From choosing a venue to picking a caterer to selecting the music, there’s a lot that goes into planning a wedding. Aside from an investment of time, there’s also a financial element to consider as you prepare to tie the knot. Understanding the costs that go along with getting married can help you shape a plan for saving ahead of the big day.

Key Takeaways

  • The average wedding cost varies, based on where you live and the type of wedding you’re planning.
  • The vast majority of couples budget too little for a wedding, spending more than they’d planned.
  • Comparison shopping is one of the best ways to save on wedding costs.
  • Wedding savings should be liquid and easily accessible to pay for wedding costs as they arise.

How Much Does a Wedding Cost?

The amount you’ll spend for a wedding can vary greatly, depending on how big (or small) you decide to go. Comparing some numbers for the average wedding costs can put what you may spend in perspective.

According to Brides.com, for example, the average wedding cost $44,105 in 2018. That number reflects the average amount spent on items such as the wedding cake, wedding and engagement rings, stationery, the rehearsal dinner and reception, wedding favors, and professional photography.

The Knot puts the average cost of a wedding a bit lower, at $33,931 for 2018. That figure also covers the most essential costs associated with wedding planning, including booking a venue for the reception, hiring a photographer, paying a wedding planner, purchase the bridal gown and groom’s attire, paying for the rehearsal dinner, and covering the officiant’s fees. It doesn’t, however, include the honeymoon. For that you’ll need to budget another $5,342 on average.

Needless to say, where you decide to get married influences how much you’ll pay for a wedding. Couples spend the most on average to get married in Manhattan. The average cost of a wedding in the Big Apple is $88,176, according to comparison site ValuePenguin. A wedding in Mississippi, by comparison, will cost you the least. The average cost of a wedding in the Magnolia State is $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 the Knot, the average international destination wedding costs $27,227, which seems like a bargain compared to the average cost of a wedding overall. Destination weddings may be even cheaper to plan if you’re 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 could whittle the attendees list.)

If you’re looking at these numbers and feeling a little panicky, here’s a number that you may find a little more encouraging. The median cost of a wedding—meaning the figure that represents the middle range of what people spend to get married—was $14,399 in 2016. On average, the typical couple budgets $16,000 for their wedding.

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, founder of Costa Rica Wedding Planning. “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.”

Cowles says it’s more realistic, however, for couples to begin talking about wedding planning costs once they’re engaged. If you’ve recently accepted (or made) a proposal, give yourself a few days to bask in the excitement, then take these steps to get your wedding savings plan on track.

Start With Your Wedding Budget

A budget can help you keep wedding spending on track, but only if it’s realistic and workable. According to WeddingWire, the average couple under-budgets what they’ll spend on their wedding by 45%. 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’re interested in having attend, because this is going to directly affect the budget.”

Inviting 20 or 30 of your closest family and friends to a backyard wedding, for instance, 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’s important to include a detailed list of every cost you anticipate paying for the wedding. “When organizing a wedding, it’s the cost of all the little things that 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’re having trouble striking the right balance with your budget, consider whether you can free up money to spend by going DIY with some of the costs. For example, you might be able to save money by making the wedding favors or centerpieces yourself 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.

Making things yourself could save you money, but you should consider how much you might spend for materials, as well as the time investment required, to decide if it makes sense.

Break Down Your Wedding Savings and Budget Goal

Once you’ve 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 haven't saved any wedding money 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 can’t hit that savings number together continuously, then you have two options: either 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 money. 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 by writing checks. However, unless you’re using an interest checking account, you won’t earn anything on the money you’re adding.

high-yield savings account or money market account could offer interest earnings, but they come with limited accessibility. You can only make six withdrawals from a savings or money market account each month without triggering a penalty. 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 you’ll likely want to skip for wedding savings is a certificate of deposit (CD) account. CDs are time deposits, meaning you can’t 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 you’re not costing yourself any money by saving.

Comparison Shop

Nearly 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 low by taking time to get multiple quotes for each cost on the list before choosing a vendor.

And when getting quotes from vendors, don’t 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 doesn’t 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 can’t raise the price without warning unless there’s specific wording in the contract allowing 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 didn’t factor in,” Winkfield says.

Get the Timing Right and Look for Wedding Deals

When you’re planning to get married can also affect your budget. Winkfield says to consider what time of year might be best for a wedding based on cost. Spring and summer, for instance, are normally busier for weddings, so holding off until the fall or winter could 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’ve nailed down the timing, try to plan your wedding spending around seasonal sales as much as possible.

For example, you may find deals on wedding and engagement rings in March or late summer, while January is considered one of the best months to buy a wedding dress on sale. Just remember that if you’re buying any wedding-related items on sale to make sure you’re familiar with the 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 store’s return policy 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’s the marriage that will last, not the wedding day. Starting your new life together on firm financial ground is more important than whether you had a certain number of guests at your wedding 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.