Help me sort out my feelings about spending money on a wedding party
August 9, 2012 1:44 PM   Subscribe

You live in NYC, and you want to have a party to celebrate your very simple City Hall marriage ceremony. But it's complicated. (money issues and feeling guilty inside!)

You want to invite friends and family, and you think this will be about 60-70 people, maybe 75 tops.

You are torn between spending money and just not having a party at all. Your budget is literally 1k. Maybe slightly more if family can pitch in. But no more than 4k. You don't want to spend money on something that isn't want you want, and you'd rather NOT have a party instead of throwing one that isn't to your liking.

You have amazing guilt about having a party when you and your partner are trying to save money to buy a house. You keep telling yourself that the money is better served by putting into savings. A party is one night, a house is long-term.

You still can't shake the desire to have a party to celebrate a very joyous event in your life. Especially with the health and other challenges you've faced. You feel like for once, there is happiness in your life and you want to share that with people you love.

Lastly, you are completely crushed by the sheer cost of even the seemingly simplest places to have a party or dinner. Everything is sadly out of your (admittedly) impossible and tiny budget.) Having a party at a friend or family's house is out of the question due to the size of most people's homes.

What do you?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You have a potluck. Maybe you provide favors and some sort of main course and cake or similar dessert/celebratory food. The food other people will bring will likely be great, and a great celebration of all of the people in your life -- even if half of the people just bring Doritos and the other half bring a cheese platter.

You find a very friendly church or park or other place in which to do it.

You have a grand old time. (We did!)
posted by Madamina at 1:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

Somewhere (and honestly I have no idea if it was something I saw from a facebook friend or something released to the wider internet) a while back I remember seeing some photos and a description of a wedding reception/party held in a park. It was basically a giant picnic with their family and friends. They didn't have to pay for/reserve a space (just all congregate in a park--of course there was the possibility cops would break it up and ask them to disperse, but that was a risk they were willing to take). Folks brought blankets and folding chairs, and they may have had musical friends there playing some music. There was a cake and basic picnic food, but aside from that it was all pretty informal.

I thought it was a great idea. Lighthearted, got everyone together to celebrate, but also cheeeeap and not showy at all. Really depends on your personality whether it's something that appeals to you, but there you go.
posted by phunniemee at 1:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can the party take the form of a large picnic in a public park?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:49 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to nth a picnic in the park, unless you have a rec room in your building or church that you could use.

Potluck, or even better, a Bring Your Own Meat barbecue. (whatever will work in this scenario)

Your friends should be delighted, as should your family.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:52 PM on August 9, 2012

While waiting in line to get married at City Hall, we called people up and said "Hey! We're getting married, pretty much right now! Come to the house tonight around 8 pm, bring something bubbly! Love you!"

It was really fun, and although I picked up some snack foods on the way home, it did not cost anything like $1000. Our friends were just happy to see us and toast to our marriage.

A potluck picnic sounds like a great idea.
posted by rtha at 1:55 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

You can rent a NYC Housing Authority community centre, for which there are 113 scattered all across New York City, for a fairly reasonable fee.

Combine that with a cash bar and light hors d'oeuvres and you can probably get away with $2,000-$3,000 for a party. Get your friends to help with decorating, setup and tear down and someone to iPod DJ. It doesn't have to be complicated to be fun; booze, friends and family, some light treats and good tunes and you have a party on your hands.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 1:58 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best rehearsal dinner I ever went to was 20 pizzas and a cooler of beer in a literally almost empty apartment as they owned no furniture yet. We sat on the floor or lawn chairs. It was a hoot. You'd be surprised how many people can fit in a relatively small apartment, particularly if you move some living room furniture into the bedroom. Do you have any family or good friends with a yard? Do it there.

Other low-cost room options: YMCA-type-place event room, church basement event rooms. Usually not too expensive to rent. School gyms. (OMG, pizza and beer and BASKETBALL.)

I've done a taco bar for 50 people for less than $500 (I can't remember how much it was total). Ground beef and vegetarian beans, pre-browned and seasoned, in crockpots (mine plus several borrowed); shredded lettuce bought by the 5-lb. bag; shredded cheese ditto; tortilla chips rather than taco shells (you put chips on the plate and then pile toppings on top); various toppings. I got it all in industrial sizes at the restaurant supply store, plus disposable plates/cups/utensils and even $1.29 gigantic disposable bowls with lids (that fit a bag and a half of chips) for serving stuff. Asked people to BYOB an did it in a back yard. Even buying two folding tables to set stuff up on only ran us around $55 at Target (on sale). People will bring with or lend you tables, chairs, coolers, crockpots, etc., if you ask!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

You still can't shake the desire to have a party to celebrate a very joyous event in your life. Especially with the health and other challenges you've faced. You feel like for once, there is happiness in your life and you want to share that with people you love.

I don't think you should try to shake it. Like you I was ambiguous about the big wedding celebration - it felt like a lot of money and stress at an already stressful time ( moving house & jobs, parents divorcing, mother-in-law sick). It was a fantastic day. There are very few times in your life when all your friends and family will get together to celebrate with you. We have a collage of photos from our wedding on the wall in our bedroom and 4 years later I still look at it and smile about the happy memories, and I'm sure I will for a long time to come. Marriage *is* a joyous thing and if you want to celebrate with your loved ones, you absolutely should.
posted by *becca* at 2:17 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

You do it like a birthday, find a bar, reserve it and put the money towards a tab. Try calling all the places on this list to get a feel for prices.
posted by jacalata at 2:24 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just to offer something a little different from the picnic/potluck/park ideas....

Maybe it's a southern thing, but we often have "drop-ins" for showers, etc. The invitation is issued for a time period, say 7:30-9:30 and people come by but don't necessarily stay for the entire party. That would relieve the concerns about not having enough room to accommodate everyone. You could serve cake/dessert (either purchased or homemade by friends and family), coffee and champagne (or even champagne punch if money is really tight). Folks could come by for dessert and to drink your health, and then go on with the rest of their evening plans.

Whatever you decide on, I would urge you not to feel guilty about wanting to celebrate such a happy, momentous occasion with the people who you love best. The party itself may only last one evening, but your memories of it will warm you forever.

Best wishes!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 2:24 PM on August 9, 2012

From the OP:
I love the thoughtful responses. However, I forgot to add that having an outside celebration is out of the question because my fiancee has MS and has cannot tolerate heat at all. He walks with a cane and cannot transverse a place like a big park, etc. Also, we are getting married in the winter.

That might change some people's suggestions going forward and I thought it might be a pertinent piece of information to include.
posted by jessamyn at 2:42 PM on August 9, 2012

Our city hall wedding reception was in a church basement. Cake was rice krispie treat with hand-drawn toppers, made by a friend. Another friend made gluten-free cupcakes. Food was deli platters from Fairway. Drinks were juice, water, and seltzer.

I think you can do it for 1k, and I think it's important that you have a party. Coalescing community support for your marriage is both emotionally satisfying and practical, strengthening ties that will help pick you up should you fall.

I do worry a bit that you're letting perfectionism and anxiety make this an unpleasant experience. Even if it's not exactly what you want--and something will go wrong--it will be special because it's your marriage.

Good luck and congratulations!
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:06 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I had a friend who was getting married, and I knew a party was important to my friend, I would throw the party! So, maybe your friends and family are working on that. Or if not, maybe someone should put the idea in their heads... ;)

I would definitely do what SweetTeaandaBiscuit suggests. What she calls "dropins" we call "open houses" around these parts, but it is the same concept. We have done them for graduations. No one wants to snub this family or the other, and all the kids graduate around the same time, so usually a few of us will plan parties (we did one for our son and his friends who were all moving on to the same college), and people will stop off at each group's open house, pay their respects, get some food or cake, maybe drop off a gift (usually an envelope with some cash for those graduates) and move on to the next one.

The invitations are usually a little less formal, think postcard with date and time range. And food is something like potluck, pasta, maybe sandwiches or brunch, rather than a sit-down dinner.
posted by misha at 3:26 PM on August 9, 2012

I once went to a wedding reception on accident. Stopped by an NYC neighborhood bar and it was half wedding celebrators, half regulars. The wedding crew had been putting $ in the jukebox all night, and had decorated half the bar with tasteful fake flowers and white Christmas lights. It looked nice. I don't know if there was one tab for the whole party or if they paid separately but either seems possible. They all seemed to be having an amazing time.
posted by manicure12 at 7:46 PM on August 9, 2012

You have a wedding brunch. In a cheap-ish restaurant. In deep Brooklyn or Queens.

This actually used to be the traditional way to throw a wedding party-the morning after the wedding night.

You can easily buy enough food for 60-70 for 1K+. If you have a little more, try somewhere like the People's Republic of Brooklyn, which has unlimited mimosas on Sunday mornings for cheap.
posted by corb at 6:00 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I totally feel you here. And I think there are a few things to unravel here and consider separately. 

The easy question, how to do a wedding party on the cheap, is nicely covered by the responders above - snacks, potlucks, parks, ethnic restaurants in the boroughs. I've had friends who went to a bar afterwards with arcade games, gave everyone a sweet little velvety sack of quarters, and ended up with an amazing photo of a joyous bride KICKING ASS at Buck Hunter while her groom cheered on. Or a couple that had everyone over to dinner in a really authentic no frills middle eastern restaurant in Queens, and the house band of tambourine players jingled around them and everyone clapped and swayed. 

But first I think you have to tackle the idea about having a "party." I get the sense that by using that word, you are imbuing it with a sense of frivolity and wastefulness and protecting yourself from getting too attached to the idea. You say "party" as if it's the epitome of self-centeredness and selfishness and maybe even silliness, when you are a practical and sensible person who doesn't want to be in the center of adoring attention and frippery... and well, yes. Parties almost always tend to be a little like this - I mean, do people really need to be there to help one celebrate turning older on a 365 day cycle?  

And yet, if anything, this party is different. It's not just about you, or your husband. It's celebrating the moment that the two of you become a union in the eyes of your family, friends, and country. You are celebrating the fact that if you didn't have each other - you and your husband, and in a larger sense, you and your near and dear, what would you have at all? This is one of the few Legitimate Reasons to Have A Party, in my book. A happy union of two beloved individuals in a big wide wild world is a celebration of a wider deeper love that all your seventy friends have with each other, and is one of the few things I would think are truly reasons to get everyone you care about together. Don't downplay the importance of this by tossing out the word "party" like it's a silly thing here.

And finally, having a savings goal is so important, and it's great that you're saving up for a house. It is a good, real goal and every step you take towards it is tremendously satisfying. But... A thousand dollars is a lot of money, truly it is... And yet in the grand scheme of affording a HOUSE... It is such chump change, honey. We are talking orders of magnitude here. Just to close the deal. Just in the taxes you'll pay a year. In the maintenance and upkeep you'll pour into it on an annual basis. I say this not to be discouraging - just to gently point out that if being short a thousand dollars is going to PREVENT you from buying and having a house, then maybe buying a house is just going to have to be a goal for a little more down the line. Unless you have to have the house the minute you can just squeeze by to afford it (and surely you won't), a thousand dollars is not going to be the deal breaker here. I'm not an advocate for reckless spending or laxity with financial goals here - just saying that I think you are letting an amount of money that is not very significant to your larger goal keep you from considering a well-deserved happiness.

Mazel tov, you crazy kids. How blessed you are!
posted by sestaaak at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2012

Building on what Sestaak just said, I think having a wedding reception or breakfast is really important because it's not just the two of you, it's all of you (his side, your side) coming together... It's a celebration of the community you two are making, that has helped you through the medical stuff and will continue to support you in life. Plus, experiencing the outpouring of love I received from our community on our wedding day is something I want everyone to experience.

Okay, I accept that feeding & entertaining 70 people for $1000 seems challenging, at $14pp, but I think it's possible. First, don't believe the hype of wedding magazines & blogs, that you "have to" have things a certain way. Second, don't tell the restaurant/venue/suppliers you're having a wedding related anything, unless it's your local church basement and you think that will help your case. Third, just serve cake, or popcorn, or a cheap food like hot dogs that you both really enjoy. People are not coming for the food. After that, I need more info about what you DO want to be able to problem solve for you.

And truly, congratulations, finding someone a partner you want to make hard choices and celebrate with is great.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:27 AM on August 11, 2012

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