If you’re planning to get engaged, it’s possible you have already dreamt of your big day. Café lights twinkle above an ocean of loved ones. Alcohol is free-flowing, and your favorite local band plays through the night. On Pinterest, everything feels within reach — until you crunch the numbers. Wedding expenses add up faster than you think, but that doesn’t mean you are required to break the bank.
“When you’re marrying the right person, you can plan a great wedding at any budget,” says Shannon O’Kelley, a Nashville-based luxury wedding designer and partner at Sage Nines. Her clients typically spend between $75,000 and $150,000, but she says you can have a memorable wedding on a lot less.
According to The Knot’s 2017 Real Wedding Study, the average couple spends between $27,554 to $33,937 throughout the Southeast. While cities like Atlanta and Charlotte may not be the most expensive, they are certainly not the cheapest. (And these numbers don’t include the honeymoon!)
No matter how you slice it, your wedding will be expensive. Whether you are knee-deep in planning or not sure where to begin, experts can stretch your dollars to craft a remarkable event.
Be honest about your wedding budget.
When you’re newly engaged, everyone wants to hear the story of where it happened and see the ring. In the flurry of choosing bridesmaids, your wedding budget may be the last thing on your mind.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about money,” says Betsy Comella McKay, a Memphis-based wedding planner and owner of Salt Style & Events. Looping your vendors in early may help you avoid disappointment. You may also skip the sticker shock as your quotes for catering, flowers and drinks start rolling in. Share your goals upfront. If the estimates come in too high, start a list of what you can’t live without, Betsy adds.
Catering may be your biggest expense.
Both planners agreed catering is one of the biggest expenses.
Shannon says fine dining can cost up to $125 per person, but you can get a simple barbecue meal for as little as $20 each. The more guests you invite, the more expensive it gets. Sticking to light hors-d’oeuvres or skipping passed appetizers is another way to save. “Guests love to graze on food station items like sliders, charcuterie and do-it-yourself style with toppings,” Betsy adds.
Your alcohol tab can vary too. Splurging on a full open bar is a lot more costly than paying for only beer and wine. Shannon’s clients usually spend $10-$60 per bottle. You can save if the venue allows you to bring your own. The caterer may ask for a small corkage fee if they serve wine during dinner, but you’ll still come out ahead.
Paying for your dream venue
When it comes to picking a venue, the rental price doesn’t tell the full story.
“Couples want to book a venue as soon as possible. But you need to know what you’re getting before you sign on the dotted line,” Shannon says. The $5,000 quote may not include rentals, free parking or in-house lighting. You may not be able to choose a caterer or bring your own alcohol. Once you factor in all the add-ons, a $10,000 venue fee may actually be less expensive.
A lot of factors impact your total venue expense. With the average price tag at $15,163, looking for ways to save is critical. Picking a morning or afternoon on any day other than Saturday may help. Choosing the off-season — January, February or March — may also be less expensive. Regardless of where and when you choose, the guest list may be the single biggest factor in how much you spend.
Shannon points out you are paying for a lot more than each person’s food and drinks. You are footing the bill for the chair they sit in, the china they eat from and the floral centerpiece in front of them. She asks her clients if they would be willing to spend $200 to take each of their guests to dinner.
As your wedding weekend flies by, you may only get a few hours to mingle with guests. How many people can you actually talk to during that small window of time? At the end of the day, you may feel happier spending quality time with your closest loved ones. The pressure to exchange a quick hello with a ton of acquaintances may not be as memorable.
Where it makes sense to save
If there’s a limit on your budget, there may be some tradeoffs that don’t feel like much of a sacrifice. Choosing a DJ instead of a live band is one example. The decor is another area where it’s easy to save.
“If your floral budget isn’t as big as you’d like, try decorating with candles. It offers a romantic feel at a friendlier price,” says Betsy. She suggests using votives, lanterns and floating candles in cylinder vases.
Skipping the favors is another way to save money. Shannon says favors cause unnecessary stress for the bride and often get left behind. The same goes for hotel welcome gifts. “It’s easy to get sucked into ideas from Pinterest, but the container, contents and hotel fee aren’t worth it,” she says.
Digital save the dates are another saving opportunity. Those who are most important to you will likely already know when your wedding is. As long as your invitations have plenty of lead time, save the dates aren’t necessary.
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Where to splurge
While there are plenty of ways to save money, a few areas are worth spending extra. Shannon says photography is worth the added expense. “It’s the one thing — aside from your memories and marriage — that lasts beyond your wedding day,” she says. The average photography package costs $2,630 and will benefit your family for generations to come.
An experienced and reliable planner may also be worth the added cost. Your wedding only happens once, and there are no second chances to get it right. “You’re relying on your planner to invest a large sum of money for you,” she points out. A cheaper planner may not save you in the long run.
Your price tag won’t dictate the success of your wedding
It may be tempting to drop tens of thousands of dollars, but there’s no “right” amount for your special day. Parents chip in for almost 60 percent of the average wedding expenses. If your family can’t swing it, taking on large amounts of debt may put your other financial goals at risk.
“I started out planning $10,000 weddings in my backyard. As far as I know, those marriages are just as strong as the folks who spend $150,000,” Shannon adds.
Planning a wedding and looking for some inspiration? We’ve got you covered right here.