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My in-laws paid a small fortune for our wedding 35 years ago. Today, the average wedding costs $30,000 according to The Knot. While the wedding day is a special moment in life, it shouldn’t break the bank.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through strategies and tips to have a great wedding on a reasonable budget.
Initial Wedding Budget Considerations
Determine the Source of Funds
Before we get to the actual wedding budget, the first question to answer is where the money is coming from. Some couples pay the entire bill themselves, while others rely on family to help. My wife’s parents paid for our wedding, but every situation is different.
Where the money comes from will have some effect on your wedding plans. While you don’t want others to take over the planning, it may need (or want) to accommodate some of their requests if they’re helping to foot the bill. In addition, the source of the funds may determine your overall budget. We need to know that first before getting into the details.
Focus on details that matter to you and find creative ways to cut costs on other expenses. It’s all about prioritizing your budget and making it go further (here are the best budgeting apps that can help). Be sure to focus on your personal preferences rather than those of your friends.
There are a lot of components to a wedding, and some are going to be more important to you than others. According to The Knot’s report referenced above, wedding costs break down into the following categories (not including the honeymoon):
- Reception venue: $11,200
- Wedding photographer: $2,600
- Wedding/event planner: $1,900
- Live band: $3,900
- Reception DJ: $1,500
- Florist: $2,400
- Videographer: $2,100
- Wedding dress: $1,900
- Wedding cake: $510
- Catering: (price per person): $75
- Transportation: $980
- Favors: $440
- Rehearsal dinner: $2,400
- Engagement ring: $5,800
- Wedding invitations: $510
- Hairstylist: $130
- Makeup artist: $120
Since only a portion of the money is due upfront, have a plan for your savings. Until you have to start paying the vendors, you’ll probably want to maximize your money by stashing your money in a high-interest savings account.
Choosing the Venue
As you can see from the average wedding budget, the biggest bill that can ruin your finances is the reception. The good news is that there are many ways to cut down on costs. The biggest factors for reception costs are:
When you get married
The date and time of your wedding has a huge impact on how much things will cost. The most popular (and thus expensive) months to get married are June through August. Getting married during the height of the wedding season can raise your costs significantly.
You’re competing with other couples for the same venues, which will increase costs. Having an off-season wedding can save you a lot of money without sacrificing other items on your budget.
You should also consider what day you want to get married. The most expensive rates for reception halls are on Saturday nights. By choosing a different day, you can get the same reception hall and services for considerably less money. Moving your wedding from a Saturday to a Friday, for example, may decrease your costs quite a bit for the same wedding reception.
If you can’t switch days, try moving the wedding up to an earlier time so you can cut your reception costs by serving a lighter meal. For example, have a cocktail reception, or just serve appetizers. In both cases, your guests can have a great time and the bride and groom save a bunch of money.
The number of guests you invite
The bigger the reception, the higher the costs. Thus, you should focus on inviting guests who you truly want to be a part of your special day. While you may have pressure from your family to include distant relatives, it’s up to you whether or not you include them.
A friend of ours included a few such relatives to compromise with their parents, in part because they helped out with the wedding costs. However, the reception included their dearest and closest friends and family only.
The wedding reception location
Where you host your wedding reception is a big factor too, as popular venues tend to cost more. If you want to minimize travel and save some money, you might consider having the ceremony and reception at the same location.
I would also ask around to see if any friends or family have inside reviews on the place. Do they have a reputation for providing wonderful service at a fair price? You should also ask questions with the location coordinator besides just the price.
- Do they accept outside catering? (It’s a possible way to lower your reception costs.)
- What is the room’s capacity?
- How early can the bridal party arrive?
- Are there any concurrent events? If so, how many?
- When is the final menu picked?
- Are any decorations included? (You can negotiate with this very favorably at some venues.)
- What are their payment options and schedule?
- Do they offer tasting events before we book?
This is your day, and you’re going to spend some hard-earned money, so don’t be afraid to ask specific questions. You don’t want to be surprised when you get your bill.
Shop around with multiple vendors
There are plenty of vendors that want to have your business and you should take advantage of the situation. Pick your top 2-3 vendors and be ready to negotiate. By keeping price sheets and records of deals made with others, you can use this information to negotiate the best deals.
Here are some ideas on some of the larger budget items of many weddings.
The specific flowers and time of year that you choose will have a big effect on the price. Keep it simple and just choose one or two flowers to highlight in your bouquet. You may also want to incorporate more greenery into your flower arrangements.
Catering and cake
If you like having a big wedding, but your food budget is limited, have a buffet-style wedding. Many guests will be too busy enjoying your special day to really care about whether the dinner is plated or buffet style. You can also have an appetizer-style reception that would work well with early afternoon weddings.
Reduce your wedding cake costs without losing your dream cake. For example, you could have a smaller, two-tiered cake with some additional sheet cake ready to be served to guests. You’ll still have the wedding cake pictures, and most guests won’t notice or care.
Photographers and videographers can be expensive. While taking the traditional route is perhaps the safest approach, there are some alternatives for those wanting to reduce costs.
For example, Wedit is an affordable way to capture videos of all the little moments you’re likely to miss while you’re busy greeting guests and dancing the night away. With Wedit, you receive five HD cameras in the mail. Hand them out to five of your most reliable guests, and they can capture hours and hours of high-definition footage. After your wedding, simply mail the cameras back to WedIt. They’ll upload the footage to their website so you can download it and share it with your guests!
The Wedding Dress
You watch “Say Yes to the Dress,” don’t you? Then you know that no wedding is complete without an excursion to a snazzy wedding dress shop where you can easily drop five grand on a dress. Alternatively, look for sample or designer sales, because you can save lots of money at those places. And consider a used dress. Most wedding dresses have only been worn once (or never). Finally, consider the idea of making your own dress or renting a dress, because those are the least expensive options.
Your wedding is only one piece of the puzzle
Planning and budgeting your wedding is also a great way to start working together on your finances. It’s a learning experience, so don’t feel discouraged if you have arguments over some decisions. It’s how you handle them together that’s the bigger issue.
You should also learn how to communicate with each other what your goals are for the wedding. Be prepared to stand united if anyone tries to ruin your day by butting in. Tensions may run high occasionally, but this is only one day. Hopefully, you’ll look back on your wedding many decades down the road with fond memories.
If you haven’t done so already, you should also take time to prepare and decide how you’re going to handle your day-to-day finances as a couple. For example, are you going to have joint or separate accounts? Be open with your current finances and decide to start off on the right foot for your marriage.
Don’t Borrow to Pay for Your Wedding
At an average cost of $30,000, many people spend far too much on their wedding. It could be seen as a welcome sign of prosperity, except that these are not prosperous times. No, we are living with an epidemic of people struggling to pay their student loans and failing to save for retirement. So really, it is worrisome to see couples start their lives together by taking on a heaping helping of debt.
There is even an entire category of personal loans called wedding loans. It is worth looking at how those stack up relative to other options for financing a wedding. But it’s worth considering all the reasons not to borrow money for a wedding in the first place.
- Long-term debt is bad for short-term expenditures. Borrowing for assets like cars and houses makes sense because the useful life of the asset outlasts the repayment period. However, borrowing for short-term events like vacations or a wedding means taking on debt without an offsetting asset.
- Don’t feel you have to prove anything. Make the wedding entirely about your commitment to each other, and not about showing off for friends and family.
- It’s really easy to overpay. Most people don’t have a lot of experience with weddings, so they are essentially sitting ducks for the professionals who make their living in that industry.
- Saving could tell you something about each other. Being disciplined about money will help your marriage work. So why not find out how well you can manage this kind of thing together by waiting and saving up to pay for the wedding?
- Multiple debt layers could become a strain. It often takes 15 years or longer to pay off student loan debt. After you are married, you may want to buy a house, for which you will possibly need a mortgage. Do you really want to create a third layer of debt by taking on a wedding loan?
I don’t have any formal data on this; but given the way celebrity marriages often turn out, I get the impression that there might even be an inverse relationship between the cost of a wedding and the length of the subsequent marriage.