Affordable weddings in New England or New York/New Jersey
January 14, 2019 1:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm engaged, I love my partner, and I'm not very into weddings. They just seem expensive and stressful. Can you tell me about your fun, affordable 100-person wedding? (Nontraditional weddings are a-OK.) Bonus points If you can recommend affordable venues in New England or New York/New Jersey other than my parents' backyard.
posted by marfa, texas to Human Relations (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My affordable wedding: Found a city park that we liked. Chose a quiet corner of it to have our immediate-family-only ceremony/vows. Then headed over to the gazebo we reserved in the park where we hung out with the 50-ish people we invited. Had a caterer prepare a bbq-type dinner for said guests. We then invited everyone out to a bar where we bought probably a dozen pitchers of beer and some appetizers.

The answer for you is to figure out what's important to you and your partner, and figure out how to emphasize that. Don't worry about 'tradition' or others' expectations.

We didn't bother with flowers or favors or a band because those things aren't important to us.
posted by hydra77 at 1:57 PM on January 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

PS: Figure out what 'affordable' is to you. For some people, $5,000 is affordable. For others, $10,000 is affordable. It's hard to pick a number out of thin air, but think about what you really can afford to spend on this party.
posted by hydra77 at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

I responded to this question re: affordable Boston area weddings and stand by my response there. Congratulations and good luck!
posted by pammeke at 1:59 PM on January 14, 2019

I know "expensive" is extremely relative in the world of weddings, but we live in a community in the White Mtns of New Hampshire that has a really pretty wedding venue that is supposed to be on the cheap side of things. Their package pricing is on their website.

They only have a certain number of available days, so you're a bit limited there, and it may be a bit far if you're in NY/NJ, but I figured I'd throw it out there. Congrats on the nuptials!

Edit: if you don't like those packages and/or don't need a lot of the stuff they include but think the venue looks interesting, call them anyway. I bet they're pretty flexible.
posted by nosila at 2:00 PM on January 14, 2019

The best thing you can do to keep costs down is avoid hiring anyone who bills themselves as a wedding vendor. We had a friend take our pictures, my mother hired a cook from her workplace to make the picnic-style food, we made our own mix CDs (back in the olden pre-Spotify days), got a keg of good beer from a local brewery. There are so many ways to have a fun party if you aren't interested in the weddingy traditions.
posted by something something at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't have region-specific recommendations - just want to heartily recommend the website (and associated books) A Practical Wedding. They (as the name suggests) take a very practical approach to weddings, without any of the standard "wedding industrial complex" junk (no assumptions of a heterosexual couple where a bride is the only one doing the planning, no assumptions of a 30k budget, etc). The exercise in the first section of the APW book (and I believe it's on the website as well) is to sit down with your partner and determine what your top 3 things you want out of a wedding are. So maybe if your top 3 are "memorable photos, low-stress, and with my loved ones", you end up with a sunday afternoon wedding in the park to save on costs, but splurge on the photography, guest count, and a coordinator to keep things low-stress. Or whatever your preferences are! Once you know your priorities, you can more easily determine where you want to spend your budget.

The truth is that throwing a 100-person party is just expensive as hell, no matter how much you cut, so you have to spend money on something. But there's a lot of variation on the lower budget end - a big affair but held on a weekday in the off-season, or a morning/afternoon reception so you just offer snacks, or no alcohol, or a potluck if that's the thing in your community. APW has articles and suggestions on all of those things.

One additional side-tip, other than just perusing all their archives: watch out for hidden costs of "non-traditional" weddings. A lot of people think they'll save money by having a wedding in their parents backyard & self-catering, but then you have to rent portapotties, chairs, tables, silverware, dishes, chafing dishes, etc, etc, etc. Sometimes an all-inclusive venue can be cheaper (and definitely less work for someone who isn't into planning events) in the end, depending on your needs/area/etc.

Oh, and one other website recommendation - I wouldn't spend a ton of time there on discussion because it's still Reddit, but the subreddit "WeddingsUnder10k" can be useful for DIY/cheap wedding ideas. You might try searching the subreddit for New England venues and see if anyone has done an assessment of prices in the area before.
posted by jouir at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

I am also not a fan of weddings. My husband and I married in a ceremony that was not very traditional, but it worked for us.
We identified things that we liked, that made a wedding feel wedding-y and special, and kept them. These included having a sit-down dinner, people being somewhat dressed up, and a ceremony.
Things we decided we did not really value included religious aspects, a long ceremony, a ring (for me), a wedding party, and traditional wedding-y food.
We ended up with:
- Location: outdoors at my aunt's house/my mom's house, which are two houses apart in rural Maine. Making this choice meant that no one would be wearing anything super formal, and for sure no high heels.
- Rehearsal dinner: Some family members had rented out a nine bedroom lodge to stay in (I can give you the info if you're interested, it was nice, but it burned down*, but I heard they rebuilt it?) We had a cookout there, which pretty much the all the guests participated in cooking/cleaning up.
- Accommodations: Some people stayed in hotels, or rented cabins. A bunch of my friends camped out in my mom's yard, which meant we could have campfires and hang out in the evenings. Which was great.
- Wedding day: we had rented a tent, set it up in my aunt's yard, with tables and chairs. Everyone drifted in starting around an hour before Go Time, and when all 85 or so people were there, I went around and told people that the wedding was going to start, and pointed out where to gather.
- Ceremony: this was the best, best, best decision we made, and one I pushed for. I am Very Uncomfortable being the center of attention. My aunt married us, and she greeted everyone, then said the vows, to which we responded "I do" in unison, and then THAT WAS IT. The entire ceremony was under a minute and a half long. Done. Married. This is by far the most controversial thing about the day among people I have talked to! If I had it to do again, I would have warned everyone that the ceremony would by very brief indeed, as I know at least one person who stopped to finish a conversation and missed the whole thing. Some people found it bizarre, but I absolutely would not have had it any other way.
- Then food! We had a local Thai restaurant cater, which was great. They were not really used to catering, I think it was their first time. My dad was very nervous about this, and wanted me to go with a traditional catering company, but the restaurant was fantastic, and much much cheaper than a caterer would have been!
Congratulations, and good luck!

*Not related to my wedding.
posted by Adridne at 2:08 PM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

One additional note, something something's comment reminded me - definitely, if you have friends/family who can pitch in, that is a huge cost-savings. Almost any blog/article about "How I saved money on my wedding" are always full of "well, my aunt is a professional baker, and my cousin owns a brewery, and my partner's friend is a photographer" - not paying anything or paying "friend rates" is one way that a big party can be actually cheaper than usual. But 2 caveats here:

1) Make sure you still have a contract with your "friendors". Pushing back on your hired photographer because they didn't deliver the photos on time is awkward enough, but what would you do if you didn't have a contract and they're a friend? A contract protects both parties and helps set expectations without hurt feelings. APW has a good article on this as well.

2) A related-but-different tip you'll also see a lot online is to lie to vendors (or lie by omission) and tell them you're just "having a party" instead of a wedding, to avoid random surcharges. But that is a great way to have a vendor cancel on you day-of when they show up to your wedding, not a party. A good rule of thumb I saw is that it's fine to mislead any people who won't actually be at the wedding - so you can tell the salesperson at David's Bridal you're just looking for an ivory bridesmaid dress, because it doesn't really impact the service they give you and you end up with just as good of a dress if that's more your style. But don't tell your photographer it's just a family reunion, since they're going to find out eventually you lied and that's not a good way to treat someone who you're depending on. Not to mention most vendors aren't just adding "arbitrary" surcharges for weddings - they require a different level of service, dealing with complicated family dynamics, meeting higher standards, longer events, more attention to detail, etc.
posted by jouir at 2:13 PM on January 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Affordable: have your wedding on a Friday or Sunday, have a lunch/brunch/desserts reception instead of dinner.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:23 PM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

100 person parties with catering are expensive. Everything (clothes, photographer, booze, jazz combo, venue, cakes) except the food & waitstaff at our 100 person wedding in the center of Chicago was between $250 and $1500 (each). Catering & service staff (heavy snacks and bar tending for 3-4 hours) was under $10k but more than 7k (I don't recall anymore). That's what 100 person evening events run when I plan them for work, too.

In my experience, it's food and catering staff that cost the most.

My sister had a 50 person christening at my parents house and the food was about half--because there were no staff or bartender costs--even though it was a full meal. I've had friends do weddings where family or friends did all the cooking and setting up of food (and the venue and the tearing down) and saved themselves the catering costs.

As for saying it's a party, not a wedding to avoid wedding upcharges--you can do it if you're upfront and have a conversation with the vendors. We did it because our wedding had no ceremony, no wedding attendants, no pre-wedding festivities (like having photos of the wedding party getting their hair done) and we wanted no pictures at local sights of interest. Just documentary event style photography. We were upfront with all the photographers we contacted (and we contacted primarily corporate event photographers). Some said "no, nope, no brides, ever"; some said "I have to charge the wedding rate, even if you don't want any wedding-specific services"; but a couple said "That's fine. These are my standard rates & this is how I deliver photos". That was an incredible savings.
posted by crush at 2:31 PM on January 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

While the primary purpose wasn’t to save money choosing to have our 100 person wedding reception at a residential rehabilitation center for substance abusers was a huge savings.

I really can’t stress how well it went! They had event space (the large rec room for the residents) and since part of the recovery program was vocational training they were able to provide staff, food, and decorations prepared on site. Also it was really nice to know the money we were spending was going less to the industrial wedding complexe and more to help people. It also cost significantly less then any other venue we looked at. We probably wouldn’t have thought of that location, except my Mom used to do drug and alcohol consuling and ended up working with that program all the time. They had a special place in her life because they helped so many of her clients. Getting to host the reception there felt like a huge thank you for the work they do.
posted by lepus at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

My favorite wedding I've ever attended was held in a NY state park pavilion. They told guests to wear comfortable clothes suitable for "sitting, playing frisbee, or hiking." The ceremony was a private thing before guests got there (only immediate family) that lasted only a few minutes.

Huge platters of hummus, pita, salads, etc. were available to eat (someone picked them up at a nearby deli), they had some coolers of wine/beer, and a huge pile of donuts for dessert instead of cake.

It was fucking awesome and incredibly inexpensive.
posted by sockermom at 3:34 PM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Westchester County NY has affordable picnic pavilions in some of their parks.

I was going to suggest Ridge Road Park in Hartsdale, NY but it looks like they limit gatherings to 75. But it also looks like they may be flexible on numbers if you call them.

When my husband and I got married we did it in his mom’s back yard and had a potluck bbq. We gave immediate family six weeks notice and everyone else two weeks. We did the ceremony in the backyard with just immediate family in the morning then celebrated in the afternoon. We bought pop up tents to shade people, rented tables and chairs from a local party rental, pressed my brother in law into service at the grill. One regret: when everyone else went home and we had to clean up by ourselves.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:44 PM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

A good friend of mine's Vermont wedding involved an intimate ceremony in the justice of the peace's living room, followed by a dinner in the private upstairs dining room of the small town's restaurant. The justice of the peace was a friend of the family, but even without the living room invite you could do something along those lines.

Similarly, I recently was officiant at a wedding where the ceremony took place at a gazebo in a town park (inexpensive but took registering the day the town opened bookings for the year) and a reception in my backyard (fenced-in, decent size) with food done by a local restaurant that does catering. They hired a taskrabbit to pick up the food, set up a buffet, and bartend the party. At least 100 guests, and done comfortably on what must have been a very reasonable budget.
posted by lhputtgrass at 3:44 PM on January 14, 2019

We rented a private banquet room at a local restaurant. They took care of food, tables/chairs, plates/table settings, the bar, the cake, and setting up chairs on the outside deck where we had the actual ceremony. The only thing we brought besides ourselves was bouquets of flowers for each table and the rings. (And for flowers we went to the local farmer’s market the day before and bought ten different $10 bouquets.) We had looked at renting other venues but once we realized that at many places we would also have to rent tables, plates, silverware, etc we decided to just do a restaurant. They handled pretty much everything.
posted by skycrashesdown at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2019

We had our wedding in the courtyard of a restaurant in Brooklyn called Frankie Spuntinos. We chose it because it was delicious and easy and not crazy expensive. The courtyard is picturesque with grapevines dangling above and you eat the really fricking delicious food they’ve got, family style which is very joyful and fun. We ordered a fluffy strawberry shortcake from a Japanese bakery. We used a florist that the restaurant has worked with before. We had a brief ceremony where our friend officiated and another played the cello. There was no dancing bc they have no cabaret license. We plugged in an iPod. Everything talked and laughed and toasted all night. It was simple and so no stress, we just showed up and when we were done we went to the bar down the block. Friends tell us to this was one of the most intimate fun weddings they remember bc it was just like a cozy dinner party. Recommend!!
posted by sestaaak at 6:38 PM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Looks like Field Station Dinosaurs accommodates parties.
posted by Sophont at 7:16 PM on January 14, 2019

We had a 50 person wedding by heading to our local chapel and buying a package deal. For dinner there was a small steakhouse nearby that we'd eaten at once, and we bought it out for the night, and basically got their dinner package. It was delicious. And it was easy. And all out decor fit into one small tote box because all these places are used to churning out weddings and are actual professionals and I didn't have to worry about it. My advice: buy the package deal. Personalization costs money.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 9:44 PM on January 14, 2019

I feel that guests are what make weddings expensive as well as stressful. Our wedding was very small in part due to my wife's extended family living some distance away and me being generally unpopular; had we done a bigger wedding, it would either been awkward/snubby/expensive with 95% of the guests being my wife's relatives or awkward/annoying/expensive with at least half of the guests being there for no reason than shared genetics. Plus, my wife is a person of faith, her extended family are pretty hardcore Evangelicals, I'm atheist, and my family are Catholic to varying degrees.

By limiting the ceremony to immediate family & some friends, probably less than 20 in all, we were able to have a lovely non-denominational afternoon at a local conservatory (There were turtles at my wedding!) officiated by a friend (Her gift to us!). Originally a dear friend of my wife was going to be the photographer, but as he was out of country he arranged for a friend to do it (His gift to us!). Another friend of my wife's made the cake. After the ceremony we went to a private room at a steakhouse (My parents' gift to us!).

With so few people we saved a lot of money & brainwork that would otherwise be spent on fooferah and logistics. I think our guests appreciated the intimacy and simplicity of the experience, and because we were pretty explicit on not expecting cash and prizes, they found ways to help that were very practical which were much appreciated.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:30 AM on January 15, 2019

Do you have a favorite restaurant with a private room? We had 50 guests at a restaurant with an officiant and DJ, did the flowers and favors ourselves, spent about $3000 in 2005. Where we failed was not hiring a photographer - I regret that to this day.
posted by jennypower at 5:50 AM on January 15, 2019

We got married in our backyard, with 101 guests. Here was our cost breakdown, if it helps.
23% on tent, tables and chairs, and porta-potties
20% on food (catering and serving)
16% on the groom's custom suit
13% on paying for hotels rooms for some family and friends
10% on the band

My dress, our rings, beer & wine, and some transportation costs were the rest. We picked flowers from the field and didn't have a photographer. I think it's clear that infrastructure is a big cost.
posted by minervous at 6:30 AM on January 15, 2019

Our original intention was to have a small affordable wedding largely focused on the food. It turned out to be more expensive than we anticipated, largely because our original target of 100 people turned out to not have been enough: once you start assuming people are bringing plus ones, and that you have to invite family on both sides, there are not a lot of people left over. Catering for that many people is inherently expensive unless you decide to get delivery pizza or something.

We also got a bunch of regular cakes instead of a wedding cake, and I think people enjoyed that because we got to have different flavors. We had much less leftover cake than we thought we would have. (8 8 inch cakes for 150 people? People like cake).
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:55 AM on January 15, 2019

You could do a wedding in Cold Spring in one of the parks next to the Hudson. Then, have the guests travel about 15 minutes to Fahrenstock State Park for the reception/meal; there is an old WPA built pavilion overlooking the Pond that is gorgeous. Or vice versa!

Just two spots nearby each other you can rent cheaply in two lovely settings.
posted by RajahKing at 7:33 AM on January 15, 2019

My solution: elope, then the Apology Tour afterwards. $40 for the Universal Life Church minister package plus $15 NYC officiant registration plus $35 for the marriage license, then get your friend to sneak you into a museum early to do the deed in front of your favorite painting or dinosaur — it’s the way to go. Sure, you’ll be buying dinner for people all year during the tour, but it’s way less stressful that way. (If you don’t have a friend who works in a museum, my second choice was to do it in a subway car. I’m sure we would have gotten a round of applause!)
posted by overleaf at 10:15 AM on January 15, 2019

I have had friends have full catered weddings in NY/New England at breweries and ski resorts. A spring/summer wedding at a ski resort can be more cost effective than a hotel/banquet hall.

We had a medium cost wedding but it was at a hotel with banquet space and an outdoor tent with everything - and I mean everything - included. They charged a per-head price for all the food and the cake/desserts and actual cost for the bar. We could choose to have open bar for some, all, or none of the reception. Doing a Sunday afternoon reception was half the price of a Saturday.

My brother also did a mid-day wedding and reception under a tent on the grounds of a historic mansion. The catering was all cold foods - significantly less stress in terms of serving and staff. They had a lot of guests but nobody got mad being last in line at the buffet and the food is cold.

The performing arts center I work at has multiple theatre and rehearsal/event rooms. They have on-site bartenders and can do drink service, they also have relationships with caterers. They used to say positively no weddings, but in recent years have opened up for smaller events, and it can be a great alternative venue. Check with local art museums, cultural centers, libraries, etc.
posted by sol at 7:10 PM on January 15, 2019

I had an affordable wedding which we mostly self-catered and produced with the help of friends who we hired - and it was still a total of near $10K. Because food and drink are so expensive (even though we self-catered food & drink was $1500), one of the best ways to cut costs is just not invite as many people. If you do want 100 people, then look at what you're doing for a meal as the main place you can cut. I've seen people have breakfast/brunch weddings, cocktail weddings with light cocktail foods, even potluck/BYO weddings.

In general I think you have to decide what elements are most important to you, and devote more budget to that. Sacrifice on things that are less important - like, you might not care about live music as much. We did so we spent less elsewhere.

Our breakdown of major costs:
30% on venue, which was also family accommodations
15% on food (self-catered, with donated labor)
5% on beverages
5% on rentals and decor (port-a-potty, dishware, tablecloths)
20% on services (minister, photography, floral)
10% on bridal gown and groom's outfit
15% on live music

For venue, check out local fraternal organization banquet and meeting halls. Elks, American Legions, German Clubs, etc - often have really nice halls that they'll rent for a few hundred bucks and few restrictions. Some are even super scenic. Marinas/yacht clubs are another possibility, as are summer camps in shoulder seasons. I actually can recommend you a great summer camp wedding venue in NJ if you want to MeMail me.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on January 16, 2019

I haaaate weddings and I am so uncomfortable getting dressed up and being the center of attention. I’m really happy with how my husband and I went about this.

We had a cheap wedding in Vermont (after a private city hall ceremony in maine). We rented a park pavilion for $200 (button bay in vergennes) and paid peoples entrance fees. Because it was a public park we needed licensed bartenders to serve alcohol. We had a few kegs and that was it. Pig roast and some salads. Instead of cake we had a chest freezer with ice cream novelties.

It was so so fun. We said our vows to each other and then people were free to roam around the giant park. It ended up being an all day thing. There are hiking trails, people can swim in lake Champlain, there was a pool and stuff for the kids. It was ridiculously cheap. We had no dj, we plugged our phone into a speaker. No photographer. We wore bathing suits and jeans. You can do it !
posted by pintapicasso at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2019

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