The Biggest Myth About What Your Wedding Should Cost

Average Wedding Cost

There’s nothing more heartwarming than celebrating the act of two people joining together in holy matrimony. A couple’s wedding day creates memories that last a lifetime for all parties involved. Unfortunately, the average wedding cost has grown significantly in recent years, according to estimates from the wedding industry, making it more difficult to save money to pay for this dream event.

But are the figures inflated to encourage couples and their families to spend more, or do weddings actually have to cost and arm and a leg to be amazing?

Average Wedding Cost Is Estimated at $29,858

If you and your significant other announced your engagement and are now preparing to tally the overall cost of your wedding, you might be shocked by the fact that the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is equal to that of a brand new car or a hefty down payment on a home.

According to TheKnot.com, the average wedding cost in America is now about $29,858 — up from $19,581 in 2009.

What could be driving up these figures? Has there been an increase in the cost of typical services like music and catering, as well as other elements like reception facilities, dresses, etc.? Have big dreams upped the standard for what an average wedding entails, or has the wedding industry simply inflated statistics in order to convince excited couples to spend much more than necessary for their big days?

The truth is a wedding doesn’t need to cost anywhere near $29,858 — a couple can cut wedding costs and still celebrate their nuptials in style.

Elements and Costs of a Typical Wedding

With the average cost of a wedding estimated in the thousands, let’s break down the range of costs an average American could pay for a wedding that includes 100 people:

  • Wedding License: $35 (cost varies by state)
  • Wedding DJ: $100 to $300 per hour ($500 – $1,500 for five-hour reception)
  • Photographer: $750 to $10,000
  • Catering: $20 to $350 per person ($2,000 to $35,000)
  • Flowers: $400 to $5,000
  • Reception Venue and Decorations: $300 to $10,000
  • Cake: $1.50 to $12 per slice ($150 to $1,200)
  • Dress: $100 to $5,000
  • Tuxedo: $100 and up
  • Officiant: $200
  • Two Wedding Bands: $200 to $3,000
  • Wedding Invitations: $100 to $5,000

Some people prefer to hire a wedding planner to handle the details of the event. In this case, your cost is going up by another $1,500 to $5,000. And other elements not mentioned in the list (that are not necessarily vital to a wedding) could inflate costs further, including the videographer, rental car or limo, hair and makeup, bridal shower, bachelor party, and wedding favors.

As you can see, a typical wedding encompasses a broad range of costs, depending on preferences. However, just sticking to the low end of expenditures, you can get away with a nice wedding that includes a lot of the major elements — most important being great food and music — for $4,835.

But these figures are based on averages pulled from a number of sources. The cost for each element of a wedding can vary significantly depending on where you live, what time of the year you’re getting married, how far in advance you plan along with other factors.

Related: Are You Financially Ready for Marriage? 

Even in high-cost cities like New York or Los Angeles, though, it’s likely that you know people who have found ways to have a fantastic, low-cost wedding with absolutely no regrets.

How to Create a Wedding Budget With Low-Cost Wedding Ideas

So, are you someone who wants a lovely affair without having to borrow money or take out a loan to cover the cost? Since the average wedding budget is in the ball park of $28,000, it’s time to learn how to budget a wedding while still putting on a classy event.

The first step when preparing for your wedding is actually setting up a wedding budget based on the number of people you plan to invite and the money you and your partner can easily save. The wedding budget should list “must-haves,” along with a separate section for “would-like-to-haves” — components that can be easily eliminated if they don’t fit within your budget.

Next, call around to price everything from venues for the reception to the cake and flowers. By acquiring estimates, you can quickly determine what’s not necessary for your wedding. If you find some costs are too high, but you don’t want to eliminate certain pieces of the puzzle, consider the following:

  • Wedding in a park. Many city parks allow people to have private gatherings at low costs, and sometimes for free (but scope out the area first to make sure it’s spacious and suitable for well-dressed guests).
  • Use a church basement for the reception. Many church basements are accustomed to holding large parties for dining functions. If you chose a church for your ceremony, you might be able to use the basement afterward to lower your costs.
  • Find a discounted wedding gown. Many wedding shops offer annual sales on gowns that can drop the cost as low as $100. Shop early and find a gown within your price range you’re sure to love.
  • Have friends take pictures. Instead of hiring a professional photographer or videographer, ask a friend to take pictures and video-record the wedding and reception.
  • Rent a sound system. Rather than hire a traditional wedding DJ, rent (or find) a quality sound system and hook up an iPod to play hours of great music.
  • Eliminate the wedding party. While most wedding party members have to pay for their own outfits, many brides and grooms still chip in for accessories and gifts. To cut costs (and headaches) associated with bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, etc., eliminate the cost of a wedding rehearsal and dinner, or skip the wedding party altogether.
  • Buy low-cost invites, table decorations and more. Consider purchasing invitations, table arrangements and more from budget stores.
  • Trade wedding presents for food and cake. Save a large portion of your budget on food by reaching out to close family and friends and requesting they bring food to your affair (home-cooked or store-bought) in lieu of buying wedding gifts. This is an especially great option if you’re close friends with a talented chef or baker.
  • Ask your pastor to officiate. Rather than hire someone to officiate your wedding, consider asking your own church pastor, who will likely be happy to take the job for free. You can thank him or her with a nice gift. You could also ask a friend to be ordained for your wedding and officiate free of charge, in lieu of a physical wedding gift.
  • Strategize your flower placement. Consider purchasing flowers and only placing them in key areas where photos will be taken.

Related: 8 Money Issues to Resolve Before Walking Down the Aisle

Another option to consider is taking a vacation alone as husband and wife, and having the wedding and honeymoon in one trip. Or, if you really want a low-cost wedding, you can simply opt for a courthouse or home wedding with a few friends and family. The choice is completely up to you!

You should feel free to spend any amount you want for your wedding as long as you have been saving money and can afford it; it’s your big day and it should be as lavish as you desire. However, if you want to cut corners on the cost of marrying the love of your life — or simply aren’t interested in the frills of an extravagant wedding — it’s good to know you can still have a beautiful event within a modest wedding budget.

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Photo credit: Katsu Nojiri

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  • Liz Greeley

    I did a lot of these tips for my wedding this August. Another thought on saving money is have your wedding catered by a REALLY good local eatery or diner,drive-in or dive. We have a BBQ joint catering our dinner and serving it on rented china. The cost for each person is then $15 for their dinner! And it’s not your typical ‘wedding fare.’ People will remember that too!

  • Laura

    Although a lot of these tips are great, if you’re a New Yorker the venue alone is about 20 grand. Cut corners where you can, but it’s impossible to be that cheap there.

  • Ash

    Drive 30 minutes from the city limits. There will be affordable options. Only if your heart is set on getting married at a particular latitude and longitude does the venue have to cost that much.

  • Bukfa

    I had a 60-guest city wedding in New York (Brooklyn) for 10 grand total. We got married in a park by the East River ($35 fee), had our reception at a local restaurant in DUMBO (cost of food only), and danced the night away in our favorite bar (cost of drinks only, plus crepe truck parked outside in case people had the munchies). Both venue bills came to around $2500. The rest was our outfits, parasols, centerpieces, etc. We did skip the cake (had cupcakes) and flowers.

  • Eric Voyers

    I am currently in the process of planning a wedding in New York and the cost is outrageous. I think most of these vendors are jacking thier prices just because they can.
    PS I am a wedding professional and this experience has taught me that my services are very very affordable compared to every other service that’s out there. So if you want to save money on a wedding video hire EZ Productions.

    • Kat

      the pricing also reflects professionalism…you can’t redo a wedding, there is a ton of pressure on these vendors. That being said, you can always find deals, but you truly tend to get what you paid for when it comes to wedding vendors.

  • Whitey Brown

    Ask your PASTOR? Have your wedding at YOUR CHURCH? And your reception AT THE CHURCH or in A PARK? Gee, who would have thought of that?! Of course, if you are members of a church or temple, you’ll want the wedding there, with your priest, rabbi, or pastor officiating, but these people DO NOT DO THIS FOR FREE. They get the same honorarium (that’s what the donation to such an officiant is called) as the Universal Life Wedding Minister or JP who comes to hotels, etc. (which priests, rabbis and ministers will also do) does — $100 to $500+ depending on time involved and community custom. Ask if there is a usual or suggested donation. There will also be a donation for the use of the facility, and pre-marital counselling, which many denominations require or encourage, will also have a “standard donation.” Why on earth would this twit think your pastor (etc.) and church/temple would be FREE?

    • AW

      All of my friends who have had weddings at their churches were able to do so for free. My church doesn’t charge either. From my understanding, this is customary.

      • Kat

        if you’re a member of a church most will officiate for free but ask for a donation to clean the church…at churches that are more popular, especially the big cathedrals, a $800 or so fee is common

    • Khym

      of course they did. We have it here.. Even church members are helping one another, laboring, and it is completely for free..

    • SmallTownGirl

      I work @ a decent-sized Baptist Church – just a city of around 127K, but membership is around 2K – and the wedding venue (“Historic Sanctuary” – truly beautiful – early 1900’s) is free of charge to all church members. As is the chandeliered hallway and adjacent historic “parlor” where most receptions are held afterwards. It is customary to give an honorarium to the minister officiating and the musicians as well, but being a smallish town where several generations know one another, those are often refused!

  • Soiree Celebrations

    I planned my entire wedding in NY for less than 10 grand. i think it was close to $7,000 or a bit less. but I had a non traditional wedding. my ceremony was at a park and the reception was at a temple’s party hall. it was beautiful. i dont believe in paying almost $50000 on a wedding just for one day. its like you’re spending more than what you’re getting back in gifts. and it should be the opposite. lol. anyways, no one believes how much i spent. it was beautiful. which made me want to start my own party planning business. There are other brides out there like me. i know it. email me for info. partyplanningnow2@gmail.com

  • georgia

    i did mine for 18 and it was a great wedding on the water — so what ? what? huh? :) Its because alot of people just contract out work, and cost control you would have is now gone to wedding coordinator, restaurant or venue… got to control each piece yourself.

    • georgia

      FYI i did use a day of coordinator, too

  • DJBobbyFreedom

    Sure, cut back on a few things, but not the DJ/Band, people need good entertainment!

  • Betty

    100 guests? Seriously? If you have a large family there is no way you can bring your numbers down to 100 guests. We had 250 with making lots of cuts. If it’s your second wedding or you are cutting out family I can see how you can get under 100, but personally, I have never been to a wedding in the north east that was smaller than 200 guests. Largest was 375 (bride was one of 4 siblings, groom was one of 6).

    Originally, we were looking at renting a barn in upstate NY and having it catered. A sit down dinner with 3 passes of hors d’oeuvres for 60 guests would run us $35,000. Ridiculous. We ended up spending roughly $100,000 and made a ton of items ourselves as we are designers (favors, invitations, seating cards, candle holders, etc). On top of that, our reception hall was owned by friends so we only paid $125 a head instead of $200+, had two floors of food for the reception, and our Venetian hour and cake were catered by a very good family friend at almost no cost. We didn’t go crazy with flowers ($125 a centerpiece, most places I was quoted $250), or dj ($5000 and he was average), or photographer ($3500, I printed all my own photos at home).

    Weddings add up. You didn’t add in the rehearsal dinner and brunch for wedding party and out of town guests, bride and groom’s hotel room, cars, fees for wedding location (our park charged $500, just as much as the church wanted), chair rental, set up and take down if you do have it in a park, tips for wait and barstaff, etc. etc.

    • bummersville

      uh, i cut my list to 75 because, MONEY.
      you dont need to invite everyone you said hi to your entire life

      signed, from a huge irish family in Brooklyn.

      • Doris Eck

        Our wedding was officiated at in a local park with Rose Garden. Our Mayor officiated ($100) License fee($35) Catering, including wedding cake and drinks ($450) Pictures and video ($0) done by family and friends. Dress, suit, shoes ($65) bought at discounter. Invitations with directions ($9.99) stock paper and self-designed. Flowers ($22) silk at Michael’s, bouquet, boutonnier and decorations. Paper goods and plastic ware, serving utensils ($7) Music entertainment ($0) self-supplied and brought along. Outdoor games ($15)
        Guests: 17
        Grand total: $703.99
        Happily married over 15 years and still frugal. Can you beat it?

    • purplravioli

      My fiance and I are inviting every friend and family member with whom we interact at least every couple months or so, and our final guest count is looking to be 25-35 guests. I am one of 4 siblings, fiance is one of 2. This is skewed by the fact that we’re living in CT right now and all of our friends live in FL; most of our friends either can’t afford to fly up here or can’t get time off. If they all came, we’d be at around 50.

      For us to reach anywhere close to 100 would require inviting every relative we can think of plus friends we barely, if ever, talk to anymore.

      I’d have to invite people I haven’t talked to since high school to get up to 375 guests, that’s insane.

  • Monikque

    That’s not true, if you know how to look around. I found a hall for 2,000 and got a video,photographer,and Dj 1300. 7 hours of video and photo, and 5 hours of Dj and Mc services. My family is going to help me cook, so the most I’ll spend is 7500 including my dress. Also brides go to the Bridal Shows, like bridal expo’s etc. You can get discounts on your dresses,win prizes. I went and got a 50 dollar discount, on my dress. Also if your shopping at David’s Bridal, go when they have big sales. They have one going on until September 30, 2014. But there will be more through out the year.

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