Wedding Costs – Breaking Down the Cost of a Wedding

Some say $20K, some say lower, while others say much, much higher than $100K. We’re talking about both ends of the spectrum here. A very simple, no-frills wedding could cost about $500.00 which should cover the license, the ceremony, and an intimate dinner with only family at a moderately priced restaurant. Or if you want a wedding like the one that Tom Cruise organized for his dear Katie, we could be looking at a million, at least.

The question therefore of “how much would a wedding cost” will not get you a straight answer. The cost would depend on your parameters:

  • How many guests do you want to invite?
  • Are you planning a religious ceremony and a reception, or just a ceremony?
  • Will you be holding the reception at a hotel, on the beach, or in a public park?
  • What kind of wedding cake do you fancy?
  • What is the size of your wedding entourage (how many bridesmaids and groomsmen do you want)?
  • Are you having invitations printed? Are you hiring a photographer, a singer, and a band?
  • Are you planning to distribute wedding favors?
  • Flowers are always part of a wedding. The fancier and more exotic the flowers, the more it’s going to eat into your wedding budget.

As soon as you make the decision to marry, try to set a date for 8-12 months hence. The only reason we recommend a longer time frame is that service providers charge hefty extras for last minute arrangements and requests. The adage “haste makes waste” could never be truer. When you’re in a rush, think of how many things could go wrong: invitations were not printed correctly because you approved the wrong draft, the flowers you ordered have to be special-shipped from the Netherlands, or the wedding toppers could bear the wrong monograms. And your dress is way too tight.

Wedding Cost – Budget with a Capital B!

You’ve decided to marry, and the wedding date is set. The next issue that takes priority is your budget. You and your future spouse should decide how much you want to spend and where the money will be coming from. American and Canadian couples, on the average, usually allocate about $20,000-$25,000.00 for their weddings. If you live in expensive cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary, that amount could double. Thank goodness, no one in the government has thought of imposing a tax on weddings yet!

Before you start getting ambitious, just remember this piece of wisdom from Carley Roney. It’s your budget, not your dreams, that will set the tone of the wedding, and how grandiose or austere it’s going to be.

Paying for a wedding is like buying a computer. How much you ultimately spend depends on what extras you throw in. The fancier your computer’s accessories and programs, the pricier it will be. The same goes for weddings. Carley Roney and the editors who compiled the book, The Knot Complete Guide to Weddings in the Real World (New York, 2004) mentioned that these factors will affect the final price tag: formality (the more formal the affair, the more expensive it will be), guest list (the higher the number of invitees, the more you’ll spend), food (you need to decide if it’s going to be breakfast, lunch or dinner, or just hors d’oeuvres. Dinner is more expensive than lunch), reception site (a swanky downtown hotel will run up your bill) and the location of your wedding (getting married in Beverly Hills or in the tiny principality of Monaco is not the same as getting married in Tyler Town, Manitoba).

Try to stick to your budget. Make sure you keep all expense-related paperwork in one place. Put them in a safe binder so when you review your expenses after you’ve settled down and the bills come pouring in, you’ll know if you stayed within budget or went overboard. After one wedding experience – your own – you can act as consultant for your friends’ future weddings re cost.

How do you go about budgeting for a wedding? That’s easy – it’s called the law of percentages. You sit down and make a list of expenses. When your list is complete, you assign percentages for individual items. Your price matrix might look like this (assuming you’ve decided to budget $30K):


TOTAL BUDGET Expense How Much to Spend (%)
$30K Food 40%
Reception Site 7%
Attire 10%
Flowers 8%
Photography/Videography 12%
Music 8%
Invitations 4%
Favors 3%
Rings 5%
Ceremony (officiant, fees and programs) 3%


Should Mom and Dad…?

No. Don’t even ask. Mature, working adults should not expect their parents to help financially. Your parents have raised you and given you an education. Their duty ends there. If they offer, then accept it graciously. Otherwise, don’t think that asking your parents for a financial contribution is a birthright. Older people are retired, and for many retired couples, their incomes are now limited and they can’t afford to spend as much as they used to. Put yourself in their shoes. After raising your children, you want them to grow up into responsible, self-sufficient adults. Retired parents have enough problems of their own. In addition to financial and health problems, they sometimes have to deal with boomerang kids or children who need money because they’re getting married. It’s not fair to them.

This is why it’s always a good idea to decide your wedding months ahead. It will give you time to save up as well, so you’re not short of cash on your wedding day.

Don’t forget the interference factor. If you request your parents’ help, there’s the risk of mom and pop calling the shots. Since they’re paying for part or all of the wedding, they will logically think that it’s only natural for them to have a say.

There are couples, however, who would rather not ask for help of any kind because they don’t want to lose control over the wedding arrangements. Disagreements can easily arise and if things aren’t spelled out in the beginning, you could end up hurting some people’s feelings.

If you’re one of the few fortunate ones who have exceptionally wealthy parents and they insist on paying for everything, discuss it with your spouse (who might feel uncomfortable about it) and then sit down with your parents and come up with a clear, well-defined budget so you don’t have to bother them again for a second check.

Cutting Back

Smart couples have devised numerous ways to cut down on certain expenses. It takes creativity and some homework to shave off precious dollars and cents from the final bill.

  • If you’re not feeling intimidated about it, talk to the couple who is getting married right before you or after you and see if they’d agree to sharing the flower bill for the church;
  • Book the reception ahead. It’s like flying. The earlier you book, the better your discount.
  • The whole wedding cake does not have to be made with natural ingredients. Ask your baker if it would be cheaper to combine artificial/frozen ingredients with natural ingredients.
  • Review your guest list several times. It’s amazing how much you can deduct by subtracting headcount.
  • Do you really need a photography and videography arrangement for your wedding? If you want both – (it is, after all, a memorable event) limit the number of shots either in church or at the reception. You can agree with the photographer ahead of time how many shots you want for each segment.
  • You don’t need to hire an expensive, well-known live band to provide the dance music at your wedding. The neighborhood band could be a decent choice, or you can hire a disc jockey with a music collection and a pair of good loudspeakers for the reception.
  • You can also cut back on wedding favors. Guests don’t expect to receive fancy crystal as a memento of your wedding. It’s nice but it certainly is optional.
  • Try to get married on less expensive months.
  • Your wedding cake should be the dessert. There is no need to have 2-3 desserts.
  • Instead of an open bar during the reception, serve the wine in passed glasses. Another cost-cutting measure: close the bar an hour before the reception ends.


Not everyone wants a grand wedding. Rightly so. They know that a wedding is just the start of a lifetime of expenses. After you get married, there will be bills to pay and a house to buy. Then the children come. They’ll need pediatric and dental care regularly as they’re growing up. Or you have elderly parents whom you’re supporting.

It’s true that a wedding is a once in a lifetime event, but don’t get too blindsided by the red carpet VIP treatment. It only lasts a day. Save your pennies for a rainy day.

One woman who divorced after five years of marriage said: “It was a beautiful wedding. It was also very expensive, and our family and friends talked about how magnificent everything was. But if I had known that Mark and I would be splitting up after only five years, I don’t think I would have spent as much. We practically liquidated our lifetime savings and we incurred such a large debt because of the wedding. Now we’re divorced and we’re still paying the wedding bills.”



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