How Much Does a Wedding Cost? Budgeting and Planning Guide

FT Contributor  | 

While weddings can be an important milestone before you embark on an exciting new chapter in your life, they can also be expensive! The Knot’s 2018 Real Weddings Study claims that the national average cost of a wedding, excluding honeymoon expenses, is $33,931. This number is just an average, though, and real weddings can vary from the simple to the extravagant depending on your budget and personal preference.

The cost of a wedding can vary greatly depending on a number of factors. Where you choose to hold the wedding, how much of the process you choose to DIY, and how many people you invite can all have a big impact on how much a wedding costs. Getting married on a beach in Hawaii will be more expensive than getting married in a local park, and hiring a professional wedding planner will cost a lot more money than planning a wedding yourself. Regardless of your budget, there are plenty of ways to plan for an affordable celebration that doesn’t break the bank.

Average Wedding Budget Breakdown

A number of factors go into determining the price of a wedding, including expenses like the wedding dress, venue, photographer, and more. Below is an overview of wedding spending considerations, along with what to expect and tips on how to save money along the way!

Average Wedding Dress Cost

Depending on your style and personal preferences, you may want to invest a great deal of money on a dress for your special day, or you may prefer a simple, laidback dress that will cost you a few hundred dollars. The average cost of a wedding dress is $1,631, but there’s plenty of room for variation on either end of that number. There are plenty of online retailers that offer stylish and affordable dress options for only a few hundred dollars. Brides can also consider reselling the dress after the wedding in order to recoup costs and help pay for a honeymoon.

When considering the cost of a wedding dress, it’s also important to factor in related expenses like the cost of the groom or bride’s wardrobe, and the potential costs of any groomsmen and bridesmaids apparel. For those looking to cut costs, a stylish but laid back affair with less formal attire may be an appropriate solution.

Average Venue cost

The venue cost typically makes up roughly fifty percent of the budget. The average cost of a wedding venue in 2018 was $15,439. Just as with the wedding dress, however, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to venue costs. Wedding venues in populous areas of the country where the cost of living is high tend to be more expensive, while venues in more rural areas may offer good bargains. Venue costs also sometimes include related expenses like catering or event planning, so be sure to take that into consideration when exploring your options. Some venues also offer special deals depending on the season and location.

Because the venue is one of the most expensive aspects of a wedding, saving money in this area may have the biggest financial impact on your budget. In addition, if you’re able to save money when it comes to the venue, you may have more money to spend when it comes to other areas of the special occasion.

Average Food Cost

Food is another important expense to consider when planning a wedding. Food may also be particularly important to the guests attending the wedding, making it a category that brides and grooms are reluctant to skimp on. In 2018, the average cost of food at a wedding was $6,528. This figure can include catering, a wedding cake, an open bar, and more.

  • Catering – The average catering cost per person was around $70 in 2018. Catering is often more expensive when provided by the wedding venue rather than by an independent contractor. For those looking to save on food, a more casual affair will cost a lot less than a formal or black-tie wedding. Catering costs often also depend on the number of people invited to a wedding, so cutting down the guest list could be another way to save on costs.
  • Wedding Cake – The wedding cake is another expensive item when it comes to food costs, with an average price of $528. Wedding cakes are often created individually by specialty chefs and bakers, which can mean a hefty price tag. Simple cakes without elaborate decorations or designs will be less expensive, however. And if you have any bakers in the family, you can always enlist their help in order to save on cake costs!
  • Alcohol and Open Bar – Alcohol and a potential open bar are other factors to consider when planning the cost of food at a wedding. Depending on the venue and the guest list, you may want to offer an open bar that covers the cost of drinks for guests.

Average Wedding Photographer Cost

Wedding photography can be expensive, costing an average of $2,679 in 2018. While you can always use a friend or family member to document the event, keep in mind that it can be stressful for people who aren’t professional photographers to be tasked with the responsibility of photographing such an important event. For quality photos, it’s often a good idea to invest in the services of a professional, even if it’s a little more expensive.

Whether or not you’re the kind of person to get sentimental about photographs of your special day, however, you don’t necessarily need to spend a few thousand dollars to remember your special day. Many couples choose to crowdsource photography among all of their wedding guests, and some even choose to distribute disposable cameras or polaroids to add to the fun!

Average Cost of Wedding Flowers

The cost of floral arrangements can add up quickly and may become expensive fast, with an average cost of $2,379 in 2018. While professionally designed floral arrangements can add a nice touch to a special day, many couples opt for a DIY route when it comes to flowers. You can also rent other decor items besides flowers in order to spruce up your venue.

Wedding Entertainment Costs

Entertainment is another factor to consider when budgeting for a wedding. This can include live music, music during the ceremony, a DJ, and other miscellaneous costs.

  • Ceremony music – Ceremony musicians cost an average of $757, and can include ensembles or soloists.
  • Live music – A band to perform at the reception can cost an average of $4,019. A live band tends to be more expensive than a DJ or playlist, but can be worth it if you’re planning on dancing the night away!
  • DJ – If you opt for a DJ, the average cost is $1,231. DJs tend to be less expensive than live music, but can be more if you opt for a well-known DJ.

Other Wedding Expenses

There are a variety of other miscellaneous expenses to take into consideration when planning for a wedding.

  • Officiant – The average cost of an officiant is $286. This can vary depending on whether you decide to get married in a church, or have a friend or family member officiate the ceremony.
  • Transportation – Guests often require transportation to and from the ceremony, particularly if it’s held in a different location than the reception. Transportation costs an average of $856.
  • Rehearsal dinner – The rehearsal dinner is usually held the night before the wedding, and can cost an average of $1,297.
  • Invitations – Invitations cost an average of $386 in 2018. If you’re crafty and looking to save money, you can always take a DIY approach to invitations!
  • Party favors – Party favors cost an average of $245. As with the invitations, homemade or crafty party favors can be another way to save a little bit of money.

Wedding Planner Costs

When faced with the overwhelming process of planning a wedding, many couples turn to a professional wedding planner to handle the task for them. Wedding planners cost an average of $2,002 in 2018. Wedding planners are a good option if you’re looking to avoid the stress of planning a wedding, but can be another opportunity to cut costs if you’re on a budget and think you’re capable of handling the logistics yourself.

Preparing for the Price of a Wedding

When budgeting for a wedding, it’s important to take all of these costs into consideration so that you don’t end up with any unexpected costs. Keep in mind, however, that the above numbers are just averages. It’s definitely possible to plan an affordable wedding ceremony and reception without skimping on the things that are important to you personally.

In order to prepare for the costs of a wedding, try making a list of potential wedding costs in order of most to least important. This can help you prioritize the things you truly care about, and save money on things that aren’t as important. It’s also a good idea to go over these plans with your future spouse, in order to ensure that you’re both happy with how everything turns out.

If you’re looking for a crafty, cost-effective option for wedding planning, you can always aim for a low-key wedding and take a DIY approach. If possible, you can also enlist the help of friends and family members for everything from stunning flower arrangements to a killer Spotify playlist. While a wedding is largely focused on two people, it is also a celebration of all the people who made their union possible. Allowing friends and family to help with various wedding items can be a great way to focus the wedding not only on the happy couple, but also on all of the loving and supportive people around you!

No matter what your budget is for a wedding, it’s important to realize that weddings are largely what you make of them. Whether you’re dreaming of an elegant black-tie affair or a casual backyard ceremony, there’s no right or wrong way to plan a wedding. Go for what makes you happy, and you’ll have a day full of memories to last a lifetime!


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This post was updated November 7, 2019. It was originally published November 7, 2019.