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How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget: The Complete Cost Breakdown

Published September 14, 2021

24 minute read

Alia Hoyt Writer

By Alia Hoyt

Marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment, but paying off the wedding shouldn’t be. If you are of the same mind and wondering how to plan a wedding on a budget, these saving tips are for you. As the largest generation yet to age into marriage (over 72 million!), many Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and 1996) are weighing wants versus needs to avoid overwhelming wedding-related debt and a whopping case of buyers’ remorse.

U.S. Population by Generation

Population in Millions

1.7M
The Greatest Generation
Born before 1928
20.87M
The Silent Generation
Born 1928-1945
69.56M
The Baby Boomer Generation
Born 1946-1964
65.17M
Generation X
Born 1965-1980
72.12M
The Millenial Generation
Born 1981-1996
67.17M
Generation Z
Born 1997-2012

Reference: United States Census Bureau

Millennials are especially gun-shy about high-priced nuptials because they’ve already lived through two major financial crises and all of the stresses those entailed. Student loans, standard bills, and other debt also have many already owing $50,000 or more1 (excluding home loans). Why add an average wedding cost of $30,0002 on top of that? By experiencing the struggle firsthand, much of the generation is opting to use hard-earned cash to fund more responsible goals, such as a down payment on a home or car. Good for you!

That doesn’t mean a white veil isn’t in your future, though. There are budget-conscious ways to get the wedding you want without all of the crippling debt. All it takes is a little know-how and creativity. Here at WalletGenius we’re all about helping you save money. Whether you have $1,000 or $50,000 to spend, there’s no sense blowing money if there’s a cheaper way to do it. There’s also no need to read a hundred different articles when you can one-stop-shop right here! We’ve compiled all of the relevant data and research into one article to save you valuable time and money.

Wedding Packages by Budget

Wondering how you can truly have a wedding at any budget? We created some sample packages based on popular price points and average costs so you can see how you could achieve a less expensive wedding yourself.

ExpenseFrugal TipUnder $1000Frugal TipUnder $2000Frugal TipUnder $3000Frugal TipUnder $5000Frugal TipUnder $10000Frugal TipUnder $20000Frugal TipUnder $30000
VenuePublic Park or Public Beach or Backyard Wedding$110.00Public Park or Public Beach or Backyard Wedding$110.00Public Park or Public Beach or Backyard Wedding$110.00Public Park or Public Beach or Backyard Wedding$110.00Public Park or Public Beach or Backyard Wedding$110.00Budget Venue$5,000.00Venue$10,500.00
Photography & VideographyDIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00Student Photographer$1,000.00Student Photographer$1,000.00Photographer$4,200.00Photographer$4,200.00
Music & EntertainmentDIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00DJ$1,200.00DJ$1,200.00DJ$1,200.00
BarBYOB$0.00BYOB + Wine & Beer$50.00BYOB + Wine & Beer$100.00BYOB + Wine & Beer$150.00BYOB + Wine & Beer$400.00Open Bar$2,300.00Open Bar$2,300.00
Wedding RingsMens Only$100.00Mens Only$300.00Mens Only$500.00Mens Only$500.00Mens Only$600.00Mens Only$600.00Mens Only$600.00
Engagement RingsEngagement Ring$200.00Engagement Ring$500.00Engagement Ring$1,000.00Engagement Ring$1,000.00Engagement Ring$2,600.00Engagement Ring$2,400.00Engagement Ring$2,400.00
FlowersDIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00Bridal Bouquet & Groom Bountonierre$90.00Bridal Bouquet & Groom Bountonierre$90.00Bridal Bouquet & Groom Bountonierre$90.00Bridal Bouquet & Groom Bountonierre$90.00
Rehearsal DinnerSkip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00
Wedding Dress & AccessoriesUnder $100$100.00Wedding Dress & Viel$140.00Wedding Dress & Viel$170.00Wedding Dress & Viel$260.00Wedding Dress & Viel$1,000.00Wedding Dress & Viel$1,000.00Wedding Dress & Viel$1,000.00
Lighting and DécorDIY$100.00DIY$300.00DIY$300.00DIY$300.00DIY$300.00DIY$300.00DIY$300.00
Wedding PlannerSkip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00
TransportationSkip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00
StationeryWebsite Only$0.00Website Only$0.00Website Only$0.00Mailed Invites$560.00Mailed Invites$560.00Mailed Invites$560.00Stationery$560.00
DessertsSheet Cake or Cupcakes$27.00Sheet Cake or Cupcakes$37.00Sheet Cake or Cupcakes$50.00Sheet Cake or Cupcakes$50.00Sheet Cake or Cupcakes$70.00Wedding Cake$500.00Sheet Cake or Cupcakes$200.00
FavorsSkip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00Skip It$0.00DIY Personalized Favors$200.00Skip It$0.00DIY Personalized Favors$200.00
Groom's AttireBuy a Cheap Suit$100.00Buy a Cheap Suit$100.00Buy a Cheap Suit$100.00Buy a Cheap Suit$100.00Tuxedo$300.00Tuxedo$300.00Tuxedo$300.00
OfficiantDIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00Officiant$250.00Officiant$250.00Officiant$250.00
Bridal Hair & MakeupDIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00DIY$0.00Professional Hair & Makeup$210.00Professional Hair & Makeup$210.00Professional Hair & Makeup$210.00
Catering10 Guests Using Corporate Catering$200.0020 Guests Using Corporate Catering$400.0030 Guests Using Corporate Catering$0.0040 Guests Using Corporate Catering$800.0050 Guests Using Corporate Catering$1,000.0050 Guests Using Corporate Catering$1,000.0080 Guests Using Venue Catering$5,600.00
Marriage LicenseA Must$62.50A Must$62.50A Must$62.50A Must$62.50A Must$62.50A Must$62.50A Must$62.50
Total Cost$999.5$1,999.50$2,992.50$4,982.50$9,952.50$19,972.50$29,972.50
Savings Compared to An Average Wedding-$29,000.50-$28,000.50-$27,007.50-$25,017.50-$20,047.50-$10,027.50-$27.50

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The Engagement and Wedding Budget Breakdown

Who are we kidding? A wedding doesn’t just start and end on the day of the nuptials. There are a litany of expenses and events leading up to the big day. We’ve got them all covered but let’s start where it all begins: the engagement.

The Engagement Party

A party is a popular way to share the joy of engagement not too long after the big question is popped. Often, however, these events cost thousands (the average is $1,5004). It doesn’t have to be a high-priced, fancy-schmancy event, though. But before setting a date, stop to consider this — do you really need an engagement party? There are plenty of other celebration opportunities coming down the road, including bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, the rehearsal dinner and the wedding/reception combo. No wonder wedding guests are fatigued by the actual event! By opting not to throw an engagement party you’ll save yourself the stress of planning, not to mention a pile of money.

If you decide to proceed, however, here are some tips for keeping the engagement party thrifty:

Engagement Photos

This is a special time, so it’s only natural to want it documented. Engagement photos typically cost between $250 and $500, according to the wedding planner and photographer Thomas Beaman with PA Unveiled, so consider taking a more economical route.

The Engagement and Wedding Rings

The average engagement ring sets the proposer back a cool $5,9002, with the average wedding ring cost adding another $2,200 on top of that, according to WeddingWire’s 2020 report of 2019 weddings. That’s all well and good for people who make Kardashian-level money (OK, that’s an exaggeration), but the rest of us need to save for a rainy day.

Pare back the engagement ring-related expense by doing one or more of the following:

Average Wedding & Engagement Ring Gemstone Costs and Durability

GemstoneDiamond
Price$$$$$
Hardness10
GemstoneGarnet
Price$$$$
Hardness6.5-7.5
GemstoneEmerald
Price$$$
Hardness7.5-8
GemstoneRuby
Price$$$
Hardness9
GemstoneMoissainite
Price$$
Hardness9.3
GemstoneSalt & Pepper
Price$$
Hardness10
GemstoneSapphire
Price$$
Hardness9
GemstoneAmethyst
Price$
Hardness7
GemstoneAquamarine
Price$
Hardness7.5-8
GemstoneCubic Zirconia
Price$
Hardness8.5
GemstoneQuartz
Price$
Hardness7
GemstoneTopaz
Price$
Hardness8

References: Geology.com: Mohs Hardness Scale, International Gem Society: The Mohs Hardness Scale and Chart for Select Gems, Charles & Colvard: Is Moissanite A Durable Gemstone?

Average Wedding & Engagement Ring Metal Costs and Durability

MetalPlatinum
Price$$$$$
Hardness4.0-4.5
Tarnishes?No
MetalPalladium
Price$$$$$
Hardness4.8
Tarnishes?No
MetalWhite Gold
Price$$$$
Hardness2.5-4.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalYellow Gold
Price$$$$
Hardness2.5-4.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalRose Gold
Price$$$$
Hardness2.5-4.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalSterling Silver
Price$$$
Hardness2.5-3.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalBlack Zirconium
Price$$
Hardness7.5-8.0
Tarnishes?No
MetalCobalt
Price$$
Hardness5.5
Tarnishes?No
MetalTungsten Carbide
Price$
Hardness8.5-9.0
Tarnishes?No
MetalTitanium
Price$
Hardness6.0
Tarnishes?No
MetalStainless
Price$
Hardness5.0-6.5
Tarnishes?No
MetalAluminum
Price$
Hardness2.5-3.0
Tarnishes?No

References: Compound Chem: What are wedding rings made of, and how do their properties vary?, Jewelry Depot USA: Metal Comparison, Wikipedia: Mohs scale of mineral hardness

The Wedding Planner

One in three couples2enlist the help of a wedding planner. Some hire a coordinator to keep things running smoothly the day of the event, but some hire a full-service planner to aid the entire process, start to finish. Wondering how much does a wedding planner cost? Not surprisingly, the full-service variety can run into the thousands (average of $1,5002). Unless you have money to burn, it’s probably best to forego the expense and handle the planning yourself. Here’s how:

Planning Process

Day of Wedding Help

Invitations/Stationery

At an average of $5602, traditional paper invitations aren’t the largest chunk of the budget, but it’s a significant amount, nonetheless. There’s also the cost to post the invites. At 55 cents a stamp it costs $82.50 just to send out 150 by mail. Double that if you’re including a stamped RSVP envelope for each guest to send back. Here are some ways to cut the costs.

The Venue

It’s all about location, location, location. Particularly where the budget is concerned. The venue is likely to be the biggest chunk of the wedding budget because it often includes food and service. As a result, the total is likely to ring up at an average of $10,500.2 Fortunately, there are quite a few imaginative ways to cut down that huge number.

The Officiant

Whether by fee or tip, the wedding officiant usually costs around $2502 for a 20-minute ceremony. Instead:

Music

Music costs vary widely depending on the type you select for the wedding and reception. The average wedding DJ cost runs about $1,4002, compared with a band at $3,700.2 Ceremony musicians, like a harpist or violinist, average another $1,200.2 Instead of forking over so much, use some cost-cutting measures.

Photography and Videography

Second to the venue, documenting the big day is often the biggest cost. The average price tag for photography and videography services is $6,000 (wedding photographer costs will set you back $4,200 on average, video $1,8002). To shrink those numbers:

Catering

Whether the catering is included in a venue package, or it’s from an independent contractor, it can cost some serious coin. In fact, the average is $70 per head!2 For a 150-guest wedding, that comes out to $10,500! Fortunately, there are some options to cut costs on this inflated expense.

Cake and Desserts

Wedding cake is a time-honored tradition, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. The average cake cost is $500.2 Cut down on those costs before you cut the cake.

Alcohol

When it comes to an inflated reception bill, blame it on the alcohol, which averages $2,300.2 “A couple can go into bankruptcy trying to provide a full hosted bar with alcohol and mixers,” laments event planner Greg Jenkins with California-based Bravo Productions. So how do you get around that?

The Rehearsal Dinner

The average rehearsal dinner runs about $1,900.2 Instead of spending a small fortune, consider these options:

The Wedding Dress

There’s the cost of the gown, plus all of the add-ons to consider, like alterations, shoes, special undergarments and bridal accessories to consider. Even though it’s the most special dress of your life, the average wedding dress cost of $1,6002 is an awful lot to drop on a one-time garment. Here are some helpful ways to cut costs and still look like a dream on your big day.

Bridal Hair and Makeup

It’s your wedding day, so you’ll be glowing no matter what. Don’t pay for the privilege! Instead, take in a few makeup and hair tutorials and give yourself the makeover you deserve for far less than the sticker price (combined around $2102, but that varies widely depending on location). You know what looks best on you and the look you are going for anyway. If your not a beauty guru, practice the look first or enlist a friend for help. Here are a few suggested tutorials:

Wedding Hair Tutorials



Wedding Makeup Tutorials



Groom’s Attire

The cost to purchase a tuxedo typically ranges between $500 and $1,000.5 This isn’t such a bad deal if the groom plans to wear it a bunch of times, but many choose instead to rent a tux for about $300.2 Here are some tips to keep this expense to a minimum.

Flowers

Fresh, beautifully arranged flowers are oh-so-lovely, but they’re also oh-so-expensive at an average of $2,000.2 “Using real flowers for your bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces will easily cost you thousands of dollars,” says Karen Norian, wedding planner and photographer at Simply Eloped. Cut down on this significant cost by using one or more of these easy options.

Lighting and Décor

Lighting and décor sets couples back an average of $1,500.2 And guess what? Most guests don’t even notice these special touches. Here are some easy ways to save:

Guest Entertainment

Extra entertainment has seeped into modern weddings, but can cost up to or more than $1,000!2 Remember that these add-ons are just an extra perk for guests to take the fun up a notch, so there’s no need to break the bank! The type you provide is dependent on the style of wedding, however.

Transportation

Guest and wedding party shuttles are a nice touch, but they get expensive really quick! Save yourself an average of $8002 with these tips:

Favors and Gifts

Some people really appreciate the thought. Others couldn’t care less, and as a result, will shove that wedding favor into a drawer and forget about it. Avoid dropping $400 or more2 on such items. Instead:

Wedding Insurance

A wedding is a huge financial commitment, so some couples choose to have it insured. The average cost is $353.2 There are two types of wedding insurance:

Do you need insurance? Before you sign on the dotted line, go over the venue contract. What is their weather/pandemic policy? What if someone gets hurt on their premises? They may already include insurance in their fee. Do the same with catering, photography, and so on. Even if they don’t include insurance, ask about their policies. Most contractors are reasonable, as no one wants a bad Yelp review out there.

The Honeymoon

The average honeymoon costs $5,000.2 Avoid forking over a small fortune by employing a few tricks.

Health and Safety Costs Due to COVID

Don’t be a super spreader: Make sure your guests are protected from illness by employing a few measures.

Wedding Budget Cost Variables to Consider

Weddings are not one-size-fits-all, by any means. Consider the following when planning your nuptials:

Average Wedding Cost by Country

  • U.S.A $29.2K
  • Spain $23.4K
  • Italy $22.5K
  • Canada $21.9K
  • U.K $19.2K
  • France $17.6K
  • Portugal $16.7K
  • Mexico $8.6k
  • Peru $7.7K
  • Chile $7.4K
  • Brazil $6.6K
  • Argentina $3.7K
  • Colombia $3.3K
Country Costs
U.S.A 29.2K
Spain 23.4K
Italy 22.5K
Canada 21.9K
U.K 19.2K
France 17.6K
Portugal 16.7K
Mexico 21.2K
Peru 21.2K
Chile 21.2K
Brazil 21.2K
Argentina 29.2k
Colombia 29.2k

Reference: Wedding Wire: 2019 Global Wedding Report

Average Wedding Costs by State

State Costs
Alabama $25,500
Alaska $16,000
Arizona $29,400
Arkansas $21,800
California $39,000
Colorado $30,000
Connecticut $41,000
Delaware $34,900
District of Columbia $40,600
Florida $30,600
Georgia $30,900
Hawaii $32,900
Idaho $19,800
Illinois $39,700
Indiana $22,800
Iowa $22,600
Kansas $22,400
Kentucky $23,900
Louisiana $33,900
Maine $33,500
Maryland $33,800
Massachusetts $43,600
Michigan $29,700
Minnesota $28,800
Mississippi $23,800
Missouri $26,600
Montana $23,000
Nebraska $23,300
New Hampshire $32,100
New Jersey $53,400
New York $48,600
North Carolina $29,500
North Dakota $29,200
Ohio $29,300
Oklahoma $21,200
Oregon $22,400
Pennsylvania $35,900
Rhode Island $49,800
South Carolina $30,600
South Dakota $29,200
Tennessee $26,900
Texas $30,200
Utah $19,700
Vermont $38,300
Virginia 33,300
Washington $25,600
West Virginia $26,500
Wisconsin $27,800
Wyoming $19,800

Reference: The Knot: This Was the Average Cost of a Wedding in 2020

Other ideas to save on wedding costs:

It’s your day. Do it your way!

Just because other people spend small fortunes on weddings doesn’t mean you have to. After all, it’s only one day of your life, and the money could be spent in so many other ways, like paying down student loans, saving for retirement, buying a car, or a down payment on a home to share with your beloved. Done right, you can have your dream wedding on a budget at any price point!

Alia Hoyt Writer

Contributor

Alia is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who has contributed content to WalletGenius. She’s has been published by HowStuffWorks, TLC, Animal Planet, and a number of corporate clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!), and might someday get around to setting up a professional website. Until then, check her out on LinkedIn. She and her husband are proud parents to three handsome, too-smart-for-their-own-good boys. Alia is a passably not terrible tennis player, lover of all things dance and music, brownie-obsessed, avid reader and off-key car singer. Her two favorite types of people are those who have a healthy sense of humor and those who actually read articles in their entirety before posting comments.

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