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My Daughter's Engaged: How Much Is the Wedding Budget?

Updated on June 28, 2021

“She’s engaged!” came the excited squeals from the next room. That part wasn’t unexpected, but now I knew I needed to get serious about saving for a wedding. The average wedding costs $19,581, $29,000, $30,000-40,000, according to websites on the first page of Google (search: wedding cost). First, I question the statistics, and second, I’m not average. Are you average? Take my poll and find out.

Since I have spent my career working for a nonprofit organization, my family has lived a rather modest lifestyle without frills. But I did need a budget figure to work with. So I wrote to several people whose weddings I had been to, and I asked how much they had spent and whether they had any tips for holding down the expenses. This is a compilation of their best ideas and my own. We all made some mistakes, of course. But first...

If you’ve had a wedding recently, how much did you actually spend?

If you’ve had a wedding recently, how much did you spend?

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I'm engaged!


Do this:

  • Get friends to help wherever practical. Besides saving money, it serves to honor that friendship and add more memories to the occasion. Be sure you select friends who are genuinely capable of the tasks you are assigning to them. You don’t want anything to be amateurish.
  • Check with the last bride to use the reception hall before you to see what props of hers you can split the costs on. Be sure to check with the church to see what wedding props they already have, perhaps leftover from previous weddings. They may also have several fake flower arrangements they place at the front of the sanctuary on the Sundays that no-one pays for a real one to honor a loved one. Our church had a lovely (from a distance) red and white arrangement that matched the floral theme in my daughter’s wedding. Only a handful of insiders knew it was fake and didn’t cost us anything.
  • A few flowers can be as effective as buying out the whole flower shop. Otherwise, flowers can easily become one of the most expensive bills. Both silk and plastic flowers are cheaper than real ones and look good from a distance. Buy the flowers in bulk and have a friend arrange them for you—this works better with the fake flowers than entrusting this task to a friend under pressure on the day of the wedding, unless you’ve seen your friend do this routinely. In my daughter’s wedding, the only real flowers were her bouquet. The tiny white roses in her hair worked much better in silk than they would have if real.

Planned wedding cost

If you are planning a wedding, how much do you plan to spend?

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  • Have a friend or someone in the church make the wedding cake. Our pastor’s wife did this as her wedding gift. She’s done this often, and even made a prototype a couple of weeks ahead, just so she knew everything was in order. Make the bottom two layers fake and have a sheet cake in the kitchen already cut-up to serve.
  • Buffet-style snacks and hors d’oeuvres are much cheaper than a sit-down meal. It also occupies less floor space because you can have more chairs lining the wall of a room than you can if you set up tables with chairs around them.
  • The reception averages 45% of the total budget. Think really hard about whether it's worth that and about how to save money there. If the church has a fellowship hall, find out how much cheaper it would be to use that. If this is the church you regularly attend, ask if the women-in-the-church group (or whatever it’s called) will handle the food and drinks at the reception. They might even enjoy preparing and bringing the various goodies.
  • The dress can be a major expense—or not. Used dresses abound. Think about it. Most of your friends who got married wore one, didn’t they? Some women whose marriage has sadly ended might be quite happy to be rid of their gown, but just haven’t known what to do with it. This is where a want ad may be more effective than scouring the for sale section. A friend of mine is about 4 ½ feet tall and has a waist that must approach that, but she found a lovely wedding gown at Goodwill for $5 that needed no alterations! If you're adamant that it has to be new, it's cheaper to select a nice bridesmaid's dress and order it in white.

A limousine or what?

Will your wedding transport be a limousine or something more creative like an antique car or horse-drawn carriage?
Will your wedding transport be a limousine or something more creative like an antique car or horse-drawn carriage? | Source
  • Interview your photographer. Ask to see samples of his or her work. What you see there is what you’ll get in the end, so you’d better like it. He needs telephoto lenses, backup cameras, portable lighting and an assistant who is used to knowing what is needed next without being told. He needs to have an artistic eye for portrait photos, but be able to do it with multiple people who are constantly being distracted. He needs to have the people skills to be able to authoritatively and sensitively move the wedding party through many groupings and scenes. Photography will take an inordinate amount of time no matter what; a good photographer will minimize this.
  • Limousines are pricey. Contact the local antique car club and select from a 1925 Ford, a 1950 convertible or the rumble seat of a who-knows-what. Automobile collectors look for any excuse to show off their cars, so the cost will be minimal and the experience memorable.

Don’t do this:

  1. Don’t let some relative do the photography simply because they have a nice camera and like taking photos. There’s just so much more to it than what is in the viewfinder.
  2. Avoid the high season for weddings. Don't get married on a holiday weekend. If you're renting a reception hall, avoid Saturday night. If guests will be flying, avoid the peak travel season.
  3. Don’t get stuck holding a block of hotel rooms past the guarantee date. Then you pay whether out-of-town guests use them or not.
  4. Don’t concentrate on trying to control every expense. Go for the biggest, the most likely to get out of hand, the least constrained. The largest expenses are typically reception, photographer, wedding gown and flowers, but your experience may vary. See the table below for someone's idea of average (not mine).
  5. Don’t plan a wedding without at least a rudimentary budget! It saves a lot of relationship stress. When my daughter became engaged, it took me a couple of weeks to gather budget data and a few days to negotiate it with her and my wife. After that point, expense tensions died down because we all had smilar expectations.
  6. Don't make a fuss if you can't control one aspect. When my son got married, I was responsible for the rehearsal dinner in the bride's city--not mine. I could see it was going to be over budget when I saw the restaurant from the road. Then her extended family started pouring in from every little neighboring town. When he whispered to me, "What about alcohol? Are you OK about paying for that, too?", I agreed, mumbling that I expected it to be moderate. (It was, but your experience may vary.) In the end, many came up shoving twenties into my hands and pockets, saying they had fully expected to be paying for this. It just hadn't been well-planned. Ultimately, I think it only cost me $300, which was fairly close to the $10 per person my son had budgeted.

Total: How much?

So you’re wondering how much my friends spent on their weddings. My daughter’s was $2,500, including a couple of expensive mistakes. A simple garden wedding with help from a lot of friends was $1,000. The seemingly elaborate wedding of the pastor’s daughter was $4,000. My niece spent about $7,500, but two-thirds of that was for an elaborate reception ($25/plate). The others were around $2,000-3,000. So it seems that none of my friends are average either. But what is the average of those who read this article? Check the results of my polls to find out.

The table below is a breakdown of some of these so-called average weddings. The contrast between this and the people I know makes me wonder who is polled for statistics like this. There must be something that skews it towards the expensive side. Perhaps the data is gathered from those who hire a wedding planner. But this is a side issue.

Are you average? Did you take my poll to find out? Leave comments to tell us how you saved (or plan to save) money on a wedding.

Costs of so-called "average" wedding

$22k budget
$25k budget
$30k budget
$60k budget
Wedding Rings
Source: The Knot

The average wedding costs $23,657 (not including the engagement ring or the honeymoon).

© 2011 Howard S.


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