No Frills Can Be Harder Than You Thought

What is the most important part of a no frills wedding?

Most places you will find are either massive, too expensive, or won’t allow me to bring anything in that isn’t from an approved caterer. (Tip: search for self catered venues. Here is a luxurious one.)

If you are looking for a place under $500, which isn’t too difficult, it can be a stretch to meet the first three criteria. If your budget is more like $1000, but isn’t set because you’ve just got engaged you can make some preliminary you have more time to find something suitable.

Most venues cater to the people who want ridiculously extravagant weddings, this is what makes them money. As a venue you only have 365 opportunities a year. And that is unrealistic. Since most people get married on Friday and Saturday they only have 104. Plus the small Sunday weddings that don’t bring in as much. If you want a place that is indoors you will also have to find one that offers chairs and tables. Or you will have to rent them elsewhere.

This is the no frills version, and when done right it can be a blast.

That’s it.

Period.

That said, I find places like restaurants and wine bars that have a back room are also great, especially places that put effort into their ambiance. Some theaters have nice rooms, or arts centers, museums, and the like. I would try that depending on what kind of feel you’re going for.

My suggestion would be to look at your local bridal magazines every city over a hundred thousand has one!

More ideas that will give you a beautiful nifty, and unforgeable backdrop are things publicly funded, University museums. These venues are fantastic, and also really cheap compared to several other venues, especially for brides on a budget. I have seen absolutely breathtaking weddings for a little over $1000 and that was for ceremony, reception, set-up/tear down, centerpieces, decorations, and complete use of the facility for the wedding party for 9 hours. Of course $1000 isn’t pocket change, but comparable venues were charging $3000-5000 for much less.

Following the Hype For A Nifty Wedding

When you look at all of those fancy wedding blogs and magazines you will probably feel pretty low if you can’t afford all of the fancy things that are being hyped. But are they really that great?

Probably not.

A wedding doesn’t need to follow the trends or even have a theme to be nice. It is nice because it is nice. And what that means is that you can’t salvage a wedding that was not meant to be by throwing money at it. Nor does that mean that you can ruin one that is meant to be by not having all of the fancy trinkets. Trinkets that your guests will not even pay attention to.

When you get married, get married for yourselves.

Should I Follow Trends

I wasn’t going to make this into a section. Why?

Because it can be answered in just a couple of words.

No, you should not.

Follow your heart instead.

And now for an example.

Rustic Weddings

A couple of years ago, rustic was a fad, which meant it was the thing to have. That meant that all of the wedding invitations that you found were rustic. If they weren’t directly rustic wedding invitations they were some how related to it.

These weddings, while they might sound affordable, are actually quite expensive. You need to do a lot to make the wedding feel authentic. And this will cost you more than you think. I saw a chart that compared the cost of several popular wedding themes. The rustic wedding was definitely at or above the American average.

That being said, if you feel that $25,000 is too much to spend for a rustic wedding then you aren’t alone.

One of the reasons why a rustic wedding was in fact rustic was because it took some of the ideas that were common in country weddings. A country wedding is more like a big family gathering, in this case it was a union of families.

And that wasn’t supposed to be expensive.

Affordable Weddings

If you have been to country weddings you will know that it is more like a potluck.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the term, a potluck is a gathering where the guests bring some food. Usually they are not told what to bring.

So how does a potluck wedding work?

Much like the potluck lunch at work you’re going to get a few people who actually try and bring delicious trays of homemade dishes, you’ll also get a guests who bring potato chips and cookies from the local grocery store. This isn’t bad, but the ones that really try here will be praised, as they watch their food being gladly spooned onto the plates.

As I just mentioned some guests will be bringing delicious food. The majority, however, will not.

Can it work?

I’m not saying it can’t work, clearly it does for some people. But if you want it to work you have to take an active part in determining/deciding/assigning what part of the meal everyone brings. Or if you want to really take over plan a menu.

I know that this sounds counter intuitive so let me explain.

When you organize a potluck wedding plan what you want to have as your main meal. Then ask your parents and the parents of your significant other to help you prepare. Out of the three groups you can seriously make it a meal to remember, and with the couple other dishes you can ensure that nobody goes hungry.

Making the most out of your big day doesn’t mean eating a hole in your wallet, taking out a loan, or burning your down payment on a home. A wedding is about your union and that is all.

Need proof?

Then the Inspired Bride can show you just how amazing these wedding receptions can be.

Nifty Doesn’t Have To Be Huge

The nicest small wedding I’ve seen lately was one where they rented a gazebo on a nice summer’s day (about 200 dollars).

The couple kept it limited to just close friends and family, bought a dress/rented tuxes and flowers and all that, but then went out to eat afterwards. They got a really good photographer friend to take pictures, but I loved it because it was small, probably cost a hell of a lot less than a big wedding, but when you checked the facebook pictures it had everything you would want to see.

And a heck of a lot cheaper than a destination wedding which is pretty much a giant “fuck you” to all your relatives who might have trouble flying to whatever exotic locale you choose.

When you try to do the whole “big wedding” thing at a cheap price you’re inevitably going to spend a lot more money and spread yourself thin. Really sit down, talk with your partner, figure out what their dream wedding is, how much they want to please their family, if family would be willing to pitch in at all, etc.

What are some of the lessons learned?

Have your wedding in the morning or the afternoon.

People may not expect a full meal when the wedding is during the day. Cake and punch after a morning wedding is perfectly acceptable.

If you do a potluck, you’ll need to be sure you have some main dishes and assign certain people to bring certain things.

You can hire a photographer to do the ceremony and formal pictures then rely on friends and family to take pictures at the reception.

Get a small cake for the pictures of the cake cutting and bake sheet cakes to cut up and actually serve to your guests.

To really hold down expenses, don’t serve alcohol. Serve non-alcoholic beverages, instead. Or maybe just have some champagne for toasting.

If you are having a ceremony in a church that has multiple weddings in a day, ask the church for the names of the other weddings. Contact them to see about sharing the cost of the flowers in the sanctuary. We’re going to do that for my daughter’s wedding next spring.

Start going to resale shops to see if they have any dresses and see if you can find one you like. You can also look on ebay or craigslist. Start now but this can take a while. Have him wear a suit or rent a tux.

Cute “Free” Printable Invitations

If you are looking for “free” invitations for your wedding there are a number of different options out there that are worth your time. I said “free” in quotes because you will still need to print them which does cost some money.

A wedding invitation suite.

Also you can find the matching:

The Courthouse Wedding

I personally don’t like courthouse weddings.

I needed to get that off my chest.

Here is why.

In the one I witnessed, it involved sitting in a room for about 30 minutes until you were called back with a bunch of people who were either there to “get it over with” or getting married because they had kids. It was not a positive environment. You can have a friend or relative get ordained for free, the process just takes from a few weeks to a month, so plan accordingly. Some people do like courthouse weddings. They like to do the wedding fast and have a big celebration with friends and family after.

It’s up to you entirely, it’s you and your partner’s day.

Location

See what you can rent from your town. Often township rentals are cheaper than hotels or churches, but have a pretty good variety and sizing, plus the city will set up all chairs and tables required for the event. If there’s a university in your town, they may also have rooms you can rent. If someone has a nice yard, barn/country home, country club membership, or otherwise has access to a wide open area, see if you can hit that up. Some people seem to be against back yard weddings, but there’s a difference between a small suburban back yard and a sprawling back yard with a lovely garden.

Food

Most of my budget went to food, because I like to eat well. In my experience, actual catering companies suck. They’re efficient, but they always serve bland food for a big price. I talked to restaurants I already liked, and asked if they could cater. Eventually I found a place that would do $13/plate, which was a fair price for my small guest list. I’m sure if you wanted you could get much lower than that. Potluck style weddings can be great if you actually have friends and family who will cook. If two people make food and twenty just bring a bag of chips, it’s not going to work. No matter how you go, have volunteers help make a simple veggie and cheese tray instead of buying appetizers, or having the caterers do it.

Cake

Tip: Do not get a tiered cake. This adds hundreds to your bill. If at all possible just get a big enough cake to feed everyone. Or, do a dessert bar. A small cake for cutting, plus things like cookies, pies, etc. When arranged well, it gets just as much of an “ooh” factor as the big cake does. If you order a cake from anywhere, DO NOT mention it’s for a wedding. Sometimes companies will tack on money just because it’s for a wedding. If you want any sort of bride and groom topper, buy or make it and put it on yourself.

Clothing

Find deals. Many companies will have deals where if X number of people rent a tuxedo, the groom’s tuxedo is free. Back when I was getting married, you not only got the free tux, you also got up to 200 wedding invites free. Between groomsmen, fathers of the married couple, etc, you can probably hit that number. Some couples opt to just have all the grooms wear black suits, which also works and means you only have to buy matching ties to make the wedding party look assembled.

For bridal, it all depends on how formal you want to go. Some stores like Target and Macys have simple white gowns for under $200. Add a belt, some jewelry, some lace, a jacket or bolero, or any other number of accessories to really personalize the dress and make it your own without spending very much. Other stores will also have long white maxis or sundresses that you can do the same thing to. This looks especially cute for outdoor weddings. But for the more traditional wedding dress, there’s two options- secondhand or discontinued. There’s a shop near me that sells discontinued, store model and slightly damaged (meaning maybe missing a button, or something else very small and cosmetic) for a fraction of the price. I got a dress for $200 that was originally $800 because it had some missing beadwork. You couldn’t even tell it was missing, but the woman who was assisting me that day went ahead and made the repairs to the dress for free. I had to drive an hour to get to the store, but it was obviously worth it. Look around your area, you might have something similar. Obviously stores like Goodwill and other consignment stores will have dresses, but YMMV. eBay could be a good resource, but since you’re not trying on the dress first, be prepared to need some alterations. Those really add up.

Guests

If you invite enough of the right type of guests, you’ll break even on cost. For example, inviting three friends means three gifts. However, inviting one friend and their spouse and kid means you’re feeding three people, but will only get one gift from their family. I’m NOT saying to invite people based on that, it’s not frugaljerk. I’m just saying use that as a rough estimate of how much you’ll be getting. We asked people for money instead of gifts, because we’d already lived together and already had everything we needed for our home. We just needed money to cover the wedding costs. We ended up getting about $3,500 from 60 guests, which covered the roughly $2,700 we spent on our wedding. Again, your mileage may WIDELY vary, but I’d say expect $20-40 from each guest or family, and just be pleasantly surprised if it’s more. Use that to calculate about how much you think you’ll be getting back, and then you have your rough budget.

FLOWERS- Don’t get real, it’s a hassle and they charge you too much. I’d recommend Real Touch brand fake flowers. You honestly can’t tell the difference. I got all my wedding flowers at a craft store when they were having a 50% off sale on fake flowers, and my bill ended up being 20% of what a flower shop said I’d pay.

Alternative to the Courthouse

This cost more than the court house but it has added benefits.

  • People feel like it was their choice to not attend the weddings (cost too much)
  • They will still give you they same gifts as if you had a real wedding
  • They get to see you and each other at an event you hold stateside.
  • the park / pavilion is far cheaper than any real reception and can be much more casual.
  • people feel good to get an invitation (you can invite more people knowing they cannot come) where as a cheaper wedding stateside means you have to actually cut the list / send out a first batch of invites see who can’t come and send out a second (which is someone learns they are on the back up list…)
  • Destination weddings are a great way to see some part of the world you would otherwise never convince yourself to see because of the cost.

It Isn’t the Wedding It’s The Time and Location

Wedding costs are so incredibly specific to your area that unless you read about someone’s experience who got married in the same town/city as you, you won’t really be able to glean that much from their experience.

That being said if you get married in Los Angeles (Santa Monica) you can do it for under 5k. In Beverly Hills that will get your guest catered, maybe. The three biggest components that shaved off money for me were:

  • Number of guests: this was easily the biggest factor, and also allows some of your other cost-saving measures to be feasible. If you host ~35 people at your wedding.
  • Timing: Get married on a Monday. This alone could accounted for 50% of our savings. Because it was during a weekday, your reception venue may give you a discount, and your photographer might give you a rebate was well since it is a dead time for them. Talk to the photographer about it. I once spoke with a photographer who said that she gets non-weekend/non-Friday weddings about once every two YEARS, which was why the discount was so worth it for her. She is a very successful and well-known photographer in my area.
  • Venue: Because there were only a few dozen people, you are able to get married anywhere, even on a beach for free. Make sure that you contact city officials and have them confirm that you gathering is allowed, in most cases the cost is nothing since you won’t need a permit. Find a party company and rent chairs and tables from them to be set up at the venue, again a Monday wedding will save you big.
  • Decorations/party favors: Spend the time making the decorations that you will need for the reception by hand, or ordering things from places that don’t normally do wedding business (which brought down prices dramatically). For example, you can order pens to give away in bulk from an unsuspecting company stationery supply company. Instead of a guestbook considers something a little niftier. For example you can purchase blank jigsaw puzzles online, then lay them out at the reception location, your guests can draw and sign. Then together on our 1 year anniversary you can re-assemble the puzzle.

There’s more, but those are the big ones.

What Guests Remember

People will remember the the ceremony, the reception, the entertainment, and the food. No one will remember centerpieces or chair covers. No one will remember favors. No one cares. Focus on what’s important. Small details will go completely forgotten.

We searched for a venue with it’s own charm so we didn’t have to decorate, and found a classy historic building with adequate space; we held the ceremony in their beautiful courtyard.

We also hired a live band. No one remembers the DJ, but friends and family are still talking about about our wedding and uploading pictures onto FB. They played music we liked, which included a lot of punk, and even some classics from Queen, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.

Consider getting an event license and supplying your own liquor if the venue doesn’t provide it, but you’ll also have to get event insurance. It’s a hassle, the onus is on you if liabilities occur or if you run out of booze, but it is cheaper, and you can return what you didn’t open. There are event companies that handle these details and provide bar tenders, which may be required where you live.

Speaking of where you live, if you’re out in the country, host the party on your own land! Boy is that so much cheaper. You must always account for weather and have a plan B, either rent a tent or have adequate indoor space.

Save the ceremony hall and get married in your reception hall, if that’s acceptable to you. Ask a friend to ordain and officiate. My wife and I aren’t especially religious, so our friend “ordained” or whatever they called it with a secular humanitarian organization. If your local laws don’t allow this, civil servants can do the job, so they can become a notary.

Remember: this is your wedding. Nothing is traditional. White dress? You mean how no one did this ever until everyone copied Queen Victoria? Diamond engagement rings? Not until 1939 De Beers advertising campaign that saved them from bankruptcy. Photo booths? I literally had someone tell me this is a tradition.

So make your wedding what you want. Accept unsolicited advice (you’re going to get so, so much of it) by telling them you’ll consider it, then forget about it. And be weary of family making assumptions/decisions on your behalf and imposing. Ask your parents about any family traditions you should be aware of before you get blindsided, and try to divert such imposing behaviors by accepting things as a gift and making them disappear before the big day.

Prioritize, while keeping in mind that this is your special day. Indulge where it would make you sad to not. Personally I couldn’t see getting married without a lovely dress, but it’s not super-important that it be new, so I’d sacrifice there, but for some people they can’t even imagine a not-new dress. Keep an eye on craigslist and resale shops for table decorations and such.

Friends who are chefs may be willing to help and/or at least give advice on food. one wedding just did a really nice elaborate sandwich bar!

  1. make your own floral arrangements (this is fun)
  2. if you have a DJ as a friend ask them to do the music for you, speakers are around $50 to rent for a weekend
  3. find an alternative to wedding cake (for example personal cupcakes)

Just make sure that if you ask the DJ it is a close friend and make sure that it replaces their wedding gift. Why? Because what you are saying when you ask them to donate their time to your wedding is: “I want to save money my so bad, that I want you to do the thing that makes you money, for no money.”

Nifty Frugal Weddings That Look Great

A wedding can be expensive, and one under 10K is almost impossible to plan if you use the old standards.

The main and most effective way to save money is a smaller guest list. That multiplier will cost you more than any individual item ever would.

Decide what you REALLY want and care about. Think really hard on this, and then focus your attention there. Decide what you don’t care about and don’t waste your money on these things. Frugal is an objective term; my recent wedding cost enough that likely no one here would call it frugal but to me I think it was; each thing we spent money on was carefully thought about and decided to be necessary for what we wanted. If you really want a formal sit down dinner of high quality food then do it; you won’t be happy with pizza or a potluck. But maybe you don’t need fancy cocktails before dinner and can cut those out. Same thing with an open bar: we decided it was a priority so even though it costs more we went for it.

At the same time maybe you don’t care about any of those items and cut them all: I know someone who has a Sunday morning wedding with a nice light brunch after and no alcohol: it was cheaper than a standard wedding and still nice and everyone had a good time.

Don’t get sucked into “traditions” that you don’t care about. I recommend this book that we read, called “a practical wedding” by Meg Keene, it explains how all the “traditions” that people will get bent out of shape about actually are not long standing traditions but recent things designed to take your money. If it’s something you want then do it and don’t feel any shame about it, but if you don’t care about it then don’t waste a bunch of money and ignore anyone who complains.

I recommend focusing on WHEN things need to be done as a guide for possible frugality too. Remember that with a wedding everything will cost you either time or money and you need to pick. Meaning that if you want it cheaper it will mean more time and work for you, and if you want it easier and faster then it costs more money. So anything that can be done well in advance and will still be fine come the big day (like making decorations or things like that) I recommend taking advantage of as you can save money without too much extra stress and get this done when you actually have available time. I tried/recommend avoiding anything that requires your personal time in the week before the wedding as you will already be super busy and stressed in the days right close to the big day; it might save you some money to do your own flowers but the bride and groom shouldn’t be up until 4am the night before the wedding day making arrangements. This is the reason that we did a huge amount of DIY decorations/favors/etc (including pies for the dessert that we made and cooked and then froze until the wedding!) but you can hired someone to do the flowers and other perishable things (you will just have to pay).

There are different kinds of expenses when you do an outdoor DIY wedding on private property like that. We had our wedding at my grandma’s home in the country, and we had to rent a big tent (in case it rained) with all the furnishings, audio equipment, a generator, and washrooms. The tent, lights, tables, chairs and linen rentals were one of our biggest expenses.

It was beautiful and I loved it. But it’s not necessarily cheaper than an inexpensive venue.

I read on here about one couple that used plates from goodwill and just donated them back after they were done with them. Apparently they were cheaper than renting or buying and also more eco friendly than disposable.

Also, my buddy bought a whole bunch of goodwill stuff as decorations. He bought used chandeliers and spray painted them silver and hung them from trees outside to provide lights for the reception. They had the wedding at her parents farm. They looked really cool and it turned out to be a very effective and stylish. They were about 20 feet up so the metallic spray paint looked fine.

Nifty How Things Vary

In the last three years, I’ve been to everything from 350+ guest weddings with ceremony, hor d’oeuvres, and banquet to small-ish wedding with a catered dinner. Both types are equally as fun and offered ways to cut costs.

Tips from helping in these weddings —

350+ Guests:

  • family/friends helped out wherever possible (sign in, ushers, emcees, dj, etc)
  • alcohol was purchased directly from the supplier, no middle man mark up

Small Wedding:

  • proactive family — catered meal but family helped serve, family made sure drinks were flowing, converted the ceremony area to the dance area, prepped centerpieces, helped setup the decorations beforehand, etc.
  • photographer, no videographer
  • affordable location – local community center

A lot of the cost cutting I’ve seen have revolved around finding the right people to help you with your big day.

Bridesmaids

You may also consider having your bridesmaids buy non-traditional dresses. As far as the dress and bridesmaids, make sure you check the clearance racks at the expensive bridal stores before trying cheaper options.

I got a $1000 gown and was expecting to pay up to $800, but it was on clearance for $299. I know you can get a gown for $100 or $200 at some places, regular price but it’s way better to get a $1000 gown for $299. Mine was stunning. Same with bridesmaids dresses, especially if you don’t need them to match perfectly. Overall, just don’t worry about impressing people. They really don’t care, believe me. And a lot of people are kind of put off by really fancy over-priced weddings.

I know we are.

We’re always commenting “they’re going to be paying for this for years.” People will think you are smart and not over-doing it and trying to impress if you are thrifty.