So here we are. You’ve sized up your savings account, looked the ‘future you’ guy or gal firmly in the eye, and realized that it would be, ummm, most prudent, to spend no more than 10K on your wedding.
And then you begin to wonder. Is it possible to have an affordable wedding without feeling self-conscious when talking to wedding vendors, without making your friends work, and without worrying that your guests will think your wedding looked cheap? So you do what we grown ups usually do when we are stumped, and consult the internet. And the answer is… yes and no. It depends where you are (read: go into the middle of nowhere), how big your guest list is (read: invite no more than 20 guests), how willing you are to compromise (read: by the time you’re done, it may not even look like a wedding any more).
It is true that, in and around Toronto, 10K will not likely buy you a designer dress, five-course meal for 100 guests, and an award-winning photographer for the day. Yet I think we can agree that 10K is a big sum of money, which probably took you a while to save up. Let’s explore what you could comfortably do with 10K.
Sharing food and drinks is the most traditional way to mark a special occasion. It puts people in a good mood and draws everyone together. When it comes to food for your wedding guests, it’s usually what you spend most of your budget on. So, let’s tackle it first. If $10K is your total spend, let’s say you’d be looking to spend around $6K on food and drinks. Of course, if you invite 30 or less guests, you have $200 or more to feed each guest. Pop the Dom Perignon!.. But realistically, we know that you’ll want to invite many more.
Let’s say 60 guests – so, $100 per guest.
Option 1. Take them to a restaurant for dinner.
- Now, restaurants tend to apply a service charge when they have large groups – give or take 20%. Plus there’s the 13% HST. If my math is right, you only really have $75 per guest to play with – and you’ll have to stretch that sum on an appetizer / salad, main course, dessert, and drinks (maybe half a bottle of wine on average, let’s say).
- Restaurants in most trendy areas are probably going to be too expensive for you, but surely you can think of some that are within the range. I’m thinking Italian, for example. Everybody loves pizza and pasta! Chinese or Indian, or any buffet restaurants, can be excellent, too. Think comfort foods – they tend to be well-loved yet cheaper than steak and fish.
- Restaurants don’t typically charge a venue fee, but if they were to close their doors to their regular customers, they often do so in exchange for minimum spend requirements. Remember that mandatory service charges and HST will be added on top of the minimum spend, so if 6K is your total, the minimum spend should be closer to 5K.
- Restaurants that serve good food tend to be quite popular, and thus have quite high expectations of profit for each night. In other words, you may have to hunt around a bit for a minimum spend of 5K – or look for a restaurant with a private dining room that’s right for the group of your size. That way the restaurant can remain partly open, and does not need to rely on you to make up their usual sales for the night.
- In order to reduce the minimum consumption, you could explore having your dinner on a weeknight. If the location is pretty central, all your guests are local (or would be taking an extended time off anyway to come to your wedding), everyone should be able to go to work and make it there for 7 pm.
- Admittedly, 6K budget can feel a bit tight for 60 guests. Incremental increases in your budget may open up much better choices for you. For example, you could really rock a 15K wedding here – which would still be much cheaper than your average Toronto wedding.
Option 2. Host a brunch reception.
- Same as the above, but brunch tends to be cheaper than dinner, and people tend to drink less if it’s earlier in the day.
- Restaurants tend to have lower minimum spends earlier in the day, and in particular their beverage minimum spend might be lower.
- If you want to offer your guests a foodie experience, you could stretch your budget into a really fancy brunch.
- Everybody loves brunch food – the ultimate comfort food!
Option 3. Consider a standing reception.
- Standing reception with appetizer trays or food stations requires less wait staff to pull off, so you’re saving right off the bat.
- People are likely to eat less if they are standing and mingling, so you can stretch the same amount of food much better, or offer fancier food, if it’s offered this way (in other words, it won’t look ‘cheap’).
Let’s say you have 100 guests. Are there any options that are even cheaper?
Option 4. Good old barbecue
- Find a venue that works.
- Get ready to cook pulled pork, sausages, chicken skewers (a lot classier than hamburgers), baked potatoes, bread, pickles, coleslaw, potato salad, veggie trays from Costco, chips. Beer, wine, coke, juice. Celebratory plastic plates and utensils from Michaels – tada!.. It’s been done before, and it always looks homey and lovely. Of course, it’s no small feat. It requires you to accurately estimate the amount of food 100 people will eat, and then find ways to cook everything in the few days before your wedding, which is stressful! Making it a group effort makes it easier – but then you’re making your friends and family work for you.
- You could also hire a barbecue catering company who can take care of everything for you. They may have minimum spend requirements, but your 5K should meet them easily.
Option 5. Food trucks
- Food trucks in Toronto offer a great selection of food options – from crepes to ice cream, and from pierogis to pizza. Again, aim to select comfort food that everyone loves, and try to provide a healthy alternative for those who are conscious about these things.
- They may have minimum order sizes and travel fees.
- Food trucks often work with one or two sales windows, requiring guests to line up as they serve them one by one. If you have one food truck and 100 guests, the line – and wait times – could be quite long. Ask the company if they had done such a big event before, and if so, how quickly did they serve all 100 guests in the past. Maybe they can lay out all the food on big tables and feed multiple guests at once. Of course, look into references to ensure that the food truck company is reliable. Consider getting a couple different trucks to mitigate the risks.
- Food trucks likely will not offer alcohol. As such, you may need to buy alcohol under an SOP license.
How to save on alcohol for your wedding?
- Restaurants and especially pubs tend to have high minimum spends when it comes to alcohol – and, of course, the restaurant surcharges will apply.
- One way to avoid it would be with a venue that allows you to bring your own alcohol. Hint – it probably won’t be a venue licensed to serve alcohol. You will need to apply for a Special Occasion Permit license. Hiring Smart Serve qualified bartenders may be a requirement under the SOP license.
- When it comes to managing the amount of alcohol your guests will actually drink, you can work with the venue to limit the alcohol selection. Consider getting only beer, wine, and maybe a liquor for your signature drink. Most people won’t notice lack of options and will be quite happy with the selection.
- Look into buying cheap wine and turning it into table wine by following the example of this couple featured on GlobalNews.
- Consider making your own wine instead of buying it from LCBO. See our post on Fermentations.
- If you’re buying alcohol from LCBO under an SOP license, don’t be afraid to buy more than you think your group will drink. LCBO offers buyback options, where they get unopened bottles off your hands for a refund within 30 days.
If you decided to go with a barbecue or food truck options, or found a very reasonable catering company, you just need to find a place to gather at. Some venues are quite expensive, others much cheaper.
- Community centres, churches, condo party rooms may require you to rent and deliver your furniture – but they rent out space at very reasonable prices.
- Outdoor parks. You can fill out an application with the City of Toronto to host a special event in one of city’s parks. You may want to rent and bring chairs for your guests. Of course, parks are open to public, but passersby are generally respectful and try to stay out of your pictures. Potentially more problematic is the fact that high heat or rain will also be welcome to your wedding. You may need a cheap back-up venue just in case (which will work for your vendors), and a way to quickly and reliably advise all vendors and guests of any last-minute venue changes.
- Large backyards in a house or cottage. If you are renting these premises, you need to be clear with the owners that you will host a wedding there.
- In alternative, there are lots of venues outside of Toronto (within driving distance) that will suit every taste at much smaller cost than what can be found in Toronto proper.
Few people realize how cheap a ceremony can be. And that’s great news, because even if everything else fails, if you do a ceremony, you are married. This means that, at the very least, you need your marriage license paperwork in place (inquire in the town you’re in), you need a place that would accommodate all of your guests, and you need an officiant.
For smaller gatherings, consider getting married in wedding chambers in a city hall of civic centre. Many of these also provide officiants. The fees for both services are quite reasonable.
Other ways to cut costs
Number of guests
The less guests you have, the easier it will be for you to implement your ideal wedding budget. First, more guests means more opinions about what a decent wedding should look like. Second, more guests require a bigger space to accommodate them all, and cheap spaces usually come in smaller sizes. Third, more guests will require more logistical maneuvering, more food, more efforts and equipment to serve the hot food to everyone at the same time, and more furniture to ensure everyone’s comfort. Finally, with a certain number of guests, you will need to consider getting sound amplifying equipment, formal invitations, and transportation, and you lose flexibility – in the sense that last-minute changes will be hard to pull off. In sum, each additional guest may add exponential expense to your wedding budget, and require more and more creativity to accommodate. There is a reason why elopement tends to be one of the cheapest ways to get married: there are no guests!
This is not for everybody… but a simple white (or non-white) cocktail dress that you buy in a regular store can become your wedding dress. Nice shoes you already have will work, too – maybe not the shiny black ones, but something in your closet will surely work. Added bonuses: you won’t have to break the shoes in, and you won’t have to pay for special dry cleaning and preservation or find space to store your wedding dress for the years to come. In fact, if you’re not sure about ever wearing a white dress, you can always dye it and keep wearing it to parties for years to come!
Consider DYI’ing the invitations. Use a nice picture of you two, or paint a romantic picture if you’re into painting, and use it as background for your invitations. Consider hand-writing
I just love the spirit of YoungHouseLove wedding. It reminds me that, if something is a labour of love, it won’t look cheap, it won’t look cookie-cutter, and it will not be easily forgotten when the day is over.
Did you get married for under 10K? What did you spend on, where did you cut costs? What did people say? Or maybe you tried to set a budget of 10K but then increased it? Comment away and share your experiences with others who are considering doing the same!