Getting married is an exciting chapter of your life, and you’ll have some important decisions to make together—starting with your wedding.
Planning a wedding can take a lot of time, energy, and money. The average cost of organizing a wedding in 2023 was about $29,000.Disclosure 1 Let’s break down ways to confidently handle the stress of planning a wedding—and save money at the same time.
- You can plan an affordable wedding by focusing on your top priorities and compromising in other areas.
- Avoid overspending by considering cost-cutting strategies like limiting your guest list, getting married in the offseason, or choosing a nontraditional venue.
- Make the most of the planning process by communicating clearly with your loved ones and focusing on your relationship with your spouse to be. Enjoy the journey!
Set your priorities.
What do you want most from your wedding? Getting clear on your priorities can help you create a wedding budget that aligns your spending with your values, says Truist head of financial wellness Brian Ford.
It can be helpful to list your possible expenses and rank them. If you know you want amazing food but care little about flowers, you could consider spending more on catering and skipping the florist.
Ford says that at his own wedding, he and his wife didn’t have much money to spend. They kept costs down by renting the wedding dress, having a church reception, and asking a family member to DJ. Photos were their priority, so they splurged on a photographer.
What you want at your wedding depends on your values and financial situation—but saving money doesn’t mean giving up the moments that bring you joy. “Our financial considerations don’t have to be a barrier to deepening, celebrating, and cherishing our relationships with other people,” Ford says.
Soon-to-be-married couples should also consider priorities outside of the wedding itself.
“Maybe it’s buying a home, having your first child, or a new car,” Ford says. “It might be a honeymoon, or maybe one of you wants to get an advanced degree or some kind of vocational training. You can list all those and figure out how much they’ll cost. And then it’s about balancing that with your wedding costs.”
Build your budget.
Planning a wedding—even a small one—can be complicated. There are so many moving parts that a written budget can be crucial to help you stay on track with your spending. If you’re not sure where to start, consider a budget line item for a wedding planner.
“I’m obviously slightly biased, but I think a wedding planner is a great investment because they’re going to help you set yourself up for success,” says Florida-based wedding planner Sydney Goldberg. “They can help you budget and deal with vendors and even help you manage stress. It’s important that you get along, because you want to feel good about calling them for help.”
Another line item will be the venue. Goldberg says venue rentals and associated costs typically make up a wedding’s biggest expense—as much as 40% of an overall wedding budget. “That’s going to set the rest of your budget up and help you arrive at a realistic overall number,” she says.
Picking a venue can go hand-in-hand with determining the size of your guest list, which will also have a major impact on your budget’s bottom line. “And it’s not apples to apples when you’re comparing venues. Some include food and beverages, some include tables and chairs, and some don’t include anything. You’ll want to do some research and ask plenty of questions about what’s included in a venue rental.”
Your own wedding budget priorities are totally up to you, but here are a few potential line items you may want to include as you create your checklist:
- Wedding planner
- Venue rental, flowers, and other decor
- Catering, food, cake, and alcohol
- DJ or live band
- Wedding rings
- Photography and videography
- Clothing, hair, and makeup
Goldberg also recommends creating a budget line item for unexpected expenses. “There are little things that you don’t think about that pop up,” she says. “It could be travel costs or getting your nails done. Or if you get a quote from a vendor that’s on your priority list and it’s a little bit more than you had planned, you can pull from the unexpected expenses budget to cover it.
Find ways to save on your wedding costs.
With your priorities in mind and your budget in hand, you can look for additional ways to save money on your wedding. Consider these six cost-cutting tips:
1. Shorten your guest list. Trimming your guest list can lead to significant savings on your food, beverage, and venue rental costs. If you want a big wedding—or if you’re worried about offending certain friends or family members—this can be tricky. But you can set firm limits on plus-ones and differentiate between three groups—immediate family, close friends, and acquaintances—to try to keep your head count down.
2. Pick an affordable location. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find more affordable venues in surrounding areas. Considering nontraditional venues—like a restaurant or even a family member’s backyard—can be another way to save.
3. Get your timing right. “Weddings are definitely a seasonal business, and it varies depending on where you are,” Goldberg says. In much of the U.S., summer is the peak wedding season. In hotter climates, weddings pick up in the fall and winter. Having your wedding in the offseason can help you find better deals with venues and vendors. Similarly, picking a weekday for your big day may help you save. (Saturdays tend to be the most popular—and most expensive—day for weddings.)
4. Weigh all your menu options. Serving beer and wine can be more affordable than offering a fully stocked open bar. A buffet may cost you less than a fully plated dinner menu. And a big cake may be traditional for dessert, but who doesn’t love ice cream or a donut tower?
5. Look like a million bucks—without spending a million. If you want a tuxedo, renting is much cheaper than buying. You can also consider wearing a nice suit. When it comes to a wedding dress, try department stores before bridal shops—although many bridal shops and websites offer deals on secondhand wedding dresses. Asking friends or family to loan you jewelry can be another way to save.
6. Limit the hours for photographers and musicians. Many photographers and videographers charge by the hour. You can consider paying for professional photos of your wedding ceremony—while letting your guests take over with selfies for the dancing at the reception. Similarly, you can ask live musicians to play for just an hour or so at your reception—and turn to a more affordable DJ afterward. “There are even services now that offer a DJ combined with a live musician,” Goldberg says. “It’s significantly less expensive than a band, but with the same effect of live music.”
Enjoy the journey.
Depending on the size of your wedding and venue availability, it can take anywhere from a year to a year and a half to plan, Goldberg says. “Take a little bit of time at the beginning, before you jump right into it, to enjoy that moment of being engaged,” she says.
It’s also important to enjoy the days and months before your wedding. “I always encourage my couples to keep their relationship at the forefront and use wedding planning as an opportunity to build upon the foundation of your relationship,” Goldberg says.
Whether you’re having a big $30,000 wedding or a smaller event, you can plan a celebration that honors you, your spouse, and your future together. If you feel any stress leading up to the big day, just remember why you’re getting married in the first place.
Keep things in perspective.
A wedding is a joyful symbol of your commitment to another person—and a great excuse to throw a fun party. But it’s the shared commitment that matters most, says Bright Dickson, senior purpose advisor at Truist and an expert in positive psychology.
“It’s helpful for couples to keep in mind that the whole thing is about your commitment to each other,” she says. “Chances are that it’ll be a wonderful day regardless of how many flowers you have or whether you get a band or a DJ. And it won’t be the only wonderful day you have together.”
If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, remember that the marriage is more important than the wedding, she says.
- Ask your partner about their wedding priorities. If yours are different, how can you compromise?
- It’s never too early—or too late—to introduce the topic of money in your relationship. Learn how you can start talking about your finances with your significant other.
- Start setting aside money for your big day—or for your honeymoon.
- Create an informal guest list for your wedding and do some online research on venues in your area. Can venues in your price range accommodate the number of guests you have in mind—or do you need to start reducing your head count?