Deciding What to Spend on a Wedding

One of the questions I see most frequently on personal finance forums in the last few months is regarding weddings.

Quite simply, people are worried and no longer willing to shell out tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on an extravagant affair that will last one night.

It becomes quite clear that there are two schools of thought when it comes to weddings and other big events of this type:

  1. Go All-Out: You are only going to get married once, so make it as special and unforgettable as you can.
  2. Don’t Bother: Why waste all that money on something that you’ll barely remember and isn’t really for you, but for your guests?

The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle, trying to make the experience memorable while hanging on to the dollar bills as they slowly fly away into the wind.

In addition to the theories, you also approach the wedding process differently based on how much is in the bank:

  1. Not enough money – If you want to have a $30K wedding, but there’s only $5K in the bank, something has to give. Either you make the sacrifices necessary to bring down the overall cost, or you find a way to raise more money for the event. If you ignore the problem and wait for M-day, guess what happens?
  2. Too much money – You might laugh, but many people have a lot of money saved in the bank for emergencies and future plans. When it comes time to set a wedding budget, you may be tempted to use much of that savings for your special evening. With sufficient resources, how do you decide when enough is enough?

You can easily add to this a slew of other factors like family pressure, spousal-to-be differences, competing priorities, and so on. It’s easy to see why most of us get overwhelmed and frustrated with the whole process right from the start, since the budget is one of the first conversations to come up during planning.

Fear not, engaged couples. Here are a few tips for maintaining your sanity and deciding what to spend on a wedding in a rational, emotion-free manner (gulp!):

  • Make setting your budget one of the first things you do in the wedding-planning process. This decision affects the quality and scale of every other choice you make from that point forward.
  • Be open and honest with your future spouse about your feelings. Most people will not agree about what a wedding should look like and how much it should cost – that’s part of life.
  • Review your own financial situation in detail and determine your total available resources.
  • Get all of the stakeholders involved – parents, siblings – whoever will be part of financing the event, and gauge their potential contributions.
  • Once you know what’s available, the task becomes figuring out how much of it will actually be used for the event. (This is where things can get hairy). See the next set of tips.
  • If you don’t have enough money to do what you want, there are two options – cutting the budget down to size or finding more money. If you decide to cut the budget, you may need to downsize some of your ‘priority’ spending categories or get creative/do certain things yourself. It’s not out of the question and although it takes a significant time investment, it is doable. You pay for convenience, after all. If you decide to find the money instead, please don’t take out a loan. Instead, perhaps you can increase your savings budget or cut back on some of your expenses. Some people take on additional side work to make enough for a nice wedding.
  • If you have too much money, it’s time to put on the brakes. Sometimes, even the knowledge of a nice balance in the bank can inflate your expectations of what your wedding should be. My best advice if this is the case? Ignore your resources as best as you can and figure out the kind of wedding you would reasonably want. Or, think of the opportunity cost of using that additional “froof” money on a wedding versus all the others things money can buy – a new home, a jump start on retirement, etc. That can be all the motivation you’d need.
  • Choosing between an all-out extravaganza and a ‘quickie’ in a Vegas church does not have to be a black and white decision, because –
  • Thankfully, weddings are not single-component events. They are intricately put together with multiple vendors, choices, and levels of service. So –
  • You have options when it comes to levels of quality and scale for each individual component of a wedding. Use this to your advantage, and –
  • Prioritize each component (photography, food, ceremony, etc.) based on how important it is to you, and allocate funds to it accordingly.

By settling on a wedding budget early, you can bring out the money issues as soon as possible and avoid surprises down the road, when you’re too stressed out to be thinking about the basics of how you’re going to pay for things.

9 thoughts on “Deciding What to Spend on a Wedding

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  3. I actually budgeted about $70,000 for our wedding last year (paid for by us as we didn’t want anybody to pay). In the end, we decided on a romantic 16 person wedding on the beach and spent about $800 including the reception! It felt good saving $69,200 🙂



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    1. Holy smokes! That’s quite the difference.

      Just goes to show you that it is possible to have a wedding under $1,000! Thanks for sharing.

  4. My fiance and I have a budget of $4,000. We want to have a very laid back wedding, yet do not care for the amount of the wedding to be obvious …My fiance and I love each other very much and we want our friends and family to share in our joy of becoming man and wife…yet that totals around 100 people…we’re getting married on the beach, which cuts back on the ceremony fee, yet our main issue is the reception…the biggest amount. How do we have our dream wedding with our budget?

    1. Megan, At $40 a head, you’ll have to work hard to hit your budget, but I still think it’s doable. It just depends on what you’re willing to live without. Maybe your family and friends can do the cooking in someone’s back yard? Maybe an enthusiastic friend loves music and would like to DJ your reception? You’ll have to get creative or that $4K will run out FAST!

  5. I’m in the wedding business as a musician. Okay, I’m biased, but, honestly when people turn on an mp3 device for their music, it drives me nuts. A solo musician of any type (not just my type) will cost about what one bouquet costs. The whole atmosphere of your event will be cheapened if you have to resort to an mp3, as well as having a non-professional musician. If you’re baking your own cake with a Betty Crocker mix, then go ahead. But if you want something polished—hire a professional, one who is a Full-Time Musician, not just a moonlighter—make sure it is someone who has hundreds of weddings experience. Thank you for your consideration.

  6. I’m not engaged yet(in a relationship that is hopefully reaching that point)but I have been saving up for my wedding since I was 16 and I am now at a 70,000 budget. Is that too much and ridiculously stupid or am I sane?

    1. I would never tell you what is sane or not–you have to decide that for yourself. Personally, I would never spend on a wedding what I could buy a house for cash for.

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