Want a Big Red Barn for a Vermont Wedding, Lack Funds.
October 24, 2016 3:03 AM   Subscribe

My daughter and her longtime girlfriend are engaged and are in early days of planning their wedding for fall of 2017. They're both horsey, outdoors women and they both have always dreamt of celebrating in a big red barn (Vermont friends will know this is A THING). The catch: they don't want to spend $3k and up on fulfilling their dream wedding as they're both good, frugal Yankee stock. How to get this to happen?

The best thing we've* been able to come up with is to have their wedding and reception in their gigantic yard -- caterers and tents and all that, with a photo shoot at a big red barn. They love beer, bourbon, dog rescue, hiking, vegetarian food, Deathwish coffee, the Walking Dead, gardening and lots of other things (just want to give a picture of the couple in general).

I'm hoping the Hivemind has more ideas.

*I'm saying "we" only because she has asked me to crowdsource this question. She and her fiance are doing the planning. They want to invite 50-100 people, are totally okay with doing it in their massive yard, and don't want to spend more than $2k total.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the very early stages of wedding planning and a non-backyard reception for 50-100 people for less than $2000 is probably impossible (especially in fall in Vermont which is presumably the most popular time of year for wedding venues.) If someone you or they know has a big red (non-wedding) barn then you might ask about having the ceremony there, depending on how much seating you will need.

Is that $2000 inclusive of tent rental, caterers, and photographer? The tent will cost you a few hundred, maybe you've got a friend who can take photos, but figure $1500 left over for food and drink (if you spend nothing on entertainment and decorations), which is $15 per person (for 100 guests). So, sandwiches or appetizers or pizza or maybe barbecue are well within your reach, but fully staffed catering might not be, especially if you want to serve alcohol. (Also don't forget about plates and silverware and glassware - you can use disposable or you can rent or you can borrow everyone in town's extra mason jars but it will cost time and/or money.)

Classic way to get people to drink less (cutting the beer/liquor bill) is to have the wedding on Sunday afternoon.

Highly recommend you/they check out the A Practical Wedding Planner - most of the weddings in the book have much higher budgets but it's a really good guide to "things you might not think of" and "things you can safely ignore."
posted by mskyle at 5:16 AM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think the most practical thing to do is network far and wide - post anywhere, tell everyone, etc. that you are looking for a barn. You never know who has a friend of a friend. I think your best bet on that budget is going to be finding a barn that's NOT typically rented out, and being willing to do a lot of DIY work to make it wedding-y.

*For all I know, though, everyone in possession of a barn in Vermont is already in the wedding industry :)
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:23 AM on October 24, 2016

Best answer: I just planned a similar wedding in the northeast, so I have some specific numbers that could help. Mine also had "50-100 people" (it ended up being about 85), outdoors, with an attempted budget of $3k. We ended up at $4500, even doing many things as cheaply as possible with lots of friend & family help.

Here's the short story: with tents, catering, and booze in a backyard wedding for 75 people, you are already at around $3500. If you want to make it cheaper than that, I'd suggest:
- venue: covered pavilion at a public park
- food: traditional catering is basically out of their budget. Are they willing to do a potluck, or ordering pizzas, or just a cake reception? Keep in mind that guests won't stay long if they don't get fed.
- booze: bourbon (or any liquor) is expensive. This is the land of canned beer and boxed wine.

Of course, the main way to constrain the cost is to constrain the guest list. There's a big difference between 50 and 100 (food and booze costs will be calculated per head), so fewer people might allow you to go fancier. Do they care more about the fanciness or about having a big group there?

For comparison, here's how our wedding budget worked.

$1700 - Catering (not fancy, still expensive)
$700 - Booze (can beer, box wine, small amount of prosecco)
$700 - Tent & chairs (just 1 medium tent to supplement the pavilion)
$400 - Helpers (2 friends to help set up & clean up)
$275 - Dessert (I got an amazing deal on cupcakes)
$200 - Venue (public park)
$150 - Decorations (cheap and/or borrowed)
$150 - Flowers (farmer's market)
$100 - Water (big jugs)
$140 - Officiant & wedding license
$55 - Rings & apparel (from Amazon and our closets)
$0 - Music (we didn't have any)
$0 - Entertainment (we brought croquet, badminton, & bocce)
$0 - Photography (friends with cell phones)
$0 - Invites (we made a free wedding website and emailed our invites)

TOTAL: about $4600

This does not count the multitude of nice things that people brought and contributed while refusing to tell us the price. Overall, everyone who helped seemed to have a lot of fun doing so -- friends & relatives decorated on the morning of the wedding and it was lovely.

Some specifics:
- Having the wedding at a park with a picnic pavilion was amazing (though it might have been less so if it had rained). It cost under $200 and because it came with picnic tables, it saved us tons of money on rentals.
- We thought about self-catering and realized we didn't have the equipment to keep food at safe temperatures -- and we didn't want to poison our guests. So we catered dinner. It was not fancy -- BBQ chicken, lasagne, baked beans, corn, salad, and potatoes. Nonetheless, this was the biggest single expense of the wedding -- it ended up coming to $1700.
- Decorations were either borrowed, sourced from the Salvation Army, or picked up cheap at Target the day after Xmas. Total decoration cost was under $150.
- Here's a tip: show up at the farmer's market the morning of the wedding with two big buckets. Tell them, "I'm getting married today -- how many flowers can you give me for $150?" It worked out really well.
- I paid 2 friends to help out with set-up, clean-up, and event management, because I didn't want my mom or myself to be stressing out during the event itself. I found this to be well worth it.
- We didn't get super-fancy wedding photos, but we do have nice snapshots -- we got a friend with a good cell phone camera to take the big group shots. If you care enough about photos to hire a photographer -- add another $500-1000 right off the bat.

Here are two wedding planning links that I found helpful:
- A simple wedding checklist
- Wedding alcohol calculator
posted by ourobouros at 5:24 AM on October 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

Oh, and I should mention on the catering front: the lowest-priced option we could find was Chipotle catering (tubs o' meat & beans, chips and salsa, etc.) for $12.50 per person. For 75 people, that would have been about $1000. We decided for a variety of reasons not to go with them, but if you're looking for a rock-bottom catering number, that's the cheapest we found (cheaper even than self-catering). This is why I think catering is probably not possible within their budget. Chipotle + booze + 1/2 of a tent = already maxing out a $2k budget.
posted by ourobouros at 6:47 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm wedding planning as well. For that amount of guests, you are looking at well over $10,000. Why don't they consider saving and postponing until they can save that amount of money?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:48 AM on October 24, 2016

Your best bet is going to be finding a place with an old barn that hasn't been updated into a wedding venue. Looks around Williamstown, Chelsea, and Cabot. It will be on a dirt road, and hopefully it hasn't rained lately otherwise it might get a bit tricky with parking, but I bet if you could find an old retired farmer who still lives on the land would be happy to rent you the barn for $500. You will need to add in a portable toilet cost as well.

I think though that you're going to have to reconsider the budget. When I was looking at tent rentals for the celebration of our wedding in VT (got married in Leeds England but had a "small" family celebration in central VT for family that couldn't travel - small in terms of my family means 70 people) a tent alone was about $1500. Adding in external catering and it was much easier to go to the country club where my dad is a member.

We did the decoration (get your flowers from Costco) and desserts (essentially had some people bring some homemade cookies) and we did the entire thing for under $3k + booze. That was $23 per head for ribs and chicken buffet. We covered a few hours of beer and wine for an additional $600 ish. The country club was also very good to us by letting us buy juice boxed and sodas for the kids and having us have them in steel tubs covered in ice (again at Costco costs so quite minimal). The hire fee was only $500 for members so it was by far the most cost effective way of having the large party.
posted by koolkat at 7:11 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was talking to my spouse about our wedding the other day, and in retrospect we both wish we'd gotten glorified take out from a good local "ethnic" restaurant instead of a caterer. We could have probably hired a couple acquaintances or Task Rabbit style helpers to serve and bus. Our catered food was good but not stellar (even though we looked for sooo long for amazing but affordable food). Food was one of the things we wanted to prioritize, but again, we could have gotten cheaper, more delicious food by working with our local Indian restaurant.
posted by latkes at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

We just got married a few weeks ago, and started off with a budget of $5,000 for our 80 guests. (The budget was a random number that we, both frugal and careful with our money, said, "Eh, that's probably enough.) We wanted a fun, casual, laid-back celebration for our families and closest friends, in a park where we often hike. We skipped a lot of the "traditions" we didn't care about (A Practical Wedding was fantastic for helping us think through this), and ended up spending about $7,000 total. This included renting a (glassed-in) pavilion in a public park (thankfully we went with this option instead of the cheaper open air one - it poured rain our entire wedding day), a single, mid-range photographer (important to me, since family gets together so seldom - but not worth paying a "second shooter" so prevalent in my area), catered BBQ and chicken, craft beer and wine (no liquor allowed by the park district), cupcakes (cheaper than cake, in our case), $150 worth of flowers, about $50 worth of decorations (most were borrowed from friends), an officiant ($250), and our outfits (my dress on sale at Nordstrom was $97, plus $40 in alterations; his suit was $250). We skipped a DJ, and my talented husband spent weeks researching and building the perfect playlists for the evening, which we played through an iPod.

Everyone had a great time - they're still telling us about it - and we're very happy with the way things turned out. We were just talking yesterday about ways it might have cost less, and we can't think of how we would have without compromising the experience. For example, cutting out alcohol, our biggest line item, would have saved us nearly $2000, but people wouldn't have stayed and danced nearly as long. We talked at one point about having a very small wedding - maybe 20 guests - but didn't want to pick and choose among family members and friends. We've been to brunch weddings which likely cost less, but that wasn't the vibe we wanted.

I'm not saying it's impossible - but think through what's really important about the day. Prioritize, and go from there.
posted by writermcwriterson at 7:47 AM on October 24, 2016

They want to invite 50-100 people, are totally okay with doing it in their massive yard, and don't want to spend more than $2k total.

$2000 divided by 100 people is $20 per head. Please think through how one might feed and water a guest for $20. It is possible but you've not even gotten to gazebo rental, tables, chairs, any kind of flowers or decor, etc.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Would an extremely scenic fairgrounds in Vermont work? I know many people who have gotten married at our local fairgrounds, and thought it was great.
posted by terrapin at 8:35 AM on October 24, 2016

Can't help with Vermont specifics but I asked this question awhile back about budgeting for a wedding and received a lot of helpful responses related to prioritizing and a range of venue ideas.


I think it'd be important to first decide if they're leaning more towards the 50 people side or 100 people side. That will make a significant difference on initial decisions on venue and food.
posted by inevitability at 1:07 PM on October 24, 2016

I mean... this is one of those things that costs what it costs.

A few years ago, barn weddings were not really popular, and you could probably call up a friend with a barn and do something like this for next to nothing. I think I even asked a wedding planning question similar to this a few months ago, and someone suggested that I throw a wedding in an old barn, not understanding that this is the epitome of a traditional "Wedding Industrial Complex" wedding nowadays.

So your daughter and her partner will have to decide what their priorities are:

1. Have a rustic and outdoorsy wedding which does not involve specifically an old red barn, but which is in their price range. In this case, there are a zillion potential venue options, from summer camps to state parks to generous friends with acreage. I myself am planning a backyard wedding because my partner and I didn't have any particular priorities about the venue aside from "cheap, allows booze".

2. Have a barn wedding which maybe isn't an old barn or a red barn or a picturesque barn, or which isn't a Barn Wedding Venue but is perhaps a slightly more specific variation on the "generous friends with acreage" idea above. This will probably be a lot more affordable than the photo-pretty rustic old red barn wedding venue. Most couples who are not really that outdoorsy but saw on pinterest that barn weddings are cool will want a formal barn venue that is picturesque and pretty and what you think of when you think "Vermont barn". If your daughter and her partner are a little more flexible, they can probably find something that works for them.

3. Decide this is truly the hill they want to die on, pay the $3K*, and make cuts elsewhere. I hate to say it, because I'm also thrifty and we have decided to forgo a lot of the wedding bells and whistles for this reason, but $3000 is a drop in the bucket on the budget of the average wedding nowadays. Simpler dresses, less fussy catering, DIY music, or hiring a student rather than a pro photographer could easily provide the budget space for the truly perfect venue that they absolutely had to have. (This coming from me is super hypocritical, because we decided to go without literally all of those things because we, too, are thrifty. But if something is really important to you, it's OK to not pinch pennies.)

*Which is actually pretty reasonable, especially if you guys are in parts of Vermont where NYC folk come up for the weekend or have second homes. $3000 was the low end of the spectrum here in Los Angeles when my partner and I were considering using a traditional wedding venue rather than a friend's backyard.
posted by Sara C. at 5:30 PM on October 24, 2016

a non-backyard reception for 50-100 people for less than $2000 is probably impossible

I'd also like to speak to this, as someone who is having a backyard reception for 40 people. Our rock-bottom budget estimate is about $5000, all in. Food and beverage are going to be minimally in the $1500 range, my dress was close to $1000 before alterations (I did not want a $1000 dress, but my mother wasn't hearing that, so here I am in the $1000 dress), party rental items are going to be in the $500-1000 range, and then you've got all the miscellany of invitations and flowers and cake and photography and fairy lights, not to mention the marriage license and officiant, which will easily eat up the rest.

So, yeah, if they are hoping to have a $2000 wedding, they will be having supermarket cake and spiked punch in their yard in party dresses from the mall, photographed by that one friend with the nice camera. Even for $5000 all in, they probably can't afford a venue that costs money.
posted by Sara C. at 5:39 PM on October 24, 2016

Best answer: I will say that we had a barn wedding in Oregon-barn was part of a city park so rental was cheap. We asked people to bring us the very best thing they know how to cook and the recipe as their wedding gift-people still rave about this being best wedding food ever. My dad gave us the wine and a friend gave us homebrew beer. Biggest expenses were the cake, band and dance floor-but it can be done!
posted by purenitrous at 9:01 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Given the mismatch between their budget and the wedding they want, they will be tempted to stuff the costs on other people by asking for gifts in kind, favours etc, or burden them with inconveniences they may not really be prepared for . Some people will be happy to help, others will feel obligated by their relationship to them. This gets messy quickly. They don't know the financial circumstances of everybody who is coming. There are many AskMe questions here about people who are guests or family members struggling with the obligations other people are putting on them about their weddings. (Destination weddings, tasks being assigned, expectations that they cover unreasonable costs etc.)

Included in the budget should be the favours they may need to ask of other people. Some of these things would normally be done by paid people. Before the couple book the paid items on their list, like caterer, photographer, etc., ask the people who would be doing favours if they'd really be ok with what the couple needing them to do.

The couple and their families are the hosts at this event. Everyone else is a guest. Try not to obligate people to pay for too much, burden them with logistics or travel that are inconvenient, etc. If you expect them to be there for a while, you need to provide food and drink, clean bathrooms, parking, shelter if it rains etc. If you can't afford to do that, scale back the event you put on. Don't expect your guests to suck it up. At the very least, let people know that what to expect when you invite them, especially with regard to BYO food, drink and attaire (A heads up if the grounds preclude the wearing of heels.) One way you can meet them part way is to scale back your wedding registry and lower expectations around gifts.

Budgeting is about choices. Perhaps they need to draw up a couple of budgets to see what they can get if they have more to spend. Adding another $2k gets better food/booze/ a photographer/ whatever. Adding $2,000 to a $25,000 wedding doesn't get you much more. Adding that amount to their budget is huge.

Good luck!
posted by thenormshow at 9:05 AM on October 25, 2016

Best answer: Oh you could totally do this. I just planned my wedding in Vermont and we (my parents) spent much less than $10,000 on 300+ people and had a barn. The budget is far from unreasonable especially if you are willing to go wicked cheap in terms of food and they don't need expensive (more than $200) wedding dresses. I can give you some recommendations on cheap barns:
jubilee farm in huntington
tunbridge county fairgrounds
franklin county fair grounds
the intervale center in burlington is less than $800 if you are willing to do it on a weekday

It sounds like your daughter and her fiance are willing to be flexible. In my experience they people who say OH ANYTHING LESS THAN $5,000 IS JUST IMPOSSIBLE do not understand that pizza is a perfectly acceptable food at a wedding reception and tablecloths/photographer/appetizers are superfluous. We saved tons but having a pig roast with no appetizers, two types of beer and got a ton of ice cream novelties. Heck for only 50 people you can make a bunch of trays of baked pasta and call it good.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:46 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, yeah, if they are hoping to have a $2000 wedding, they will be having supermarket cake and spiked punch in their yard in party dresses from the mall, photographed by that one friend with the nice camera.

This is just plain not true! Just... don't have a wedding cake. Or bake it yourself. Get a couplekegs of one type of great local brew. Get a cute dress that is not a wedding dress. Make a wedding hashtag. It's all in how you frame it.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:49 PM on October 25, 2016

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