How to Find an Affordable Wedding Venue

FT Contributor  | 

If you are recently engaged, you’ve probably already determined one thing about planning a wedding: it’s expensive. According to the 2018 American Wedding Survey conducted by Brides magazine, the average total cost of a wedding is $44,000 — up from $27,000 the previous year.

The big jump in costs isn’t necessarily due to couples spending more on certain things, either. The researchers found that, on the whole, the actual cost of wedding related expenses increased across the board. One of those expenses? The venue.

In a survey by wedding planning website The Knot, couples reported allocating almost half of their wedding budgets to the venue, which has an average price tag of over $15,000. Some venues include extras like catering, flowers, a cake, and the services of a planner, but others don’t, meaning that it’s possible to spend thousands of dollars to secure only a space for your nuptials.

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. While an all-inclusive venue is an option, there are other affordable options that won’t take such a huge bite of your wedding budget.

Cheap Venue Options

Although you may have dreamed of a wedding in a five-star hotel ballroom or on the grounds of a historic mansion, the price tag of those venues might put them out of reach. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck for a beautiful wedding. A less expensive venue can be just as beautiful, without the hit to your wallet.

Here are some ideas for relatively low-cost wedding venues.

Airbnbs

Having your wedding at home is a time-tested way to save money on venue expenses, but what if your home isn’t ideal for such an important event? Enter Airbnb (or any other short-term, vacation rental option). You may be able to find a unique location, including a private home or a boutique hotel with the space and amenities for your wedding.

Nightly rates and policies vary, so communicate with the host about your plans to be sure you can use the property for your wedding. For example, you can rent a mansion in a Beverly Hills gated community for about $3,500 per night, or a waterside home on Cape Cod for $500 a night.

Churches

If you’re planning to have your wedding ceremony in a house of worship, ask about potential reception spaces as well. Many churches, chapels, synagogues and other houses of worship maintain event spaces that you can rent for a nominal fee.

For instance, a church in Cordova, CA charges $500, plus a cleaning fee, for the use of its social hall for weddings. In some cases, if you’re a member of the church, you may be able to use the space for free or at a significant discount. If you’re planning to use a church hall, keep in mind that there may be restrictions about alcohol, decorations, and other facets of the party.  

Courthouses

Courthouse weddings are often viewed as the fastest and least expensive way to tie the knot, and they often are. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a romantic and beautiful wedding, though. Although courthouses typically limit the number of people who can attend a wedding, the fee is typically $100 or less for the ceremony.

In Chicago, for example, couples can get married at the Marriage and Civil Union Court or Chicago Cultural Center for $60, and invite 15 or 20 guests respectively. In San Francisco, the fee is $90, and you may invite up to six guests.

Hotels

Hotels are a popular choice for weddings, as they offer venue space, overnight accommodations, and an array of additional services, from catering and flowers to wedding planning services. Many hotels offer package deals for weddings, including access to private wedding chapels.

For instance, in Newport, RI, the historic Hotel Viking offers wedding packages that include a ceremony at the 150-year-old Kay Chapel. Prices may vary considerably for hotel weddings, especially when you consider add-ons and extra fees, so carefully review contracts to determine what you’re actually paying for.

Private Residences

In terms of venue fees, a private residence is probably the most cost-effective, as it’s most likely free. However, depending on how lavish the event, there will be other costs, such as tent and seating for outdoor weddings and catering. Still, these costs are often much lower than renting an event space, and depending on the surroundings, you can potentially save even more on flowers and decor. Getting married in a beautiful garden, for instance, doesn’t require spending a fortune on flowers.

Public Spaces

Public spaces like parks, beaches, museums, and aquariums are often surprisingly affordable wedding locations. For instance, in Maine, couples can get married in historic Fort Williams Park, with the iconic Portland Head Light in the background, for $175. In Hawaii, He’eia State Park on Oahu offers a variety of wedding packages that include space for the ceremony and reception starting at $2,075. Public spaces have varying policies regarding the number of guests, when you can use the space, and other restrictions.

Theaters

Theaters often offer stunning architecture and plenty of space for a wedding and reception, at a fraction of the cost of other venues. For instance, the Columbia City Theater in Seattle offers wedding and reception packages starting at just $2,000.

Other Tips to Save on the Venue

Choosing an affordable venue is the best place to start saving money on your wedding, but there are some additional ways you can trim the costs.

Stay for the Reception

Traditionally, the wedding ceremony and reception are held at separate locations, but having everything in the same place will save money — and time. Many venues offer packages that include space for the ceremony at no additional cost.

Avoid Popular Scheduling Times

If you want to get married on a Saturday in June, you can expect to pay a premium for your venue. Event spaces charge more during peak times, so if you can, plan your wedding for a less popular time. A weekday wedding, for instance, might not be the most convenient for everyone, but a Thursday night wedding can save you thousands of dollars.

Consider Using a Credit Card

Using your credit card to fund your wedding, without cash on hand to pay the bill, is not a smart financial move. Racking up huge credit card bills can lower your credit score by increasing your utilization rate and reducing available credit.

That said, using a credit card dedicated to wedding expenses can be a smart financial move. A credit card can help you stay within budget, and provided you have a card with a 0% interest rate (at least to start) you can pay wedding expenses over time. Or, choose a card that offers travel rewards, and earn points or miles to put towards honeymoon expenses.

Avoid Venue Bundles

When comparing venues, pay close attention to the rental requirements. Some venues require that you choose from a preferred list of vendors for catering, the cake, music, and other services, which may be more expensive than other options. They may also charge fees that add up quickly, such as corkage fees for opening wine or cake cutting fees that can run several dollars per slice. You may be able to negotiate some of these costs, but even the most affordable venue is no bargain if you have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars extra for add-ons.


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