We had visions of our dream wedding reception: twinkling candles, great food and an open cocktail bar.
We wanted a distinctive, memorable atmosphere where our friends and family could meet each other, share laughs and end the night with sore feet from dancing.
The trouble was the cost.
As a 30-year-old college graduate saddled with student loans, money is something I don’t have much of. My husband is foreign, and while he worked regularly in his own country, moving here means his income is capped at exactly $0 until he is issued a work permit.
So we really wanted to save money on wedding expenses.
The “W” Word
As soon as we got engaged, we did what all couples do — we told everyone!
The more people we talked to, the more we realized no single word raises the rates for services as quickly as the word wedding. My husband moved across the ocean to marry me, but the mounting wedding costs was going to price us out of having one!
Did the w-word condemn us to debt-inducing prices? We decided to find out.
How the Word “Wedding” Raises the Price of Services
We began by cold-calling our favorite venues. I asked each place about their rates, and took note of what each wedding package included and charged.
Days later, I called again. This time, I asked if the properties were available for private parties. I explained that my husband and I were already married and wanted to arrange a gathering for our families who were unable to attend our wedding.
Every single venue was cheaper to book for a private party than it was for a wedding, often by thousands. Plus, there was no difference between what was included in a private party rental versus a wedding rental. If, for example, police security was part of a package, it was provided for both.
What It Cost to Have a Reception Months After Our Wedding
We got married at a courthouse on a random Tuesday in March with only a U.S. Marshall as our witness. The wedding cost us $72.
Months later, our finances improved, so we called our favorite venues. I described with complete honesty what I wanted. I didn’t want anyone to feel duped, so I told them everything — we wanted a dinner and a chance to exchange some homespun vows in front of loved ones.
Because we were already married, every location we called offered us their corporate or private party rates.
Here’s the full breakdown of what our venue charged for a wedding, versus our delayed reception.
Cost of a Wedding at Our Venue
- For a traditional wedding, our venue charges $7,000 during their off-season and $8,000 during their busy season; we’re having our reception during the high season. You can rent the location for up to 10 hours.
- There’s a flat fee of $200 for chair and table set up.
- The candle package costs $1,000.
- Our venue only works with vendors with a catering license. Catering averages $68 per head, according to The Knot. We’ve invited 100 people, so food would cost roughly $6,800. A cocktail hour or open bar would raise that cost considerably.
- Plus, the venue offers enough beds for 12 people to sleep over. This costs an additional $1,000, and to stock the place with breakfast food and drinks would cost $2,400 per 10 people.
If we were hosting a regular wedding reception at this venue, we’d need to budget $16,000, not including music, the sleepover or décor (excluding candles).
Cost of a Private Party at Our Venue
- Private parties are $700 per hour. We rented our venue for four hours, so it cost us $2,800.
- We added the chair and table setup for $200.
- We are allowed to bring our own candles and twinkling lights, which cost us $150.
- We are also allowed to bring in our own premade food, or use the facility’s two kitchens to cook onsite. We spent $400.
- We can bring our own booze, and we spent roughly $800.
All told, our private party will cost $4,350.
Waiting to throw our reception until months after our wedding helped us cut our wedding costs by $11,650.
By avoiding ready-made wedding packages, we’re throwing the party we want at the venue of our dreams — without blowing our budgets.
Your Turn: Would you have a reception months after your wedding date to save on costs?
Kerry Aberman studied creative writing at UCLA and UMN. She is currently freelancing and writing her first book, while living with her British rocker husband in New Orleans.