Defining "low budget" for a wedding
April 3, 2015 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I've never thought about weddings and now I'm engaged, I need to and they are *expensive*!!! Please help me figure out realistic expectations for a dog-friendly wedding for 100 in DC. Also recommendations please.

We are both only children so eloping is not something we could do to our families. We have large-ish families so the guest list is in the range of 100-125. We'd like to have this in DC/MD/VA because we want our dogs to participate. I just can't seem to figure out what our budget should be.

We make okay money so we can spend but thinking of spending over 5k seems crazy to me for a celebration. But I also would like it to be a nice day for family and friends who traveled far to see us.

I found a dog-friendly venue that is 3.5k for one building floor + tables/chairs if we have a brunch wedding in off season. I can't tell, is this a good price?? It seems better than other more costly venues I've seen.

Basically, budget help please. And local recommendations would be enthusiastically received.
posted by inevitability to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know anyone with a yard?

That's what we did. Got married in my mom's backyard, officiated by a friend, catered by a local restaurant. We got a cake from a supermarket. Entertainment was board games and hula hoops. My father-in-law got us wine from Trader Joe's. The biggest cost was buying a cheap tent on amazon in case of rain, and the cost of renting tables and chairs. We had about 60 guests, and it cost us about $2,000.

Really scale back your conception of a "wedding" to the integrals. It will be much, much cheaper that way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:48 AM on April 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm in the process of low-budget wedding planning right now and can tell you that from what I've seen, 3.5k for 100 people (and dogs!) is a very good price. You might be able to find a dog-friendly bar that will allow catered food as well. Or a park!
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:00 AM on April 3, 2015

We had our ceremony at a city park (a pretty one overlooking the Mississippi River) with a friend as the officiant. Then our reception was at a local VFW - good food, good drinks, they cleaned up afterwards. It was great!

A friend of mine had her wedding pretty low-key, which inspired us, and she said the things that you'll remember from that day are the pictures, the rings, and the people. So it is OK to spend extra on those things. Everything else is just decorations, honestly, and won't be important 50 years (or even 5 years, really) down the road.
posted by jillithd at 9:02 AM on April 3, 2015

Have you read A Practical Wedding? The book is excellent at helping people think creatively about all kinds of options, including venues, food/drinks, clothes, decor, and all the other bits, and may help turn up some options you haven't yet thought about, like public parks (or public libraries) as venues or creative approaches to catering, etc. The gist of the book is that weddings don't have to be $$$$ to be dream weddings, and (as PhoBWanKenobi points out) that most of the things the wedding industry tells you are essentials aren't actually essentials.

We spent around $5K total on our venue (a 40-person cabin near a lake in a forest, for three days), food and drinks (also for three days), and decorations (including building our own wedding arch and photo booth). We skipped almost all flowers (I made a paper bouquet of roses, and my partner wore a boutonniere from Etsy) and used an iPhone/portable speakers for the music, and asked a couple of friends to take photos, and it was lovely.
posted by rebekah at 9:06 AM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I am not a wedding planner, but I think you should think through the details of each step of how you want the day to go in order to break down your budgeting into reasonable chunks.

What kind of location?
What kind food/drink/cake?
What kind of decorations?
What kind of entertainment?
What kind of ceremony?
What kind of clothing?

More importantly, who will be taking care of arrangements for each of these items. For example, for food alone, you have a huge range of choices (and ways to save on costs, as already mentioned above):

Potluck or ordering from a local restaurant saves you on the cost of food, but someone (family/friends > general helpers > caterer/servers in order of cost) would still need to set buffet table and heat/cool/replenish dishes, take care of trash, clean up, etc.

How DIY you want to go depends on your own tastes, budget, and what is "normal" for your family and social context. I've pitched in at friends' weddings and at my own sister's -- you can have a beautiful and amazing wedding for not a lot of money, and you can make conscious choices on what you want to spend money on. My friend who rented an outdoor venue at a state park at sunset had a lot of us college friends helping with tables, decoration, cake, and cleanup, but it was gorgeous location.
posted by polexa at 9:11 AM on April 3, 2015

For the baseline budget number multiply the number of guests by how much it will cost to keep everyone fed and watered. If you have a pot luck that number can get pretty close to zero. Take it from there.
posted by alms at 9:11 AM on April 3, 2015

Also, don't get freaked out by the numbers published on how much money people spend on their weddings, they are mostly for the benefit of the wedding industry to inflate prices: The Wedding Industry’s Pricey Little Secret.
posted by polexa at 9:12 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

There are a whole bunch of similar questions here from the past. I would recommend searching the archives because I know I have written out my own answer to this question maybe 5 times previously. Here's one to start you off.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:13 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can do a wedding as inexpensively as you like, but it helps to consider each of the usual budget items independently, and then decide what items you either don't need or can do yourselves.

Invitations and thank you cards
Rentals (tables and chairs, linens if not included with the venue)
Food and drink (caterer, wine/champagne, plates, cups, etc)
Decor (flowers, centerpieces, gift table, guest book)
Photography (engagement and day of wedding)
Music (dj, band, iPod, speakers/pa system)
Entertainment (lawn games, kids activities)
Hair and makeup
Bridal party gifts
Party favors

Your potential venue sounds pretty decently priced, but if you add in the cost of catering and photography, I think you'd exceed your budget pretty quickly. For a good photographer, I would budget $1,500, and with a fairly large guest list, I would expect catering to be your largest expense.
posted by nerdcore at 9:18 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It really, really depends, and in my experience a bunch of research is the only way you're going to be able to generate a number that means anything at all (so you won't end up blowing whatever budget you come up with later down the line because you forgot that you needed to rent chairs or something.)

Talk to your partner about what's important to you. Browse budget weddings on blogs (a practical wedding's "how we did it" category (also the book) and the broke-ass bride blog are decent places to start) to get an idea of what's possible in general terms, and to make sure there isn't something major you've completely forgotten about. Brunch is a fantastic idea. Mmmm brunch.

There is a minimum cost to getting everyone under a roof (or tent) and fed and watered (especially if you don't know anyone with a house or yard big enough to fit everyone). Photography will be expensive if you don't know anyone who can do it or want a professional (we booked the junior associate of an established photographer, which saved us a bundle). The things that are easiest to go ultra cheap on (down to $0 if you use what you have/cut them out entirely) are: clothing and accessories, flowers, decorations, all the wedding BS bits and pieces (most of which you can eliminate, a very few things you can't really get rid of because they serve a practical purpose).

I'm getting married in 2 months. We're set to spend more than the other posters here, about $17k, but half our 80-person guest list is flying in from various places around the country and so we're hosting them for the weekend. (That's about $5k of the total.)

Does the 3.5k include the food? If so, that is a great price and I would jump on it. Make sure to figure out if it includes stuff like tablecloths etc or if you'll need to rent them. Double check for any hidden costs, "required vendors", minimum spending on drinks, service charges, or any other shenanigans in the contract.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:20 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I appreciate all the advice so far! I have looked through all the previous wedding askmes and I have A Practical Wedding. I guess what I've been stuck on is I haven't been able to figure out how much it would cost to feed and put under a roof 100 people and 2 dogs in DC. Plus other wedding items I'm not thinking of, that yall mentioned.

The 3.5 doesn't cover food and we don't have a yard that would hold 100. :(
posted by inevitability at 9:28 AM on April 3, 2015

Does SOMEONE have a yard... an aunt, an uncle, a friend's parents? Anyone?

I bet there's someone in your social circle who knows someone or who has a relative who would just LOVE to have a wedding with two adorable dogs happen in their back yard.
posted by sio42 at 9:33 AM on April 3, 2015

My parents got married on the public beach 30ish years ago with all their friends present for $100. I'm pretty sure the entire budget went to beer.

If you must rent a venue, consider your favorite non-profits. Is there an arboretum or farm or nursery or bike collective with a ton of space they don't usually rent out but hey, sure, they could really use some money. What about an animal-oriented nonprofit? Do any of those have some space you could rent?

Donations to 501c3 nonprofits have the added benefit of being tax-deductible, if that's your thing.
posted by aniola at 9:36 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about a public park?
posted by aniola at 9:37 AM on April 3, 2015

In a group of 100 guests, you can ask the good photographer friends if they would take photos. It has worked great for my friends.
posted by aniola at 9:39 AM on April 3, 2015

Do it at a dog run (find one with an adjoining park, and set up the drinks and stuff over there).

If you want to get whacky, arrange to loan dog-less guests a pooch, and do the ceremony while transiting the dog run.

I've been to park weddings, and if you can do it fairly low-profile, you can escape the need for permits (there's a fine line between picnic and party). Do pot luck, and pressure guests to really step up their games in terms of what they bring (note that lousy cooks should bring commercially-made - but really good commercially made).

Hire or cajole acoustic musicians to entertain. Check park regulations carefully re: noise (they may not be able to use amps). A brass band? A guitarist? A local church or school choir?
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:06 AM on April 3, 2015

3.5k for a venue with tables and chairs and no food isn't cheap - it's not necessarily outrageous, but it's not cost cutting.

Catering is usually your big cost - particularly since you're dealing with per person, it adds up quickly. One option is to look into food trucks. Our friends did a rotisserie chicken truck and the food was really very good - they did both chicken and salmon and had big bowls of sides set up, we went up table by table as you do. I think the cost was much lower than a traditional caterer and the food was better than ususual too. For a brunch, you might be able to do some fun stuff that way.
posted by vunder at 10:10 AM on April 3, 2015

Let me preface this by saying I am a huge believer that you can do whatever the F you want at your own wedding and no one should be allowed to complain about it for one tiny second. That said, just as a reality check: if you are looking to spend $5K TOTAL for an indoor wedding with food (and is that what you actually mean?), that is very low and you are going to have to make some significant compromises.

Various vendors bundle a lot of these, but think about what else you haven't included that you need: seating for 100. Likely twice, unless everyone is going to sit at their tables during the ceremony. Table settings and glassware. Drinks?? And if so, bar ware. And things that are very common but not strictly necessary: a cake. Flowers. Other decorations. Music, whether it's a band or DJ. Religious officiation, if you're into that. Then there's the issue of what counts as "part of the wedding" for spending purposes; like, usually the dress does but a lot of people don't count the groom's clothes since they are typically reusable.

You may just need to call around a bit in DC to figure out realistic ranges for venues and catering, but I suspect that 3.5K for the venue is pretty close to the low end of the realistic range if you want to be indoors. As for catering, just think about how the numbers work out: if you assume $20/person (which is a nice dinner but not, like, Michelin 3-star nice), you're already at $2K for food.

Anyway, that's probably the way to think through it. Again you should not feel ANY pressure to live up to anyone's expectations for this wedding other than your own, but be realistic about what the various options are going to cost when you are making the decisions.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

"How much does it cost to feed 100 people" is like asking "how long is a piece of string." Depends.

You're going to be balancing cost with how much work you do yourself. If you can bulk buy food at Costco and cook it all yourself, it will cost very little in cash but a ton in time. Potlucks will cost you very little, but there does have to be some management of who's bringing what so that you don't end up with 100 artichoke dips. In either of these cases, finding a friend or family member to do the work for you will take some cognitive load off you, but someone has to figure out what the food is, how it's being made, how it's getting there, how it's being served, what it's being eaten off of, how it's being cleaned up and disposed of afterward, etc.

That's a lot of why catering costs a lot more. It's not just the food, it's all the other stuff to worry about. To me, it was worth spending good money (though not extravagant money) on catering at our wedding because it removed a bunch of details for me to worry about. It can sometimes help to focus on that rather than on "but I don't want to be one of Those People who spends lots of money on a wedding !" In the backlash against the Wedding-Industrial Complex, it's easy to get caught up in worrying about what you are or aren't "supposed" to spend money on. And you know, if you love the idea for cooking for 100 people, do it. If the idea fills you with dread, then for gods sake, if you have the means, spend some money on the problem. It costs money to feed people. No one will pass moral judgement on you for doing so, whether you order 50 pizzas or have a steak dinner catered. People gotta eat.

How much would you comfortably spend per person to take a smaller group of people to dinner at a good-but-not-great restaurant? Multiply by 100. That's your starting point. You can go up or down from there, but that'll give you an initial ballpark for "how much does this cost" rather than just looking at a four-figure number and thinking "that seems like a wrong amount of money."

Do look into food trucks, catering from your favorite restaurant, and venues that let you bring your own booze. A friend had a local brewery send their tap truck (a truck with five kegs of their choice inside and five taps on the outside) and they just hired a licensed bartender to pour.

And consider non-meal food. Time your wedding to have just appetizers or snacks. It does limit how long the festivities can go on -- people gotta eat, like I said -- but it can be more cost effective.
posted by olinerd at 10:31 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

As opposed to just finding someone with a yard - do you have any friends who have a condo that has a great rec room or indoor/outdoor common area?

Or look into public venues, like libraries, museums, etc. Sometimes the venue is less expensive, but you have to ask about insurance requirements, or preferred vendors. But sometimes you can find a deal.

Look at unusual venues too - there is a vintage car shop in our area that rents its facility out for parties, and then guests get to ooh and aah over the cool cars. Maybe you and your fiancée have a hobby that has a venue you can tie into?
posted by vignettist at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2015

And it might be helpful to you to separate what's being spent to have "a party for 100 people" (because that's what you're choosing to do, regardless of the reason for it) and what's being spent on "a wedding." A party for 100 people needs a place, a lot of food, a lot of drinks, and some entertainment - music, dancing, maybe a photo booth if that is your thing, etc. Having these things helps you and your guests have a good time and make memories, and IMO are the "right" things to spend money on. Spending money on "wedding" things -- a dress, flowers, decorations, favors (ugh, favors), sparky tiaras, decorative chair covers, etc -- do not correlate to increased enjoyment of the event by your guests, so can be spent on based purely on your means and desires. Photography can fall on either side of this equation, depending on how you feel about it.
posted by olinerd at 10:43 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely look into nonprofit places for venues. Also, check out colleges/universities. They often have rooms/lounges/clubs/hotels. Mrs. CC and I got married for under 5K, thought we had about 40 attendees (out of 65 invited).

A Practical Wedding (recommended above) was great. We also found Offbeat Bride pretty helpful. The forums can be even more useful than the blog, too, so signing up is worth it.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:11 AM on April 3, 2015

I had a very DIY wedding with 70 guests for about $5k in the Baltimore area. Things that made this possible: venue was a state park, the dress was a bridesmaid's dress, caterer was a local barbecue place that delivers, alcohol was delivered by a liquor store, officiant was a friend, a school made invitations for the cost of materials only, no DJ, my mom and I made the dessert (pies instead of a cake). That is the level of creative and even sort of radical you have to be to have a wedding of the size and with the budget you're thinking of.
posted by mchorn at 11:23 AM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Have you checked out any of the local animal shelters or animal training centers in the region?

As an example, one Minneapolis area dog training center has an indoor/outdoor venue that is very attractive and would make for a nice setting for a wedding. Additional, the local humane society has very nice event rooms (that also serve as dog training spaces most evenings) -- its very common for birthday parties to be held there and the space is human-friendly, too. So check around -- most local dog trainers would be familiar with other dog training spaces as well if theirs would not work.
posted by apennington at 11:26 AM on April 3, 2015

We spent about 10k last year in northern VA. We had a very stripped down wedding but it was big due to lots of family and friends. 3.5k for a venue with chairs and tables isn't terrible around here. I would check fire halls or VFWs, things like that. The downside is they're usually super plain but man, so much cheaper. I found that even county buildings/parks could be expensive or they wanted to use one specific caterer and the price was insane. Feel free to memail me if you want more discussion :)
posted by brilliantine at 11:33 AM on April 3, 2015

Budget check:

For a formal indoor wedding with a guest list of 100-125, with a full meal and drinks and music and cake, in the DC area but not downtown, you are probably looking at a budget of $12-25K, on the low end of the range. Source: I just did this a year or so ago, and a best friend the year before.

But like everyone is saying, it really depends on what you want and especially what you don't want.

Biggest expenses for weddings usually are:

Venue and/or guest transport

Obviously there are less and more expensive options for each of those categories.

The further out from DC you get (in vibe, not necessarily distance), the less things cost, but you have to be able to get your guests there. There are plenty of farms and estates and small wineries and rec halls, if you look around. It also cuts costs dramatically if you are willing to do it on a weekday.

Backyards: LOL. Not likely around here, unless you're lucky.
posted by zennie at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2015

For cost estimates, I found this Cost of Wedding website really helpful when I was trying to figure out what was even reasonable for a lot of these expenses. Be careful not to let the high-end estimates increase your price anchoring or anything, but it's so helpful to have a relative measure of what these things cost and what people typically pay for them. It looks like they added a bunch of annoying surveys to that site since I last used it, but you can click through them without giving any information.

So, for venue, they say that "Couples that live in or travel to United States spend between $2,711 - $4,518 for Event Location" - which would make your venue fairly average for a big expensive $25k wedding (though that may or may not include table & chair rentals).

In fact, for their "mean" wedding of $25k, the venue cost around $3.6k. Now, to me, those numbers would suggest that the $3.5k venue you've chosen is probably too expensive if you want a $5k wedding, not least because you'll have to match the rest of the details to that venue - it would be weird to rent a big expensive space and decorate it with super discount-store stuff, for example - but also because expensive places will tend to have more "expensive" rules about what caterers you can use (whatever venue you go with, triple-check their catering rules!). Per that website, catering tends to cost more than the venue itself - average catering cost for that "mean" wedding is $4.7k - so choosing a venue that is already more than half of your budget is probably not going to work.

Anyway, that's just an example of how that website can help you figure out what other people are ballparking for this stuff, and how you can assess relative costs without internalizing those super-inflated price estimates associated with huge expensive weddings.
posted by dialetheia at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It seems to me you have to start with picking a venue. The problem is most "professional" venues want "professional" caterers and bartenders (and are probably required to by their insurance), which will cost at least $5k on their own. If you can find a yard, a friend's house, or some kind of under the table deal like a church basement or ethnic community center, then you can bring your own food and drink.

Or, if you can find a place out in the country, it may get a lot easier since people aren't so worried about health inspections and liquor licenses.

Photographers and DJs are insanely expensive and easy to replace. You could save a ton by having a few friends take pictures, and renting a nice PA system yourself.
posted by miyabo at 12:40 PM on April 3, 2015

I'm in Northern VA area and $3.5K seems about right for a venue, especially a dog friendly one. But that said, budget is all relative. In this area, I would say the majority of your money is going to venue and food/liquor. It's possible you could find a friend who can host, but the hard part would be parking.

I would say, figure out what's important to you and throw money at those things. If don't mind having just a few at the ceremony, consider having the ceremony someplace scenic and take the party somewhere cheaper. I know someone who had their ceremony at the Korean Bell Garden in Vienna. So you get your pretty pictures, but it's much cheaper. For food, buffet style is always cheaper. I know this sounds goofy, but I have been to 3 large parties lately that were catered by Chipotle and it was great! If you have a family member in the military, ask them if they have access to a venue. At very least, they can get cheap alcohol on base and/or cheap party rentals. My dad is retired Army and we have rented tents, tables, chairs, grills, even bouncy castles through the base MWR.

Good luck with your planning!
posted by jraz at 1:01 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The website that dialethia linked is interesting. If you plug in a Montgomery County zip it says weddings are around S140 per guest, so an "average" (or something like it) 125 person wedding would be around $17-18K. I put in other area zips... PG County was the only one lower that I saw.
posted by zennie at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2015

Oh wait, PG is not lower. Looked at the wrong numbers. Any way, there's also a big long budget estimator calc on there that would be good to check out.
posted by zennie at 1:09 PM on April 3, 2015

Friends had a budget wedding reception at Adelphi Mill (you can have the wedding and the reception there if you want). If you know someone who is a resident of Montgomery County Maryland or Prince Georges County Maryland and they do the renting for you, the rates are the cheapest.
posted by gudrun at 1:51 PM on April 3, 2015

zennie has it.

If you're picturing even a low-budgetish but stereotypical "wedding" event, with a ceremony, a venue for reception, a sit down dinner (buffet or plated) a cake, bridesmaids and groomsmen and flowers and invites oh my, then you're looking at about $15k at least.

We're getting married this summer and had originally wanted to spend $8k (LOL in retrospect) but we ended up with more yeses than we thought from guests, and we have 150 people and it's probably going to be about $18,000. And I've been DIYing TONS of stuff.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:01 PM on April 3, 2015

We spent around $13K for a reasonably traditional wedding with 125 guests in L.A a couple of years ago. By all accounts, we got away with this fairly inexpensively (and with a lot of DIY and atypical cost-cutting), so I think other people's estimates of $15-25K likely aren't that far off for the D.C. area. It's absolutely possible to do this for less money, but it will change the tenor of the wedding. This isn't a bad thing, it's just a question of what you want. Budgets below $10K generally require small, informal weddings and/or employing incredibly generous/talented family and friends who donate venues/catering/photography/etc.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:20 PM on April 3, 2015

I think we did ours for around $3500? in Portland, Oregon.

We had around 100 guests, had the ceremony at a small city-owned tiny 1800s pioneer built chapel located in a city park which was around $250 if I recall for 2 hours. Musician friends of ours played the pipe organ and a few other musical interludes.

Reception was in a slowly dying Masonic Lodge's ballroom. It was $500. It included tables & chairs but my mom paid for the chair covers, we didn't care either way, but I'm not going to turn down the offer.

Food was catered by a local Mexican restaurant that served Birria and a friends aunt made vegan tamales for the veggies. The restaurant had a liquor license (important in Oregon) and we had 2 kegs of beer. The cake was picked up by them from a local Mexican Bakery (Tres Leches) and that was cheap too.

We inherited a load of mason jars from my cousins wedding that we used as cups but the restaurant had their own plastic tumblers if we didn't.

We asked a friend with a DSLR as a $350 favor to photograph. We didn't care too much about the "fancy" wedding photos that we both found tacky. We just asked her to take a few shots of us and our family at the chapel and then do whatever. Came out real nice, though this probably isn't for everyone. She ended up gifting us the photos, so the real cost was $0.

We also asked a favor of a man from the local Ford Model A club to drive us from the chapel to the reception hall. My grandfather restored about a half-dozen of them so it was more of a treat to him to have us arrive in a Model A. The guy did it for free out of kindness for a fellow Model A enthusiast.

A few of our friends DJ'd at night and have good taste in music so that took care of that.

Flowers came from a grocery store and were done by another friend. We spent maybe $300

Mrs. Wcfields dress was a vintage dress from a vintage store in Portland for $100. Bridesmaids just wore whatever. I rented an ill-fitting white tux.

After all of this I'd say that the keys to lowering cost are:
* Use of under utilized rooms for receptions, like Masonic Ballrooms, Community Centers, etc. that include tables & chairs
* Wedding was at a city park (albeit one with a 1800s one room chapel that was specifically rented for weddings)
* Ethnic food and cake. A specific Mexican dish is cheaper than prime-rib for instance. A Mexican bakery is cheaper too.
* No new clothing nor any dress requirements for bridesmaids.
posted by wcfields at 4:57 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here's an old thread about a $5k wedding in DC. We did a low(ish) budget DC area wedding, with lots of DIY (invitations, flowers, most of the food, photos, setup and tear down), dessert reception rather than a meal, for about 75 people (I think?) and it was more than $5k in the DC exurbs at a county park. I think it was closer to $10k. In retrospect, we really asked a lot of our friends and family. It was a huge amount of fun, but we probably took on more DIY than was reasonable.
Here's how we balanced it out:
- ordered wholesale flowers online, put them together ourselves
- ditto for invitations
- rented space on an off-night at a county park/historical building
- had non-wedding cakes and a few other desserts and appetizers from a local bakery; otherwise we had fruit and cheese and champagne. The cake was amazing. We rented dishes and silverware. Tables and chairs came with the venue. (This was probably one step too far on the DIY.)
- a friend did photography; we hired a videographer. (I later regretted not having professional photos. Kind of a lot.)
- very inexpensive wedding dress and so on. (I think about $200.)
- a jazz trio for music

Our big priority was to have a beautiful location that could accommodate everyone if it rained. (It rained.) We prioritized very simple delicious food over an actual meal. (It was delicious, but I'm not sure: not having a meal might have been awkward for our guests.) It was beautiful, and it was a massive amount of work, and I consider myself lucky that all my friends and relatives not only pitched in with good spirits, but were still talking to us afterwards.
posted by instamatic at 6:21 PM on April 3, 2015

That's a lowish price for a venue with tables and chairs, but you'll need to figure out what you're doing for food. If the venues require you to use particular caterers, you could expect a food cost of $65-80 per head for dinner, if not more (wedding markup is real), but brunch would be … $30ish? Catered open bars cost like $15/head for the first hour and $10 for each additional hour. If the venue will let you self cater and bring in booze, your cash cost will be much lower, but you may still want to hire servers or people to clean up.

FWIW when we had a venue suggest brunch I was much more into that idea than my wife was, but once we figured out how timing had to work for out of town guests even I had to agree brunch wouldn't work for us. We did an afternoon ceremony and cocktail reception with heavy hors d'oeuvres.

Not sure what to suggest for dog friendly venues, except to get out of the District. Being in DC proper meant a lot to us but there are lots of farms and parks and wineries and things in surrounding counties that should be able to help. Most of the big parks in DC are managed by NPS and their wedding rules are hard.
posted by fedward at 9:21 PM on April 3, 2015

We had our wedding ceremony at a funky church that hosts punk rock shows in Columbia Heights and our reception at the Hillyer Art Space (basically in an alley behind the Philips Collection) in DuPont Circle. We did a lot of DIY and had food from District Taco and booze we bought from Costco. Considering all that, our wedding with about 75 guests ended up costing ~$16k, when you factor in all the various little things - they absolutely add up.

Here's my wife's breakdown of our budget, which she posted on AskMe in response to her venue question. it does include our rings and the bridesmaids' dresses, so depending on how you categorize things we could have gotten to a different number. Some things ended up being more expensive than that budget, and other things less.

For a more traditional wedding style like ours, with an indoor venue and a buffet, etc., the main savings I can think of versus our wedding are:
- Rent a venue that has furniture already, for a shorter amount of time
- Buy bakery/grocery store dessert
- Don't hire a professional photographer (which I recommend against because I only ever hear people regretting this, and ours was pretty awesome)
- Buy cheaper wedding outfits

The downside to cheap and DIY heavy weddings are that the DIY aspects are very demanding and time consuming, and can be very frustrating to deal with when you really just want to get married. That said, I don't really regret any aspect of our wedding and everyone had an absolute blast.

If you have any questions feel free to memail me.
posted by malthas at 5:08 AM on April 4, 2015

Coming back to add that we had a very budget wedding (married in my parent's back yard). Mostly the things we skimped on were fine, including the wedding guest who was a retired professional photographer so his candids did quite nicely for photographs, using my grandfather's ring for my husband (we kept the old engraving and just had to get it resized), and I absolutely loved my off the rack budget wedding dress. The one thing I'm sorry about is the cake, which was not the best. If I had it to do over again I would get a strawberry shortcake from Pastries By Randolph.
posted by gudrun at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2015

Yes! Strawberry shortcake is exactly what we had. So, so much better than wedding cake. We got three, in varying sizes, put them up on homemade platforms so they were at different heights, tucked flowers in around the platforms, and they were prettier, fancier, and more delicious than any wedding cake I've ever had. Also much much cheaper. (We ordered from Alexandria Pastry, whose chef was somewhat mystified by our low budget appetizers and cake, but helpful nonetheless.)
posted by instamatic at 5:43 PM on April 4, 2015

Man, don't spend over 5k on a wedding! I'd consider renting one of the many beautiful VRBO houses available in West Virginia and inviting your immediate families (plus dogs) only. There is no way to have an affordable wedding for 100 people in a metro area unless you are willing to be truly informal and cheap, which might offend some of those 100 guests who paid for plane tickets, and would cost you a lot of time in planning and DIY-ing as well.
posted by yarly at 11:00 AM on April 5, 2015

Things we skimped on successfully:

Cake - we opted for a simple single tier cake that tasted awesome
DJ - we had a playlist and a friend who manned the laptop
Dress - I bought mine off the rack
Decorations - I had dozens of paper lanterns and tea light candles, and it was gorgeous
Transport - we just had a few family members with nice-isn cars drive us
Invitations - I bought pretty paper and a cheap laser printer and made them
Makeup - my bridesmaids and I had a few practice sessions leading up, then did our own makeup on the day

Recently, we hosted 100 people for my husband's milestone birthday. Ways we affordably had 100 people were:

Spit - we hired a spit and bought meat, and had 2 friends carve as the day went by. It was self rotating and the meat was pre-marinated so minimal effort once it was lit.
Desserts - we bought giant Costco marshmallows and everyone toasted them over the spit's fire. We also had a giant Costco slab cake which tasted pretty good. We cut up a huge amount of fruit the day before, and had huge bowls of fruit salad everywhere with kebab sticks to eat with.
Bar - we looked out for specials for months beforehand on alcohol, and stocked up from a big box store which had a good return policy. We had a friend whose sons had RSA certificates and wanted some work, so they manned the bar.
Finger foods - we hired 2 university students who spent the day heating up a variety of Costco finger foods in the oven, and carrying them around on trays. We spent a few months before sampling may of these, so we knew what worked well. Everyone raved about the finger foods.
Polaroid cameras instead of Photo Booth - we had 2 polaroid cameras and just kept them rotating around the party. We also had a few friends who took lots of high quality digital photographs.

You can absolutely have a budget wedding, it's preparation and willingness to delegate that's key to making sure you have a great day!
posted by shazzam! at 10:45 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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