The last thing any couple should want to do when they start a marriage is get buried in debt and stress. Debt and financial stress can break relationships down. Instead of creating unnecessary anxieties, have a budget wedding and start your married life on the right foot!
What’s the average wedding cost in the US you wonder? It’s $34,000 in 2021 and frankly that’s too high. In some states like New Jersey, the average wedding cost is even significantly steeper at over $53,000.
Spending ~$34,000 on the average cost of a wedding in America today feels kind of ridiculous. If you live in a coastal city like NYC, the average wedding costs closer to $80,000. That’s more than the median income in the US!
Having been happily married for over 12 years, I can attest that prioritizing your financial future as a couple is the way to go. Forget about splurging on a wedding beyond your means.
Have a budget wedding, and you’ll be ahead of the game. That’s what my wife and I did. We felt good about opting for a budget wedding when we got married, and we still do to this day.
Related: What Is The Average Cost Of An Engagement Ring?
The Happiest Moment Of My Life
In the middle of the financial crisis, I decided to propose and get married to my lovely wife. It was the happiest moment of my life.
When people ask me to recollect the horrors of the financial crisis, I’ve got to think real hard because I proposed in early 2008, got married at the end of 2008, then started Financial Samurai in mid-2009.
Despite losing about 35% of my net worth, I’m overwhelmed with memories of joy during this time period. I knew that even if I lost everything, at least I’d still have my wife. We met in college when we had nothing. So starting over wouldn’t be too bad.
For those of you love birds thinking about going the budget wedding route, this post is for you.
The Detailed Breakdown Of Our Budget Wedding
Our 16-person wedding on the beach ended up costing around $2,745. The costs included:
- $700. Two roundtrip economy class tickets to Hawaii from San Francisco. Hawaiian Airlines has a two-seat, four-seat, two-seat configuration. We aren’t very big, so sitting next to each other in a two-seat configuration in coach felt fine.
- $1,100. Wedding ceremony on the beach performed by a licensed Hawaii officiate with a ukulele player in the background. The wedding package included two fresh flower leis, a floral bouquet, and a keepsake Hawaiian wedding certificate.
- $300. Wedding photographer for our one-hour ceremony. We also got tons of free photographs and videos from our relatives, two of whom are really into photography and had all the fancy equipment.
- $560. Reception for 16 people at our favorite Korean BBQ place where I first took my wife on a date.
- $80. Wedding dress. My wife went to Target and got a simple white beach dress. I wore my favorite Aloha shirt that I bought a couple of years ago at Goodwill for $5, trousers, and flip flops.
The Average Wedding Cost In America
Here is the average overall wedding cost according to a wedding study by The Knot. Due to inflation, the figures are higher today.
The main thing missing from my budget is the engagement ring, which was about $6,800. If the average cost of a wedding normally includes the engagement ring, then our wedding was closer to $9,500. Then again, I included the cost of our flights, which The Knot’s study did not.
Thoughts On Having A Budget Wedding
My wife and I could have afforded a more expensive wedding, but it just wasn’t us. We’re both frugal people and we wanted to save money. Our main goals were to go simple, have a nice honeymoon, and focus on creating a wonderful, financially secure future together.
Here are some more reasons why we chose to have a budget wedding. Perhaps our experience will inspire you to do something similar.
1) There was no stress.
Not only was there no money stress, there also wasn’t any planning stress. My wife found our wedding package online, paid for the ceremony via Paypal, and we e-mailed invites to our respective family members.
We didn’t want to be bothered with picking out a fancy stationery or going to the printers. We just typed in the basic details of our plan and clicked “send.”
The day of our wedding, we got dressed, drove down the hill to the beach just seven minutes away and exchanged vows. Because only 16 people attended, everybody arrived on time.
There were no hiccups, which can happen at large and complicated weddings, and we all left smiling.
2) We started out on the same financial page.
Having a simple wedding reflected our values. We are simple people who like to be frugal. There wasn’t a mismatch where one was a spender and another was the saver. My wife’s favorite store is Target. And my favorite beverage is water with a slice of lemon.
We both found it unnecessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars in one evening. Instead, we were much more excited about investing the money we could have spent on a big wedding for our future.
In 2008, we were both already focused on reaching financial independence. Our original goal was to both work until 2017. Little did we know then that we’d exit much sooner. We both found a way to get paid to quit our jobs and now have the flexibility to work for ourselves.
If you’re unsure how to get your finances in order, a great place to start is my top financial products list. Also, you can sign up for free wealth management to securely track your accounts in one place, analyze your net worth and investments, plan for retirement, and more.
3) A small wedding didn’t put any pressure on our guests to give.
We knew from attending past lavish weddings there was sometimes an expectation for guests to give money or presents. In some Asian cultures, couples sometimes wind up making more from monetary guest gifts than the cost of the wedding itself!
We didn’t want anything from our guests, only their attendance. By keeping things simple, there were no expectations for gifts.
4) We avoided guest list complications.
Agreeing on a guest list for a wedding can be a very stressful process. What if you invite one colleague, but not another? You might limit your career!
Instead of inviting everyone to our wedding, we decided to invite only our immediate family members. By excluding distant relatives, friends, and coworkers, there was no discrimination or hard feelings. Plus, the savings and simplicity of the logistics were marvelous.
When we got home we threw a celebratory party for friends and colleagues at our home. This way we still got to celebrate with people outside of our family. And it was a heck of a lot cheaper. The party only cost a couple hundred bucks for light snacks and drinks. And it was a cinch to plan.
5) No drama over the bill.
When you’re hosting an average $34,000 wedding in America, or something more extravagant, there likely will be some drama on how to divvy up all the expenses. After all, the average $34,000 wedding is spent by the median household income of roughly $68,000.
Some couples go into debt to pay for a wedding, which is a terrible idea. Other couples make the bride’s parents pay, which might cause some resentment and vice versa.
Because my wife and I had a budget wedding, we were able to comfortably pay for all our expenses in cash.
6) Nobody cares how simple or lavish your wedding is.
I’ve been to $1,000,000 weddings and I’ve been to $2,800 weddings. So long as you are surrounded by good people, good food, good drinks, a ceremony that runs on schedule, and good pictures, that’s all that matters.
Maybe I’m just insulated from wedding gossip as a man, but I’ve never once heard someone bag a wedding for its size or estimated cost. The only people I imagine who would bad mouth a wedding are those who didn’t attend or shallow people you really don’t want in your lives.
The people who attend your wedding are what matter most. It is they who will make you feel loved. Going into debt so you can have an exclusive venue, a 5 star caterer, giant bouquets of flowers everywhere, professional lighting, an MC, or anything else like that is just not worth it.
Two weddings I went to that cost in the $80-100,000 range sadly resulted in divorce. Perhaps if they had focused more on each other and not on trying to impress other people for one day, they would have stayed together.
A Budget Wedding Is Just Fine
I’m not sure how much more fun we’d have if we spent 12X more on our wedding to match the national average. Perhaps 20% more fun? More likely, we’d have 50% less fun because we’d feel more financial stress for such an ephemeral event.
One of the things we did with our wedding savings was return to Hawaii every year until 2016 and pretend we were on another honeymoon each time. We’d always return to the beach where we got married and celebrate afterward. It was a fun way to keep our wedding memories going for a long time.
We put our trips on pause in 2017 once our son was born. But I decided to superfund my boy’s 529 plan with $70,000. ~$70,000 is the amount we had earned by investing $34,000 in the stock market at the end of 2008 instead of spending it on an average wedding.
To this day we still feel great about our decision to have a budget wedding. Despite being wealthier today, I still don’t think we’d spend more than an inflation-adjusted $3,800 on a wedding. We’d much rather invest the difference in our children’s future.
If you spent big bucks on your wedding and had a blast, that’s awesome! A wedding is a priceless experience. However, for those of you deliberating on how much to spend for a wedding, I think you’ll have a fantastic time if you go the budget route.
Wedding Spending Rules To Follow If You Don’t Want To End Up Broke And Alone
How To Dress To The 9s For A Black Tie Wedding Without Spending A Fortune
The New Rule For Engagement Ring Buying
Readers, any of you have a budget wedding? If so, how much did you spend and what were the individual costs? What do you think drives the average household to pay the average $34,000 cost for a wedding? If ~50% of marriages end in divorce, isn’t spending so much money on a wedding risky? I’d love to get a wedding insider’s perspective about wedding costs and wedding stories, good and bad.
Mine was <$10k even with 70 people invited in the Bay Area. Key savings:
– Ring was ~$500 (not diamond)
– Free photography (family/friends took pictures, they are amateur photographers so actually turned out very good)
– Free ceremony (family member officiated, has experience)
– Ceremony + reception in a restaurant, so no extra cost for venue after minimum food cost
– <$500 spent on decorations/flowers because restaurant already has decorations
– No live band
I can't imagine it being any better than it was so I'm very happy about it. TBH I would have been sad to have only invited 16 people. A lot of my favorite times at the wedding involved my friends or relatives that wouldn't have made the cut.
Financial Samurai says
Don’t worry. I threw a house party at our house for 70+ people when we got back.
Good stuff on a $500 ring. I would say a majority of women in the Bay Area wouldn’t accept that. Woman will be judged by other women (and men) and think their husband was cheap or dont love them enough. That’s society for you!
frank janner says
My side gig is working for a caterer that owns the reception hall. I see how much food has to be wasted.
Mr. Nomad Numbers @ NomadNumbers says
Great post Sam! We also love budget wedding and we manage to spend about $3,700 for having it in a beautiful redwood grove near San Francisco, California.
What was important to us was that be thoughtful about why we wanted this day and what we wanted it to be about. We also wanted it to be a gathering of our loved one where we could have their presence and support to help us transition into this next big chapter of our lives as both of us decided to become full time nomadic after that. So we approached our wedding planning with many of the values that we apply on our nomadic journey: less is more, love nature and create joyful memories and we did not regret it at all.
For people that are interested, we are sharing all our budget expenses in details at: https://www.nomadnumbers.com/our-dream-wedding-in-california-redwoods-under-4000/
Little Seeds of Wealth says
Budget weddings are awesome! We plan to do ours at under $10K in the Bay Area and only invite family and close friends. By going the budget route, we choose to not worry about all the typical fringes of a Pinterest wedding. We’re both introverts and prefer small, low-key parties so going budget just feels more natural. Better save the hard-earned money for retirement or something that creates good memories like travel.
We flew from California to D.C. for our wedding. We paid for a wedding package with a local company called Pop Wed and also booked a few hours in a gorgeous yoga studio to have the small ceremony and take some of the pictures. It was an intimate ceremony with my D.C local grandparents as witnesses. Afterwards we took photos around DuPont Circle and had lunch with the grandparents. Then we drove to Virginia Beach for our honeymoon. The wedding package was $3200, upgraded venue was $500 and there were assorted Amazon purchases for wedding venue decorations and wedding clothes, the car rental, flights, meals, makeup artist for my wife, etc. Total wedding cost was under $5000.
Wow. That is a super cheap wedding (In a good way). It seem’s like you definitely got your money worth.
I know so many people who spend a minimum of $15k+ just for their venue. Then when its all said and done are easy in for $30k+. I think you did it the right way. Very reasonable price, great location, and surrounded by family and friends.
Couple of years ago I was traveling in Chile with a friend and we ended up in Easter Island, there is a beautiful beach there named Anakena. We swam in the ocean, relaxed and then went and sat down on a bench close to the beach to kill some time before our taxi shows up. All of a sudden of small group of people showed up and turned out that it was a wedding party. It was the smallest and simplest and most fun wedding that I have ever been to, without even being invited to. There were even couple of chickens running around. Everybody was happy and relaxed and having a good time. We enjoyed it a lot too, I have been to many ritzy weddings in my life. One of them in Ritz Carlton and another Fairmont in SF. But this one by far sticks out the most in my mind, reminded me of your wedding..
Ours cost about $3000 including cost of wedding rings (gold and platinum). No engagement ring. That was in 2008. My mother and brother flew from the other side of the world. I’m not including their costs.
$50 for a judge to marry us at the courthouse. $600 for ring from Craigslist. $1200 for honeymoon (cruise), which includes gas to get to port and one night in a hotel.
We don’t think of ourselves as cheap, but did not see the point in having a large party for everybody else. So worth it.