Most of the past three years of my life has been devoted to asserting that Marine Corps partners can, in fact, be independent, career-oriented individuals (and when I say “career-oriented”, I, in fact, mean oriented in their OWN career). As a proud USMC girlfriend, I suffered the losses and celebrated the achievements of our service people just like any other proud military spouse. And in some of my prouder moments, I enjoyed griping about my lack of military benefits, access to the base, or ability to purchase food from the local Commissary.

A little over a month ago, I joined the ranks of the soon-to-be wed. The reality shone most brightly on the day that my two best fellow USMC wives (who, for the record, are pursuing interesting and challenging careers of their own) sent me a matching pink mug and t-shirt set that proudly declared my future “USMC wife” status, finally welcoming me to the club. Tricare, here we come!

Graphic courtesy of

Yet that’s not all. Being a military wife, especially in an area where Marines are so few and far between like Chicago, carries expectations that I didn’t feel as strongly before Marvin “put a ring on it”. Now I must balance my own value as a career professional, perhaps in a similar fashion to how Michelle Obama did, in light of my fiance’s reputation.

But we don’t have to worry about that yet. Now, it’s time to instead become the bridezilla that I never expected myself to be. I can feel it erupting from within me everytime I access my Pinterest ideas, read another blog about weddings, or try on another dress. It’s hard not to fall into the excitement of wedding planning, especially if you’re a do-it-yourself-er like me.

After finally deciding to get married in our current town of Chicago, rather than trekking back and forth to the East Coast, we’re in the exciting process of looking at places, talking with caterers, and figuring out what kind of wedding we really want to have. Also considering the fact that we both have enormous families, we’re looking at about 200 people on a very tight budget. I’ve had caterers nearly stifle a laugh when I told them the price range we’re looking at per person. Yet if anyone has ever been true to making things happen on a budget, it’s me.

Here are some of my favorite budget-friendly venues to date:

Garfield Park Conservatory, from

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 North Central Park Avenue
Chicago, IL 60624-1996

Cost: $2,000 to rent
Catering: Must use preferred caterer, approx $75-90 pp, open bar only

The pros: The Garfield Park Conservatory is the most beautiful little gardeny space under big glass windows and trees all around. You could literally have your guests dine under trees, and if you can imagine little twinkle lights everywhere it just seems like paradise. If Marvin and I had all the money in the world, we’d get married at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, but since we don’t, this is an *excellent* second. It also fits our whole group, has a separate room that we can open up for an enormous dance floor, and even features a garden where we could have “cocktails” outside (I say “cocktails” because we’re probably not going to *actually* serve cocktails). One of my coworkers recently got married here, and he adores it.

The cons: Since the conservatory is owned by the City of Chicago (it’s a public park), there are SO many rules about how it is used. The caterer must do the set-up, must serve the food, you have to rent linens, you have to have an open bar (no cash bar allowed), and you have to do this all before 11pm. This makes a DIY wedding quite difficult, and a full service staff and rented glassware for 200 people already exceeds our budget. We recently talked to Wishbone Catering in Chicago, which makes good southern cooking (shout-out to our past home, North Carolina), and it looks like they might be able to make it happen. We’ll see. It’s also a little bit away from the loop, and according to one of Marvin’s friends, it’s a dangerous part, too.

Reza's Restaurant, Photo Courtesy of

Reza’s Restaurant
432 West Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60654-5714

Cost: Free if we can promise to have 200 people
Catering: On-site, approx $30pp, cash bar allowed

Pros: Reza’s has delicious food, and the fact that they have a space to fit all those people is pretty awesome. They’re also downtown, and I love that our guests will be able to step out into the city when the party is over and feel like they’re really part of Chicago. It’s also very inexpensive–you can feed everyone a delicious meal for $20pp and have a cash bar, and that’s it! Totally within budget, and no need to rent tables, glassware, etc.

Cons: The fact that it’s Reza’s is both a pro and a con. Reza’s is known for great food and a great atmosphere, but I’m not sure I really thought about it as a wedding place. It’s nice, but there’s nothing particularly fancy about it. And my coworkers eat there all the time, so there’s something a little bit “ho-hum” about going to a place we frequent regularly.



Carnivale Chicago, Photo Courtesy of

Carnivale Chicago
702 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60661

Cost: Free to rent with $10,000 food/drink minimum (rounds to about $50 pp)
Catering: On-site, cash bar allowed

Pros: This place was STUNNING! Just as many colors as it appears there are in the images. I mean, truly amazing. We talked with Amy, who sounds like she really knows her stuff. Nearly everything is included, from service to a sound system, and my friends LOVE both the atmosphere and the food. It’s definitely out-of-the-ordinary, and it’s close to downtown and a number of great hotels.

Cons: It’s a little small. We could make it work, but it could be a tight fit. Also, as much as I would love to have $10K at my disposal (plus tax), I am definitely looking for the cheapest option possible.

Find out next week what we decide!!!