Host a Fabulous Reception without Breaking the Bank

Food, dancing, cake, champagne, music, escort cards, guestbooks – it can get expensive pretty quick.  But with some extra effort and a little DIY, you can make it frugal and fabulous.


This is an area you can get really creative in, but can also become really costly.  Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • DO NOTHING:  If you read my post from earlier this week on Finding the Perfect (and perfectly priced) Venue, you’ll recall I suggested taking decor into account when choosing a venue.  If you host your reception in a private home or garden that has spectacular scenery, you may not need to do a thing!

Chris Zarconi Photography (actual photo of my ceremony & reception spot!)

  • CENTERPIECES:  I wanted to have a mixture of different wild flowers in mason jars for our outdoor reception.  The morning of the wedding, my fiancé, his best man, the best man’s wife and I all ran out to the local grocery store and purchased whatever wild flowers looked nice (total of $47).  We placed them in mason jars ($8 for 12) along with some vintage books ($0 – already owned) and voila!  $55 for 8 centerpieces.

Jimmy Klein Photo

  • TWINKLE LIGHTS: Helloooo – just check out the photo below.  Nuf said.  If done correctly, your old Christmas lights (untangled of course) can add a really romantic feel to your space.  String them across rafters or in trees.  Just remember to bring extension cords.

    Jagger Photography


For our wedding we did almost everything ourselves (and with the help of our friends).  But the food for the reception was not something we wanted to push onto someone else.  If you have a chef for a brother or a cousin who owns a restaurant, then you might as well skip this section, but for the rest of us:

  • BUFFET vs. SEATED DINNER : You know the answer to this already.  A buffet style dinner is going to be less expensive because you aren’t paying for the additional wait staff or more food.  It also gives people more options and the ability to choose the quantity of food they want.  Ask the caterer to pack up the leftover food for you (great for late night munchies with the wedding party!).

Karen Mordechai

  • RESTAURANTS/SMALL CATERING CO: We saved a bundle by picking a local restaurant to cater the event instead of a traditional catering company.  They provided just the food and serving equipment plus 2 staff members to set up, refill the buffet, and clean up.  Small or independent catering companies are a great way to go as well.  An up-and-coming or new business might give you a good deal to get their foot in the door with wedding planners and venues.


  • BEVERAGES:  Where you get your alcohol could depend greatly on your venue and caterer, so be sure to ask them first.  Our venue let us bring in our wine and beer.  We made a trip to our local discount liquor store and brought in cases of wine, beer, sangria and champagne for our guests.  It was a great way to save some money and no feel like we had to ration the drinks.  We purchased $20 drink dispensers from CB2 and kept them full of lemonade, iced tea and sangria throughout the day as well.

Pottery Barn


  • GLASSWARE: Believe it or not, we found that purchasing wine glasses, champagne flutes and bar glasses from IKEA was cheaper than renting or purchasing plastic.  After the wedding we sold the extra glassware on Craigslist or gave it to friends who were interested.

John Perrin Photography

  • TABLES/CHAIRS/LINENS: We rented tables, chairs and linens from a local party rental company.  I looked into other options, but the easy of having someone drop off and pick them up was worth it.  We did save money by setting them up ourselves (I’ll admit it, I’m OCD and got up the morning of the wedding and did a lot of it myself).  Cut down on costs by asking family to lend you vintage tablecloths (for a mixed-matched feel) or use the venue’s plain white/cream but dress up the centerpieces to compensate.

Table 4 Photography


This falls into the category of you-get-what-you-pay-for.  If your perfect wedding has a 12 piece band, I have no advice for you.  But since we’re talking about inexpensive weddings here, I’ve got some advice:

  • MP3 YOUR HEAR OUT:  Make a CD, iPod playlist, cassette tape, 8 track, whatever.  Make it at home with music you love and you’ll love it.  You know what you’ll also love?  Making the music list together and listening to songs that remind you of times in your relationship or songs you danced to in high school.  It’s a fun project!
  • STUDENTS:  Hire a music, opera, or theater student from a local college.  They’ll be cheap, eager for the cash and will do a wonderful job!

The last post in our series will go up on Friday!  Don’t miss: Photography, Favors & Accessories on a Budget


4 thoughts on “Host a Fabulous Reception without Breaking the Bank

  1. Don’t forget for music, you’ll have to rent speakers if you don’t have a good, loud portable player or a bigger space. We got ours from a DJ company with a mixer for $185 for the weekend (and this is a great task for some of artistically impaired and technically inclined of the crew).


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