How Much Should You Spend on Your Wedding?
The average cost of a wedding in 2015 was $32,641, according to CNN.
That number increased or decreased depending on where the wedding took place. For example, getting hitched in Manhattan cost about $82,300, while getting married in Alaska cost $17,000.
Take a second and think about what you could do with $32,000.
That could be the 20% down payment on a house you need to start married life off with. You could have a hefty emergency fund and money leftover to put toward retirement. Or you could send a portion of it to each of your savings goals.
Instead, many couples are choosing to spend it all in one lump—on one single day.
That begs the question, how much do you need to spend on your wedding day? And why do so many people feel the need to spend this amount?
Societal Pressures Around Getting Married
Of course, it’s easy to say that $32,000 or $82,000 or even $15,000 is too much to spend on one day. But that oversimplifies a complex issue underlying the reason couples spend that money in the first place.
Depending on your family and your values, you may see your wedding as a chance to gather everyone together as a sort of reunion, especially if people have moved away or become busier. It’s entirely possible to see only certain family members at weddings, and that may be the only chance they have to catch up with everyone.
Unfortunately, as anyone planning a wedding knows, 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.
It’s also common to feel pressured to have a beautiful, lavish wedding if your friends are, too. People have a habit of comparing weddings when there’s a string of them happening, and the last thing you want is your wedding to be seen as the “least popular” or least fun.
Media Portrayals of Lavish Weddings
The last societal pressure couples may experience, unsurprisingly, is due to unrealistic media portrayals of weddings. Remember when Prince William and Kate Middleton got married? Their guest list was reported to be around 1,900, and they held (literally) a fairytale royal wedding.
What about the Kardashian Wedding? Infamous for doing everything “big,” it’s no surprise that "Kimye" pulled out all the stops for their day. They had a rehearsal dinner and bachelorette party in Paris and got married the following day in Florence, Italy. The bride, groom, and daughter were donned in Givenchy, and everything was picture perfect.
While these weddings are obviously grossly unrealistic for 99% of couples out there, it doesn’t stop some from trying to replicate pieces of it. Since childhood, most women are fed images like the above, and as with any form of media or advertising, it can be hard to find your values in the midst of all the noise.
Maybe you’re not feeling any external pressure. Maybe you’re simply worried about “getting it wrong.” Weddings should theoretically only happen once, and 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 absolutely perfect, right down to your centerpieces, photos, and flowers.
After all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, and for many women, it’s an event they’ve been dreaming of for years. It’s easy to justify spending on that basis alone but step outside the wedding box for a second. Your high school prom, college graduation, baptism, etc. were also once-in-a-lifetime events. You don’t see many people spending over $5,000 on those, do you?
Sure, weddings may be different because they symbolize starting a new chapter of your life with someone else, but why does that have to translate into a $500+ cake, a $1,000+ dress, or a $3,000 honeymoon?
Decide on Your Goals
In light of all these social pressures to “go big or go home” for your wedding day, it’s sadly not a surprise that many couples overspend and end up in debt. But that’s no way to begin what should be an amazing new chapter of your life, especially considering 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 everything else you want to accomplish in life.
Most couples have a multitude of goals they want to cross off their list, and these goals cost money. Life after marriage can be one of the most expensive times if you go about things in the “traditional” way—buying a house, settling down and having kids, finally paying off student loans, saving for retirement, saving for the kids’ college, etc.
To answer the question of how much you should spend on your wedding, you need to take your other goals into consideration. Budgeting simply means aligning your spending with your values, so you have money left to spend on the things you treasure. Spending on your wedding should also be a reflection of your values—as they pertain to your special day and the rest of your life.
Getting clear on your priorities planning for your wedding will help you say “yes” and “no” to the appropriate things. For example, you might think getting your centerpieces wrong will mean the end of the world for your wedding, but after realizing everything else you have to plan for post-wedding, they don't seem as important anymore.
Discuss Your Five-Year Goals
Sit down with your partner and have a serious conversation with them about how you each see the next five years of your life together. What are your goals, both individually and as a couple? How much will each of these goals cost you?
Don’t just throw a number out there, either. Take this planning session as seriously as you would if you went to an actual financial advisor (which you could do if you need extra guidance).
List out all of your goals, how much time you think each will take to accomplish (or when you’d like to accomplish them), and a close estimate of how much each will cost you. Do you want to make a downpayment on a home? Do you want to repay your student loans? Do you want to travel internationally for a month?
Add the costs up and let that number sink in.
Next, take a look at your wedding budget and your estimated costs. Compare the two. Would your wedding cost as much, if not more, than your five-year goals? If so, it might be time to re-evaluate your priorities.
For example, if your wedding budget is $25,000 and your five-year goals will take $30,000 to fund, realize that spending a little less on your wedding will give you more flexibility for those five-year major life goals.
It's Okay if a Large Wedding is a Legitimate Priority
However, as always, keep your values in mind. Maybe your wedding will be one of the rare times your family can get together, and a larger guest list is worth it to you. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about this—and if you are, then that’s fine!
It’s okay to prioritize your wedding over those five-year goals, as long as you’re truly spending in line with your values.
After all, not everyone dreams of settling down, buying a house, and having kids immediately after they get married. Maybe those things aren’t on your five-year goal list. Travel or career advancement may be on there instead. Hone in on what’s important to you regardless of what others think you should do.
This exercise is simply meant to put things into perspective. Weddings are a big event, and we tend to overemphasize them when we’re in the middle of planning and talking about it with everyone. It should help you focus on the bigger picture so you can determine what you want to spend on your wedding.
Understand Needs vs. Wants
All right, now that you know where you and your partner stand at your wedding, it’s time to focus on how you can save money on your big day. There’s likely no need to go all out in every single aspect of it, so consider what’s a must and what’s a “would-like-to-have” when going through your budget.
For example, is it necessary to have a DJ or a band, or would an iPod hooked up to some nice speakers work just as well? Do you have to have fresh flowers, or could you buy fake ones? 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, and the experience you want your guests to have. Try to remember what you enjoyed and disliked about weddings you’ve attended previously. Is there anything that stands out? Anything you think you’d regret not doing?
Maybe you absolutely need to have a formal wedding at a nice venue, or maybe you’re set on a backyard BBQ type of celebration. Either way, you’ll find ways to save money if it matters enough to you.
Just be honest about what you need to make your day perfect, and what would be nice to have if the money happens to be there for it. And while you want your guests to have a good time, don’t let them get the final say in your plans. If an open bar is going to push you really far over budget, then offer beer and wine. It’s still your day, and your money and you should be happy with how it’s spent.
Save on Your Dress – When It Comes to Style
We can talk about saving money on the actual wedding all we want, but a big focus for many women is the dress. Just as you can make the argument that you shouldn’t necessarily spend $30,000 on one day, the same goes for a dress you’ll wear once on that day.
The bride has the right to want to look fabulous for her wedding, but that doesn’t have to mean dropping five-figures on the dress. That also doesn’t have to mean burdening your bridesmaids with expensive dresses. There are plenty of ways to save if you’re willing to go off the traditional path.
When it Comes to Style...
Shop off-season: This can mean any month from May to September. Depending on how soon you plan on getting married, May can be a great time for dress shopping since stores will be trying to clear out their springtime inventory. If you’re looking for a cheap wedding dress (or bridesmaid dresses), you can easily find sales in dress shops that cater to proms. Often, many prom dresses are all white to fit a certain theme, and they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than bridal shops.
Think vintage: 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 adjusted to fit your wedding theme. All they usually require is a seamstress and cleaning.
Stay 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.
Consider separates: 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 will also save them money. Choose the color palette you want them to stay with and voila, you have affordable bridesmaid dresses!
Save on Your Dress -- When It Comes to Price
Don’t rule out used: Wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses are usually worn just once and they usually only need a good cleaning for them to be like new. If you find a used dress that fits your style, you’ll save a ton of money compared to buying retail.
Buy sample: Purchase a “sample” dress that can be tailored to fit you. Opt for a slightly bigger dress than you need so it can be taken in. 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: Many times, designers and retail shops will do a trunk show to clear out room for newer gowns. If you’re on a budget, 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.
By now, you should have a better idea of what your perfect wedding day looks like, and how much it will cost. It doesn't need to reflect "society's standards" or have a price tag north of $30,000. It just needs to create memories and laughter.
The important thing is that you stick to your values and enjoy your day in a way that doesn't burden your new start together.