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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.