How much you spend on your wedding is ultimately up to you and your spouse—and it all depends on what you two think is important.
Getting married is supposed to be a day full of nothing but joy, but many married couples will tell you that their happiness at being wed was accompanied by a great deal of stress. And while some of those stresses fall outside the purview of this humble personal finance blog—like, say, 30 years of family drama coming to a head during the appetizers course—the financial stress of getting married is one that we’re happy to comment on.
While getting hitched is actually fairly cheap, throwing a wedding is often quite expensive. But does it have to be? The short answer is no. The longer answer: It doesn’t have to be, and you shouldn’t feel the pressure to have an expensive wedding “just because.” While you don’t need to skip a wedding altogether and elope to avoid paying a lot of money for your special day, it helps to have some guidelines in place to avoid spending too much.
So how expensive should your wedding be? It depends. It really does. We reached out to a number of wedding and personal finance experts to get their advice and analysis into the costs of getting hitched, and how you can make sure that the price tag for your ceremony matches both your financial means and your overall priorities.
What does your wedding need to be?
Katherine Frost is the owner of Denver-based wedding & event planning company A Frosted Affair, and she said that clients are often surprised by her usual answer regarding how expensive a wedding should be—because it has very little to do with money.
“Weddings are a public event about a private thing, “ said Frost. “Traditionally, they are our society’s way of legitimizing a relationship and presenting the couple for the community’s acceptance. So, fundamentally, the couple has to ask themselves how much is that worth to them?”
“There is any number of websites that will tell you what the average wedding costs are, but in the history of wedding planning, no one has ever said, “I want an average wedding,’” she continued. “More than anything, couples want an event that expresses their personality and makes their guests fall in love with them. A wedding should cost as much as that requires.”
“Couples that don’t give a hoot about anyone else’s thoughts on their choice in partner, can usually have a lovely affair for $3,00 to $10,000 that includes everything that makes a warm, welcoming event.”
“For some families, however, the wedding is more than just presenting a couple to the community.” explained Frost. “It is the family reunion, the business or client event, and the opportunity to be the talk of the town. The sky is the limit in these instances. I have planned $250K luxury weddings that were stunning in every aspect and they achieved more for the family than just getting the offspring hitched.”
So, how expensive should your wedding be? According to Frost: “As expensive as the couple’s need for community acceptance and the family’s need for a memorable, positive community experience.”
What are your wedding priorities?
“You can use data about the average costs of weddings only as a benchmark because the average numbers don’t tell the whole story,” said Kevin Begola, owner of Titanium Buzz men’s wedding bands store. In fact, the cost of weddings can vary significantly depending on where couples get married.
“Making recommendations on how expensive a wedding should be can be tricky because different couples prioritize different aspects of wedding and spend money differently. Traditional wedding expenses include a lot of items, but each wedding is unique and you don’t have to spend money on traditions that don’t matter to you.”
Begola’s general advice simple: “You should customize your budget to fit your needs and ensure that wedding spending aligns with your income, regular expenses, and other financial goals. You don’t want to start your married life together in debt from going out of control with your wedding.”
Regardless of your budget, Begola emphasized that you shouldn’t spend money on things that you don’t think are important.
“When planning your big day, you can choose three areas that are at the most important to you, focus on them, and let everything else come together afterward,” he said. “If you are on a tight budget, there are some things that may not be worth your money, like favors or paper invitations, so you can skip them. “
“Besides, you can lower costs by being flexible about certain factors,” he added. “Weekday weddings for some venues are typically less expensive so you will pay approximately 10 percent to 20% less if you decide to have a Thursday night wedding. Renting a venue off-season can save you about 25%. Hiring a DJ instead of a full band could probably save you about 50% or so.”
Are you asking the right questions?
Ramsey Preferred Financial Coach Christian Stewart Barnes of Do Better Financial emphasized that you and your spouse should be realistic when calculating your wedding budget. “Money doesn’t just materialize, and credit card bills will come due,” she said. Barnes went on to provide some guidelines to help brides and grooms-to-be identify what’s truly important to them:
- “How long do you want to be engaged? If you are in your early 20’s or already living together, waiting a year or two to tie the knot might be an option for you. It will give you, or your family, an opportunity to save more money, become educated on all your options, and take your time working out the details.”
- “Who will be paying? This might seem straightforward, but money makes people act strangely. Traditionally the brides family pays for the wedding, while the grooms family pays for the rehearsal dinner, but what about engagement parties, bridal showers, or same-sex couples? You both need to discuss how much financial support, if any, each of your families will contribute and talk about payment details. Will they pay for a specific item, like a cake or dress, write you a blank check, or reimburse you on the back end? Having clarity on this issue is essential to creating a wedding budget that will work for you.”
- “How much are you willing to DIY? Doing things yourself has become more popular with the advent of Instagram and Pinterest, but DIY doesn’t equal free. The searching, planning, and execution of these ideas takes time and money. You might spend less money on the item, but lose a few nights and weekends instead.”
To illustrate how these considerations work in a practical manner, Barnes shared this example from her own wedding held last October:
“We are both in our early 30’s and did not want a long engagement. We started planning assuming only our income was available to fund the celebration and figured out how much we could squeeze out of our respective budgets each month. We used this number as our base budget and assigned percentages based on what was important to us, and worked overtime for anything that didn’t fit,” she said.
“We both work full time, run businesses, as well as volunteer with our church, so DIY projects (outside of planning the event itself) weren’t something we wanted to shove into an already crowded schedule. I originally wanted to get married in a church and travel to the reception venue, but after looking at pricing we decided a room flip would be more time and cost effective, as well as simplify the logistics.
“Pictures and music were also important, so we spent more in those areas than things like flowers and decor, and chose to skip the rehearsal dinner,” Barnes added. “We did have family and friends gift us with things like bustling, dance lessons, and the cake, which allowed us to direct our hard earned dollars toward other things on our nice-to-have list, like adding a few last minute guests.”
If you are able to answer these questions for yourself—while being realistic about what you can afford and how much you can save—you should have a wedding that fits well within your budget.
Breaking down your typical wedding budget.
When you’re building a household budget, it’s good to have an idea of how much money you should be spending on any one category. For instance, it’s a good bet that housing costs—like rent or mortgage payments—will take up a much larger portion of your budget than, say, the amount of money you’re spending each month on dining out.
The same holds true for weddings. And while some general costs remained fixed, sorting out your own wedding priorities will help you determine how much you should be budgeting for other elements. The more you know what you want, the more accurate your budget will be.
“The cost of any wedding always depends on a multitude of factors,” explained Anna Bessonowa, Director of Operations for Magic Day Luxury Experiences. “You can avoid spending too much money for your wedding by sorting your expenses by what’s most important for you.
Based on her experience, Bessonowa went on to break down what a typical wedding budget looks like and the most commonly seen distribution of costs:
“The most expensive cost item is the venue—at exceptional venues, you sometimes need to pay venue rental prices and, in some cases, extra fees for the space rent for the ceremony. This usually takes around 20% of the overall wedding budget,” she began.
“Catering is another important item of your budget. You can choose a three or a four-course menu, add cocktail hours, coffee times, or snack bars—everything is calculated according to the number of your guests. The catering also makes about 20% of the wedding budget.
“Photography and videography are really important chunks of the sum as well. The expenses for these services are usually 10 percent for each category, depending on the vendors and their packages.”
“The other 40% of the wedding budget can be distributed among the remaining categories with the largest part usually being allocated to flowers and decorations (8%), music and entertainment (8%), dress and attire (8%),” she continued.
“Beauty services (makeup, hair, and nails), stationery (invitations, table cards, seating charts), gifts and favors for the guests see around 16 percent allocated to them. You should also add expenses for the guest transfers in case of a destination wedding, and wedding planner services if you decide to plan your big day with a professional.”
And finally, Bessowa recommended that your wedding include some form of emergency fund:
“We also recommend leaving some financial resources for the emergency and backup plans (3 to 5% of your wedding budget) and to always have a significant amount of cash at easy reach during the wedding day.”
Go forth and get married.
Weddings are meant to special days. The better you understand what would make your wedding extra special for you, your fiance, and your respective loved ones, the more prepared you’ll be to save appropriately, spend wisely, and avoid starting off your marriage under a pile of debt.
Christian Stewart Barnes is the founder and lead coach of Do Better Financial. She has a Finance degree from Texas A&M University and paid off $32,000 in debt in only 27 months. Her mission is to help people make their dreams a reality by knowing and doing better through one-on-one coaching and public speaking.
Kevin Begola created Titanium Buzz (@TitaniumBuzz) from ground zero and is expanding the business further. They’ve worked for more than 10 years to create the men’s wedding bands that help express their clients’ personalities. He also purchased an old historical building that now houses the online offices as well as a men’s store called Bridge Street Exchange in Linden, MI.
Anna Bessonowa is the Director of Operations at Magic Day Luxury Experiences (@magicday) and has worked with Magic Day Events since 2008. She has event planning experience in Germany (private events), Switzerland (accommodation in the hotel industry), Lithuania (business meetings and conferences). Since 2018, Bessonowa has been responsible for finding the perfect venue for all types of weddings in Western and Southern Europe, aiming to offer the couples unique and most beautiful wedding locations.
Katherine Frost is a luxury and destination wedding planner in Denver, Colorado who creates unforgettable weddings. Her company, A Frosted Affair (@afrostedaffair), also works with corporations and non-profits to create events that inspire new levels of employee and donor engagement. When you want a wedding that beautifully conveys the personality of the couple or an event that demonstrates the value of an organization, call A Frosted Affair.
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