How to Host a Wedding Reception in 5 Days Without Going Broke – and Live to Tell About It

In the business world, there is a saying: you can get it fast, cheap or good. Pick two.

I think that applies to other things in life, such as planning a big event, as well. For the most part, you can’t do fast and cheap and have it be good. Good and Cheap won’t be fast….you get the idea.

So I was recently confronted with a situation where I desperately wanted all THREE, which required a re-defining of what I consider “good,” and a little flexibility on the concept of “cheap.”

Here is the story as it unfolded to me: last Thursday, my wonderful son informed me that he and his sweetheart of several years (whom we really like!) have decided they are getting married…..on Tuesday! Yes, five days later. It seems they got the marriage license, made an appointment with the JOP, and then decided that they should tell the parents rather than just elope as originally planned.

People, I was not shocked. I suspected an event such as this was in the works; you could tell by looking at them. And I wasn’t surprised at the shortness of lead time – mr husband and I did almost exactly the same thing 26 years ago – decided on a Monday that we were going to marry on Wednesday. Granted, mr husband was active duty military at the time, and due to report to his duty station on Friday, and I had decided I was going with him, married or not. He picked married. Ah, young love!

Waiting for the judge

Needless to say, I was happy for them, worried for them, wondering where they would live (not here!) and whether they could live on what they make. I am sure my parents suffered similar worries, and I was only 19 and moving 800 miles away! They are in their mid-twenties and will likely stay in the same county.

We decided to give them a reception at our house. I planned a wedding in three days, so certainly I can plan a reception in 5, right? I read a lot on line about small receptions, quickie weddings, etc., and found a little that was helpful, but not much I didn’t already know. I didn’t want a paper-plate, cold sandwich buffet. This is my only child; if this event doesn’t warrant the good crystal, I don’t know what does!

They didn’t want a big wedding, or an elaborate party. They didn’t want us to spend a ton of money that could, frankly, be the down-payment on a house. My cousin’s daughter just married last month, and they spent about $50k on the wedding. Sigh. Even if I had it, I wouldn’t do it. No offense to those of you who do want a big wedding, it just isn’t our thing. Eloping is much more romantic (it’s a habit in our family), and if not that, then a small party is really most appropriate. You are just as married if you spend $100 than if you spend thousands. Just my opinion.

Our dining room served as the buffet area. Drinks, including a monster pot of coffee, were on the kitchen table.

The preceding part of this post was written prior to the wedding. Now, with five days of reflection after the event, here is what I learned about a small home-based reception for about 2 dozen people:


1. pray for good weather: Claymire is small (you know that already) so it was great to have the patio area for people to congregate.
2. take care of every little detail, then forget about it. I had an assortment of glasses for toasting champagne, drinking wine or beer or punch. Nothing matched, but it was all vintage crystal and looked beautiful and unique. I ran out of coffee cups, but no one cared – by that time, they felt comfortable enough to rummage around the kitchen for the old mis-matched mugs I had stashed in the back.
3. A party is about the people; feed them, give them a place to sit, and let them mingle. It is surprising who will discover common interests with one another.
4. Have a lieutenant so you can enjoy the party. I did most of the preparation myself, including cleaning the house; during the party, my mother completely took over so I could enjoy the guests. Platters were magically refilled as needed, ice was stocked, and things were washed up and put away before I really noticed what was happening. Thanks Mom!
5. Take a ton of pictures. Everyone had a camera, and there were still some things we missed. Thanks to friends and family, we got at least one shot of the most important things, like the cake cutting and the toast.
6. Invite the neighbors. It’s a celebration, so the more, the merrier
7. Don’t invite the pets. We had an elaborate plan for stashing away all our animals safely and comfortably for the event, which took some doing, considering our 4 orphan kittens are still with us.
8. Silk flowers look beautiful arranged in vases, and no one really thinks less of you for not using real ones. The vases were ones I had, mostly from yard sales and Salvation Army thrifting; I used all white so there was a cohesive look. My friend found coupons for Michael’s and I saved 40% on the flowers.
9. Don’t buy until you borrow: friends had tablecloths, chafing dish, ice buckets, platters, pitchers, flowers and vases. It freed up more money for food and a cake.

Yellow cake with buttercream – a classic, and very delicious!

10. You can order a custom wedding cake on short notice; our local bakery Julian Brothers, make a beautiful two-tiered wedding cake that I ordered on Saturday and picked up Tuesday. As long as it isn’t too elaborate, this reception center-piece is totally doable and not really that expensive.
11. frozen hors d’ouvres are worth it. I bought ours at Trader Joe’s – they don’t have a lot of “junk” and preservatives, they all cooked in the oven at the same temperature, and they looked very pretty on a platter. I chose vegetable bird’s nests, samosas, mini-potato skins, etc. I included a lot of vegetarian options – my daughter in law doesn’t eat meat – and also chocolate-free dessert options for those who can’t have chocolate. Also, sandwiches and pizza – guests like familiar foods, and don’t always want to wonder “what is that?” “is that something I can eat?”
12. I also suggest picking up a bottle of sparkling cider if your other drinks are alcoholic – teetotallers and designated drivers will appreciate being able to toast without feeling awkward.

Everyone got casual. Left to right – Maid of Honor, the Bride, The Groom, and the Best Man

The best parties are those where everyone is just having a good time and not staring at the clock. There were no little pockets of people who were left out – everyone mingled. Neighbors talked with family, young people talked with the grandparents, and a few people sneaked in to play with the kittens.
This didn’t cost a fortune, either. Even including the wine and the wedding cake, the whole thing was well under $500. I think we successfully walked a fine line between “good” “fast” and “cheap.” My cousin’s daughter will have much better pictures of her wedding, that is true. I am not sure what my son and daughter-in-law thought of the party or the decorations, they were having too much fun to really notice. And that, I am sure, is what will be memorable.


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About claymire cottage

I'm a museum curator who lives with a wonderful husband, Rowley the golden Retriever, and 2 cats; Mr. Cookie, and Mabel the Magnificent.

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