The Rise of Alternative Weddings: Lower Cost, More Fun

A tale of 3 weddings that didn't break the bank.
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written by oz chen

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In recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending alternative weddings that didn’t break the newlyweds’ finances.

With weddings costing on average $35,000, I was worried that the common desire to have a “small, intimate wedding” was just a pipe dream.

I never imagined having an extravagant wedding myself. So it was inspiring seeing friends take weddings into their own hands, collaborating as a couple, and customizing it to their liking—and budget.

These celebrations were personal, meaningful, and surprisingly affordable.

Here’s a highlight reel of 3 such weddings…

Wedding 1: Backyard wedding

The couple borrowed a friend’s beautiful house outside of Downtown LA. So the most expensive cost of weddings—the venue—was free.

The couple was great at involving family and friends to co-create the wedding:

  • I officiated the wedding and along with several friends prepped the venue the weekend before
  • The groom’s uncle, a retired florist, contributed amazing floral arrangements
  • Family members made desserts and helped set up and clean up
  • Friends managed the Spotify playlist

What did they spend money on? Food catering and bartender, photographer, and day-off wedding coordinator.

The total? About $6000. The couple even came net positive after all the gifts they received! #winning

Wedding 2: Courthouse wedding + AirBnB

This couple didn’t want a wedding, but wanted to celebrate getting married, with friends.

So they decided to hire a photographer and gather friends outside the Santa Barbara courthouse. They were able to pull off an “unofficial” ceremony on the beautiful lawn area for free.

To me this felt as official as any other ceremony. They read their vows and we all took pictures together. It was short and sweet.

Then they rented a huge AirBnB for the weekend where it was part wedding reception, part group hang.

One of my favorite memories was playing Among Us in the whimsical AirBnB with lights off. Even though there was no official wedding, I remember this as one of the most fun weddings celebrations I’ve attended.

The total: A few thousand dollars, mostly for the AirBnB.

Wedding 3: Camp-out wedding

“Instead of spending all this money on a venue…why don’t we buy a piece of land?”

This couple likes throwing events and want to host their own festivals someday. So they combined their wedding with this vision, and bought a piece of land outside of Barstow, CA.

Their first “festival” — their wedding — was a success.

Costumes were encouraged, so my lady and I dressed like a fairy and elf.

I’m guessing the land itself was in the $5-10K range based on nearby comps, and the rest of the wedding rentals (portable potties, chairs, vegan catering) probably fell under $5K. They also have a piece of land to use, to boot.

This was the first and only time I camped at a wedding and it was a blast.

Less money, more fun: what made these weddings work?

A wedding is probably the first big financial project a couple takes on.

The pressure to create a picture-perfect wedding can lead couples astray:

It’s her special day…I don’t want to put limits on that
This happens only once in a lifetime, so let’s spend more…

This sets a risky precedent: weddings should be a team effort, not a one-sided show.
A wedding might be a one-time expense, but marriage requires ongoing financial coordination…forever.
Maybe this helps explain why more expensive weddings are correlated to higher divorce rates.

In contrast, the alternative weddings I attended demonstrate the couples’ strengths:

  • Financial alignment: considering the total cost of a wedding, setting expectations with one another and prioritizing what’s important priorities well before the wedding.
  • Focus on experience: these weren’t cookie-cutter weddings; they were unique experiences tailored to each couple’s personalities and values.
  • Community connection: Turning to friends and family for help with officiating, DJing, or photography added personal touches and kept costs down. Guests were encouraged to feel a part of the celebration, which often stemmed from a well-managed (and prioritized) guest list.

Instead of allowing consumerism to co-opt connection, these couples didn’t allow their celebration to be defined by extravagance.

These were some of the most fun weddings I went to. Instead of “bigger is better,” these alternative weddings really captured the ethos of less is more.

Regardless of how you choose to do a wedding, think of it as the first of many financial projects.

What kind of precedent do you want to set?

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