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Having a wedding isn’t as simple as saying “I do” — and can be a lot more expensive.
Research site The Wedding Report blended surveys of pre- and post-wedding couples with data on product and service costs across the U.S. It found the average cost of a wedding in 2022 was $29,195.
How much does a wedding cost?
Here are the average price tags for some common wedding expenses going into that $29,195 total, according to The Wedding Report's 2022 data:
Wedding dress and accessories: $1,833
Tuxedo or suit and accessories (rental): $117
Hair, makeup, mani-pedi: $212
Live band: $2,435
Food and drink: $7,868
Flowers and decor: $2,550
Engagement ring: $3,970
Wedding bands: $1,439
Tips for service providers: $439
The expenses can keep coming, for example if you purchase gifts for your wedding attendants, add themed “save the date” cards and thank-yous, or order lots of photos and video copies. Your wedding budget breakdown may be quite different — either higher or lower.
Wedding planning can bring financial stress. A 2023 survey, developed by NerdWallet and wedding site Zola.com, found 70% of engaged Americans said they were facing money challenges during the planning process. Challenges included juggling multiple financial priorities while paying for a wedding (cited by 30% of engaged Americans) and going over budget on the wedding (cited by 22%).
Remember that it only takes a few basics to get married, starting with a marriage license. You could keep your costs ultra-low by opting for a courthouse ceremony, just the two of you. Application fees vary by state, county, city and other conditions. The standard license fee is $27.50 in New Orleans, $50 in Boston and $100 in Santa Barbara, California.
What is a reasonable wedding budget?
A reasonable wedding budget is going to differ for everyone. The $29,195 average is steep. But remember that averages don’t tell the whole story. Experts point out that they can easily be skewed.
“One $1 million wedding can bring up the average of thousands of $10,000 weddings,” says Jessica Bishop, wedding expert and founder of the Budget Savvy Bride.
So treat wedding planning lists as suggestions. You can tailor your wedding to fit a smaller budget and don't have to spring for every traditional expense. For example, you might decide to skip favors for guests or hook your smartphone up to a speaker system instead of hiring a band or DJ.
How to plan a wedding on a budget
Even if you plan a wedding with all the bells and whistles, you can still lower costs by being flexible about certain factors:
1. Consider replacing pros
Asking a talented friend to style your hair and making decorations yourself are cheaper than paying for professional services and premium packages. (And you probably don't have to worry as much about gratuity among friends, whereas you'd want to tip a hairdresser.)
2. Look into suburban venues
Where you get married matters, and not just for the venue. If you plan to tie the knot in a major metropolitan area, expect higher prices and increased competition for venues and other services.
3. Trim the guest list
Some venues have minimum and maximum guest requirements and are priced accordingly, and vendors might charge per head for food and drink. Head count affects expenses across the board, says Deborah Moody, executive director of the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants. With 10 fewer guests on your list, Moody points out, you'd cut out at least one table: That’s 10 chairs, 10 place settings, 10 favors and one centerpiece right there that you're not paying for. "By cutting your guest list by 10 or 20 people, you may actually save yourself $1,000,” Moody says.
4. Seek an off-peak season
That sunny summer wedding probably comes with a trade-off: price. Ceremony sites, reception halls and photographers are known to offer lower rates during off-peak months, such as January or February.
5. Move the special day
Saturday is the most popular day for weddings, and high demand often comes with a higher price tag. You might be able to save by scheduling your big day on a Sunday or weekday — unless it coincides with a popular holiday.
Compare prices and services
Once you've picked the services you want, the best way to identify fair prices and approximate the total bill is to ask around. Talk to friends and family who’ve recently gone through the process, or consult a wedding planner. Get quotes from multiple vendors. Then choose the options you think are the best value.
As you shop around, pay attention to what’s included in the fees. Some venues provide tables, chairs, linens and audio equipment at no additional cost. Others charge extra or require you to rent these items from outside sources. Compare apples to apples as you evaluate costs.
Negotiate if necessary
If you find it necessary to negotiate, do it carefully and respectfully. “You don’t want to nickel-and-dime a professional person who has set their rates the way that they’ve set them for a reason,” Bishop says. She adds that vendors just starting out in the business usually charge less than those with more experience.
If you have a wedding planner, he or she should know what’s reasonable and where to find wiggle room, Moody says. “If you can find a place where they can do the wedding as well as the reception, then they should be willing to give you a break on the price,” she says.
You can also lower rates on your own. Consider asking vendors to cut back on what’s included in their packages. For example, ask the photographer to work a few hours instead of the whole day, or find out if the caterer can limit guests to one or two drinks instead of offering an open bar.
Anticipate extra costs
Even with careful planning, surprises are bound to pop up. Bishop suggests allowing for a 10% buffer in your wedding budget to cover hidden fees, overages and add-ons, such as cake cutting and delivery fees, taxes and gratuities.
Add it all up
Don’t bow to pressure from relatives, friends, social media or spending reports. Your wedding budget should align with your income, regular expenses and other financial goals.
Once you establish a budget, decide the kind of wedding you want and begin to compare costs, plug in the numbers. Use our calculator to help you figure out what you’ll spend overall.