“Weddings are expensive.” This was the immediate reaction of numerous well-meaning friends and family when my fiancé and I announced our engagement in 2017.
But what started as a friendly, casual reminder slowly grew into something slightly more ominous. The deeper we got into wedding planning, the more we came to realize: weddings are expensive. Or at least, they can be.
But you don’t have to break the bank or go into debt to plan the day of your dreams. If you keep an open mind and are willing to apply a dash of creativity, there are numerous ways to make wedding costs more manageable.
Average wedding cost in Canada
The average cost of a Canadian wedding in 2019 was $29,059, according to the Global Wedding Report released by WeddingWire. The report is a few years old but remains relevant, as 2019 was arguably a better representation of a typical wedding season than 2020 or 2021 — thanks, COVID. The same study found that Canadian weddings in 2019 averaged 154 guests, for an average spend of $189 per person.
Now, a budget-conscious couple might assume the simplest way to cut costs is to invite fewer people. And there’s some truth to this: a smaller guest list can help reduce overall costs. But inviting fewer guests may not have the cost-slashing impact you hope it will. If you really want to cut costs, you’ll need to take a long, hard look at your vendors and what you’re willing to pay for each service.
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Wedding cost breakdown
Did my fiancé and I set a budget for our wedding? Yes. And did we expand that budget after touring wedding venues? You bet.
The venue, catering and the bar are typically the biggest wedding expenses, according to Eron Jaskow, owner of Encore Events in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. “But it really depends on the requirements of the family and couple,” Jaskow said in an email.
After securing a location and paying for food and drink, other major wedding expenses include:
- Photography and videography.
- Floral arrangements.
- DJ and live music services.
- Hair and makeup services.
And if you’ve yet to put a ring on it, don’t forget to factor in that cost, too. In 2021, Canadian couples spent an average of $2,309 on their engagement rings, according to TD Bank’s 2022 annual Love and Money survey.
6 ways to cut wedding costs
Canadians spend an average of 14 months planning their nuptials, according to WeddingWire — although this timeline can fluctuate quite a bit if a wedding disaster strikes (I’m looking at you, pandemic).
No matter how eager you are to tie the knot, allotting time for preliminary wedding homework is a worthwhile investment. A longer engagement gives you the opportunity to research and implement cost-cutting tips.
So, what are the best ways to save money on a wedding? Here are six ways to eat, drink and be married for less.
1. Trim your guest count
Each person on your invitation list is likely a dear friend or family member. But they’re also another mouth to feed. If you’re already on the fence about whether your mother’s third cousin’s nephew should be in attendance, allow cost to be the determining factor.
You may even want to consider a micro wedding: a celebration of 50 people or less.
As for the folks that don’t make the cut, there are still a few ways to include them in the celebrations. You could opt to live stream the ceremony. Or, you could host an informal post-wedding BBQ to raise a glass of bubbly at a later date.
3. Rent — don’t buy
Before you ‘say yes’ to that dreamy $2,000 Vera Wang ball dress, ask yourself: is it worth it? It’s an important garment, to be sure. But it’s also something you’ll likely wear only once.
Wedding attire — dresses, tuxedos, shoes, jewelry — doesn’t need to be purchased outright. And you can still enjoy that magical dream gown moment if you rent instead of buy. The only difference is that you’ll return the dress after your big day and pay a fraction of the cost. Win-win.
“I got my original dress from The Bride’s Project, a charitable organization that sells donated dresses (the proceeds of which go to cancer research),” 36 year-old non-profit worker Megan Joyce, said in an email. “My partner wore a suit he already had, and we didn’t require our wedding parties any set attire — just a nice suit and a dress of their choice,” said Joyce, who celebrated her wedding at Toronto’s Rorschach Brewery in 2021.
By the way: this cost-saving tip doesn’t just apply to wedding attire. You can rent all sorts of wedding-related items, including centrepieces, decor, furniture, and more.
And if you’re dead set on buying decorations? Jaskow suggests thinking about resale value.
“Purchasing decor that can be resold after the event is another cost-saver,” Jaskow said in an email. You may be able to recoup some of your costs after the big day by selling your decor on a local online marketplace.
4. Skip top-shelf bar service
Bar service at a wedding can range from a dry bar, where no alcoholic drinks are served, to an open bar complete with signature cocktails, premium spirits and a champagne toast.
If the thought of fronting the liquor bill gives you cold feet, opt for a cash bar, where guests cover the cost of their drinks. Or run a toonie bar: guests pay two dollars per drink, and the couple covers the rest.
5. Play your own music
For the couple with confidence in their playlist-curating abilities, skip the DJ, nix the live musicians, and play your own tunes.
This strategy involves some preparatory legwork, and you’ll want to check that your venue has the equipment to accommodate your DIY dance party. If not, you may need to rent some equipment, like a microphone for speeches or speakers to play your reception music.
You’ll also want your music available on more than one device and be prepared for offline streaming unless you’re confident in the strength and consistency of your venue’s WiFi network.
6. Watch out for hidden fees
To stick to your wedding budget, you’ll need to look for sneaky fees buried in the fine print of the many contracts you’ll be signing. Whether you aim to avoid these fees or not, simply being aware of what may crop up on your final invoice can be helpful:
- Non-approved vendors. Some venues have a list of preferred vendors. These are typically professionals the venue has worked with in the past and feels confident recommending. Be sure to ask about any costs associated with straying from the preferred vendor list.
- Chairs. Surprisingly, chairs aren’t always included in the venue rental fee. Ask the venue’s event coordinator whether chairs cost extra and whether there’s a delivery fee associated with the rental.
- Vendor meals. If you’ve hired vendors to work at your wedding, like a DJ or photographer, be prepared to add a few more meals to your catering bill. It may not be required — ask your venue or caterer — but vendors will likely appreciate the gesture.
- Cake cutting. You’ve got your cake, but if you plan to eat it too — or want the iconic cake-cutting newlyweds’ photo — you may need to pay a cake cutting fee.
- Set up and tear down. Any vendors involved in the set up and tear down of wedding decorations, florals, rental furniture and the like may charge for the favor.
- Gratuity. Tipping isn’t required but is considered good etiquette, especially if a vendor has gone above and beyond to make your day memorable. If gratuity isn’t included in your invoice (check for it!), consider having cash on hand for the big day.
- Overtime. If your celebration runs longer than expected, you may need to pay the people staffing your wedding event, including the DJ and photographer, an overtime fee.
I spent years planning and delaying my wedding in response to COVID-related restrictions, and if there’s one major cost-cutting tip I can offer, it’s this: don’t rush. When it comes to wedding planning, time is your friend. And a longer engagement can help you make the money-related wedding decisions that are best for your financial future.
We spent months researching vendors so we could hire folks that fit our budget. But time — something my now-husband and I had in spades during the pandemic — also gave us the opportunity to prioritize the things that resonated with us as a couple. The result was a happy, unhurried day made possible by those who shared our vision for a wedding celebration.