Cost Cutting - Wedding Reception on a Budget

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The average cost of a wedding reception in the U.S. is $10,000. It's a very intimidating number indeed for many of us. If you are like me (a penny pincher with an exquisite taste), you probably want to pay less than one-fourth of that without sacrificing too much of the glamour and food quality. The great news is an inexpensive wedding reception with an elegant flair is totally achievable, but you will need to plan far ahead. Allow yourself at least 4 - 6 months to do all the budgeting, price surveying and planning. I will guide you through the process as well as provide some realistic estimates of how much you can save with these cost cutting ideas. My goal is to help you lower at least 50% of all the wedding reception costs without making your banquet hall resemble a homeless soup kitchen. Let's start, shall we?

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Before Planning Your Wedding Reception, Watch the "3 Ds"

Before getting into the details of your wedding reception, think about these essential factors first. I call them the "3 Ds".

The Dollar Flow - Calculate your wedding fund by adding up these amounts:

your and your partner's savings + an affordable percentage of your and your partner's projected income until the wedding date + any financial help from family members

Once you come up with a realistic budget, allocate 40% - 50% of it for the wedding reception. That's the magic number you must stick to. Don't get a loan just for this or put too many expenses on your credit cards; your dream wedding should not put you in debt for the next ten years.

The Damages - Wedding reception expenses can be divided into 4 broad categories: wedding reception site, food, entertainment and decoration. Decide which two of these are the least important aspects of your ideal wedding party. This way it will be easier to find the right spots to cut spending. Some couples might be satisfied with a simple dinner menu as long as they have a live orchestra playing Beethoven's Symphony 9 in a high-end banquet hall, whereas some others might want to offer their guests one of the best meals of their lives while scrimping on the roses and linens a bit.

The Beloved Diners - After estimating the budget and the awaiting expenses, now it's time to throw together a realistic guest list. You know how big your budget is and how many bellies you can afford to feed. One of the biggest woes of wedding planning is trimming this list down. You wish you could have everybody there but your budget book is screaming "RED ALERT"! In fact, instead of making one guest list, you should come up with three:

1.) close family members and best friends 2.) other relatives and not-so-close friends 3.) coworkers, clients and acquaintances

When you realize you have some trimming to do, start with the third list first. I know shortening the guest list can be even more difficult than picking the wedding dress. But what would you rather do: throw the best party for those who matter to you the most or compromise with a not-what-you-wish wedding reception just so that you can invite every face you know? It's not the time to be overly generous. Your guest list not only will determine the amount of food but also many other details of your wedding reception from the capacity of the banquet hall and the size of the parking lot to the number of utensils to rent and the number of servers to hire.

Cost Cutting Ideas - The Right Timing for Your Wedding Reception

Sometimes it's smarter to focus on the "when" rather than the "how." Many couples resort to extremely frugal choices just to make the budget, unaware that they can have a nicer reception party at a more affordable price, simply by changing the date and time of their wedding.

Budget-Friendly Wedding Months - Cost Cut: 20% - 40%

In most U.S. states, it is more cost-effective to get married some time during January through April, and November through December. Why? Because these are the non-peak months when wedding reception sites and caterers are usually in low demand and thus quite enthusiastic to drop their prices. You'd be surprised how much more expensive an identical dish of beef bourguignon from the exact same caterer could cost if you have your wedding in August instead of March! However, this might not be true in all regions, so a thorough price survey is still much needed.

Budget-Friendly Wedding Days - Cost Cut: 15% - 30%

When it comes to wedding receptions, Friday and Saturday nights are the norm. It's easier for your guests who live far away to make a travel arrangement; traffic is usually less stressful; and most people don't have to work the next day. You want to make it as convenient for your guests as possible; that is very considerate. BUT if most of your guests are within half an hour's drive, why not consider having your wedding on a weekday night? It can be much cheaper!

Budget-Friendly Wedding Times - Cost Cut: up to 60%

Breakfast, brunch and afternoon-tea wedding receptions have become the hottest trend for budget-challenged couples. You might think it sounds too nontraditional, but I suggest you take some time to consider these advantages before tossing these options out. First of all, a lot of wedding sites charge higher rates for evening wedding receptions. Some places even demand a substantial extra fee for late-night wedding parties. Second, most wedding caterers are less busy during the day, which means they will have more time to make sure the food is at its best quality.

Third, in many evening wedding receptions, alcoholic drinks end up costing way more than the food since the nighttime tends to ignite many people's party mood. It is more appropriate and convenient to get away with a nonalcoholic party if you have your wedding reception early in the day. Even if you decide to serve alcohol at your wedding brunch, most people tend not to drink as much (well...unless you invite a bunch of alcoholics!!!). And last but not least, early meals are usually lighter and cheaper. That doesn't mean your buffet table will have to appear boring and depressing, though. I've been to a high-tea wedding reception where they offered an array of tantalizing finger foods with chic French and Italian names I couldn't even pronounce. I'm sure they were much cheaper than lamb shanks and mahi mahi steaks, but did they make the wedding party less impressive? Not at all.

Cost Cutting Ideas - Cheap Wedding Reception Venues

To elminate a big chunk of your wedding reception costs, forget the high-profile hotels and reception halls with ubiquitous full-page ads in bridal magazines. Those places are going to charge you top dollars even if all you ask for is a basic, cookie-cutter wedding party. Consider these more affordable wedding reception sites instead. They might not have that extra "glam factor" but they can be just as beautiful and functional.

Cost Cut: 20% - 40%

  • Multipurpose Meeting Halls - Many business buildings offer banquet rooms for either business conferences or personal parties. Most of these sites are only big enough for a medium-size wedding party of about 50 - 100 guests, and you might need a talented decoration team to transform a humdrum-looking room into a charming reception hall. But still, I think it is worth your creative effort. Their rates are usually quite attractive.
  • Your Favorite Restaurants - Is there a nice restaurant you've been frequenting for years and years? If it happens to have a private banquet room big enough to accommodate all your guests, your favorite eatery could be your ideal reception venue. You know you can trust their food; you won't have to rent any chairs, tables, linens or utensils; and the owner might even give you a discount for having been such a loyal customer.

Cost Cut - 50% - 70%

  • Your House of Worship's Banquet Hall - Some churches, temples and synagogues have an affiliated hall, well equipped with tables, chairs, stereo system and basic decorative items. Some of them even offer an in-house caterer, too.
  • Historic Buildings, Public Parks, Museums, Arboretums - A government-owned property might not be an easy reception venue to book, but if there is availability, don't let it slip away. You will have to pay just a small fee for it. Also, often times, these sites are unbelievably gorgeous. You might want to have both your wedding ceremony and reception at the same place, and forget all about the transportation issues.

Cost Cut - up to 100%

  • Your or Your Family's Home- Yes, I said "up to" 100% of cost cutting because even though you don't have to pay for a space in your own house, you might need to rent tables, chairs, tents, linens, utensils, etc. Think twice...no, think at least three times before deciding to use your home as your reception venue. If you have a mansion, there's no problem. If not, you have to make sure your home or backyard is spacious enough to accommodate all the guests as well as the catering crew and their equipment. Will the party be too loud for the grumpy neighbors? Do you have enough people to help you clean up after the celebration? And what about parking? All these little issues may lead to a wedding reception nightmare! Having said that, throwing a reception party at your home might not be headache-inducing at all in some scenarios. For example, if you are planning to invite only about 30 people and have quite a few friends who love to grill, a backyard barbecue reception might be a stress-free way to celebrate your wedding.

A Few Questions That Will Save You a Bundle

Once you find a reception venue you like, don't be too quick to sign a contract. Shop around and compare prices first. Also, ask the site manager these questions to avoid any hidden fees as well as to make sure what you'll get is really worth the money you spend:

  • Will there be free parking for your guests? If the answer is no, you'd better start looking for another reception site. You don't want to be responsible for all the guests' parking, and it will be pretty rude to have your guests pay for this.
  • Are you allowed to supply your own alcoholic beverages? Yes is the desired reply. Being able to supply your own alcohol could save you big bucks.
  • Are there rental fees for party equipment such as microphones and speakers? There'd better NOT be!
  • Is there an extra fee for bringing in your own caterer or a musical band? Hopefully not.
  • Is there an extra fee if your party runs a little over the schedule? If so, how much do they charge? Most places usually charge for this, but some can be much greedier than the others!
  • Do they have liability insurance? They should. Unfortunate accidents can easily happen at a wedding party when most guests are drunk and start acting like baboons! Sad but true.
  • What is their cancellation policy? You should not have to pay the full price upfront and should be entitled to a partial refund of your deposit if you make a cancellation months before the booked date.

Cutting Costs by Making Your Own Wedding Cake

Cost Cutting Ideas - Wedding Food on a Budget

Cheaper Ingredients with a Creative Presentation - Cost Cut: 15% - 30%

Try to find a caterer who's enthusiastic to adapt and create a menu that will suit your personal taste and budget. Just because you want to cut the food cost doesn't mean you have to serve meatless pasta and a pathetic pile of mashed potatoes. Cheap ingredients can be prepared and presented with a gourmet flair. For example, serve chicken or pork instead of filet mignon or lobsters, but ask the caterer to prepare it in a creative way. It can be complemented with the chef's signature sauce or crowned with in-season colorful veggies. Instead of serving expensive and boring crab cakes, consider a cheaper and cuter choice like Waldorf salad in dainty cucumber cups. There're various ways to make a cost-effecive dish appear more interesting.

Opt for a Sit-Down Dinner - Cost Cut: 10% - 15%

A buffet might be budget-friendly for a breakfast or afternoon-tea wedding reception, but for an evening party with a multiple-course meal, a sit-down dinner is a more cost-effective option. Keep in mind that you will need to stock the buffet table with more food than the guests can consume. Besides, certain piggish guests might keep going back to the bowl of cocktail shrimp more than twenty times. When you do a sit-down dinner, however, you can better control the serving portions of both the food and beverages. According to Weddingreports.com, wedding guests usually consume about 20% less when foods are served to them instead of being offered at a buffet table.

Half and Half Menu Plan - Cost cut: up to 50%

Strike a special deal with your caterer if that's possible. Ask them to prepare only the main courses, and you take care of the rest. Your own team of cooks (recruit all the talented aunties and sisters!) can prepare the appetizers and side dishes as well as do all the setting up and cleaning. If you don't know any living souls who are skilled at cooking, you may consider ordering affordable appetizers and side dishes from your local supermarket. Some high-end supermarkets can make stuffed mushrooms almost as scrumptious as those from a first-class restaurant but sell them at a much more reasonable price. Also, you might want to forgo the dessert course completely. A slice of your yummy wedding cake is quite enough for a dessert.

No Bartender Needed - Cost cut: up to 60%

Many couples think offering a cash bar at the wedding reception is like slapping their guests in the face. I agree it is bad wedding etiquette. For those of you who don't have a budget for alcohol, just opt for a nonalcoholic breakfast or lunch party. However, if you would really love to see your guests drink and be merry despite your limited budget, try to find a caterer that allows you to supply your own booze. Instead of having an open bar, let the guests serve themselves. Place an ice bucket, a few bottles of mid-priced wine, some beers, a beautiful jug of sangria or some wine coolers on each table. As for the champagne toast, just provide one glass per guest. This self-serve style not only makes it easier to stick to your budget but also cuts the costs of bartender and corkage fees.

Small and Sneaky Wedding Cake - Cost cut: 20% - 30%

In many wedding receptions, the wedding cake is not just something to eat but also a major ornament of the room. It can add much luxury to the ambience and serve as a fabulous photo background. Yet, the bigger the cake, the lighter your wallet. The 4-foot wedding cake in Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones' wedding, for instance, cost $7000! For a couple with a small budget, I suggest you limit the size of your cake to three tiers maximum; it's an economical size but can be quite elegant if craftily presented. Don't worry you won't have enough cake for the large crowd. Ask the baker to make another plain sheet cake with the same filling and frosting, and hide it in the kitchen until the serving time. Yes, be sneaky! This way you can save quite a bit of money on cake decoration. Moreover, you should choose decent-quality ingredients to ensure the yumminess but try to keep everything simple; one cake flavor, one filling and one frosting. Don't favor extravagant decoration over the taste. A wedding cake with minimal but clever decoration can look as lovely as one with numerous piped lilies.

Cost Cutting Ideas - Wedding Entertainment

Hire a Solo Musician or a DJ Instead of a Band - Cost Cut: 50 - 70%

A small musical band of 4 - 6 musicians usually charge around $800 - $2000 for a four-hour wedding reception. A solo musician and DJ, on the other hand, will cost you just about $400 - $1200 for the same amount of time. Plus, a band will need a relatively large space for themselves and their instruments, meaning you will likely end up with a bigger reception hall and bigger bills. A solo musician (pianist, violinist, harpist, etc) is highly recommended for a wedding reception with a sophisticated and romantic theme. For couples who prefer a wild party and electrifying dance music, a DJ with professional equipment and sound system is the way to go.

Amateur DJ - Cost Cut: up to 100%

If you already have the songs you would like to play at your wedding reception, it is not that difficult to create your own music mixes as well as set up a decent sound system. Ask your relatives and friends whether anyone would like to be your volunteer DJ. Just make sure that person is really comfortable with it and has the "right personality." You can even do a 50/50 program in which you hire a solo musician to play while your guests are enjoying their food, and switch to your volunteer DJ once people are ready to get up and dance. This way you can impress the guests with a professional performance and also minimize the dollars spent on wedding entertainment.

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Budget-Friendly Wedding Reception Decorations

Cost Cutting Ideas - Cheap Wedding Reception Decorations

One thing that could elevate the cost of wedding decoration is extravagant floral arrangement. It's true that flowers and weddings usually go hand in hand, but that doesn't mean you have to bombard the banquet hall with hundreds of gardenias. Consider these equally chic but cheaper options:

Green Wedding - Cost cut: 50% - 70%

Instead of ordering ten vases of flowers from a florist, get only one for the centerpiece and decorate the rest of the room with flowering potted plants from your own or your friends' backyards. Greenery adds liveliness to the party and can blend in with all types of decoration. Even if you can find none or not enough shrubs to borrow, it's still much cheaper to purchase blooming potted plants from a store, such as Home Depot or Lowe's, than hiring a florist to arrange so many vases of flowers for you.

Balloon Arch vs. Flower Arch - Cost cut: up to 80%

An elegant flower arch can cost a fortune, especially if you hire a florist to make it. Balloons, on the other hand, are usually dirt cheap. I know some of you might be thinking, "It's a wedding party, not a circus!" Who said you have to buy silly and gaudy ones? Visit a party store nearby and you'll find a huge selection of cute balloons. A combination of white and red heart-shaped balloons goes very well with a romantic-themed party. If you have a crafty crew, tying and transforming tiny bunches of pink balloons into flowers can be another chic decoration idea. You can even mix balloons with a few flowers to create a more picturesque entrance. Don't assume you always have to pay a big price to get something gorgeous. A twenty-dollar balloon arch, if artistically created, can appear quite splendid and lovely.

Flowers Deconstructed - Cost Cut: up to 80%

Say you have about 20 guest tables and garnish each of them with a lavish vase of flowers, it could end up costing you around $500 - $1000. Instead of this expensive and overdone choice, buy a few roses and gently pull off their petals to sprinkle on each table or float in a little glass jar filled with water. Be creative with what you put on the guest tables. Budget-friendly and edible decorations, such as baskets of assorted bread and dainty bowls of colorful candy, have become the new trend. Minimalism is another decoration style I would like to endorse. A framed photo of the bride and groom along with a sprig of baby's breaths, for example, can be as precious-looking as a tall vase of imported orchids.

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Comments 29 comments

anujagarwal profile image

anujagarwal 5 years ago from Noida

Wow! Great hub. It will definitely help many who are planning for their wedding reception.


Ladda Boonmee profile image

Ladda Boonmee 5 years ago from Thailand

Thank you Om! It is such a great hub. I will share this idea with my friends :)


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Holy cow, I think you've done it again, Om!! Fabulous look and so well written. Love how you itemized out the savings so everyone can see how much they can save.

Having been there and done that with our daughter, yikes it can surely add up - we were frugal, too and it still cost a bloody fortune! The saddest part of all was after all that, they got divorced. Not complaining but that kind of speaks to how much do you spend and still have things go awry? (Happily, she remarried and is very happy....whew)

Anyhow - voted UP! Awesome!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

@Anujagarwal - Hi, thanks for the read and your kind comment!

@Ladda - Yes! Please share this with your friends. Kob khun kha :)

@akirchner - Hi, Audrey. I'm glad to hear your daughter has been happy with her second marriage. My first wedding took place in Reno so it didn't cost too much. And my second one won't happen anytime soon. I'm kind of against extravagant weddings. (sour grapes LOL) I think I'm genetically stingy! If I was a millionaire, I still wouldn't buy something like a $7000 wedding cake! Anyway, thanks so much for dropping by.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago

Anyone who is thinking of getting married and not busting their wallets should read this. You've covered everything under the sun. Roping friends and family to help can definitely cut cost. My friend got me to do her centerpieces and that shave quite a bit from her budget. She also rent a meeting hall, quite like what you suggested. Voted Up--Awesome!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is an AWESOME Hub! Your percentage estimates of how much each effort can reduce costs are amazingly helpful - not to mention effective in getting the point across. These are all great tips. If I ever get hitched, I'll be referring to this guide extensively!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

@anglnwu - Yeah, I remember you mentioned that in one of your hubs. You talk to flowers!...oh wait, I mean you let them talk to you. Either way, I'm sure you have helped your friend save quite a bit of money on her wedding.

@Simone - Thank you! Hope you get hitched very soon hehe :)


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Om Paramapoonya,

Open bar - making everyone pay for their own beverage is a must.

The price tag of a wedding is crazy. The bar bill is a major consideration and may be out of control and may cause your group to become out of control.

Relatives are not chosen - to give relatives who you do not choose to drink on your dime is an event that America needs to be ashamed of.

Wedding bliss is saving. You did a great job of outlining how to save money. Sorry for my harp. I am just hoping to help.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Hi Gma! Yes, saving is wedding bliss. At least we agree on that. Thanks so much for reading this and sharing your thoughts. :)


PaperNotes profile image

PaperNotes 5 years ago

Great details here! Weddings are generally expensive events to organize that if you are not careful about your finances, you'll end up in debts after the wedding. Some people choose to serve only budget-friendly foods in a reception like pizzas, salads and desserts.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Thanks for stopping by, Papernotes. Yes, something as simple as pizzas can be a clever wedding food choice. You can top them with gourmet ingredients and display them on stylish serving plates. I think they'll be perfect for a brunch or afternoon wedding reception. :)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Great advice! I wrote a hub about how I handled our wedding and titled it the case for eloping. Obviously I knew NOTHING about wedding planning! Haha! Rating this hub useful and up.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

"The case for eloping"? hehehe I'll have to check it out. :)


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

Om - I am now old enough to see all the young folks getting married and have been astounded at the amount of money weddings cost. Your suggestions are excellent, on target, and very sensible. Voted up and Stumbled!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Doroles, thank you so much for the read and kind comment. I've been astounded by many couples' willingness to pay exorbitant wedding costs as well. Actually, a coworker of mine just told me that her friend is planning to spend around $500,000 on his daughter's wedding!


mslizzee profile image

mslizzee 5 years ago from Buncombe County, NC

This is cute and informative. As a florist tho, I rather poo poo the idea of balloons. Potted plants yes, Also, I sell flowers to brides wholesale and help them make their own. But, I'm an old broad.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Booo balloon hater!!! hehehe Just kidding. Yeah, I can see why some people would prefer flowers to balloons. It can be hard to make balloons look as classy as flowers. You need a very creative and artistic décor team to make that happen :)


htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

This is interesting post for those who has tight budget


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago Author

Thanks! :)


Ahyat profile image

Ahyat 4 years ago from Canada

Interesting hub, i think i spent too much on my wedding. Should have read this hub before hehe. Good job keep it up ;)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago Author

haha...well, it might be too late to save money on your own wedding but you can still tell other bride-to-bes about these wedding tips. Thanks for dropping by, Ahyat. :)


sunbun143 profile image

sunbun143 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Great article...I love weddings (my own, others, everyone's!) and I'm helping my brother-in-law plan his. We are fortunate to live near LA, so we are going to get flowers from the downtown wholesale flower market, and do the arrangements ourselves. A couple hundred dollars at most, rather than $1000s. They splurged on the location and food, so we're DIY-ing as much of the decorations as possible to save money. Wish us luck!


PenHitsTheFan profile image

PenHitsTheFan 4 years ago from Home

We surprisingly found cute but inexpensive wedding items at Dollar Tree and Oriental Trading. Oriental Trading actally does a wedding issue.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago Author

@Sunbun and PenHitsTheFan - Thanks for sharing your personal tips and experience, guys!


jenslibra profile image

jenslibra 3 years ago

Planning on getting married within the year and am on a tight budget. Thank you for sharing these tips. Very helpful!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 3 years ago Author

@jenslibra - Glad to hear you found these budget wedding tips helpful. Congrats and good luck on your wedding plan.


jenslibra profile image

jenslibra 3 years ago

Thank you!


Codebreak profile image

Codebreak 3 years ago from Erwin, TN

Very useful Hub thanks!!


cougsam profile image

cougsam 17 months ago from Seattle,WA

Lots of great tips in this Hub. The hard part is convincing your partner!

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