How Much Does The Average Wedding Cost?
Saving for the engagement ring is only half the battle. Once you’ve agreed to a date to tie the knot, you’ll need to start estimating your costs for the big day. The average wedding cost more than 30k in 2019, according to Wedding Wire. If you spent $30K+ on your wedding costs, you would be spending the amount of money 48% of American workers earn in a year.
And with couples underestimating their wedding costs by a staggering 45%, it is easy to see why couples are overwhelmed with the monetary requirements of a modern-day wedding. With so many details, most couples are looking for ways they can save money and still feel like royalty on the big day.
While some costs are fixed if you are having a traditional wedding with guests, you can save on other costs by thinking outside the box or reaching out to friends and family for help. It is possible to have the wedding of your dreams without spending the down payment for your future home.
Check out our in-depth guide below to help you prioritize your wedding costs. Plus, we share our favorite money-saving hacks.
How Wedding Costs Changed Over the Years
According to BuzzFeed, a 1974 wedding held in San Francisco a few days after Christmas cost $2,000. The $2,000 total included a traditional ceremony at Grace Cathedral, a large church in the heart of San Francisco. The guest list included 300 attendees, a cocktail reception at Marine’s Memorial Club (a historic San Francisco hotel), and a 5-tier cake from a local baker. Plus, it included engraved wedding invites, a professional photographer, flowers, and wedding attire.
Adjusted for inflation, the same $2,000 wedding cost in 1974 would be equivalent to $10,000 in 2017. However, after recreating the 1974 wedding, the actual cost today would be over $47,000, a 370% increase.
After researching the costs, this massive increase is largely due to the growth of the wedding industry. With $72 billion spent annually, a wedding day is more than a celebration, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Professional services who link arms with the wedding industry including photographers, bakers, and stationery companies continue to raise their costs to accommodate wedding couples who are willing to pay for unique, personalized touches. From photo booths and live bands to lavish destination weddings, the possibilities are endless and so are the costs.
Who is Paying?
Traditionally the bride’s family covers the majority of the wedding costs, while the groom’s family chips in for extras like the rehearsal dinner. However, today it is socially acceptable for the bride and groom to pay for their wedding, especially if they have lived together for a significant time.
75% of couples paid for at least part of their wedding in 2017, according to the Brides American Wedding Study. However, in 2018, the number of couples decreased to 58% that chipped in for the big day. This decrease in financial involvement from the bride and groom suggests that the trend may be headed back in their parents’ direction.
The lack of financial stability among couples is largely in part to going over budget. While some couples are forced to pull back and skip the extras, other couples are asking mom and dad for help. To alleviate stressful family discussions about financial responsibilities, use the below suggestions as a starting point to help keep your budget on track.
Bride’s family financial responsibilities:
- The wedding gown
- The photographer and videographer
- The wedding ceremony, decor, flowers
- The reception venue, food, music, wedding cake, and drinks
Groom’s family financial responsibilities:
- Rehearsal dinner
- Wedding gift
Bride’s financial responsibilities:
- Wedding ring for the groom
- Wedding gift(s) for the groom
- Gift(s) for bridesmaids
- Hair and makeup
Groom’s financial responsibilities:
- Engagement ring
- Marriage license
- Officiant fee
- Gift(s) for groomsmen
Average Wedding Costs (most expensive to least)
Reception Venue $6,700-$15,000
The cost of the reception venue includes a series of miscellaneous charges that can add up quickly. In addition to the venue rental fee, be prepared to pay for an open bar, catered food, table, chair, and linen rentals.
To save money consider booking the reception venue during a non-peak day or month, opting for a cash bar or cheaper alcohol options, buffet-style meal and skipping upgrades like chair covers, large centerpieces, and fine china.
Catering $6,700+ ($70 per person)
If food is not included in your venue fee, be prepared to pay up if you want a gourmet meal with waiters. If a formal dinner isn’t important to you, there are several ways to save some green.
Know your budget
Know your total budget for catering before you meet with the caterer. If your budget doesn’t match your food preferences, the caterer may be able to provide alternatives that can decrease costs.
Brunch or lunch vs. dinner
Consider timing the reception for brunch or lunch instead of dinner. Guests will often eat smaller portions earlier in the day. They also tend to drink less which can save you a bundle on an open bar.
Choose comfort food over out of season ingredients
There are so many creative options for foodservice. Serve burgers, pasta, or hire a local food truck. Avoid expensive out of season ingredients that are hard to source in large quantities. Your guests will appreciate the personalized touch and probably won’t mind chowing down on comfort food either.
Who says you have to feed the masses? If a meal isn’t in your budget, choose a reception time that is in between meals. Offer an ice cream sundae bar to go along with your cake. Guests can choose between different flavors or different toppings for a custom sweet treat.
Band $3,900 – $4,500
If LIVE music is important to you, be prepared to shell out a large portion of your wedding budget. A good band can cost approximately 3x what a DJ charges.
While a band can provide a live visual performance for your wedding, it’s often difficult for everyone to enjoy one genre. Consider choosing a band as a priority if you have a local band in mind, the band is part of your love story, or you dislike the thought of your guests selecting the tunes.
Photographer $2,400 – $3,000
The average cost of a wedding photographer is over $2,000 and that usually doesn’t even include video. Although skimping on photos isn’t recommended, there are several ways you can cut costs if the budget is appropriated for higher priority items.
To save on costs, find a photographer that provides the digital files of your photos so you can own your memories and make prints as you please. Always ask to see a portfolio of work if you go this route. They should be able to provide relevant samples. Never pay a photographer in full upfront. You should be able to place a deposit and then provide the balance after viewing the photos.
If your preferred professional photographer is out of your budget, ask them if they would consider lowering the price if you asked for less of their time or for less final photos to pick from. Sometimes if you book in the offseason, they may be willing to provide a mini session or package discount that could save you hundreds.
If you can’t afford specialized wedding photographers, seek out a newbie photographer, a student photographer, or even a friend who’s always posting pics to social media.
Wedding Planner $1,850 – $2,000
If you are highly disorganized, would rather do anything than make appointments, or worried you will go over budget, a wedding planner is a wise investment. They often have industry discounts that could save you the amount of their fee, and keep the stress level to a minimum.
Ceremony $1,800 – $2,400
Whether the ceremony is in a church or outdoors, expect to pay a decent amount to rent the space. You can cut costs by getting married at a church or organization that you already belong to. Depending on how well you know them, you could save hundreds or even score the location for free if you agree to do any necessary clean up afterward.
Videographer $1,800 – $2,000
Having a video of your big day can bring back memories of the big day. Plus, having updated equipment and an editor can provide a quality final product. Keep in mind you most likely need to hire a separate company even if you already have a photographer.
To save on costs, rent a video camera and have a trusted friend or family member capture the big moments. You can rent a 4K video camera from BorrowLenses.com for under $200.
Flowers $1,800 – $2,400
The more exotic, the higher the costs. Out of season flowers and bouquets created by designers can add up.
To save money, choose in-season flowers from a discount warehouse like Costco or a local farmer’s market. Gather your bridesmaids, some floral tape, and create custom bouquets for a fraction of the price.
This is traditionally one of the areas where brides go over budget. They can often get starry-eyed when they find “the one.”
You can save money by purchasing a dress off the clearance rack, purchasing last year’s floor model, or even thrifting one on eBay. Just be aware that any alterations can add significant cost ($100-$500) depending on what is needed.
Decor $1,400 – $2,400
Need an Instagram worthy wooden arch or centerpieces dripping with crystals? Especially if you have a specific theme in mind, you can easily go over budget purchasing everything retail.
Always rent wedding decorations whenever possible using local apps the Neighborhood app or Facebook Marketplace. Wedding decorations are only needed for a few hours on your wedding day so you can save big if you find someone who needs to declutter.
Music is essential for a wedding reception. Whether you are dancing the night away or need a little distraction for your guests waiting for the wedding party to arrive, a DJ can keep the mood upbeat.
A DJ has all of your guests’ top songs by their favorite artists at his fingertips and you can even provide him with a playlist before the big day. You don’t have to worry about an awkward break since most DJ equipment can keep the tunes going even when he needs to take 5. Plus, DJ equipment takes up less space than a full band, so you won’t be tripping over wires or sacrificing the dance floor.
Communicate with the DJ about any requests or questions you have before the big day. Don’t forget to ask if there are any extra costs such as if the party goes past your allotted time, etc.
You can save money by setting up a playlist through an iPod, speaker system, and microphone. However, it can put a damper on the day if you have technical difficulties or your uncle has a little too much to drink and decides to guest DJ.
Wedding cake $500-$600
While giant skyscraper tiered cakes are still popular, couples often opt to be creative when it comes to the wedding cake. You can easily get away with cupcakes, homemade pies, donuts or a favorite family dessert recipe. Just don’t skimp on the sugar and your guests will be satisfied.
Invitation cost varies depending on the method used (ink printing, letterpressed, foiled, etc.) and the number of guests you will need one for. Plus, don’t forget about the postage, RSVP cards, and the time assembling and mailing your paper cards.
You can cut the budget for invitations by going for an electronic option. Evites or even invites by text are becoming increasingly popular, not only to lower the cost of invitations but to increase the RSVP engagement and electronically keep track of your guest list too.
Create electronic invitations using a website such as Paperless Post, Evite, or Wedivite. Basic designs (some with ads) are free. Premium options offer customization, professionally designed templates, and more.
If you are getting married in a church, often one of the pastors of the church can perform the ceremony for you for a fee (usually less expensive if you are a member of the church.)
If your wedding is less formal, you can have a friend officiate your wedding. However, the rules can be tricky to make sure it is legal so you will need to do a little research.
First, make sure it is legal where you are getting married to have a friend officiate, use a website like TheMonastery.org to help them get ordained, and find out if they need to register with the local court. Plus, you will need to coordinate any ceremony words with them and make sure they file your marriage license within the stated time.
Although favors aren’t a necessary wedding line item, they often give your wedding a personal touch. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and by investing in favors, you can do just that.
It’s important to treat your guests to a thank you gift for taking time out of their schedule to attend and possibly even splurging on a mini-vacation if they don’t live close. However, you don’t have to spend a lot on favors to impress. Here are our top five DIY favors for less than $1 per guest.
- Homemade cookies (“All you need is love and a few cookies”) Setup a table full of different flavored cookies with patterned paper bags. Your guests can pick and choose as they please and even save a few for later.
- Seed packets (“Watch love grow”) Purchase vegetable or wildflower seeds and add a handful of them to small paper envelopes. You can also personalize them with a custom sticker or stamp.
- Glow sticks (“Let love glow”) It may seem a bit unconventional but think about how much it will amp up the fun when everyone starts dancing.
5 Extra Ways to Save on Your Wedding Costs
- Just elope. If you are worried that the final guest list could cause World War 3, or you simply don’t have the cash to put together a large wedding, eloping could be the answer. However, your wedding day will be one of the biggest milestones in your life. Before choosing to elope, write a list of pros and cons to make sure it is the right decision for you.
- Nix tradition. It is perfectly fine to get married on a weekday or in December. Save money by scheduling your wedding on non-peak days of the week (i.e. Saturday) and weekends from June through September. You can also save money by calling your preferred venue(s) and asking if any dates would warrant a discount due to low or no bookings.
- Reexamine your guest list. Every guest on your list has a fixed cost which includes invites, food, favors, and any rented furniture to seat them. Consider paring down your list of extended family and friends or not allowing “plus ones.”
- Volunteer your family or friends. If you have friends or family that have creative talents, ask them if they would provide you with goods or services for your wedding for a free or discounted rate. You might have ties to a caterer, a cake decorator, DJ, videographer, florist, or seamstress.
- Forgo the fancy dinner. If you plan your wedding in-between meals, you can get away with not serving a 3-course meal. You can also consider having a buffet-style meal to eliminate the cost of a waitstaff or an hors d’oeuvres option that provides light refreshments without the high cost of a formal dinner. However, if you do decide to skim on the food, be clear about this in your invitations.
Average Costs by Location
Wedding costs vary widely by location. You will generally pay more in a large city than a suburb or small town. Keep in mind the higher wedding costs in larger cities figure in popular wedding venues and higher-priced services. You can save money in a large city by choosing a more intimate venue or having your ceremony and reception at your church (there are often discounts for members).
- New Jersey $38,000
- Massachusetts $37,000
- New York $36,000
- New Hampshire $35,000
- Maine $27,000
(Manhattan, NY $90,000+)
- Illinois $27,000
- Wisconsin $25,000
- Indiana $22,000
- Ohio $22,000
- Missouri $21,000
(Chicago, IL $51,000+)
- Georgia $23,000
- Florida $22,000
- North Carolina $21,000
- Tennessee $19,000
- Mississippi $15,500
(Southern Florida $43,000+)
- Hawaii $40,000
- California $33,000
- Washington $31,000
- Utah $28,000
- Arizona $22,000
(Los Angeles, $43,000+)
Anticipate Extra Costs
If you purchase a dress that is too long or needs to be taken in, expect to pay $100-$500 on top of the price of the dress.
If you have chosen a printed invite and added extras like an RSVP card or embellishments, be prepared to pay more than a forever stamp to mail your invites.
Out of season flowers
Need specific species or colors of flowers for all of your bouquets and floral arrangements? Importing flowers can drive up the cost quickly. Consider using locally grown or in-season flowers to keep costs down. Plus, you’ll be helping the environment too.
Setup/clean up costs
If your event venue isn’t all-inclusive be prepared to pay for setup costs of any tables, chairs, decor, etc. You may also be responsible for garbage removal and general cleaning after your event is over.
If your event goes in overtime, any service workers such as a band, DJ, photographers, etc. will expect a specified hourly fee after their initial time is up.
You may feel generous on the big day while you are on cloud 9, but tipping all of your hired services including music, officiants, caterer, driver, hotel concierge, and more can add up.
It’s Not About the Price Tag
While the U.S. average wedding cost is over $30,000, keep in mind you don’t have to spend nearly that much to enjoy your day. Plus, averages can get skewed from millionaire weddings that are the exception.
The big day should focus on the celebration of the close relationship you share with your significant other. Your wedding day should reflect your current budget and not bring debt into the marriage.
Choose a few high priorities off the whole list and invest in them. For example, if your dress is important, invest in a boutique experience and adjust the budget for other categories as necessary. Keep a spreadsheet of all your costs or enlist a wedding planner to keep you accountable.
If you are having difficulty narrowing down your wedding budget, consider decreasing the number of guests. A lower guest count can make the event more intimate and narrowing down extended family and friends to under a hundred guests can cut your costs in half. Making sure you stay on budget and staying out of debt will make you much happier in the long run.
No matter your budget, there are always creative ways to have your dream wedding day. Memories are more important than any over the top expense. Keep it simple, and save the extra cash to purchase a home, start an emergency fund, or for growing your family.