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How Much Does an (Average) Wedding Cost?

The average wedding costs $30,000. That’s incredible but understandable when you start adding up all the “standard” wedding costs. After paying for a venue, rings, a wedding dress, food and alcohol, and all the other things that make up a wedding, it’s pretty hard to stay frugal.

The average American wedding costs $30,000, according to The Knot. a popular wedding planning website. $30,000! That money could buy a nice new car or be a 20% down payment on a $150,000 home. It’s also more than many Americans earn in a year. How do wedding costs get so out-of-hand? And what can you do to keep costs down when it’s your turn to tie the knot? I’m getting hitched in less than three months, so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. Here’s what I’ve found.

It’s ironic that most people I know (my fiancee and I included) always say things like “we don’t want a big wedding” and “it doesn’t have to cost much”. Still, as soon as you begin planning the big day, the costs add up. Some people call this hypocrisy, but the fact is, in many cases, many aspects of planning a wedding (and its costs) are out of the bride- and groom-to-bes’ hands. There’s the old saying that the wedding is not about you. It’s about everybody else. Therefore, even if you don’t want to spend money on a fancy reception site/music/food/alcohol/etc. somebody involved may influence these decisions anyway.

Even if you maintain tight control over wedding decisions and costs, they add up. Unless you get married at city hall, you’ll probably want to add rings, clothes, and an officiant. Add a photographer, food for even a small number of guests, and a party, and your costs will be well over $1,000. And for every guest on the list, the costs add up.

My fiancee and I are fortunate enough to have families that are footing the largest of our wedding costs. That’s good, because the majority of our 160—yes 160—guests are extended family members. (If we had to foot the bill alone, chances are the wedding would be for 40 close family and friends). Still, our costs are not insignificant. We’re paying for our rings, clothes, invitations, our band, and our photographer. (The

latter two we considered optional, but were important to us). Undoubtedtly, there will be more costs down the road.

In our research and planning, it’s easy to see why $29,000 is the average wedding cost. Consider, for example, the below example of wedding costs. (This isn’t a model of our wedding, and it falls short of the average $30,000 wedding cost, but you’ll see how it adds up).

  • Church/Officiant Fee: $500
  • Reception Site Rental: $2,500
  • Food: $40/plate x 100 = $4,000
  • Photographer: $2,000
  • DJ or Band: $1,500
  • Flowers: $750
  • Cake: $500
  • Rings: $5,000 (Read more: How much should an engagement ring cost? )
  • Dress/Tux: $500
  • Open Bar: $3,500
  • Total: $20,750

Obviously, this example isn’t for a cheap wedding, but for 100 people, it’s probably a modest one. Any of the above costs can vary greatly based upon your choices, and could easily skyrocket. Some brides spend thousands on their dress alone. (On an aside, that’s one expense, of any, I don’t understand, for something you’ll wear once). I’d rather splurge on a ring that at least you’ll wear for a lifetime.

And you can always save by trimming the guest list. Since we can’t do that, here are a few ways we are saving on our wedding:

  • My fiancee got her dress at a major chain; it cost less than $300
  • I’m buying my wedding ring from a reputable online jeweler for half of what it costs at a retail jeweler
  • We have a relative making our wedding cake
  • I’m buying a suit that I can wear again rather than renting a tux; my groomsmen will most likely be able to wear outfits they already own
  • We’re holding our wedding reception in the early afternoon and following it up with a BYOB after-party, which should dramatically reduce alcohol costs

I’m working on some more specific wedding-related posts. Did you get married recently or are you planning a wedding? Are you pulling off a super-frugal wedding or did costs quickly get out of hand? Please share your story!

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