Wedding Melbourne Who Pays

What Is The Cost Of A Small Wedding?

"Expensive" and "stressful" might be two things that come to mind when you think of wedding budget planning, but they don't have to be. Below, we share the biggest budgeting mistakes you should avoid to make your wedding planning process as fun and cost-efficient as possible. We also break down exactly how much each wedding element generally costs to help you determine how much to allocate for each item and service. Once you have an idea of how to divide funds properly, you'll be able to avoid potential budgeting mistakes. 

Take a look at my cost breakdown for having a small wedding below and decide which elements you can cut down on even more or which you'd like to pay more for.

According to Martha Stewart Weddings, a "small wedding" is a wedding with up to 50 people. So if you're planning on having fewer guests, costs should go down even more.

You can also save on the venue fee by hosting your wedding at your home or on the private property of a friend or family member. I talk about how to host an outdoor wedding and the costs associated with it in another post.

One of the first decisions you'll make when planning your wedding is choosing your wedding venue—and there are lots of types of wedding venues to choose from, from barns to ballrooms! You'll likely spend a large portion of your budget on your wedding venue cost (half of the couple's total budgets are spent on wedding venue cost, catering, and rentals), so it's essential to do your research before selecting your wedding site. The average wedding venue cost in the U.S. is $6,000, with most couples spending between $3,000 to $11,000. Note that these are only averages, and pricing varies widely depending on various factors, like whether in-house catering is included.

Some couples choose to have their wedding ceremony and reception in separate locations. A wedding ceremony is shorter than a reception and doesn't include catering, so a ceremony venue's cost is typically cheaper than wedding reception prices. In the U.S., the average starting site fee for wedding ceremonies is $600.

The Cost of Having a Small Wedding

Have you decided on having a small wedding? Something intimate with only your immediate family and maybe a few friends present? This is our plan, so I did a bit of research to determine how much it costs to have a small wedding.

The average cost of a small wedding is $8,550. This is based on a guest list of 50 people* and cutting costs usually associated with a larger wedding. Prices will vary depending on where the wedding is held and which elements are included, which can be determined in the cost breakdown below. 

According to Martha Stewart Weddings, a "small wedding" is a wedding with up to 50 people. So if you're planning on having fewer guests, costs should go down even more.

wedding on beach

Cost Breakdown of Having a Small Wedding

  • Food: $1,750 ($35 per person, which factors in serving and delivery costs)
  • Ceremony and reception site (with chair and table rentals): $4,000 (with a smaller guest list, you have many unconventional options. Ask around local museums, small town tourist attractions, farms, community centres, campsites, and more!)
  • Attire: $500 (to learn more, check out my post on how to save money on your wedding dress and on dresses that are affordable and eco-friendly)
  • Bar: $750 (based on having a limited bar and buying the alcohol yourselves – For more details on open bar costs, check out my post on open bars at weddings)
  • Music: $250 for speaker rental equipment (couple makes their own playlist, no DJ or band)
  • Flowers and another decor: $0
  • Invitations and save-the-dates: $0 (send them through email)
  • Make-up and hair: $0 (use what you already own and do it yourself)
  • Photography: $1,000 (basic package from a new photographer)
  • Miscellaneous: $300 (for items not listed such as favours and gifts, and wiggle room if some things are more expensive than intended)

TOTAL: $8,550

Wedding Budget Breakdown

Below, we outline how much of your wedding budget should be allocated to specific expenses. 

50% Percent: Venue, Catering and Rental Costs

The biggest part of your wedding budget will go toward the big-ticket items, which covers the cost of renting out your venue space, hiring caterers for food, alcohol and rentals, such as tables, chairs and dinnerware. Some couples also include the price of their cake in this 50% chunk of their budget. 

12% Percent: Photography and Videography

When wedding budget planning, set aside at least 12% of your budget for the images and videos of your special day. After all, these are wedding keepsakes you'll treasure forever. In addition to paying for the final products, you'll need to cover the cost of the photographers and videographers' time. 

9% Percent: Attire, Hair and Make-up

Be sure to earmark at least 9% of your budget for your attire. Of course, this percentage should also include the dress and tuxedo rental cost, along with shoes and any accessories, such as jewellery or cufflinks. You will want to lump in the cost of your hair and make-up, too.

8% Percent: Decor

Allocate 8% for your ceremony and reception decor. This includes bouquets, flower arrangements, special lighting and decorations. 

7% Percent: Entertainment

Whether you're looking into hiring a live band or DJ, the price of hiring these professionals can vary. Do your research in advance to know exactly how much money to put aside for this portion of the wedding. When crunching numbers, we suggest putting 7% of your budget toward the music. 

3% Percent: Wedding Planner

A wedding planner can make all the difference when it comes to planning your special day. After all, you can rest easy that your celebration will go off without a hitch when you have professional care of all the details. Save 3% of your total budget to cover the cost of a wedding planner.

2% Percent: Stationery 

Your wedding stationery is a very important detail of your wedding. Just think, your save-the-date cards and formal invitations are the first glimpses of your wedding that your guest will receive. This stationery budget will also cover your ceremony programs, menus, thank-you cards and more—Reserve 2% of your budget for your wedding stationery. 

2% Percent: Officiant 

If you're hiring an officiant to legally marry you, allocate 2% of your budget to cover these costs. 

2% Percent: Transportation

Many couples like to hire transportation to ensure their guests get to the right venue at the right time. This may involve hiring a bus or shuttle to run to and from the hotels. Others like to hire a limo for the wedding party or an elaborate getaway car after the ceremony. Set aside at least 2% of your wedding budget for transportation. 

2% Percent: Wedding Bands

One of you may already have a sparkling engagement ring on your finger, but don't forget about the wedding bands. These are the rings you will both wear for the rest of your lives, so save around 2% of your allocated budget for them.  

2% Percent: Goodies for Guests

The last piece of your wedding budget breakdown includes the cost of party favours and gifts for those who made your day extra special. Many couples like to provide their guests with a parting gift to remember their wedding by. It's a small gesture that will go a long way. 

Tips For Planning A Budget-Friendly Small Wedding

Aim for a short guest list.

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: The cost of a wedding is pretty much based on guest count. (Read that sentence again and let it soak in.) The number of attendees will determine not only the size of your venue but also how much food and alcohol you'll have to provide—which, by the way, just happen to be two of the biggest wedding expenses.

Reining in the guest list is the best way to cut costs. So what's a small wedding? Some think it's under 100 guests, but if you want an intimate (and cost-effective!) event, we recommend 10 to 50 people.

Once you start paring down your list, you'll likely realize it's harder to do than you thought! To make it easier, ask yourself, "Have I talked to this person in the last two months?" More often than not, this one simple question will ensure that only your nearest and dearest are a part of your Big Day.

There's a per-head cost for food and liquor, and these two are typically the biggest expenses of the whole wedding, so changing the guest list size is the surest way to increase or decrease your costs. On top of that, the smaller the guest list, the more you'll save on all your other details, including décor, stationery, favours and rentals, because you won't need as much of everything.

Get a system

Put your accounting skills to the test by deciding on a budgeting system to track all the money coming in and out. Otherwise, you can put all your info in an old-fashioned spreadsheet. Just make sure you record every payment you make and who you owe what.

Be smart

Take advantage of budgeting and money management tricks along the way. Put all your wedding money in one separate account, so you can easily track additions and withdrawals without getting it confused with the rest of your day-to-day funds. Pay for as many of your expenses as possible on a credit card that gives you benefits like mileage, rewards or cashback. Ensure everyone making purchases (your partner, mom, and so on) are all on the same card system, allowing you to benefit from the rewards and the easy tracking of your purchases. To avoid credit card fees, pay the bill off in full each month.

Rethink "traditional".

Why not take advantage of your pared-down guest list and plan your celebration at an otherwise off-limits location? This could be a scenic overlook in a national park, you and your SO's favourite brunch spot, or the cozy backyard of a family member. In general, these types of locations only require a permit, a private room rental, or a thumb's-up from your relative and tend to be less expensive than a typical large-scale wedding venue.

Also, since your short guest list includes only your closest family and friends—most if not all of whom are likely to attend—you have more freedom to choose an off-peak day or time to host your celebration. Consider a Sunday brunch wedding complete with a stacked waffle "cake" and bottomless mimosas!

The more formal the affair, the more expensive because you'll have to match the site, food and musical entertainment to the overall upscale tone. The outlay for a full six-course meal is typically greater than for a cocktail soirée with mostly hors d'oeuvres; the fee for a 12-piece band is greater than that for a DJ or quartet; all-out décor like lighting, specialty linens and dramatic floral displays also will run up the bill. Plus, fancier affairs tend to be larger.

TIP: Many venues offer spaces for intimate weddings that they don't necessarily advertise, so it doesn't hurt to ask about all your options!

Wedding Rehearsal Ideas

Focus on the stuff you care about—and ditch the rest.

If dancing isn't your thing, then don't hire a DJ. Want a bonfire for roasting s'mores instead of an extra-fancy wedding cake? Roast away! Are you obsessed with food trucks? Forget the pricey caterer! Whitewashes you out? Strut down that aisle in a colourful dress you scored at your fave consignment shop. Get where we're going with this? You do you, boo.

Forgoing some big-ticket items will not only help trim down your to-do list, it'll also trim down that budget of yours and make your wedding more personal.

Pick your top three priorities and allocate a little extra money for them (like your gown, catering and band). Next, pick the three things that come lowest on your priority list (maybe flowers, cake and invitations), and budget accordingly.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

When it comes to small, budget-friendly weddings, remember that DIY doesn't mean you have to do-it-ALL-yourself. Your friends and family can be your saviours! Enlist retired aunts for centrepiece prep, ask your talented cousin to do your make-up, and see if your BFF who loves to bake will whip up some wedding cookie favours. Then set up a super casual cocktail party to thank your squad for their contributions. A "divide and conquer" approach will keep things affordable and take some of the DIY stress off your shoulders.

Skip the special effects

If you're happy with simple wedding pictures, pass on options like sepia tones, multiple exposures and split frames.

Substitute less expensive flowers

Choose flowers in season, and pick locally grown flowers rather than blooms that need to be flown in from afar to reduce costs. For example, if you exchange Black Magic roses for more reasonably priced, deeply coloured dahlias in all your bouquets and table arrangements, you'll save about $4 a stem. If you were planning on having five roses per bouquet and 10 per centrepiece and have a wedding party of five ladies and a guest list of 150 people, you could save $700.

The venue

Some cities and towns are just more expensive than others. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are the obvious culprits, but small towns and remote destinations can entail greater costs if things like flowers and talent have to come from afar. Tourist towns can also up your wedding price tag during peak season. Likewise, certain venues are more expensive than others. Some—such as a city park—come with no (or low) fees, while others, like a grand ballroom, might cost you the equivalent of a year's college tuition. Also, be aware that many popular locations have headcount minimums, meaning they won't host a wedding that's too small, and some may also have a per-head minimum that requires your event to be a certain size.

Pass on pricey details

Glamorous details on items you're indifferent about spike costs without adding any fun to your day. Free yourself of the pressure to upgrade and instead make honest choices based on what you want. As a general rule, before you sign a contract, look through the itemized list of what you're buying and ask yourself, "Will anyone notice if we don't do this?"

Stay true to yourselves.

At one point or another, during the wedding planning process, you'll likely experience some pushback once you explain your small wedding plans to non-like-minded folks. Flak may come from relatives who feel scorned because they didn't receive an invite or from acquaintances that are shocked you're planning such an inexpensive affair.

Never fear, m'dear! If anyone gives you a hard time, we recommend some variation of the following phrase: "We're so excited to get married in a way that feels right for us, but thanks for your opinion."

How to Save Money on a Small Wedding? 

If you want a small and simple wedding, chances are you're also looking to get married as cheaply as possible! There are hundreds of ways to avoid spending money that you don't have to, but it begins with your mindset.

Start from the point of I am not going to include elements in my wedding that I don't want just for the sake of tradition or making others happy.

If you have this mindset and don't waiver from it, you'll have a better shot at keeping your costs down and ending up with what you want. You don't have to be mean about it. You can just calmly and politely tell your friends and family that you don't want to spend X amount of dollars on one day and that you're cutting costs wherever you can.

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