Affordable wedding venues are like good Woody Allen movies. Increasingly hard to find in these unsettled times. But if there’s good reason for the latter, there isn’t for the former, especially if the task of finding a location for a cheap wedding reception has fallen to you and your partner due to the unforeseen circumstance that the bride’s parents are either deceased, poor, disapproving or neglectful. So here are a couple ideas for inexpensive wedding venues to help you get the most bang for your nuptial buck.
(Note, for your added convenience, we have further codified our suggestions to meet the needs of varying income levels, middle to low.)
Level 1: You’re reasonably well adjusted and gainfully employed, you only have a tiny balance left on your credit card from when your wisdom teeth got taken out but you’re paying it off steadily, or “Comfortable.”
A House of Worship
Perhaps the most obvious solution to the problem of where to find an affordable wedding venue. You should have no trouble convincing the friendly neighborhood priest, minister, imam or rabbi to let you host a party in his/her theological tax shelter, I mean holy sanctuary. I would say it’s the Christian thing to do, but of course that limits your options considerably. If you do decide to go this route, we strongly advise you not to marry outside your own faith, and if you currently identify as “Atheist” on job applications and medical history forms, you may wish to reevaluate.
A Recreation Center
Nothing says community like a wedding between two law abiding tax payers (which we assume you are), so why not take advantage of the party room at the local rec center? After all, they take a little out of your weekly paycheck to pay for places like this, so you might as well enjoy the facilities, right? Party games can include a game of BRIDE, which is just like HORSE but with different letters; relay races in the swimming pool; and a soccer match, bride’s family v. groom’s. We’ll let you sort out who are shirts and who are skins. And if a bunch of odd teenagers show up for their weekly Magic: The Gathering tournament only to find the game room occupied, just remind them this is a perfect opportunity to sneak into the woods and smoke Marlboros, which is what they should be doing anyway, since your lungs are only 16 years old once.
The Public Library
“When in doubt, go to the library” says award-winning author J.K. Rowling, and as with just about everything else she says, we agree! These hallowed centers of scholarship and escapism often have reception rooms that can be rented at a reduced rate, and like the rec centers above, your tax dollars are already paying to keep the doors open, so why not go through them? A couple of caveats: (1) You may wish to inspect the bathrooms before committing, as library toilets often serve as “spas” and “boudoirs” for a city’s homeless population; and (2) if your bride-to-be came of age in the late 90s/early aughts and has taken to referring to herself as the Carrie Bradshaw to your Mister Big, getting married at the library may be unduly triggering (see Sex and the City 1 for more information).
Level 2: Yes, you have your dream job as a freelancer in the gig economy but railway apartments don’t come cheap, even in neighborhoods that are “transitioning”, plus you actually worked so much last year that you actually owed taxes, and your student debt – much like getting thrown off a horse – is crippling, or “Barely Scraping By”
The Local VFW
A great cheap wedding venue idea! Where else can a bunch of ambitious, attractive and assertive twenty-somethings mingle with a generation that finds the jokes in Beetle Bailey witty and topical? People always say we should respect our elders, and how can you not when these are the guys that proved to us that a shot of Jim Beam and a can of PBR is still the perfect antidote for the PTSD they got on Hamburger Hill. Having your reception in the back room of a VFW kills two birds with one stone. Not only can you throw a lit party on the cheap, but you can support one of the only institutions left in the United States that keeps our disgruntled veterans drunk and far away from gun shows where they can still legally buy assault rifles.
An Indie Performance Venue
Typically these warehouses and loft spaces survived intact from the Industrial Revolution, meaning they are just safe enough not to have caused the deaths of vast numbers of immigrants, women and child laborers in a fire or other mishap involving complex machinery. Check the schedule at your local space because they may just have a free night interspersed among workshop performances of a queer art piece about Anais Nin, a poetry slam about the struggle of identifying with hip hop artists who grew up with less privilege than the poets who now consider this “problematic,” and the debut of a new song cycle inspired by Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”. Do keep in mind that the stairwells in these venues are often described as “rustic” or “as originally constructed,” which is secret code for “rickety.” So if you want a DIY, cheap wedding reception, book an indie venue, by all means. Just not if your fiancé and the rest of the bridal party plan to wear heels.
Level 3: You totally fell victim to a credit card scam in your early 20s, you designed your own major at a prestigious liberal arts college in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, and your parents are the outliers of the Baby Boom who want you to be something they call ‘self-sufficient’ which apparently is so tiresome and banal it even involves you having to pay for your own cell phone plan, or “Totally Screwed.”
Ah the joys of the outdoor wedding. Dancing under the stars. Dining al fresco. Classic, eh? And totally free! I think we can all agree that free wedding venues are even better than cheap wedding venue ideas. Of course, you should be prepared for the possibility of a few wedding crashers. But really, can you blame them, if one of your guests is sitting on a bench that is also their bed? Still, despite these minor inconveniences, as well as the need to shield the guests from bird droppings, as far as free wedding venues go, a park may be your best bet. (Side note: not all parks are free, so please check your city or municipality’s website. You may also have to pay a small permit and/or location fee.)
Mom and Dad’s Back Yard
If you go with this option, we recommend having parents who are supportive, nurturing and content enough with their own careers that they are capable of unconditional love. It is still possible to hold your reception in this presumably free wedding venue if your parents do not meet these qualifications, but please be careful. Possible side effects include guilt, irritability, and the dredging up of old wounds, typically involving childhood birthday parties gone wrong. These effects are worse if you are a) Jewish and your parents already paid for a bar or bat mitzvah; b) Catholic, and observed the rite of First Communion; or c) Latin American and celebrated a fiesta de quinceanera with 45 of your closest middle school friends. One other wrinkle: parents tend to be better wedding hosts if they had the foresight to purchase property on a wide street or cul-de-sac with room for their kids’ friends to park their cars without pissing off the neighbors. If your parents did not have this much foresight, or have perhaps made the mistake of being genuinely middle class, one way to avoid conflict would be to just invite their neighbors. Up to you.
Your College Friend Who Went to Law School’s Roof Deck
A less common option, and probably one you should avoid unless your favorite variety of pie is humble. If indeed you have no shame, or if you happen to have a little dirt on your old buddy from this one weekend you took shrooms in Puerto Vallarta before senior exams – and assuming you have little to no qualms about blackmail – descending on the luxury condo he can afford thanks to his junior associate’s salary in the antitrust practice group may just be your best bet. After all, what generic, hastily constructed high rises do to strip away the beauty and character from gentrifying neighborhoods, they make up for with amenities such as shuffle board, deck chairs, and an electric grill. We highly doubt that your guests will remember they are astride a colossal eye sore if your buddy’s Homepod is blasting a heli-tight playlist, with a little Smokey Robinson thrown in for the parents and other awkward dancers.
Can’t afford a fancy wedding venue? Then just don’t get one. Drive off and elope. It costs just a little bit more than a tank of gas.
— Matt Ocks