As the saying goes, “first comes love, then comes marriage.” While that’s all fine and good, what the classic phrase fails to mention is the massive debt that can come from celebrating that marriage.
According to The Knot, the average American wedding in 2016 set the happy couples back about 35,329 big ones. Just two years earlier, brides and grooms were spending $32,641 on their nuptials on average—almost 3,000 bucks less. If this is a sign of things to come, future spouses-to-be will continue to drop more money on their big days every year.
When you break down the expenses of the big day, it's easy to see why brides and grooms are paying more to get hitched than ever before. Flowers, for example, can set you back hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Just the bridal bouquet itself can cost anywhere from $150 to $350. Factor in centerpieces, altar flowers, boutonnieres, and other floral necessities, and you've got a large price tag.
Wedding receptions are also a huge money drainer. On average, couples typically spend about $14,000 on their receptions.
Since finances are one of the most common reasons for divorce, you don’t want to start your marriage on the wrong economic foot by racking up a wedding bill that could cover the expense of a house. Instead, learn from the costly mistakes of others. Here, we’ve asked brides and wedding experts what couples believe they wasted their money on (and where they are glad they splurged) for their weddings.
Pennies Saved and Lessons Learned: What Not to Waste Your Money On
Compromise is the name of the game when it comes to weddings (and marriage, as it turns out). You can still have what you love, so long as you know where to cut costs elsewhere.
“My job as a wedding planner is to figure out how much they want to spend and then help them allocate the funds in a way that best suits them,” says Raquel Shutt, owner of Wedding Savvy Wedding and Event Consulting in Annapolis, Maryland.
"Everyone always wants a 10-piece band, 180 guests on the water with swans swimming by, and filet and crab on the menu," she says. "All of that costs a lot of money, so I ask which one is a priority. If they are dead set on something, we try to work out a way that it is affordable."
One method is to save where you can.
Cut both corners and slices.
The cake is one of the main players in just about every wedding reception, but is it really worth the hefty price tag?
Sure, the cake makes for a great picture prop and the perfect opportunity for bit of face cake smashing, but many couples question if the sweet treat is really a necessity.
Karma O’Neill, owner of KO Events, also in Annapolis, has helped brides and grooms plan their dream weddings since 2009.
Although cake or some dessert is pretty standard—and arguably, essential—at weddings, O’Neill says future newlyweds can cut costs by downsizing.
“I had one bride say she wasted money on cake. She ordered this elaborate, several-tiered cake and no one ate it. I see this a lot and always tell my brides to order for less than the guest count.”
Save money, but also save room.
When Sarah Price married her husband Brandon in April 2015, she knew she wanted to cut expenses by creating her own decorations. With the help of her mother, future mother-in-law, and bridesmaids, Price created the bouquets for her wedding party, along with the decorations for the venue.
Although Price was pleased with the amount of money she saved by making her decorations instead of hiring someone to, she’s also stuck with the leftovers.
“While overall I think this was a good idea, in practice, I ordered way too many materials,” says Price. “To this day—more than two years later—my mother’s attic is still filled with hundreds of fake flowers in various shades of blue.”
And although buying in bulk is typically more cost-effective, purchasing more than you need is a common pitfall.
“The problem started when I sought the convenience of Amazon and the bulk shipment discounts from their sellers,” says Price. “The good intention of buying an assortment of flowers for variety, coupled with my obsessive concern of not buying enough, led to a massive overestimation of needs.”
Don’t spend on a hidden accessory.
You can’t rock an amazing wedding dress without an equally amazing pair of shoes, right? After all, donning anything less than the best with your gown is like serving gourmet food on paper plates: it just doesn’t make sense. Or does it?
Think back to all the weddings you’ve been to. Now ask yourself how many times you saw the bride’s shoes. Chances are, you’ve seen them rarely, if it all.
Instead of spending cash on fabulous shoes that are probably going to inflict pain and remain under cover the entire ceremony and festivities, go with something that is comfortable.
“Wedding high heels usually get taken off anyways,” says O’Neill. “And if your dress is long, no one sees them!”
Don’t Save for a Cloudy Day: Make It Rain Right Now
Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay to save money. Cutting corners can mean cutting quality, and you may regret not spending where you should.
Say “yes” to the...well, just guess.
In theory, weddings should be about both of the people saying their vows. Many agree, however, that when there’s a bride involved, it’s really all about her.
As such, choosing what to wear on the big day is a major feat, especially when the bride wears a dress. And although the dress is one of the biggest expenses of the wedding, many wives agree it is one area in which it is okay, and even expected, to splurge.
Nikki Poole became a bride in July 2017 when she married her long-time partner Ryan in a ceremony on the beach.
Although she made her wedding as cost-effective as possible, there was one thing Poole didn’t mind splurging on: the dress.
“Obviously, I stayed within my means,” says Poole. “But I also waited a long time for this fool to propose so I wanted to treat myself. Even if you wear it one day, it’s one day that you are the most special and beautiful version of yourself.”
There’s nothing worse than a boring wedding reception. After all, guests can only dance and eat so much. Prevent your reception from becoming a total snooze fest by splurging on some entertainment, like a photo booth.
Who doesn’t love cramming into a picture while holding silly props? Along with providing mementos of your wedding, photo booths also provide a place for fun, laughing, and getting a little wacky. And bonus points: you can also use the pictures as favors for your wedding.
Bride Nikki Johnson wasn’t sold on the idea of having a photo booth at her wedding this past May, but eventually, her family convinced her, and she was glad they did.
I was indifferent towards it during the planning process. It was my dad’s idea to have it and I was whatever about it and felt it was just an added expense. It turned out to be one of the things our guests raved most about. They thought it was so much fun!
Eat, drink, and be merry.
It’s been said that there are only two details of a wedding that guests actually remember: the food and the music. It’s up in the air as to how much truth this anecdote holds—after all, different people pay attention to different things—but what many wedding frequenters know for sure is, food can make or break an event.
In order to give your guests the fuel they’ll need to dance the night away to that amazing music, you’ll have to fill their bellies. The best menus feature food that is tasty and memorable, and splurging is often the only way to achieve that.
“The best occasions in my life seem to involve food,” says Price. “We made sure not to cut corners on that and to this day still get compliments about the lobster bisque.”
You don’t have to spend most of your budget on the food; you can still provide fantastic fare by playing it smart. One way to cut costs is to limit the number of guests that are noshing on your expensive dinner, says Shutt:
The number one way to save on your wedding budget is your guest count. The average price point per guest in Maryland is $150 to $250 per person. Cutting off a few people from your guest count can save you hundreds of dollars you could use for something else.
So in lieu of inviting the babysitter you haven’t seen since you were in preschool, only ask the people you're close to now to come to your wedding. You’ll save money (and potentially some awkward conversations) by doing so.
When it’s worth thousands of dollars, and words.
In the photography world, you truly get what you pay for. Photographers on the lower end of the price spectrum often fail to provide photographs of the same quality as those who have a higher price point do. What this means for some brides and grooms is botched wedding pictures.
Unfortunately, you may have to spend a large portion of your wedding budget on photos. Many couples, however, don’t mind spending extra on this expense. Says Poole:
You won’t remember the details of your wedding 10 years from now or 20 years from now. But you’ll have those photos forever. Do research. Find a style you like. Absolutely splurge on photography. We contemplated having my sister do it but I’m so glad we didn’t. Our pictures are amazing.
The Takeaway: How to Make Your Wedding What You Want
The lesson here, brides- and grooms-to-be, is to do what makes you happy. If you want to spend a majority of your wedding budget on a reception, then do that. If you'd rather use your cash for a memorable honeymoon, give your travel agent a call, pronto. If you want it all, work with someone who can help you figure out the best way to divide your funds to make it happen.
It's your day, make it as special and personal as you can, while working on a budget that both you and your future spouse can agree on.