Navigating the Small Wedding Scene for Negotiators, Skeptics, and Enthusiasts
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
Small weddings are the bomb, and I’m not just saying that because I had a small wedding. Really, I love the way small weddings force you to think outside the box and engage meaningfully with your friends and family. I love how easy it is to save money while keeping the pricier details that really matter. I love how they cut out the noise to focus on the reason behind the celebration. I love how fun they are.
This post is a guide to all things small wedding: the types of small weddings, as well as the pros and cons of each. I’ll provide tips for Negotiators, Skeptics, and Enthusiasts who choose each option. Let’s see where you fit in:
If you’re a mid 2020 bride it might feel like COVID-19 is holding your big wedding dreams hostage and you’re trying to negotiate, hence, the Negotiator. This quick dive into the smaller side of life is an opportunity to explore how to have a meaningful marriage ceremony now while postponing the big day with your original vendors. We take a both/and approach: your marriage is worth it now, and the wedding is worth waiting for. I’ll show you how to have an elegant and meaningful small wedding while you wait for the literal and figurative big day.
For my Skeptics, does this sound familiar? You’re more recently engaged and everything about planning a wedding is confusing, maybe even defeating. It’s difficult to predict where we’ll be 30 days from now, let alone a year or two. I’m sure you’ve done a little Googling and you may have even pinned a few wedding ideas, but given the circumstances you aren’t completely sold on moving forward as usual. Eloping doesn’t feel right, either. You just want to plan a wedding that’s meaningful to you but you’re not sure how to get there. I might not have all the answers, but my goal is that you’ll get to the end of this article with more confidence. You can have the day of your dreams, where you are, right now.
For my enthusiasts, I totally get you. The big wedding was never really your scene anyway and you’d prefer to save your sanity and your bank account. Many couples are opting out of the elaborate plans and the extravagant details altogether, and for good reason. Wedding planning is stressful, weddings produce tons of waste, and the average price continues to sky rocket.
I’m going to challenge you to think about things a little differently, though. I love story telling, and I hate to see a beautiful story go neglected. You don’t have to go over the top, but consider how you want to remember your wedding day when you’re reminiscing. There is power in a party, after all. Weddings are beautiful because of how they solidify memories and allow couples to begin a lifetime together surrounded by love.
My job as your planner (even if I'm only your planner long enough for you to finish this post) is to help you thoughtfully consider the best options and make decisions you’ll be happy with a decade or two from now, no matter how you’re approaching your nuptials. I’m here to have your back.
Alright, crew. Are you ready? Let’s navigate the small wedding scene.
First, let’s dispel a myth. Elopements and micro weddings are not one and the same. Typically, elopements have guest lists under 5 people and eschew most of the standard wedding traditions beside ceremony details like the exchanging of vows and rings. They can be planned in a matter of days or weeks instead of months or years, and they are quick. Most wrap up in twenty minutes and don’t include a reception.
Elopements probably inspire images of the Vegas drive-through chapel or a young couple sneaking off into the night. You could show up in your comfiest outfit, go to a courthouse, say I Do, and start the next phase of your life with next to no stress or expense. If you’ve ever found yourself fed up with the wedding planning process you’ve probably considered it.
The beauty of an elopement is that they begin and end with a simple core purpose: a marriage. You get all of what’s important and none of what isn’t. Everything else is just a bonus.
The modern elopement is all about adventure. They can be sleeping in late, jogging down to the beach to say your vows in front of the ocean, then going out for celebratory drinks with your besties. Elopements can be spending a day visiting art galleries and your favorite eateries before taking a beautiful hike and saying your vows in view of the mountains.
What I love about elopements (besides the romance and rebellion in them) is how they become one epic day to remember.
Tips for Negotiators: Does eloping feel like it would be a lonely experience? Consider other ways to invite your family into your day besides their physical presence. Try a video chat champagne toast, having loved ones write words of encouragement that you read during the ceremony, and sending out a marriage announcement afterward. You can totally host a huge reception later where you view your wedding video and share photos. There won’t be a dry eye in the room.
Tips for Skeptics: The sheer possibilities may feel overwhelming because you can do whatever you want, but remember that an elopement can be that sure thing you need to anchor your wedding dreams to, and you’ll move forward knowing what’s truly important. What feels like its missing if you go to the courthouse? When does it start to feel overwhelming again?
My biggest tip is to find your tribe of wedding professionals to help fill in the gaps once you’ve laid the foundation of your day. Your biggest resources besides a planner (yes, there are still so many benefits to using a planner for an elopement!) are your officiant and your photographer. Lean on them, they are the experts and you don’t have to do it alone.
Tips for Enthusiasts: An elopement sounds like a stress-free dream, with practically none of the cost or stress of traditional wedding planning. And guess what? It’s easy to make that dream come true! Just focus on how your elopement day can most effectively tell your story. The other 23.5 hours in your wedding day really matter here.
Wear something you feel incredible in (even if it’s a bikini or a vintage jacket) and hire someone incredible to capture your day in the form of photography or videography (or both!). You’ll still want to remember this day forever, and how you felt will last a lifetime. Enter your marriage relaxed, head over heels in love, financially free, and feeling fabulous while you do it.
Micro weddings typically keep guest lists between 10 and 25 people, but depending on who you ask it could go up to 50. Whereas elopements usually opt to skip many traditional wedding staples, micro weddings play around with what’s included, often paying extra special attention to the details that really matter to each couple.
Micro weddings combine the elegance and tradition of a typical wedding with the cost effectiveness and intimacy of an elopement to create a unique celebration in their own right. For example, tiny weddings are hyper-focused on interaction with your loved ones. You won’t typically see a sweetheart table or bridal party table separated from all the guests, the couple enjoys deep conversation throughout the night at family-style seating. With less travel plans to work around and the ability to pack your entire guest list into a single house or hotel block, it also becomes an easier task to stretch the festivities for an entire weekend.
Micro weddings can also be more lavish: Small does not mean simple. Micro weddings can make for extravagant and unforgettable events that will leave each and every guest completely pampered. Think multi-course plated meals with premium entrees, special entertainment with dinner, and upscale overnight accommodations. You can really pamper your guests at a fraction of the cost. I say live it up, it’s your wedding day.
But don’t let the size fool you, micro weddings make it easy to spend a lot less than a larger wedding, but expenses still add up. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can blow through $10,000 in the wedding industry. You still need to keep a thoughtful budget, timeline, vision, and overall plan. At the end of the planning process you might find that your micro wedding took as much effort to plan as any other event, if not more.
I’ll be honest, a micro wedding presents its own planning difficulties. For example, caterers and bakeries have minimums, and most traditional venues will dwarf your crowd and potentially make the space feel empty. Most of the industry just isn’t set up with your wedding in mind and finding ways to get your group accommodated will be tricky.
Still, the ability to have a beautiful event with a smaller budget while maximizing your time and experience with each guest is invaluable.
Tips for Negotiators: A micro wedding really allows you to pour your energy into making the time you’ll be spending with the people who will be there feel special. You get a lot of undivided attention on your day, and more time to really enjoy it. You can have the pomp and circumstance of that dream Pinterest wedding, then go home without the guilt or aching bank account.
Tips for Skeptics: Start with wedding planning staples to draw up an outline of your event before pumping up the budget on one area or making too many changes with tradition. A solid foundation will let you know where you have more wiggle room.
Tips for Enthusiasts: Get that planner! The appeal of what was supposed to be a less stressful but still lavish event goes out the window when you start butting up against significant hurdles. You want to arrive at your wedding day well-rested, relaxed, and ready and a micro wedding still has plenty of potential stressors.
Shift weddings and Multi weddings give you the opportunity to celebrate with a large guest list, via one small group at a time.
A shift wedding typically has the couple hosting for one long day, and small groups of wedding guests come visit for an hour or so at a time. It might look like the wedding party helping you get ready, then your parents and grandparents watch the ceremony, followed by another group to enjoy appetizers, and on and on until all of your guests have gotten to celebrate with you. Surfaces can be sanitized between each wave of guests, and no more than a pre-determined amount of people are present at once. It’s a fairly pandemic-proof way to have a wedding.
Multi weddings spread the festivities out over multiple days and potentially multiple venues, kind of like a series of micro weddings. Party with your best friends Friday night, have parents and siblings at your emotional wedding ceremony Saturday morning, enjoy a swanky dinner with aunts and uncles that night, etc. etc.
What I like about both is that they allow you to connect with your guests on a much more intimate level. You can also host very different parties depending on the vibe of each group. For example, you don’t have to try and entertain your grandma and your toddler niece at the same time, and you don’t have to worry about what your potty-mouth maid of honor might say in front of your boss. The different combinations allow you to focus on exactly how you want to celebrate with each member of your tribe.
Multi weddings have been happening in some sense even before COVID. Bachelorette parties, engagement parties, showers, etc. are all ways we celebrate differently with different people. A shift or multi wedding just extends that segmentation to the wedding day. Plus, you can always road trip it and see all the family who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel!
The potential for savings is there as well. You might only serve twenty or thirty people a full meal, or if you’re going out to eat your family might actually want to treat you!
Just keep in mind that your planning needs to be super tight and your communication excellent. With needing to coordinate cleaning between the groups or multiple venues and different activities, this is not the event for the feint of planning heart!
Tips for Negotiators: Shift or Multi weddings are the way you can have all your loved ones celebrate with you without having to leave anyone out. Just remember to stay super organized and keep track of all the details! Thinking through invitations is going to be the first big step to see if you have the temperament and support system for such elaborate planning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help where you need it.
Tips for Skeptics: A multi wedding may be simpler to plan than a shift wedding. If your family is coming to you, I suggest three to four events depending on the guest list: do something with your friends the night before, invite your immediate family to the ceremony and a cake and punch reception, extended family for dinner, and a final group on Sunday afternoon. Consider renting out a house for the weekend so you don’t have to find multiple venues, and still keep the guest list as intimate as possible!
Tips for Enthusiasts: If you’re averse to the large wedding crowd, here is a way you can have all the intimacy of your dream micro wedding with the large guest list. Maybe family drama is keeping you from the elopement of your dreams, this is a way to appease them without piling on the stress and expense. Just do what you’re good at and keep things relaxed so you can leave room for what may end up being an extended-day or multi-day photographer.
Here’s the best way to have your cake and eat it, too: Combine any of the beautiful and small events on this list with a bigger celebration at a later date like your one- or two-year anniversary. That's what we like to call a sequel wedding and they're the perfect option for you if small weddings just aren't your thing. More opportunities to celebrate only make life a little happier.
Conclusion: Small Wedding
Whatever you plan to do about planning a wedding as we progress through COVID, my hope is that engaged couples thoughtfully explore the myriad of options before them and plan an event that is truly meaningful and happy expression of their love story. It might feel like you're stuck, but there's always a Plan B. Your small wedding does not have to be a lonely or lesser than the event you planned or would have planned in different circumstances. Hell, you might find that this is the way you wish you had gone all along.