You can’t put a price on love, but weddings are another matter. Every year, more than 2 million Americans tie the knot — and this year they can expect to pay more than $12,000 for essential wedding services (excluding the venue, dress and rings) for a wedding with 100 guests or less. The level of luxury you desire and the number of guests you plan to host are two of the main factors that affect your total wedding cost. Another major factor is your wedding location. Vendors and venues typically cost more in regions with higher costs of living and of doing business.
From the most luxurious wedding on the planet to the most economical DIY affair, your wedding will be uniquely your own, and the details you select will define your day. Several factors affect the cost of a wedding.
The key to hosting a wedding you can afford is to stay on budget throughout the planning process. Keep a realistic budget by putting together a budget tracker in the beginning, and make sure you don’t go over those numbers in each category, recommends Jessica Rolph with 3 Little Birds Event Planning, who has planned weddings from under $10,000 to over $100,000. "This is the first thing I do with every client based on what they can afford," she says. “I will never suggest a vendor that doesn’t fall within their means in each category.” If you start the planning process knowing the maximum you are willing to spend, you’ll flex your plans to fit your budget, instead of allowing your budget to continue to expand based on what you want.
"Determine the things that are most important to you and your fiance (and whoever is contributing financially), and do not compromise on those," recommends Michelle Schurman of Flyte44 Events. You can save on money on the things that don’t matter as much. For example, if it is important to have a plated meal with five courses and European service, then cut down on the number of guests. If you don’t care if your dance floor is white or wood, then go for the one with the lower price. List categories as “ideal,” “needed but not that important,” and then “doesn’t matter that much,” suggests Schurman. “Don’t get wrapped up in other (non-paying) people’s expectations of what your wedding should or shouldn’t have. Keep in mind that you and your partner may place different importance on different things and that’s okay. You can both have what you want within reason.”
Total wedding cost
Your level of luxury will absolutely affect cost. From how fancy your venue is, to how elaborate your meal(s) are, to the volume and type of flowers, and all those gorgeous decor details that make Pinterest weddings pop — high-end has a high cost. The number of guests you invite also plays a major role in total wedding cost. Even the most cost-effective wedding will increase in price the more people you invite, as each guest represents another meal, chair, table setting and party favor. Here are some examples of a range of wedding costs as shared by top-rated wedding planners:
Meagan Graddy of Magnolia Grove Weddings & Events in Wilson, North Carolina:
Wilson Country Club wedding
Total cost to client: $15,000.
- Cost included venue, catering and beverages, and rentals such as tables, chairs, and linens.
Rose Hill Plantation wedding:
Total cost to client: $25,000
- Cost included food and beverages for 140 guests, use of the venue, tables, chairs, dishes, and linens.
Michelle Schurman of Flyte44 Events in Woodland Hills, California:
Wedding hosted in a private home — classy with a Colombian theme.
Total cost to client: $17,350.
Planning process: 9 months.
- Cost included catering: $5,000; rentals: $15,000; cake: $150; bar: $8,000; service staff: $3,400; flowers: $400; welcome dinner: $800; DJ: $1,000; mariachi: $800; photography: $1,000; invitations: $400; planner: $1,400.
Wedding with a 1920s vintage glamorous-chic theme in a private, rented venue.
Total cost to client: $89,300 (included welcome dinner and guest lodging, which the couple hosted).
Ceremony was outside with lots of flowers to accent. Reception was a three-course plated meal, moderately upscale but not too elaborate.
Planning process: 8 months.
- Cost included venue: $9,000; catering: $14,000; rentals: $2,000; cake/desserts: $200; bar: $12,000; flowers: $4,000; hotel rooms: $20,000; welcome dinner: $14,000; DJ: $1,800; string quartet: $800; photography: $5,000; invitations: $3,500; planner: $3,000.
Jessica Rolph of 3 Little Birds Event Planning in Glendale, California:
Wattles Mansion Hollywood wedding.
Total cost to client: $25,000.
Planning process: 1 year.
- Cost included catering and bar: $5,000; venue: $4,000; rentals: $5,000; florals and decor: $2,000; photography: $2,000; video: $2,000; DJ: $1,000; planner: $4,000.
The venue where you chose to say "I do" will play a major part in your total wedding cost. DIY options can include backyards, park rental facilities and community centers. Higher-cost events might take place at wineries, hotels, museums and estates tailor-made to host elegant affairs. Venues can range in cost from a few hundred dollars for local park facilities to tens of thousands of dollars for private venues and world-renowned wineries.
As you estimate the cost of nontraditional wedding venues, consider what you will need to rent; even a free wedding site like your best friend’s backyard can quickly become expensive if you have to add in a large number of rentals, port-a-potties, lighting and other necessities.
Many couples opt to save their sanity and hire a wedding planner to coordinate the planning process. The level of coordination you desire will affect your wedding costs. Rolph says 3 Little Birds Event Planning charges a percentage of the total wedding budget for full-service planning, or offers partial planning packages — month-of, day-of or a la carte. Schurman of Flyte44 Events explains that package prices are based on level of involvement, location and number of guests, but can also be customized to meet couples’ specific needs. Couples can save by coordinating their own events, but planners also have access to deals and insider knowledge that a first-time lovebird won’t. Learn more about the average costs of hiring a wedding planner.
Food for your reception, cocktail hour and welcome events will affect your total wedding cost. Typically, caterers provide a total that breaks down to a per-person cost, which encompasses everything from hors d’oeuvres to cocktails. According to Thumbtack data, the national average total cost for wedding catering is $1,214.
In addition to the venue, the food and the party planning, there are also many other services people like to have at their weddings. Here’s where you can find the average cost of the music for a wedding DJ, the wedding photographer, the wedding videographer, the wedding limousine or party bus, the wedding invitations, the wedding photo booth, the wedding cake, the wedding officiant, the wedding florist, the wedding hair and makeup, and more. For each of these you can pay more or less depending on how much you want to splurge. It’s commonly believed that these services are expensive just because they are for weddings. The truth about this is mixed: while some services really are marked up for weddings, many are not. And if you break down what you get (from prep time to the quality of materials used), you may find that you get what you pay for.