Weddings cost what?! Here's how much to budget and save for your big day.
Want your wedding to make the ultimate personal statement?
You and everyone else.
In fact, that quest has driven wedding expenses higher than ever, according to the Knot: The website's annual survey reports that the average American wedding cost nearly $33,000 in 2015. (That's more than half the national median income of about $54,000 — just saying.)
Of course, couples footing the bill all by themselves are in the minority.
At least among heterosexual couples, only 12% actually pay for the whole wedding themselves. On average, the bride's parents and the couple each cover about 45% of the cost, while the groom's parents account for the remaining 10% — according to the survey.
But there's still plenty of wallet pains to take into account: the self-funders who split the average cost with their partners pony up more than $15,000 each on average; and even those couples who split costs with their parents could still pay about $7,000 each, based on the Knot's data.
Of course, anchoring yourself to these crazy-high numbers is exactly what the wedding industrial complex wants you to do!
If you really want to keep your eye on your budget, look to more modest averages, and remember that the majority of weddings actually cost less than $10,000.
How does that work? Raw averages can be misleading, since big spenders can inflate the figures.
While couples' expenses range significantly — go big or go (get married at) home! — the items that will make the biggest difference on your budget are the same: the venue, the number of guests, and the style of your wedding.
Here's a three-step guide to setting that budget — and reining in costs.
Wedding planning step 1: How much does it cost to get married? Set expectations.
Budgeting for a wedding is harder than doing so for a car or house in that there may be several other people — whom you love very much! — at the negotiating table.
While it's great to get financial help from family or future in-laws, the downside is that it could come with some strings attached, with more interested parties investigating and picking apart each purchase.
That could mean drama: the last thing anyone wants ahead of their wedding day. Just imagine the normal awkwardness of dividing up a dinner bill — multiplied by dozens of tables, plus flowers and arrays of tiny, travel-themed favors.
Set the low drama tone early by creating boundaries: Talk to your families about possible contributions, and get as specific as possible in these early discussions.
If one parent is most comfortable handling discrete expenses — such as helping to choose a venue or to "say yes to the dress" — invite them along for the shopping. Showing respect for their generosity (and opinion) in those areas makes it less likely that they will try to micromanage other purchases.
Other family members may throw around dollar amounts, in which case you should ask early on if they have strong feelings about how that cash gets spent.
Wedding planning step 2: Dress and venue costs and $280 for boutonnieres!? Do the math.
Once you know roughly how much help you'll be receiving, you can begin figuring out your out-of-pocket costs.
The name of the game is comparison shopping, and for that, Cost of Wedding's Wedding Cost Estimator is going to be your new best friend.
Plug in specific details about the location, type and size of the wedding you're imagining and select from dozens of items — from boutonnieres to pedicures — you expect to spend money on, and it will spit out an estimated total cost.
The site also breaks down costs by category, detailing how much of the budget is going toward flowers, photography, entertainment and the rest of it.
You can run different estimates if, say, you're trying to decide between the urban loft venue downtown or the rustic barn venue in the country. Or if you're trying to decide between inviting all 30 cousins and their families — or just the ones you've actually seen in the last five years.
Wedding planning step 3: The average cost of a wedding in New York City versus other locations — be flexible.
Dropped the plan to ride into your ceremony on a unicorn and the idea of having Atlas Genius play your reception, and are still over budget?
You're going to have to compromise: Small cost-cutting measures can only do so much if you insist on having your wedding in the most expensive place at the most expensive time.
Location — meaning both the town or city and the venue — plays the biggest role in the cost of a wedding.
A wedding in Manhattan has an average cost of $82,299, while the average for the state of Alaska is only $17,361, according to the Knot's survey.
Not that you have to make such a drastic shift as Gramercy to Juneau, but popular venues will run up your tab. "Rustic" doesn't always mean cheap — you might want to consider a non-traditional venue
Stuck on one location?
The time of the wedding can also make a difference. October is now the most popular wedding month, according to the Knot's survey. Nearly half of all weddings are in the fall months (September, October and November). Winter weddings are less common and can therefore be more distinctive — and more affordable.
Venues often offer discounts during seasons and specific days (ask about Friday prices) with lower demand.
Wedding planning step 4: Think outside the box to cut remaining costs.
You may find that once you choose a location and venue, many decisions — and associated costs — self-select. In other words, weddings tend to be all of a piece.
On one hand, a wedding in an art museum is not going to hold with a relatively cheap buffet-style BBQ. On the other, having an outdoor food truck wedding will likely eliminate the need for caterers, satin linens, china — maybe even tables.
So if you're locked into a pricier plan, your best bet to stay under budget will be to trim miscellaneous costs as much as you can.
One tried-and-true way to reduce expenses is to (sometimes painfully!) take a red pen to your guest list. But beware: This method might not be as helpful as you hope.
While the average number of guests has gone down over the past five years, according to the Knot, spending-per-guest has gone up.
One better way to reduce expenses?
Scale back your photographer's hours — or look to a friend, a photography student or a less-established independent freelancer to lend a hand. (Just make sure to see some prior work samples first!)
Getting professional snaps will otherwise command a big chunk of change: The photographer's services alone — before the cost of purchasing the photos themselves — can range between $1,000 and $2,000, according to Cost of Wedding.
If you must have a pro, send them home after the cake-cutting and bouquet toss. After that, you'll just be getting repetitive (and often awkward) dancing pics — and, of course, myriad shots of other people taking pictures on their phones.
Check out Mic's other wedding planning hacks to save a bundle on your big day.