Beautiful, clever and inexpensive reception ideas

Keep costs down without sacrificing a gorgeous wedding day, full of pretty and personalized touches.

Alicia Magnuson Photo | Stocksy United

Your wedding day might be something you’ve been dreaming about since you could toddle in your mom’s high heels with a sheet draped over your head. You might have “married” a reluctant brother, a best friend or even the family pet! But now as your real Big Day approaches it’s time to get serious—and not just about the shoes and veil. Your reception is a celebration of your commitment and love, and the culmination of years of hope and searching for that often elusive Prince Charming. So of course you want your day to be beautiful … your day deserves to be beautiful! The problem is: that beauty can get pricey fast. But you don’t need to spend a ton of money to have a stunning reception. You just need a few smart ideas, and practical approaches.

The great news is that through the rise in social media and apps, such as Pinterest and Instagram, we now have access to some very cunning ideas from all over the world. All it takes is some research, careful planning and crafty friends—perhaps a weekend with a willing bridal party—to lend a helping hand. But, beware, Pinterest can also be an Alice-in-Wonderland-like rabbit hole of unobtainable DIYs. To help save you time, money and Pinterest-anxiety, For Her curated a list of the best chic-but-affordable wedding day ideas out there.

Richard Bell | Modwedding

The average wedding cost in the U.S., according to the website Cost of Wedding, is $26,444, with the largest portion going toward the venue and catering: roughly $11,784. So, besides cutting down the guest list (which can be quite a battle), one of the biggest ways to save your budget is by carefully selecting a venue.

The venue

Jessica Oh Photography | Brenda’s Wedding Blog

Start by looking at potential wedding dates. Reception venues often offer cheaper rates on certain days (mid-week, for example) and times of the year (winter is typically less expensive than spring and summer months).

In addition to paid venue research, also make a list of close friends and relatives with beautiful or large-enough property that you could borrow for the day. Your Aunt’s empty barn, for example, can be transformed into a rustically romantic wedding venue—all you’ll need is a few hay bails to sit on, white toile, and flowers, and your guests will be enchanted.

Even someone’s large backyard or a wooded area can be dressed up by decorating trees as a centerpiece, focal point, or as a natural altar.

The catering

wedding buffet lemonade jars

Nick Radford | Wedding Chicks

Who really wants to be stuck at a table through five courses, entertaining great-great-aunt Gertrude for hours on end? The best weddings tend to be simple events at which people can mingle and enjoy each other’s company. While dinner buffets actually tend to be more expensive than sit down dinners (because caterers charge you for how much extra food they need to prepare at stations), there are lots of interesting options out there to suit your style and budget.

Instead of traditional (and expensive!) plated steak and seafood options, think about how you could serve lighter fare. A day wedding, for example, could easily feed guests with finger buffets or a chic afternoon tea. Some brides even organize elegant picnics, with large blankets and pillows laid out on the grass, leaving picnic baskets with guests names on them. The cute factor alone means that the inside contents can be simple, like a sandwich, grapes, cheese and crackers.

Another popular option is hiring in a food truck, or, for a country summer vibe, pull together a pig roast and get your uncle handy with a spit. No matter what you do, remember that the most basic foods can look exceptionally chic. It’s all in the presentation.

Photography and video

To ensure you get lots of photos of the party and your guests without a pro, a crafty bride-to-be can set up her very own photo booth, either indoors or out— just install your backdrop, set up a tripod, plug in your smartphone or iPad, add a remote camera button made specifically for selfies, like the HISY bluetooth remote camera button. Then watch as your guests click and laugh the day away!

Can’t afford a pro photographer for the whole day, but really want one? Check with local colleges and art schools (or even put a flyer on your Church community board) to see if there’s a photography student who would be willing to offer their services for less—many will agree to a lower fee for the chance to build up a portfolio.

Often, even when you do pay a professional photographer, some of your most cherished wedding photos come from friends and family who took candids. So encourage your guests to share their own snaps by coming up with a unique hashtag (a single phrase like #SarahandDrewSayIDo) and having a sign at your reception that asks guests to use it. The best part is that you won’t need to hunt anyone down via email for their photos: all you’ll need to do is type your hashtag into Facebook or Instagram to conjure up all the beautiful, natural pictures your friends took.

Flowers and decoration

Jolelala Photographie | Colin Cowie Weddings

Flowers can end up being incredibly expensive! To keep costs down, ask your florist to use in-season blooms only, or if you have a green thumb, get sowing your favorite varieties the year before.

Keep in mind that garden weddings can easily get away with using potted plants instead of freshly cut flowers, which are just as eye-catching, but less expensive. For bouquets and table centerpieces think about adding more greenery, such as textured mosses and grasses to create an intentionally natural and rustic feel to your tables.

If you love the idea of being surrounded by petals, many online companies now offer freeze-dried bags of petals, such as the eco-friendly Fly Boy Naturals, which works out cheaper than buying fresh, look great scattered on white table cloths, and can still keep your young flower girls busy all day!

Personalized wedding decorations can also eat away at your budget quickly, so select a theme carefully and don’t stray! Most importantly, give yourself enough time to do any DIYs. One well-done DIY project that can draw your guests’ attention (like hanging glass bottles with flowers or candles inside above your tables) is better than five rushed ones.

L&S Studios | Stocksy United
Colin Cowie Wedding

View full gallery

Entertainment

Who needs a D.J. when there is Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes? With these online curated music services, it’s so easy and inexpensive to select expertly pre-made playlists, such as the most popular wedding playlist on Spotify. And, of course, you can also use these streaming apps to create your own reception playlist ahead of time.

Have a flare for the dramatic? If you want to make a big entrance that doesn’t cost a dime, skip the expensive lighting and sound effects in favor of a flashmob. All it takes is gathering a few friends (a set of bridesmaids and groomsmen should do the trick) finding your dance on YouTube, and practicing. It’s also a nice way for your bridal party to bond before your big day!

A more traditional bride can ask a musical friend or family member to perform—even if it’s just for a brief interval.

But entertainment doesn’t just stop at music. Lawn games are increasingly popular at outdoor receptions. You can rent most games for low prices, or make and personalize them yourself. Either way, it’s great fun for guests of all ages.

Favors

Save yourself an extra step by using decorations that double as cute favors. For example, you could stake your seating cards inside little potted succulent plants so that they’ll serve as dinner table decor, as well as a personalized favor for your guests. Bonus: they’re also symbolic of your growing love.

For brides with a sweet tooth there are plenty of creative dessert options that double as favors, too. One of the most popular and inexpensive favor ideas for summer weddings: homemade S’mores kits… need we say more?! All you’ll need to do is wrap up graham crackers with chocolate and a marshmallow in pretty cellophane. If your budget doesn’t stretch to individual favors, simply place two larger shareable items per table. For example, you can decorate mason jars with a little ribbon and fill them with wedding-color-coordinated M&Ms.

If you decide to forgo favors completely, remember a heartfelt thank you note is always cherished.

Planner

woman looking at the list on her smartphone

Beatrix Boros | Stocksy United

Wedding planners are wonderful sanity-savers, but if money is really tight, you can make do with careful planning and the right tools. Today, there are so many wedding planner smartphone apps out there. Try the Wedding Planner, which has useful to-do list and deadline reminder options.

A clever bride can also share her planning and lists with someone up for the job; preferably a chief bridesmaid or friend who knows the couple really well—and is reliable! Above all, remember to breathe, and that if things don’t go exactly according to plan on your big day you’ll still be surrounded by loved ones (including THE one!) who are all there to support you and help celebrate your day no matter what.

Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner was born in London and has been living in Paris for 14 years. She spends her time working as an English consultant, acting as taxi driver to her four children, and wondering if she'll ever be as stylish as the French.