It seems like it’s a big secret. A faux paus. A bad word even. What exactly am I referring to?
The thing is, what weddings really cost shouldn’t be a secret or seen as a bad word. It would be in everyone’s best interest if everyone just knew the truth, don’t you think? Well, since I’m all about being honest and telling the truth about weddings, it’s time to talk about this little secret that everyone seems so afraid of: weddings cost money!
So let’s start with the basics. A wedding is a celebration of marriage between two people in love. In most cases, a wedding usually consists of a ceremony and a reception. A ceremony requires an officiant and a marriage license. A reception usually has food and alcohol, cake, music, and decorations. And then there are people who are providing various services- a planner, a photographer, a DJ or a band, bartenders, etc. In the most general terms, a typical wedding is composed of products, and services… all of which are meant to be enjoyed, used, and consumed.
[Tweet “There are certain elements that differentiate a wedding from any other “party” that you throw.”]
Because let’s face it- you have a different set of expectations for your wedding than you would have for a backyard barbecue. You wouldn’t normally have 100+ people over for a party where you supply all the food and drinks and entertainment, right? You don’t normally get all dolled up and put on a long fancy dress for a backyard barbecue, right? A wedding is different from other events, and it really can’t be compared to “just a party” because it’s not the same thing.
Image by Reign 7 Photography
So now that the stage has been set for what makes a “wedding”, let’s get to the money part. All of this started when I was chatting with some single friends about weddings, and why they cost so much. One of them told me that she wanted a simple wedding, just around 80-100 people, and that her boyfriend had already stated he didn’t want to spend more than $10,000. She also mentioned that she understood the need to use professionals and didn’t want to sacrifice that. And she proceeded to ask me, “So what would a wedding like this cost?”
I did some quick calculations, got as far as calculating venue, food, and beverage, and I was at the $10K mark already! Forget about a photographer, a coordinator, flowers, and rentals- there certainly wasn’t room for that in this $10,000 limit!
This 10 minute conversation and quick calculations got me thinking.
We all know that the fewer guests you have, the less you end up spending. But as easy as it sounds, it’s actually *really* hard to have a small number of guests. Case in point: When I was planning my wedding, I got to 100 guests just with family and close friends- and I know many of you are in that same boat. But even when doing calculations for less than 100 guests, I still couldn’t stay within that $10,000 limit. The utter and complete truth is that I can’t figure out how you can have a wedding for this amount without making some extreme sacrifices.
[Full Disclosure: When I was a wedding planner, I never planned a wedding that was under $30,000. This is why you will rarely see me talking about a budget wedding, how to cut corners, how to do things yourself, etc. My expertise is in weddings that use professionals to make them happen. I will be the first to tell you that I don’t know budget weddings, and I know it can be done, but I myself would not be able to do a wedding for under $15,000. This is likely because I believe in hiring professionals and I know what things actually cost for a wedding.]
But this isn’t about having a wedding for $10,000- it’s about what weddings really cost, and why they cost what they do!
Now don’t go and crucify me. I’ve seen weddings that happened for less than $15,000- I know it can happen. But in all these cases, something had to give… or more specifically, someone…
The wedding took place in the backyard of a couple’s home or a friend’s home. The photographer was a cousin who had a decent camera- but the couple never got the photos. The food was made by an aunt– and she was stressed beyond measure, spent all day cooking but still ran out of food, and won’t remember her niece’s wedding day without going into a panic attack. The bride’s best friend is an interior designer and handled all of the decor. The groom’s brother is a graphic designer.
I’m not saying that because you have a wedding in your backyard or your aunt makes your food it’s not a wedding. I’m just saying that something was sacrificed and/or someone helped out. All of these things I just mentioned- if you do have family and friends who can help you with these items, it’s a wonderful blessing and you are SO lucky- because you can end up spending less on your wedding.
What if you don’t have family and friends to help out?
Or what if you don’t *want* to have to sacrifice something?
These are very real possibilities my friends, and I know that some of you are probably facing this very issue right now. Heck, this was the very same situation I was in when it came to planning my own wedding, and the friend I mentioned above? She also doesn’t have family and friends who can offer anything to help out. The answer to this dilemma?
Now, it’s definitely no secret that I 100% support the hiring of professionals for a wedding. I believe in supporting small businesses. I believe that when someone makes a living doing something every weekend and has experience way beyond what you could ever imagine, you should pay them for that. Why not pay someone who knows what they’re doing, instead of trying to wing it and stress yourself-and everyone else- out? Well, lots of people actually end up not hiring professionals for their weddings because they’re trying to save money- but it almost always ends up in disappointment.
[Tweet “Why not pay someone who knows what they’re doing, instead of stressing yourself out?”]
So with that base established, let’s get to the juicy details of what weddings really cost!
It’s important to understand that wedding costs are all relative, because it depends on LOTS of specifics- not everyone has the same exact wedding, right? Number of guests, what kind of food you’re having, location, types of centerpieces, types of linens, what kind of rentals… I could go on for days. But no matter what your total budget is, I’ve found that when you break it all down, it starts making a bit more sense as to why a wedding “costs so much”.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this post, when I mentioned the various elements that make up a wedding. Even if you set a max budget for your wedding, you’re not just paying $10,000 or $20,000 to any one person. Because for a wedding to happen, it takes a combination of several different products and services.
So I thought that perhaps it would help you all understand this concept a little better if we broke down these various elements and showed what a typical wedding for 100 guests would cost.
To do this, I asked wedding planners of The V List from all over the country to provide me with a broad estimation of what a “simple and pretty” wedding for 100 people using professionals would cost for their area. They each used the same elements that I’ve shared below:
Food and Beverage
Rentals (Basic needs)
Florals & Decor (Simple centerpiece of single stem of tulips in various vases; bridal party of 4 bridesmaids and 4 groomsmen)
Hair & Makeup (Bride only)
[Note: Attire is not included in these estimations since the dress is often considered a “special circumstance” when it comes to budgeting. This also includes the bride’s accessories.]
I’m sharing all of this information because when it comes down to it,
the big issue that people run into with weddings is budget versus expectations.
Because really- how can you budget for something if you don’t know what things should cost? That’s just crazy! Sure, you can say that you want to spend $X, but what happens when you find out that you can’t get anything for that amount?
Below are estimations for what a “simple” 100 person wedding would cost in cities across the United States. Click on each link to be taken to that area’s estimation.
Central Florida || Tampa || South Florida || Florida Panhandle || Jacksonville, FL
Dallas || Atlanta || New Orleans || North Carolina
Washington DC || New York City || Eastern Pennsylvania
Southern California || Santa Barbara || Ventura
My aim in providing this information is for everyone to be educated about weddings and armed with knowledge of what to expect. So maybe one day, couples’ wedding expectations can finally start living up to their wedding dreams!
If you clicked through to any of the above estimations, you can see that sadly, we’re not living in Candyland. Even though a wedding is a happy time, filled with beautiful things, this unfortunately doesn’t mean that the normal rules of society and capitalism don’t apply. Yes, weddings are expensive. But it’s because you’re paying for products and services, just as you would pay for anything else. And not only that, but your wedding is one day that you will remember for the rest of your life. What you do for your wedding day, what you spend, and how you remember it is in your hands. So now take this information, and go plan the wedding that will be perfect for you and your future spouse!
I’d love to hear from you about all of this! What is your perspective on the cost of weddings? Have you learned anything while planning your wedding that has changed your outlook?
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON WEDDING PRICING AND BUDGET, CLICK HERE!
*This post was originally post in January 2014, and has since been revamped and updated.
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19 responses to What Weddings Really Cost
This is so good! Will definitely be sharing this.
I was one of those brides who had family who helped out. My husband and I got married in our church (Southern California) by our pastor (no fee) and had our reception in a hotel ballroom (the food + appetizers for 450 people cost us $25,000 – however, I do want to mention that we had a package that also included chair covers and a cake from an amazing bakery). We had to pay for parking at the venue so rather than have our guests pay for it, we did – it was like a total of $1,400. The florals were done by my a couple of my aunts who are florists (all I paid for were the flowers and vases from the flower market in LA). The photographer was a cousin who does photography for fun (charged us $700) – the quality of images were GREAT, however, I didn’t get some of the photos I wanted. Paid $700 for our invites which were beautiful and simple – got a discount on them from our bridal shop. My Alfred Angelo dress (which was absolutely beautiful) was $700 (on sale!) – I didn’t go in there looking for a gown on sale.. I found the gown online and fell in love.. first dress I tried on and I was sold. However, the veil cost me like $300 though. Lol. I did my own make-up (it was supposed to be done by an acquaintance who bailed the night before but I did a great job). Another friend did my hair (she’s done my hair on certain occasions) – didn’t charge me. Decor was minimal because we had a pretty space to work with. We did splurge on two limos – a vintage 1957 white Packard limo for the wedding and then a Hummer limo for the “after party” we did with our bridal party where we drove from OC to The Griffith Observatory in LA to the Santa Monica Pier (SO MUCH FUN).
Looking back, we didn’t really have a set budget. His parents paid for the wedding and my parents helped pay for a few things (they took care of our engagement party). And we paid for what we could (like the limos and florals).
It was a great day spent with our family and friends (and parents’ friends).
Thank you Lauren for sharing! It is really difficult sometimes to express to clients that “you get what you pay for” mentality. Although my business is growing, it took me a really long time to walk away from clients who had the expectations of using “weekend “pro’s” to do their weddings. It *is* an important event, and it *is* a different kind of party.
As a planner in Seattle, I would like to add to your budget break-down for the PNW region. This is using pro’s that are reliable, great customer service, but the lowest costs I know of here.
Food and Beverage: $6,o00
Floral and Decor: $1,900
Month-of Planner: $2,000
Hair and makeup: $400
Paper Goods: $800
Ceremony Costs: $600
Total estimated cost $22,100
Appreciate you bringing light to *weddings cost money!* Appreciate your blog!
Such a good breakdown of everything that goes into a wedding and why. I’m all for hiring professionals and it’s great to see what weddings will cost in different cities. Great advice and such a useful tool for brides!
Videography/cinematography is a necessary edition to this list!
Chris and Ryan, you will be happy to know that I have added the cinematography in. Was trying to stick to the most basic elements that a bride would need, but I definitely think everyone should have a wedding video too! :)
I second Chris’ comment above. I am obviously biased, but for my own wedding photo and video went hand in hand. Our two biggest expenses from our wedding, and the two most worth it to us. :)
This is good stuff Lauren and I have certainly echoed your sentiments on my own blog. If you want a party, have a party; if you want a wedding, that’s an entirely different price point.
But I’d like to also add that if you’re on a budget, blogs like this one may not be the place for you to get your inspiration. There are plenty of budget wedding blogs out there that will cater to a $10,000 budget. I’ve seen $1000 weddings in on the internet. You’ll get an good idea of what a budget wedding looks like or what details are left out. It’s not that you can’t have a wedding for 10,000; it’s that you can’t have a *certain* kind of wedding at that price point.
I went to a $15,000 wedding a couple of years ago and it was lovely, but she had a lot of help from friends and family to make it happen.
I also went to a $100 wedding once. It was called an elopement, and it included me and my husband as witnesses while a judge married out dear friends in his office. She didn’t even carry a grocery store bouquet. They are still married after 8 years, proving that the size and style of your wedding will not make you a happier couple.
So while I agree with Lauren about a wedding NOT being a birthday party, I would also advise her friend with the $10,000 that she might need to scale back on her expectations. Maybe she finds a simpler venue. Maybe she hires a DJ instead of a band. Perhaps she scales back on the cake, or cocktail hour appetizers. Or maybe she pushes her wedding date back until she can afford the wedding of her dreams. The point is, every bride has options. It may not be fun to prioritize, scale back, or wait and save money, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
An thus, I would like to welcome all brides on a tight budget to the world of compromise. You and your new husband will be doing it a lot moving forward. Really that’s how you grow :-)
Why is the officiant often left off of these lists? You know, you can’t get married without an officiant? I have been a wedding officiant in Seattle, WA for 6 years and I come across this over and over. Without an officiant, it’s just a party….not a legal marriage.
Elaine, the officiant is included in the “Ceremony Costs” item :)
Thanks for this post Lauren,
I found this from our WPIC board here in Canada. I have clients that give me their budget for DJ, MC, sound and lighting all the time, usually under half of what we charge. Educating our couples and clients as to where they spend their money. When flowers are $5000, and the veggie platter is $1200 and the entertainment is $800, they may have placed value on categories that really add little value to the success and final result of a great party.
This is great Lauren! I’d be really interested to hear what an average California wedding costs too!
I love this article! Thank you for clearly explaining the value of experience and knowledge in a vendor’s trade. I am also planning my wedding this year and I know the realities of a wedding budget!
This is a great article, I know I was in “sticker shock” when I was planning my wedding. However, it’s (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience & we decided not to let that limit us in what we felt was important, and I am so happy with the outcome! One thing I had on the “cut list” was cinematography but decided to keep it in the end. You have to keep in mind, if you think you’re going to be disappointed after for not doing something, then do it! Because you can not go back in time.
“We’re starting a new life together! HEY LET’S SPEND ALL OUR MONEY ON THE VERY FIRST DAY!”
Not my wedding. I just want a nice little bonfire party with a few close friends, a keg of good beer & friends with guitars. I may make a few decorations myself. I don’t see the point in spending so much money on a wedding. Or having people “help you”. If you wanna help me get married, put that money in a savings account for me instead of a bunch of flowers that are going to live maybe a week, tops. We’re starting a LIFE together. I’d rather focus on the lIFE part. Not the one day.
What a great article! I love seeing the difference in cost in the different regions. As a planner in Oklahoma and Texas I would love to add a reference to brides that may be looking at the area, but not have an idea what a wedding may cost.
I also do not plan budget weddings, but this estimate is done on a very conservative budget.
Food and Beverage: $15,o00
Floral and Decor: $2,700
Month-of Planner: $2,000
Entertainment (DJ): $1,000
Hair and makeup: $500
Paper Goods: $800
Ceremony Costs: $600
Total estimated cost $32,710
Christina L. Frederick
Owner – Christina Leigh Events
Our wedding, which was lovely and was chosen as one of your Top 25 Weddings of 2014 and was featured in a bridal mag, didn’t come even CLOSE to exceeding a $5k budget. Though the majority of weddings do go way over the top, the focus should be on the marriage and not a $700 transportation budget or a $900 cake. It is completely COMPLETELY possible to have a beautiful and meaningful wedding on a fraction of the budgets mentioned. I would hate for any bride to believe the hype that everything a magazine mentions is essential to a happy wedding and marriage…or that the more lavish a wedding is, the more successful a marriage might be. I just wanted to give another perspective for those brides out there who might be feeling like a great wedding day is unattainable based on these budget numbers.
I do have to say I love this post so much, because it is truly informative (as are all of your posts!). Looking over the Tampa budget however, I can say that even for a “simple and pretty wedding of 100 guests,” there may just be a typo on the florals and decor portion, as most are well over $2000-$2500 just starting off! But overall, pretty accurate!
This was super informative! So glad I read this.
I have been married for 4 years, but I often read wedding blogs or visit sites where wedding topics are discussed because I like to see the opinions of others and reflect on my own. I appreciate your ownership of the reality that you do not plan “budget” weddings. My hope is people who visit your website can bear that in mind as they review the information you make available regarding the cost of hiring professionals. It appears you cater to those who desire to plan high-end and/or luxury weddings. No reason exists for those who are able to have that type of wedding to be limited in their choices. At the same time, it seems “budget wedding” is a bit of a misnomer without the word “low” or “high” preceding the word budget. Most weddings have budgets; whether they are $100K, $10K, $100K, or more–or less–is contingent upon what is affordable to those who are covering the costs of the items selected for inclusion in the events of the day.
For what it’s worth, I hired professionals when I got married because I’m not into DIY. We wed in TN and spent slightly less than $11K. I did not sacrifice one thing I wanted, and I did not add things that *to me* were frivilous and unnecessary. While I would not presume to know what is important or desirable to other couples on their wedding day, I would contend the only thing any couple *needs* to have a wedding is witnesses and an officiant. Everything after that is largely for the benefit of the (additional) people who agree to attend a ceremony and/or reception of invited to do so. The couple who has a ceremony at a church followed by a cake and punch reception with no glitz and glamor still has a wedding. I think to say, “lots of people actually end up not hiring professionals for their weddings because they’re trying to save money- but it almost always ends up in disappointment” is both misleading and dishonest. It seems those who dream of luxury they cannot afford end up disappointed; those who wed with their means in mind just end up married.
I thank you for sharing your post. A market most certainly exists for the type of brides/couples to whom you cater. I wanted to offer a voice that noted significant sacrifices actually do not have to be made to have weddings that fall in the $10-$20K range, even when professionals are hired. It may also be worthwhile to mention that while the “average” cost of a wedding is currently over $35K, the *median* is only slightly above $14K.
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