A wedding venue alone can cost upward of $30,000 — and that’s before paying for food, drink and attire. To keep costs down, starting with an affordable venue can allow couples more freedom down the road to decorate and personalize a space.
Consider these 10 affordable wedding venue alternatives to save money and start married life on the right financial foot.
— Historic site.
— Vacation home.
— Park or beach.
— National park.
— Barn or garage.
— City hall or courthouse.
Libraries and museums can be home to incredible architecture and relate to something personal about the bride or groom, making these sites both stunning and emotionally significant for couples. They’re also generally available at a reasonable price.
Consider public libraries, like the Boston Central Library which was constructed in 1895 and features long reading rooms, stunning windows, a barrel vault and a coffered ceiling, or the George Peabody Library in Baltimore, known as the “cathedral of books.” The more popular the venue, the more expensive it may be, however, so look for lesser-known libraries as well.
To make this venue choice personal, a couple with a love for impressionist painters might choose to wed in an art museum displaying a stunning Monet.
[READ: How to Save for a Wedding.]
Venues may appear inexpensive — until you realize they don’t include elements like chairs, tables, glassware and decor. Choosing an all-inclusive option might mean paying a higher fee upfront, but it could save couples in rental costs down the road.
When deciding between venues, couples should be sure they’re comparing apples to apples and review exactly what’s included in a wedding package, says Leah Weinberg, owner and creative director of Color Pop Events in New York.
“There’s no consistency among venues, which is part of the tricky thing,” Weinberg says. She says couples should ask questions like, “What does the venue come with? Are there service charges? Is there tax on top of that?”
The Lockwood Library and Museum in Texas is both a historic site and an all-inclusive wedding venue offering a wedding package for 120 guests for $7,500. This package even includes save-the-date cards and invitations, alongside other typical offerings like linens, coordination, cake, music and bartending. A weekend at Kennolyn’s Hilltop Hacienda Estate in California is $2,500 for use of the resort and $11,000 for an all-inclusive wedding featuring coordination, a DJ and all table and linen necessities.
Scroll through sites like Airbnb to find a vacation home available for events. The rental fee is typically much less than a similar wedding venue might cost, and vacation homes can set the stage for a beautiful backyard wedding and provide a place for family and friends to crash after the reception.
This Vermont mansion on Airbnb sets wedding fees by guest count: $1,000 for up to 34 guests, $1,500 for up to 50 guests, $2,500 for up to 75 guests and $3,000 for up to 100 guests. Some venues are even located on small or private islands, such as this New York Airbnb, which is $1,300 per night listed as a historic home perfect for events.
It’s common to host wedding ceremonies in a church, typically for a small fee or no fee if individuals are members of the church, but these locations can also serve as a reception venue. While a church basement may seem too simple for some couples, it’s possible to dress up almost any space.
“We’ve seen couples do everything from the nicest, fanciest venue you can imagine down to the church basement while using do-it-yourself rentals to add that extra touch,” says Marie Kubin, CEO of Rent My Wedding. “Whether it’s a finishing touch on a beautiful venue or something that will completely makeover and transform a plain venue into something really unique.”
Local schools may also offer opportunities for couples to use their spaces, particularly in the summer when students are away on break, as a wedding venue. Schools often have large gymnasiums and lunch rooms sitting empty in the summer months, creating a great opportunity for budget-aware couples.
Kubin says to dress up these spaces, couples can use do-it-yourself rentals such as curtains, draping, lighting and backdrops to create that classic reception hall look at a school or other plain venue space.
Local Park, Beach or Garden
Any public, outdoor space is likely going to be inexpensive to rent when compared with rental fees associated with hotels and restaurants.
Virginia Beach, for example, charges couples a beach wedding ceremony fee of $200, and a permit to get married on Miami Beach costs $250. Some beaches have strict limitations regarding food and beverages and flowers, so be sure to read the fine print before choosing a public space as your venue.
The views and sites at a national park cannot be beaten. Particularly for the adventurous and outdoorsy couple, locations like Glacier National Park or Zion National Park would make for incredible photos at a minimal price.
Glacier National Park, for example, charges couples $150 for a permit to get married in the park and each wedding site has strict limitations for the number of guests and vehicles that can accompany the couple.
A simple backyard wedding may be just what you’re looking for. Borrowing a home with a large backyard from a family member or friend can be a completely free way to find the space for a wedding.
Wedding planners caution, however, that choosing a blank canvas space not typically home to a large event may require lots of tables, chairs and tent rentals, which can be costly. As such, these venues might be best for smaller, more simple ceremonies and receptions if a couple is particularly budget-conscious.
Barn or Garage
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many couples have been opting for smaller, more intimate weddings. To allow for some indoor space at a small backyard wedding, couples can opt to transform a garage with curtains, lighting and a beautifully arranged reception table.
“We recently had someone who used their garage for a very small wedding during the pandemic. They covered up tools hanging on the walls with draping, and we have the pictures posted on our website now and people don’t even have a clue it was a garage. No one can believe it when we show them the before photos,” Kubin says. “It’s amazing what you can do with the right decorations.”
Barns might also do the trick, particularly if one can be borrowed or rented for a small fee from a local friend. Like a garage, these spaces can also be dressed up to fit the vibe of the day.
City Hall or a Courthouse
When all else fails, a city hall or courthouse wedding can be gorgeous in its own right. Like other historic sites such as libraries and museums, local city halls and courthouses might offer the same elegance and architecture at an even smaller price.
One good thing to emerge from the pandemic has been a sense of freedom among couples, Jessica Bishop, founder of The Budget Savvy Bride says, allowing them to choose options like a city hall wedding without worrying about what family members and friends might think.
“Weddings are like snowflakes. There are so many personal circumstances and financial situations and expectations from families,” Bishop says. “My whole philosophy on weddings is to plan a savvy event: something within your means, including the most important people but not every person you’ve ever met, and to focus on the meaning of the day rather than the spectacle of the day.”
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Update 08/24/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.