Husband twirling bride on wedding day.

What is the Average Cost of a Wedding in the US?

8-Minute Read

First came love and now you’re getting ready for marriage. But before you can start your life together as a married couple, there’s one more thing you have to do: throw one heck of a party! If you decide to have a wedding, expect that you might be paying a pretty penny to celebrate your love.

According to The Knot, the average [2018] wedding cost in the U.S. is $33,931.

That means the average couple pays more than half of the country’s median yearly income to celebrate their big day.

Why do you need to know the average wedding cost in the U.S.? Because knowing this number will help you prepare for your own big day by giving you a baseline to either use or run away from (elopement maybe?). Knowing what people are spending on things like the venue, attire, decorations and photographers can help you budget the right amount of money in each category so your vows won’t have to include the phrase “till debt do us part.” 

Average Wedding Cost Breakdown

When it comes to weddings, there are six expenses that take up the majority of a wedding budget. Read on to find out the average cost of:

  1. A wedding dress
  2. A wedding photographer
  3. Wedding flowers
  4. A wedding cake
  5. Wedding rings
  6. A wedding venue

To answer the questions above, we used The Knot’s 2018 Real Weddings Study, which was released earlier this year. To provide a breakdown of other wedding expenses to consider, we also used information from Wedding Wire’s 2019 Wedding Cost Guide.

How to Save on a Wedding Dress

Buy Discount

Attend your local dress shops’ trunk shows, sample sales and new inventory days (meaning many dresses are moving to clearance). Another way to save on a dress is to buy the floor sample. Boutiques will sell these dresses at steep discounts because they’ve been tried on by many brides-to-be and may have slight defects as a result. However, these defects are often fixed with alterations or a good cleaning. You may even get lucky find a hidden gem in excellent condition.

Make it Your Something Borrowed

Save money and make your look completely stunning and sentimental by wearing a friend’s or family member’s gown. If it isn’t up to today’s fashion standards or your personal preference, ask the original wearer if you can alter it to fit your personality.

If you can’t wear a loved one’s dress, wear a stranger’s instead by renting your gown. You’re only wearing it once anyway and renting a dress will benefit the environment. This isn’t a new concept either.

“There are [businesses] that allow brides to sell their [gently used] gowns after their wedding day to brides who are still in search for the perfect dress,” says Karen Norian, coordinator at Simply Eloped. “Plus, if you find a dress from a seller who has the same body type, you'll likely have to spend less on alterations, which can rack up a hefty bill.”

Do Away with Tradition

Tradition says the bride wears white, but one of the wedding trends expected for 2020 is colorful wedding gowns and floral dresses. Jump on the bandwagon early and you may find one of these dresses for less money before the trend takes hold. If you still want to wear white, Jessica Bishop, founder of The Budget Savvy Bride, suggests buying a non-bridal white dress. This could include a special occasion dress, formal dress or even a bridesmaid dress.

Avoid temptation

One of the best ways to save on a wedding dress is to come with a clear budget in mind and be upfront with the salon consultant early on about your max price. Avoid temptation by requesting that they do not bring any dresses to try on that are over your budget. You don’t want to fall in love with a gown you simply can’t afford.

Use Accessories to Your Advantage

When it comes to wedding dresses, the expense is often in the details instead of the dress itself. Instead of buying an ornate gown with expensive embellishments, buy a simple one and dress it up with accessories.

Find Alteration Alternatives

By purchasing a tie-up corset top, you may not have to pay to get it taken in. These types of dresses loosen and tighten through tying, creating a fit that is custom to your body – for free. When it comes to shortening your dress, you may be able to find a solution with your shoes. For example, if the dress only needs shortening by an inch or so, buy a pair of heels that are an inch taller and avoid that alteration altogether. Just make sure you can walk in the heels comfortably.

Consider Your Fabrics

Silk and lace are pricey fabrics in general and more expensive to have altered because they’re more delicate fabrics to work with. Blended and synthetic are typically cheaper materials, so try to find a dress made from those types of fabrics instead.

Average Wedding Photographer Costs

Your wedding day will go by in a blur and you may even miss some special moments. That’s why wedding photography is so important. How much would you pay to revisit your special day years later? According to the study, the average couple pays about $2,679.

How to Save on a Wedding Photographer

Book Less Time

“To keep costs in check, have your photographer there for fewer hours of coverage,” suggests Bishop. “Your portraits are going to be what you display in your home, while candid ‘getting ready’ photos or dance floor shots will be stored away within a wedding album that rarely gets viewed. If you can find a pro who will let you book a smaller time window, you can save on photography.”

Review What's Included

Many photographers include engagement photos in their wedding packages, but not all of them do. Shop around and compare packages and prices to see what gets you the most for your money.

Hire a Less Established Pro

Just because someone isn’t yet established in the photography world doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly talented. Remember, even the greatest photographers needed someone take a chance on them. When professionals are just starting out, they’re trying to build their portfolio and will often offer lower prices to get the business to do just that.

If photos aren’t your biggest concern, consider hiring a student photographer. Just make sure to look at their work beforehand and provide a list of photos you want taken on your big day. But beware, along with having less photography knowledge and experience, they’ll also have less experience posing people, handling the wedding party, and managing time throughout the day.

Ask About Discounts

There are several discounts photographers offer to their clients. Some photographers will offer discounts to clients who book early, have their wedding in the off-season, or find the photographer through referrals. Be sure to ask about discounts so you don’t miss out on any opportunities.

Average Cost of Wedding Flowers

On average, couples spend around $2,411 for wedding flowers. However, many factors play a role in the cost of fresh blooms. The time of year, the type of flowers you choose, the size of your wedding party, and how you’re using the flowers all help decide how much you’ll pay.

How to Save on Wedding Flowers

Choose In-season Blooms

“To save money, ask your florist what flowers are in season around the time of your wedding day,” says Norian. “In-season flowers will easily save you money in the long run.” That’s because in-season flowers are more readily available and easier to get. The harder it is to get the flower, the more expensive it will be.

Use Fake Flowers

If you want flowers that aren’t in season, use fake ones instead. Try mixing them in with real in-season flowers, and no one will even be able to tell the difference. As an added bonus, fake flowers last forever. Years later, you’ll have a bouquet that looks as it did when you walked down the aisle.

Add More Greens

“Another huge cost-saver is to minimize the amount of flowers, and to replace them with plenty of greenery,” says Norian. “Most people won't realize a few less flowers in a bouquet when it's filled with gorgeous greens.”

Grow Your Own

If you have a green thumb and want to save on wedding florals, you could grow your own flowers and arrange them yourself. Not only will it add a personal touch to your wedding, it will also show off your gardening skills. This may take preparation and time, so start early. Consider the season and make sure you have a backup plan in case of bad weather, hungry rabbits or deer or – no offense – human error.

Forgo Flowers Altogether

Fashion a bouquet with materials like brooches, fabric, felt, burlap or feathers. Show your personality through different mediums. Make paper flowers out of the pages of your favorite book or put a hobby to good use and crochet flowers for your bouquet. Love desserts? Create a cupcake, doughnut or candy bouquet. Just try not to eat it until after the ceremony.

Average Wedding Cake Costs

The cutting of the cake is a time-honored wedding tradition that guests love – mostly because they get the spoils at the end of it. On average, this dessert will cost about $528.

How to Save on a Wedding Cake

Find the Beauty in Simplicity

Custom designs or elaborate details are the most expensive parts of a wedding cake. There’s an elegance to simple wedding cakes. Embrace it!

Choose Less Expensive Decorations

Use sprinkles, fresh flowers or greenery to decorate your cake instead of intricate details, like hand-painting or sculpting fondant creations.

Cover Your Cake with Buttercream

While buttercream isn’t as smooth, it is arguably less expensive and many agree that it tastes better than fondant.

Have a Small Cake

You want to have something to cut into, but your actual wedding cake doesn’t have to be big enough to serve everyone. Instead, have a small wedding cake for aesthetic and serve guests sheet cake (they won’t know the difference) or cupcakes. Get even more creative and diverse with your desserts by hosting a chocolate fountain, building a doughnut wall or opting for a platter of several different dessert options.

Average Wedding Ring Costs

The exchanging of rings is one of the most important parts of a wedding ceremony, symbolizing the couple’s devotion to one another for a time that, like the ring’s circle, has no beginning and no end. On average, this symbolic piece of jewelry costs $510 for a men’s band and $1,100 for a women’s band. This cost does not include the engagement ring.

How to Save on Wedding Rings

Choose Lab-grown Diamonds

Also known as man-made diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are made from the same material as natural diamonds. Because of this, they look identical to the ones that form below the earth’s crust. In addition to being cheaper than mined diamonds, they are also ethically sourced.

Buy Used

Thrift shops, antique stores, or even pawn shops have unique, vintage rings for much less than you’ll find at a jeweler. And you’re more likely to find something that’s one of a kind. If you’re concerned about the stones or nervous about paying more than you should for the quality of the ring, always ask for certifications or appraisals before purchasing the jewelry.

Give Yourself Time

Don't wait until the last minute. “Give yourself enough time to shop and find the wedding ring style you love,” says Kevin Begola, owner of Titanium-Buzz, a custom wedding band retailer. “Then you will have enough time to compare prices and search for budget-friendly variations of the same look.”

Shop Online

Begola recommends purchasing online for several reasons. “It’s better to buy wedding rings online because online retailers have fewer overhead expenses and offer more affordable products. Besides, they have more styles to pick from,” he says.

Consider the Ring Composition

Begola suggests getting creative with wedding band metals to save money. “We all know that classic wedding band metals like gold and platinum are pricey, so you may consider more budget-friendly options like titanium and tungsten. If you’re looking for a wedding band that closely resembles platinum, you may check out cobalt chrome,” he says, adding that the materials “look great and are strong and scratch-resistant.”

Of course, the stone you choose can have an impact on the price, too. If you are looking to save money, choose a gemstone other than a diamond, like your birthstone or a gem that’s your favorite color. If you want a diamond, consider a smaller carat or a lower color or clarity.

Average Wedding Venue Costs

The place where you’ll host your reception will likely be the most expensive part of your wedding. According to the study, the average cost for a wedding venue is about $15,439, which is more than 45% of a $33,000 wedding budget. Many venue prices include other expenses like catering, alcohol, tables, chairs and linens. When comparing prices, see what each venue includes and see where you get the most bang for your buck.

How to Save on a Wedding Venue

Trim Your Guest List 

If your venue expenses include food, alcohol, and other rentals, try to cut down your guest list by 10 or more people. Doing so could save you thousands of dollars. You may consider having an age limit for the reception or cutting distant friends or relatives you haven’t talked to in at least a year. If you just can’t find it in your heart to drop a few people you know, consider dropping the people you don’t. For example, only allow a wedding date for married guests and those in long-term relationships.

Pick an Off-peak Date

“Venues have slower months and days of the week that are a less expensive option that they don't necessarily advertise,” says Norian. “If you're open to a Friday or Sunday wedding, or having your wedding during the off-season, you can easily save thousands and still have the wedding day you've always envisioned.”

Other Wedding Costs to Consider

While the wedding expenses listed above are the ones that will take up the majority of your budget, there are other costs you need to remember. Here are several others – with their average costs, according to Wedding Wire:

 

  • DJ – $1,000
  • Videographer – $1,800
  • Photobooth – $650
  • Ceremony officiant – $300
  • Transportation – $750
  • Wedding hair and makeup – $300
  • Wedding planner – $1,500

 

To save on various wedding costs, visit wedding expos! Most vendors offer discounts and contests for expo attendees so they can stand out from competition.

Paying for Your Wedding

Setting a wedding budget is the most important thing to do before you even start picking out colors, dresses and cakes. Knowing the type of wedding you want (casual, formal, elopement, destination, big party or intimate setting) will help you find out how much you’ll need to budget. From there, decide where the money will come from. Are families contributing to the expenses or will it be all on you and your future spouse? Are you giving yourselves enough time to save up all the money you need or will you need to consider alternative payment options, like a personal loan? When creating your budget, make sure you both agree on the numbers and the sacrifices it may take to stick to it.

“Once you and your partner set the budget you're willing (and able) to spend, you should make a commitment to one another to not go past it,” says Bishop. “If you set your wedding budget based on your shared values and financial goals for your lives together, you should want to honor that commitment to each other and your future by staying within your spending parameters.”

The Wedding Return on Investment (ROI)

Weddings are expensive, but the good news is you may get a return on some of your investment. It may seem wrong to think about ROI when we’re talking about love, but when you’re spending all that money on your big day, it can be a bit of a reprieve to know that you might get at least some of that money back to start your life together. Here’s how:

Receiving Wedding Gift Money

Of course, the reason you invited your loved ones to your wedding was to share in your special day, not to get presents. But receiving wedding gifts is definitely an added bonus. The amount you receive will depend on your guests and when you have your wedding. If you have your wedding close to the holidays, people may be a little more strapped for cash. If your guests are young and just starting out in their careers, they may not have the means to give you any gift other than their presence (which should be enough anyway). The amount of money guests may gift you will also depend on how close they are to you and how much they spend traveling to your wedding.

When it comes to wedding money, don’t base your spending on the assumption you’ll get money back. Instead, just assume you’re getting $0 and anything beyond that is a nice surprise.

Returning Registry Items

Maybe you got duplicates or maybe you went a little crazy with the scanning gun and asked for things you’ll never use. Either way, there’s a good chance you’ll need to return a few items from your registry, which will give you money back or store credit.

Selling Your Wedding Stuff

Another great way to get some of your money back is to sell any wedding stuff you can. That could include your dress or accessories, centerpieces and any ceremony decorations.

Get Rewarded

You’re going to spend a lot of money, so why not use it to your advantage! Instead of writing a check or paying with cash, pay for wedding items with a credit card that offers rewards or airline miles for each dollar you spend. However, you should only pay with credit if you have the money available to pay it off right away.

Final Thoughts on Wedding Costs

Is the thought of potentially paying $33,931 for your wedding making you think twice about saying “I do”? Don’t fret just yet. You can still have a dream wedding without spending half or more of your yearly salary. Remember that this number is the average wedding cost, calculated by adding up the costs of thousands of couples across the U.S. Just because it’s the average wedding cost for American couples, that doesn’t mean it has to be yours. The cost of your wedding will depend greatly on the location, the date, the size of your guest list, and how frugal and strategic you want to be when it comes to saving money. Along with the tips listed above, there are several ways to cut wedding costs, create a wedding budget, and save up for your big day. And you can also take out a personal loan if you need additional money for your wedding day.

People often get caught up in the glitz and glamour of their wedding day and forget the most important part – marriage. And that lasts longer than one big day. While it’s important to celebrate your love, it’s even more important to start your life together on the right financial foot. So, plan for a wedding that you can afford and create a budget that’s right for you.

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