Planning a wedding is a huge undertaking—and an equally huge investment—leaving modern couples torn on whether it’s worth it. Weddings these days average well over $30,000, and the guest count? It may be dropping slowly, but most couples still celebrate with nearly 150 of their friends and family members (which doesn’t really merit the “nearest and dearest” descriptor).
You and your partner may have joked about eloping, but if you know you can’t bring yourselves to buck all tradition, there’s another option: the microwedding. These celebrations are intimate to the extreme, with barely a dozen guests on the list, but still feature those time-honored fixings that make a wedding, well, a “wedding.” It’s festive, beautiful, and full of love, but the tiny scale also means your savings account will still be pretty full when it’s all said and done. Sounds good to us! Ready to go micro? We turned to the pros for the planning tips you’ll need to make this small-scale celebration as memorable as a ballroom blowout bash.
Don’t Sacrifice the Chance to Celebrate
“I’ve stopped so many people from just going down to the courthouse,” says Annie Lee, principal planner of Daughter of Design. “Why would you miss this opportunity to do something special?” Instead, Lee encourages her clients to make the most of it—even if they have a gorgeous destination wedding in the works. “Get your marriage license, hire an officiant, and grab a few friends, then get married somewhere you could never have a typically-sized wedding. Whether it’s the front steps of the New York Public Library, at the top of the Empire State Building, or in your childhood home’s living room, take advantage of the small size and go somewhere you couldn’t go otherwise!”
Let Your Imagination Run Wild
“With fewer guests comes less work, fewer opinions and people to please, less budget required, and more options in terms of spaces to celebrate,” says Jove Meyer, owner and creative director of Jove Meyer Events. “You open up the world of unique spaces that are inaccessible to larger weddings. You can rent out cafés, restaurants, bars, parks, galleries, or really anywhere you’d never consider for a big wedding. They’re already designed beautifully—meaning you can save on décor—and might have their own tables and chairs, so you don’t have to rent them.” When you’re looking at renting an entire space (which might seem pricey on paper), keep those savings in mind, and you’ll probably notice that it’s quite cost-effective.
Pick a Venue First
Whether your wedding is big or small, it’s easier to find a venue and then tailor your guest list to fit, instead of inviting everyone and then realizing you can’t find the right space. “If it’s your favorite restaurant, for example, find out the capacity of their private dining room, then cut down your guest list until there is space for everyone at the table,” Lee advises.
Cover the Basics
“The three things to have at all weddings, regardless of size, are great food, music, and alcohol!” says Meyer. “Weddings are celebrations, and people love to come together to share a meal and dance, so these three items are a must. Food is the base, alcohol loosens everyone up, and dancing makes it fun!” Of course, Meyer loves flowers, stationery, and décor, but those aren’t must-haves for a celebration. “Start with the basics, and add those details in to enhance the evening and create a vibe that encourages joy and love.”
Get Dressed Up
“No matter how big or small your wedding, it’s so special to get gussied up in attire specifically for the occasion,” says Lee. “It doesn’t have to be a big ole’ gown and tuxedo, just something special. Your grandchildren will look back at the photos 50 years from now and say how fab you both looked!”
Hire a Photographer
“No matter how small your wedding is, please, please hire a photographer. You’ll want to document this day, no matter what,” says Lee. But that doesn’t mean you need an eight to 10-hour package and a second shooter. “A smaller guest list also means a smaller shot list, so talk to your photographer about creating a custom package for a shorter amount of time,” Meyer suggests.
Turn to the Pros
“You can definitely still do things like rent linens, hire a florist, or get a cake,” Lee explains. Look for someone who can create what you love, and know that they might not be a full-blown “event designer” or “wedding cake baker” who has a spend minimum. You don’t need a cake for 50 people, so get creative with your local bakery or favorite sweet shop instead. Your local florist, who might specialize in single arrangements instead of bouquets and floral arches, is a great resource for a smaller table. And you can definitely still work with a planner! Many (Lee included) offer hourly rates that would be just the thing for an intimate celebration that doesn’t require the same level of planning as a larger-scale wedding.
Adds Meyer, “Talk to a florist about picking up a few arrangements instead of having them deliver a dozen of them, which will cut that budget and still make the space beautiful. A dozen guests mean you’ll only have one or two tables, so you don’t need a full production team for setup and breakdown (unless you love flowers and want to splurge on a total transformation of the space!).”
Make It Meaningful
“I’m a huge fan of personal vows in any setting,” Lee says. “Especially when it’s a more intimate wedding.” Don’t skip the chance to share words and promises with one another, surrounded by the people who are truly closest to the two of you. Lee also loves the inclusion of sentimental details, like wearing your grandmother’s brooch or having your dog walk down the aisle with you, to give the day personal value.
Create a Personal Experience for Your Guests
While you’re thinking about adding those meaningful touches, do so for your guests, too. “Write handwritten notes to every guest to place at their seat,” says Meyer. “Or consider hand-painting each invitation instead of having them printed.” It’s much easier to add those really special touches for 12 people than it is for 200! And since you’ve gone through the trouble of narrowing your guest list down so far, you’re guaranteed to have a super-close connection to every guest, making those little touches all the more meaningful.