Tips For Planning a Small Wedding

by dustytoes

A small wedding doesn't mean a cheap wedding, it just means fewer people to accommodate.

Engaged couples who choose to have a small, intimate wedding usually do so to save money on the reception. That doesn't mean that the wedding will not be just as enjoyable and memorable as a larger event.

Don't be fooled into thinking that a small wedding will be much simpler to plan. Unless you elope, many components of a large wedding will still have to be addressed in a smaller ceremony and celebration following.

Five Good Reasons To Plan a Small Wedding

Save money and enjoy the day with special people.
  1. Cost.  If the bride and groom will foot the bill, they may want to use their cash for a nice honeymoon instead of using it all for an extravagant wedding day. Even if the bride and groom will not have to pay for the wedding, they may be held to a strict budget.  Decorating can be much easier and many couples choose to decorate the venue themselves.
  2. Location.  The couple may have a specific spot in mind to have the ceremony and / or reception and it won't accommodate a lot of people, or it's a far off destination that will make it difficult to attend for most guests.
  3. Drama (lack of).  It may cause problems to have to choose a Maid of Honor and bridesmaids and even choosing groomsmen may be difficult.  To avoid the hassle of a large wedding party, either have no one stand up with you or choose one person each to keep it simple.  You may not want a bunch of kids running around the reception but know that would cause problems with some.
  4. Informal & Comfortable.  The couple wants a very different type of ceremony that is non-traditional and they know that either a.) not everyone will be comfortable in that setting, or b.) they simply want an intimate affair.
  5. Focus. With a only small group of family and friends present, the couple may be able to focus on special moments more clearly and be less nervous about each aspect of the day.

Small Doesn't Mean Simple When It Comes To Wedding Planning

You will most likely still face many of the same decisions.

steeple in waterIf you are thinking that planning a small wedding means that you will have it easy, think again.  You may be able to avoid hiring a wedding planner, but many of the same things will apply to your small event.

You have to invite guests, find an officiant, look good, have music, supply food (and drink) including the wedding cake, capture the moments in video or photos, and plan the honeymoon.  Not everyone will want all these things, but they are the basics for any wedding.

Most weddings, small or large, will include:

  • Finding a location for both the wedding and reception
  • Someone to perform the ceremony
  • Clothing allowance for wedding dress and groom's outfit
  • Hair and makeup
  • Music of some kind
  • Decorating the venue
  • Food, Drink & Wedding cake
  • Photos (either professional or amateur)
  • Invitations and thank you cards (at the very least)

Have you had a small wedding?

Where were you able to save the most money?
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Share your small wedding experience here.

Finding The Right Venue For A Small Wedding

Begin looking early on and book your favorite spot as soon as you find it.

little red church

Everyone has to get married somewhere.  If it will be in the backyard of the family home, or in the office of the Justice of the Peace then you are all set.  Most couples will have to find a venue and that is one of the first things to do as they fill up fast.

Some places will charge a lot whether your wedding is small or large.  They make money off of the large weddings, so they need to still get their money's worth by renting out the place to you.  Start early and search out the perfect spot -visit it if possible.

Consider the fact that other people may be present at the location if you choose a hotel or large Inn.  Planning a beach wedding may be even more difficult to keep private.

Tiny Churches and Places of Worship

Pictures of cute little church buildings located in the United States.

Roadside America's List of Tiny American Churches
Photos and descriptions, by location, of some of the smallest churches in America.

Small Cruise Ship Weddings

If your favorite spot includes water, why not rent a small cruise ship and hold the wedding on the water.

lake cruise shipMany lakes offer cruise ships that can be rented for wedding parties and ceremonies.

If you and your spouse-to-be love boating and water activities this idea is perfect.  I find it very romantic to be out on the water, either ocean or fresh, and it's the perfect all-inclusive way to marry.

This photo is of the dinner cruise ship, the MV Kearsarge on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire.

Small Doesn't Necessarily Mean Cheap

Decide together where to cut costs and where to splurge.

The first thought that may come to your mind when talking about a small wedding could be "cheap".  The idea here  is to prioritize.  Keeping the cost down is a good reason to plan a smaller event, but small weddings can also be quite expensive. 

Obviously money will be saved on food and drink, since fewer people will partake.  You may want to splurge and have an open bar. Certain amenities will not be needed, as I list below.

It's really up to the two of you.  Together you should decide which features of the wedding day are worthy of greater expense and which are not.

Saving Money is One Thing, But Don't Regret Those Decisions Later

It might be best to NOT leave the picture taking up to the guests.

wedding cake photosMy daughter's fiance does not care about wedding photos, but my daughter considers this to be an important part of the day.  They have compromised and hired a professional photographer for a couple of hours - at an hourly rate - to save money and yet have nice photos.

You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on photography.  We have found that many wedding photographers are happy to work with you, especially if your wedding is held at a slow time of year, or you book way in advance.

This rule applies to all aspects of the day. If a beautiful cake is what you want, then don't let Aunt Hilda make it, unless you know it will be great.

Don't dismiss an important part of the ceremony in favor of saving a few bucks.  You can't go back and change it later!

A Load Off Your Mind

These issues are usually reserved for larger weddings.

Intimate affairs can save you when it comes to sending announcements and finding a large venue. Here are some other things you may be able to do without.

  • Save the Date cards - Word of mouth may be good enough for the small gathering of guests who will attend you service and reception.
  • The hassle of coordinating bridesmaid and maid of honor dresses and groomsmen outfits
  • Buying lots of thank you gifts for members of the wedding party
  • No need for ushers
  • No parking problems!

Can you think of more?

 

Wedding Invitation Templates

Themes for summer weddings include hydrangeas, butterflies and starfish.

What You May Miss Out On

Bridal showers and pre-wedding parties and the gifts that go with them.

wedding gifts presents

  • Bridal showers and bachelor parties may not take place if your wedding is going to be very small.  The people who usually throw these parties are members of the wedding party and people who attend are people you will see at the wedding - mostly friends.
  • Without showers and pre-wedding parties, wedding gifts will be minimal.  A small group of people at the wedding also means fewer presents.

On the other hand, because most couples are saving money by having a small wedding event, they have already saved more money than could even be received in wedding gifts.

 

A Real, Small Wedding Story

My daughter is planning a very small wedding in New England, and this is how she planned it.

wedding at the manorMy daughter is planning to get married next year (2013) and she wanted a small ceremony at an Inn or Cottage in northern New England.

We searched online for the smaller places to get an idea of locations and which ones are familiar with holding weddings.  Most places would rent out an area of the Inn for the wedding and reception but other guests would still be staying there at the same time.

The time of year will make a big difference if you plan to marry in New England with Fall being the busiest time.  In fact it may be impossible to find an affordable location for a small wedding during that time of year.

My daughter wanted, and found, a place that was small enough to rent for two days (staying within her budget) with guests staying overnight for two nights.  Everyone, approximately 20 people, will be there for the rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception and leave by Sunday morning.  The place will be all ours for that entire weekend.

 (Photo: Front lawn of the Manor on Golden Pond)

Picture Visit to The Manor on Golden Pond

This English Manor is the perfect venue to hold an intimate family wedding.

My Trip to Holderness
A visit, with pictures, to the New Hampshire lakes region and a stay at the Manor on Golden Pond.

It is Easy to Buy Your Own Flowers to Decorate

Unless you need something special that must be ordered, many flowers can be found in your local grocery store.

Wedding flowers are expensive. Ordering bouquets and arrangements from a professional flower shop will drain your budget fast. If you are at all creative, plan to buy your own flowers and decorate the room or hall yourself. Do this:

  • Collect vases - large, and / or small - from yard sales, thrift shops, and dollar stores or ask to borrow them from friends and relatives.
  • Use canning jars - they are very popular and cheap to purchase.  Also, they come in many sizes.
  • Use unusual items, or recycled glassware to hold the table centerpieces such as china cups, coffee mugs, or wine bottles.
Blue Hydrangea
Updated: 02/21/2013, dustytoes
 
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dustytoes on 12/11/2013

Good for you Paul!

PaulGoodman67 on 12/11/2013

Some great advice and suggestions. My wife and I opted for a small wedding 3 years ago, we haven't regretted it so far! :)

dustytoes on 03/06/2013

I'll send you my address so you can invite me to your wedding - it sounds like a good time ;) Really, I have to agree that weddings can be totally out of control. I dislike seeing anyone just following the crowd and having to have what everyone else has, and at such a high cost. I create wedding stationery and I try my best to make it unique and not run of the mill, and in my blogs I stress to brides and grooms to do the day their preferred way. Weddings can be a tremendous waste of money.

cazort on 03/06/2013

I think you offer some really great cost-saving tips here, like getting the flowers yourself. I've seen people make their own arrangements that looked absolutely stunning.

Both my girlfriend and I, and a number of my other close friends, have had extensive discussions about how we don't like the excessive costs associated with some weddings in our society. I definitely like the idea of small weddings, although I can see how people would want a bigger wedding too. For me, the cost of the wedding is more important than the size. It bothers me how there is a whole "wedding industry" out there which spends a lot of energy and money trying to get people to think they need to spend a lot of money on their wedding.

I want to keep the "wedding industry" out of my wedding...if we spend money, I want none of it to be through the typical businesses and industries that service weddings, because I feel like this industry has what I see as a negative impact on our society.

I want to have really good food at my wedding, and dancing. But I'm active in a swing dancing scene and I could hire one of my friends to be a DJ or even maybe some of my other friends to play live music. And I could make some of the food myself or order it from my favorite cheap ethnic restaurants. And I don't really need much else. I'd probably rather people not dress up if they don't want to, and I certainly don't want anyone to have to pay for buying a dress or renting a tux.

dustytoes on 02/28/2013

I think so too 2uesday. Couples and their families are worried that someone will feel left out so keeping it small leaves a lot of people out and no one has to feel guilty.

2uesday on 02/27/2013

I think small weddings can help to avoid the 'snowball effect' of a wedding getting bigger and more expensive than was originally planned.

dustytoes on 09/23/2012

Good point Mike.

Mike_W on 09/22/2012

One of the benefits we found with having a small wedding was that there were less 'tag-alongs' at the reception. I've heard sad stories about people who were rude during speeches or went overboard with drinking, simply because they didn't have a close relationship with the couple.

katiem2 on 08/14/2012

Small weddings are so nice and then a HUGE reception! Great advice for keeping it real. :)K

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