Planning a Wedding Reception for $1500

My son is active duty Army in Alaska and just got married. We were given only 4 weeks notice so of course no one from our side of the family could attend. Tickets are a minimum of $1,100.


They will be here in March (he will be deployed in April). I am planning a wedding reception for them - semi casual. Probably at a VFW. We definitely want a dance with a DJ. I only have about $1,500 to spend on the whole affair, that includes venue, DJ, food, decorations, (drinks?). There could be just over 100 people attending including children. He loves children and is very close to his little cousins. I need food ideas and any other advice. Thank you.

By Pauline from MN

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December 27, 20100 found this helpful

When I got married my in-laws did the same thing. Of course back then only the rich had dances. They had the event in either the VFW or American Legion building(I can't remember which). It was kind of a blah room, but they spent no money on decorations, and the food consisted of wedding cake, icec ream, non-alcoholic punch, coffee, tea and water. There was entertainment, but it was provided by their friends and relatives. The payment for these people was inexpensive gifts. One woman sang a couple songs, and one of husbands aunt and teen age daughter did a skit of some kind that was absolutely hilarious and had even the stiff lipped pastor laughing. They had cousins, etc. serve the food, pour coffee, etc. Back then they also had people open the gifts and display them on a table.


If you need decorations, crepe paper streamers draped from the ceiling and balloons would be fairly inexpensive. You could but 3-5 balloons in the center of each table. You could also use candles. I prefer the look of pillar candles and although they cost more, I use the battery operated ones for safety purposes, and they can be used at home too, and work really good during power outages. You can carry them from room to room without worrying about the flame going out. The batteries in the candles that I have last a really long time. I have a sister who lived where they had a power outage that lasted 3 days and she left one of these candles running in her bathroom 24-7 and never had to replace the batteries.

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December 29, 20100 found this helpful

If you can't afford a DJ get one of the teenagers who is super savy with electronics to play downloaded music. As for the food, let your closest family members and friends all bring a pot luck dish and you buy a large ham and a large roast.


People who love this couple will enjoy making it a great night.

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December 29, 20100 found this helpful

Pauline, from MN, too. If you are members of the Legion/VFW or because he is being deployed, you may get a discount on the rent. Do not start a bar tab. Have a generic punch and any one wanting more or soda can buy their own at the bar. Many places have simple decor up for weddings and special events.

Go with the simple left over white/clear Christmas lights you can find yet and then just take the color they choose and buy bridal tulle. Watch for JoAnn Fabric adds or MN Fabrics ads to get half price coupons to use. Many flower shops will rent out rose bowls and some have the mirrors to put under them. I saved the purple colored Easter grass and dropped some into the water of the rose bowl, dropped in a votive candle which floated. (I made all the candles ahead of time, another story.) You should be able to pick up some supplies at goodwill or thrift shops if you tell them what you want. They bring all sorts of stuff out of storage seasonal.


There is always that 'home baker' in every neighborhood that can bake and decorate sheet cakes for the reception. If you want, spring for a decorated bakery one as a center piece only. A 10 inch cake can do that. Put some fresh flowers on it and got a center piece as well as wedding cake for under $20. I always have a friend who does cakes on the side make my sheet cakes. Simply decorated with a leaf, rosette, etc.

Go to the Paper Place, etc in the larger city near you. Mpls, St Cloud, Rochester. They all have them. Purchase the plain white cups and plates. Decorate the tables with streams of curling ribbons curled. Have bouquets of latex balloons set around, but not on top of things, making it part of the landscaping, like a plant would be.

If the place has artificial plants setting around, use the 50 ct Christmas lights to decorate them. Staying with white keeps it simple. Talk to parents of kids with IPODS, etc and docking stations. Pay someone $25 to load YOUR kind of music needed for the reception.


Menu-have a local grocery store cut the 'funeral/graduation/wedding' ham, get the buns in bulk at a grocery or bakery. Cost about $.010 more a doz to cut, saves time. Buy the mints and nuts bulk in gal cartons.

Most venues which do parties have the dishes available to use. If you use disposable for the guests, it should be must cheaper. Rentals include so many things, so find out first then go from there.

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December 30, 20100 found this helpful

There is no rule that you have to feed people a complete meal. I've been to a wedding that only served hors d'oeuvres and wedding cake. I was also at a wedding that served an incredible variety of desserts. Just let people know what to expect - your guests will appreciate that.

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December 30, 20100 found this helpful

Pauline, congratulations on your son's recent wedding. Your budget is more than enough to put together a lovely reception. As a professional bridal consultant, event designer and silk wedding flower designer of almost 10 I field a lot of questions like this right now.


If you want to serve alcoholic drinks, opt for a couple of signature beverages. They use a significant less amount of alcohol, can be made to add color, and can enhance your overall wedding theme.

I agree with T&T Grandma that a sheet cake is the way to go. Have a smaller cake for the bridal couple to cut and serve sheet cake to guests. Make the cake a focal point by dressing it with linens, a garland base, flowers.

I am not a fan of paper or plastic plates, even though I understand their functionality. If you can rent plates or purchase glass plates I encourage it. However, if you chose plastic, they do make some nicer heavier grade that look like cut glass.

I am also a big proponent of linens, if you can afford them. They really transform a room. If not, buy bulk fabric online and cut to fit tables. Then layer the center with colored tulle "pools"

DJ's will most likely run $500+, but you may be able to have a DJ' for less hours at a reduced rate. Otherwise, digital music and iPods can be highly effective for providing music. Just make sure to have calmer background choices for during the meal, and then more lively music for dancing.

Besides that here a couple of other suggestions I have.
1.) Pick a bold color palette. VFW have a tendency to fairly plain spaces. You will get more WOW mileage out of your budget if you stick to bold colors.
2.) Mix up centerpiece heights for a more dramatic look. An inexpensive flower choices is gerbera daisies (fresh or silk)
3.) Use lighting wisely. Colored up-lights located around the room can really add ambiance for less than $20 buck a spot.
4.) Embellish, embellish, embellish. Add paint, ribbon, decorative paper to make ordinary items extraordinary.
5.)Spend time on little details like add a menu sheet to each table by printing it off your home computer and putting in an inexpensive frame. (Everything looks better under glass).

I hope these ideas help. If you would like to talk more I am always available. I do offer full event design for under $250. Congratulations again. Happy planning

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