When it comes to wedding planning, setting a budget isn’t exactly the sexiest of topics.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably dreading it—or even actively trying to avoid it.
But you at least need to set a target budget in the beginning, as it will drive everything. You don’t want to waste your time drawing up a guest list of 500 people or calling venues with ocean views and celebrity chefs if you can’t afford to drop some serious cash.
Even if you keep your wedding “super simple,” it can still be pretty expensive. According to CostofWedding.com, the average American couple spent between $19,323 and $32,205 on average for their wedding in 2017.
Yeeowsa! Okay, now before you freak out, CostOfWedding.com also adds this: “However, over 40% of couples spend less than $10,000 and only 16% of couples spend more than $30,000 on their wedding.”
The fact that over 40% of couples spend less than $10,000 should ease your mind a bit.
The Big Wedding Industrial Complex probably doesn’t want you to know this—but a wedding less than $30,000 is easy to achieve. After all, the majority of people do it!
That said, we’re still talking about thousands of dollars.
So, why the HECK do weddings cost so much?
Here’s a breakdown of the major expenses—and how you can save some serious cash:
This is a biiiiig one. Venues can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. Expect to spend about half of your budget on your venue.
- Geographic Location. Areas of the Midwest and Southwest U.S. tend to be cheaper than the Northeast. Some large cities are more expensive than small towns. If you visit CostOfWedding.com, you can type in your zip code to get an estimate.
- Time of Day. Day weddings are always cheaper than evening weddings. A Sunday wedding will always be cheaper than a Friday or Saturday wedding.
- Type of Venue. A basic event center will typically be less expensive than a luxury venue or a private club. Venues that are used primarily for weddings also tend to be more expensive, as the word “wedding” guarantees a huge markup. (Why? Because they can…)
- Don’t be afraid to look off the beaten path. Sometimes the most unique venues like lofts, barns, vineyards, breweries and historical homes and inns can be surprisingly inexpensive—and gorgeous.
- “Wow” Factor. If your venue has an extravagant view, an ice sculpture garden or an expansive ballroom with a rotating dance floor—things are just going to be more expensive.
TIP: Some venues include many things in their overall fee that you would usually have to pay extra for. This can include chairs, chair covers, the cake, a day-of coordinator and even an officiant. This can be a great way to save money—and time.
You’ll typically pay your caterer per person. This can be as low as $20 per person for a brunch buffet or $100+ for a plated dinner. According to The Knot’s survey, the average price per person at a U.S. wedding in 2017 was $70.
- Number of guests. That $20 to $100 per person adds up quick!
- Type of Food. Brunch and barbecue costs a lot less than steak and salmon.
- Buffet vs. Plated Meal. Buffets are always cheaper than plated meals.
The bar tab can really put a wedding budget over the top. On the other hand, if you have a dry wedding or your crowd don’t drink very much, you can save a lot of money.
- Type of alcohol served. Beer and wine is cheaper than spirits; House alcohol is cheaper than high-end brands.
- Open Bar vs. Cash Bar. There’s no shame in having a cash bar. There’s no law written anywhere that says just because you’re getting married you’re obligated to buy round after round for your friends and family.
- There’s also other options in between, such as offering guests free drinks for one or two hours or offering a free “signature drink.”
- Paying per consumption or a flat fee. Venues usually offer a variety of alcohol packages, and they may give you the option to pay for only the drinks that your guests consume or they may charge you a flat fee for the whole thing. Which option you choose depends on your guests. If they’re light or moderate drinkers, you’re probably better off paying by consumption.
Photographers vary in price, depending on location and the amount of experience the person has. Couples paid an average $2,630 for a photographer in 2017.
TIP: If you’re looking to save money, hire a friend or search for a newbie wedding photographer who is looking to build up their portfolio.
A live band will typically cost more than a DJ. If you have any other type of entertainment, like dancers or a special light show, factor that into your budget.
If you’re planning to hire musicians for your ceremony, that will add an additional $500 to $800 to your budget.
This is a surprisingly expensive one. The average cost of wedding flowers in 2017 was $2,379. Flowers just are expensive, and if you use a professional florist, you also are paying for their labor.
TIPS: Save money by choosing a venue that already has naturally beautiful décor and a ceremony site with planted flowers and bushes. If you have a winter wedding, you can go light with the flowers and instead create an incredible atmosphere with decorations like garlands and lanterns. You may also have a talented friend you can hire at a discount.
This one can vary. The average bride spent $1,509 on her wedding dress in 2017, and the average groom spent $286. There are many ways to save money, such as buying a preowned wedding dress, wearing a formal dress from Nordstrom or choosing a short style. If you’re wearing a tux or a suit, you can always find one on sale or rent.
Now that you have an idea of where all that money will go, let’s move on to setting your budget:
Step #1: Ask yourself, “How much can I afford?”
More importantly, how much do you want to spend on your wedding? You may be able to spend $30,000 but choose not to. A wedding does not have to be expensive to be beautiful, classy and amazing.
If you are not the one paying for your wedding, or you’re not paying for all of it, sit down with the people who are. It’s uncomfortable, but this talk must happen—and it must happen before you start calling venues and booking a band and falling in love with pricey dresses.
If you have two parties who will be contributing money—both your parents and your fiancé’s parents, for example—it’s best to talk to them separately. Find out how much each party is willing to pay and add in your own contribution.
Step #2: Decide what you want to splurge on and where you want to save.
Think about your non-negotiables. These are the 3-6 things that are the most important to you and your fiancé. You may want to shell out extra money for the things on that list, and then cut back on other items that are less important to you.
Step #3: Decide how much you want to spend in each major category.
I’ve put together a guide for you to get started.
Refer back to this planner as you make decisions like choosing a venue and a photographer. If you end up spending more than expected on your photographer, maybe you want to cut back on flowers or nix the ceremony musicians. Feel free to move money around as you move through the planning process.
- Try to avoid going into debt for your wedding. If you’re considering using credit cards or taking out a loan, sit down and ask yourself if it’s really that important to you to have a wedding that you can’t afford. Plenty of people have amazing backyard barbecue weddings that are beautiful, classy and fun—and they don’t go into debt while doing it.
- If all of this has your head spinning and now you’re not sure if you want to have a wedding, eloping is an option that is available to you. Just make sure you examine why. If you really don’t have the money and it’s not that important to you, then maybe you do want to skip it and just elope.
- You could also choose to have a super simple wedding, like gathering 12 people in a park and going out to brunch afterwards.
- Put aside 5% of your budget for little things you may have forgotten about or underestimated, like stamps, tips, tax, alterations or rehearsal dinner attire.
Whew! You did it! You now have a wedding budget set. It wasn’t that bad, was it? 😉
Take a moment to celebrate your success. Take your fiancé out to dinner or go catch up on your favorite show.
When you’re ready, come back and we’ll tackle the next step in planning your no fuss wedding: starting your guest list.
Please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you again soon! 🙂