If more couples looked into all the costs and planning time required for a big, fancy wedding many of them would opt for a simpler, less traditional ceremony. Why the big wedding? Unfortunately those fairy tale events have stuck in young minds. In short, brides-to-be cannot imagine anything else. It’s tradition. It’s carved in stone. It’s for the mother of the bride. When I surveyed many of my recently-married friends, they admitted that a big, ornate wedding was the farthest thing from their minds. But, they didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the bride’s parents.
Indeed, parents of the bride-to-be often began saving for their daughter’s wedding about the same time they established a college fund. Unfortunately, weddings become social contests where the intent is to orchestrate a performance that is bigger, better, and more lavish than the one their friend threw for their daughter.
Many times, couples start out with a wedding budget which dwindles before their very eyes as extras like the cake, the limo and the oh-so-perfect dress make their appearance. The average, U.S. wedding costs $25,631. Couples spend between $19,223 and $32,039 without figuring in the honeymoon.
In these tight financial times, couples often don’t have this kind of money to throw into a one-day event—however memorable it will be. So what’s the alternative? First of all, don’t think of a small wedding as “settling” or doing things “on the cheap”. Think of it as being creative and resisting the hype that wedding-related industries build for starry-eyed couples.
There are a lot of advantages to a small wedding.
As a matter of fact, cost is not the only reason couples are choosing smaller, more intimate weddings. In my discussion with couples who chose this route, here are the reasons they gave for deciding against a big, formal wedding:
A small wedding lets the couple share one of the most important days in their lives with the people they love—and who love them. Small weddings are more relaxed, less stressful. They actually leave a couple with money for a great honeymoon and/or a down payment on a house. Some couples spend little on a quiet private ceremony and then have a bigger, fancier reception.
Without the constraint of large numbers of guests, the wedding and reception location—and cost—become a lot more manageable. Consider: a backyard wedding, century-old barn, a ceremony at a local bed and breakfast, or the manse, or a small wayside chapel.
If your wedding is intimate, you actually get to visit with your guests—before, during and after the ceremony. Wedding guests feel more at home at a smaller wedding. They feel special — of all the people you could have invited, you chose them!
In a small wedding, you can get your guests involved. You can get creative with the ceremony and the reception. If your wedding is small, you can tailor it to be a wedding the two of you will remember—and so will your guests!
Consider a wedding at a beloved restaurant. Maybe it was a first date location or where he proposed. You can rent a reception room or take over the entire place—depending on the size. Sometimes restaurants have pleasant outdoor patios or backyards. Consider a local live or movie theater. Is there a great park in your town? Why not be married on the bridge or near the fountain. Golf courses will often allow outdoor weddings and receptions on one of their green spaces.
Does your alma mater have a great chapel, church , gazebo, or alumni house? Why not consider that space? Often the university food suppliers will cater. How about an old-fashioned BBQ in a backyard or a local farm? Many areas have barns that have been converted to reception or performance halls.
Now you can get as creative as you want. It’s your wedding and the sky’s the limit—really! I’ve read of events that occur at the top of a roller coaster, under the sea, on the beach, in an airplane, a hot air balloon or on horseback! I’ve attended weddings at a castle, a botanical garden, and the pitcher’s mound of a local stadium. I know a couple who met in a Laundromat—and got married there.
You might consider asking a chaplain in a hospital or the Salvation Army or the armed forces or a ship’s captain on a local cruise ship. Contrary to popular opinion, weddings conducted in the court house at City Hall by a Justice of the Peace are lovely. You can bring as many or as few to observe your wedding as you wish. Eloping is certainly an alternative and avoids many conflicts. Just make sure you won’t regret not having a big wedding later.
Now let’s talk about the reception! If you think wedding ceremony costs can get out of hand, we’ve merely tipped the ice berg when we hit reception costs. $35 to $50 per person without the cost of alcohol is pretty normal. The cost of alcohol drives the cost to a hundred dollars a person. So, again it’s time to get creative. Some locations allow you to supply the alcohol and for a fee they pour it or you can supply a bartender. You could consider a non-alcohol affair—especially if there are kids. You might limit the bar to the first hour or two or have wine and beer served at the tables. Or you could serve a signature drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) that is a favorite of the couple. The other things I have seen done tastefully (pun intended) is mimosas at a breakfast wedding and champagne poured just before the toasts.
If you get a caterer to provide a buffet you can cut server costs. If you are considering a farm or backyard or park then a BBQ or picnic style reception cuts costs. You and your family and friends might take on the food catering job. I’ve even seen themed weddings that were Mexican build-your-own fajitas; Italian pasta and choice of sauces; a backyard reception where the meat and the cake and beverages were provided and guests were asked to bring salads, rolls, vegetables and fruit and cheese trays in lieu of gifts! These kinds of receptions are relaxed, informal and lend themselves to visiting!
You might opt, instead of a meal, to provide appetizers and make them yourself. These can be made ahead of time and frozen, then just warmed up right before cocktail hour. Simple crackers, cheese squares, and some fruit and vegetable trays are appreciated.
Wedding receptions don’t need to be about excesses. They are occasions for sharing a special event with the happy couple. Somewhere in the contest to have the biggest, most lavish reception we have lost sight of this. Isn’t it time we got back to what’s important in a wedding?
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Catalogs.com staff. Top 10 Wedding Alternatives. http://www.catalogs.com/info/bestof/top-10-wedding-alternative-ideas
Finley, Megan. Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides. http://offbeatbride.com/
Heinlein, Eric. Non-traditional Weddings: Alternatives to the Traditional Wedding Reception. http://www.helium.com/knowledge/114421-non-traditional-weddings-alternatives-to-the-traditional-wedding-reception
Slide, Casey. 23 Cheap Wedding Reception Food & Drink Menu Ideas on a Budget. http://www.moneycrashers.com/cheap-wedding-reception-food-drink-menu-ideas-budget/
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