The average cost of a wedding in 2018 was more than $44,000, according to the Brides American Wedding Study. Take a second and think about what you could do with $44,000.
In some neighborhoods, that could be a 20% down payment on a new house for you and your spouse. You could create a hefty emergency fund from scratch and still have money left over to put toward retirement. You could jumpstart your progress toward one (or several) of your savings goals.
Instead, many couples are choosing to spend this amount all in one lump—on one single day. That begs the question, how much should you spend on your wedding day? Here are some factors that can help you determine what price works best for you, along with some tips for easy ways to cut costs.
Pressures From Friends and Family
Of course, it’s easy to say that $44,000 is too much to spend on one day when you aren't the one getting married. However, that oversimplifies a complex issue underlying the reason couples spend such large sums of money in the first place.
Depending on a couple's family and values, they may see the wedding as a chance to gather everyone together as a sort of reunion, especially if people have moved away or become busier. This may be the only chance they have to catch up with everyone.
Unfortunately, the larger your guest list, the more expensive your wedding becomes. To some couples, the price tag is worth it if it means getting to see their loved ones.
With more guests also comes more expectations. A couple may feel pressured to have a beautiful, lavish wedding if their friends who had a beautiful wedding will attend. Or, a couple may want to impress family members. People have a habit of comparing weddings, especially when there’s a string of them happening, so that adds to a couple's wedding pressure.
Maybe you’re not feeling any external pressure. Maybe you’re simply worried about “getting it wrong.” Weddings (theoretically) happen only once, so couples seek perfection. There’s an overwhelming amount of planning that goes into an event that takes place for just a few hours. You want to do everything you can to make it perfect, right down to your centerpieces, photos, and flowers.
As a once-in-a-lifetime event, it’s easy to justify outrageous spending. However, think about other "once-in-a-lifetime" events, and how much you spent on them. High school prom, college graduation, religious rites of passage, these are all once-in-a-lifetime events that may prompt some splurging, but not to the extent that many spend for their wedding.
Try to keep things in perspective as you decide how much to spend on your wedding cake, dress, and honeymoon.
Discuss Your Goals and Values
In light of all these social pressures to “go big or go home” for your wedding day, it’s sadly not a surprise that a Consumer Reports survey found that 11% of couples take out a loan for their wedding and end up in debt. Another 10% borrowed from retirement accounts. An additional 10% after that withdrew from a nonretirement investment account. Starting off this new chapter of your life in debt isn't ideal, especially considering how money is one of the top reasons for divorce.
Instead of going overboard on wedding expenses, the easiest way to avoid spending too much on your wedding is to budget appropriately and focus on the multitude of goals you and your spouse want to accomplish in life. Budgeting that aligns your spending with your values and goals will be crucial. Spending on your wedding should be a reflection of your values, both in terms of how it is a special day, but also with the full scope of your life goals in mind.
Clarifying your priorities will make it easier to say “yes” and “no” to the appropriate wedding expenses. Once you have defined your own goals, it's important to discuss and compare those goals with your partner's. List out your goals and discuss them in detail, including their costs, and the timelines on which you hope to achieve them. Short-term goals that you hope to accomplish within five years will be the most impacted by an expensive wedding, so consider those effects carefully.
It's OK If a Large Wedding Is a Legitimate Priority
As you and your partner discuss your goals and values, you may decide that a large, expensive wedding is important to both of you—and that's fine! It’s okay to prioritize your wedding over short-term goals, as long as you’re both on the same page.
Not everyone dreams of buying a house or having children. You may have inexpensive tastes, so you want to splurge on your wedding. Hone in on what’s important to you, regardless of what others think you should do.
The importance of weddings may get inflated during the planning process, but they are a major event in a person's life. As long as you're sure a big wedding is what you truly want, and you aren't simply getting carried away by the excitement of planning, then you should feel confident spending what you need to make your dreams come true.
Understand Needs vs. Wants
Once you and your partner understand each other's values and goals, it's time to differentiate between wants and needs. A lot of the details of the wedding will include choices that highlight this difference.
For example, is it necessary to have a band, or do you have a friend who could play songs from their laptop? Do you have to have fresh flowers, or will fake ones do the job? Are favors that cost $3 each worth the price tag, or can you think of something that costs less?
Now is the time to consider what you want to get out of your wedding, the experience you want your guests to have, and what you need to spend to make that happen.
Save on Your Dress
A significant cost in many weddings is the wedding dress. In most cases, the dress will be worn just once, but brides decide it's still worth the expense to splurge. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save on the wedding dress without sacrificing quality or style.
You may find deals on dresses if you shop between May and September. This can mean any month from May to September. You may even be able to take advantage of prom sales to find a wedding dress. The same goes for dresses for bridesmaids.
If your wedding theme is vintage or non-traditional, check out local thrift stores or consignment shops. Many of these stores have older style gowns that can be easily (and cheaply) adjusted to fit your wedding theme.
Keep It Simple
One of the best ways to save money on a wedding or bridesmaid dress is to keep the design simple. The more elaborate the gown, the more expensive it will be. Save money and time by looking for simple, yet beautiful dresses.
An additional, more unconventional way to save money on bridesmaid gowns is to choose separates for your bridesmaids to wear. It will allow your maids to get exactly what they want, and it will also save them money. Choose the color palette you want them to stay with and, voila, you have affordable bridesmaid dresses!
Don’t Rule out Used Dresses
Wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses are usually worn just once. With a good cleaning, they'll be just like new. If you find a used dress that fits your style, you’ll save a ton of money compared to buying retail.
A “sample” dress can be tailored to fit you, and it's a good way to save money. Opt for a slightly bigger dress than you need so it can be taken in and tailored for you. If the dress is cheap enough, the cost of getting it altered won’t be an issue.
Keep Your Eyes Open for Trunk or Bridal Shows
Designers and retail shops will often stage a trunk show to clear out room for newer gowns. If you’re looking to cut costs on your dress, pay attention to the bridal industry and see if these shows will be coming to a city near you. If they are, clear your schedule and get there early.
Rent the Dress
Think about renting your bridesmaid dresses to save money. This way, your bridesmaids won’t feel like they’re getting the rotten end of the deal by buying a dress they might never wear again. You can also look online to find sites that rent wedding gowns.
The Bottom Line
By better defining your idea of what your perfect wedding day looks like, you can feel more confident splurging on some aspects of the wedding while cutting costs from other aspects. It doesn't need to reflect "society's standards" or have a price tag north of $44,000. It just needs to create memories and laughter. The most important thing is that you stick to your values and enjoy your day in a way that doesn't burden your new start as a married couple.