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Affordable places to get hitched

Church, courthouse and Vegas aren't your only choices. Here are some innovative ideas on places to tie the knot.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 30, 2012 2:29PM
Image: Las Vegas wedding (© PNC/Brand X/Corbis/Corbis_)Once you've established a time for your wedding, you need to find the place. Have you considered an art gallery, farm or summer camp?

Yes, camp. Emma and Kyle Klues met as counselors at Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, Ill. The rental fee was not only very affordable ($250), but it helped support a small business they both love.

Bonus: Their wedding cake looked like a giant s'more. Scroll down in this blog post for a look.

Plenty of people prefer churches and commercial reception halls. But you don't have to overpay for those either. (More on that later.)

But you can also choose a setting that reflects who you are -- for example, a couple of happy campers. (Post continues after video.)

What I keep hearing from brides and grooms is this: Think about what you want, and get creative about achieving it on a budget.

'Free' is a good price

If you're brave enough for an outdoor party, look no further than your own backyard. Or someone else's: Does a relative or family friend have nerves of steel and a home with plenty of space?

My daughter and her fiancé were paying down medical-related debt and vowed not to go deeper into the red in order to get hitched. The venue, a potentially big expense, turned out to be free: a social hall in the community where her in-laws lived.

Does anyone in your family have a similar setup? Or maybe a relative belongs to a fraternal organization with a social hall that you could use for free (or for cheap).

Or how about a park or other public area? You might have to make a reservation and/or pay a fee, depending on whether you want to reserve a facility versus just saying vows by the lake.

free works, too
Marjorie Asturias got married in an Arlington, Texas, park whose pavilion looks like "a cathedral" and included picnic tables for the reception food. Four hours cost just $150.

Nancy Beck's 1987 wedding reception took place at a golf-course clubhouse in Columbia, Mo. Because her new father-in-law was a member, they got to use the place for 10% of the catering bill, or $50. Could someone in your family get a similar discount?

A reader posting as "Museum Girl" suggests contacting your alma mater. "Colleges love it when alumni come back," she says, and may offer a free venue if you let the college cater.

Museums are popular for weddings and can be surprisingly affordable. Or what about art galleries? Randy Otterbridge rented a gallery in Grand Rapids, Mich., for his wedding and the reception. The $1,000 fee included music, tables and chairs, help setting up and use of the gallery for the entire day.

Location, location, location

Richard O'Malley, a wedding planner in the New York City area, loves museums but won't rule out farms or botanical gardens either. "I've even seen one adventurous couple rent out a zoo after closing time," he says.

Shannon Hoffman rented a historical home/museum in Lakewood, Ohio, for her daughter's 2011 wedding. The house and yard were so beautifully decorated that no further adornments were necessary.

Nine years earlier, Hoffman chose a favorite Chinese restaurant for her own wedding. Total cost was "less than only the food at most typical wedding venues," Hoffman says -- and the restaurant owners gave a gift certificate as a wedding present.

"We even had a lion dance," Hoffman says.

Traditional spaces

In "The wedding of your dreams -- cheap," I quoted an expert who advised shopping for a "big party" venue rather than a "wedding reception" space. She said you'll often get charged more for the latter.

If that makes you feel uneasy, don't do it. But if you think reception = big party, you'll save some dough. Why get charged more for your shindig than the anniversary party in the adjoining hall is paying?

A fall or winter weather will likely mean a better price. (Nothing says "wedding splendor" like snow boots with a tux.) You can also save by choosing a less-busy time of day -- late morning or early afternoon, say, instead of an into-the-wee-hours party.

And here's an admirable piece of frugal hackery: Michelle Baylin bought her space in a benefit auction. Her April 21 wedding and reception will take place in a lovely venue in a wooded area near Towson, Md., that should have cost $4,000. Baylin paid $800.

Once you've selected the venue, what about the food? Good question. That's the subject of my next wedding-themed post, on April 9.

More on MSN Money:

Mar 30, 2012 5:44PM
I'll second the idea of returning as alumni to colleges and universities for weddings. DD1 approached her college about getting married in the college "chapel" We visited and this was not just a was a beautifully adorned chapel which had just gone thru an extensive restoration. But not only would we get the chapel but were also provided a coordinator and a staff to help with parking, directions and photography. The cost....$100...That's right because DD1 was alumni and they were trying to encourage use of the facility...that was the price. By far the biggest bargain of all ....
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.