A few months ago I proposed to my girlfriend and now we are in the middle of planning wedding. Well, sort of. We decided to do a destination wedding, so the planning for the ceremony itself isn’t all that complicated. What is complicated is figuring out where to have a reception back home for all of our friends and family that either weren’t invited to the wedding or simply could not go. Below are some tips I have gathered while planning our wedding reception.

Make a Budget

If you don’t make a budget, you will easily wake up the next day and freak out because you spent so much money on the reception. Weddings cost a lot of money. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and spend, spend and spend so more. By creating a budget and sticking to it, you ensure that you won’t wake up the next day with regret over how much money you spent.
However, when you make a budget, you simply cannot say I don’t want to spend more than $X. For most of us, we can’t budget that way. We need to break it down into categories. Personally, breaking a budget down into categories allows for me to better prioritize. We can see the things that cost money and say, the food and music are most important to us. Let’s keep the flower budget and centerpiece costs to a minimum.

Food and Drink

Typically, the food and bar tab are the most expensive parts of a ceremony. There are a few ways to keep the price within reason:
Shop Around: Different venues charge different amounts for dinner. Finding a venue that charges less doesn’t necessarily mean they serve terrible food.

Time of Day: Brunch and lunch are much less expensive than dinner. Having an afternoon wedding could save you thousands.
Sit Down vs Buffet: Typically a sit down dinner will cost you more money than a buffet-style wedding. Before you think badly upon buffet style, I have to admit that the last few weddings that I went to that were buffet style had incredible food.
Limit Alcohol: Assuming you are having an open bar (meaning your guests drink for free), you can limit the selection to beer, wine and one spirit. This will greatly reduce the cost of the bar tab.

BYOB: Some establishments will allow you to bring in your own alcohol. Doing this will save you the most money. I went to a wedding recently where the bride and groom did this. They spent roughly $700 on alcohol for a 150 person wedding and have many bottles left over at the end of the night.

Time of Year and Day of Week

If you choose a time of year that is not popular for weddings, you will save yourself a good chunk of money. January and February are two great times to get married to save money. The closer you get to the typical wedding months, the more the cost for the facility will rise.
For myself, our destination wedding will be in November (lower prices) and we will have our reception in January. Some of the venues that rent for $5,000 during May rent for $1,500 in January!

Additionally, you can opt to have a wedding on Friday or Sunday afternoon. Doing this will save you money since Saturday is the prime time for reception rentals. Again, during our searches, a venue that rents for $5,000 on a Saturday night in May is $3,000 for the next day, a Sunday.

Review the Guest List

On your wedding day, you want everyone to be there. But when it comes to sticking to a budget, it might not be feasible. Be sure to make your initial list by including everyone you can think of. Then start to go through the list strategically crossing out people. Take a day off and repeat. Do this until you cannot cross anyone off the list.

From there, have your partner review your side of the list. They will help you narrow it down some more. We did this and there were some people who were long-lost relatives. I asked why even invite them since you don’t know them? This isn’t to say a large amount of guests come off the list, but it is helpful to have a fresh set of eyes look things over.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of ways to save money on your wedding. The main takeaway is that you need to have an open mind. Think about the things that are important to you and not what others want or the TV shows or magazines tell you. At the end of the day, many of the “important” things aren’t important at all. I can’t tell you what any centerpiece looked like from any wedding I’ve been at. The best weddings I’ve been to had great music and great people. Spend the money on the important things and stay within your budget and you will have a great time and great memories as well.