Nothing in life is free–especially not wedding venues. That said, you don’t have to go into debt in order to reserve a nice space. Affordable wedding venues can be found, and they don’t have to feel cheap when you’re in them.
What counts as “affordable” is dependent on what you need. Yes, maybe you can rent out an empty gallery for $50 an hour, but it’s empty. Once you start filling it up with everything necessary for a reception, you’ll end up outside of your “cheap” price range.
You need to think about bang for your buck: how much are you going to get for what you’re paying. “Just because a venue is free or low-cost doesn’t mean it will end up being cost effective,” says Amber Anderson of Heavenly Day Events. “Building out a recreation hall or family property with tables, chairs, lighting, bathrooms, and more can really add up.”
Kevin Dennis of Fantasy Sound Event Services agrees that booking a full service venues “eliminates additional deposits and rental fees by hiring multiple companies for the wedding, which is always a plus. Opting for a venue that offers on-site food and beverage is often ideal as well, that way the couple isn’t stuck with liquor licenses, hiring dinner staff, or coordinating with an outside caterer.”
In other words, a “cheap” venue is not necessarily the way to save money. Go in with your eyes open.
The Classic Venues:
A Place of Worship
If religion is an important part of your relationship, then having the ceremony in a place of worship may just be a given. But even if your looking at this from a solely financial point of view, a church (or mosque or temple) makes sense. Assuming you’re not trying to get married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, a place of worship is usually an easily affordable wedding venue.
How affordable of course depends on the venue, but you can always expect to pay something:
“There is going to be a fee at most of these places, and every space will be different in terms of how that fee is classified,” says Leah Weinberg of Color Pop Events. “Whether it’s a rental fee, honorarium, or donation, some money will likely be owed, the amount of which will also vary from place to place.”
How much that “donation” will end up costing is hard to say. In our research, we read about people who paid as much as $1500 or as little as $100. Catholic facilities abide by a rule that sacraments are not for sale and technically are free. What is asked for is a refundable save-the-date deposit, a stipend that’s decided on by the couple for the priest, and a suggested “donation” to the church – do what you will with that information, just try not to stiff the priest.
Things to Keep in Mind: “Religious institutes often have parameters on ceremony start times based on the sacrament,” says Anderson. “For example, Catholic Mass is performed at the same time each Saturday. “ When it comes to parks and city-owned venues, “Cities are inclined to work within the parameters of festivals or other events.”
Big City Price Holy Family Church, Downtown Chicago, IL: $1,200 deposit with a $200-300 donation to the deacon or priest for wedding services.
Small Town Price Thorncrown Chapel, Eureka Springs, AK: $500-1295, depending on the day of the ceremony. If you need to rehearse, there will be an additional $550 charge; the chapel minister or host will be present to coordinate.
Local Rec Center
A rec center can be one of the most affordable wedding venues, especially if the package deal includes almost everything you need for a reception (and possibly ceremony): the space, the kitchen, staff, cleanup, audio equipment. Everything comes with its own rental price per hour. The space is flexible enough that you could host both ceremony and reception here.
Things to Keep in Mind: This is community space so the community is going to be there. With most rec centers anything outside the four hours will cost extra (around $25 per hour) and staff staying over will also be extra (another $25 per hour). Some places will only let you rent the space outside of community hours. If you want to do this on a weekend that can add extra costs too.
Big City Price Brand Park Community Center, Greater Los Angeles Area, CA: Rental prices start $250, not including other amenities (kitchen, staff, cleanup, equipment, etc.).
Small Town Price Recreation Centers Lake Charles, LA: Rental prices for any recreation centers run on an hourly rate, $35 for the first hour and $10 for each preceding hour. This does not include other amenities.
City Hall is the obvious wedding venue choice for those who are trying to save money, as the costs are usually limited to the marriage licensee and, in some cases, a fee for performing the ceremony. Every city varies on the fee, but most municipalities won’t cost you north of $150.
Things to Keep in Mind: In most towns, City Hall is run on a first-come, first-serve basis. You will not be the only people getting married on your big day. Be ready to show up early and to wait to get your turn.
Big City Price New York City Hall: The fee for a Marriage License is $35 by credit card or money order payable to the City Clerk.
Small Town Price Asheville Register Of Deeds office, North Carolina: You must pay a $60 fee directly to the Register of Deeds office when you acquire the license (this fee is not included in any of their package prices).
The Unique Venues
For such high profile places, national parks remain pretty inexpensive for hosting weddings. You’ll have to apply for a permit with the park which can range from $50-$400. Each park processes their permits differently and you may need to apply at least a year in advance (if you apply 21 days or less in advance or during the park’s busy season your permit may be rejected all together.) On top of this, there may be a specific rental price.
Things to Keep in Mind: Though you are renting this space, you can’t just do whatever you like with it. A national park is protected space, and the fact that it’s your wedding day doesn’t change that. Even something as simple as putting up a tent for the reception may be against the rules. The area needs to be clean and safe for everyone, so you may be restricted on how many people can come. Food will also be an issue, not only in terms of rules but on a practical level: opt for that salmon entreé and you might end up with a bunch of grizzly bears crashing the party.
Big City Price Muir Woods, San Francisco Bay Area: Permit Fees begin at $225.
Small Town Price First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA: First, you have to pay $25 fee with your application. If approved, prices range from $296.80 to 835.28, depending on the size and setup; if you want a tent, the tent size, etc.
AirBnb isn’t just for renting places to stay on vacation: there’s a whole class of AirBnB rentals that are perfect for weddings. Filter under “suitable for events” and rent “entire place” and just go from there. Set the price for whatever you want for the night and you may find unique locations (for instance in St. Paul MN, there’s actually a pirate ship you can get for $300 for the night). As with other venues, the cost will depend on how many amenities and supplies you’ll have to bring in, but you’ll always have that bonus of some beds to crash in at the end of the night.
Things to Keep in Mind: This isn’t an option in every state. Some places, like Arizona, have started passing laws against short term home rentals for parties.
Big City Price Vashon Island, Greater Seattle Area, WA: $1,500 per night, not including amenities.
Small Town Price Carrollton, TX: $4,042 for the venue, not including amenities.
What says celebration more than a block party? Let everyone know about your big day. As with a national park, a permit is required (you will be shutting down the whole street after all). Permits are going to vary city to city, but will average $30 with sometimes an attached application fee of $150. How you handle other costs (such as food and alcohol) will be up to you, but one thing you’ll definitely need to include if you pursue this plan is the clean-up costs. The bigger the reception, the more you should budget for sanitation services.
Things to Keep in Mind: This is going to be A LOT of paperwork. Beyond the permit to block the street, you also need to get an alcohol permit, agree to remain within certain sound ordinances, and in some states, like California, you might need a petition from neighbors that they’re okay with this (and that usually means they can invite themselves to your party if they wish).
Big City Price Miami: Applications must be submitted three weeks prior to the event date with a $240 application fee.
Small Town Price St. Augustine, FL: $100 Permit fee for weddings of 15 to 99 guests and $400 for weddings with over 100 guests.