Small weddings are the new black! Am I right!?
The number of couples I have heard saying their small wedding was everything they didn’t know they wanted for their wedding day makes this planner’s heart oh so happy! Small weddings can absolutely still leave a big impact in the hearts of your loved ones. And will most likely leave you with more room for yourselves mentally and physically.
Here at Kindred Weddings and Events, we focus on small weddings, usually under 75 guests. The ever-growing guest list definitely can become a looming problem as you plan your wedding. As your guest list grows, it seems like the budget grows too. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that if you want to save money on your wedding, you need to chop your guest list.
No matter the size of your wedding guest list, your budget should always be approached in terms of priorities! No two weddings are exactly alike, because no two people are exactly alike. You and your partner may have different desires for the purpose of your wedding celebration. And that purpose will help guide how your budget unfolds.
If you are a couple who is planning a small or intimate wedding, it can be hard to find resources geared toward this type of event. Most online wedding budgets may be too broad and can leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
To help get you started, I am going to talk pretty generically about budget allotment in this post to help couples who are struggling with reigning in some of their wedding spending. Especially if you are downsizing your wedding day due to covid, it can be hard to know what vendor categories you should be spending on. I think it’s even more important to share what you DON’T need to be spending on.
For the purposes of this blog and the advice I’m sharing, I am focusing on guest counts of 50 or less.
In this most restrictive budget category, you will really want to hone in on the PURPOSE of your celebration. And you will most likely have to make some bigger cuts when it comes to stretching your budget. How you budget for your small wedding will really come down to necessity.
Maybe you are landscaping your backyard, or have a family member who can offer theirs as a celebration spot. Venues tend to eat up the largest chunk of a budget. So unless you want to spend it all in one place, the easiest way to re-allocate your budget is by getting thrifty with your venue.
But duly note, a backyard wedding is going to take much more planning and upfront legwork than a wedding at an all-inclusive venue where staff, food, rentals, set up, and clean up are all included.
If you are open to the concept, consider eloping. Choose a gorgeous location that means something to the two of you and invite a small handful of guests to witness your “I do’s”. While this allows you to avoid the high cost of a wedding venue, you will want to check if the area or location has a photo permit you will need to submit for.
If you have a very limited budget, the easiest way to stay within your financial comfort zone is to limit your guest list. For traditional weddings with a ceremony and dinner reception, most of my clients are spending between $500-$700 per person (on top of a fixed cost of $10k for an estimated elopement).
You will have these photos for a lifetime. I know it can be tempting when you spot a “deal” in a Facebook group. Just make sure to do your research and ask lots of questions.
Ask to see a full wedding gallery. What is their turnaround time for editing? How many photos you can expect? Do they bring a second shooter? How long they have been photographing weddings? (Yes – weddings specifically because they are SO different from other events).
Don’t forget you can ASK for a customized package! Maybe a photographer can stay within your budget for 4 hours of coverage instead of 8. Maybe they have an associate who can shoot the wedding day and they will edit all the photos. Be upfront, but also understanding if your budget and their proposal do not align.
2) Food (including alcohol + dessert)
People will always remember if they had good food or terrible food. Even if they don’t always remember exactly what they ate!
If you want to focus on satisfying your guests with a tactile experience, focus on what they will interact with the most. Definitely going to be the food if you plan to keep them around for a longer part of the day.
While you may not have the budget for a full catering kitchen build out with staff, maybe a local catering company does meal drop off. In the pandemic, look for individually packaged meals for guests to help encourage health and safety. You can even use your favorite local restaurant to help keep a small business afloat.
For this budget type you’ll also want to consider the following categories to help round out your wedding celebration:
As your budget starts to open up, your dreams of something elegant and inviting may start to expand as well. Just make sure you are starting first with your priorities, and then moving onto the elements that can enhance and create intentionality.
When it comes to a venue, with a $10k budget for your wedding I highly suggest relying on a free venue, like a friend or family members home. Another option is to utilize a venue that offers an hourly rate for their space to keep costs down.
1) Photography (see above)
2) Food (see above)
You don’t want your 98-year-old grandma to be sitting on a hard hot metal chair during your wedding! Make sure you take the time – and BUDGET – to focus on emphasizing comfort for your guests.
Think about the elements of the day they will interact with the most. Chairs that they will sit in during the ceremony and dinner. Napkins they will use all dinner long should be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It’s also important to consider having extras on hand of silverware and glassware in case there are any items that need to be replaced.
Florals are the perfect enhancer for an eye-catching event. They add texture, color, and layers to a wedding venue, ceremony, reception, and bridal style.
These accents can also serve a functional purpose – elevating a blank or unsightly wedding venue. Do you want to cover-up a bland wood fence – add a beautiful or unique arch with florals. Do you want to draw your guest’s eye to the dining tables instead of the rain gutters you forgot to clean out – add some luscious florals.
With a small wedding, you won’t be in need of too many types of arrangements. Think again about what your guests are going to interact with the most. Consider repurposing your ceremony arch to frame your sweetheart or head table. Use your table arrangements to line the ceremony aisle for an added pop of enhancement.
As you near a budget that opens more doors, it can be easy to fall prey to guest list scope creep. This is when I encourage couples to go back to the wedding purpose they defined for the day. Was it to gather intentionally? Or was it so they could avoid feeling guilty about not inviting so-and-so because our societal constructs told them they should?
When we explore how to budget for a small wedding, more money can sometimes mean more problems. It can also mean more opportunities to enchant your guests and really draw them into a world you’ve designed that reflects who you are.
1) Photography (see above)
2) Food (see above)
3) Rentals (see above)
4) Florals (see above)
5) Wedding Planner or Coordinator
Even a small wedding needs a wedding planner or coordinator to help navigate a sea of information. To help transpose your vision into reality. To help battle conflicting expectations and challenges along the way. And you still deserve the time and wherewithal to be present just like a wedding guest!
What should you not be doing? Worrying about why the food isn’t served on time, what event is coming up next, or squeezing in the last few photos before your photographer has to leave.
Taking on all the responsibility to answer every question and put out every fire, leaves you with little to no time to be present and enjoy the event!
A professional wedding planner:
6) Venue and/or Staffing
The simplest thing you can do to ease the stress and strain of involving your guests and loved ones in your wedding day is to hire out help! A wedding venue, although a sizable investment, can provide more than just a special location for your “I do’s”.
All-inclusive venues provide basic rentals like tables, chairs, linens, and place settings. This style of venue will also most likely provide physical help for set up and clean up. The most inclusive will provide full-service catering, including staff for cooking and serving.
If a private residence or estate is your wedding location of choice (or simply what is available to you at this time), another great investment to get back your time is staffing.
Not only will it elevate your event to have staff bussing your tables, instead of having guests gets up to throw their own trash away. Having staff on site also creates a buffer between your loved ones and their role. It becomes clear they are guests and you are hosting them. They are cued to relax and be present with you, instead of constantly looking over their shoulders trying to anticipate what task they need to help you with next.
7) DJ or Live Musicians
The mood and ambiance of your wedding is not just set by what your guests see, but also by what they hear. A backyard can be transformed into a garden with a lovely string quartet. A courtyard becomes a jazz festival with a sizzling dance floor when you add in some brass.
Also, it helps to have someone ELSE to set the tone of the celebration. Instead of you feeling the strain of being pulled in so many different directions.
Many family members or friends may be traveling from out of town for your wedding day. And sometimes a day doesn’t ever seem to encapsulate the true meaning of what you want to convey. Maybe it’s time to extend the party a little.
Again, keeping in mind health and safety mandates, you could either curate an experience with your guests over the wedding weekend. Or bring in some extraordinary type of entertainment for your celebration evening.
If you are choosing to forego any of the wedding traditions that usually occur after a wedding ceremony, your budget is going to spread out a bit differently than I advised above.
The given elements you will already be including in your budget are your wedding day attire, hair and makeup, officiant, and rings.
4) DJ or Live Musicians
5) Venue – here are a few of my favorite Los Angeles venues that are now offering ceremony only rental packages!
Some venues, like Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes, offer ceremony only rentals. You can see more of this Wayfarers Chapel wedding here!
Planning a small wedding is no easy feat! It takes a lot of diligence, patience, and adaptability especially if you are already on plan B or plan C.
The above budgets are categorized based on items that will either produce long-lasting memories or improve the quality of comfort of your guests. But there are always going to be exceptions that need to be made. Make sure you have already designated those in your “planning party” (those who are helping you make decisions) and your top priorities.
If getting started planning your small wedding seems a daunting task drop me an email! Maybe you need a quick boost of confidence in your initial gut feelings on a vendor. Or maybe you need a resource to light the way to discovering the purpose and focus of your wedding. I’m here for you, so you can make sure you show up as your best selves on your wedding day. Present and ready to love on your most cherished relationships!
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Sarah is a Los Angeles wedding planner ready to
elevate all your relationships through small and intimate weddings.