'I do' or 'I owe': How to hold down the cost of a wedding

Posted June 1, 2016

Many marriages are meant to last a lifetime, while others believe their union will last an eternity.

But the trend of ever more opulent weddings could mean it will take a good portion of that time to pay off the cost of the celebration.

As of 2015, couples spent an average of $32,641 on their wedding, a $1,408 jump from the prior year, according to a survey of 18,000 couples by The Knot. The biggest cash culprits were the venue — an average cost of $14,788 — followed by the engagement ring ($5,871) and musical entertainment ($3,833).

But saying “I do” doesn’t necessarily mean a years long commitment — by the couple or the parents — to paying for that single event. There are some ways to hold down the price tag of getting hitched.

Location, location

Since it often checks in as the largest wedding expense, begin with choosing a venue. One cost-chopping idea is holding the ceremony and reception in the same spot or close by.

“That will cut down on your transportation costs for getting your guests from the ceremony to the reception and also cut down on time for vendors you pay by the hour,” said Jessica Janik of The Invisible Bridesmaid, a bridal concierge company.

The single venue is often not an option, however, for those who hold the ceremony in a house of worship.

But even if the party is in a separate place, find a reception venue that bundles various services, such as catering, chairs, tables, silverware, glassware and table linens.

“If you opt for renting a space and having to bring everything in, you’ll quickly start adding to your tally, and it’s hard to eat cake without a fork,” said Cheryl Reed of Angie’s List.

Another cost-cutting trick is arranging for the largest tables you can find. That way, said Janik, you’ll need fewer centerpieces, table numbers and tablecloths.

Don't overdo the food

No newlywed couple wants their friends and family to head home hungry. But, with a catering average of $273 per guest, according to The Knot survey, the first place to look for cutting costs is the cake.

Although an enormous, opulently decorated wedding cake may make for great photos, a more modestly sized cake won't likely sour any recollection of the big day.

“Half of my brides haven’t even gotten around to cutting the cake during the ceremony because they were having too much fun on the dance floor,” said Janik. “Have a smaller cake and try decorating it with silk ribbon or real flowers instead of having fondant designs or patterns on the cake.”

Streamlining the overall menu can adequately feed your guests at a reasonable cost. Rather than a buffet, Alexa Lemley of Artisan Foodworks Catering suggests serving one entrée with various sides. “Go for quality over quantity,” she said, by also cutting down on expensive appetizers and late-night snacks.

If alcohol is served, provide a “signature” drink or two per person in lieu of an open bar.

Having a firm food budget can give you leverage when discussing costs with providers, added Houston wedding planner Chelsea Roy.

“Knowing how much money you have to spend gives you an honest answer about where your money needs to go,” she said. “It also gives you the power to talk to your vendors and say ‘This is how much I have to spend on this service, so can you show me what can be done with this budget?’"

Other ideas to consider

Besides the venue and food, wedding planners say there are other considerations that, taken together, that can add up to big savings:

  • Invitations: “Doing it yourself is fairly simple with all the design programs available,” said Reed.
  • Programs: “Most guests at your wedding know the important people in the ceremony,” said Janik. “Put your program on your wedding (web)site beforehand if you feel it necessary.”
  • Wedding date: Don’t get married on a Saturday. Food and beverage minimums are considerably less on other days. Another idea is to have a morning wedding, as they tend to be less pricey. If planning a destination wedding, Wednesday or Thursday are the least costly.
  • Guest favors:Guests typically do not care about taking home a favor — in most cases they are thrown away at the end of the night,” said Reed. “Instead, donate the dollars you would spend on favors to a charitable organization.”
  • Wedding planners: They may save money in the long run as many planners can wrangle discounts from vendors and other services.
  • Guest list: “I often have couples who want a dream wedding with a small budget. The most definitive answer I can give them to having that dream wedding is to cut the guest list,” said Janik. “It comes back to knowing your budget and choosing between the number of people at the party versus the experience those people are going to have when they go.”

Jeff Wuorio lives in Southern Maine, where he covers personal finance and entrepreneurship. He may be reached at, and his website is at


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