There are myriad costs that go into getting married, some of them unforeseen: You'll want to choose a venue, a caterer, a florist, perhaps a band or DJ—not to mention wedding clothes. This is why it's so important to have a plan to save for them, so all those expenditures that make tying the knot special don't set you (or your family) back financially for years to come.
These strategies can help you plan for a wedding and put aside enough to meet your needs.
- The average cost of a wedding varies, based on where you live and the type of wedding you are planning.
- The vast majority of couples budget too little for a wedding and wind up spending more than they’d planned.
- Comparison shopping is one of the best ways to save on wedding costs.
- Wedding savings accounts should be liquid and easily accessible to pay for wedding costs as they arise.
How Much Does a Wedding Cost?
The amount you will spend on a wedding can vary greatly, depending on how big (or small) you decide to go. Comparing some numbers for average wedding costs can help put your potential outlay in perspective.
According to WeddingWire.com, for example, the average wedding cost $38,700 in 2019, with the majority of those costs ($29,200) associated with the ceremony and reception.
Wedding-ceremony costs dropped drastically in 2020 due to the crisis and shutdown, dropping to an average of $19,000, but are already on the rebound to pre-pandemic figures in 2021.
The average wedding spend also includes things like the officiant, wedding cake and dessert, wedding and engagement rings, stationery, a dress for the bride, hiring a band, catering, and flowers.
The Knot puts the regular average cost of a wedding a bit lower, at $33,900 for 2019. That figure includes the engagement and wedding rings, and also covers the most essential costs associated with wedding planning, including booking a venue for the reception, hiring a photographer, paying a wedding planner, purchasing the bridal gown and groom’s attire, paying for the rehearsal dinner, and covering the officiant’s fees. It does not, however, include the honeymoon. For that, you will need to budget another $5,000 on average.
Location, Location, Location
Needless to say, where you decide to get married influences how much a wedding will cost. Couples spend the most, on average, to get married in New York City. A wedding in Manhattan can set you back $88,176 (compared to $51,922 for New York State overall). A wedding in Mississippi, by comparison, will cost you the least. The average cost of a wedding in the Magnolia State was $12,769.
Should you decide to take your wedding someplace more exotic—or, at least, a little farther from home—you could actually come out ahead. According to Brides.com, the average international destination wedding cost hovers around $35,000, which can seem like a bargain compared to the average cost of a wedding overall. Destination weddings may be even cheaper to plan if you are inviting fewer guests and bundling the wedding and honeymoon together in the same location. (They will, on the other hand, often cost your guests more than traveling to a local wedding, which also could whittle the attendee list.)
If you're considering an international destination wedding, be aware of cancellation and refund policies for venues and vendors. Also, be aware of what your credit card's, airline's, and hotel's cancellation and refund policies are in case something like a natural disaster or global pandemic requires you to reschedule your plans.
How to Save for a Wedding
Ideally, the longer you have to save and plan for your wedding, the better. “If possible, couples should ideally start their wedding budget talks prior to getting engaged,” says Kirsten Cowles, a Costa Rica-based destination wedding planner. “Doing so can cut down on disagreements later on if they are on the same page about the size, type, and overall budget of the wedding prior to starting the planning.”
That may be the theory, but Cowles notes that it is more realistic for couples to begin talking about wedding planning costs once they are engaged. If you have recently accepted (or made) a proposal, give yourself a few days to bask in the excitement, then take steps to get your wedding savings plan on track.
Calculate a Wedding Budget
A budget can help you only if it is realistic and workable. According to WeddingWire, 74% of couples end up going over budget, and over half boost their budgets in the course of planning. The average couple underbudgets what they will spend on their wedding by 45%. The 2021 Brides and Investopedia wedding survey reported that the average wedding budget is about $20,000.
Cowles says getting your budget right begins with a discussion about what kind of wedding you want. “Couples first need to sit down and think about the overall vision for their wedding,” she says. “Are they envisioning an elegant soiree in a ballroom? Something casual in a family member’s backyard? A destination wedding? In tandem with the vision for the wedding, they need to make a rough guest list based on whom they are interested in having attend, because this is going to directly affect the budget.”
Needless to say, inviting 20 or 30 of your closest family members and friends to a backyard wedding will cost much less than a black-tie affair with a guest list in the hundreds. Cowles says that as you make your guest list you should group people into one of three categories: immediate family and best friends, good friends and extended family, and co-workers or casual acquaintances.
From there you can work on getting a per-person figure on which to base your budget. This is where it is important to include a detailed list of every cost you anticipate paying for the wedding. “The cost of all the little things often gets overlooked,” says wedding coach Hayley Devlin. “Big-ticket items like the ring, the catering, and the dress are easy to plan for because they’re so obvious, but smaller items like decorations, wedding favors, and props can significantly increase the budget.”
As you add up costs, you and your spouse-to-be may need to do some prioritizing. Make a list of expenses that includes everything you want to spend money on, even if it seems frivolous. Then go back through the list and separate the must-haves from the things you could eliminate without it putting a damper on the big day.
If you are having trouble striking the right balance over your budget, consider whether you can free up money by going DIY with some of the costs. You might be able to save money, for example, by making wedding favors or centerpieces instead of buying them. Or you could save money on the rehearsal dinner by hosting a backyard barbecue or potluck rather than taking guests out to an expensive restaurant.
Keep in mind that 9 out of 10 respondents in the Brides and Investopedia 2021 wedding survey said they've put off at least one major financial priority, like saving for a home, starting a family, or saving for retirement, in order to pay for their wedding.
Making things yourself could save you money, but consider how much you might spend on materials— as well as the time investment required—to decide if it makes sense.
Break Down the Budget Into Target Savings Goals
Once you have arrived at an overall budget number, the next step is figuring out how much you need to save monthly or weekly to reach your target. “A good formula to determine the budget is as follows: Number of months until wedding x realistic savings each month + contributions and existing savings = total wedding budget,” Devlin says.
As you look at the overall budget number, consider how long you have to save for the wedding and think about whether you may get any financial help from friends or family members in planning it. If you have an overall budget of $30,000 and 10 months until you plan to get married, for example, you’d need to save $3,000 a month to hit your goal, assuming you have not put aside anything for your wedding yet. However, if your parents are chipping in $10,000 as a pre-wedding gift, that drops the amount you need to $2,000 a month.
When running the numbers on monthly or weekly savings contributions, ask yourself if it’s realistic. If you cannot hit that savings number together continuously, then you have two options: Downsize the wedding to reduce the costs (and the amount you need to save) or consider delaying the wedding to give yourselves a longer window to stash away savings. The second option may not be ideal, but it could be the better choice if you don’t want to take anything away from your overall wedding vision.
Keep Your Wedding Savings in the Right Place
Before you start making regular contributions to a wedding account, decide where you’ll keep it. There are three basic options: a separate checking account, a savings account, or a money market account.
Devlin recommends a joint checking account for accessibility. You can both contribute money to the account and spend from it using your debit cards or writing checks. However, unless you are using an interest-paying checking account, you will not earn anything on the money you’re adding.
A high-yield savings account or a money market account could offer interest earnings, but they come with limited accessibility. You can only make six withdrawals from one of these accounts each month without triggering a penalty. What's more, unless the wedding is years away, the interest you will earn on the account is likely to be minor. Depending on how frequently you plan to pay wedding expenses, you might consider using a high-yield savings account and a joint checking account together to cover expenses.
The one option to skip for wedding savings is a certificate of deposit (CD) account. CDs are time deposits, meaning you cannot withdraw your savings until the CD matures without triggering a penalty.
Regardless of whether you choose checking, savings, or both, pay attention to the monthly maintenance fees, minimum balance requirements, and the interest rate you could earn to make sure the accounts you choose aren't costing you money.
More than 80% of couples set their rough budget for wedding costs without doing any research beforehand on specific wedding expenses. You can avoid potentially coming in too high by taking the time to get several quotes for each cost on the list before choosing a vendor.
And when getting quotes from vendors, do not just take their word for it, says Kyle Winkfield, president of Finley Alexander Wealth Management. “Always get every quote in writing,” Winkfield says. “Also, make sure the vendor puts a deadline of when you can accept the quote by. The price for today does not mean it will be the same in six months, a year, or two years—unless there is a contract and deposit in place.”
Locking in costs with a deposit and signed contract means the vendor cannot raise the price without warning unless specific wording in the contract allows for that. Make sure you read the fine print before you sign and consider giving yourself a savings buffer to cover potential shortfalls. “I always encourage a couple getting married to add 20% to their budget for incidentals they did not factor in,” Winkfield says.
Get the Timing Right and Look for Wedding Deals
The time of year that you set for your wedding can also affect your budget and should be taken into consideration, says Winkfield. In general, wedding season extends from late spring and continues through early fall (June and September are peak months), so holding off until mid-winter might be less expensive, as vendors may drop their prices due to reduced demand.
With destination weddings, consider planning your trip for the off-season or shoulder season, when travel fares for flights and hotels typically fall. Once you have nailed down the timing, try to plan your wedding spending around seasonal sales as much as possible.
You may find deals on wedding rings in March or late summer, for example, while January is considered one of the best months to buy a wedding dress on sale. Just remember: If you are buying any wedding-related items on sale, make sure you are familiar with the store's return policy. Saving 20%, 30%, or more is great, but if you need to replace that item with something else, you may be out of luck if the retailer doesn’t allow refunds on sale items. (Get that in writing, too.)
The Bottom Line
While getting hitched is a momentous occasion worth celebrating, it is the marriage that will last, not the wedding day. Starting your new life together on a firm financial footing is more important than whether you had a certain number of guests or a specific type of flowers. Planning your budget carefully and working together to save for your wedding so you don’t end up in debt can help contribute to a happily-ever-after event.