From the dress to the cake to the reception venue, wedding planning can pull you in dozens of different directions. It can also pull on your purse strings until they’re ready to snap.
According to wedding publisher The Knot, American couples spent an average of $28.000 on their wedding ceremony and reception in 2021 — back up to pre-pandemic spending levels. And that figure doesn’t even include the engagement ring or honeymoon!
Before you have a mini heart attack, keep in mind that the average isn’t the rule. There are many genius ways to save money on your wedding and still have a fabulous celebration.
But before you start browsing tulip arrangements, you need to have an idea of what you can afford overall.
To keep a handle on your spending and strategically tackle all the costs you’ll face, here’s the first item on your wedding to-do list: Set a budget for the big day.
What to Consider When Framing Your Wedding Budget
Fresh off the high of the proposal, you and your future spouse need to come together to answer some vital questions.
What’s most important to you in regards to your wedding?
How long do you want to wait to get married?
How will you be paying for the wedding?
What Matters Most?
Like choosing a college or buying a house, the decisions you make when planning a wedding aren’t based on cost alone. There is a lot of sentimental decision-making involved.
You’ll want to be able to reflect fondly on your wedding for decades to come. You may already have strong opinions about what you want your big day to look like. Sit down with your fiance to come up with the top three priorities for your wedding.
Is it important to have your ceremony in the church your parents got married in — even if that place is 2,000 miles from where you live? Do you want a band to play all the songs that hold special meaning in your relationship? Is it vital to serve foods that represent both of your cultures?
Establishing what’s worth splurging on will help you create a budget reflective of what you really want your wedding to be like, rather than following a template of what the typical couple spends.
What’s Your Timeline?
The period between saying “yes” and saying “I do” can have a big effect on what you’re able to afford. An 18-month engagement gives you time to save up for a more extravagant affair while you might have to make sacrifices if you have only six months to plan.
When figuring out when you want to get married, know that the time of year can affect costs too. Wedding season typically lasts from late spring to early fall. You may find vendors are cheaper in off-season months.
You’ll also want to beware of planning a wedding close to holidays when venues may be booked and caterers may be busy. A wedding on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day may seem fun or romantic, but you’ll likely pay a premium for those special dates.
Before you start planning, an important factor to figure out is how you — or someone else — will be paying for your wedding.
Your parents or other close relatives may want to chip in to cover wedding costs, but don’t assume — or expect — they will. Have a direct conversation with your family about the financials. If your folks are contributing, make sure you understand whether they’re providing a set amount or if they plan to cover a certain expense — like the wedding gown or the booze for the reception.
If family is contributing financially, make sure you understand their expectations, like inviting a ton of extended relatives or having the wedding in your hometown.
After determining what family will cover, you and your fiance need to hatch out a plan for everything else. Figure out how much existing savings you can throw toward the wedding without eating into vital emergency funds. Determine how much you can realistically put aside every month leading up to the big day.
Take a look at your existing budget — or budgets, if you manage money separately — and figure out where there’s room to cut expenses. (Use this post on how to save money fast as a starting point.)
In addition, start brainstorming ways you can make a little extra cash to plump up your savings. (This post on quick ways to make money has some neat ideas.)
Open a separate savings account to serve as a sinking fund so your wedding savings don’t get spent on everyday expenses.
Your savings, plus any family contributions, will make up your wedding budget total. If what you expect to have saved falls short of what you expect to spend (which we’ll discuss next), you have three choices:
Plan a less expensive wedding.
Push back the wedding date to allow more time to save up.
Borrow money for your big day.
You probably won’t come across a financial expert who would recommend taking out a personal loan for a wedding. However, if this is the route you’re taking, look into opening a credit card with a zero interest introductory period. And — this is important — plan to pay it off before that period is over.
Creating a Budget for Your Big Day
Once you’ve made the important decisions about what you want, when you’ll get hitched and how you’ll afford the wedding, it’s time to lay out a budget.
Your budget should include sections for estimated costs, quotes from vendors and the prices you actually pay. Make note of when initial deposits are made and when final payments are due.
Average 2021 Wedding Costs
Information from The Knot indicates how much vendors charged on average in 2021 for their services. These figures will give you an idea of what you’ll spend in various budget categories:
- Invitations: $530
- Wedding dress: $1,800
- Groom’s attire: $270
- Hairstylist: $130
- Makeup artist: $115
- Florist: $2,300
- Photographer: $2,500
- Videographer: $1,900
- Transportation: $900
- Reception venue: $10,700
- Catering: $75 per person
- Rehearsal Dinner: $2,300
- Wedding cake: $500
- Reception band: $4,300
- Reception DJ: $1,400
- Wedding favors: $450
- Engagement ring: $6,000
- Wedding planner: $1,700
And that’s not all — you’ll also need to budget for the following:
- Ceremony site
- Bride’s and groom’s wedding bands
You’ll also need to add the cost of the marriage license, which ranges depending on location but generally costs less than $100.
Now think about extras. Do you want to hire an instructor to choreograph your first dance? Do you want sparklers at your send-off? Are you getting special gifts for your bridal party? You’ll need to budget for those.
There’s also all the incidental costs. Do you need to purchase a liquor license to serve alcohol at a nontraditional venue? Did you factor in the cost of stamps for your wedding invitations? Make sure you don’t forget tipping and taxes.
Budgeting for Your Wedding Your Way
What you actually spend may vary drastically depending on where you live, when you’re getting married, the size and style of your wedding and other factors.
Since you’re a Penny Hoarder, we know you can throw a fantastic wedding for much less than $28K. (Take notes from how these couples did it.)
Contact vendors to get quotes on prices. Sites like WeddingWire, The Knot and Thumbtack can help you find florists, photographers and the rest. Get recommendations from recently married couples in your social circle or chat with brides and grooms from online forums.
Get quotes from multiple vendors. You might be able to get them to match a competitor’s price. And be sure to go over contracts in detail so you know what is and isn’t included.
It’s important to include some cushion in your budget to cover miscellaneous expenses that will pop up. Having a 5-to-10% cushion can help you avoid going over budget, so you can start off your marriage on a financially responsible note.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the average cost of a wedding?
The average couple spent about $28,000 on a wedding in 2021, according to The Knot’s annual wedding study, which surveyed more than 15,000 American couples.
What are the most expensive wedding costs?
The reception venue and catering tend to be the most expensive wedding costs. The average cost for a reception venue in 2021 was $10,700 and the average cost for catering was $75 per person.
How much does it cost to get married without a traditional ceremony or reception
The cost of a wedding license is typically under $100. You also may need to pay for an officiant, which can cost less than $300.
How long is the average engagement?
The average engagement typically lasts between 12 and 18 months, according to Brides magazine. Of course, the longer your engagement, the longer you have to save money for the wedding.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.