For many, getting married is one of life's major milestones and one they want to celebrate.
Whether you believe no expense should be spared on your big day or think weddings are just a complete rip-off, it is no secret that things can get very expensive very quickly.
There is a popular theory that as soon as the word "wedding" is mentioned to a venue, photographer or anything you would book for this event, there is an instant mark-up.
It's been dubbed the "wedding tax", and it means you may be paying significantly more for services purely because they are for a wedding.
Having a wedding isn't as simple as saying "I do" — and it's a lot more expensive.
The average cost of a wedding in 2019 was $33,900 (including the engagement ring, ceremony and reception), according to The Knot's 2019 Real Weddings Study.
The average American wedding costs $30,000, according to The Knot, a popular wedding planning website.
That money could buy a nice new car or be a 20% down payment on a $150,000 home. It's also more than many Americans earn in a year.
How do wedding costs get so out of hand? And what can you do to keep costs down when it's your turn to tie the knot? I'm getting hitched in less than three months, so I've been thinking about this quite a bit. Here's what I've found.
Ironically, most people I know (my wife and I included) always say things like "We don't want a big wedding" and "It doesn't have to cost much."
But, as soon as you begin planning the big day, the costs add up. Some people call this hypocrisy, but many aspects of planning a wedding (and its costs) are out of the bride- and groom-to-bes' hands. There's that old truism that the wedding is not really about the people getting married. It's about their families. Even if you don't want to spend money on a fancy reception site/music/food/alcohol/etc., somebody involved may influence these decisions anyway.
Even if you maintain tight control over wedding decisions and costs, they add up. Unless you get married at city hall, you'll probably want to add rings, clothes, and an officiant. Add a photographer, food for even a small number of guests, and a party, and your costs will be well over $1,000. And for every guest on the list, the costs add up.
Lauren and I were fortunate enough to have families that covered the largest of our wedding costs. That's good because the majority of our 160—yes 160—guests are extended family members. (If we had to foot the bill alone, we likely would've stuck with 40 close family and friends).
Still, our out-of-pocket wedding costs were not insignificant. We paid for our rings, clothes, invitations, our band, and our photographer. (The latter two we considered optional but were important to us). Undoubtedly, there will be more costs down the road.
It's easy to see why $29,000 is the average wedding cost in our research and planning. Consider, for example, this list of sample wedding costs. (This isn't a model of our wedding, and it falls short of the average $30,000 wedding cost, but you'll see how it adds up).
- Church/Officiant Fee: $500
- Reception Site Rental: $2,500
- Food: $40/plate x 100 = $4,000
- Photographer: $2,000
- DJ or Band: $1,500
- Flowers: $750
- Cake: $500
- Rings: $5,000
- Dress/Tux: $500
- Open Bar: $3,500
- Total: $20,750
This example isn't for a cheap wedding, but for 100 people, it's probably an average one. Any of the above costs can vary greatly based upon your choices and could easily skyrocket. Some brides spend thousands on their dress alone.
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What Wedding Costs -From Dress To Caterers To The Venue
Though estimates vary, the cost of an average wedding is well into the five figures. The website costofwedding.com pegs the national average at $25,764, while The Knot reports an average of $33,391. The knot also says the typical wedding includes 100 to 150 guests.
What your wedding will cost can vary widely, largely due to factors under your control.
You can use various online tools to get an idea of what your desired wedding will cost. One option is the handy online cost estimator from costofwedding.com. Below are the kinds of costs it estimates for a couple based in Springfield, Illinois, who are having a wedding and reception at a hotel with 100 guests.
If you're opting for a wedding instead of eloping, you face the possibility of huge costs. The lists above can help you spot some categories where you may be able to spend less, though. For example, if you don't plan on any fancy hair and makeup services, you may save several hundred dollars. You could also get married in your grandmother's dress (or a secondhand dress) or have a qualified friend or relative photograph the event as a gift to you.
If you're willing to reconsider your wedding's location, you can save a lot, too. For example, if your family lives in the San Francisco area, while your fiancé's family lives in Utah, you may want to have the wedding in Utah, where it will likely cost you much less.
So how much does a wedding cost? As of 2020, our annual survey of 4,000+ couples confirms that the Australian couple spent an average of $27,228 on their wedding day. However, when it comes to starting their budget, they set the bar much lower. In previous years, this average has been around 15% higher at $32,000, and the average has been lowered by smaller weddings occurring throughout 2020.
Most couples begin their wedding budget at around $25,931.
Of course, your budget is always going to depend on you and your circumstances. But it is a good guide to see what couples in the past have done for their weddings. 60% of couples will receive financial assistance from their parents, while 39% will fund their wedding independently. 8% of couples will also take out a wedding loan for their big day.
It's worth noting that 2020 was an exceptional year in which many of the average costs fluctuated due to guest list restrictions and an increase in outdoor weddings. Where possible, we've identified these fluctuations to help you plan your wedding in 2021 or 2022.
Just seven years ago (in 2009), an Australian wedding's average cost was just over $25,000. By 2014, it had risen slightly to nearly $29,000. According to our data, the average 2016 Australian wedding clocks in at around $30,400. And while it may be tempting to blame rising wedding costs on simple inflation, most people understand that's not the only factor to consider.
When looking at the rising cost of weddings, it's also essential to keep in mind how a wedding concept has evolved over the years. These days, couples are constantly trying to outdo each other and "wow" their guests with extravagant set-ups and vendors. Long gone are the days of getting married in a short church ceremony and celebrating casually with friends and family. Instead, it's all about who can throw the most lavish, unique, and expensive party.
Take the recent example of Auburn council's deputy mayor Salim Mehajer and his now ex-wife, Aysha. For their wedding, the groom and groomsmen travelled to the ceremony by helicopter and a $50 million fleet of luxury sports cars, and the couple hired a jet to fly over the town with a "congratulations" sign in tow. This, in addition to the walls of floral arrangements, the fireworks display, and entertainment from Australian pop culture icons, indeed set the bar high for weddings in this country (and probably skewed the average costs as well).
Of course, the first item you should budget for is your venue. The average cost of a wedding venue in Australia is $14,705. This works out to a national average of $156 per head.
The wedding venue is usually the highest cost you'll have for your wedding, with most couples spending an average of 40-50% of their entire budget on the venue alone. Starting with your wedding venue and budget won't just let you set a date, but it will also help you set a more realistic budget for other items down the track.
The next service most couples book is their marriage celebrant. Your celebrant is the one vendor you'll book who will turn your big day into a wedding, rather than just a party!
The average cost of a marriage celebrant around Australia is $780. However, there are many different types of ceremonies. A longer, more personalised and tailored service may cost upwards of $1,000, so consider what you want for your ceremony and budget accordingly.
The celebrant is the one non-negotiable to getting married legally, so a quality supplier is well worth investing in.
Having a professional photographer is an important part of any wedding. 98% of all couples will have a wedding photographer, the highest number of any service. The average cost of a photographer is $3,005. Couples are opting to seek out candid and natural imagery over traditional and posed photography.
A photographer is one of those things that you typically don't want to skimp on. After all, you want to be able to look back and relive your wedding day through photos down the road. It's not surprising then that the average Australian couple is willing to spend nearly $4,000 on a photographer for just one day of coverage. Depending on the photographer, this may or may not include full-day coverage -- and if you want a second photographer for maximum coverage, you'll likely need to shell out even more.
For most brides, the wedding dress will often be one of the most expensive clothing items they'll buy in their lifetime. The average wedding dress budget comes in at $2,320.
However, around a quarter of all brides don't care how much their dress will cost. If it's the perfect dress, they're going to buy it regardless of the budget!
Wedding flowers are a service that can add to the theme and atmosphere of your wedding. The average cost of flowers is around $1,940, depending on what you're after. You might be after the classic bouquet or buttonholes. Or you could add to your day with a fabulous floral arbour, cake decorations or stand-out centrepieces.
Keeping guests entertained at a wedding is now more important than ever before, which is why it makes sense that couples are now spending close to $3,000, on average, for wedding-day entertainment. This can include anything from your typical DJ service to hiring a live band or bringing in a photo booth for guests to have fun with.
Save For Your Big Day
Once you've got an idea of how much you can afford to spend on your wedding, work out how much you'll need to save to pay for it.
The sooner you start, and the more you save, the less likely you'll get into debt.
High wedding costs got you feeling down? The good news is that you can take steps to reduce costs without taking away from your guests' experience.
Consider, for example, holding your wedding ceremony and reception at the same venue. Not only will this cut down on transportation costs for you and your guests, but it will also save you from having to rent out two separate venues.
Regarding food, beverage, and venue costs, ask your caterer about making a buffet dinner instead of a plated meal. People can eat to their hearts' content, and you'll likely spend less. If you're open to a less traditional wedding day, forego the Saturday evening rental and consider a Friday or Sunday wedding, when rental costs and catering minimums are usually less expensive.
And finally, cut back on items that aren't an integral part of your guests' experience. For example, could you use silk flowers instead of real ones in certain areas to cut costs?
It's no secret that weddings are expensive, with no signs of that changing anytime soon. However, by focusing on what's most important to you as a couple, you can easily prioritise your spending and avoid going overboard for your special day.
Consider Unexpected Costs When Saving For Your Wedding.
Keep in mind that no matter how well you plan and budget for your wedding, there will likely be some unexpected expenses you didn't think of. Here are some costs that sometimes sneak up on the bride and groom to be:
- Marriage license
- Save-the-date cards
- Wedding gown alterations
- A dance floor for your rented tent
- Meals for the people working at your wedding
- Gifts and favors for guests and participants
- Tips for service providers such as caterers
- Overtime costs (e.g., if you have your band or photographer work longer than planned)
A marriage license can cost anywhere from a few dollars to $100-plus. Postage may seem minor, but if you're sending out 200 save-the-date cards and 200 invitations that include stamped RSVP cards, you're looking at $300 in postage costs. (Of course, you can shrink that if you send out save-the-date announcements by email and use postcards for your RSVPs.) Adding a dance floor to a rented tent can cost $400 or more. If you're planning to give out bags of wedding favours (say, candies or candles) to 100 guests at the cost of $5 each, that's suddenly a $500 cost!
As you plan your wedding, walk yourself through every minute and every detail of your wedding day. This will help you avoid any unpleasant surprises later.