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13 Alternatives to Having a Traditional Wedding That Won’t Break the Bank

Nontraditional weddings are becoming a popular choice for couples who don’t want to cash in their savings or go into debt for a traditional wedding. Many couples want to save money on their wedding in exchange for long-term financial security and are finding myriad ways to celebrate swapping vows without draining their bank accounts.

With the average 2018 wedding costing upward of $30,000, it’s no wonder many modern couples are trading expensive, flashy celebrations for something more practical. Destination weddings with only a few guests, elopements, and courthouse ceremonies are all replacing their extravagant predecessors.

And for the couple who wants to avoid a cliché wedding day, there are plenty of incredibly unique options available if walking down an aisle in a white dress isn’t your style. If you would describe yourselves as adventure-seekers or thrill enthusiasts, there are many ways to incorporate that into your special day. Whether you enjoy snowboarding, skydiving, hanging out with marine life, or some other adrenaline-pumping activity, you won’t have to choose between having an ordinary wedding or breaking the budget with this list of memorable ideas.

If you find yourself struggling to come to terms with the exorbitant cost of a traditional wedding but you still want to celebrate in a way that’s unique and fun for both of you, these alternatives to a traditional wedding are for you.

Ideas for an Alternative Wedding That Will Save You Money

1. Combined Bachelor & Bachelorette Parties

Bachelorette Hen Party Women Popping Champagne Bride

There are many reasons you might celebrate your marriage with only friends instead of both friends and family. Whether your family lives too far away, you don’t have any close relatives, or you just prefer to skip the family drama on your special day, opting for a combined bachelor and bachelorette celebration can be a great alternative.

A combined bachelor and bachelorette party is exactly what it sounds like – an event for you and your friends to get together and celebrate. It mimics the more traditional bachelor- and bachelorette-style parties, but without all the pomp and circumstance. If you want a traditional vibe, start your parties separately, then meet up later in the evening for a combined party. The most important thing is to share the celebration of your marriage with the friends who mean the most to you, both individually and as a couple.


2. Courthouse Ceremonies

Wedding Ceremony Courthouse City Hall

Courthouse weddings are far less expensive and time-consuming to plan than full-scale weddings, which is one reason they’re a great choice for couples on a budget. A courthouse wedding often means simply signing papers at city hall. But in some cases, you can also host a small ceremony. Although factors like location, size, and availability vary, you can usually reserve a small space for a fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding venue.

Because city hall offers spaces that are remarkably inexpensive by comparison, that likely means they don’t come with all the amenities a traditional wedding venue would. Things like catering, waitstaff, decor, and other perks that come part and parcel to other venues probably won’t be available. Take this into account when planning a small ceremony, as even with the low cost of the courthouse event space, it’s easy for the bill to add up quickly when you account for food, drinks, cutlery, and even things like tablecloths, flowers, and decor.


3. Elopement

Las Vegas Wedding Elope Nevada Chapel

Not long ago, there was a significant stigma surrounding elopements. The dictionary definition of “elope” explains some of that: to “run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent.” People generally saw them as a quick solution for couples who found themselves in less-than-ideal circumstances, such as an unexpected pregnancy or marrying against their family’s wishes.

But now, elopements are increasing in popularity for couples who just don’t want all the hassle of planning a traditional wedding. When most people think of eloping, the first thing that comes to mind is the popular, often last-minute decision to get hitched in Vegas. However, with the rising popularity of destination elopement, these kinds of marriage ceremonies aren’t just happening in Sin City anymore.

But unless you actually are running off to get married in Vegas, you’ll still need to do some light planning. Whether you choose to elope at a courthouse or the destination of your dreams, there are rules and restrictions to plan ahead for. Research your location of choice to find out what you need to do before your I do’s. That often involves getting your marriage license, finding out whether there’s a waiting period between receiving your license and tying the knot, what’s involved in hiring an officiant, and whether you’ll need witnesses.


4. Destination Wedding

Destination Wedding Flowers On Beach Outdoor Ceremony Ocean

A destination wedding usually calls to mind images of a sunset ceremony on the beach. But couples are opting for weddings in many different types of locations. Destinations such as the rocky cliffs of Maine, the cactus-laden deserts of Arizona, or the tree-covered hills of upstate New York are frequently among the top wedding destinations. And while destination weddings aren’t a new idea, they’re gaining popularity alongside elopements and courthouse weddings.

There are a few ways to pull off the destination wedding of your dreams. Have a small, low-budget wedding ceremony since you’ll likely be spending significant resources on the trip itself. You won’t necessarily save money. You’ll likely just cut costs on the ceremony and spend those same funds on travel expenses. But it will help prevent you from overspending. Destination weddings usually only include family and close friends because they’re expensive events to attend for guests who don’t know the couple well.

The other option is to invest in a more lavish celebration but keep your destination closer to home. For instance, your dream might be getting married on the beaches of Hawaii, but if your choices are between having a big ceremony with many friends and family or having an intimate ceremony at an exotic faraway destination, compromising on a stateside seashore will save on travel expenses.

Pro Tip: You can use the rewards you earn from a travel rewards credit card to cover a portion of your travel expenses.


5. Combined Wedding & Honeymoon

Just Married Couple Driving To Honeymoon Vintage Car Country

If your wedding plans include family and friends but you don’t want to split your wedding and honeymoon into two events, combining both into one is a great alternative. This is most common with wedding cruises. Some cruise lines offer couples in-port ceremonies, while a handful have licenses that allow you to get married on international waters. These cruises offer various tiered packages just like a traditional wedding venue.

Depending on the package you select, it will include perks like decor, photography, dinner, cake, and much more. Not only will you be able to say your I do’s and head straight to the pool, you won’t have to worry about things like organizing a caterer or finding an officiant since these considerations are already accounted for by the cruise line.

And with your loved ones on the cruise with you, you can enjoy all the celebrations together. Not to mention many cruises offer group discounts for parties over a certain number. If you plan to have more than 15 guests, you’ll get discounts on group tickets, which will help your overall wedding budget.


6. Backyard Wedding

Backyard Wedding Mr Mrs Rustic Decor

Another common alternative to a large wedding at an expensive venue is a wedding in your own backyard. You will experience all the joy and excitement of your wedding day in the comfort of your very own home. If you don’t have your own backyard, see if a friend or family member has a backyard big enough and if they are willing to lend you their location.

If no one you know personally has a backyard you can use, look for inexpensive venues available for rent in your area using a platform such as Airbnb. You’re sure to find beautiful, unique private homes where you can host your ceremony and reception at a fraction of the cost of a traditional venue. In some communities, there are even people willing to rent out their homes for special events. These are also usually less expensive than a traditional venue, and the owner will sometimes allow you to use certain rooms in the home for your bridal preparations, photos, and other wedding day business.

Depending on your style, head count, and location, backyard weddings can get expensive. But you can keep other costs low by doing much of the preparation yourself or enlisting the help of friends and family. Know a friend or family member who’s a great cook? See if they are willing to help cater your event. Get your wedding party together to do some DIY centerpieces and wedding favors. You probably even have friends who are willing to help you with any potential set-up needs – prior to the big day, of course. There are plenty of ways to keep your costs down with a low-key backyard wedding without feeling like you’re compromising on all the things that are important to you.


7. Sporting Event

Fans Cheering On Sporting Event

Do you and your significant other have a favorite sports team? If you don’t want to have any kind of official ceremony, check out local sporting events and grab some tickets for yourselves and your loved ones.

Plan a tailgate and cheer on your team together. And if you do want a ceremony, you can say your vows at the tailgate. This allows you to spend time with your friends and family, celebrate your commitment to your partner, and enjoy your favorite sport all at once.

Lastly, for couples who love the energy of big sports games, events like the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, or the World Cup are memorable ways to enjoy your big day. While these options are more expensive than local sporting events, depending on your chosen event and seat location, it is still likely a fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding.


8. Snowboarding/Skiing

Winter Wedding Snow Groom Bride Outdoors

Most wedding ceremonies feature the bride dressed in a white gown walking down the aisle to meet her groom. That tradition is changing, but you can still enjoy being wrapped in white – even on a mountain covered in snow.

There are many ski resorts across the country where you can tie the knot. These lodges offer breathtaking scenery as a backdrop for your ceremony, where you can say your vows and then ski the slopes right after. And as with other group events, if you plan to have family and friends join you, there are often discounts for groups of a certain size.


9. Hiking

Bride Groom Mountain Top Hiking

Hike or backpack to a scenic mountaintop to exchange vows. It’s an inexpensive way to celebrate your marriage while barely tapping into your bank account. Depending on the length of your trek and what you need to bring with you, your expenses will vary. For example, if you choose to go on an afternoon hike, you’ll spend far less cash – if any at all – than if you opt to go backpacking for several days.

If you plan to change into formalwear, put that in a bag and change after your arrival so you aren’t hiking in nice clothing.


10. Skydiving

Skydiving Couple Kissing Freefall

When it comes to thrills, there truly isn’t anything quite like jumping out of a plane several thousand feet in the air to get your adrenaline pumping. You probably won’t be saying your vows mid-fall. But skydiving is quite a memorable way to make your commitment to one another. Some couples have their ceremony in the plane and then make the jump together their first act as husband and wife.

Just be mindful that if you want friends and family there, they most likely won’t be joining you in the sky (unless they’re adrenaline junkies too). Consider saying your vows before take-off, and then skydive to celebrate.


11. Under the Sea

Bride Groom Kissing Underwater Wedding Ceremony

If you share a love of the aquatic with your partner and enjoy being surrounded by marine life, look into getting married underwater. This works especially well if you plan to have a small destination wedding, an elopement on an island, or a ceremony near a body of water. Some aquariums, such as the Georgia Aquarium, will even provide spaces for ceremonies.

You’ll have to leave the wedding gown at home for this one or at least wait until you’re back on dry land to change. And as far as saying your vows underwater, the cheaper option uses diving slates to communicate – but there are underwater helmets with audio units if you’re willing to spend a little more. Either way, taking the plunge by getting married under the sea is certainly a unique and exciting way to celebrate your love.


12. Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon Ride Flying Into Horizon River

What is more iconically romantic than drifting away over the sunset in a basket a few hundred feet in the air while saying your wedding vows to your beloved? Hot air balloons are a beautiful, unique, nontraditional way to make your marriage official without being too adrenaline-inducing.

Depending on where you live, the length of your ride, what package you select, and how many people will be riding in the balloon with you, prices for this kind of ceremony can range from $1,500 to $3,000.

This is slightly more expensive than some of the other options. But it’s still a fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding. So if you want the excitement of being in the air without the panic of jumping from a plane, a hot air balloon ride with a backdrop of gorgeous scenery is a great alternative.


13. Zero Gravity

Couple Jumping Floating In Air

There are few sensations like the experience of being weightless. There are also few experiences like the thrill of marrying your best friend. For those adventurists who aren’t afraid to leave solid ground, a zero-gravity wedding ceremony could be just your thing.

In a zero-gravity environment, you experience the feeling of weightlessness, either in a controlled room or in a specific kind of airplane. Some people experience motion sickness, so if you’re prone to an upset stomach, it isn’t the best option for you.

There are a few companies that provide the zero-gravity experience. And while memorable, it comes at a cost. There are multiple packages, and depending on whether you want to share space with other passengers or rent out a private space for you and your partner, the price can range from $5,000 to upward of $200,000. It is a great alternative to a traditional wedding, but to make sure it fits into your budget, consider opting for a shorter-length flight or sharing your flight with other passengers instead of booking a private excursion.


Final Word

Making your marriage celebration memorable doesn’t have to be expensive or cookie-cutter. It’s a great opportunity for you and your spouse-to-be to plan a wedding that suits you both. If you aren’t interested in doing things the traditional way, there are plenty of options available to do things your own way – and not spend your entire savings at the same time.

Have you had a nontraditional wedding? What did you and your spouse decide to do?

Kimberly Stokes
Kimberly Stokes is a writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. When she’s not writing for Money Crashers or working her day job in the cryptocurrency industry, she's probably hiking, reading with her cat, or re-watching Game of Thrones.

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