Legally, all you need for a wedding is a visit to the county clerk’s office, and whatever else your local government requires. (Check here.) Everything else is optional. Of course, some things are more optional than others. Most weddings these days skip the garter toss; many skip the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and some even skip the flowers. What matters is that you pick the right elements to keep making you and your guests happy.
A GIFT REGISTRY
Plenty of couples skip the gift registry, because they’re not moving out of their parents’ homes without a penny to their name. But more traditional (i.e., older) wedding guests will still want to give you something. In your invitations, note that gifts are not expected, but give some guidance for those who insist, so you don’t end up getting something both expensive and unwanted. A tiny registry with medium-ticket items will make it clear that gifts are truly optional.
EVERYONE YOU’VE EVER KNOWN
If you don’t actually want someone at your wedding, don’t invite them out of obligation or guilt. There’s a decent chance they’ll be relieved they don’t have to come. Even at a large wedding, you’ll find yourself trimming the list. Lifehacker has some great shortcuts for picking someone to cut. For example, don’t invite anyone you wouldn’t take out to dinner.
BRIDESMAIDS AND GROOMSMEN
There’s a good chance you’re already skipping these. And your friends will probably be relieved to learn they don’t have to buy matching dresses or whatever weird thing groomsmen do. But do assign duties to a friend or two, like holding the bouquet, helping with makeup, and running your reception playlist.
Just as obviously, you don’t have to do the traditional rager with penis pops or strippers. I personally recommend a small gathering of close friends—the ones who would have been in your wedding party—doing an activity you already love. And feel free to organize your own. For example, my friends and I nerded out with a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Consider a joint party. If you’re having a small wedding, this can be your chance to let more friends celebrate, even if you can’t fit them in the ceremony and reception. It’s also a great choice for couples who share a friend group. All this goes for the bridal shower too.
If you’re not religious, whom do you get to marry you? Theoretically, anyone you want. American Marriage Ministries is a church based solely on the freedom of all people to marry, “regardless of race, sexual identity, nationality, socioeconomic status, or religious background.” Click on your state and AMM will tell you how to get ordained to legally officiate a wedding. You might want an authority figure or mentor from your life. Two of my friends were married by their former professor; my wife and I were married by a close friend. Have a meeting with your chosen officiant to explain what you’d like in your ceremony, and what you expect from them. Some states allow other un-ordained officiants without, like a judge, state congressional member, mayor, or notary public. Maine even lets lawyers do it. rules. Or maybe you just want to hire someone. Search on WeddingWire or The Knot, where officiants can cost anywhere from $100 to over $1,000.
A LONG CEREMONY
The officiant should have a few words prepared, and you should say your vows aloud, but everything else is optional. You don’t need any songs or poems or speeches. Since our officiant was my wife’s longtime friend, I had my closest friend give a brief speech. Our ceremony was done in about fifteen minutes.
For the reception, try assigning guests to tables, but not specific seats. You’ll save a lot of planning time and give your guests some freedom, while still saving them the work of finding and gathering all their friends. If your wedding crowd is small and you’re willing to serve dinner buffet or cocktail style, you can ignore assigned seats altogether. This is especially helpful when many of your attendees have overlapping friend groups. If you’re just doing small plates and passed canapés, you don’t even need as many seats as you have guests, which can save you some space and money. For buffet style, you’ll still need 100% seating, says New York wedding planner Amanda O’Callaghan, as everyone will sit down at once with their loaded dinner plates. Even if you have open seating, advise the wedding planners at Significant Events of Texas, reserve a table for your wedding party if they’ll enter the reception after the other guests.
THE SINGLES TABLE
Sticking all the single people at one reception table is an awkward, and honestly kind of horny, move for a wedding couple. The Knot recommends balancing singles and couples at tables, making sure no solo attendee is surrounded by couples.
Cut down on wait staff by going buffet style. Don’t pay wait staff to take drink orders either; a bartender is plenty, says Rick Webb, author of Man Nup: A Groom’s Guide to Heroic Wedding Planning. Your guests will be fine ordering their own drinks.
If you’re not comfortable with drinking, you don’t owe your guests booze. Guests who usually drink will be stressed out by a dry wedding, but they’ll survive. Just warn them ahead of time. The Knot suggests you keep it interesting with mocktails and fun food options. The mocktails are especially helpful for the friends who snuck in a flask. Unless you’re having an extremely quick and casual wedding, a cash bar is obnoxious. If you’re trying to save money, consider some other options. Inside Weddings recommends finding a venue that lets you (or your guests) bring your own alcohol, or hosting a brunch wedding where people will naturally drink less.SLIDES
“I’ve thrown away so much uneaten cake,” says the wedding planner O’Callaghan. “Couples are tending to get to less traditional desserts such as pudding shots, doughnuts, and pie.” If your venue lets you, outsource dessert to one of your favorite ice cream place or bakery; my wife and I hired NYC food truck Wafels & Dinges.
Good DJs can adapt to any crowd, unearth obscure jams, and provide extra entertainment. None of this is necessary at a wedding. You know what you like, and more importantly, you know what you don’t like. Make four playlists: Ceremony, Dinner, Dancing, and Last Song. Overstuff the reception and dancing playlists, just in case. Load them all on a laptop or iPad (Spotify lets you download playlists locally). Put a friend (or a friend’s plus-one) in charge of the cues, and include them in the rehearsal. When it’s time to wrap the night up, switch on the Last Song. If you do get a DJ or a band, remember to ban all the bad songs.
THE BOUQUET AND GARTER TOSS
The bouquet toss is cute, but if it feels gross to imply all your single friends are dying to get married too, skip it. The garter toss (where the groom removes a leg garter from under the bride’s dress in front of everyone, then tosses it to the single men) is weird. No one but creepy uncles expect you to do this. The bit where the guy who caught the garter puts it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet is… well, I already used up “gross” and “creepy.” Don’t do this bit unless every one of your single friends would actually want to. Otherwise you’re potentially forcing some woman to let a stranger grope her leg.
Unless the venue is ugly, it doesn’t actually need flowers. Which is great, because once you say “wedding” to a florist, their prices magically inflate.
A SATURDAY WEDDING
Friday weddings are a lot cheaper, and you can still have Saturday morning festivities without taking up your guests’ entire weekend. But check in with any guests who would have to travel, and feel out whether they’re comfortable with missing a day of work or school so you can have a cheap wedding. Sunday weddings are fine too, but try to keep things on the early side to mitigate everyone’s Monday hangovers.
TOTAL RELIANCE ON A PHOTOGRAPHER
Unless you’re eloping, you should think hard before skipping a professional photographer. But you don’t need to rely on them alone:
PICK A HASHTAG
Wedding hashtags might feel silly, but they’re incredibly useful. Even the best hired photographer can’t capture every good moment, and they won’t have your photos ready for days or weeks. You’ll want to see all your guests’ Instagram shots. Give them a hashtag so you (and they) can see everything in one place. Pick a simple, memorable hashtag. Don’t get too clever; you can just combine both your last names. Check that your tag is unique, so you’re not trawling through every Instagram shot tagged #SmithWedding.Put your tag in the invitation, and display it at the wedding in the program, on a sign, or with an Etsy word banner.
ASK A GUEST
If you’re having a very small ceremony and reception, you might ask a guest to double as your photographer. Give them detailed instructions, including a shot list, and only ask them to take photos during certain parts of the event. Find some generous way to thank them for this huge favor, and remember they’re a guest first.