A guide to paying for your big day


From the dress to the cake to the place of reception, wedding planning can take you in a dozen different directions. It can also pull on your wallets until they click into place.

American couples spent an average of $ 19,000 on their wedding ceremony and reception in 2020, according to wedding publisher The Knot. While this is a big drop (mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic) from 2019 when the average cost was $ 28,000, it’s still a high price tag. And those numbers don’t even include the honeymoon!

Before you have a minor heart attack, remember that the average is not the rule. There are many great ways to save money on your wedding and still have a fabulous party.

Before you start browsing tulip arrangements, however, you need to have an idea of ​​what overall you can afford.

In order to keep your expenses under control and to get all costs under control strategically, you will find the first item on your wedding to-do list here: Set a budget for the big day.

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What should you consider when setting your wedding budget?

You and your future spouse need to get together to answer a few important questions.

  1. What is most important to you in relation to your wedding?

  2. How long are you going to wait to get married?

  3. How are you going to pay for the wedding?

What matters most

As with choosing a college or home buying, the decisions you make when planning a wedding are not all based on cost. There are many sentimental choices.

You want to be able to think lovingly about your wedding for the decades to come. You may already have a strong opinion about what your big day should look like. Sit down with your fiancé to determine the top three priorities for your wedding.

Is it important that you hold your ceremony in the church where your parents got married – even if that location is 2,000 miles from where you live? Would you like a band to play all the songs that have special meaning in your relationship? Is it important to serve food that represents both cultures?

By defining what matters, you can create a budget that reflects what your wedding should really look like, rather than following a template that the typical couple will spend.

What’s your timeline

A wedding day is noted on a calendar.
Aileen Perilla / The Penny Hoarder

The time between “yes” and “I’ll do” can have a big impact on what you can afford. An 18 month engagement gives you time to save up for a more extravagant proposition while potentially sacrificing when you only have six months to plan.

According to Brides magazine, the average engagement lasts between 12 and 18 months.

When figuring out when to get married, know that the time of year can also affect the cost. The wedding season usually runs from late spring to early fall. Providers may be cheaper in the off-season months.

You should also be wary of planning a wedding near public holidays when venues can be booked and caterers busy. A New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day wedding may seem fun or romantic, but you will likely pay a premium for those special dates.

Who is paying?

Before you start planning, it’s important to find out how you – or someone else – will pay for your wedding.

Your parents or other close relatives may want to step in to help cover the wedding expenses, but don’t just assume – or expect – they will. Have a face-to-face conversation with the family about finances. When your people are contributing, make sure you understand if they are providing a set amount or if they plan to cover a specific item – like the wedding dress or the alcohol for the reception.

If the family is contributing financially, make sure you understand their expectations; For example, invite a host of extended relatives or celebrate your hometown wedding.

Now that you’ve decided which family to cover, you and your fiance need to come up with a plan for everything else. Find out how much existing savings you can put to the wedding without spending important emergency funds. Determine how much you can realistically put aside each month before the big day.

Take a look at your existing budget – or budgets if you’re managing money separately – and find out where there is room to cut expenses. (Use this post to help you save money quickly as a starting point.)

Also, start with brainstorming methods that can help you make a little extra money to supplement your savings. (This post on quick ways to make money has some nice ideas.)

Open a separate savings account so that your wedding savings are not spent on daily expenses.

Your savings and any family contributions make up your wedding budget as a whole. If what you’re likely to have saved doesn’t match what you’re likely to spend (which we’ll get into next), you have three options:

  1. Plan a cheaper wedding.

  2. Push back the wedding date for more time to save.

  3. Borrow money for your big day.

You probably won’t come across a financial professional who would recommend taking out a personal loan for a wedding. However, if this is the path you are taking, consider opening a zero interest introductory credit card. And – this is important – plan to withdraw it before that deadline.

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Create a budget for your big day

Once you’ve made the important decisions about what you want, when you’re going to have problems, and how to afford the wedding, it’s time to set a budget.

You can do this in a spreadsheet that you provide yourself or online or through an app, e.g. B. in WeddingWire’s wedding budget tracker or in The Knot’s wedding budget planner.

Your budget should include sections for estimated costs, offers from vendors, and the prices you will actually pay. Make a note of when the first deposits are made and when the final payments are due.

A bridge puts on her dress while her mother holds her hand.
Getty Images

Average wedding costs 2019

Information from The Knot shows how much providers charged on average for their services in 2019. These numbers give you an idea of ​​what couples can spend in different budget categories:

  • Invitations: $ 590
  • Wedding dress: $ 1,600
  • Barber: $ 110
  • Makeup Artist: $ 100
  • Florist: $ 2,000
  • Photographer: $ 2,400
  • Videographer: $ 1,800
  • Transportation: $ 800
  • Receiving Location: USD 10,500
  • Meals: $ 70 per person
  • Rehearsal meal: $ 1,900
  • Wedding cake: $ 500
  • Receiving ribbon: $ 3,700
  • Reception DJ: $ 1,200
  • Wedding favors: $ 400

And that’s not all – you also need to budget for:

  • Place of ceremony
  • Officially
  • Wedding dress accessories
  • Groom’s clothes and accessories
  • Wedding rings for the bride and groom

You’ll also need to add in the cost of the marriage license, which varies by location but is generally less than $ 100.

Now think about extras. Do you want to hire a teacher to choreograph your first dance? Would you like sparklers when you say goodbye? Do you get special gifts for your bridal shower? You have to budget for this.

There are also all utilities. Do you need to purchase an alcohol license to serve alcohol in a non-traditional location? Did you consider the cost of postage for your wedding invitations? Don’t forget tips and taxes.

Budgeting for your wedding according to your needs

What you actually spend can vary dramatically based on where you live, your marriage, 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 a lot less than $ 19K.

Contact vendors for price quotes. Websites like WeddingWire, The Knot, and Thumbtack can help you find florists, photographers, and others. Receive referrals from recently married couples in your social circle or chat with brides and grooms from online forums.

Receive quotes from multiple providers. You may be able to get them to match a competitor’s price tag. And go through the contracts in detail so you know what is and what is not.

It is important to include a pillow in your budget to cover various expenses that will crop up. About 45% of couples in The Knot’s wedding survey said they have exceeded their planned budget.

A 5 to 10% pillow can help you avoid over-budgeting so you can start your marriage in a financially responsible manner.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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