How Much Should You Pay For a Wedding?

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As I introduce the topic of weddings and money let me point out three facts that will impact how I address this question:

  1. I am a man (see my about page).  For some of you this means my vote should automatically be discounted.
  2. To make matters worse, I am a pragmatic man.  To be a man is bad enough, but a cold, calculated man is even worse.
  3. I tend to agree with my dad who often says, “The wedding doesn’t matter.  It’s the marriage that counts”.

How Much Should You Spend On A Wedding?

I think I’ve heard Dave Ramsey say that half your combined annual income is an appropriate amount to pay for a wedding.  I think that might be too high for many couples.  For Richer, Not Poorer – The Money Book for Couples says that the bridal industry is a $70 billion dollar a year industry with the average wedding costing $22,360.  While it is impossible to quote an exact number the following guide ought to help you determine how much you should spend on a wedding.  However, the average cost of a wedding has little impact on what you can afford for a wedding.

Photo by baliartphotography.com.

Paying For A Wedding Guidelines:

  1. The wedding costs should be proportional to your income.  

    Obviously, the more you make the more you can afford to pay for a wedding.


  2. The wedding should be funded with contributions and cash, not credit.

     

    The budget will automatically be limited if you make this one firm decision.  Pay cash for everything.


  3. The financial burden of a wedding should not last more than 12 months.

     

    If you are going to save up some of your money to pay for a wedding then the total should not take you more than 12 months to save.  My reasoning is that beyond 12 months of savings really hinders your ability to save for other items.  In addition, there is not much point in extending an engagement beyond 12 months.  When you know you are ready to marry, then get married.


  4. Wedding spending should be done in light of pre-existing debt.

     

    Whatever guidelines anyone gives you, if you already have a substantial amount of debt your budget should reflect that reality.

  5. Wedding spending should be done with an awareness of family burden.

    Just because mom and dad are willing to go into debt does not mean you need to proceed to have the wedding of the century.  You will need to talk to parents about finances.  Be conscientious of your parents’ limitations and don’t let them take on a lot of debt just so you can have the wedding of your dreams. 

  6. Wedding spending should be minimized according to budgetary restrictions.

    It seems silly to mention this, but you can only spend what you can afford.  You must reduce the cost based on your cash limitations.  Make sure your finances are organized.  Even though this is a wedding (yes, a once in a lifetime opportunity) “no” does still need to be part of your functional vocabulary.  If you typically make bad money choices, unless you are careful you will make worse money choices when it comes to planning a wedding. Emotions can be very costly.

  7. The wedding cost should be proportionate to family and cultural practices.

    This is the hardest part of wedding planning.  Those around you have expectations of what the wedding will be like.  You do not want to come across as a cheap host (Jesus’ mother certainly didn’t want the wedding supplies to run out).  You may need to extend yourself because of cultural expectations, just to break yourself for the expectations of others.  Weddings are fundamentally about giving and exchanging – reciprocity.  People expect you to treat them similar to the ways they treated their guests.  You can go along with that game if you have the financial resources.  If not, you might need to have a serious discussion with your family about your limitations. 

  8. The wedding cost should be affordable, not luxurious.

    On the spectrum of cheap, affordable, and luxurious – aim at something affordable.  It is counterintuitive to spend so much on a wedding that you unnecessarily burden a marriage. 

Remember: An Expensive Wedding Can Cost Your Marriage

Here is how Larry Burkett describes the situation (In an interview recorded in Love for a Lifetime: Building a Marriage That Will Go the Distance (Dobson, James)):

While the wedding bells were still ringing in their ears, they were arranging loans for cars, refrigerators, and dishwashers they really couldn’t afford to own.  … It didn’t take long before their monthly payments became too heavy again, only this time the outstanding debt was greater.  This led to feelings of hopelessness and guilt which caused them to begin arguing and blaming each other for their troubles.  When they were this far down the path, bankruptcy and divorce became their likely destination (pg. 68).

Unfortunately, being behind or upside-down in debt is normal.  You should strive to be abnormal.  When asked how often this situation occurs Burkett reported that 80% of couples who file for divorce list money issues as a contributing factor

For those of you who are married, what guidelines did you use for determining how much you could afford to spend on a wedding?  If you could go back, would you spend more or less on your wedding?

Comments

  1. Joe says

    Craig,

    Wonderful article. I have been married for a total of 4 months now and realize how much of a blessing my wife is. Part of this is due to the fact that her financial profile matches mine! We were able to put on a beautiful wedding (gorgeous bride included) for less than $5K and still feed 300+ people! It was a buffet line, which can be viewed as not so classy, but it went over really well, is common for the area, and had plenty to spare. Not to mention the entire setup was very clean and elegant. My wife and I planned the entire thing with the help of many family friends. We noticed that even little things could cost a lot when you have 300 guests, so we trimmed the “fat” and people still left satisfied. The “fat” was the things people “normally” do at weddings. We asked ourselves, is this necessary, do WE want to do this? I would advise others to do the same, it could end up saving you $ you can spend elsewhere (like the honeymoon!)

    • Craig says

      Joe,
      Sounds like you guys made some great wedding choices. You won’t regret it! Have a wonderful and blessed marriage.

  2. says

    You do know you’re stepping on some toes with this Craig, not to mention that you’re taking on the $70bil wedding industry! (Check your car carefully before starting it ;-) )

    My wife and I come from families and an area of the country where lavish weddings are the norm. We ignored that norm and had a wedding we could afford. The Lord then blessed us with a very enjoyable celebration and gifts sufficient to cover the cost even though the guest list was modest.

    We didn’t take any flack for what we did, and wouldn’t have cared if we did. As you said, it’s OK to be abnormal!
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Fast Track to Frequent Flyer Miles =-.

    • Craig says

      Yikes. I never did think about who I’m challenging. Should I go into a witness protection program?
      I’m from Ontario (Canada) and folks where I live expect a full meal at weddings. I can get pretty expensive. Lucky for me I married a girl from Wyoming so we got to have a nice, but simple wedding.

  3. says

    I didn’t add up what I spent (all cash, at least), and probably in the neighborhood of $5-10,000, and I felt like I was a bit of a spendthrift! Guess not, by these calculations. ;-)

    One of the big savings we had, is that we live in a dry county (no alcohol allowed), plus most of our friends probably would have frowned on serving alcohol anyway; and we had a buffet reception, which is common in our area. It is not frowned upon to have a very simple reception of punch, wedding mints, mixed nuts and cake; but our reception was more sumptuous than that (it helps that my mom is an excellent cook, and has even catered things before). Our rehearsal dinner was likewise low-key and frugal, costing probably in the neighborhood of $300-400 total, with some of the best pizza available (Chicago-style, deep dish pizza). And we’re just as married as anyone else, and more married than my husband’s cousin who had the whole shebang of a wedding (including formal sit-down reception), costing tens of thousands of dollars, and getting annulled 6 weeks later. :-/
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..We’re going the wrong way!!! =-.

    • Craig says

      @Kathy
      We also had a low key rehearsal dinner – pizza. I love pizza so it worked out nicely for us.
      I think the important thing is that people don’t assume a debt burden as they begin a marriage. It’s nice that you were able to feel like it was a great celebration and you did it in cash.
      Ouch, an annulment after just a few weeks after an extravagant wedding? Like my dad always says – it’s about the marriage not the wedding. I’ll take the simple wedding and a great marriage.

  4. says

    We were married 12 years ago, and we never added up the total, and my father never asked how much anything cost. That being said? I was very careful in what I spent, how much things cost, and how/where I could get things less expensively. I even bought my dress “off the rack” in the clearance section. Perfect!
    .-= Headless Mom´s last blog ..Christmas House Tour 2009 =-.

    • Craig says

      I love the fact that you got your dress in the clearance section! That would be a fun post- how much should you spend on a dress that you wear on one occasion?

    • idreana says

      I did the same thing! My dress was well out of our budget and I bought a similar dress, just as beautiful I might add, and my junior bridesmaid dress for less than $400! Although we have ten more months to go, we have already spent far less and have accomplished more in the last 8 months without skipping a beat on keeping up with our everyday expenses!

  5. says

    Ditto “Headless Mom” — I think I spent $350 (perhaps less) on my dress, clearance, off-the-rack — the total included a fluffy underskirt that I don’t think I even ended up wearing. The only alteration it needed was to be hemmed slightly shorter. I remember that the bridal store was going to charge more for the alteration than the dress itself cost (they charged by the hour, and estimated that it would take many hours to alter). Since we were just talking a couple of inches, I declined (and bought a pair of almost-platform shoes for $10, which wouldn’t show, since my family & friends were insisting that the dress was actually too long); then my mom found out about a lady who did alterations, and I think she charged me $20 to hem it, and it didn’t even take that long!
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Oh, WOW! =-.

  6. says

    Thanks! This should prove to be useful. I am so lucky that my future wife is so understanding. I really want to give her a nice wedding but we don’t have the money and it wasn’t an issue at all with her, in fact, she was the one who suggested the simple wedding!

  7. pat hurtuk says

    i am observing around here living together. and the statement they will get married when they have close to 50 thousand for the party. So no Church needed, till then. In the meantime live together, have children, and have one b ig group of friends who are in same way

  8. SoonToBeMrsN says

    Such a wonderful article!! An hour after my fiance’ proposed, he asked if there was anything I wanted to do….I said yes, meet with a financial planner!!!! My fiance’ comes from a family where everything is done lavishly; whereas I am a frugal spender. With the help of the financial advisor, we convinced my fiance’ (very hard to do) that more isn’t always better nor does it make sound financial sense. We chose a historial site, thereby eliminating the need for decorations. We’re using the wedding coordinator to make announcements, but an iPod will play the music all night long. We opted not to have a wedding party- too much hassle! Wedding invitations were bought online from Ivandy at http://www.Etsy.com- very inexpensive. All in all (including honeymoon) is 10,000.00 from our own pockets.

  9. Michele says

    Weddings are a waste of money. The most you should spend is about $100 to $150. The cost of a marriage license and Preacher. My “wedding” cost us $100 in 1986.

    • says

      I do think people often pay too much for weddings. However, someone could spend more than $150 and it still be a reasonable expense. But, kudos for doing it for so little.

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