- I’ve worked as a bridal editor on and off for the past eight years, and I’ve learned a lot about wedding budgets along the way.
- When I got married in 2019, my partner and I set a max budget of $10,000 and came in at about $9,500.
- We kept our guest list small, asked for help, and went nontraditional on most details to keep our spending in check.
- Read more personal finance coverage.
Weddings are a delight. The food, the friends, the dancing, the love and commitment — it’s all glorious. But we all know weddings are expensive. In 2018, the average US wedding cost nearly $39,000, and the industry is worth more than $72 billion overall.
It’s hard not to get sucked into the fun of it all — who can say no to personalized candy bar favors when they’re just a couple of dollars each? When you’re planning the best day of your life, no price tag seems too high.
Until the big day is over and you find yourself in debt, unable to reach your financial goals or pay for the life you dreamt of before saying “I do.” That’s a bad feeling.
Over the past eight years, I’ve worked on and off as a bridal editor, covering everything from drive-thru weddings in Vegas to NFL players’ multi-million dollar affairs to New Age spiritual ceremonies and backyard blowouts — I even profiled a couple whose makeshift wedding took place in an office suite after Hurricane Sandy ruined their original plans. So I’ve acquired some high-level budget-slashing skills.
When I started planning my own wedding in 2019, I set a budget of $10,000 with my fiancé — then I drew on every tip, trick, and hack I’ve learned over the years to keep us on track.
My 3 best pieces of advice
I followed three basic rules when planning my wedding:
1. Keep the guest list small
The first tip is obvious: The bigger the guest list, the bigger your bill. For every guest, you’re paying for plates of food, flutes of Champagne, cocktails, wine and beer, a party favor, a chair (and a chair cover), an end-of-the-night sparkler, a fan if it’s hot, an umbrella if it’s rainy, a pair of flip-flops for feet tired of dancing in heels, and every other sweet and lovely detail in between.
If the bill is $300 per person for all that whimsy and wonder — an easy sum to reach, believe me — you can imagine the difference in price between a wedding for 50 close friends and family members and a guest list twice that size.
2. Ask for help
In general, planning and managing your own wedding will be cheaper than hiring a wedding planner, especially if you have a clear vision for what you want and don’t go wild with your DIY projects and spending.
But managing your wedding without professional help takes a village. And the village has to agree to support you from the get-go. You cannot (and should not) literally DIY every detail of your day.
I had a lot of help when I got married, and that kept my budget way down. For one thing, I’d acted as day-of coordinator at one of my best friend’s weddings a couple years earlier, making sure her day ran smoothly so she could focus 100% on getting married, and she returned the favor for me this summer. That was a massive help and my wedding day wouldn’t have been successful without her.
Plus, because we got married in Toronto (my hometown, far from where we live in Los Angeles) I relied on my dad for help with local tasks. I asked him to pick up a giant poster we had printed before the wedding, for example, and he carted me around the city the day before the wedding finishing up last-minute tasks.
I also borrowed Mason jars from my brother for our flower arrangements, did my own hair and makeup, and had a friend sing us down the aisle. And, instead of hiring a DJ, my husband and I made a playlist of our favorite songs and had a friend oversee the stopping and starting of the music.
Bonus tip: Save for your wedding using a high-yield savings account.
I wish I’d used a high-yield savings account to pay for my wedding (the interest accrued on $10,000 could have covered at least a part of our decor!) but I didn’t open my first online savings account until after I tied the knot. Live and learn.
The third piece of advice is a little more complicated.
3. Don’t say ‘wedding’
If you’ve ever searched online for budget wedding advice, you’ve probably come across the phrase “don’t say ‘wedding.'” Heck, I’ve probably written those words!
The basic gist of this advice is that you’ll save money if you avoid saying you’re shopping for a wedding cake or wedding flowers or wedding food. The problem, however, is that it’s unrealistic for newly engaged couples to shop for wedding stuff without saying “wedding” — especially if they don’t know what they’re shopping for or where to look.
The average wedding cake, for instance — multi-tiered, artfully decorated, hand-delivered to your venue — rings in at about $500. They’re works of edible art and involve tastings and consultations, so they’re priced with all those factors in mind.
If you follow the “don’t say ‘wedding'” rule, however, you could select a simpler cake that’s just as delicious but features a lot less decoration; perhaps something you’d find at a local bakery and pick up yourself the night before your wedding. For that, you might pay around $100-150, but it depends on where you live, how much cake you need, and where you’re ordering from.
It’s not that wedding vendors are ripping you off, it’s just that weddings require a lot from the professionals who work them, so they set their rates accordingly. If you’re willing to do a little more legwork on your own and hunt around for great deals, you can keep your budget in check. That’s what I did.
Our wedding budget
To start, my husband and I kept our guest list small — we invited our closest friends and family members and expected no more than 70 guests; about 50 showed up to our wedding.
One thing to note: Because we got married in Toronto, we benefitted from what I jokingly called the “Canadian discount” — basically, our US dollars went further in Canada because the Canadian dollar is worth less (about 77 cents to the US dollar). Below, I’ve listed the price of each line item in US dollars.
We tied the knot at a small brewery in the east end of Toronto. The price of our venue was based on an hourly bar spend, so the total cost included seven hours at the venue (including tables, chairs, and patio space), beer, bar staff, cleanup, glassware, gratuity, and a special occasion permit. Because our guest list was fairly small, we didn’t go over the hourly bar spend. Yes, we were very lucky!
Instead of looking on traditional wedding websites for venue ideas, I used a site called thisopenspace to find our venue. It lists all sorts of spaces — from photography studios to cafes and restaurants — where events or shoots can take place.
We had a vision in mind for our wedding (vintage, industrial) and had talked about possibly choosing a brewery as a venue, and we landed on the perfect choice using thisopenspace.
We hired a wood-oven pizza truck to serve our wedding meal. Wedding catering can easily cost $100 per person (on the low end) — including service staff, china, cutlery, and linens — but I knew food trucks cost a lot less because there’s not as much involved.
The truck provided paper plates, plastic cutlery, and paper napkins, and served directly from the truck. Because our guest list was small, it was easy for everyone to go up to the truck’s window at their leisure and place their pizza order. And in the meantime, they could snack on roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts that were available in serving pans.
Our wedding was obviously casual — a lot more casual than would be comfortable for some other couples. But it worked for us (the pizza was exceptionally delicious!) and our guests were happy.
We didn’t follow the “don’t say wedding” rule on this one — we definitely wanted a wedding photographer!
We had budgeted about $1,500, and our incredibly generous photographer — Kat Rizza — gave us her hourly rate instead of charging her full-day wedding rate since we only needed four hours of photography.
If you have a photographer in mind but don’t think you can afford their rates, email them and see if they have other pricing options. They may be willing to work within your budget if you don’t have full-day needs.
Dress: $250 + $20 for bodysuit, $100 for shoes
I knew I wanted a long-sleeve, loose, lace dress, so I hunted around on Etsy until I found exactly what I was looking for. I wore a nude bodysuit underneath that I bought from Target for $20 and bought my shoes from Lulus for $100.
Suit: $450 + $30 for shoes
My husband bought his suit and dress shirt off-the-rack at Topshop (RIP); it didn’t require any alterations. I found his shoes at Primark in Boston while I was there on a business trip.
Wine and soft drinks: $150
We wanted to offer some non-beer options to our guests, so we bought about 12 bottles of wine from the liquor store as well as lemonade and soda.
Cakes and cupcakes: $211
We served three beautiful bakery cakes and a half-dozen gluten-free/vegan cupcakes at our wedding. We picked them up the day before the wedding and one of our friends cut and served the cake during the reception.
Flowers and decor: $750
We decorated our venue primarily with fresh green garland; I also made six simple pink, white, and green arrangements. My bouquet and hair flowers, as well as my husband’s boutonniere, were artificial and purchased from Etsy.
We bought a bunch of items on Amazon, too, including a cake topper, tablecloths, cake knife and lifter, and plastic plates and forks for cake. We had the text of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision printed in large poster format, and hung it on the wall with a magnetic frame from Amazon.
Flights and accommodations: $1,475
We stayed in two different Airbnbs — a cheaper one for our first few nights in town and a more expensive one for the last three nights. We took our family portraits and first-look photos at the more expensive Airbnb because it was picturesque and because it saved us having to book an additional space.
Rings and earrings: $476
Both of our wedding bands and my earrings were purchased on Etsy.
We had to get a letter from a lawyer in Canada to allow us to marry there.
Sound equipment: $100
We rented a speaker, a microphone, and an acoustic guitar from a local provider called Long & McQuade. We picked up these items the day before our wedding and returned them before our flight home.
We went traditional on this detail and bought our invitations from Minted.
Marriage license: $108
It was a truly magical, debt-free day.