Mellody talks about the cost of an average wedding and shares tips to keep wedding budget under control.
My fiancé and I are both economical and eager, or as our friends would say - "cheap and impatient." Since we want to get married in the spring and won’t have time to save what advice can you give me for keeping a wedding budget low? – Joanna, Chicago, IL
In 2010 — I’m using that year because it is the last full year for which we have compete information — the average cost of a wedding was $24,066. I’m putting this number out first to ease you into the statistics because from here the figures shoot through the roof. In this same year, 2010, there were 541,900 wedding-related businesses vying for your attention by spending $1.9 billion in advertising in the hopes of getting as much of a piece of what has become a $57 billion dollar industry as they possibly can. And they are doing such a good job of getting you to part with your hard-earned money that the average cost of a wedding increased 22.9% from the previous year.
To put this into even greater perspective the average cost of a wedding in 2010 was more than half of a 20% down payment on the median sale price—according to the latest census report—of a home during that same year. So maybe the best advice is to elope in Vegas, then borrow a good friend’s wedding album and Photoshop you and your fiancé's heads onto the pictures. Then after you print and bind the album you can put it on the coffee table of your new home. Obviously I’m kidding but I can see why Joanna would want keep her wedding budget as low as possible.
Those are some incredibly high numbers. Can’t you have a wedding with just a cake, a decent DJ and a couple rings? Where is all this money going?
Actually there is a lot that goes into the average wedding and it‘s really easy for the little things that you might not have thought about to add up quickly, really quickly. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into so that you can keep on top of these costs.
The basic categories of spending that go into a wedding and their estimated costs, according to the Wedding Report, Inc. are these:
- Attire and accessories –This includes the all-important wedding dress and veil as well as the tuxedo and accessories for both the bride and groom. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $1800
- Entertainment – You may be thinking that you’ll just load an iPod with your favorite songs but if your fiancé has two left feet you might have to spend some money on lessons for the first dance. Expect average initial estimates from $500-1800
- Flowers and Decorations – If you haven’t been to a wedding recently, get prepared to be told that yours should look like a floral supply warehouse exploded in the wedding venue. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $2000
- Invitations – This category includes not only the actual invitations but also the ceremony programs, the guest book, menus, save the date cards, place cards and thank you cards if your friends love you enough to buy a gift. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $800
- Photography and Video – Memories cost money, a lot of it. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $3000
- Jewelry - Wouldn’t it be awful if you spent $3000 on photography and video of this beautiful, once in a lifetime event, and none of the pictures sparkled? Expect average initial estimates of approximately $5500
- Venue and Catering – This is the big expenditure with the reception alone eating up close to half of the cost of the entire wedding. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $14,000
- Beauty – You’ll notice that I said beauty and not make-up. That’s because some of us might add gym membership, diet programs, and stress relievers like a massage or two to the tally. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $1000
- Gifts and Favors – Since you have all this money to spend on looking good and renting the fanciest reception hall in town you can’t possibly forget to buy lavish gifts for the friends who have devoted their time and money to helping you have an amazing day. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $1000
- Transportation – If your ceremony and reception aren’t in the same location and if you want to arrive in style, it’ll cost you. Expect average initial estimates of approximately $1000
- Planner/Consultant –Who in their right mind would do any of the things I have just talked about without seeking professional help? Expect average initial estimates of approximately $5000
Oh my goodness, I think anyone in their right mind should now have been completely scared right out of it. So how do we get these numbers under control?
The easiest way to get started is to attack the largest estimates first. Not only will this immediately begin dropping the cost of the wedding but it will have the positive psychological effect of quickly showing yourself that it doesn’t need to be such a costly affair.
A moment ago I half-jokingly said “who in their right mind would do all this without professional help?” Well, that person is you, if you are looking to go really low budget, since it will automatically drop a large cost from that budget. But how in the world will you keep everything organized without professional help? An amazing website called apracticalwedding.com is one solution. They have free spreadsheets for almost anything wedding planning related you can think of. It takes the guesswork out of do-it-yourself coordinating.
A second estimate that you’ll probably want to bring down in a big way is that of venue. If you can lower this significantly you might even be able to go all out in other areas that are more important to you. An easy way to bring this cost down is to use a friend or relative's property for the event. Another low cost idea is to have the ceremony in a local park since park districts will a lot of the time rent their space at a relatively inexpensive price. A thrifty bonus to this idea is that many park districts do not allow alcohol to be consumed on the property which means you won’t be paying for an open bar. If neither of these options is a possibility for you the website apracticalwedding.com also has, among its many resources, a vendor directory. And they make their vendors sign what they call a "sanity pledge" certifying that they will be fair and upfront about their pricing and not hit you with any hidden fees.
Last but not least, decide at the beginning of this process what is most important to you and focus your budget in those areas while reducing as much as possible everywhere else. And remember, the real excitement is the life you have together with your significant other after the wedding.