Affordable Wedding Series: Guest List, Location and Budget

Affordable Wedding Series: Guest List, Location and Budget

Congratulations, you are engaged!  You found the one you will spend the rest of your life with, your other half.  Your partner in all things.  This is a joyous time.

But now it’s time to get to work on your wedding planning.  Unfortunately, as soon as you announce that you are engaged people will start asking about your plans for the wedding.  It’s ideal to start you planning before all of your family and friends render their opinions on what your wedding should be.  This gives you a head start on what you envision the day to be.  I know some people have been thinking about their wedding day for a long time before the engagement happens, I was not one of those people.  I had no clue what I wanted!

Here are the big questions we will try to tackle today.  Do you want to have a big or a small wedding?  Where do you want to have your wedding?  And, most importantly, what is your budget for the wedding?

These questions tend to be answered around the same time, so it can be a bit overwhelming.  They are directly tied together.  If you decide to have a small local wedding you may spend A, if you have a small destination wedding you may spend B, if you decide to have a big local wedding you may spend C, but if you decide to have a big destination wedding you may spend all of the alphabet!!!  So, take your time with this decision, it will drive the rest of your experience.

Big wedding or small wedding?  This can be a very tough choice, it was for my husband and me.  We had two choices; a small wedding with about 15 attendees (just our immediate family) or a big wedding with 140 attendees.  There was unfortunately no medium wedding option for us.  We have large extended families which we are close to, my husband is 42 and I am 34 therefore most of our cousins are married with families of their own by now and we both have close-knit friend groups.  It was all of our list or just the immediate family.

Take some time making a list of all the people you could possibly ever want to come to the wedding (this will be a long list).  Is your list at 50, 100, 200 or more?  Once you have this list you can start breaking it up into different scenarios, such as small, medium and large.  Hold on to these scenarios, you will use these as you look at venues and establish the budget.  I suggest to delay making your decision on the size as long as you can, this gives to time to research and evaluate the other areas below, the right answer will show itself.

Local or destination?  Where do you want to have the wedding? On a mountain top in Oregon, on a beach in Key West, in your home church or in your friend’s backyard?  Take some time to vision you wedding and talk it over with your fiancé.  What do you each picture the day being?  Do you want to stay local for your wedding and then travel for your honeymoon?  Or combine both and travel to your destination for the wedding and stay longer for the honeymoon?  These are questions only you and your fiancé can answer.

We decided to stay local in central Florida for the wedding and travel within the U.S. (Oregon) for our honeymoon.  We chose local for the wedding so we would not have to travel for the wedding, I think it’s easier to plan a wedding in the city you live in.  Also, we wanted to invite our family to check out the town we love.  We have family all the way up the east coast but we were confident they would travel for the wedding (and they did!).

Budget? I know I listed this third but this is actually the most important choice you will make.  What is a comfortable amount for you to spend on this?  Be honest with yourself.  Will your parents be contributing?   Don’t rely on what you think guest will be gifting you at the wedding, these are gifts and shouldn’t be used to increase your budget.  If you are doing a destination wedding, people may not gift money since just getting to the wedding is very costly (time off of work, plane or drive, hotel, meals, etc.)  We were lucky that our parents contributed to our wedding.  This enabled us to be able to have the big wedding and invite all of our family and some of our friends.  If they had not been able to contribute, we would have done a small wedding with just our immediate family.

It was important for us to start our married life on the right foot financially.  We did not want to, and did not go into debt on our first day as husband and wife.  Money issues can be a very big stressor for couples, why would you want to have that when you are just starting off?

Once you have established your total budget amount, you can start estimating the various costs; venue, meal, dress, suit, bouquet and boutonnieres, center pieces, favors, DJ, photographer, transportation, hotel room, etc.  Try to over-estimate each cost and don’t forget to include taxes.    I used a simple excel sheet to keep track of all of the expense, but if you like apps there are a ton out there you could use.

Venue.  Now that you have your general location established, your framework budget and your guest list scenarios, it is time to start looking at venues.  Be sure to ask around for venue suggestions.  I had researched/researched/researched, but our final wedding venue came from the recommendation of a friend.

Some questions/thoughts to keep in mind as you look at venues.

  • Does the venue have a restaurant that you will use?
  • Is there a limited list of caters you can use? What are their prices?
  • Do you need to rent tables, chairs, linens and dinnerware?
  • Is it outside or inside? What will is the weather forecast?
  • Will you have to decorate the venue a lot or only a little? In other words, does it look like a recreation center and you need to turn it into a banquet hall?
  • Is the wedding and the reception in the same location?
  • How will your guests get to (each of) the venue(s)?

It’s important to think about all of these questions before you decide on a venue. You don’t want to be surprised but a budget busting cater cost after you put down your deposit on the venue!  Take your time with this decision.   We looked at a lot venues, a lot of venues.  I may have looked at all of the venues in central Florida!  I enlisted my fiancé when I found a place worth looking at, he was great at seeing all the little details I miss trying to take in the whole scope of a place.  Once venue he nixed by the time we made it to the front door!   The front planters were dying and the front door was in dire need of a coat of paint, the inside had further problems.

Wrap up.

I know the budget is never big enough to do all the things you want to do, but staying in the budget and compromising is great practice for married life!  Maybe you wanted to do a destination wedding in Turks and Caicos (my cousin’s favorite destination), but you just can’t make it work with the budget.  If you live near a beach or a lake, you could do it there and have a beach themed wedding, heading to Turks and Caicos for your honeymoon.  Take your time making these decisions about the guest list, location and budget, your right answer will come to you (once you have done the research of course!).  Where ever you end up having your wedding, the day will be amazing.  Mine was!

What techniques have you used to decide on your budget, location and guest list size?  Are you struggling with this decision now?  I would love to hear from you.

Don’t forget to stay tuned for more affordable wedding tips a part of this series.



  1. Great post. I can’t wait to read the rest of your affordable wedding series. My favorite was your advice not to rely on gifts to offset your budget. It’s really rare to read that particular tip. I even managed to squeeze your article into my latest post.

    • Thanks! It is tempting to stretch your budget in anyway possible but that just adds stress. I believe in capping the budget and reworking categories inside the budget if need be.

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