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According to the 2019 Real Weddings study by The Knot, the average size of a wedding last year was 131 guests with an average bridal party size of 10. When my now-husband and I started wedding planning in the Summer of 2019, we thought this was almost precisely the size wedding we wanted. We had imagined our wedding together and wrote out our guest list of 150 attendees. We started planning 12-18 months out as instructed by our wedding planning guide*.
When plans changed
Only after we booked a large wedding venue at a destination several hours away did we realize that neither of us wanted the big wedding. We found that we were being trapped by long-held beliefs of what a wedding is supposed to be:
- 10+ attendants in the bridal party
- loads of flowers
- DJ or band
- wedding planner
- multi-tiered cake
- the list goes on and on and on
Once we set aside our preconceived notions, we talked through things we wanted and didn’t want. We realized that our perfect day would look a lot different than the weddings our friends were having. We pulled together the following tips for having a small wedding in hopes we can help other couples who are feeling like we were: overwhelmed and looking for a simpler way.
Why we chose to go small
- While we love our extended family, the venue limitations made it impossible to invite everyone. This was effective at keeping costs down and also put us in a position where we could spend quality time with the few people who were there.
- We didn’t want all the frills of a traditional wedding reception. Extravagant table settings and customized guest favors did not appeal to us in the least. We tried to keep things extremely simple and have the night operate more as a dinner than a traditional reception.
- We needed our pups to be there. Dogs attending weddings has emerged as a Millennial wedding tradition. We knew we couldn’t tie the knot without our two best puppies by our sides. This led to selecting a public park for the ceremony over a large wedding venue that may have had restrictions on pets.
With these things in mind, we decided on 40 guests in February at a public park with dinner to follow at one of our favorite restaurants. It was more beautiful than we ever could have imagined. Most importantly, we didn’t feel like we had missed out on anything by keeping things small.
The 7 most important tips for having a small wedding
It will get awkward at times when certain friends or family ask about wedding plans. Everyone is excited over your engagement and anxious to hear details about your big party (that they’re sure they’re going to receive an invite to). The absolute worst thing you can do in these situations is to push off the conversation or lie.
Once you’ve decided to keep things small, come up with messaging together that you and your other half will use when faced with these close encounters. Our communication is below as an example. The overwhelming response was that everyone was extremely happy for us and proud of us for following our path. I have to admit that I was bracing myself for a lot more of these uncomfortable conversations. Luckily they just didn’t happen.
“We’ve decided to do a small wedding with family and close friends in February. It’ll be about 40 people. As much as we wish we could have everyone there, we’ve decided that we want to keep it more intimate. We’d love to share pictures and celebrate over drinks the next time we see you”.
You will want to expand the initial guest list as time goes on but stay strong
We started with a list of 38 in October, and on the day of come February we ended up with 42 guests. The guest creep is real, especially when you realize how many people you’re not able to invite. Our guest list consisted of our parents, siblings, and top 7 friends, each with their significant other.
The limitations of the list made for a perfect mix of attendees where we made sure the friends we invited were the best of the best. We looked out at our ceremony and saw the faces of people we knew would support us daily throughout our marriage. It was undeniable we’d made the right decision.
Go small on your bridal party to save money and stress
Less opinions = less stress. We had a Best Man and Maid of Honor, who each walked down the aisle with our “Best Dog” and “Dog of Honor.” Since my Maid of Honor was going to be standing alone, she chose her dress, and we based the guy’s ties off whatever dress she found. I never even had to choose a color palette! Things kind of came together based on her dress selection and the suit color my husband wanted to wear.
Book a day of coordinator
It’s tempting to view a small wedding as one that does not need coordination. Even the most modest affairs still need someone behind the scenes making sure that everyone is in place and on time.
Our day of coordinator picked up cupcakes and delivered them to the restaurant with some decor. She then met the chair rental company and violinist at the park to make sure everyone arrived. As we were married at a public park, our coordinator was also amazing with making sure bystanders cleared out at ceremony time. These may seem like small details. But it was worth all the money in the world for the peace of mind we had on our perfect day.
You don’t need a photographer for the whole day unless you want one
We chose not to do professional getting ready pictures or pictures at dinner. Instead, we decided to hire the photographer we wanted for 2 hours to do only our first look and ceremony. This saved us at least $1000 over hiring her for the whole day.
You can expedite your timeline
When we originally booked a venue for the big wedding that never was, we were targeting October 2020. It was September 2019 when we decided to have a small wedding. We figured there was no sense in waiting and chose February 2020 for our wedding date.
We worked on an expedited timeline but were able to do so pretty easily because so many of the more significant components were able to be removed. Once we booked the restaurant, park, and photographer, we were good to start spreading the word. We saved money on save the dates by verbally ask our guests to hold our day instead. Reaching out to our guests also gave us a great idea of how many out of our initial list would be able to attend.
Pro tip: Choosing to get married in an off month like February means that most of your guests will be available. Of all the invites we sent, we received only one regret.
Don’t downplay the significance of the day
It’s easy to think that a smaller celebration means less than a larger one. I’m here to tell you it does not. Having a small wedding was a choice we made to spend quality time with the people we were able to invite. Nothing could have been more special or significant than being able to have meaningful moments on our wedding day with some of the most influential people in our lives.
Above all else, remember that everyone is going to be happy for you, whatever you decide. If someone not invited can’t find it in their heart to be happy for you and decides to hold a grudge, then maybe that someone isn’t worth spending time with anyway. It’s your day. You should feel empowered to spend it exactly the way you want down to the last small detail!
Are you thinking about having a small wedding? Did you use one of these tips in planning your event? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.