Choosing an unusual venue, one that people might not immediately think of when planning a wedding, may or may not be cheaper than your typical banquet hall, but you might be inspired to think outside the box when it comes to the rest of the details. And thinking outside the box is key to planning a wedding on a budget! I made this wedding board with an art gallery venue in mind, but there are all kinds of places to rent out that aren’t your usual hotel ballroom. Museums, theaters, farms… While your guests might forget all of the tiny details, they’ll certainly remember a unique and visually interesting venue.

Who says…your reception has to be in a ballroom or banquet hall?

Mood: cleverly modern
Palette: white, lavender, gray

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Top row from left: balloon centerpieces via Brooklyn Bride, frozen vodka “bucket” by Michaele Thunen, stitched invitations by Bird & Banner, vintage veil photo by Ron Wurzer
Row 2: jars of buttons via Dreamhouse, picture frame photobooth by Front Room Photography via Bespoke, art gallery
Row 3: lobster summer rolls from Brides, dress from J.Crew, bouquet via Thoughtful Day, pocket square from Martha Stewart Weddings
Row 4: cake photo by Sugar Love, crayon favor from Maria McBride, stamped escort cards photo by Amy Squires, earrings by One Small Star via Handcrafted

The Paper: It is always cheaper to print in one color than two (or four), but borrow a tip from the talented ladies at Bird & Banner, and stitch a line of colorful thread across the top of your invites for a little something extra. For your seating cards, sit down in front of a movie and stamp away, using rubber stamps to spell out your guests’ first names. If you feel really ambitious, stamp one letter in color (maybe just the letter “R” or something like that).

The Fashion: J.Crew is a great place to find some pretty wedding dresses for reasonable prices – this one for $895 has some darling detailing at the bust. Accessorize with a vintage veil and these sweet pearl earrings from One Small Star for only $30 (they’d also make great bridesmaid gifts). For the groom, how about a pocket square in one of your colors in lieu of a boutonniere? You can find them for as little as $5 at department stores, and there are several ways you can fold them.

The Decor: Large round balloons are a great way to make a visual impact for about 25-cents apiece, and hang numbered tags from the strings as clever table numbers. Large jars full of buttons (or other simple objects like stones, sand, small plastic toys…) are an interesting decoration that doesn’t have to cost a lot. For something pretty at the bar, make an ice bucket and freeze branches, flowers, herbs or sliced fruit in the ice.

The Flowers: Eschew flowers except for the bouquets. Splurge on your own – mix purple clematis with dusty miller and lamb ears to fit with this color palette – and keep the bridesmaid bouquets a bit smaller and simpler.

The Food: To save, use more expensive ingredients in hors d’oeuvres rather than in entrees, like the lobster in these summer rolls (an interesting note about lobster here). If you want to offer guests more than just a signature cocktail, but less than a full bar, buy vodka in bulk: according to Peter Callahan, vodka is the most popular item at the bar. He also says that “as long as you’ve prearranged it with your supplier, you can return [extra, unopened bottles], and there’s nothing cheesy about that.” For your cake, order one that is incredibly simple, and decorate it yourself with a fun topper, fondant letters, or a stencil.

Other Details: For an art gallery reception, why not let your guests get a little creative? Cover the tables with white butcher paper, and place a bundle of crayons at each seat for guests to doodle. The crayons can even double as a favor. Another fun idea is to set up a photobooth area for guests with a large empty frame in it.

Splurges: If the groom has reason to wear a suit again, splurge on a nice one. A well-fitted suit will always be in style, and can even be worn as separates after the wedding (for example, pair the jacket with jeans for a night out).

For Free: Get your friends and family involved. Ask someone with a musical talent to play during the ceremony, or have your great-aunt bake her famous lemon bars, or see if your friend with a sewing machine won’t make the flower girl’s dress or ring pillow. The people who love you probably have more varied talents than you might know.

Real Wedding Inspiration: Naomi & Mike via Little White Book

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There are all kinds of reasons a couple might decide to elope, but whatever the reason, it is certainly one way to cut costs. For this budget wedding inspiration board, I imagined an elopement/mini-moon to New York City, full of classic New York elements and plenty of romantic details. A huge wedding extravaganza is one way to go, but…

Who says…you have to tell people about your wedding and invite them to it?

Mood: spontaneously romantic
Palette: gold, green, pink

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Top row from left: photo by Dave Robbins, dress from Delia’s, New York Postcards photo by Raquel Reis, The Met rooftop photo from Phil Jones’ flickr
Row 2: marriage certificate photo by Our Labor of Love, camera photo by One Love Photo, cupcakes via Daisy Pink Cupcake
Row 3: Central Park Boathouse Restaurant, bouquet by Saipua, Catherine Rapetti leather clutch from Bluefly
Row 4: gold Manolo Blahnik from Barneys, Express Design Studio suit from GQ via East Side Bride, gold band from Sundance, photo from Ozzdo’s flickr

The Paper: There are no invitations to send out, but if you plan on having a celebration of some kind later with friends and family, pick up some New York postcards for as little as 5 for a $1. You can either hand write the invitations, or have a rubber stamp made of all the information the way the Nole and Andrew did. Of course, there’s that key piece of paper that says you’re married… no matter where you might elope to, find out what paperwork you need and when you’ll need it.

The Fashion: How about an adorable short dress that will travel well? This one from Delia‘s is only $35! If you want something a little more formal and unique, how about this one by Phillip Lim for $750? Pair it with a perfectly-sized leather clutch – one you’ll certainly use again – for $161 from Bluefly (a great site to find deals on accessories and even dresses). Buy the groom a suit he can wear again for only $250, and follow GQ’s tips for making a less-expensive suit “look like a million bucks.”

The Decor: With a venue like Central Park, there’s no need to decorate anything. Besides, who are you trying to impress – it’s an elopement!

The Flowers: You can do with or without a bouquet, but it’s a nice detail to add. Either plan ahead and call a local floral designer, or stop in to a flower shop and hope they have something available, or can whip something up for you (at her new shop, Ink & Peat, Pam sells pre-made bouquets for around $30, so it’s worth a shot!).

The Food: Grab lunch at the Central Park Boathouse – or any number of incredible restaurants in the city – followed by a cupcake from one of the many bakeries all over Manhattan (I don’t care how cliché it is, Magnolia Bakery is still my personal favorite). Later, head to the roof of the Met for cocktail hour.

Other Details: How about a simple gold band for only $168? After lunch, rent a boat and spend some time on the lake in Central Park – for only $10 an hour! For other fun ideas of what to do for a romantic trip to New York, check out this romantic itinerary from New York Magazine.

Splurges: How about a pair of pricey gold Manolo Blahnik’s from Barneys? $665 is a lot of money to spend on shoes any day, no matter what, whether you’ll wear them again or not – but if it’s your sort of thing, New York City is the place to do it. Also, just because it’s an elopement doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire a photographer – you’re still creating memories worth capturing on film, and New York is full of incredible backdrops. Also, if your elopement is a spontaneous event, you might be able to get a deal by booking someone at the last minute (though you might not be able to get exactly who you want).

For Free: With a small group of people, you might skip getting a permit for a wedding ceremony in Central Park and keep your fingers crossed that the location you’ve chosen is available – or don’t choose a location until you get there!

Real Wedding Inspiration: Tina & Brian

A Note: I didn’t create this New York-inspired board with the intention of posting it today, but I think it is fitting. It doesn’t feel like seven years since I woke up in my dorm room in Manhattan on that Tuesday morning, because I can still remember everything. No matter how 9/11 has been used to justify hate and to promote agendas and careers, it does not change that for me, today will always be a day to remember and honor those who lost their lives and their loved ones. I hope that you will do the same, and may peace be with you.

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Ever since I first saw this spread from the Summer 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings, I have been in love with the idea of a picnic wedding. You can dress it up or keep it casual, and either way, it’s an unexpected idea for a wedding reception. If you love the idea but want a more formal, traditional wedding, this can work just as well for a rehearsal lunch. You can easily spend a chunk of money on picnic food, but you don’t have to. I mean…

Who says…a meal can’t cost under $20 per person?

Mood: playful, casual
Palette: yellow, red, white

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Top row from left: yellow cardigan photo via Brooklyn Bride, letter-style invitation from Martha Stewart Weddings, bench photo from flickr, bowl of berries and chamomile from La Tartine Gourmande
Row 2: lunch boxes via Lucky Me!, ring pillow photo by The Studio Nouveau, cherry lemonade from Martha Stewart, flying a kite
Row 3: shoes from Zappos, wheelbarrow cooler photo by Heather Forsythe, picnic blankets photo by Liz Banfield, chamomile from Martha Stewart Weddings
Row 4: yellow ceremony program photo via {frolic!}, cakes photo by Jessamyn Harris, bouquet from Brides, sign photo by White Box Weddings

The Paper: Set the tone for a playful, casual wedding with an invitation meant to look like a hand-written note. Either use your own handwriting, or employ someone with handwriting you like to do it for you, then have it printed and mail it out in a colorful envelope. Simple ceremony programs are trimmed with pinking scissors and tied with ric-rac to give them a fun touch.

The Fashion: Buy a simple dress and embellish it yourself, with appliques, pleating, ribbon, or even tulle flowers. Accessorize with a vintage cardigan and simple jewelry. Zappos is a great resource for shoes – this pair of cute yellow flats is only $60 – and they offer not only free shipping on orders, but also free shipping on returns.

The Decor: Holding your wedding in a public park (or anywhere that is already attractive on its own) is a great way to save on decorations, and can be a cheaper venue than many others. Check out local public parks as well as state parks in your area. Paper lanterns or crepe paper streamers hung in trees are a cost-effective way to add some color to your venue.

The Flowers: If your guests are eating at picnic tables, decorate with simple arrangements of chamomile flowers or small bowls of summer fruit (check IKEA for bowls under $1), which are both pretty and edible. For your bouquet, mix pricier flowers, like garden roses, with cheaper ones and tie it with a pretty eyelet ribbon.

The Food: Serve picnic lunches in gable boxes or even simple brown bags for as little as $10 per person (you can make them yourself, or ask a local cafe or deli about their boxed lunches). Ask your friends and family members to contribute homemade desserts for a dessert buffet – you can even have bags for guests to take extra cookies home. A wheelbarrow makes for a clever cooler for drinks, and a large jar is a pretty way to serve punch.

Other Details: Save on a DJ or band, by having fun activities for your guests instead of dancing. Ask them to bring kites and set up a game of horseshoes or badminton. If you have a knack for sewing, you can make your own picnic blankets, or you can do what my mother used to do for school auctions: buy moving blankets for $6 apiece and paint large floral designs all over them with acrylic or fabric paint. Not only will they provide your guests with a place to sit, but they make for great favors.

Splurges: Rent a photobooth! The photos are fun keepsakes for you and your guests, and some companies have a flat rate with as many photos as your guests can take. Or, you can set up your own photobooth with a backdrop of interesting fabric and a Polaroid camera.

For Free: At my cousin’s wedding this summer, when the officiant asked “Who gives this woman/man?” the entire bride’s side and groom’s side responded with “We do!” respectively. What a fun way to include your loved ones! You can let your guests know their line at the front of the program.

Real Wedding Inspiration: Michelle & Noah, via A Practical Wedding and The Bride’s Cafe part one and two; Amanda & Eddie via A Practical Wedding

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Holding your wedding on an off-day, or in the off-season, is a great way to save. You’ll have an easier time negotiating prices with vendors on a Friday than on a Saturday, and certainly in the winter than in the spring and summer months. Seasonal elements are also key to sticking to a budget, and there are so many lovely details that are unique to a winter wedding.

Who says…you have to get married in June?

Mood: winter sophistication
Palette: evergreen, shades of brown, white

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Top row from left: altar via Elizabeth Anne Designs, cupcakes photo by Frances Photography, calligraphy by Tara Jones, winter bride from Martha Stewart Weddings
Row 2: pinecone boutonniere by Jo Gartin for In Style Weddings, the War Memorial Green Room via Weddingbee, photo by Tiffany Aicklen
Row 3: customized matchbooks by Amber Chic, gloves from Martha Stewart Weddings, candle centerpieces from Red Orchid Design, photo via Cannelle et Vanille
Row 4: ice candles from Mi Mi Design, crabcakes from La Gentille Bonne, pinecone escort cards photo by Carol Masica, blusher veil from Martha Stewart Weddings

The Paper: Having a calligrapher write out invitations in your favorite script is a formal and elegant option that is significantly cheaper than going through an entire graphic design process. Instead of letterpress, probably your most expensive option, go with offset or thermography which can be just as beautiful and are certainly significantly cheaper.

The Fashion: A long-sleeved dress is perfect for a winter wedding. Accessorize with a pair of vintage short gloves borrowed from your mother or grandmother, or found at an antique shop, and a second-hand blusher veil. To go with the season, the groom could wear a sweater vest under his jacket, which he could easily wear again after the wedding.

The Decor: Seasonal floral options are limited in the winter, but not to worry! Candles are cheaper than most flowers, and en masse they create a warm and romantic atmosphere. Branches, evergreens, and pine cones are all great non-floral options. For some color, spray paint branches or pine cones gold or silver, or something completely unexpected, and group them together for a winter centerpiece. Finally, by choosing a beautiful venue, you’ll have less decorating to do, so that might be a place to consider splurging.

The Flowers: Forgo the floral bouquet and boutonnieres, and instead go with what’s in season. Carry a crescent wreath of evergreen, or even a fur muff, and make boutonnieres out of pine cones or a sprig of mistletoe. Not only will you save by going with what’s in season, but you’ll create a look that works with a winter setting.

The Food: Again, go seasonal (this is a good budget tip for any season, not just winter). Take advantage of ingredients that aren’t as readily available the rest of the year, such as Alaskan king crab, squash, and cranberries. For dessert, serve cupcakes in a variety of your favorite flavors, keeping them relatively simple to keep costs down. To warm your guests up, set up a hot cocoa buffet, where they can customize cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream, spices, or a peppermint stick – and if you want this to be your signature cocktail, you might include Kahlua or crème de menthe as an option, too!

Other Details: With so many candles lighting up your venue, customized matchbooks are a great favor for a low price. You can find them at For Your Party for about 50-cents apiece, or check out this free printable matchbook notebook cover by the fabulous Ez of Creature Comforts.

Splurges: If you go with the calligraphed invitation, it makes sense that your envelopes would be calligraphed as well – for $1.50 to $4 each depending on the calligrapher that you choose, it might be a splurge that you go for.

For Free: Before your wedding, sign up for a free makeover at your favorite cosmetics counter. You’ll probably have to buy a few pieces of makeup, but the makeup artist can create a look for you for your wedding, and often give you a makeup sheet to take with you and re-create the look on your own. Practice a few times before the wedding, though, to make sure you’re comfortable doing your own makeup.

Real Wedding Inspiration: Amanda & Matt by Jessica Johnston, and Amanda & Brett by Laura Novak

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If you’re lucky enough to have a beautiful home, or have parents with a beautiful home, or close friends with a beautiful home, consider holding your wedding there. Though you’ll pay for rentals that might be included in other venues, depending on your number of guests and other venue options, this might still be the cheaper option. Not to mention incredibly personal and authentic. Of course you can have a beautiful wedding in a hotel ballroom or a stark urban loft, but…

Who says…you can’t get married at home?

Mood: sweet garden charm
Palette: pale pink and yellow

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Top row from left: garden gate photo by Kathryn Kleinman, panini grill from Amorology, lemonade photo by Myrtle & Marjoram, mismatched dessert plates via A Beautiful Living
Row 2: children’s table from Custom Event Group, cake via d.Sharp Journal, photo by Jose Villa, photo by Tec Petaja
Row 3: bouquet from Martha Stewart Weddings, seating cards photo by Still Weddings, bird house from Rebecca Thuss, custom dress by Kcoline
Row 4: garden chairs from Brides via Faye & Greer, envelopes from Bird & Banner, sparkler kiss photo by One Love Photo, garden roses via {frolic!}

The Paper: Garden-themed rubber stamps are a cost effective way to embellish seating cards and other stationery, and even if you don’t have calligraphy skills, writing out names by hand in simple all-capital letters is an attractive alternative – and if your handwriting is illegible, employ someone who is willing to help out to take on this task. Another calligraphy alternative is to print addresses in fun fonts on wrap-around labels for your invitations, which you can find here and here for about 30-cents apiece.

The Fashion: Not only will a custom-made dress guarantee a totally one-of-a-kind look, but it can also be a more budget friendly option. Be sure though, that you do some research and get references for the person you hire. Why not let the groom wear a dress shirt he already owns and is comfortable in? Or you can even have one custom-made for only $60 by 9tailors (also a great gift idea for the groomsmen, who can each wear a shirt in similar colors but slightly varying patterns or cuts).

The Decor: If you hold your wedding in a beautiful garden, there’s not much you need to do in terms of decorating, but if you want to, use garden appropriate items such as vintage watering cans and planters. A sweet birdhouse is a unique place for guests to drop small notes of good wishes. Don’t underestimate the simple folding garden chair, which will cost significantly less to rent than Chivari or bentwood chairs, and which will really just blend in to the venue. Once the ceremony is over, let the chairs do double duty by moving them to the tables for lunch.

The Flowers: Splurge on garden roses for a beautiful garden bouquet, tied with pretty patterned ribbon. For centerpieces, scour antique shops and flea markets for old pharmacy and cologne bottles, and place a single stem in each (these could also double as favors for guests to take home).

The Food: Lunch receptions are a good way to save money: they tend to be shorter and guests tend to eat and drink less than at dinner receptions. Taco trucks and burger carts aren’t the only alternative catering options out there. A panini grill or crepe maker would be fun, and slightly more refined, options. Let guests pick up side dishes at a buffet. To have your cake and eat it too, have one small elaborately decorated cake to display, and sheet cakes in the same flavor to serve to your guests. Buy sparkling lemonade or natural sodas in bulk and arrange them at the bar with skinny straws.

Other Details: A simple but fun detail is to give each table a fun name (like shut up and kiss me!) in lieu of a number. Set up a low table for the kids covered with butcher or kraft paper, with buckets of crayons, markers, and other little goodies – the kids will appreciate it more than floral centerpieces, and the adults will appreciate keeping the kids occupied.

Splurges: Serve dessert on mismatched vintage patterned dishes. They’re a bit of a splurge, since they’re not a necessity, but if you keep an eye out you should be able to find them here and there for under $2. If you don’t think you’ll use them again, re-sell them on eBay or a site like Bride to Bride Boutique.

For Free: By reserving an entire bed and breakfast like Sara did, your guests will know that everyone they run into there is your friend or relative, letting people get to know each other.

Real Wedding Inspiration: Nole & Andrew via Style Me Pretty

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