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Wedding planning can be an overwhelming process. Making decisions about whom to invite, where to hold your event and what to wear can be stressful enough—and then there's the cost. The average wedding cost in 2019 was $28,000, according to wedding planning website The Knot. That figure dropped to $19,000 in 2020, but that was due to the pandemic's impact on gatherings.
For many couples in the process of planning their big day, they may be surprised by the upfront costs and hidden expenses a wedding entails. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare a more realistic wedding budget and prevent financial stress from putting a cloud over your nuptials.
How Much Should You Spend on Your Wedding?
Weddings are often a reflection of the individuality of the couple hosting the festivities. Their lifestyle, shared personal interests and love for one another should come shining through as their family and friends gather to experience their wedding celebration. Because every couple is unique, wedding budgets can vary greatly.
Here are some expenses that should be considered as couples work on their wedding budget:
- The number of guests invited and whether you'll be providing a meal, drink service or open bar.
- Technology such as audio/visual equipment needed to host the event.
- Venue size and associated services such as setup and teardown crews.
- Catering and other charges related to food service.
- Entertainment for your guests, such as live music, a DJ or both.
- Wedding dress and tuxedo or suit, hairstylist and makeup artist.
- Flowers, invitations and a wedding cake.
- Gifts for the wedding party and other important family and friends.
Average Cost of Wedding Vendors
Source: The Knot
How to Stay on Track with Your Wedding Budget
To help stick to your wedding budget and keep wedding spending separate from your other finances, it's often a good idea to open up a dedicated joint bank account for your wedding expenses. In the lead-up to your wedding, you and your spouse can set aside a certain amount monthly into this account. Free budgeting tools and apps can help you manage wedding expenses that have a tendency to add up such as party favors, photos, transportation and accommodation for out of town guests.
If you're confused about how to make a budget for your wedding, think about approaching it in a similar way to how you create your personal budget. What are the things that you must have at your wedding and what are things you could sacrifice if need be? Whenever you make a decision about a vendor or add-on service, first ask yourself what you can afford to pay. Your wedding is a big moment for you and your spouse-to-be, of course, but breaking the bank for it isn't a great way to begin your marriage.
How to Save Money on Your Wedding
For some couples, using a dedicated credit card may be a great way to not only manage expenses but also earn bonuses such as mileage points toward your honeymoon travel. However, you should keep in mind that interest charges can easily add to your total debt balance if you don't pay off your purchases quickly. A credit card with a 0% introductory interest rate can give you some time to pay off these purchases without paying interest. Alternatively, a personal loan could help you cover your wedding costs—just make sure that you'll be able to afford the required monthly payments.
The best way to pay for a wedding, however, is with cash. Paying in cash will mean you can enter your marriage without wedding-related debt, and might even mean some leftover funds for other life goals such as buying a house. It can be difficult to part with a lot of money at one time, so consider setting up automatic withdrawals from your checking accounts as early as possible in the planning process to save a predetermined amount for your wedding fund.
If you're not able to cover the full cost of your wedding, you might downsize the event, cut some expenses or make other changes to your plans. There are many ways to do so:
- Plan an off-season event. Timing is one of the biggest determining factors of a wedding's cost, and even the day of the week the ceremony is held can make a big difference. Weekends are the prime days to get married and as a result it's more expensive to host your wedding on those days. Couples may also decide to change the time of year for their wedding. According to The Knot, January through March are the least in-demand months to host a wedding, and may result in lower costs from venues and vendors.
- Skip the expensive dinner. Instead of serving a full meal, it may be more affordable to offer guests hors d'oeuvres. Simple changes to the type of protein you offer in a wedding meal could significantly impact the cost of your event. Chicken is common to serve at many weddings because it's much more affordable than seafood or steak.
- Have a dry wedding. While it's common to serve alcohol at weddings, a couple may decide to forgo serving it. The average amount spent on alcohol at weddings is $2,300, according to The Knot, which means big potential savings if you don't include it. As an alternative, you could provide a no-host bar where guests pay for their own drinks, which is a more budget-friendly option than having an open bar.
- Pare down the guest list. While it might sting to uninvite or exclude friends or distant family members from the ceremony, the number of guests who attend your wedding has a big effect on its cost. Don't send save-the-dates or wedding invitations until you're confident you can afford to accommodate all your guests.
- Consider a DIY wedding. The most challenging savings option is to "do it yourself." DIY weddings allow couples to economize by taking over tasks that are typically handled by professionals. Instead of paying someone else to make your table centerpieces, welcome signage and other accoutrements, you could handle these tasks yourself for a fraction of the cost. You'll also have total control over things like color, style and materials that way.
Preparing for the Big Day
Weddings have the potential to be one of the largest one-time expenses many people will make in their lifetime. Unlike buying a car or purchasing a home, weddings have the additional stress and pressure of setting the tone for your new life with your spouse.
Planning for your special day should begin shortly after you get engaged, but that doesn't mean you should feel rushed. Take the time to choose a wedding date, venue and other details, and keep costs in mind every step of the way. Spend time working with your significant other on designing a wedding budget that avoids plunging you into deep debt. With the financial aspect of getting married well-managed, you'll be able to spend your wedding day enjoying your ceremony instead of stressing over costs.