Your wedding day creates memories that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, those memories often come at a high price, and that price is on the rise. The average wedding cost has grown significantly in recent years, making it more difficult for couples to save enough money to pay for their dream weddings.
To see if there’s a way around spending too much on your wedding day — without sacrificing what’s important to you — we provide this breakdown of the average cost of a wedding, and what exactly goes into that amount.
Average Wedding Cost: $31,213
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 house.
According to a study conducted by The Knot, the average wedding cost about $31,213 in 2014, up from $29,858 in 2013. Despite the higher cost for weddings, however, couples are inviting fewer guests. In 2014, the average wedding had 136 guests, down from 149 in 2009.
Here’s how much you can expect to spend on your wedding based on the number of guests you invite:
|Average Wedding Cost by Guest Count|
|Number of Guests||Wedding Cost|
|Estimates based on data from The Knot.|
The truth is, a wedding doesn’t need to cost anywhere near $31,213 — a couple can cut wedding costs and still celebrate their nuptials in style. Here’s how.
Costs of a Typical Wedding
With the average cost of a wedding estimated in the tens-of-thousands, here’s a look at typical costs couples incur according to The Knot. Keep in mind these costs assume a wedding with 100 guests:
|Wedding Costs Breakdown|
|Flowers and décor||$2,141|
|Catering||$68 per person|
|Source: The Knot|
Some people prefer to hire a professional wedding planner to handle the details of the event. When you factor in that wedding planner cost, your total spend will go up by another $1,973 on average.
Other items not mentioned in the list but that are not necessarily vital to a wedding include a videographer, rental car or limo, hair and makeup services, bridal shower, bachelor party and wedding favors.
A typical wedding encompasses a broad range of costs, depending on your preferences. However, just sticking to the low end of expenditures can get you a nice wedding that includes a lot of the major elements, most important being great food and music.
Cheapest and Most Expensive Places to Get Married
The cost for each element of a wedding varies significantly depending on factors like location, the time of year you’re getting married, and how far in advance you plan. Here’s a look at the most expensive cities and the cheapest states to get married in the U.S.
|Top 5 Most Expensive Cities to Get Married|
|New York – Manhattan||$76,328|
|New York – Long Island||$55,327|
|New Jersey – North/Central||$53,986|
|New York – Westchester/Hudson Valley||$52,954|
|Illinois – Chicago||$50,934|
|Source: The Knot|
|Top 5 Cheapest States to Get Married|
|Source: The Knot|
How to Create a Wedding Budget for a Low-Cost Wedding
The first step in 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 save. The wedding budget should list must-haves along with a separate section for nice-to-have options — 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 down 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:
Send Out Electronic Wedding Invitations
Save some cash with eco-friendly save-the-date notices and invitations. There are a variety of designs and styles to choose from, so you can find something that suits your wedding. Beyond the classic Evite, sites like Greenvelope, Paperless Post and Punchbowl offer a great selection of electronic invitations — many of which are free.
Get Married on Thursday, Friday or Sunday
Saturday is the most popular day of the week for weddings, so venues charge a premium for that day. Hold your event on a weekday or a Sunday and you could snag your top-choice venue for much less money.
Have a Wedding in the 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. You can go big on this idea while sticking to a small budget by considering national parks like the National Estuarine Research Reserves on the coasts. Many allow you to have your wedding on site for a small fee. For a special event in a natural setting, these reserves offer an unusual, low-cost option — and one that’s beautiful to boot, certified financial planner Rebecca Schreiber of Pure Financial Education said.
Host the Reception at a Community Center
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. Community centers can also be a budget-friendly option. You won’t have to skimp on style, depending on how you decorate and set up the venue, and you might be able to have the ceremony there, too.
Shop Discount Wedding Gowns
If borrowing a gown is not an option, there are other routes you can take to beat the average wedding dress cost. 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. If having a designer gown is a priority for you, check out options like Rent the Runway, which, for reasonable prices, rents out dresses that would normally cost thousands of dollars.
Have Friends Take Photos
Instead of hiring a professional, cut the cost of a wedding photographer by asking a talented friend to take pictures and record video of 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 and ushers, eliminate the wedding rehearsal and dinner, or skip out on having a wedding party altogether.
Buy Low-Cost Invites, Table Decor and More
Consider purchasing table arrangements and more from budget stores. If electronic invitations aren’t your style or if sending handwritten thank-you notes after the wedding is important to you, you can look for invitations or cards at the same kinds of stores.
Dodge the Sit-Down Dinner
“The number-one tip for saving on your wedding is not serving a sit-down meal,” said Sara Margulis, founder and CEO of Honeyfund. Save a large portion of your food budget by reaching out to close family and friends and requesting they bring food (home cooked or store bought) to your affair in lieu of buying wedding gifts. This is an especially great option if you’re close friends with a talented chef or baker. Another option is to put a fun, casual twist on the usual wedding fare by hiring a food truck to serve your party.
Ask a Friend 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 to officiate, in lieu of a physical wedding gift.
Trim Your Wedding Flowers Cost
Consider cutting your wedding-flowers cost by only placing flowers in key areas where photos will be taken. If your wedding party will carry flowers, consider putting those bouquets on double duty as centerpieces during the reception.
Be Prepared to Negotiate
For every vendor you work with, brace yourself for negotiation. “Get ready to haggle,” money-saving expert Andrea Woroch said. “Don’t let your vendors know that they are your top choice, and ask if they can offer you a better rate or add value with free extras to make their offer a better value.”
For her own wedding, she said, “My live band gave me $100 off the dinner music hour simply because I asked. The venue coordinator was able to throw in a free champagne toast and the hotel manager cut me a break on the cost of the hotel nights.”
Even in high-cost cities like New York or Los Angeles, it’s likely that you know people who have found ways to have a fantastic, low-cost wedding with absolutely no regrets. Margulis shared that she once attended a wedding that cost less than $1,500. “A public space for the ceremony, a small guest list and Mexican catering truck made it happen,” she said.
Another option to consider is taking a vacation alone as husband and wife, and having the wedding and honeymoon in one trip. Plan your wedding during an off-peak season to save more. And if you want a really low-cost wedding, you can opt for a courthouse or home wedding with a few friends and family.
How Much Should Your Wedding Cost?
So, how much does a wedding cost? Regardless of figures and averages, keep in mind that you’re in charge of how much you spend. You should feel free to spend any amount you want for your wedding as long as you 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 — you can still have a beautiful event within a modest wedding budget.
Ruth Sarreal contributed to the reporting for this article.