Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Q & A: Finding Inexpensive Wedding Venues

Reader Question: I first want to say that I LOVE your blog. Since first reading it a few weeks ago, it has changed my "I want the most beautiful wedding ever and I want everything The Knot tells me is "in" right now" wedding views and really opted for something practical and that truly represents me and my fiance.

So I wrote
wedding planning vows to myself that I would not covet anything that I could not afford, ask myself questions before making a decision, and to relax and take a break if all of this gets frustrating. I feel that I am doing a good job at steering a way from what the WIC has deemed perfect for weddings and toned a lot of things down to make this process and our wedding simple and about us.

The thing that I am having a problem with is that I live in Philadelphia, a very expensive city, not as much as New York or Los Angeles, but expensive for an adjunct professor and a school psychology intern. Everywhere I turn, the prices are crazy expensive. I have looked at getting married in the park, but Philly charges $500 permits for weddings (for 2 hours) and we still have to rent chairs and port-o-potties (which I am EXTREMELY opposed to!) I have looked at smaller venues that offer beautiful outside spaces or restaurants, but once I say wedding the price gets jacked up.

Are there any suggestions you have for me in your research that could help me find a space that is accommodating and inexpensive? I try not to get stressed out, but I find myself taking breaks from planning about twice a week :) I could really use your help, if you have any at all!

I love the idea of writing wedding planning vows to yourself! What an amazing way to stay grounded!

As for planning a wedding in an expensive city: I feel your pain. We got married near Rocky Mountain National Park, and the town of Estes Park is a major tourist attraction in the summer and in the winter.

To keep costs low, we had to do a couple major things:
  1. Look slightly outside the city: We ended up getting married at a small town outside of Estes Park (called Allenspark). Looking beyond the immediate city limits helped expand our options and helped us significantly reduce our costs. However, the city of Estes Park was still close enough that people could comfortably commute from the city to our wedding. So the people who preferred to spend more money by staying in Estes Park could do so.
  2. Find a place that doesn't typically do weddings: Once a venue starts hosting weddings, it's highly likely that they will get sucked into the vortex of the Wedding Industrial Complex (although there are notable exceptions). Either they've worked with an extremely demanding and difficult couple and have decided that they need to charge more to cover the cost of the stress that can come from helping a couple plan their wedding, or they've realized that it's common practice to jack-up the prices, just because the word wedding is involved. In my opinion, the best option is to find a place that hosts events (which means they are likely to have all the things you need like tables, chairs, etc.) but doesn't typically host weddings. You have to be creative and think outside the box. Also, try thinking about places you already enjoy going to as a couple.
  3. Focus on what's important: The Bed & Breakfast we eventually found wasn't "blog-worthy" in a lot of ways. It looked a lot more like Great Aunt Mary's living room than something you would see featured on the wedding blogs. We had to eat our reception dinner in their parking lot (at least it was under some beautiful trees and it wasn't paved!). My point is, we had to sacrifice some of the more superficial aspects of a "traditional" wedding in order to save money. However, that choice worked out so well for us in the end. The owners of the Bed & Breakfast were so kind and willing to help us out in any way possible.

Your choice of a venue is one of the most important decisions you will make during the wedding planning process. It will determine how formal or casual your event is. (which will affect attire, invitations, the need for decorations, etc.). It can impact your catering and alcohol options. You will likely need to interact with the people at your venue site a lot, so make sure you have a good relationship with them! Definitely choose wisely.

I wish you the very best with your process. Our process was very, very difficult, and I thought we would NEVER find a place. Everything we looked at was too pricey and already booked. It was a nightmare! I shed tears during the stressful process. Even when we found our B&B, I had so many doubts. In the end, however, I wouldn't have done it any differently. Just think about what kind of wedding represents you as a couple (regardless of the kind of wedding you're "supposed to" have), prioritize good relationships with the venue, and remember that there will be a lot of other things to spend your savings on other than a one-day celebration!

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Roxanne said...

I can totally relate to this! I live in Houston, and we had a fairly large wedding (about 120) and were on a very tight budget. I was convinced there was no way we were going to pull it off, and I couldnt cut the list because it was mostly family. Here are a couple of my tips (for what its worth)

- DIY is really in right now, and while it's not for everyone you would be really surprised to find what you can do. I stressed over invites a lot (um, $4 a piece for a piece of paper that would get thrown away?) and eventually made my own using a free trial of Photoshop. I'd never even used it before!
- Figure out who has talent around you. Turns out, I knew someone who had gone to culinary school and loved to cook for big events like this. We also ended up with a FREE string quartet just by asking around church.

I know you were asking mostly about the space (we just rented a giant hall - nothing very fancy - and decorated), but I hope this helps! Good luck!

SMK said...

I'm also a Philly bride..and trust me, I can relate! It was a long, hard search. A few questions for the other Philly bride to be -- what time of year and how many people? Ours is small and a brunch reception so we actually are doing something at a restaurant - brunch options even with open bar so much more affordable for us. Also, I agree with Sarah's comment about looking outside of the city. Although even outside our city most of the typical wedding venues are crazy expensive estates and mansions. if you are open at all to Jersey, you can definitely find more affordable options just over the bridge. I am happy to talk off line as well if you want...we're only 5 weeks away from our big day so I've done a lot of research :)

(kellersuzanne [at] hotmail [dot] com - feel free to email me!)

Katie T. said...

Have you tried look at a state park? I live in Idaho, so it might be totally different from your area, but I am getting married at a state park and it's costing us $450 ($200 of which is a cleaning deposit that will be returned).

We rented the picnic shelter for the day, and there are already picnic tables, we'll save there on rentals.

The best part is it's next to a beautiful lake, so we won't have to go crazy with the decorating.

It might be worth looking into :)

Katie T. said...

Have you tried looking at a state park? I live in Idaho, so it might be totally different from your area, but I am getting married at a state park, which costs $450 ($200 of which is a cleaning deposit that will be returned).

We rented the picnic shelter for the day, and there are already picnic tables, so we'll save on rentals.

The best part is it's next to a beautiful lake, so we won't have to go crazy with the decorating.

It might be worth looking into :)

Anonymous said...

We found our venue (not philly but boston area) through VRBO.com. They are all vacation rentals. We found a house on a lake that isn't normally used for weddings (and thus cheaper) and tented the deck (not cheap but cheaper than a "wedding" venue. vrbo.com has vacation rentals all over the country (I don't work for them, I promise!).

spanishteacher83 said...

VRBO.com is great!

Also, if you're using a professional photographer, or any other vendor who is aligned with your budget mission, ask them for ideas. Both our photographer and our DOC person were wonderful, reasonable people who were willing to give us advice. They had seen it all!

apracticalwedding.com has a great list of such vendors.

Anonymous said...

I'm on board with you ladies! Weddings are expensive! However, if anyone is in NYC, you have to check out Sunset Terrace at Chelsea Piers. It's a beautiful event space on the Hudson in Manhattan - has the look/feel of a loft but for half the price. Beautiful venue.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to suggest to the reader that she check out Broomall's Lake Country Club in Media, PA. My husband and I got married there last spring. It was pretty and affordable and was an easy drive from Philly. (Don't let the 'Country Club' thing scare you off.) I also considered the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

Jessica said...

My husband and I got married at a restaurant off of the canal in our city. We had the ceremony on the balcony overlooking the water and then ate inside the restaurant.

Two advantages with going with the restaurant:

1) The restaurant was closed when we had the event (so we didn't have a food and beverage minimum - we just paid for the food and drinks)

2) The place was already decorated. We did almost nothing to spruce the place up! We saved tons on decorating a bland banquet hall.

The restaurant we went with was an up-scale fancy type, but we considered cute cafes, bistros, restaurants that had once been an old house, and even a bakery.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I live in Philly and my friend just got married this summer in the city and was on a super tight budget. Her reception was at this BEAUTIFUL converted church on a Friday (cathederal ceilings, basement bar, awesome hardwood floors)and she said it was super reasonable. The place is called Richmond Hall. It was between northern liberties and the Northeast- about a 10 minute cab ride back to center city.

Anonymous said...


Here's the website.

Anonymous said...

My fiance went through this as well. I was reading this blog and so frustrated because the venue portion of what they did didn't even remotely translate for Philadelphia given it's small historic venues and our commitment to being surrounded by the family we love (which happens to be huge). We wound up moving outward to Lancaster to make it more affordable but still upscale. If you are okay with more casual, I highly reccommend DE state parks because they allow alcohol (PA does not) and they also have a few sites with bathrooms and covered areas. We almost decided on doing that and BBQ before my fiance decided he wanted it just a bit more formal than BBQ next to the volleyball pit. I hope that's helpful to you!

Bee said...

OMG I'm looking in Philly as well!! I really wanted a fun interesting museum or something, but we're also put off by the prices. Have you looked at Partyspace.com? They might have something. Would love to chat about wedding ideas! I'm also a new young prof.

Sarah said...

Love all these responses! We live in the DC-Balt metro area and hit this wall as well! Definitely look at places that don't usually host weddings-- that really helped us out. Check out community centers and rental halls of that nature-- owned by local clubs, etc.

Definitely look outside the city as well-- not too far, because you don't want to be driving back and forth too much during a high-stress time-- but areas that aren't as high-demand.

Best of luck to you!

Nora said...

As a Philly Bride myself (married in June this year) don't give up! There are many places, you just may have to be creative with how you use a site or where you look. My husband and I got married at a canoe rental business who just happened to rent their land along the Brandywine river (their website is picnicpa.com). Also, look at historical houses in Germantown (where we lived during the planning). There is one in particular that was our runner up; its called Grumblethorpe (http://www.philalandmarks.org/grum.aspx). They have a beautiful garden out back. Also you could take a look at some of the vineyards in the Brandywine valley. They may offer renting. And there are a ton of beautiful B&B's in and around New Hope. And check out the parks outside of Philadelphia. You have soo many wonderful options!

Unknown said...

If you're open to it, throw out the script that a wedding must be dinner + dancing.

One of the most fun weddings I've ever been to was brunch at a nice restaurant. I know the couple saved big dollars doing it that way, everyone was still fed, they had an open champagne and vodka bar (screwdrivers, bloody marys, mimosas, etc.), and we had a blast. The best part was the bride and groom went out to party with their friends after the wedding, so we actually got to spend time with them! I've heard of other brides who had a dessert + drinks reception (starting later than dinner time so the guests can eat first). If you think out of the box, you'd be surprised what a nice event you can have without breaking the bank.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how feasible this is, but how about at the church of the person marrying you? They tend to have an area big enough for the reception and the sanctuary tends to already be decorated for church! A friend of mine pitched her outdoor tent in our church's gymnasium and it looked really lovely. Plus they tend to have chairs, tables etc free.

sabrina said...

I'm also getting married in a State Park, as Katie T mentioned. I live in Oregon, and we're having the wedding at Fort Stevens. I'm excited because its so different, and hopefully a lot of fun! I get really bored with typical weddings, so at the park people can camp, fish, check out the military batteries (because its a fort!), or hang out on the beach (also, the fort is on the coast). So if you don't have a problem with a not-so-traditional wedding and reception, a state park may work well! Hope your wedding is awesome, wherever you end up having it! :)

Unknown said...

I have no idea if Philly has any schools with garden spaces, but if they do, I highly recommend it - depending on what season you're getting married in. I was married this past April in New Orleans at a Charter School/Edible Schoolyard. The outdoor space was perfect for strolling and visiting with friends, while the inside space meant access to bathrooms and kitchens for food prep. Tables/chairs needed to be rented, and DIY decorations created, but I can't say enough wonderful things about the experience.

Theodis said...

Such great ideas. My FI and I are are in the planning phases now. We live in Philly, we have also looked at Lancaster and souther Jersey. We even consider the former Camp Neumann (Camp Jamison). They have a large dining facility that would work well. Obviously it depends if you are going for a more casual or upscale feel.

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