Small Intimate Weddings: How to Keep it Chic, Budget-Friendly, and Magical

Lindsay Goldwert
September 4th, 2020 | 5 min
Cindy Baffour for UnSplash
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Congratulations! You’re engaged and have started be planning your wedding. It’s the most special day of your life, so naturally you should be wheezing into a bag about ballooning costs, blocking out hotel rooms, renting linens and tablecloths, and a deranged florist who wants to spend a fortune to source pink ranunculus flowers in October.

If that sounds like your worst nightmare or you just don’t have the budget for prime rib for 120 (or frankly, don’t care about any of the above), you are a prime candidate for a small, intimate wedding.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced soon-to-be-wedded couples to quickly reimagine their big day in order to get hitched while keeping socially distant and family and friends out of harm's way. These intrepid brides and grooms paved the way for all of us to have heartfelt, creative and truly meaningful weddings without waiting for a date to open up in 2025.

“In the past two weeks, we produced three microweddings within a matter of weeks and days,” said Amy Shey Jacobs, founder of Chandelier Events and the virtual planning company Don’t Let the Day Go By, for those who want to add a virtual element. “One couple who decided to tie the knot at their original venue with only their parents, grandparents and siblings. Another couple wed in an intimate ceremony on a friend's deck, and another in a gorgeous backyard that belonged to a family member."

By keeping it small, you can curate all the glamour and magic on a smaller scale and regale your lucky guests with the experience that celebrates your love -- not your mother-in-law’s seating chart.

A luxury wedding (even on a budget)

Say you’ve got $8,000 to spend on your wedding. In most cities, that would barely make a dent in a schmaltzy affair with a sit-down dinner with a choice of salmon or prime rib. With a small wedding, your dollar can travel much farther and for greater elegant effect.

“With a smaller wedding, you can treat that group of people to a nicer experience than you would if you were trying to stretch your budget to accommodate 200 people,” said Jessica Bishop, founder of Budget Savvy Bride and author of The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner & Organizer: Checklists, Worksheets, and Essential Tools to Plan the Perfect Wedding on a Small Budget. “Instead of pouring out two-buck Chuck or scrimping on food, you can have a truly thoughtful menu or an open-bar with top-shelf liquor.”

COVID-19 transformed matrimony into “minimony” -- a scaled-down but still fabulous version of the big event that had been torched by fate. That meant Jacobs had to shrink-ray a 200 person gala event at New Jersey’s posh Mansion at Natirar down to 18 people.

“The original wedding was supposed to have a full dance band and luxurious decor. For our 'minimony' we chose to do it differently but focus even deeper on the details,” she said. “We didn't miss out on any details, we had a 5 piece band instead of a 10 piece, the same hair and make-up schedule, the same photographer and videographer. Plus,every single guest at the wedding made a toast (which was one of my very favorite parts of the event).”

Embrace the small invite list

Sure, a small wedding sounds great. But pruning both of your invite lists down from gala to intimate can be hard, especially if there’s pressure to invite cousins of cousins and your great aunt from Buffalo. When planning your wedding, think about how the day can be as meaningful as possible for you.

“A good benchmark is to ask yourself if 10 years from now, will these people still be in your life and how often do you see them being an actual part of your life in the future,” said Bishop. “This rule especially comes into play like when you're feeling obligated to invite coworkers, for example."

When getting out your red pen, try to kick guilt to the curb and take a moment and think about how often you actually spend time with the people on your list.

“You want to be surrounded by those who will be there for you in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer,” said Jacobs.

Make it meaningful (while on a budget)

I got married in 2009 during the Great Recession. We wanted to keep costs down while keeping it special so we got married in my husband’s aunt’s apartment in New York City. My mother and my mother-in-law walked to the farmers market and bought fresh flowers the day before. My friend from high school, a photographer, took the photos.

After the ceremony, we had a sit-down lunch for 22 people in a gorgeous restaurant in swanky Tribeca. We brought in a cake from a nearby bakery, played our own music over the sound system, and I got to hug everyone. The best part? We paid for the afternoon with a low four-figure check. Then we got on a plane and jetted off on our honeymoon, money truly well spent.

"The one silver lining for couples who had to go through wedding planning in 2020 is watching them put their love first," said Bishop. "The party is just a party, the wedding is really about people coming together to celebrate you."

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