The Cost of a Wedding and How You Can Save

Your wedding is one of the biggest and most expensive days of your life. It’s an expense that many couples believe is justified, one that allows them to celebrate their nuptials in front of friends and family and create memories that will last forever. But it’s also an expense that could make life very difficult for your first few years together and would that should be carefully managed and planned.

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The Average Cost of a Wedding

On average, Americans get married for the first time between the ages of 27 and 29, with the average for men being slightly higher than the average for women. According to a recent survey, close to 70% of people in this age group have less than $1,000 in savings, and as discussed in our guide to demographics and debt, those same individuals have around $42,000 worth of debt. 

As for weddings, Americans are spending an average of over $33,000 on their big day, and while many are relying on relatives to foot the bill, just as many are turning to personal loans and credit cards.

All things considered; these sums add up to a mountain of debt for couples trying to start their lives together.

Itemized Cost of a Wedding

Millennials make between $30,000 and $35,000 a year on average, which effectively means they are spending their entire salaries on their wedding. That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider the rising costs of living and the fact that individual discretionary income is often less than $800 a month.

If you’re one of these average millennials and are preparing for a wedding, you might scoff at the idea of spending so much money. It seems absurd to anyone who has never planned a wedding. But the costs can get away from you very quickly and even when you’re trying to stick to a budget and be sensible, it’s easy to rack-up a colossal bill that you’ll be repaying for years to come.

To give you an idea of what you can expect here is a quick rundown of the main expenses and the average costs:

Wedding Venue = $13,000 to $17,000

The first thing that most couples decide upon is where the wedding will take place. In many cases, the “where” comes before the “when” and shapes all other planning. If you want to get married on a beach, you’re going to need to book a Spring or Summer wedding; if you want to get married abroad, you’ll need to reduce the guest list. And most importantly, if you want a popular venue, you’ll need to book as soon as possible as these venues fill up quickly.

Couples spend between $12,000 and $14,000 on the wedding venue and this accounts for between 45% and 55% of the total wedding cost on average. Many venues charge extra for food and additional services, making that $12,000 to $14,000 seem like a disproportionately high sum. 

Very few couples realize just how much the venue costs until they’re hit with their very first quote. So, what’s going on here? Well, it’s partly down to a wedding tax. In other words, venues charge extra because they can and because they know couples are willing to pay for it. 

But while there is an undeniable premium added to these venues, there are also many costs and issues that they need to consider, including taxes, insurance, utilities, use of facilities, and preparations. 

Staff is one of the biggest costs. A venue may need to pay for upwards of 20 members of staff to ensure that the day runs smoothly, while bigger weddings could require over 50. That amounts to a lot of money spent on salaries, contractors, and overtime.

If you’re booking a busy attraction that typically welcomes paying guests, they also need to shut down their services to other guests and those lost earnings will be considered.

Of course, some venues will welcome all the extra guests that you bring, and we’ll get to those shortly, but that doesn’t apply to all of them.

Ceremony = $1,000 to $3,000

You can book a small chapel for between $100 and $200 and pay around $150 to $250 for an officiant. However, if you want a grand hotel, castle, or outside location, those costs can increase significantly.

A church large enough to accommodate over 150 guests could take $1,000 or more from your budget and if you’re arranging a beach wedding, you’ll need to rent chairs, a stage, audio equipment, and other essentials that ensure it runs smoothly. 

Catering = $2,500 to $15,000

If you thought the venue was expensive, wait until you see the price of the food. A wedding cake could set you back over $500, a rehearsal dinner close to $1,500, and on top of that, you’ll pay anywhere from $50 to $100 each for the reception dinner itself.

If you have 150 guests in a big venue, you could be faced with a bill of $15,000. However, these costs are justified. It’s often cheaper to book every guest into a local fine dining restaurant, but unlike your local chain restaurant, the caterers are working solely for your needs, creating menus based on your requests, and bringing all their equipment to your venue.

Dresses and Suits = $1,000 to $2,000

Brides spend an average of just over $1,000 on wedding dresses, while grooms spend about a quarter of this on their suit. On top of these expenses, you’ll also have to think about what the bridesmaids and ushers will wear, although, as discussed a little later, there are numerous ways you can save money on these purchases.

Transportation = $500 to $1,000

Does the bride want to arrive in style, do the happy couple need a pimped-out car to leave the church or arrive at the venue? And what about family members moving to and from the venue and church? Transportation is an optional extra that’s easy to avoid if you’re willing to make a few sacrifices; if not, it can add up to $1,000 to your total.

Hiring Professionals = $4,500 = $7,000

A wedding planner is not essential, but if you’re planning a big day and don’t have the time or desire to plan for months in advance, they can take the burden off your shoulders for an average of around $1,800. Be careful, though, because you’ll need to hire many other professionals to ensure your day leaves a mark on your guests.

A photographer may charge in excess of $2,000 to document your day and you’ll pay the same for a videographer. Musicians should also be considered, whether you’re being welcomed into the church with soothing violin music or rocking on the venue dance floor with heavy metal—live music doesn’t come cheap.

A DJ at the reception could cost upwards of $1,000 and you may pay up to $2,000 for a good band. You’ll also need to think about hairstylists and makeup artists, which can add several hundred dollars to your total but ensure you’re picture-perfect and ready to go.

Extras = Varies

Weddings are expensive not just because venues and food cost a lot, but also because there is a seemingly never-ending list of charges and expenditures to consider. In addition to everything mentioned above, you have to think about invitations, favors, flowers, and decorations.

How to Save on Wedding Costs

If you can’t afford to spend $33,000 to tie the knot and make your coupling official, take a look at these discount tips. You can still arrange a memorable, enjoyable, and elegant wedding without spending the price of a brand-new car. 

Change the Date

Venues increase their prices during peak dates and if you book outside of these dates you could save thousands of dollars. The most popular dates tend to fall in June, September, and October, but you may be charged a premium anytime during the Spring, Summer, and early Fall.

Couples want weather that isn’t too hot or cold. And contrary to what you might expect, they don’t stick with dates that occur during Spring or Summer break and instead book on Saturdays throughout the year.

In 2019, the most popular date was October 12th, which fell on a Saturday. The temperature was ideal, the Fall scenery was picture-perfect, and the fact that it didn’t occur during the Spring or Summer break kept all travel and vacation disruptions to a minimum.

One of the least popular months to book is December. The Saturday before Christmas and the final Saturday in January provide some of the best options for couples seeking a cheap weekend wedding. Try to book during the Winter or even the late Fall if you want to save money. If this is not an option, consider a Friday or Sunday wedding.

Change the Venue

$14,000 is a lot of money to spend on a venue and there are many alternative options if you don’t have that cash to spend. Look at unique and non-traditional venues; think outside of the box and give the grand houses, hotels, castles, and other popular venues a miss.

If you opt for a bar or pub instead, you can typically get a very good deal on account of all the customers you’ll be bringing in. On an average night, a pub may be lucky to see several dozen customers come and go, many of which will order only the occasional drink.

With a big wedding party, they’re guaranteed a full pub of thirsty customers who will remain there throughout the night. You will still need to pay for optional extras, including tables and entertainment, but these may be offered at a fraction of the usual cost.

If you don’t like the idea of having a wedding reception in a bar, look for some quainter, cheaper, and more romantic options instead. A friend’s garden or house; a cabin in the woods. A little creativity can go a long way and save you a sizeable sum.

Don’t be Scared to Negotiate

Negotiation can save you thousands of dollars and you shouldn’t be ashamed of asking for a discount. Make it clear that you don’t have a big budget and can’t afford to throw money at things.

Everything has a wedding tax, a theoretical fee added to the cost of items just because it’s for a wedding and people are usually more willing to spend. By putting your foot down, refusing to spend over the top and insisting on a discount, you could have thousands of dollars from your budget.

Create, Borrow, and Ask

To save big on many of the optional extras, you need to get creative or start asking friends and family if they can help out. Supplying your own drinks? Ask each guest to bring a bottle. Have any entertainers, beauticians, tailors or cooks in your network? Ask for their assistance in making the day complete.

“Ask” is the keyword here. Just because it’s your big day doesn’t mean you can make demands of your loved ones and expect them to bend over backward for you. Don’t be a bridezilla (or groomzilla). Be nice, be friendly, ask politely, and always offer to compensate them in the hope they’ll either refuse your request or give you a sizeable discount.

A little creativity can also help you save. Instead of purchasing expensive, premium paper invitations, go paperless and send them electronically. We’re living in an eco-conscious age, so guests will appreciate a little less waste.

You can try the same tricks with companies and contractors. Again, you should never make demands that are unreasonable, but there are a few ways companies can help. For instance, many florists stock excess inventory they may be willing to sell cheaply, and you can always find bands, photographers, videographers, and other professionals willing to work for less because they’re only just getting started and want to build their reputations.

Rent, Don’t Buy

Every bride wants to buy their own wedding dress, even though it will sit in a cupboard for the next few decades and likely never be used again. It’s a lot of money to spend on something that you will only wear once, but we get it, and won’t try to convince you to rent.

However, the same doesn’t have to apply to all the clothes and equipment you buy. The groom’s suit, the bridesmaids’ dresses. Anything that can be rented, should be rented.

Fun Gimmicks Save a Fortune

The average guest has been to several weddings and heard stories about countless others. They have seen gorgeous dresses, beautiful flowers, and gleaming white decorations. If it’s traditional, they’ve seen it before and likely won’t remember any of it.

By switching things up a little, not only will your big day be the one that everyone remembers, but you could save yourself a few dollars in the process. Swap a bridal bouquet for a wreath or paper flows; purchase a self-serving candy cart instead of expensive desserts; get a stack of cupcakes instead of a traditional cake.

By encouraging guests to record the event on their phones and post the pictures using the same hashtag, you will eliminate the need for a photographer and videographer and ensure that you have thousands of pictures and dozens of videos from multiple perspectives.

Reduce the Guest List

Finally, one of the easiest ways to reduce the cost is to reduce the guest list. This is tricky and as any married or soon-to-be-married couple will tell you, the best-laid plans often go to waste. 

You start by insisting that only a handful of people need to be there, but then you remember Aunty Jane, and realize that you can’t invite her if you don’t invite Uncle John. And it wouldn’t be fair to invite them without your other aunties and uncles, or your cousins, their partners, and their kids. And what about your colleagues, your old friends, your new friends—you start with a basic list of a dozen people and end up with close to 200.

Be ruthless, stop worrying about what other people will think, and start cutting that list down. It may be easier if you set a few basic rules, such as limiting the guests to adults over the age of 18. 

If that doesn’t work and you can’t keep the guest list down, think about staging the wedding overseas. You’ll pay extra to cover the costs of your flights and accommodation, but that way you can create an open invitation, allowing any of your family to come as long as they’re prepared to book their flights.

It sounds cruel, but it’ll save you money and stress and give you a wedding and honeymoon in one!