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Small Weddings: The Ultimate Guide

Small Weddings: The Ultimate Guide

Small Weddings: The Ultimate Guide

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A comprehensive guide to small weddings, so you can make it down the aisle on time

What’s a small wedding?

When you’re deciding what type of wedding to have, perhaps the first place to start is to define what a small wedding is. There are plenty of buzzwords flying around in the wedding industry in relation to small weddings. From minimony to micro weddings and from elopements to pop-up weddings, small weddings have become incredibly nuanced in the last few years. And while labels are often just labels, it may be important to understand the differences in these small weddings if for no other reason than to make the planning exponentially easier.

If you have a small wedding in mind, but to you, “small” means 100 guests, it’s easy to see how something can get lost in translation once you start planning. When you begin to check schedules, look at venues and plan meals, your definition of your event, whether it is a micro wedding, a minimony, or even an elopement, can make a huge difference to the person who’s trying to help you on the other end.

Defining Small Weddings

Traditional Elopement – A traditional elopement is often just the couple, an officiant, and two witnesses. But just like everything else in the world, things are changing, and it seems more and more the definition of an elopement has been expanded to include the couple and a few more of their nearest and dearest. While elopements are not as small as they used to, they’re still usually no more than 20 people.

Micro Wedding – For all intents and purposes, a micro wedding (also known as a small wedding) has all the bells and whistles of a traditional wedding but on a smaller scale. While attendance is limited to 50 or fewer guests, you’ll often find the usual hallmarks of the day like a traditional ceremony, dinner, dancing, flowers, and cake.

Minimony – The term minimony is a new addition to our modern vernacular, but it looks like it could be here to stay. As you might have surmised, a minimony is just a mini ceremony. Some folks may also refer to it as a tiny wedding, and generally speaking, there are 10 guests or fewer in attendance.

And on the high side, there are medium-sized weddings with 50 – 175 guests and large weddings with 175 or more guests.

Every size and type of wedding has its place, but for the purposes of this article, our discussion will focus on small weddings or micro weddings.

Why are small weddings popular?

Small weddings have become increasingly popular in the last few years and topping the list for the reasons why is — you guessed it, saving money. According to a 2019 Wedding Wire survey, while most couples budgeted to spend approximately $23,000 on their nuptials, most ended up spending closer to $30,000 when all was said and done. With fewer guests in attendance, it’s hard to argue that small weddings save money, and it’s for that very reason that more and more couples are choosing to scale back. While saving money is often the primary reason for choosing a small intimate wedding, there are plenty more reasons why small weddings are popular.

Small weddings are more intimate

A shorter guest list ensures that you are only surrounded by your nearest and dearest.
So, instead of buzzing through the crowd trying to get to everyone before the night is through, small weddings offer couples the unique ability to sit, chat, and spend more time with their guests.

There’s less stress

Without the burden of a big budget and far fewer boxes to check off, it’s easy to see how small weddings can be less stressful. Additionally, with a small wedding, you’ll likely have more time to be in the moment and soak it in.

There’s more room for creativity with venues

Small weddings (and a small guest list) mean that you’ll likely have more creative venue options when your big day rolls around. Obviously, large weddings are limited to venues that can accommodate large crowds with ample space, food service, and other logistics.

With small weddings, however, there’s a lot more wiggle room. Unique sites like museums, intimate restaurants, or your local botanical gardens are far more likely to be accommodating with a small wedding party. It would almost seem that you’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to small weddings.

They’re easier to work with on a shorter timeline

Small weddings mean fewer details to attend to, so that in turn means that you’ll need less lead time to pull it off. While a large wedding can easily be in the works for six months to a year, a small wedding that’s a mere three months away is totally doable.

You can choose to splurge or save

A common misconception of small weddings is that they are synonymous with budget weddings, but that doesn’t always hold true. Small weddings give you the flexibility to splurge on whichever details you choose or save your money if you want to. If you’re cutting down the guest list to accommodate a five-course meal, live music, or that wedding gown you’ve been eyeing, that’s okay. If you’re choosing to have a small intimate wedding to save some cash, that’s a perfectly acceptable reason as well.

DIY’s are far more manageable

DIY weddings are becoming increasingly popular as a way to save money on an otherwise budget-busting affair. But make no mistake, there’s still plenty to do. Undoubtedly, a DIY wedding will cost you time (and maybe a few trips to the craft store). But rest assured, whatever you choose to tackle yourself, whether it’s the wedding favors, decor, or both, it will be exponentially easier to do so for a guest list that maxes out at 20.

You can allocate the money you save to something bigger

While the actual “I do’s” are important, the honeymoon is pretty high up on the list of must-haves for some couples. With a small wedding, any money you save on your nuptials can certainly be reallocated to your honeymoon; there’s plenty of memories to be made there too.

Who a small wedding is right for

When it comes to your wedding, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s your day, and in the end, you have to choose the option that makes your heart sing. You should consider a small wedding if:

  • You’re on a tight budget
  • You don’t like crowds and prefer to blend in with the crowd
  • You want an eclectic venue or food options
  • You prefer to spend quality time with a few close friends

If you put a checkmark next to three or more of the “boxes” above, your question has been asked and answered.

Places to Have a Small Wedding

With a small wedding, your venue options are almost unlimited. But while the world is your oyster, it may not always make sense (read: cost-effective) to rent out these venues for such a small crowd. The good news is there are plenty of great venues to choose from; all you have to do is look around.

Keep it cozy and have a small wedding at home

Whether it’s your home, your parent’s home, or the home of a close friend, a small wedding at home is always a nice option when you’re planning a small intimate wedding. While a small wedding at home can be pretty low-key, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind.

Don’t forget that houses have a finite amount of space, and you should tailor your guest list accordingly. Also, remember that when you’re talking about inviting 20 – 40 people over for dinner, it’s likely that any and all rooms (and every corner) of your home will essentially be open to everyone. No doubt there will be plenty of cleaning and preparations to consider beforehand, not to mention a big mess to clean up once the party’s over.

Stick with tradition and have a small church wedding

Whether you choose a small church wedding because of your strong faith, you’re keeping with tradition, or it’s just a nice space, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind.

Very often, churches may reserve their space for congregants only. If you’re thinking about the church you and your family are members of, you should have no issue. However, if the small church wedding of your dreams happens to be in the beautiful church across town, you might want to prepare yourself for some pushback.

Additionally, you’ll need to keep the church’s availability in mind as well. Remember that church’s host far more than weddings, and weekends are always prime time. If you are able to book your church, be sure to ask about their policy on decorations, flowers, and music (some churches may require you to use their in-house team for such events, and that may not always fall in line with your plans. Hash these details out well in advance, so there are no surprises on your big day.

Have fun in the sun and sand with a small beach wedding

If you and your partner love the sun and sand, a small beach wedding might be the ticket. But beauty and fabulous photos aside, there is an incredible amount of planning involved. From avoiding crowds to avoiding sunburns, you’ll have a lot of boxes to check off with this particular venue. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are just a few things you may have to tweak, plan for, or add to your budget.

  • Skipping traditional (heavy) wedding attire and switching to a wardrobe that’s beach-friendly
  • A sound system (so your vows can be heard above the waves)
  • Sticking to windproof decor (look for sturdy flowers, and skip the candles altogether)
  • Providing some shade for you and your guests
  • Being mindful of food choices and potential food spoilage
  • Planning for sun, but having a backup plan in case it rains
  • Keeping everyone hydrated

Spend some time with nature and have a small garden wedding

Much like a beach wedding, a small garden wedding will likely offer a gorgeous backdrop for your wedding. And like a beach wedding, you’ll have the wildcard of the great outdoors to contend with.

A garden wedding can be incredibly beautiful, but you can be sure that if you’re getting married in the spring and summer, you’ll probably have a few uninvited guests. If the event is being held at a botanical garden, speak with the site manager to address the issue. If your garden wedding is a DIY, you’ll want to have the area treated beforehand, set out plenty of candles, and maybe invest in an emergency kit just in case. Don’t forget umbrellas and canopies to keep your guests comfortable in the summer sun as well.

While a backdrop of leaves changing color in the fall might be gorgeous in October, remember that as the sun does down, so does the temperature. Think about portable heaters, tents, and fire pits to keep the party going well into the evening.

And of course, be sure to have an indoor alternative just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Planning Tips For Small Weddings

There’s always plenty to do with any type of event, and it will always feel like there’s not enough time to do it. To help you make heads or tails of it all, here are a few planning tips for small weddings, which can also serve as a checklist of sorts.

Figure out your budget

First and foremost, you’ll need to figure out your budget. Once you understand your finances, you’ll be better equipped to make any subsequent decisions like how small small should be, what venue to choose, how much to spend on decor, and of course, how much to spend on your dress.

When you’re sorting out your budget, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much money do you have?
  • How much of that total are you willing to spend on your wedding?
  • Where is the money coming from?
  • Will parents or other family members be contributing to the event?

Narrow down your guest list

When you’re planning a small wedding, trimming your guest list could be one of the most difficult (read: most stressful) things on your to-do list. When you have two sides to account for, the seats can fill up pretty quickly.

To keep the crowd in check, you’ll want to make mindful choices about who’s in attendance on your big day. Be sure to invite only those who mean something to you today, not friends from days gone by.

After immediate family, you and your partner should focus on extending invitations to the select few who you can’t imagine getting married without. Beyond that, cutting out the plus ones and sticking to an adults-only celebration are great ways to keep the numbers down.

Be creative with venue options

Once you’ve determined your budget and narrowed down your guest list, you are then free to make a decision about your venue. The good news is that small intimate weddings often open venue ideas that were formerly off the table. Lucky for you, art galleries, museums, libraries, and aquariums are all back on the list for your event.

Say yes to the dress (or not)

With small weddings, there may be a tendency to pare down everything, including the dress. But rest assured, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If your dream dress is a glamorous ball made of lace and dotted with hand-sewn pearls, then go for it. If it’s a sleek pantsuit or a chic boho dress, then go for that. It’s your big day so remember that you’re free to choose the dress (or not) that you’ve always dreamed of.

Keep the guest experience in mind

Small weddings often eliminate a few hallmarks that guests have come to expect, like live entertainment and multiple course meals, for example. However, considering that it’s a more personal event, think of ways to elevate the experience for those closest to you. If you choose to forego live entertainment, you could opt for a few entertainment ideas that will delight your guests. Think of DIY stations for ice cream or a dessert bar; if it’s a small backyard wedding, get the party started with bocce balls or giant Jenga stations.

Take a break from tradition

With a small wedding, You may find that certain traditions just don’t make sense. A large bridal party is the first thing that comes to mind for many brides, but if your guest list tops out at 50, your wedding will end up being you, your partner, and a great big bridal party — if you stick with tradition. For a small wedding, one or two people standing up for you is plenty. Don’t be afraid to cut that number down and free up some seats.

Speaking of seats, remember that a smaller crowd affords you plenty of flexibility with almost every aspect of your wedding. To really shake things up, think about unconventional seating arrangements and eclectic food choices. Furthermore, if you’re choosing a small wedding at home or a small garden wedding, there’s no reason why your best friend (of the furry variety) can’t participate.

While wedding coordinators often seem to be a given, it might be overkill for a small wedding. That’s not to say that you should ever attempt to do this alone. Remember that one of the reasons you’re choosing a small wedding is to make it more personal and more intimate. So to that end, you can always ask friends and family to pitch in and help. Whether they’re shuttling your guests from the ceremony to the reception, restocking water and wine, or driving your grandma to and from the event, these are the people that are closest to you, so you can bet you’ll have plenty of help to pull this off.

A few other things you may want to skip:

  • Printed programs
  • A guest book
  • Specialty linens
  • An over-the-top wedding cake
  • An open bar

Don’t forget a few little details that are actually a big deal…

Weddings are often squarely focused on the dress, the food, and the party, but before you dive headfirst into the flower petals and wedding cake, there are a few details that you must take care of before the big day rolls around. Without a license and an officiant, all you really have is a big (and expensive) party, so do your best to make it official. And don’t forget the photographers, this is a pretty big moment for you and your spouse, you’ll probably want to document it.

Choose an officiant

Just as venues must be booked well ahead of the event, so too does your officiant. If you’re choosing a small church wedding, the officiant may be chosen for you. However, with almost any other type of venue, you and your partner can make that choice. If you’re keeping a keen eye on your guest list, ask a friend or family member to get ordained and perform the ceremony. If your marriage will take place outside of a church, but you would still like a religious officiant to conduct your ceremony, be sure to book them well in advance so you don’t run into any trouble closer to your wedding day.

Don’t forget the marriage license and certificate

While the big celebration is always the focus, don’t forget that you must have the proper paperwork in place to legalize your marriage. Prior to the ceremony, you will need to obtain a marriage license. While every city is different, a good place to start would be your local County Clerk’s Office. Your marriage license must be with you at your wedding. Following the ceremony, you, your spouse, the officiant, and two witnesses must sign the marriage license. The officiant will then submit your signed marriage license, and you should receive your marriage certificate shortly thereafter.

Pick a great photographer

While your event may be pared down in size, that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s paired down in significance. Your wedding, no matter what size, is likely one of the most important days of your life and you will want to mark the occasion. If your budget allows, do your due diligence to find a photographer that is within your price range. If the funds just aren’t there, consider asking a friend or family member to do the honors. This is a pretty big task, so sure to entrust it to someone who is up to it.

While some aspects of small weddings may break with tradition, they can be every bit as beautiful as a large event. Whether you choose to dial it down or kick it up a notch, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate your marriage. Remember that any type of event, regardless of size, can be stressful. Your best bet for making it down the aisle on time (maybe even with your sanity intact) is to come up with a plan, plan ahead wherever possible, and lean on your loved ones to help you pull it off.

The average wedding costs $33,900. Let us plan you a beautiful elopement, while saving you over $28,000

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Janessa White

Last updated Apr 16,2021

Janessa White is the co-founder of Simply Eloped and has helped thousands of couples plan elopements. As an expert in the field, she has been featured on Martha Stewart, Brides.com, Vox, and HuffPost. Janessa thinks elopements are the ultimate way to tie the knot.
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