Wedding Budget

How to Plan a Wedding at Any Budget (With Tips to Cut Costs)

At first glance, prices for wedding-related things might seem funny: $8,000 for flowers?! $4,000 for a dress you wear once? Did I accidentally wander into “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous”? Once reality settles in, there is the reckoning. 

So if you’re wondering: “Does it really need to cost that much?” The short answer is no it doesn’t. Weddings can cost a lot of money (like a couple hundred thousand) or not so much (like even a couple thousand). If you’re clever and creative, you can have an epic wedding — even on a sliver of a budget (maybe even nothing). Here’s what you need to know to plan and throw the wedding of your dreams without throwing money to the sharks. 

We have organized this guide so you can get specifics on costs for multiple budgets (under $1K, $15K, $30K, $50, $70K, and “Baller”) as well as group size (10, 50, 100, 125, 150, 200).

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What Is the Average Cost of a Wedding?

The average cost for a wedding in the United States, according to The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study, is $33,391, but this really depends on your location. For example, weddings in the New York City/New Jersey area cost significantly more than weddings in rural Montana — numbers may also be skewed because people who fill out questionnaires may have higher household incomes than those who don’t. “Based on a 150 guest count, a Saturday wedding can range anywhere between $60,000-$70,000 in New Jersey, and $70,000-$80,000 on average in NYC,” according to Danielle Rothweiler of Rothweiler Event Design in Verona, New Jersey. And you thought your student loan debt was overwhelming! Needless to say, the sticker shock is the worst part. When you break down the actual cost of everything, it starts to make a bit more sense. 

When Rothwieler works with couples, she takes their entire budget and gives 50 percent to the venue, food and beverage … and then divides the rest to the necessary vendors such as photographers, music, and flowers. “This means that with a $70,000 overall budget, $35,000 would go toward the venue and catering, which also means the per person cost (all in) cannot exceed $233,” she explains. “Given that the average per person cost sits between $180-$220 all in, this is an appropriate estimated average wedding cost for this area.”

How much should you budget for a wedding dress?

You probably know that the average tux ranges from $200-$500, but you might be surprised to learn that a wedding dress is usually 3-6 times the cost. Yes, seriously. Rothweiler says brides should expect to spend a minimum of $1,500 on a gown, not including accessories or alterations. “Accessories including the veil can start as low as $300 and go up into the thousands, while alterations average between $500-$1,000 depending on the dress,” she adds.

Wedding dresses on a rack
Wedding dresses can cost more than the ring.

That’s not to say you can’t get creative and find ways to spend within your budget. There are plenty of websites specializing in white dresses that can pass as wedding gowns at a fraction of the price. But if you or your partner want to go all Say Yes to the Dress with the process, you can expect to spend a couple thousand at least on a wedding dress. (See our cost guide to wedding dresses and our wedding dress hacks)

Tips for Setting — and Sticking to — your Wedding Budget

While it’s true that your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life, it really is only 24 hours. In other words, there’s no reason to break the bank and spend the next 10 years in debt paying for a day spent celebrating your marriage. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an epic wedding. Here’s where you can cut corners and spend less, according to experts.

Cut down your guest count

Have a small budget, but want the wedding of your dreams? Cut down on your guest list. “The amount of guests not only affects your food and beverage budget, but your invitations, your flowers (centerpieces because more people means more tables) and so much more,” said Rothweiler. “You will save the most by simply cutting the guest count.”

You can also arrange it so some of your friends and family attend a special engagement party before the wedding since they won’t be invited to the real deal. This offers flexibility if you have potential attendees on both coasts, for example, and don’t expect they can all fly to your wedding.

Skip the wedding party: bridesmaids and groomsmen

Go ahead and invite your best friends to your wedding, but consider forgoing the exclusive titles of bridesmaids and groomsmen. “Personal flowers such as bridesmaid bouquets and boutonnieres can increase your florist bill by thousands,” says Rothweiler. And don’t forget about groomsmen gifts and bridesmaids gifts, which you’re expected to bestow upon these people for being such an important part of your special day. Trust us — they’ll also be thankful that they don’t have to spend your wedding day up at the crack of dawn to suit up, sit around, and take a million pictures as you and your partner smooch for the photographer. 

Stunning wedding couple with bridesmaids and groomsmen drinking champagne in the park on a perfect sunny day.
Save money by skipping the traditional bridesmaids and groomsmen routines; they can still attend the wedding.

Opt for inclusive venues

When you rent a venue space by itself, you have to bring in all of the catering and equipment yourself, which, believe it or not, adds up to a whole lot more than if you hired an inclusive venue that handles the catering and basic rentals for you. Also, Rothweiler points out that in specialty venues without anything in-house, you will likely pay a rental or estate fee in addition to whatever the caterer will be charging you. Make sure you understand all fees before signing anything.

Have your wedding at one location

Transportation costs can get out of control very quickly, so it’s a wise idea to have your wedding at one location (i.e. ceremony and reception or at least reception and hotel in the same place). This way you won’t have to worry about shuttling your guests from the hotel block to the ceremony then possibly back to the hotel and then to the wedding reception. “What’s even better is to find a venue with a hotel on site so you don’t have to provide transportation whatsoever,” suggests Rothweiler. “You can also save on your own transportation costs by selecting a venue where you can stay on site to get ready and spend the night.”

Wedding Venue
Having all your wedding activities in one place makes things easier, and cheaper, for everyone.

Avoid holiday weekends

The most expensive times to get married are big-ticket holidays like New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day Weekend, and so forth. “These weekends are not only high in demand, but many venues and vendors will charge a premium for those dates,” says Rothweiler. “If you’re getting married in a popular tourist location, you will likely have to kick in travel fees which could include hotel accommodations for vendors that stay the duration of the wedding.” Stick with a date that’s meaningful (or just plain convenient) to you both and that everyone and their mother aren’t trying to scoop as well.

Budget Breakdowns of Expenses

Need help creating — and sticking to — a budget? Here’s a look at several wedding-day budgets at different price ranges and how best to break things down so you stay on track with your financial goals.

Sub-$1,000 budget and fewer than 10 guests

If your budget is inconceivably small — even zilch — you can still have a wedding, and a beautiful one at that. But you need to be tactical. Also note that this scenario could happen for many reasons and not just poverty. Maybe you want to spend more of your money on the ring or on the honeymoon — and not on the one-day formality of a wedding. Perhaps you’re stuck in a pandemic and can’t actually have guests near you or go to wedding halls. Or this is your fourth wedding and at this point, you’re hedging your bet. All valid.

You can cut costs brutally by forgoing the whole concept of a large wedding party. The classic solution is to elope, make it official at city hall, and (optionally) have a super small get-together with close friends and family at mom’s backyard (to drink: Miller or Moet, your call). This will mean you can forgo booking some big-ticket vendors like your venue, planner, entertainment, transportation, and hair and makeup. Let’s dive in.

  • Food and Beverage (includes wedding cake): $400
    You can choose to do catering from a local restaurant or pick up food from a grocery store. Just make sure you have enough to feed your guests, which should be ideally no more than 10 people. We’ve got great money-saving tips in the hacks articles of our money section
  • Gown: $100
    There are many bridal-looking dresses (yep — white, lace, pearls, all of it) sold at retailers for the smallest fraction of the price of an actual wedding dress sold at bridal stores. Check out: Lulus. Or you could seek a thrift store score but that requires time, patience, and a certain kind of cultural outlook on life (we’d recommend trying Goodwill and Salvation Army).
  • Tux: $150
    No need to buy your own tux — simply rent one. This should cost you $150 or less. Fellas, we did the research for you.
  • Invitations: Free
    Considering you’re hosting such a small affair, there’s no need to purchase printed invitations. Instead, opt for free digital invitations from vendors like Paperless Post
  • Photographer: Free
    Sure, you want photos to commemorate your special day, but you don’t need to go to a pro necessarily. Opt instead to have pics taken by a friend or family member (ask in advance if they are up to the challenge… it’s a big responsibility). You can even ask two people to switch off so that half the time they’re not on duty and can enjoy the day. Or download a selfie app and do it yourself. Practice in advance so you don’t wind up with just a bunch of crotch shots. We have a whole section devoted to wedding shot lists
  • Music: Free
    Skip the DJ and simply play music from a portable speaker. This is a great excuse to spend some pre-wedding planning creating a fun playlist you both love. Need help? Start with one of our wedding playlists.
  • Florist: $350
    Skip the full-fledged cocktail hour set-up and instead only get the necessities — a boutonniere and bouquet along with 1-2 centerpieces to amp up the decor. If you’re eloping, pocket the $350 and spend the money on booze or a hotel room.

$15,000 budget and 50 guests

This is less than half the cost of the average American wedding, and (yes) it’s considered “inexpensive” — sorry, we didn’t create the market. You get all of the essentials of the wedding-party package, but skip some of the big-ticket items like a wedding planner, a videographer, and hair and makeup professionals. DIY your look with some of the tips from the itemized budget above.

  • Venue, Food, and Beverage (including basic rentals and wedding cake): $10,000
    You will often see that the combo of place, menu, booze, and cake is estimated at 50%. Here, we make it 66%.
  • Gown: $1,000
    Shop “off the rack” for an inexpensive wedding dress that you feel beautiful in (this means the dress is not customized from the start for your little lady, though it can be tailored to fit perfectly). It may be last season (or a sample), but no one will know besides you. Tip: Consider making a deal on a wedding gown price that will include the cost of alterations.
  • Tux: $200
    Again, renting is the way to go and should cost you no more than $150. Just be sure to factor in extra money for alterations that may be needed if not included in the rental. And shoes, you’ll need those, too.
  • Invitations: $100
    Purchase your wedding invites online with a vendor that will cover the cost for shipping if you spend over a certain amount. Some great online vendors include Minted, Etsy, and Zazzle. With the need for only 30-40 or so invitations, you can score a great deal for under $100. 
  • Photographer: $1,000
    This amount will likely score you a photographer for 4-5 hours, which is really all you’ll need to capture the special moments including your first look, family portraits, saying “I do,” as well as some of the celebration. No need for the photographer to stay into the late hours of the night while you’re getting hot and sweaty on the dance floor.
  • Florist: $1,200
    This will cover the basics of what you need — the boutonniere, the bouquet, and enough for four low centerpieces, which tend to cost less than the high ones. If you have any leftover funds, use them toward added floral decor for your ceremony.  
  • DJ: $1,500
    This will cover a basic set up for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception for one DJ. 

$30,000 budget and 100 guests

To start, we will eliminate a wedding planner altogether—which cuts $10,000. We can also omit hair and makeup. Sorry, everyone, gotta do your own.

  • Venue, Food, and Beverage (including basic rentals and wedding cake): $15,500
  • Gown: $2,500 all inclusive
    This can be done by shopping at a sample sale or even purchasing off the rack. That said, there are salons with gowns in this range.
  • Invitations: $400
    Via an online vendor and 40 invitations with all enclosures.
  • Photographer/Videographer: $3,000
    Likely will cover one photographer for 8-10 hours — no albums, photographer assistant, or other a la carte items.
  • Florist: $3,000
    Will cover a simple ceremony and cocktail hour setup with eight centerpieces either all low or a mix of high and low depending on the flower choices and style. The remaining amount could be used for personal flowers and other areas such as the escort card table.
  • DJ: $1,500
    Will cover a basic set up for ceremony, cocktail hour, and the reception with one DJ. 
  • Tuxedo/Suit: $350
    Here we show a more moderate price for tux rental.
  • Guest Shuttle Transportation: $1,000
    Fewer guests translates into less money needed for transportation, but it will be tough to hit this figure (the national average for wedding transportation) if you’re shuttling 100 guests.
  • Tips: $750
    Best to confirm with all of your vendors if gratuity is included and make sure the bride knows how much you’ll be tipping on wedding day — if you are working together (it’s not something that’s confirmed in advance so it’s off the radar for some people).

$50,000 budget and 125 guests

If you’re working with this wedding budget, you can splurge a bit, especially if you’re keeping a modest guest count.

  • Venue, Food, and Beverage (including basic rentals and wedding cake): $30,000
    The venue alone costs between $10,000 and $20,000. Then you have to factor in the food, which at $100/head would be $12,500. Add cake, as well as the plating of the cake — many venues tack on additional plating fees. That will consume $30K.
  • Gown and Veil: $3,000
    You may still have to purchase an off-the-rack gown, but this is a modest budget for a wedding gown and veil.
  • Tux: $250
    This is a more accommodating price for a tux rental and can also cover some additional funds for nicer accessories (ties, cufflinks, pocket-square). See our ultimate guide to wedding suits and tuxes for more specifics. 
  • Day-of Wedding Planner: $1,500
    While you’ll have to do some of the wedding planning yourselves, it’s worth the money to hire a day-of planner who can swoop in and take control on your big day. His/her role will be to ensure that everything runs smoothly and that there are no hiccups so you can do nothing but enjoy every moment to the fullest. For more on wedding planners, check out our guide to “How Much Does a Wedding Planner Cost?”.
  • Florist: $5,000
    This will cover simple ceremony and cocktail hour decor as well as 10 centerpieces for each of your tables (a mix of low and high) if priced between $175 and $275. It will also include added floral decorations for the sweetheart table. 
  • Hair and Makeup: $1,000
    This will cover the cost of a hair and makeup trial in advance of the wedding (around $300), as well as day-of service for hair (around $300) and makeup ($300). It will leave $100 as a tip for your stylists. 
  • Photographer: $2,250
    It shouldn’t be hard to find a photographer with an assistant who is willing and able to shoot your whole day — about 10 hours. Just be warned that this price may not cover future expenses such as the purchase of your wedding album. Here are our guides to what the photography fee includes and how to save money on a photographer.
  • Videographer: $2,500
    If you want to capture your wedding day in film format, your budget will allow you to factor in the price of a videographer who will work in tandem with your photographer to film your day. This will cover the cost of one videographer for 8-10 hours, as well as the cost of purchasing the film. Additional copies, however, may cost extra. 
  • Invitations: $400
    This will get you about 75-80 wedding invitations printed from an online vendor, including envelopes. Even though you’re inviting 125 guests, you’ll have to factor in the couples and families who will receive only one invitation. 
  • DJ: $2,500
    This will cover basic set up and break down for the ceremony, cocktail hour and the reception for a lead and assistant DJ for 8 hours. You can get a sense of the costs — for a band or DJ — in our guide to how much the music costs
  • Guest Shuttle Transportation: $1,600
    This amount will cover the price of two buses to and from all of your wedding-day destinations (i.e. to and from the hotel and church and from the church or synagogue to the party venue). While most buses have room for 56 seats, some guests will want to drive on their own. Be sure to get a thorough count before you commit to one, two or more buses.

$70,000 budget and 150 guests

  1. Venue, Food, and Beverage (including basic rentals and wedding cake): $35,000
  2. Wedding Planner: $10,000
    “This fee would be for full-service wedding planning, as well as wedding-day management with a professional team,” says Rothweiler. “The couple would be working with this planner for the duration of their engagement period.”
  3. Photographer: $6,000
    This fee could include one photographer and an assistant for 10 hours on the wedding day, but does not include albums, prints, or your engagement session.
  4. Invitations: $250
    “This is from an online vendor for roughly 100 invitations, and would include the necessary enclosures such as the RSVP reply card, envelope, and details card,” Rothweiler says.
  5. DJ: $3,000
    This cost includes your ceremony music for 30 minutes, cocktail hour music for one hour, and a DJ and MC for a four-hour reception. But what’s not included, according to Rothweiler, are any potential upgrades including set-up and lighting.
  6. Bride’s Hair and Make-Up (Bridesmaids cover their costs): $350
    This is a total cost and does not include any potential travel fees or the cost of a trial (to see if you like the way they do your hair and makeup before the big day).
  7. Florist: $8,000
    This covers a simple ceremony and cocktail hour set up, plus centerpieces for 15 tables based on 10 people per table. It also includes any florals needed for the sweetheart table (just the groom and bride), wedding cake, and escort card table (no, you’re not hiring an escort… this is for the table that has the little name tags saying which table each person sits). A low centerpiece cost average is $175, while tall centerpieces average between $225 and $275; if you commissioned a mix of centerpieces, the cost would come to $2,250 (15 tables), leaving you the remainder for everything listed as well as personal flowers. Please note that this is totally dependent on the type of flower, style, and many other factors.
  8. Gown: $4,500
    “This covers the cost of the gown, alterations, and a veil,” says Rothweiler. “Many of my couples do not make this part of their wedding budget as it’s gifted to the bride from her mom or another family member, regardless of whom is paying for the wedding.”
  9. Tuxedo/Suit: $500
    This is for a rental of a tuxedo for the groom. That said, if the groomsmen are getting rentals from the same location, the groom’s tuxedo is usually free (based upon the number of groomsmen).
  10. Guest Shuttle Transportation: $1,700
    Depending on the amount of guests who will need transportation, this would cover all of them for an eight-hour block of time.
  11. Tips: $750
    Don’t forget you will be tipping a lot of cash on wedding day.

“Baller Wedding” AKA If You Have to Ask, It’s Too Much for You

“Just because there’s an ‘unlimited budget,’ that doesn’t mean you should spend everything you possibly can,” says Anthony Taccetta, celebrity wedding and event planner and owner of Anthony Taccetta Event Design in New York City. Basically, there is such a thing as too much. If a client has an unlimited budget, Taccetta discusses how to balance an impactful, large-scale wedding that all guests would appreciate as well as high-end details that can create a personal touch. 

  • Venue, Food, and Beverage (including basic rentals and wedding cake): $215,000
    With an unlimited budget, Taccetta suggests budgeting approximately $1,000 per person for venue, food, and beverage. So if you were having a wedding of 200 people, that would get you to about $200,000 for a really upscale venue and still leave you about $15,000 to use on a cake as well as additional premium desserts. Note: Tips are baked into the prices at this level. 
  • Wedding planner: $25,000
    Want to hire a celebrity wedding planner like Taccetta or Mindy Weiss, who’s thrown major events for the Kardashians? It’s gonna cost you. But this fee doesn’t just cover the cost of the wedding planner; it also includes the fee for his or her assistants. 
  • Gown and Veil: $20,000
    Gowns and veils can really range in terms of price, but if you have room to work with, you can buy yourself a stunning option from a high-end designer and have enough for unlimited fittings. This includes Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, and Stella McCartney — here’s the wedding dress that Meghan Markle wore. Celebrities have been known to spend between $50,000 and $1,000,000 on a dress. 
  • Tux: $5,000
    Taccetta suggests ordering a custom tux for the groom that ranges from $3,500 to $5,000 depending on the designer and the fabric used. The average cost for a tuxedo from Giorgio Armani, for example, hovers around $3,500 and from Canali it’s $4,200. Tom Ford costs $4,000-$5,000.
  • Florist: $150,000
    This is subjective, but Taccetta says unlimited decor and floral design can cost anywhere between $150,000 and $500,000, depending on the number of events you’re hosting and the elaborate scale of your design choices. Seriously. 
  • Hair and Makeup: $10,000
    If you want to hire a hair and makeup artist with celebrity experience, this is around the ballpark budget. This would likely be a package deal that includes the cost of a trial for both.
  • Photographer: $20,000
    With a no-holds-bars mentality, you’re looking at spending about $20,000 on a photographer for your wedding, which would include at least one assistant, as well as the final album. If you plan on purchasing more than one album, however, you can expect to pay an additional $1,000-$5,000 depending on how many you want to buy.
  • Videographer: $20,000
    The same holds true for a videographer. Often with such large-scale weddings, you don’t hire the same company to handle both — you would opt for the best in each category. 
  • Invitations: $30,000
    If you’re hiring a high-caliber company to handle all of your stationary requests for your wedding — from the save-the-date to the ceremony handbooks — this is around the price you’re looking at. “Everything from custom boxed invites, laser cut paper to hand painted masterpieces would be an option,” says Taccetta. “Imported papers, gold plating and acrylic will also make a big impact when guests open your invite.”
  • Band: $25,000
    A great wedding band from Hank Lane Music based in NYC will set you back $25K, but Taccetta says they are well worth the expense, as they can play everything and anything to accommodate all your guests musical tastes. This fee will cover an entire 10-hour period of music with a full six-piece band for both your ceremony and your reception. If you’re curious how much some A-list, B-list and even C-list bands charge for a performance, you can check out the rates cited at this site and this site (none of which are confirmable until you talk to one of their reps). Let’s just say you can’t afford Springsteen and Madonna but Coolio or Jakob Dylan? Maybe. 
  • Guest Shuttle Transportation: $8,000
    This amount will cover the price of two buses to and from all of your wedding-day destinations (i.e. to and from the hotel and church and from the church or synagogue to the party venue). “Depending on the style of your wedding, you could rent two double decker busses to transport guests,” says Taccetta. “If you are going for a more festive vibe, you can rent party busses that can accommodate up to 40 people.”

Tips for Scoring Wedding-Day Vendor Deals

There are easy ways to offset some costs from your wedding, in fact, a few of them are tax deductible. For example: the ceremony fees at a church. If your church or house of worship doesn’t offer this, Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA TurboTax expert, suggests asking if they will waive fees for members who donate a certain amount. Also, if you pay to hold your ceremony and/or reception at a historical location like a historical garden, museum, homestead, or even a state or national park, they may be tax-deductible as a donation if it can be considered a contribution made for conservation purposes.

After your wedding weekend, have someone take the flowers to a homeless shelter, women’s center, or similar non-profit organization. Not only will you have brightened someone’s day, but with a receipt, you may be able to take a tax deduction for the value of donated items.

The Ultimate Wedding Budget Spreadsheet

You need to know how many people are attending before you dive into details. Use our Ultimate Wedding Budget Spreadsheet to keep track of all costs and to collaborate with your partner and/or family when selecting vendors like cake makers

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