How Much To Spend on a Wedding?

Weddings. Could I pick a more controversial financial topic?

I’ve always been flabbergasted by the price of weddings. With the average wedding cost around $30,000, it’s hard not to be.

I know that figure is inflated by some people who spend over $100,000 on a wedding and brought down by others who spend $1,000. Either way, it’s a huge sum.

I’ve always had the privilege of judging from the outside because I’ve never had to plan a wedding.

Now that I am planning a wedding, I get the privilege of judging myself!

How are my fiancée and I approaching our wedding budget?

Read on to learn more.

What We Envision as a Wedding

Thankfully, we were both on the same page that we wanted a “large party with friends and family.” We don’t really care too much about tradition, formality, or other things people feel they must do at a wedding.

At the core, we want good food, music, and our friends and family hanging out.

It turns out even that is still expensive!

After numerous discussions, we determined the things we could live without:

  • Expensive dress
  • Fancy food
  • Bridal party hoopla
  • Pricey venue

What we did want was the following:

  • Really good food (not your steak, chicken, and vegetarian option). This is probably more my doing than hers.
  • A venue that could hold 75-100 people for a party. If my fiancée had it her way, she would probably want a much larger venue, but that comes with a much larger price tag.
  • A beautiful outdoor venue for the ceremony.

What We Discovered in Our Initial Research for Venues

The first thing we discovered was the price tag for beautiful outdoor venues. We looked at barns, farms, and a variety of other places. Most came with a price tag of $4,000+.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Since I recently quit my job and she is in residency, there is not a ton of excess money to go around. Plus, I like spending lavishly on certain things.

After talking to a few other places, we opted to do a Seattle City Park. Why? They are much cheaper.

Most can be rented for a few hundred dollars an hour, often with a few hours minimum. A city park was going to be about a fourth or less of the cost of other venues.

Even better, we secured the park where I proposed and we both love it.

Is it private? No.

Does it come with a parking lot? No.

But, it’s beautiful, inexpensive (as far as wedding venues go), and is a special place for us both.

On top of the city park fee, we’ll likely rent chairs, which may be a few hundred dollars. Other than that, it will be a simple park ceremony.

Since the park does not allow alcohol, we knew we wanted another venue for the party portion. Could we have made the park work? Sure, but it’s not what we envisioned.

We kept looking at other venues, and once again, we were looking at restaurant buyouts of $7,000 or other private venue spaces of $5,000.

When you want to put 75-100 people in a room together, there just are not many inexpensive options.

Finally, we found a cellar within 15-20 minutes of the park with a reasonable venue fee and we had a 24-bottle wine minimum. Sold.

We aren’t doing sit-down style seating with toasts, first dance, etc., so we picked a slightly smaller venue than we both envisioned, but it’s a great location with indoor and outdoor space. The venue fee is $1,400 and with the wine minimum, probably closer to $2,500, but that also includes most of the alcohol we’ll need.

Venue Insurance

Since this is going to be a larger event and the cellar requires liability insurance, I purchased special event insurance.

It provides $1,000,000 of liability coverage for each occurrence and costs about $200.

Like most insurance, I hope I never need to use it, but I feel better knowing I have it with 75-100 people who will be drinking and celebrating.

What Food Did We Select?

One of the other reasons we chose the venues we did is because of their flexibility with outside catering. Many venues require you to go with their caterer or a variety of other caterers. Again, I did not want the boring wedding food options. Not only that, I didn’t want to pay catering prices for what I often consider to be sub-par food.

I’m picky when it comes to food, and I have high expectations.

We found a few local Seattle restaurants with reasonable catering menus, but I wondered if Bongos, a Caribbean restaurant with a sandpit that used to be a gas station, catered. I didn’t find anything online. After a few phone calls and a trip to the restaurant, we finally got their catering menu.

Let me tell you – it looks delicious. They have items on their catering menu that they don’t serve on their normal menu, and I wanted to try it all.

Plus, the food is very inexpensive. Three entrée options (9 ounces) and sides work out to about $13.50 per person.

We decided on pastelon (Puerto Rican plaintain lasagna that will be made vegetarian), Jamaican jerk pork tenderloin with a guava ginger reduction, and vaca frita (brisket that’s quickly plan seared). For the sides, there are Cuban black beans and rice, as well as a Haitian salad, and maduros with dipping sauce.

I’m sure there will be other expenses to keep the food warm, serving utensils, and non-alcoholic drinks, but if we can serve 100 people for about $1,350, I’ll be happy.

As for dessert, a friend is going to make a couple of cakes, and I’ll pay for the ingredients. I have a friend who makes the most amazing cake, and I don’t usually like cakes. Other than that, we may purchase a few other desserts to supplement the cakes, but I don’t see that being more than a couple hundred dollars.

What Are We Wearing?

I’m wearing one of my existing suits. I don’t see the point in renting a tux that will be a below-average fit and likely uncomfortable when I can wear a suit that’s been tailor-made to my body.

She will be wearing some sort of dress. She hasn’t picked it yet, but since every bone in her body is frugal, I can’t imagine it being more than $200 and likely under $100. I wouldn’t be surprised if she finds something for free. She’s more resourceful than I am.

Instead of having a huge bridal party, we are only having a maid of honor and best man. The alternative was having 10 bridesmaids, which just didn’t seem like a good idea. I’m not sure what they are going to wear, but my guess is an existing dress and an existing suit.

What About Photography?

This is going to be a big expense. Unfortunately, the photographer who helped me with my business photos is not available on our wedding date. It’s a huge bummer because I loved her and her work.

Thankfully, she gave us names of other photographers she would recommend.

I haven’t selected a photographer yet, but most cost between $3,000-$4,000. My fiancée is tempted to go cheap on the photography, but it’s one area I won’t budge.

You usually get what you pay for with photography, and I’d much rather have a seasoned professional who does them every single weekend of the summer than an amateur trying to build their portfolio or a friend.

Since I have this strong preference, this is going to be one of the largest expenses of the wedding, but I hope well worth it.

Other Miscellaneous Expenses We Have Not Figured Out

There are other expenses we still haven’t finalized.

We will likely do some sort of bouquet for walking down the aisle, and we are still discussing whether we want centerpieces on the table or any other flowers. My friend’s mom is in the flower business, so I know she could help us select something great. We just haven’t looked into what is available or the cost. I am told it could be a few hundred dollars to anything you can imagine.

We probably need to rent an additional bathroom or two. The venue has one bathroom and having been to weddings in the past, we’ll need at least an additional bathroom for that many people. I’m still looking into costs, but it looks like a couple of hundred dollars.

This is starting to feel like Costco, but instead of everything being $10-12, everything is a couple of hundred dollars.

We may purchase beer and will be buying non-alcoholic drinks, which will likely be – you guessed it – a few hundred dollars.

We are not sending formal invitations. Instead, we are sending a virtual save the date and RSVP through email. Invitations felt like a ton of work and an extra cost that didn’t seem worthwhile.

Since we are living in Madison, WI instead of Seattle, but are getting married in Seattle, we’ll also pay for our flights, rental car, and a place to stay. We haven’t looked at flight prices, rental cars, or places to stay in-depth, but this will likely be another $1,000-$1,500 for the two of us.

Since we are flying in the day before our wedding, we likely are not doing a rehearsal dinner. Instead, we are tentatively thinking about a brunch the day after with family. Thankfully, family is going to pick up that tab, but it’s a cost, so I wanted to include it.

Lastly, there will be gratuities. From the food order to the flowers to the venue, gratuity adds up. Whenever I am planning events, I do my best to include gratuity upfront because it is an expense that can sneak up!

And truly, lastly, tax. Seattle has a sales tax of above 10%, which is not an insignificant line item. Although not everything will have gratuity, everything has tax. By the time we are done, tax and gratuity can add an additional 30% to most purchases.

There are probably other expenses we have not considered, but these are the main ones we have mapped out up until this point.

Summary – Final Thoughts

When you want to get together with around 100 people, it’s challenging to do it inexpensively, unless you make it potluck style and crash a park.

For our final bill, we are likely looking at $10,000-$15,000, and I think we did a good job keeping costs down.

I’ll be interested to see what pops up that we forgot, as well as the final bill when all is said and done.

I’m thankful we have been on the same page and had a similar idea of what we wanted in a wedding. I can’t imagine trying to plan a wedding if one of us wanted a gigantic wedding and the other a tiny wedding.

Kudos to those who do the small courthouse weddings or elope. Personally, those have quite the appeal because it’s time-consuming and expensive to throw a big party for friends and family. Despite it, I’m excited to celebrate with everyone.

For those who have had weddings, how much did you spend? Was it worth it? What would you have done differently?

For those planning a wedding, how much do you plan to spend?

Like everything surrounding money, I wish more people talked about the financial aspects of wedding planning.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information and educational purposes only and should not be considered investment, financial, legal, or tax advice. It is not a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security or investment advisory services. Please consult your own legal, financial, and other professionals to determine what may be appropriate for you. Opinions expressed are as of the date of publication, and such opinions are subject to change. Click for Full Disclaimer