Looking for alternatives to traditional weddings? I don’t blame you.
According to The Knot, American weddings cost an average of $19,000 in 2020. That’s a lot of money – but it’s actually low compared to 2019’s pre-pandemic average of $28,000. These numbers are wild to me, especially considering the average American’s 401k balance between 25 and 34 (when most couples get married) is just $21,893, according to Personal Capital.
Beyond the cost, some might argue traditional weddings are also clichéd. If you have a contrarian streak, submitting to the norms extolled in countless cheesy rom coms might feel like self-betrayal.
Whether you’re rebellious, frugal, or both, keep reading as I share a few affordable and unique alternatives to traditional weddings.
10 alternatives to traditional weddings
1. Destination weddings
If you’re thinking, “a destination wedding?! I thought these ideas were supposed to be affordable,” here’s a fun fact. Destination weddings are actually cheap compared to traditional U.S.-based ceremonies, costing an average of $8,237 in 2019. Here’s the breakdown, according to DestinationWeddings.com:
- Airfare: $1,000
- Accommodations: $4,088
- Venue: $3,194
Guests typically pay for their own travel and accommodations. This may seem like a big ask of your family and friends. Consider, however, that out-of-town guests attending traditional weddings usually cover these costs for themselves anyway. You might actually be saving them money given how expensive hotels in the U.S. can be.
Another perk of having a destination wedding? You can combine the ceremony and honeymoon, saving even more money. According to The Knot, American couples spend an average of $5,000 on their first trip as newlyweds.
The downside, of course, is that some loved ones may not be able to attend your destination wedding. This might include those who would’ve attended a local ceremony but aren’t willing or able to cover travel costs. Consequently, destination wedding guests are typically limited to very close friends and family.
2. Backyard weddings
As many a couple who tied the knot during COVID-19 can attest, backyard weddings are cheaper than cheap.
For starters, there’s obviously no venue rental to worry about. That’s great news since The Knot pegs the average cost of renting a wedding venue at $10,500. You’ll also likely save some money on entertainment (which costs $4,900 on average) since the typical residential backyard isn’t big enough for a full band or DJ setup.
To save even more money, lean into the casual theme a backyard wedding implies with homemade decor. You can even make a bonding experience out of it, assembling your centerpieces and other decorative items with loved ones.
If your backyard isn’t suitable for a wedding (or you don’t have one), check Airbnb and private property rental listings nearby.
3. Getting married at your place of worship
While getting married at your place of worship is hardly untraditional, it certainly is cheap.
Most facilities request donations varying between $500 and $1,000. Some may require you to take paid marriage prep courses on top of that. However, your wedding’s price tag will still likely come in far lower than if you went with a commercial wedding venue.
If your place of worship has a basement or other space large enough to accommodate, you could even hold your reception there and save more money. Just inquire about any applicable code of conduct if you plan on getting rowdy!
Elopement is undoubtedly among the extreme alternatives to traditional weddings. As you probably know, it involves running away and getting married secretly, often without parental consent. The act also traditionally entails never returning to the place from whence you and your lover fled.
You don’t have to be that dramatic, though. In the 21st century, elopement can be as simple as sneaking off to Vegas for a weekend and announcing your new marital status upon returning.
Vegas has all kinds of cheap venues intended for quirky weddings like this. For example, you can get married at the Casino Wedding Chapel for as little as $149. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get married while flying over the city at night for $899 with Maverick Helicopters. That certainly beats $19,000!
Not sure whether you’d be able to keep such a big secret prior to eloping? Don’t worry; in Vegas, the process is simple enough that you could complete it spontaneously within a day or two. Particularly helpful is the fact Nevada imposes no mandatory waiting period between getting your marriage license and tying the knot. Not all jurisdictions are like this, though, so make sure you do some research beforehand.
5. City hall weddings
While some people dream of elaborate weddings in castles, my fantasy, as long as I can remember, has entailed getting married at city hall.
I mean, what’s not to love? It’s cheap, costing just $290 in Toronto. It can also be simple, consisting merely of the couple, an officiant, and a witness. Most municipalities welcome you to make the ceremony a bit more special by inviting additional guests, though.
If your city hall building is too dreary and contaminated with the stench of governmental stagnation to hold a wedding in, municipal parks are a related option worth considering.
One drawback of getting married at city hall is that you’ll likely need to arrange a separate reception venue, much like you would with any other ceremony-only facility. Other ideas on this list are admittedly more conducive to doubling up.
6. Getting married while on an adventure
If you and your partner are adrenaline junkies, why not get married while on an adventure?
For inspiration, check out this Utah couple who took the concept of “taking the plunge” literally and got married while skydiving. Of course, the ceremony itself was fairly small, consisting of a pastor, skydiving instructors, the couple, and cameramen. There’s no reason you couldn’t have loved ones waiting to greet you on the ground, though.
Other activities adventurous couples have engaged in while getting married include:
Be sure to account for any additional fees vendors might charge to accommodate a wedding’s logistics while keeping everyone safe. Still, though, your cost will likely come in far below that of a traditional wedding.
7. Costume-themed weddings
One wedding-related cost I haven’t mentioned yet concerns attire. It’s a big one, with The Knot pegging the average cost of a wedding dress at $1,600. On top of that, bridesmaid dresses cost $140 apiece on average while groomsmen outfits run $180 per person, according to this article.
While bridal party members and groomsmen typically pay for their own attire, some couples have a hard time asking loved ones to spend so much money. This is understandable since the couple ultimately dictates the party’s attire.
One alternative worth considering? A costume-themed wedding! While you’ll still be dictating what the wedding party wears, costumes don’t have to be expensive. You could even hit up your local party store right after Halloween and pick up costumes at a steep discount.
On a related note, if your wedding falls at the end of October, you could turn it into a Halloween party and let everyone dress up however they want.
I’ll be honest, this is a love-it-or-hate-it idea. You either think it’s tacky or the perfect way to have a laid-back, affordable, and memorable wedding. I fall into the former category but I know people who would have a blast going this route.
8. Double weddings
Are you and another close couple getting married around the same time? Why not combine the festivities?
While consumption-based costs (i.e. catering) will increase, you’ll likely save money on items such as the venue, entertainment, photography, invitations, and decor.
This idea could work particularly well if you and the other couple are keen on having destination weddings. Guests in your social circle wouldn’t have to find the money and vacation time for two weddings in one year.
Whether your double wedding takes place in an exotic destination or your hometown, make sure everyone involved is on the same page and doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight.
9. Virtual weddings
I’d be remiss to not mention this option amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even ignoring lockdowns, though, there are advantages to taking your wedding online.
For starters, you could book a smaller venue than usual and spend some of your savings on a videographer. Online guests would enjoy a high-quality stream and you’d have the footage to cherish forever.
With a virtual wedding, space on your guest list would also be virtually unlimited. You could invite hundreds or even thousands of people without worrying much about the logistics.
Keep in mind, a virtual wedding doesn’t have to be completely devoid of in-person guests. You could invite a few very close loved ones (i.e. the bridesmaids and groomsmen) and have everyone else watch remotely.
One drawback with having a virtual wedding, of course, is that you’ll miss the traditional reception. Consequently, this idea is arguably most suitable if you prefer low-key evenings over full-blown dance parties.
10. Office-style Niagara Falls wedding
Do you and your partner love The Office? If so, consider following in the Halperts’ footsteps with a wedding in Niagara Falls. As with many options on this list of alternatives to traditional weddings, your venue costs will be relatively low.
According to the Maid of the Mist’s website, you can arrange a wedding aboard their ship on fairly short notice. Just keep in mind, it likely won’t be a private affair. The Maid of the Mist doesn’t accept chartered bookings. For that, you’ll want to contact Niagara City Cruises.
Having been to Niagara Falls approximately 1,000 times, I can safely say it’s also a great city to hold your reception in. There are many local wineries, a casino, hotels, and parks nearby.
Other tips for saving money on your wedding
Now that I’ve shared 10 alternatives to traditional weddings, let’s explore a few other strategies for planning an affordable marriage ceremony.
1. Have a budget
Whenever you’re making emotionally charged decisions that could cost thousands of dollars, it’s wise to have a budget. Otherwise, you may find yourself signing terrible deals with vendors in the heat of the moment.
2. Choose your wedding date wisely
According to Dummies.com, June and September are the most popular wedding months. Conversely, January, March, April, and November see less demand. During these months, you’ll likely find better deals on venues, decorations, and vendors.
The weekday you choose also matters. Dummies.com reports venues are typically cheaper on any day that isn’t Saturday. Hotel bookings follow the same pattern, which out-of-town guests will appreciate.
3. Rent the wedding dress and groom’s attire
Wedding attire can be very expensive to buy and own. Consider renting those items at a fraction of their cost instead.
Of course, there’s no shame in shelling out thousands of dollars for clothes if they’re important to you and you can afford them. If you’re not particularly sentimental about attire, though, this is definitely an area to consider cutting back in.
4. Move your invitations online
Why are wedding invitations still printed? I have no idea. What I do know is that, according to The Knot, couples spend $590 on average for the dubious luxury of printed invitations.
Digital invitations aren’t just cheaper. They’re also more convenient for everyone. You can go all out with a fancy design and not worry about exorbitant printing costs. Additionally, your guests can RSVP online and save the date to their calendars with ease. It’s a no-brainer if you ask me.
5. Shop around for deals
As I mentioned earlier, wedding planning can be emotional. Even if you’re frugal, the significance of marriage may prompt you to seek nothing but the very best. People in the wedding business know this. They create a sentimental experience out of shopping for everything from wedding dresses to cakes and invitations.
As with every other major expense in life, though, it’s important to set limits and stay within them. This doesn’t necessarily mean buying the cheapest version of everything. Just don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find the sweet spot between what makes you and your fiancé happy and what keeps your budget intact.
6. Avoid financing
You can slap just about everything on credit these days. That’s a recipe for disaster, though.
Even if you’re saving money by going with one of the alternatives to traditional weddings I shared above, pay with cash. Avoiding monthly payments will help you focus on other important expenses (i.e. childcare costs and buying a house) as a newlywed couple.
Check out this article for some tips on saving $10,000 (which should be more than enough to pay for a consciously planned wedding) within a year. If you earn a liveable wage, it’ll be easier than you might think. If you earn very little money, though, check out this article for some low-income saving tips.
7. Schedule vendors wisely
Minimize the amount of time costly vendors (i.e. photographers and musicians) spend standing around doing nothing. Avoid booking anyone for the entire day unless it’s absolutely necessary.
I hope this article has given you some food for thought regarding planning a wedding that doesn’t break the bank. As you can see, it’s not impossible. Done right, you’ll likely end up with a unique wedding people remember for years to come.
For more practical money-saving tips and analysis, check out my articles here.