Small ceremony/Big reception?

Since we got engaged in June, my fiance and I have been planning a nice wedding of about ~100 people, with a price tag on everything we wanted being about $17k. However, we've recently started talking about doing something smaller and more cost-friendly.

We've been trying to toy with the idea of doing a smaller, more intimate ceremony during the week, then throw a big reception that weekend. It would save us so much money and stress, and we'd be able to get married sooner than our original 2-year timeline. Plus we could put more into the reception and make it more fun for the guests. However, there's a few things I can't shake from my original vision of a big wedding, and we're trying to figure out how to do this without hurting anyone's feelings.

We've considered a very intimate (for our family) ceremony, with only parents, grandparents, and siblings, and maybe a few friends (~28 people). If we go this route though, I'd feel awful leaving out my aunt and uncles. I know they'll be hurt.
We could go the half-way mark, where we invite some aunts and uncles. But then we start going down the slippery slope of "if we invite x, we have to invite y, and then we'd have to invite z." Even just adding aunts, uncles, and cousins puts us up to 50 guests.
My future BIL recommended doing something like a camping trip, where everyone rents a space and goes camping and we have a nice, simple outdoor wedding. But I don't think everyone will like that, and it would make it difficult on the grandparents (some of whom have medical issues). Plus I'm not sure we could find a campground that accommodates enough people AND has that many spots left for next year.
I really, really can't let go of wanting to buy or rent a beautiful wedding gown. I don't know why. It's a childhood dream of mine. So if we do something so small (courthouse - ~10 people), it'll feel silly and stupid to buy a gown for that. But if we do even a medium event with ~50 people, we probably won't save much anyway. I also really want to hire a nice photographer to have pictures of our big day, but if we do a 15 minute ceremony with just a few people, how can I justify hiring a photographer?
I'm really lost and I don't know how to balance saving money, having the people we want involved there without hurting someone, and still having the things I've always dreamed of having at our wedding.

I'm sorry for rambling. Do any of you have any advice or insight? Did anyone here do something similar or non-traditional? How did people handle it? What would you recommend, with how you'd done your wedding?



  • If it helps at all, we're having fewer people at our ceremony and more guests later in the evening for our reception. This is mainly due to recent family disputes and fall outs. 

    I always had in the back of my mind a vision of a huge princess fairytale wedding. At times I never thought that I'd get that, but looking at what we're doing now I'm still getting that fairytale dream. Parts of our day aren't entirely traditional, we've tweaked bits here and there but it's about you getting married which counts. 

    Plus weddings don't have to cost the earth, look at discounts/consider DIY'ing some etc. It's hard to budget with a big guest list but it can be done. x

  • We are in a similar position - don’t want to leave anyone out vs not having a budget to cater for everyone!

    Have you considered getting married a bit later say 4/5pm and then just having an evening reception? This is something we’ve just started to consider as it removes the need for ‘main’ wedding meal and then evening food too and reduces drink costs too. x

  • My ceremony is family only but this is mainly due to the registry office only sitting 40. I’ve got a traditional wedding dress but then we are also going straight from the ceremony to the reception where we’ll have approx another 60 guests.

  • You can have an intimate wedding with the immediate families and a party after with a bigger group maybe?

    1. You can print photos from the wedding day to be shared at the party, if you are having the celebrations a couple of months after - perhaps at a nice pub / restaurant to reduce venue hire? A lot of places do private hire if you meet the required minimum spend

    2. Definitely get a beautiful wedding gown - it doesn't have to cost a fortune, go to sample sale!! I got mine for £450 (original price was £4k!) You can wear the gown again at the reception if you wish (!?)

    3. You 100% need a nice photographer for your wedding day, it'd be one of the most memorable days of your life! Perhaps speak to the photographer to see he / she would do a package for you for two separate occasions? 

    We are getting married abroad just us two and having a picnic party when we come back from our wedding :) our family and friends are fully supportive and agreed that it's our day so we should do everything our way! 


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