West Indian (Bajan) heritage. We placed pictures of us from our travels all throughout the museum's displays for guest to see during cocktail hour. We created a step and repeat with our customized hot air balloon logo. The logo commemorates Valentine's Day 2015 when we went hot air ballooning over Napa Valley as a newly engaged couple. Guest took red carpet photos in front of the step and repeat during cocktail hour and the reception. Even the food at the reception was specifically chosen to represent worldly cuisine. We had blackened mahi mahi with mango salsa to represent the Caribbean, candied sweet potatoes to represent the South, rice and beans with tomato for Latin America, and Tuscan lemon chicken with vegetables for Europe.  All of our guests left with traditional Bajan black cake.  We picked out every song that was played prior to and during the wedding, and for a large portion of the reception. Each song had a special meaning to us. Every detail of the wedding was very intentional. And it was perfect!
The best part of the wedding was sharing the day with the people that mean the most to us. Hearing how people met and talked over the weekend truly made our hearts happy. A couple of surprise highlights that we will never forget are my dad and uncles singing to us during the toast, Amari and Antoine's dance off at the reception, and our last dance to "My Way" the song his parents danced to at their wedding. Two families became one….
The worst part of the weekend, was that it ended too soon…

The Last dance "My Way"

Watch the Wedding Highlights Video below: