Weddings are a far cry from what they used to be. You know, way back when couples got married in their local church, posed for few simple snapshots, then noshed on a small cake made by Great Aunt Maxine. The whole thing might have cost $300.
Today’s weddings, by comparison, have turned into a money monstrosity. The average wedding costs around $30,000, according to a Wedding Wire survey of more than 6,000 couples.
That’s roughly the cost of three years at a public university! It’s no wonder nearly three-fourths of those surveyed admitted to going over their wedding budget for their big day.
But this doesn’t have to be your reality.
While we can’t promise your wedding will go back to 1960s prices (blame inflation), we can help you keep it well below the national average. And as with most things, the best place to start is at the top. Here are five of the most expensive wedding costs, and some creative ways to save money on them:
1. Average Venue: $8,798
- Save a different date. June, August and September are the months for getting married. That means people are competing for venue dates—and paying out the nose to secure them. Save money by renting your dream space in January, February or March. Or if you prefer a summer wedding, ask about less popular days, like Friday evening or Sunday morning.
- Pass on the bells and whistles. Think about what’s included with your venue. Then start dropping costly add-ons. Can you decorate the space yourself? Forgo the in-house chef? Rent your own tables, linens and chairs elsewhere? It never hurts to ask.
- Think outside the ballroom. There are so many interesting places to have a wedding, like a historic state park cabin or a friend’s gorgeous backyard. If those don’t strike your fancy, find an "in" through a family member at their grand lodge, community center, or pool-side clubhouse.
2. Average Catering: $6,877
- Keep it casual. Who doesn’t love Southern BBQ with all the fixings? Get your favorite casual restaurant to cater a big buffet, and keep the beverage choices simple—like water and tea simple. The food is the star here.
- Skip the main dish. If you choose an early afternoon wedding, opt for brunch instead of lunch. Because eggs are cheap! And if you’d rather say your vows in the evening, you can’t go wrong with an assortment of crowd-pleasing appetizers, like a nacho bar with fresh queso and guac. Got a sweet tooth? Try a modern fondue bar, with high-end chocolate and mounds of cake and strawberries.
- Remember the 10% rule. Catering companies don’t like to run out of food. That’s why they typically plan for 10% more than you ask for. Save money by underestimating your head count a smidge. Even if everyone happens to show up, you can bet on a handful of dieters, picky eaters, or reception bailers.
- Let them eat . . . something else. Cupcakes and pies are more affordable than a traditional wedding cake. But if cake is a must for you, opt for a smaller one (or a stunt cake), and then have several large sheet cakes hidden in the kitchen to cut and serve later.
- Two words: food trucks! Reserve a savory food truck (cheese-stuffed burgers, mmm . . .) and a sweet food truck (gourmet ice cream or donuts) for your guests. Keep lines down by having two or three ready-to-go options, so people aren’t deliberating over too many choices.
3. Average Engagement Ring and Wedding Bands: $6,573
- Outsmart the advertising. According to the Atlantic, that whole "two months salary for a diamond ring" thing happened in the 1940s. It was a brilliant marketing move by De Beers, and it’s still working today. Break the mold with a ring that’s unconventional by today’s standards. Think wooden, stainless steel, or rubies and sapphires.
- Go retro! If diamonds are still your best friend, find a piece with some serious character. Antique jewelry is the perfect combination of classic and classy. Just don’t forget to negotiate—especially if you’re buying the wedding bands from the same shop.
- Explore wholesale heaven. For brand-new rings, wholesale can’t be beat. Try Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club or a local wholesale jeweler in your community. Less overhead means more savings.
4. Average Photography and Videography: $4,093
- Use the friend discount. Most of us know a professional photographer or someone who’s good enough to be a professional photographer. Ask for the friend discount. You’ll probably get it—if they like you.
- Find an up-and-coming vendor. Willing to go with a less-established photographer or videographer? If so, it’s a win-win: They get a bigger portfolio and you get more money for your honeymoon.
- Ask them to leave early. Tell your photographer you won’t need them after the first dance. Who needs permanent visuals of their cousins doing the Cha-Cha Slide anyway? Save even more by foregoing the pre-wedding bridal/engagement shoots too. The wedding pics are what count.
5. Average Honeymoon: $3,882
- Drive somewhere (relatively) close. Get far enough away that you feel "away," but not so far that you have a huge travel budget. Put together a list of places nearby that you haven’t been to, pick one, and then drive on!
- Go during the rainy season. If you need to feel the sand between your toes in say, the Caribbean, head out during the off-season for way less. The weather may be touch-and-go, but you’ll still have a five-star resort, restaurant and spa at your disposal for the week.
- Have a "honeyversary." Weddings are expensive and exhausting. If your budget and energy are tapped out, don’t force it. Take the week off and just chill. Save up and go on your honeymoon for your one-year anniversary instead.
You don’t have to spend $30,000 on your wedding to have a memorable day. Set a reasonable budget that works for you, and make it special in your own way. And when it comes to debt, just say "I won’t."
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Staying on a budget can be tough when it involves emotional decisions like weddings, but stick to your plan—it’ll be worth it. Check out these tips on how to keep your wedding costs from getting out of control.