How to plan a wedding reception that won’t bust your budget

Betty Brigade is a personal assistance and concierge company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan offering a variety of tips regarding organizing, event planning, weddings, and more. Danielle VanDusen is BB’s ‘Media Coordinator’ Betty, and assists companies and individuals in planning, coordinating and executing successful events. In her spare time she plays roller derby for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes.

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Part 1 – The Reception

A typical 150-guest wedding costs $25,000 on average, according to The Knot’s Wedding Budget 101 Guide. That’s enough to pay for a new car, cover the down payment on a house, or fund (at least partially) a college education! While no bride wants to sacrifice her dream wedding because of cost-restrictions, we’ve come up with some pretty creative ways for you to save money and still have an amazing day.


The reception represents a large chunk of your total expense. The Knot says it’s 48% to 50% on average, or $12,000 to $12,500 for a $25,000 wedding. The main reason for this is that most of the typical reception venues require that you use their catering services or buy their food. Ceremony venues are a bit less of an issue, but still add to the overall costs. If you’ve got your heart set on getting married in the church you grew up in – that actually could be good for your budget! Most churches don’t charge for ceremonies if you’re a member of the congregation.

Consider getting married in the “off” season. May – September is prime wedding season and most venues charge a premium rate during this time. Getting married between October & April can save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS. If you’re set on that beautiful ballroom – see if you can set up an all-inclusive price ahead of time. That way you know all the costs up front and can plan accordingly. For another way to cut some costs here – see if they’ll offer a discount for payment in full up front. You’ll never know unless you ask!

Consider non-traditional venues. The most popular places for weddings are ballrooms, hotels, and resorts. These are also the most expensive, sometimes costing over $10,000! Consider a bed & breakfast, a public park, or an art gallery for your reception. Places that don’t typically host weddings may not have the same exorbitant prices as those that are well-known for being wedding venues. You can also check out your alma mater, you may be able to rent a space there for much less.

Consider having the ceremony and reception in the same place. Unless you want that big church wedding ceremony, you’ll save yourselves multiple site fees as well as transportation costs from one location to the other by having the whole wedding in one place.


The largest part of your reception costs (in fact, over 40%) is going to be food and drink, and it only goes up if your venue is providing the food or you’re hiring a caterer. If your venue allows you to bring your own food, that’s an opportunity to save HUGE. If you plan ahead and put in a little extra work by making a lot of the food yourself (and with the help of your family & friends), you’ll be surprised by just how much you can save.

Consider talking to your local bulk food supplier. See if they have any prepared meal options that you would like. You can purchase these at wholesale prices and hire someone to get them ready at the right times. You can even enlist the help of a close friend or family member who is especially gifted at helping with things like this.

Another option is to find something that is relatively easy to make and make it ahead of time – then have it heated up at your reception. Both of these options are much more frugal than either catering or venue food.

You can also consider a wedding party/family & friends potluck. This is a bit tricky, but if you’ve got a close-knit family that can work together, this could save you TONS of money in the long run. Be specific about what kinds of things you want and assign them to specific people to make things easier. Who says you have to have a sit-down meal? You’re supposed to be celebrating!

If you’re willing to lift and carry, you can purchase beverages at wholesale, or, if you’re adventurous, you can even make some of your own to help cut the costs. Buying beer, wine, and liquor at a wholesale prices can save you bunches in the long run, but make sure you have someone certified running your bar station! Certification requirements vary from state to state so find out what the requirements are for your area.

Instead of a traditional wedding cake – which can cost upwards of $600 (and that’s the low end!) consider making cupcakes or cake-pops instead. You can also opt for a dessert table with various homemade treats like cookies, candy, or pastries which can DOUBLE as your favors. Everyone loves homemade treats!



Lighting, centerpieces, and other décor are going to be your big challenges AND costs. You can cut down your costs by shopping online and looking out for deals on bulk items.

For lighting, something as simple as twinkle lights & tulle fabric can REALLY make the difference but not break your budget.


For a different twist, you can go rustic and use natural elements. You can even add glow sticks to simple jars create beautiful outdoor lanterns. Using nature is probably the best – since it’s FREE and can really look amazing. Consider things like leaves, wildflowers, or (depending on the time of year) pumpkins or seasonal plants. Be sure to properly prepare anything gathered outside so you don’t end up with unwanted guests like bees or ants.


Centerpieces & Table Décor. We all want our wedding to be perfect and beautiful and fun. Instead of spending TONS of money for fresh flowers or ornately crafted centerpieces, think about going with something simpler. Flowers (Fresh or Fake) & candlelight can do a LOT to set the mood. You can even double up and use your favors AS your centerpieces! Two birds; one stone.


Another way to save money on your table settings is to forgo linens and use picnic style tables instead of traditional rounds. This eliminates linen costs and sets the tone for a more intimate & unique setting.



Entertainment accounts for 8% to 10% percent of costs, or $2,000 to $2,500 for a $25,000 wedding, according to The Knot. Instead of paying tons of money on a band or a DJ, considering some non-traditional options could save you a lot of money here. By creating your own playlist and using a laptop or MP3 player, you can slash entertainment costs.

Instead of hiring a professional DJ, consider having a friend or family member help keep things running smoothly throughout the night.

Make separate playlists to keep things organized. In general, you should have one for the ceremony, one for the reception, and one for important dances like the father and daughter dance.

For music choices, you can scout online to look for traditional wedding music or look up the most recent top 40’s chart for some inspiration., Project Wedding, or are all good options as well.

That’s it for part 1. Stay tuned for more great ways to save money on your wedding costs! We’re always keeping our eyes peeled for great ways to cut costs and still have a smashing time – I hope this has been helpful for you. Until next time – Keep it simple!


180-Danielle-Blog-AuthorDanielle VanDusen, “Media Coordinator Betty”

Danielle VanDusen joined The Betty Brigade in 2012 and is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in Japanese language and culture at Eastern Michigan University, with a minor in Graphic Arts. In addition to her administrative duties, Danielle is assisting the marketing department with her technical and communication abilities. She also hopes to become more involved in the event planning arm of the Betty Brigade, helping companies and individuals plan, coordinate and execute successful events. In her spare time she plays roller derby for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes and spends time with her pet pal Kitsune, a 5 year old Shiba Inu.