How Much Does a Wedding Cost? A Breakdown of Our Wedding
[This wedding cost article may contain affiliate links at no cost to you]
How Much Does a Wedding Cost?
There’s a lot of information out there about the how much a wedding costs. However, it’s hard to actually answer the question, “how much does an average wedding cost” without seeing a breakdown of what those costs entail.
Before, I got married, I looked at some websites to figure out what the “right” amount to spend was. However, I scoffed at the estimates they quoted. I’m a frugal guy and I wanted to be reasonable.
According to a study by The Knot, the average wedding costs in 2018 were $33,391. The average for our state was $47,435. This other study claimed a $44,000 average. Both of these “studies” come from wedding websites.
I’m not going to say they’re skewed. However, clearly there’s an incentive in making people think that the number others are spending on the cost of their wedding is high.
I just didn’t see how that could have been how much an average wedding cost. To me, that seemed like a crap load of money to spend one one day. Sure, I knew a lot of people went all out but still, that’s a lot of money for an average. Things varied by location with a Manhattan wedding averaging $76k and a New Mexico wedding averaging $17.5k. I wondered if averages were skewed to the moon by REALLY extravagant weddings(like hundreds of thousands of dollars).
Still, in either case, I couldn’t believe the totals. Also, I could never find a detailed breakdown of WHAT things made a wedding cost so much. That’s why I’m making this post.
In September of 2018, I got married. It was a fantastic day and we’ll always remember it fondly.
However, it did cost a surprising amount. How much? Well, recently, we sat down and tallied all of our expenses, the entire cost of the wedding. We didn’t have a budget when we went into it. That might seem odd but I knew we wouldn’t get crazy just based on our somewhat basic tastes. However, I had a vague idea of how much we were spending.
The end result actually surprised me. Our not so frugal wedding cost us $19,699.99. That included everything from the start(dress) to the finish(marriage license and thank you cards). It did not include the engagement ring. However, we didn’t spend the “typical” 2 months salary there either. Again, where do those values come from!
In my mind, 19.6k was a lot and we got a lot for it. Still, somehow, it was still well below the average. That’s even true when adjusted for the number of people attending.
I wouldn’t call our wedding extravagant. However, I’d say it was pretty fancy. We got exactly what we wanted and felt happy with how everything went.
So what did we get exactly? That’s what this post is about so let’s get down to business. Here’s the step by step breakdown of the cost of our wedding.
A Breakdown of the Cost of a Wedding
Food and Drinks – $7027.18
We had around 100 guests and went with a formal buffet. There were 4 finger foods passed around during the cocktail hour. Afterwards, we had a choice of three entrees alongside salad, rolls, potatoes and veggies. We paid extra for a nice steak.
The cost included setup, clean-up and formal china and linen service. We also had four waiters for the duration. The food quality was quite good.
On the alcohol side, drinks were local beers, two wines and one mixed drink. It was an open bar. Non alcoholic drinks were apple cider and sodas.
Food wise, we could have gone cheaper. However, the less costly places we tried had pretty mediocre food. There seems to be a real big drop off in the catering game below a certain price point.
The Venue – $5250
Our venue was a converted barn on an old working farm. We had the place for seven hours.
There are places that have multiple weddings at a time. However, this is a one wedding a day type place which was nice.
There was a bridal cottage where my wife could get ready and we could hang out. We got married in front of the barn on a gazebo overlooking a pond. We were then whisked away by a horse carriage ride before returning for the cocktail hour. The guests could utilize the horses until it got dark.
The venue had a great look and we just ended up using most of their decorations. That certainly helped save on the costs a bit.
We had a Sunday wedding which was $1,000 cheaper than Friday or Saturday. According to our research, this price was well below average for venues in our area but it still seemed like a lot to me!
The DJ – $1495
We went with the standard DJ package for the entire event. He arrived early, helped set up and played music during the ceremony. He had buy ups such as a photo booth but we chose not go with that.
Photographer – $1200
We found a local photographer by visiting various websites and checking out their portfolio. She was one of the cheaper options in the area(some were $3000+) but had a solid portfolio. Many of the photos here are from our special day, some of the worse ones are ones someone else took.
This price included our engagement photos too!
The Dress – $1040
My wife’s dress came from David’s Bridal. It was $500. They did some alterations there that cost $160 but they couldn’t do everything due to the agreements they had with the dress designers. For the rest, my wife had to take it to a local seamstress who charged $380 to finish it up. I don’t know what alterations were done but the final result was amazing.
I think she looked awesome in it.
On my end, I just wore a suit I already had, no tux. I looked OK. If you don’t own a suit already and want to wear one, a decent one can run you $300.
Officiant and Marriage License – $420
We interview a few officiants and chose a nice local lady.
She provided us a script, I changed it a bit and she married us off. We briefly thought about asking her to do the Princess Bride marriage but decided not to in the end. We’re not religious and she had some cool ideas for what we could do so we ended up doing an hourglass ceremony(more on that later).
Makeup, Hair and Manicure – $383
My wife didn’t have a wedding party(nor did I) so it was just her and the two flower girls. Haircut was done the day before the wedding, manicure was a few days before and the makeup and hair styling was done at the venue.
I didn’t get anything special done, just my regular haircut which was planned a few weeks before the wedding. I don’t count that as a wedding cost since it’s a regular cost.
Cake and Cupcakes – $330
The original plan was to go for a full sheet cake. However, one month before our wedding, our baker fell ill and had to close down her shop. It was unfortunate but we scrambled and found a second option.
We got 100 cupcakes(4 different flavors) and a small cake we could cut!
They ended up looking really pretty and were delicious. Atop the cake is our awesome wedding topper which I’ll talk about soon.
Invitations and Save the Dates – $304.50
My wife showed me some of those fancy invitations. You know the ones where you open a big envelope and get like 8 different cards that list all variety of things? Overkill in my mind. Those were something like $10/pop, crazy!
We went with one simple card for the save the dates. Our invitations were also one card, fall colors, with a note about our wedding and a link to RSVP online. Ah yes, technology, helping us save money!
This is definitely a spot that can get pricey if you want to be fancy.
Flowers – $301.68
Flowers are expensive. However, we went very light on the flowers. The idea was to get some pops of color here and there. We chose to use the natural fall colors of the land around us more than flowers. The flowers hung in some jars outside the barn and some stood on the tables below. Savings came because we got in season flowers that were local too.
They all looked very pretty though and I was glad we didn’t go all out on something that would die anyway. Note that this total does not include the bridal bouquet or the bouquet for the toss. Those, we got elsewhere and they were not real flowers.
We also had some flowers around the gazebo where we got married.
This is also a spot where costs can explode if you want flowers that aren’t local or in season or you want something grandiose. We kept it simple and it was relatively cheap.
Cake Topper – $277.15
Almost $300 for a cake topper? Yea, we went custom made from this store on Etsy and it turned out awesome. Look at it!
It has us(I totally look like that) AND our golden doodle and bunny. What a great keepsake and totally worth the cost.
Wedding Favors – $266.88
Everyone that came to our wedding left with some delicious chocolate owls. The cost include the molds and having a local chocolatier make them for us.
Hotel Bag and Bathroom Items – $255.97
We had a lot of people coming from out of state. Therefore, we put together a little goodie bag of items for anyone staying in a hotel. It wasn’t anything major, just some candy, pain killers, water and things of that ilk in a cute little bag with dinosaurs on it.
On top of that, we bought a bunch of stuff to keep in the bathroom at the venue as well. Costco was very helpful with this part as we could buy big containers of stuff.
We concentrated on stuff we’d use if some of it was left over. This ended up being rather expensive since one time use packets of stuff like Advil cost a lot more than a container of 200.
Accessories – $247.10
It was fall so somewhat cold so my wife got two shawls to wear with her dress. This cost also includes some hair pins from Etsy for herself and the flower girls!
Bedazzled Chucks – $235.16
My wife bedazzled some converse shoes with crystals and gems. These weren’t cheap craft gems but actual nice crystals. She’s an artsy person and it was a cute little way of channeling that talent into something for the wedding.
She popped the shoes on after we were married and it was time for dancing. They looked pretty cool and sparkled as we danced. Another physical keepsake from the wedding.
Hourglass – $161
Again, we picked this up from an Etsy store.
You can get much cheaper ones but we wanted something sturdy that would hang around for a while. Yet another keepsake to remind us of our wonderful day!
Bouquet and Bouquet Toss Tlowers – $129.86
The bridal bouquet and the flowers my wife tossed were made of sola wood! Again, this was a way to use something we could keep and save on our flower budget.
Sola wood probably won’t last forever but it’s still in great shape and the bouquet is hanging out on our windowsill(out of direct sunlight).
Cupcake Stand and Cornhole Materials – $111.12
My wife loves creative projects so she definitely wanted to make something for the wedding. One of our friends wanted to do something too so we came up with two projects!
My wife, using the free days at a local maker space, put together the cupcake stand that you saw in the cupcake pictures earlier.
One of our friends put together a cornhole board for us we could use to have something to do outside during the wedding. We also picked up some high quality bags off of Etsy.
Overall, this was a fun little project for everyone. The cost included mainly wood and paint. It actually likely would have been cheaper to just buy cheap versions of these things. However, now we have some high quality items and the projects were fun as heck! I even helped on the cupcake stand(I held the wood while my wife cut it using some sort of mechanical saw at the maker space).
Instant Camera Film and Book – $87.99
We already have one of those “Polaroid” type cameras. I thought it’d be cool to have people take instant photos and put it in a book.
We borrowed another and have an album we picked up from Amazon filled with random Polaroids to remember the day. It’s not quite the quality of the photos we got from our photographer but a great little memory of the day. People are much more likely to make silly faces when they take Polaroids of themselves to there’s a lot of great funny shots in there.
Ring Bearer Pillows and Flower Girl Buckets – $49.98
We had custom a small custom pillow made on Etsy. It had our wedding date and some fake rings on there for our ring bearer to carry as he walked down the isle.
For the flower girls, we had some rustic buckets with a chalk board on there listing our wedding details, also from Etsy. Affordable and rustic and cute!
Advice Cards and Thank You Cards – $48.81
We bought some advice cards from Amazon and left them on the tables. They essentially allowed the guests to give us a piece of advice and leave it for us to read. You can find a bunch of these on Amazon and they’re a cheap fun way to make the wedding a bit more interactive.
On top of that, we also didn’t want to go all out on thank you cards. We got some simple designs off Amazon and sent those off after the wedding.
Ring Pops – $36.23
After the flower girls were done with their flower buckets, we threw some ring pops in there. It was all on a table where the advice cards went and the Polaroid book. Some of these went into the hotel bags too but we didn’t want everyone else to get left out!
Chalk Boards and Watercolor Materials – $25.63
We had a chalk board at the entrance of the venue. It told people to grab their name tags and look at them for their seating. The name tags were custom made by my wife again. She just cut out some hard pieces of paper and painted them with various fall watercolors.
We also had another chalk board or two at the table with all the activity stuff. These boards told people how to use the instant camera and book, to take a ring pop and where to leave their advice cards.
These weren’t anything fancy, just basic chalkboards that my wife painted with watercolors.
Wedding Ring – $15.99
My wife used her mother’s ring. I bought a inexpensive silicon ring from Amazon! It’s still in good condition. I’ve also since gotten a few extra silicon bands in a set for when I don’t want to wear my fancy one! I am not a metal ring guy so I’m glad to have my set of 8 rings now for $30 or whatever it was to change whenever.
I thought the brand(Kauai) was fitting considering that’s where we went for our honeymoon a few months later.
All in Cost of a Wedding – $19,699.99
And that was it!
We spent $19,684 on our wedding. It’s a lot of cash on one thing. End of day, it worked out to about $190 per person.
It’s a lot but based on the data I saw, our state is one of the more expensive states to have a wedding at an average cost of $314 per person. I guess we did better than average?
We didn’t go out of our way to control our costs, not even setting a budget to start. I’m just not a huge budget guy. However, we knew what we wanted and got it. There was nothing we felt was missing and we both feel good about what we got.
This was a very important thing for my wife and I was glad to give experience it with her. Is it a lot to spend on one day? Hell yea, it is. However, it’s a trade off on what you want to spend your money on. My wife wanted a nice wedding we could remember forever. I sometimes spend $300 on a meal at a dumb restaurant she doesn’t care about. It’s important to spend on what makes both of you happy.
Can I see where people spend that money? Of course and it starts with a much fancier venue and better food. 62% of the cost of our wedding costs went to food, alcohol and venue. That’s a HUGE portion of the overall spend and can easily add up.
Our venue was very nice but it was rustic and pretty simple. It was actually relatively cheap in comparison to some other places in the area. In fact, their prices are up 19% this year to get more in line with the competition. Saturday weddings are more expensive and fancier venues will run you more money.
It’s the same with food. It was a formal buffet so much cheaper than a full service dinner. The food was good so it all worked out. We had a limited alcohol menu as well, beer and wine, and hard alcohol can really run that tab up.
Flowers are another big one that we skipped out on. I’ve been to weddings where each table had a massive center piece and flowers were strewn all over the place. We kept it simple and let the fall colors impart the decoration.
Some costs were surprising such as the cost of those guest bags for the hotel. We bought a lot of items for that at Costco but still, those small costs can really add up. Same with other smaller costs once you consider the number of people coming. One small chocolate owl can be cheap but now you have to get 100+ of them made and that’s expensive.
One of the things I really liked is our idea to simply not have a wedding party. It makes things SO much easier and honestly, less stressful not to deal with all that BS.
We did save a good deal of money by making some stuff on our own. It was fun and a money saver too so that was nice. However, some of our expenses stemmed from my wife’s creative side. Still, all of those items turned out awesome and I’m sure she’ll cherish them forever.
There are a few things that some people will probably look at and see as a waste. However, one of my favorite keepsakes from the wedding is that cake topper. It was totally awesome! My wife loves her one of a kind sneakers as well. They’re still extra shiny!
Overall, the cost of a wedding can really start to get away from you. However, I think we did a good job in managing what we wanted and keeping our costs somewhat reasonable. I know we could have saved a lot of money by skirting the venue and doing something ourselves for food but we didn’t want that. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and we got a good one.
My wife and I were married in 2016. It was a second marriage for both of us. We invited 22 people and held the ceremony in my brother’s living room. We continue to look back at that day as having been “perfect”. Everyone’s price will be different, of course. I think the number is right if you make choices mindfully in alignment with your own values. Too many people have weddings that are based on the expectations of others, or based on misplaced beliefs of what will make them happy. Thanks for the post!
We ended up spending about the same with a destination wedding plus reception back at home. I do wish we would have spent a bit more on a photographer during our reception. Besides that, no regrets. Congrats on your wedding!
Rho at Their Money Goals
Congratulations on your marriage! You guys did an awesome job managing your budget. You were able to include a lot of nice touches (I especially like the welcome bags and cake topper).
Like you guys, we identified the things we really cared about (food, drinks, and music) and saved on the rest. Even so, we still spent about $30k on our wedding, including the rehearsal dinner, wedding bands, and honeymoon. We noticed that many vendors charge more for weddings than other events in our city. “Oh, it’s for a wedding? Let me get the wedding pricing because it’s actually 2x more expensive.” It was so annoying.
I think with our honeymoon and due to the fact that we didn’t have a rehearsal dinner, we were probably close in cost.
It’s totally true that wedding’s get a price bump but it’s hard to actually avoid mentioning that it’s a wedding unless you’re doing a small event at your own venue.
We spent about 115k on our wedding at a downtown venue in one of the major American cities (not NY) for about 225 people. That figure includes things like the rehearsal dinner and brunch the next day–it’s an all-in figure. I’m quite comfortable with what we spent. It’s supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we went with it. I don’t think we didn’t anything overly extravagant, but we did make sure everything was done well.
I don’t like people who castigate others for spending a large amount on their wedding. I don’t like people who castigate others for *not* spending a large amount on their wedding. It’s very much about what your values align with and what your personal financial situation can support — it’s a very personal thing and there isn’t one “right” way to do it.
That said, I do think it’s worth keeping in mind that this is ideally a once in a life time event and should at least be approached with that level of seriousness and celebration, whether you’re doing it for $5k or $500k or somewhere in-between.
The statistics you provided at the beginning are mind-boggling to me! Thirty-three grand is insane! I think this topic is so fascinating and bewildering as an incredibly simple person part of an incredibly minimalist couple. I know people want to make their big day special, but several of the couples I’ve seen get divorced are the same couples that went into debt for their wedding, and that saddens me deeply. I heard recently – your wedding doesn’t have to be everyone’s reunion. That really stuck with me. Neither does a baby shower, a funeral, etc. Major life events are for the most important people involved – and sometimes that is a small number of people.
Anyhow, I’m glad you did what made you happy. Looks like it was a very classy event.
It’s crazy how just the food and venue can get you to thousands of dollars so quickly.
I’ve always heard that if you approach a venue and say your booking a wedding they automatically charge you more than if you were booking another event. I’ve got to try that experiment one day and just see what happens…
Two of my three kids are married or have a wedding in the works. Neither had guests, just them and the officiator. We gave them something like $8,000 to use any way they wanted. They both had/have parties planned after the wedding. We have millions but I’m glad they have the good sense to be frugal. Nobody else cares about your wedding, at least not as much as you think. The proof is how long it lasts. My wife and I are on year 42 of our marriage and I bet we spent less than $200 on ours. Frankly both my wife and I were relieved to not have to drive half way across the country for a wedding. You can guess we aren’t overly sentimental, the proof is in the marriage, not in the wedding.