How much should you spend on your wedding?

As the father of a daughter, I’ll likely be thinking about wedding costs a lot sooner than I want.  I’m reminded of this every day as I watch my baby girl grow up at record speed.

Unless tradition reverses course, I’ll be expected to foot the bill.  That’s what happens when the coin toss shows up “female.”

The link on the MSN homepage to this article was titled “How much does the average wedding cost?”  Curious, I clicked through.

The article compared the average cost of a wedding today, with what it cost 80 years ago (in the middle of the Great Depression).  After adjusting for inflation, we spend more than four times as much on our weddings as we did 80 years ago.

Bargaining at its most refined

The essence of personal finance is recognizing good deals in context.  Whether something is a good deal or not depends entirely on the context.

There can be big social pressures, and even bigger family pressures, to “put on a good show” for the wedding.  This fact is not lost on wedding planners, bridal shops, and everyone else who has anything to sell to this market.

Add to this the fact that it’s meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, so there’s only one chance to nail it.  This by itself nudges people into spending more rather than less.

Navigating through the money parts of wedding planning successfully involves both (a) exiting with your finances (mostly) intact, and (b) exiting with a feeling of satisfaction, and without feeling that parts were unnecessarily cheap.  It’s a fairly hefty balancing act, actually!

So what’s the answer?  It depends

The balancing act boils down to being lavish on the important parts, and less so on the unimportant part.  Deciding which are the important parts, and which are the unimportant parts, though, depends completely on your values.

Looking back to how much our wedding cost twelve years ago — my, time flies! — and adjusting approximately for inflation, we fell in quite a bit below average.  This, with about a hundred guests.  Some of the trade-offs we made, and didn’t make, for our wedding follow:

  • My wife and her mom organized the whole thing.  There was no wedding planner to go through.  They were the wedding planner.
  • The rings were a lot less expensive than they could have been, but we love them.  My wife isn’t a diamond person, which helps a bit.  Nowhere near the “two months’ salary” benchmark the diamond industry would have us believe.  And she gets compliments on hers all the time.
  • The decorations were very pretty, but my wife did a lot of the legwork.  My wife loves to create prettiness wherever, whenever, so she took this on full bore, assembling all of the decorations herself.  We took a trip to what amounted to a wholesale store for interior decorators, and she was able to get exactly the kind of artificial flowers she wanted to use — along with candles and other things.
  • No open bar at the reception.  What is a budget-buster for many a wedding reception was not at ours.
  • We didn’t skimp on a photographer but we did get a great deal.  My wife’s matron of honor put in a plug for the photographer she used, and he was great.  Our engagement photo shoot and our wedding pictures came out fantastic.  And since he was “pro-am” he cost about a third of what a professional photographer would have charged.
  • The person who made our cake was also pro-am but excellent.  We had several flavors, the design was beautiful.  And quite a bit cheaper than a traditional wedding cake from a traditional venue.
  • Our “limousine” was her matron of honor’s minivan.  Saved a few hundred there (at least!)

This is a list of some of our trade-offs.  Some of our other friends made different trade-offs, and that’s fine!  They were putting money into what was important to them, not what was important to us, or any of their guests.

I’ve also heard stories about people trying to save too much money in areas that were actually important to them, and they weren’t pleased when they got what they paid for.  But by that point, it’s too late, and it can leave a sour taste for a long time.

Spend money on the things that matter.  Don’t spend money on the things that don’t.  Doing that much will maximize your “wedding goodness” for the price tag you can afford, whatever that price tag happens to be.

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. says

    When I got married 9 years ago, my parents and in-laws help us financially “thankfully”. :) We had a garden wedding in our yard, so we saved a lot for the reception, also my professional singer friends volunteered to sing during our wedding.

    • John Wedding says

      I bet that did save a bundle on the reception. It would have been a bit tough for us to pull that off. We got married at the beginning of February!

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