The average wedding in the United States in 2019 cost a whopping $33,900. That’s roughly the equivalent of a new car or even a hefty down payment on a gorgeous new house. While there’s nothing wrong with spending your savings on a dream wedding, even A-list celebrities and other wealthy couples have a budget in mind. Use these expert tips to keep your wedding expenses under control without sacrificing what you’ve envisioned for your big day.
Set a budget — and stick to it
Setting a budget may seem like the logical first step for any couple planning their wedding, but it’s how you determine that budget that’s truly important. Plucking a number out of the air doesn’t make sense. Neither does spending money until you run out (imagine the stress involved in that scenario). Instead, create a budget based on research and with your ideal wedding day in mind.
Start by calling around or using the internet to find the average costs of key components such as catering, flowers, furniture rental, and venues. Most prices will vary wildly, but you’ll know quickly whether you’ll be on the high end (centerpieces dripping in diamonds and a ballroom at the Ritz) or somewhere near the middle (DIY bouquets and an Airbnb farm with the coolest renovated barn). One financial expert recommends starting with a number that represents how much you want to spend in total and then breaking it down into categories:
- Reception: 55%
- Ceremony: 12%
- Photography: 10%
- Wedding Planner: 10%
- Dress and Tux: 8%
- Miscellaneous/Overage: 5%
You’ll see that this breakdown even includes some money to act as a cushion in case a few extra people RSVP and your catering costs get bumped up or flower prices suddenly skyrocket. But beyond that, accept that your budget is set in stone and ignore the temptation to spend beyond your means.
Rope in friends and family
If you have loved ones who are eager to help you prep for your wedding, let them! Your BFF from high school who is incredible at interior design? See if she can spearhead your tablescapes and centerpieces. Does your cousin work as a mixologist at one of the hottest joints in town? See if he and his buddies want an after-hours gig as your bartenders. Relying on the people in your inner circle doesn’t mean getting everything for free, but it does allow you to save money while entrusting parts of your wedding to people you know will give it their all.
Be open-minded about venues
Go-to wedding venues like hotels, event centers, and popular local destinations such as vintage castles or luxury estates often cost a premium because they’re in high demand. You’ll also have to book them and make a deposit much sooner than a typical wedding checklist timeline suggests. If you’re planning a wedding on short notice or want to save money, consider venues that are a little outside the box.
Going to city hall is obviously the cheapest option, but you can also hire a wedding officiant and have your wedding ceremony almost anywhere, including:
- Your neighborhood park
- A wildlife preserve
- Your parents’ backyard
- A bowling alley
- An art gallery or museum
- A loft rented out by the owner
- The beach or a waterfront boardwalk
- On your street (you’ll probably need a block party permit from the city)
- Your local library
- An aquarium or zoo
- A vintage theater
Play around with timing
Popularity can influence how much a venue or vendor costs, but so can the time of day or even the season. The vast majority of weddings take place between May and October. Get married outside those months and you may get discounts for avoiding the busy season. Weekdays are usually cheaper, and you can even save money on the weekends by switching from a dinner to a brunch and taking advantage of early-morning openings at your favorite venue or restaurant.
Hire a newer photographer
This suggestion may be the riskiest on our list because it requires you to put a lot of trust in someone that doesn’t have a proven track record. But with the average cost of a wedding photographer sitting at the $2,400 mark, you could easily spend the majority of your budget on pictures. Before you sign a contract, talk to some newer photographers in your area to see if they’re offering discounted packages as they build up their portfolios. They should still offer you examples of their work and, if possible, referrals from past clients. If you do decide to go this route, you may want to be a little extra hands-on. Schedule a sit-down prior to the big day and put together a list of photos you want and cliché shots you’d rather avoid. That way you know everyone is on the same page.
Swap out traditional wedding cake for non-traditional desserts
Wedding cakes are expensive, and for good reason. Those multi-tiered, fondant-draped creations are edible works of art. Some take days or even weeks to make depending on what kind of hand-shaped icing flowers and spun-sugar decorations you’ve requested. If that level of pastry perfection seems daunting, satisfy your sweet tooth with less formal options. You could get a handful of pies from your favorite bakery, commission a cupcake tower, look into quirky alternatives like an old-fashioned candy cart or cotton candy kiosk, or indulge in a bevy of petit fours, brownies, and cookies so your guests can sample a variety of tasty treats.
Be strategic about your wedding stationery
You may think you’d save money by DIYing your wedding invitations and other stationery, but it’s amazing how quickly supplies, printing costs, postage, and even your valuable time can add up. Instead of trying to design a program using free software or wondering if your hand will fall off from manually addressing 200 save-the-date cards, partner with an online stationery source that can take care of everything from start to finish. You’ll have access to professional templates, options for personalization, and the ability to add return address printing to keep things nice and simple.
Remember that your wedding invitations, programs, and even reception items like coasters and napkins will likely become keepsakes. Spending money on pieces you’ll treasure forever is a pretty sound investment.
Consider a destination wedding
Flying halfway around the world to get married might not seem like a budget-minded decision at the outset, but you may be surprised. All-inclusive resorts often offer wedding and honeymoon packages that cover the cost of your stay as well as a handful of guests. Because guests are traveling on their own, they pay for their accommodations and meals and you get the day-of catering at an attractive rate.
The big win here is that most people simply won’t be able to travel. While you may lose out on the company of some people you care about, those “extra” guests your in-laws insisted on inviting may take themselves out of the running without you having to do any of the dirty work. Fewer guests means less money for you to spend. Then you can have a more casual backyard BBQ or pool party when you get home so everyone can toast your marriage without financial concerns casting a shadow over the celebration.
Ignore the peanut gallery
No matter how much you value the opinions of your friends and family members, you will get tired of their input long before you have a chance to walk down the aisle. It seems like everyone has feelings about wedding décor, food, and even your dress or suit, regardless of whether you ask for their perspective or not. Perhaps more to the point, other people will happily spend your money for you by suggesting venue upgrades or trying to talk you into more expensive entertainment. At the end of the day, this is your wedding, your vision, and your bank account. Just because someone voices their opinion doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
Weddings are deeply personal events. For some couples, it’s a major affair that’s worth the sky-high bill that comes along with vintage champagne and lobster for a crowd. For others, it’s important to find the balance between elegance and restraint. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there’s a wedding budget that fits your needs. For more information on financial planning for your wedding, check out our wedding budget guide.