Design a wedding for yourself, not the paparazzi.

When my wife and I got married a few years back, we decided that we wanted a big wedding. We wanted to be surrounded by family and friends as we ate great food, drank outstanding libations, listened to fantastic music, and generally had the time of our lives. Because we were paying for it by ourselves, however, we needed to get creative in our realization of our dream. We called out our friends.

For food, we priced caterers, only to discover that professional chefs would have charged us $25 a head for clay-like banquet chicken. Our friend Rich, on the other hand, was able to get us most of our food at a restaurant discount, and was happy to help us prepare it. When it came to music, we hired my wife's friend Paul Herling and his buddies, who had a nice rockabilly sound and charged us about half of their usual fee. For photography, we called upon our friend Richard Alnutt, a professional photographer, who cut us a break. My cousin John Strymish also dropped in and gave us a hand with his own amazing photographic ability. For flowers, my sister Ella, a sculptor, took over and created beautiful bouquets. My wife's friend Sabrina made us the cake practically for free, only requesting that we pay for ingredients and the necessary pans. My aunt Portia covered the wine and beer, my sister Sue paid for the hotel rooms the night before the wedding, and my sister Jen covered the hotel the night after. Some of my friends volunteered to work as waiters and kitchen helpers, and my wife's friend Julie officiated for us.

This is not a lesson in how to scam your friends and family, nor is it a blueprint for creating a cheap wedding. Granted, our friends and family members probably saved us hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. However, the real issue is one of intention. For my wife and I, getting married was about having a relaxed day surrounded by the people who really mattered to us. Having gone to a few weddings together, we'd been exposed to outrageous displays of money poured out for the special day. We saw ice sculptures, carving stations, insanely expensive dresses, string quartets, and so on. However, as amazing as these outpourings of lucre were, the weddings themselves felt a little sterile. The married couple were isolated from their loved ones, only able to spend a second or two with each person, constantly trailed by aggressive photographers, videographers, sketch artists, and interpretive balloon performers. They had spent thousands of dollars on a perfect day, only to discover that they weren't really able to share it with anybody.

On our special day, we were able to hang out with our guests. Our nearest and dearest had taken part in our day and had been involved in the days leading up to it. They, like us, were a little busy, but it generally kept them from becoming bored. In fact, so many of our guests wanted to help that we had to station my friend Sean at the kitchen door to keep the well-wishers at bay!

The best part of all of this is that our friends felt involved in one of the most important moments of our life. The guests were perfectly happy hanging out with each other and us, lazily snacking, talking, and dancing over the four or five hours that the reception went on. When the day was over, most of them were still around, and we reconvened at the hotel bar for late-night karaoke and unrestrained booze swilling. All in all, it was a pretty amazing day.

Perhaps the ultimate question is one of intention. Is it your intention to create a spectacle that will overwhelm your guests, or do you want to design an intimate celebration of your relationship? If the latter is your goal, you might want to forget about the trained bears, midgets on unicycles, trapeze artists, and fire-eaters. Send the mimes home, turn your back on the string quartet, and save the pony rides for another day. Work on designing a low-key, relaxed ceremony that you can enjoy. Give your family and friends parts to play, and remember that you are the entertainment.

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