Average Wedding Cost: Where Does All the Money Go?


Daniel P. Smith

wedding limo
Photo Credit: AveryHouse

Budget Breakdown for The Northeast

The Venue: 11%
Looking to capture the city’s picturesque skyline and customize a blank palette, Sojourner Auguste, executive director of New York City-based Erganic Design, says many local couples turn to New York City’s “raw” venues, namely loft spaces, to host their wedding, directing additional capital to the necessary lighting, decor and other rentals. While raw spaces — be they urban lofts or vast country barns — possess a compelling energy, Auguste suggests couples on a tight budget consider a fully furnished space that already claims the style and character they envision for their wedding day.

wedding ceremony
Photo Credit: Bethalée Photography

Food and Beverage: 55%
Auguste finds many caterers are willing to customize packages at or near a couple’s budget. Her money saving tip: “Beware of too many specialized cocktail hour and dessert stations, which increase staffing and rental costs.”

Photography and Video: 14%
Auguste advises brides to map out a timeline of the day they can then share with the photographer and videographer. “From that timeline, you can then determine the moments you want captured and discern how long you need the photographer and videographer on site.”

Entertainment: 5%
Rather than booking live musicians for the ceremony and cocktail hour, Auguste urges brides to limit live music to the reception and to add an extra hour or two to the DJ’s contract to cover those segments. “In many cases, you can negotiate a discounted rate for the DJ’s additional time.”

Rentals: 9%
Rental fees can add up quickly. Auguste’s budget-friendly tip: “Make sure you see exactly and only what you need from the caterer, so you don’t have to pay for extra utensils or glassware that won’t be used.”

Flowers: 6%
“Think beyond flowers,” Auguste says, and ask florists about “fillers” that will lower costs without sacrificing beauty. “Many florists provide candlelight or centerpiece decor items that will match your theme at a more cost-effective price point.”

Next: Wedding budget breakdown in the South

Budget Breakdown for The South

The Venue: 13%
A number of Southern brides turn to distinctive landmarks, such as historic homes or museums, as their wedding venue. By booking in off-peak months — generally, January, February, July and August — Tara Skinner, co-owner of Savannah, GA-based Posh Petals and Pearls, says brides might secure the venue of their dreams on a slimmer budget.

southern wedding
Photo Credit: Kim Graham Photography

Food and Beverage: 33%
Skinner advises couples to monitor the rental costs required to outfit special locations like mansions and museums. In some (but not all) cases, an all-inclusive, hotel-based reception might be the more economical move. “Do your homework to find out which option is best for you and your budget,” Skinner says, adding that, regardless of one’s venue, Southern couples can’t forget to account for another local tradition — the groom’s cake — in their food and beverage budget.

Photography and Video: 16%
Many photographers and videographers offer packages providing complete files of images or raw footage. While that option might intrigue couples with a creative bent, Skinner urges brides to be realistic. “If you choose a disc of images over a finished wedding album, you will save money initially, but will you actually see your DIY album or video project through?”

Entertainment: 9%
Though many couples view entertainment as the place where they can trim the budget, Skinner advises her clients to consider the entertainer’s talent and service alongside the cost. “It’s essential to have an entertainer who understands a wedding’s flow and tone as well as one who can emcee the celebration with poise and professionalism.”

Rentals: 17%
Some of the most unique Southern venues are blank canvases requiring rental of both specialty and basic items, including linens. If you find must-have (but pricey) linens, Skinner suggests using them only on high-visibility areas, such as the cake table.

Flowers: 126%
Skinner’s tip: “Consider repurposing your bridesmaids’ bouquets for later use at the reception. It’s a great way to save money without sacrificing style.”

Next: Wedding budget breakdown in the Midwest ►

Budget Breakdown for The Midwest

The Venue: 10%
With a short window to accommodate outdoor weddings, most Midwest brides take the show indoors to places like historic hotels, country clubs or loft spaces that once hummed with machinery. When searching for a venue, Lauren Housley, owner of Chicago-based Ryan Alexander Events, says you shouldn’t neglect key details, such as lighting. “The more natural light a venue has, the better it is for pictures.”

bride and groom
Photo Credit: Jai Girard Photography

Food and Beverage: 46%
Housley calls food an oft-overlooked way to add personalization. “You can work with your caterer to recreate signature family dishes or to create twists on famed Chicago dishes, such as an Italian beef pizza with a giardiniera topping.”

Photography and Video: 12%
Creating a detailed shot list is critical. Not only to ensure you get the photos you want, but also to streamline the photographer’s work and make efficient use of his or her time —and yours. (Why pay extra fees if the shots you want are already taken?)

Entertainment: 15%
While many guests love hearing the classics at weddings, you can add a touch of distinctiveness to your day by asking the band or DJ for some interesting songs that are not wedding-day staples. Chicagoans, for example, might request the beloved Chicago Bears fight song or Sinatra’s “Chicago” to add a spirited local flavor to the event. “Add in your favorite nontraditional songs to make your day more memorable for your guests,” Housley says.

Rentals: 8%
You can save on rental fees by asking the venue manager if they would be flexible with the post-reception pick-up time. By arranging a Monday pick-up, for instance, Housley says you can save $100 to $300. And in an effort to minimize delivery fees, “Consolidate tables, chairs and other rental orders from just one or two companies.”

Flowers: 9%
Need to slim down the floral budget? Look to the ceremony location and leverage its inherent beauty as the backdrop. The Chicago area, for instance, is home to some of the nation’s most ornate churches, locations featuring stained glass, murals and other elegant architectural hallmarks. “If you are already getting married at a stunning church, go for a really simple ceremony arrangement that can be repurposed at the reception,” Housley says.

Next: Wedding budget breakdown in the Southwest ►

Budget Breakdown for The Southwest

The Venue: 5%
Janet Finden, event planner and owner of Cause for Celebration in Phoenix, AZ, urges couples to select a venue that has a food and beverage minimum fitting their budget; When the minimum is met, she says, the site fee is often waived. Couples might also want to consider a non-Saturday wedding, which should result in reduced site fees and, frequently, less stringent food and beverage minimums.

country wedding
Photo Credit: SuthiPicotte

Food and Beverage: 64%
Since portions are planned out and controlled, plated, sit-down dinners can actually cost less than serving your guests buffet style. When working with venues or caterers, Finden says “You can trumpet the planning and portion efficiencies that come with plated meals to negotiate a lower cost.”

Photography and Video: 12%
Finden urges couples to review the photographer’s contract to ensure they are receiving a DVD or flash drive of all their photos with print rights. You can later use that disc to order low-cost prints from any retailer.

Entertainment: 8%
Finden says you can maximize your entertainment budget by using a DJ for both the ceremony and reception. She says many DJs can easily add extra sound equipment to accommodate the ceremony location.

Rentals: 3%
By selecting a venue with well-maintained facilities, Finden says rental fees should be minimal because chairs and linens will often be made available to you at little or no expense.

Flowers: 8%
According to Finden, you can reduce your financial outlay for flowers simply by selecting a venue with eye-catching traits, such as a ceremony location with a beautiful natural backdrop or a reception space with rich architectural elements. The southwest is, in fact, well known for rich and lively natural spaces full of depth and dynamic colors. To further reduce flower costs, “Think about using more candles and fewer flowers for evening receptions.”

Next: Wedding budget breakdown in the West ►

Budget Breakdown for The West

The Venue: 10%
With water on one side and mountains on the other, West Coast couples enjoy a diverse array of vibrant sites for their wedding, including lush vineyards, ranches and beachfront resorts with endless ocean views. Before visiting any potential venue, Melissa Barrad, owner of San Diego-based I Do…Weddings & Events, recommends that you thoroughly research it online. “Doing so will save time as well as provide key insights on what budget items can be reduced because of the site’s existing characteristics as well as what expenses, such as decor or floral, might need to increase.”

country wedding
Photo Credit: SuthiPicotte

Food and Beverage: 50%
Food and, particularly, beverage can quickly consume much of your budget. Barrad suggests investigating venues that will allow you to bring in your own wine and liquor, either as a part of the rental agreement or through corkage fees. With that go-ahead, couples could then bring in local favorites, such as craft beer from one of the region’s many breweries — Portland, for instance, has more breweries than any city in the world — or wine from Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

Photography and Video: 10%
Barrad says couples on a tight budget might consider hiring a photographer for a “shoot only” package that provides high-resolution images. Then, later, when the bank account bounces back, you can make an album.

Entertainment: 10%
Barrad suggests looking for multi-faceted musical professionals who can play live music for the ceremony and cocktails — and perhaps even dinner and the first dance — before switching to recorded music for the evening.

Rentals: 10%
“Ask caterers and venue hosts for a comprehensive and itemized quote covering all the necessary materials, such as flatware, glassware, portable restrooms and lighting,” Barrad says. In some cases, you might be able to forego or reduce certain items; in others, you might secure items from a different vendor — or even provide them yourself — at a lower cost.

Flowers: 10%
While flowers contribute to the bride’s vision and the overall wedding-day vibe, Barrad urges couples to embrace novel approaches that can reduce costs. “Hire a florist who is flexible and will even allow you to either provide your own containers or rent his or hers,” Barrad says.