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The days of the massive banquet hall wedding are waning, with more and more betrothed couples opting to scale back in favor of a more personalized, cost-effective event space for their wedding day.
“Couples these days are creating hyper-personalized weddings, meaning anything goes when it comes to your wedding venues,” said Alyssa Longobucco, senior style and planning editor for The Knot. “Some venue options that are particularly budget-conscious include public spaces like a park, beach, or garden.”
Intimate Gatherings vs. Large Spaces
The average wedding cost is still pretty pricey at $33,931, according to The Knot’s annual Real Weddings Study. Wedding venues typically account for about 26% of the total cost, with the average venue costing about $9,000, according to the WeddingWire’s 2019 Newlywed Report.
But there are signs that the big, flashy, expensive weddings, while still popular, are on the downswing.
The tried and true banquet hall wedding is down in popularity from 22% in 2015 to 17% now, according to The Knot. Hotels and resorts, another popular but costly option, are now picked by 12% of couples, down from 18% in 2010.
At the same time, smaller venues are on the rise.
“Farms and historical buildings have been on the rise in recent years,” Longobucco said. “In order to personalize celebrations even further, some couples are turning to unique venues like libraries, museums, and summer camps.”
Affordable Wedding Venues in the Great Outdoors
Iver Marjerison, a former wedding officiant, has noticed a growing trend toward smaller weddings with lower cost venues in the last several years; so much so, that he created a business to accommodate that trend, Colorado Microweddings.
This wedding planner’s most popular venue for the big day? Colorado’s Rocky Mountains make for a beautiful wedding location featuring breathtaking views.
“We get a photographer and an officiant and we go to the top of a mountain and it’s $600 or $700 or something for photography and the officiant and the permit,” he said. “It can be as cheap as that. I do those all the time.”
Outdoor event venues are one of the most cost-effective options without sacrificing quality. Some parks or public lands are free with just a special event permit required, Marjerison said, adding that the Rocky Mountain National Park permit is just $250.
While there are many perks of a low-cost outdoor wedding, there are some disadvantages to be mindful of, the most obvious being inclement weather. Another con could be the lack of privacy in a public space.
“You really have to choose between privacy, cost and accessibility. If it’s really beautiful and really accessible, there’s going to be people around,” Marjerison said, adding that he does try to set up the public ceremonies in a way that gets the couples the most privacy possible, such as off to one side or on a smaller mountain overlook. “People are respectful, but it’s just one of those things where it’s not a private wedding venue.”
Or, the Great Indoors
While you won’t have to worry about rain on your wedding day, the options for low-cost venues aren’t as plentiful inside as the vast outdoors. But there are still several ways to have a classy ceremony on the cheap.
The Denver Botanic Gardens in downtown Denver are a popular indoor choice for some of Marjerison’s clients. The small rooms with lush plants and flowers are a beautiful setting for a small group, he said, and the venue costs only about $600.
Longobucco recommended couples look outside metropolitan areas if they are looking to save some money on an indoor wedding.
“A venue located in a city will likely cost more than one located in the suburbs or a more rural area,” she said, “due to the lower cost of living in those locations.”
More rural venues, like a farm or a barn, she noted, have been trending upward and now account for 16% of the chosen wedding venues in The Knot’s study.
The good news about the trend toward small, indoor wedding receptions is that the options are truly limitless: art galleries, breweries, rental houses, warehouses, climbing gyms, and theaters, among them.
Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding Venue
Even seemingly low-cost options have a way of sneaking extra money into your budget when wedding planning. Outdoor wedding ceremonies in particular, Longobucco said, have the potential to increase costs in other areas.
“Any venue that does not operate as a full-time event facility could entail you racking up more money for things like bathrooms, tabletop rentals, and even electricity,” she said, “so be sure to price out all your needs before going with a certain venue.”
Marjerison said his number one tip for approaching a potential indoor venue, especially one that’s not traditionally used for wedding spaces, is to tell the venue up front that this will be a small, intimate wedding and not a raucous party.
“When you first say ‘wedding,’ people, whether it’s an Airbnb or whatever the case, they get really stressed out. They think of drunk people … they think of bridezillas,” he said. “Let them know early on that you have a very, very small group and it’s going to be very informal. Then you can offer anyone money.”
Longobucco also recommended flexibility around both the date of the wedding and even the time of day. Most weddings—67%, she said—take place between June and October.
“Weddings that take place during less in-demand seasons, days of the week or even times of the day—[like] a brunch wedding—may offer lower rates or more wiggle room for negotiations,” she said.
Once you have your venue locked down, then consider what to do with the money you are saving. Both Longobucco and Marjerison said they are seeing younger couples fuel the trend toward smaller venues and more intimate ceremonies in an effort to focus more on experiences and putting money toward something other than a big wedding, whether it’s a down payment on a house, investing the money for the future, paying down debt, or a honeymoon.
“I have a lot of couples who say, ‘Hey we have a budget for a big wedding, but we’d rather spend half of that and then go backpacking for a month in Asia afterward,” Marjerison said. “They are choosing to spend their money differently.”
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.