How to Plan a Great Wedding Reception for Under $3,000

by on August 25th, 2014
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In my previous article How to Plan an Amazing Ceremony for Less than $1,000 Including the Rings! I presented several ways to save a bundle on planning your wedding ceremony. One of the biggest things I recommended then, and will continue to do in this article is to stress the idea of “do it yourself”.

The following are great ideas to keep your costs low and allow your guests to still have a wonderful time.

1. Keep your guest list small and intimate. Don’t invite everyone you know, especially if you know a lot of people. Keep your guest list confined to immediate family, your closest friends, and perhaps a couple of co-workers. There is no need to include your second and third cousins or those old friends from high school or college that you haven’t seen in five years or more. It is also okay to tell your parents that it is not okay for them to invite their next door neighbor that watched you grow up if you are paying for the wedding and you aren’t close friends with Mom and Dad’s neighbor. As people begin to send their replies stating they cannot make it, as long as it is still before your deadline date to receive replies, there is nothing wrong with sending out additional invitations if you have them to secondary folks such as Mom and Dad’s next door neighbor or your second or third cousin you rarely see. For my own wedding, my husband and I decided to keep our guest list to a maximum of 100 guests.

2. Save on your venue. Shop, shop, shop. Don’t eliminate any ideas when it comes to the reception venue. What time of year are you planning your wedding? If your big day is planned for the spring or fall, or if you live in an area where summer climates do not get too hot or winter climates do not get too cold, consider renting a park pavilion for your reception. Having your reception outdoors is also great for photo ops. Outside poses tend to make the prettiest pictures. In the St. Louis area most park pavilions can be rented for around $75 and some of the more expensive ones are still $150 or less. Additionally, some parks will refund your money if you leave the area clean and everyone is gone by the specified time. If you want an evening reception, though, you may want to discuss this with the Parks Department if you are considering a park pavilion since most parks close at dusk.

If you want to be sure to have your reception indoors, be sure to comparison shop. Visit the traditional reception halls in your area. In the St. Louis area, these venues often include places such as Andre’s, Orlando Gardens, or area hotels such as Hyatt, Chase Park Plaza or Millennium. Get prices for the number of guests you plan on having. Before you commit to a venue, however, also check out your local VFW, Knights of Columbus, and Amvets halls. Many times you can save a bundle by renting the hall and ordering the catering separately. Be sure to ask your venue or caterer whether the cake, table linens, decorations or open bar are included in their price. Compare what your price will be if you go with an “all-inclusive” venue or if you book everything separately. For my husband and I, we were able to rent a VFW hall for $400 for four hours and we booked our caterer separately through Kenrick’s and paid roughly $1,200 for catering. Open bar was an additional charge through the hall and that wound up costing us an additional $300. Still, 100 guests’ food and drink for $1,900 was a pretty good deal in comparison to other venues and caterers we looked at.

3. Save on your food. Regardless of whether the food is included in the cost of your venue, you can save a bundle if you choose to serve hors d’oeuvres instead of a full meal, or if you choose to do a brunch instead of lunch or dinner. Likewise, lunch is often less expensive than dinner. One other place you can save is to choose paper plates instead of china.

4. Chose a non-traditional day of the week or time. In many cases, if you choose to hold your reception on a Sunday through Thursday, or if you have an afternoon reception or brunch and forego the evening reception, you can save a ton. Many venues and caterers offer discounts for non-traditional days and times.

5. Save on music. Is it really important to have a fancy light show with dancing lights that move to the beat of your music? If not, then consider having a trusted friend be your DJ if they or you have the equipment to do it. I was lucky in that my brother has often done DJ work on the side for several years, so he had an extensive music collection to begin with, and we had equipment sufficient for what we needed. My brother was able to hook his laptop up to our stereo system and played all of the music we wanted and needed. Just as with a traditional DJ, we provided him with a list of songs that we wanted to hear as well as a list of “absolutely do not play” songs and he went from there. You can create an elegant lighted dance area by stringing white Christmas lights around the ceiling of your dance area if your venue will allow it.

6. Save on decorations. If your venue does not include decorations, a great way to save on decorations is to first go simple, and secondly, go disposable. One thing my husband and I were able to do was find plastic table cloths that would work on round tables. We were creative with our d├ęcor, however. For 100 guests, we had twelve round tables with 8-9 seats at each table. We purchased twelve white plastic table cloths, and then we purchased several rectangular colored table cloths that went with our color scheme (our color scheme was red, white and black). We cut the rectangular table cloths in half and placed them on top of the white round table cloths so that the white was still showing, but the colored table cloth was on top.

For our centerpieces, we had given consideration to using mirrors with votive candles. However, when we figured the cost to do this, the cheapest we were able to find mirrors was $3.00 each. The cheapest we were able to find votive candles was $8.00 a dozen. This worked out to cost around $60. And then we would be stuck with twelve mirrors we probably would never use again. We decided against that. Paper decorative centerpieces such as wedding bells were cheaper, but still cost between $3.00 – $5.00 each. In the end, we wound up purchasing a dozen mason jars and covering them with colored tissue paper that went with our color scheme. We then attached a balloon of each color. To weight the jars, we found large rocks from our yard and an area park so that the helium balloons did not tip the jars over. Since the jars were covered with tissue paper, no one could see the rocks inside the jars. We purchased enough votive candles to place three on each round table. The total cost of our centerpieces was around $40 and they looked festive without looking cheap. Other centerpiece ideas that aren’t budget busters include filling clear vases with glass pebbles or marbles and clear Easter grass or battery operated Christmas lights.

7. Save on your cake. The best advice I can give you for saving on your cake if it is not included with your venue is to not get fancy with what you want. Most bakeries charge extra for colors, additional tiers beyond three or for special icing or unusual cake flavors. Keep it simple and you will keep your cake cost down. As with your venue, shop around. Also be sure to taste samples from any bakery you consider. Is the cost of delivery included in the price? If not, how much of an additional charge will there be for delivery. Do you know someone who has a van who you can trust to pick your cake up and deliver it to your venue for you? My husband and I saved $60 for the cost of delivery by having my father pick the cake up and transport it in his van and deliver it to the hall. However, the risk you run into with this is that the bakery usually has no liability if the cake slides or is accidentally dropped or otherwise damaged during transport and delivery.

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