Beach Bliss

A destination wedding may seem extravagant – and pricey. But for Chris Ballintine and Amy Davis, choosing to have their wedding 2,500 miles from home proved to be a budget-saver.

The couple is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They met in October 2004 at the party of a mutual friend. Only a few months later, they knew they would be married someday, but their official engagement didn’t come until September 2007, after Scott completed law school.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2006 while visiting Chris’ uncle in Southern California, they decided to take a road trip up the coast through San Luis Obispo County. A stop for a stroll along Pismo Beach proved to be a life-changing experience.

“I just loved how it was a small beach town where everyone’s so down to earth,” said Amy. “By January we were telling family and friends that we were going to get married there and asking them to be a part of it.”

Ideas began brewing about a destination wedding. Budget, of course, was the first issue. Not wanting to burden their parents with wedding expenses, the couple chose to pay for everything themselves. They took out a home equity loan on their duplex and set a budget of $15,000.

With limited financial resources, frequent trips to California were out of the question. So the couple did most of their planning online, only visiting the area once before their wedding date August 16.

They considered several venues in the county including vineyards and rural locales, but finally decided on a beach ceremony, with the reception just steps away at the SeaVenture resort.

The hotel offered three different packages that included the beach wedding as well as food and beverages for the reception. It also included the services of an event coordinator who Amy found invaluable. “She helped a lot with details I wouldn’t have thought about,” she said.

The coordinator was able to refer the couple to wedding professionals who were experienced in handling weddings at the site. From their recommendations, the couple hired their florist and disc jockey.

In pulling together the myriad details of the wedding, Chris and Amy found plenty of ways to economize. Amy purchased her strapless lace gown for $400 at David’s Bridal, a large bridal store chain. The store also gave her bridesmaids a $30 discount off their dresses.

The couple purchased many of their accessories on eBay, including Amy’s hair jewelry and earrings, a vintage beaded purse, and even the groom’s wedding band. They put together their centerpieces themselves out of candles, clear glass holders, and beach sand. Amy, who is a graphic designer, created many of the printed materials for the wedding including invitations and programs.

When the couple booked the SeaVenture, they estimated attendance at 50. But, as reservations began to roll in, the count came to just 30. “I was hoping for 50 people but we felt the wedding would be a good size,” said Amy.

As it turned out, having a small group allowed the couple to do things not otherwise possible. Because they had already paid for a larger group, they were able to upgrade to a fancier food and drink package. They also were able to put together abundantlyfilled welcome bags for each guest, which included travel brochures, personalized bottles of wine, candy and snacks.

But the best part of having a small group, according to the couple, was the rehearsal dinner. They rented a beach house in Oceano and invited every wedding guest. After a catered dinner, they continued the celebration on the beach around a roaring bonfire. The casual atmosphere allowed guests to celebrate in a very intimate way with the couple.

“Everyone was in vacation mode,” said Chris. “They were happy and kind of giddy.”

The jovial mood continued on their wedding day, which went off without a hitch – something the couple attributes, in part, to their seasoned event coordinator.

In the end, the couple spent $17,000, which includes their airfare. Last-minute splurges that threw them over budget included a videographer, an upgraded photography package, two hours of live music, and $1,500 for flowers, which Amy puts a premium on for creating atmosphere.

“Toward the end, it was like, this is my only chance to have this wedding, so I want to do it right,” she said. “I was happy with how we spent the money.”

When the couple returned home to Pennsylvania, they put together a picnic to celebrate their marriage with those who could not attend the wedding.

So in the end, Chris and Amy’s destination wedding was a win-win situation both for guests, and for the newlyweds who are now hoping to relocate to Pismo Beach. “It felt like everything we’d ever dreamed up,” said Amy. “Everything was perfect and we couldn’t be happier.”

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