Non traditional approach

So me and my fiancé are very excited to get married. We don't have a date planned, we are taking our time. Both of us don't have any friends, and his family lives 3 hours away in the city. 
We both don't really want an actual wedding ceremony. We don't feel personally the invite list would make up for the cost. 
So we have a compromise. We want to have a quick courthouse marriage. But we would still like to have a celebration. I suggested an engagement party midway between out families so they could both attend. He suggested we have a reception without the ceremony. I really want to plan the reception, but I want to know some people's opinions. 
Is one cheaper/better than the other. Keep in mind that I'm a big spender but I know how to save more as well.