In Part 2, I’ll share more about the vendors, costs and more on our planning process. Just like before, I hope couples who are planning would find this useful. If not, I hope it at least satiates your curiosity lol.
1. Don’t do things last minute: Stay organized!
As mentioned in Part 1, our total budget for the wedding ceremony & honeymoon was $20,000 (Tongan Pa'anga). At the time, Nela was still based in Vava’u while I was in Tongatapu, so we ended up splitting the main tasks. I oversaw wedding planning because we were going to get married in Tongatapu, while Nela handled the honeymoon arrangements because we were going to honeymoon in Vava’u.
It sounds dorky, but I had a whole excel spreadsheet that detailed tasks to complete, the person responsible, track expenses, items paid/ pending payment as well as guest list and reserve guest list. (It doesn’t have to be Excel but make sure you have some way of organizing what needs to be done. A quick online search will give you many weddings planning templates though!)
Here's what it looked like:
We had an open bar at our reception, and I guess the guests enjoyed themselves too much, that we ended up with an extra $800 bar tab (highlight yellow) at the end of the night. 😂😂 But see, it was good we had planned well and we still had money left within our budget.
For reference, our total invoice for Katea is as below. Remember that the prices may vary depending on wedding size!
We reached out to our tailors, venue vendor, cake baker, make-up artist and photographer a few months ahead of our wedding date and paid upfront in cash to seal the deal. Make sure to get receipts too!
2. Use your vision board to communicate!
Remember how I mentioned the Pinterest vision board in Part 1? Use it when you talk with your vendors! We basically pinned outfits, cakes, decors, makeup and hairstyles etc. that we liked into our phones/tablets, and showed them to our vendors when we met saying “This is what we like, could you do something similar, please?”
For our outfits, we bought the fabrics at Adiloa store in town. We used different tailors though (I used Joe’s Tailoring and Nela used Angelina’s Tailoring). Both are Filipino tailors based in Tonga. Our outfits cost about $300 TOP each, including fabric and sewing costs. (Note that cost may vary depending on size.) For my dress, I originally just wanted it to be a simple off-shoulder, small mermaid style dress, but the tailors suggested a wider train and a cape-style off shoulder. I was pleased with the end result and the dress still looks simple. Listen to the professionals when they give you recommendations that would make you look better! Tailors need the most time, so DON’T leave this for the last minute.
We booked Malau Media to take photos on the day. October-December is the peak wedding season in Tonga, so we wanted to book well in advance. Nela and I went to the same high school with Leki, so it was easy to book with him. He kindly offered us a mates rate discount for our wedding, but we turned it down because I really believe that you should support small, individual businesses! If you can, don't ask your friends for mates rates na'a si'i mate 'enau ki'i pisinisi 😂 🤣Our wedding date was also his birthday, so really, he was doing us the favour as he had originally planned to celebrate his birthday! Anyway, we were both ecstatic with how the photos turned out, and would highly recommend Leki/ Malau Media!
We ordered our cake and cupcakes from Vika Mu’asika of Mahalo Cakery. It made sense to order from Vika, as she's based in Mu'a/Lapaha and Katea is in Nakolo (just 15 mins away). Yumi reached out to Vika via social media and did the arrangements, then I gave Yumi the money to confirm payment. We only ordered 1 cake and 200 cupcakes for our guests, because we didn’t want to do a traditional ui keke/foaki keke mo e fakaloloa mo e fakapiko. How many Tongan weddings have you been to that you actually got to eat some cake? Mine is none 😂, hence why we wanted 1 cake and many cupcakes.
We wanted a simple cake with fresh flowers, and Vika delivered! We didn’t get to eat the cupcakes, but the guests who did were very happy with them!
Katea Retreat went well beyond our expectations! We showed Sami and Sheila a beach wedding set-up we found and liked online, but they told us the road down to their beach was too steep and rocky for our elderly guests. What they did though, was BRING THE BEACH UP! We were all amazed when we got to the venue on the day, and there was a lovely sandy path all the way up to the altar, surrounded by beautiful tropical flowers! This set-up was part of their service, and there was no additional fee for this arrangement.
Sami is a super creative guy, and what our interaction taught me was to communicate clearly what you want, then leave creative people alone! They will amaze you!
3. Allow some degree of flexibility but know when to put your feet down!
3.1. Guest list
The main arguments we got from our families were about our guest list. There were people from our extended families, as well as their friends and work colleagues that they wanted to invite, but we REFUSED to go over our 48 people.
“What if people show up to the wedding, and the security chases them out? That’s rude!” 😤😡
“Mmmm...it’s ruder of them to show up without being invited by us in the first place.” 🥺🤔
I’m sure our parents wanted to chuck a chair at us at some point when we had this discussion. 🤣🤣🤣LMFAO.
What we did do though, for compromise, is list an additional 10 people as a reserve list. When we sent our E-invites, some of our friends couldn’t attend due to work commitments in the outer islands, so we moved up some people from the reserve list to the main guest list to keep the 48.
Someone still wasn’t happy with our list, so we asked, “Okay, here’s our list. Who do you want to take out so we can invite the person XYZ that you want? We are not going to change the number we agreed on.”
Luckily, both our mums (and Nela’s grandma) were extremely supportive and emphasised it was OUR DAY, OUR CHOICES and most importantly, OUR MONEY that was going into the event 😂 🤣. Not only that, but it also takes off the stress and pressure on them, as parents, to plan and fund the wedding, so they should all agree on going with what we wanted. So, with the votes at 5- 1, our case was closed, and we stuck to our 48.
3.2 Dress code
We wrote on our Invitation that the dress code was “Beach Formal”.
(Sample invite, designed on Canva. Hard-copy was printed on A5 sized gold paper at Courts)
We thought that the Beach Formal dress code was flexible enough in a Tongan setting, because it would basically mean ta'ovala and kiekie are optional for a beach wedding.
I really thought it would be common sense, that people would interpret Beach Formal as:
· Nice shirt with a tupenu for gentlemen (Ta’ovala optional)
· Nice shirt with long pants
· Dress/skirt for women (Kiekie optional)
· Nice blouse with pants
While 99% of guests understood the assignment, we had just one guest show up in Toli kuava short shorts because they had misread Beach Formal as Beach Informal 🤦🤦. There was a part of me that wanted to tell that person to go change, as they lived in a village 15 mins away from the venue but there was a part of me that felt it was my mistake for not explaining clearly to the guests the dress code expectation. I genuinely thought it was common sense to dress at least semi-formal for a wedding, so if you're particular about the details like I am, don't make this mistake of assuming everyone will understand the dress code 😂 🤣
4. Emphasise "By Invite Only".
We’ve all been to enough Tongan weddings to know that gate crashers are to be expected. 😪 😵 We’ve heard stories from our friends and family (who got married before us) that they had a certain budget planned, but a lot of uninvited people showed up, and they had to pick up the bill after by taking out a loan and/or using up their honeymoon funds. Who wants a juicy loan to start your newlywed life with?! 😭😭
That was a huge lesson (and a massive NO) for us, so we decided to add the notes below along with our invitation. The tough part was getting the wording right so that it’s still polite but firm. I did the English version, and we had our friends help us translate it into Tongan as appropriately as possible.
When we were delivering our hard-copy invitations (to mostly family), we explicitly explained that only the guests whose names are written on the invitation are welcome to attend. We took time to politely explain to our guests “Invites only” “No kids”, "DON'T BE LATE" and that they must bring their invitation cards to the venue for the security to check them in. We had to explain clearly to family because family can be the most ta'emahino people.
Sending the notes to our friends was easy because our friends understand my peculiarities and personality. Most of them saw the invite and the note and were like, “Yeah. This has Moni written all over it. Nela is too nice for this! Haha, cool, got it. We’re used to this 😂 🤣 ”. Get you some cool-ass, supportive-ass friends!
(Yumi with the final guest list and 'Eli)
(Yumi and Sami, co-owner of Katea an hour before the ceremony discussing the final touches)
One day before our wedding, we had already finalised our guest list and sent it to Katea. We explained to Sami and Sheila that the guests need to show their invitation card before entry, but if they forgot their cards, their name must be on the list we provided.
“And if someone shows up and their name isn’t on the list?”
“We’ll leave that to you.”.
On the day, the Katea team followed as we asked to a T! Their security team checked in the guests smoothly, and my sister also helped to verify guests and check off our side of the family. She was initially very nervous at the thought of someone showing up uninvited and that she’d have to ask them to leave. I asked her “Would you rather deal with one moment of their anger, or a lifetime of mine?”. Yes, that was Bridezilla of me, but lucky for us, no surprise people popped up. 😂 🤣
Jokes aside, I'm really appreciative of all the people who helped make our wedding as we envisioned it, especially our vendors and close family and friends (MVP a Yumi 😂 🤣 )
Remember: It's YOUR special day. Don't let other people stress you out!
I suppose another important point to remember throughout the planning process is don't doubt the decisions you make with how you want things to be.
I can't emphasise it enough: It's YOU AND YOUR PARTNER'S special day. It should be HOW YOU BOTH WANT IT, and not how your family and every other Tom, Dick and Harry wants it!
Additional 2 cents:
In retrospect, perhaps we were able to pull off our wedding how we wanted because:
I'm hafe-kasi, and my partner's family understood we won't do everything in a Tongan way. Maybe if my Tongan dad was still alive, we would have more Tongan elements in our wedding. Hei'ilo 🤷
Nela and I are stubborn and we're a solid team. We basically discussed between just us two and reached a mutual agreement. We then set our plan, set our budget, set our timeline, set our guestlist and it became "Our way or the highway!", especially when our families wanted to change this and that and add more people😅 😂
We treated our wedding as our first big project together, and we both wanted it to go well. After all "Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you're doing it in the first place. -Ralph Marston"
I know traditional Tongan weddings can be difficult, and they can be overwhelming. It involves a lot of people, and it's usually seen as the union of two families, not just two individuals. Sometimes there can be a "fakahaa koloa" or showing off wealth between families. Sometimes people want big weddings to include all their kainga as part of tauhi vaha'aa and keeping/strengthening relationships and familial ties. I get that.
However, as mentioned in Part 1, the bigger the wedding, the more it would cost. We both didn't like the idea of taking out a big loan to celebrate just one day or having our families foot the bill. Weddings should be fun, and families and the couple shouldn't be breaking their backs and banks over one. (If you have a super-rich and supportive family to sponsor your massive wedding, then good for you!). I repeat, Weddings should be fun! You (and your partner and families) shouldn't be mentally, emotionally, physically and financially drained after your wedding!
At the end of the day, it's really your choice. Our Micro-wedding worked out for us. We had a great time, we didn't have any financial worries afterwards and we look back with joy at how well our wedding went. Of course, there were people who were hurt that they weren't invited to our micro-wedding, but they'll get over it one day.
Whatever you choose, you can't please everybody, so make sure that at least, your choice pleases YOU.
If there's something that you're curious about that I didn't mention, leave a comment or message and I can get back to you. I don't know if I should do Part 3 about the honeymoon planning, coz Nela was in charge of that. lol. DM me if you're interested.
'Ofa pe na'e 'aonga eni ki he kau teu mali, pea mo e kau fie mali. lol
Until next time. 'Ofa atu.