The Average Wedding Cost Is Crazy: Why Do People Spend So Much Money?

I am constantly amazed at how much money people spend on weddings.  I was in the elevator on my way to a business meeting a few weeks ago when I heard a woman talking about how she had 1,000 people at her wedding a few months earlier.  I seriously had to bite my tongue to keep from turning around and blurting out, “WHAT?!  Are you CRAZY lady?!”  My floor came and I had to exit the elevator before I heard any more details of this lavish celebration, but I found myself trying to justify her bizarre behavior by concluding she must have gotten hitched to a Hollywood celebrity or perhaps a British royal!

The Average Wedding Cost Makes Me Shake My Head

Did you know that the average wedding cost is now close to $28,000?  Sheesh!  While this rising average could make me feel bullish about our economy, it doesn’t.  Why?  Because too many people use getting married as an excuse to spend tens of thousands of dollars that they do not have.  I completely understand and agree that getting married is a once in a lifetime event (hopefully) and that everyone wants their wedding to be special, but I think it is foolish and irresponsible for couples to go into debt in order to pay for their wedding.

A lot of couples get financial help from their parents and families, but that has always felt weird to me.  I realize for some it’s a cultural thing, and I’ve even been to several weddings where it’s customary for guests to offer gifts of money to the bride and groom, but my husband and I didn’t want anything to do with that for our wedding.  I think this stems from our untemplate, minimalist, and independent nature.  The way I see it is our parents already gave us so much growing up that it just doesn’t feel right to ask them, or any relatives or friends for that matter, to help pay for anything once we become self-sufficient adults with our own income.  I’ve also learned a lot about how to handle family money problems which is another reason why I don’t recommend expecting or asking family for money.

How Many Wedding Guests Do You Really Need Anyway?

I really wouldn’t be too surprised if that crazy lady I overheard in the elevator married an unknown, wealthy Joe Schmoe and not a mysterious royal or movie star.  She sure seems narcissistic for inviting that many people don’t you think?  I’d be surprised and impressed if they even knew the names and faces of all of their guests!  Plus there’s no way she and her husband would even have had time for a meaningful conversation with every one of their guests unless they had a week long wedding!

While I think a 1,000 person wedding is quite the extreme, almost all the couples I know had/will have 150-200 people on their guest list.  A few outliers I know of were 3 couples at 250+, 2 at 50-100, and 1 at less than 50.  Even though it’s fun being a guest at a large wedding, I’m a huge fan of small, intimate weddings.  We had less than 30 people at our wedding and it rocked.  It was super easy to plan, there was plenty of time to talk to everyone so we didn’t feel rushed or exhausted, we knew all the guests really well which made it lots of fun, plus it was cheap!

I’m constantly surprised more people don’t go for small weddings.  You save SO much money and there’s nothing to stress about!  If you’re trying to decide who to put on your guest list, my advice is stick to inviting the people you care about the most because they’re the ones who want to be there the most too!

Don’t Start Your Marriage In Debt Up To Your Ears

I have one pair of friends who spent just shy of $100,000 on their wedding about two years ago.  I almost spit my juice out of my mouth when they told me that lol!  The ceremony and reception were held at a beautiful estate tucked into the hills, and the food was delicious, but 100 grand, really?!?!  Even though they are well off, they still had to borrow money from the bank and get help from their parents to pay for everything.  That just does not make sense to me!

And just last year one of my close friends from college held a beautiful wedding at a five star resort that probably cost them about $80,000!  It was exquisitely executed with a large wedding party, gourmet food, a live band, a 6 person team of photographers and videographers, plus programmed lighting during the dinner and reception.  Yes folks, couples are hiring professional wedding lighting designers now!

When my friend first told me she was having lighting at her wedding my thoughts were, “well duh, we don’t want to eat in the dark.”  Little did I know she was talking about the professional team she hired to put up a rig of multicolored LED lighting cans, monogrammed gels and strobes for the dance floor, and a spotlight for giving speeches!

The wedding was stunning but I felt sick to my stomach when I kept hearing her say, “gosh we’re so broke.”  Umm, so what the heck was she and her fiance thinking spending so much money for one day if they didn’t have the money to afford it?  If you have tons of money to burn then sure why not throw an all out wedding, but if you’re already on a budget (which she was) and don’t have a lot of savings in the bank, going into tens of thousands of debt for 1 day of fun is asking for serious trouble.  One of the most common thing couples fight about is money too, so do yourselves a major favor and don’t start your marriage off in debt up to your ears.  It IS possible to have an awesome wedding without getting anywhere close to the average wedding cost of $28,000.

To Decline Or Not To Decline Invitations

Weddings are fun to attend, but I’ve done my fair share of declining invitations.  Usually it’s because I don’t know the couple very well, the location is far away and expensive to get to, or the timing interferes with existing plans that I don’t want to reschedule.  I have an open invitation right now to a wedding in LA on Labor Day Weekend and am debating if I should decline it or not.  LA is not that far, but the venue for the wedding is a super expensive beach resort that has a 3 night minimum stay because of the holiday weekend!  Even though I used to hang out with the bride during my college days, we didn’t really keep in touch after that and I’m not that close to her or her fiance now.  However, they are moving to the Bay Area this summer so there’s a chance we may hang out more since they’ll be close by.

I’m leaning towards declining the invitation though.  I just don’t feel like spending $1800-2000 (for 1 person) to fly and stay at this 5 star resort to see people I’m not that close with anymore.  If it was for my best friend’s wedding then yeah I’d probably find a way to make it work, but for a distant friend it’s just too expensive!  Plus they have a 16 person wedding party which leads me to believe the guest list is huge so I highly doubt I will be missed!  But because they are relocating here I feel somewhat obligated to go.  It’d be so much easier if they just hadn’t invited me lol!

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Current as of 10/25/2014




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Hi there, I’m Sydney! After ten crazy years, I left a grueling six-figure job in 2015 for a better life. Now I spend my days writing, freelancing in various capacities, and finding new ways to stretch my brain. I’m crazy about photography, traveling the world, and stopping to smell the roses. Untemplater is where I share my insights and adventures with the world. I hope to never stop learning and being able to give back - every day is a gift! My love of helping people improve their lifestyles, careers, wealth and happiness constantly motivate me to write and evolve. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you in the comments below!

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  1. says

    Any occasion where it is frowned upon to look at the cost, marketers make the most of it. Look at the cost of an average burial or toys for the newborn or wedding! Insane prices because they can!

    • Sydney says

      That’s true! Funeral costs are outrageous. Any time a venue hears the word “wedding” their prices go up immediately!

  2. says

    I cannot fathom having a wedding that expensive. That’s a down payment on a house! It’s another college education. I just couldn’t do it. When the boy and I get married, I think we’ll be aiming for under $10K.

    • Sydney says

      I was the same way. We were much happier putting more of our money towards our honeymoon than for the actual wedding, and even then we still had an affordable honeymoon. There’s no need to spend $1,000/night at a resort to have an amazing honeymoon! I wouldn’t be able to stomach that kind of spending.

      That’s great you’re aiming for $10k or less. I think that’s definitely the smart way to go and you’ll still have a total blast and special, happy memories! :)

  3. says

    If it’s not a close friend, then I wouldn’t go to the wedding. A lot of people think that “if I send them an invitation then they have to send me a gift” so they bulk up their lists just for that reason.

    My wife and I got married for about $9,000 (which our parents paid for). About $500 on clothes (dress, accessories, vests and ties rented for the men), another $400 on meals (we had 23 people, total, at our wedding ceremony and went out to eat afterward), paperwork and some hotel rooms for some of the guests.

    The rest went to a big bash after the honeymoon. We went to a family’s house and threw a big Bar-B-Q over the course of a weekend where all of the extended family and friends could come and visit. All of that money went toward food and drinks. We had a great time and were able to see everyone for a whole weekend.

    Our secret to a cheap wedding was to find the right location. We chose a spot in a national forest. No decorations necessary!

    • Sydney says

      Yeah, I’m leaning towards declining the September wedding. I hadn’t thought about that angle of people sending out lots of invitations in the hopes of getting gifts even from the people who decline. That’s so greedy!

      $9k is a good reasonable number and that’s nice your parents paid. I love that you had a post honeymoon bash for friends and family! And wow, a wedding in a national forest – love it!!

  4. says

    Wowza, professional wedding lighting folks! I wonder how much that cost!?!

    It’s one thing to spend $100,000 if your net worth is $2,000,000+… it’s another thing to spend even $28,000 if the couple makes under $100,000. $28,000 is about $50,000 in gross income one has to spend, and that’s nuts if that is truly the average, since we know the median household income is around $55,000.

    As a guy, I blame and praise the woman. Guys really don’t care much. It’s the woman who leads the charge and wants or doesn’t want this and that. Sorry to say ladies, but some women just go CRAZY over weddings… irrational… they tweet about their wedding nonstop, say they get their dress, flowers, etc right in the face of many women who are still single.

    Keep things low key folks!


    • Sydney says

      Professional lighting packages typically range between $600-2000. I think my friend paid around $1500 for hers. Not insanely expensive, but definitely not something anyone really needs. That money alone can pay for a nice domestic honeymoon, or at least half the airfare for an international one.

      I agree that a lot of women go into bridezilla and princess mode and want way too much elaborate stuff for their wedding! Back in my days of watching reality TV I saw how crazy brides-to-be can get and knew I didn’t want to become anything like that lol.

  5. Rachel says

    If you aren’t close now then I’d say skip it. Send them a nice card or something to congratulate them on the wedding or maybe take them out when they move up to the bay area. I can’t fathom spending 2k to go to a huge wedding for someone I’m not close with.

    • Sydney says

      I like your suggestions! A card and then dinner later after they move here is a good idea and SO much cheaper. And if they decline my dinner invite then I’ll save even more hehe.

      I’m sure it would be nice to stay at their fancy resort for the weekend but I’m happier to keep 2k in my savings for my next overseas vacation!

  6. Benny says

    Im glad my wife didn’t want a big wedding! We just went to Vegas and saved a ton of time, stress and money. We both were happy about it!

    I don’t understand couples who go into debt cause of their wedding! Or blow so much money on it.

    As for the invitation, I’d decline it especially since you’re not super close to that person anymore and it’s going to be expensive.

    • Sydney says

      Yeah that’s awesome you guys did the Elvis wedding in Vegas. :)

      I’m glad no one has voted to go to the Labor day wedding! My guilt of declining the invitation is melting away every second. Thanks for your input!

  7. says

    Those unplanned weddings seem to come at the worst time, budget-wise. It’s hard to decline for some people, so often we have to bite the bullet. I love being asked to travel across the country, spend a bunch of money, then be expected to show up with a toaster.

    • Sydney says

      haha love your comment about the toaster. I talked to a friend of mine recently who said she has 6 weddings to go to this year, yikes! Glad I’m not in her shoes!

  8. says

    I never get it when people decide to hold their wedding on Labor Day weekend (or some other holiday weekend for that matter). Although I usually love the people who are getting married, you just tied up a long weekend for my family. Thanks. Seems kind of self-centered.

    The best wedding I went to EVER had about 40 people. They rented a beautiful place and served a nice dinner. They could afford to be elegant because they didn’t have to invite everyone from the county to come.

    • Sydney says

      I know! I don’t want to give up my long weekend either!

      That’s so cool about that wedding you went to. The couple I know who had less than 50 people had an elegant wedding too with local family and close friends. It was so nice to be able to get to know their family and be with other close friends of ours and also have time to actually hang out with the bride and groom.

  9. says

    I’ve declined one invitation because the trip was too costly, even though I would have loved to go.

    My wedding cost maybe $8k total – food, alcohol, flowers, and her dress. We kept it very low key at a restaurant, were married by a family friend, and her mom and aunt made all the flower arrangements. The biggest expenses were food ($3k) and alcohol ($3k).

    I think we did pretty good.

    • Sydney says

      That’s really good Robert! Alcohol and food definitely take up a lot of the expenses but you guys kept the costs down a lot. Some women I know spent $8 alone just for their dress! I think that is so nuts.

  10. says

    It one thing if the couple or parents make a conscious decision to spend a lot of money, but to impose added costs on the guests to travel and stay there is just wrong. There should be a sensitivity for the guests and how much they should or could spend. The same goes for imposing high costs on the bridesmaids too.

    • Sydney says

      It is rather wrong isn’t it. I had to pay for my bridesmaid dress for my friends $80k wedding but at least my dress was less than $150 which wasn’t bad. The bride paid for getting our hair done and I was able to use shoes I already had too which was nice.

    • Matilda81 says

      My husband and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary in a few days. We were fortunate enough to have my mother cover all of the costs, which came to around $97,000. I know that is a large amount, but my she insisted on doing this for us. This was something that she always planned to do. Considering the fact that she donated more to charity than she spent on our wedding, I don’t think she should be judged harshly for spending this amount. We chose to get married in my small East Texas hometown of 8,000 and used as many local vendors as possible. We even registered at local shops, instead of stores like Pottery Barn. Due to those decisions, and the fact that we had 60 guests filling the local hotel, the shrinking economy received a small boost. I made sure to pick a bridesmaid dress that was within everyone’s budget. Their hair and makeup costs were covered , and no one was expected to pay for any pre-wedding event they could not afford. We made sure that our ceremony was not too long, and then, after an elegant cocktail hour, we surprised our guests with a fun band. We wanted our guests to have a wonderful time and for things to run smoothly. A wedding planner took care of that and, yes, we had lighting design. To prevent drunk driving, a van shuttle service was provided. My husband and I are eternally grateful to have been given such a generous gift. People should not be automatically judged harshly just because you don’t approve of the amount that is spent.

      • says

        Congrats on your one year anniversary! Wow you guys were really fortunate to have your mother cover all those costs. Sounds like she is quite financially secure and was happy to give you an elaborate wedding without having to go into debt, which sounds rare. Most people don’t have the luxury of spending that much without going into debt and therefore should really consider a smaller wedding within their means. If money isn’t an issue though, then sure why not treat yourselves, and your family and friends. That’s cool you registered at local shops.

  11. Hunter - Financially Consumed says

    I wouldn’t hesitate turning-down that wedding invitation…at that cost. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay that much out-of-pocket to attend my wedding.

    I’m with you on this argument Sydney. Lavish party spending is kind of obscene.

    • Sydney says

      Yeah it’s too expensive to feel good about and I really don’t like that the resort requires a 3 night minimum stay since I don’t want to go to all the events and hang out with them for that long.

      I’d hate to see the couple’s bill from this resort. It must be astronomical!

  12. says

    Haha, we had a 16 person wedding party and had our wedding near LA (Camarillo). I know a few of my friend from back East didn’t come for financial reasons, and I told them it was okay.

    $100,000 wedding? Wow – that’s ridiculous. I thought ours was expensive…

  13. says

    I was 24 when I got married. About 250-300 people attended my wedding/reception. I give a range b/c we had quite a number of crashers. The total cost was 25k. Yes this is a staggering number but, we did it all cash. We saved for 1 year to get this amount of money and received 0 help from parents. Nothing wrong with having an expensive wedding as long as you will be disciplined and do it all cash or of course you have someone else fitting the bill.

    • Sydney says

      Wow nice job paying cash, especially at 24 with no help from your parents! I wouldn’t have been able to do that at 24. Sounds like you are quite the disciplined saver which is a great quality to have, especially when you make and reach your own financial goals.

  14. Dr Dean says

    Gosh, let’s see, my wife made her dress, I wore my only suit, didn’t even get a haircut….

    My wife and my immediate family and just a few close friends so less than 20 people. The reception was at my wife’s 2 bedroom 1200 sq foot home. She made the food. The preacher was a family friend-that was special. The honeymoon was a free mountain cabin, one room plus bath, with no heat except fire place. We had to cuddle or would have frozen to death…. probably the only people who left their honeymoon a day early-I’m still shivering with the memory…
    Still married 31+ years later…Expensive weddings-over rated!

    • Sydney says

      I love your story Dr Dean! That sounds like it was such a wonderful, relaxed wedding. :) And that’s nice that the preacher was someone close to you. Wow a cabin with only a fireplace for heat does sound chilly but I bet you will remember it forever! Congrats on your 31+ years of marriage, that’s fabulous!

  15. Tyler S. says

    I think the only reason to invite so many people would be to get 1,000 wedding presents right?? Lol.. I can’t imagine spending such wild amounts on my wedding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge deal for sure, but overspending just puts you in a rough spot to start out. Why not put more into your honeymoon or just into your savings for the future??

  16. Carrie Smith says

    When I got married, my fiance was the one who wanted everything big, grand and expensive. I have OCD so I like everything to be small and controlled. A big, open to everyone, wedding was freaking me out. Plus as a Personal Finance nerd, there was NO WAY I was going into debt for my wedding. The cost of the wedding does not determine your success or failure in the marriage. It’s more important to spend your time/money on the relationship and not just one day!

    • Sydney says

      That’s one of few times I’ve heard that a guy wanted everything fancy. I like your ending comments about the importance of spending time and money on the relationship.

  17. eemusings says

    I’m planning on a 5k wedding with around 45 people.

    The biggest costs will be venue, food and photography.

    If I can’t find a cheap dress I’ll ask the boy’s mum to make it.

    No flowers. Hate flowers.

    No band – my playlist is too diverse for any one band to do justice too. iPod FTW.

    No booze. His family cannot drink in a civilised fashion.

    Put the big bucks toward the honeymoon is my motto.

    • Sydney says

      Nice! 5K is a really great target and 45 people is a nice size too. You’ll definitely be saving a lot by not having alcohol. We didn’t have any at ours either. Hope you have a wonderful wedding and an awesome honeymoon!

  18. says

    I would say our wedding was close to 25k back in 2007, glad her parents picked up that bill though. I didnt think it was extreme but stuff just adds up when you invite 200 people and it is 20-30 a plate. It was great. I think part of the reason I also saw my wife doing it was trying to one up her friends….im glad she doesnt read these posts she would kill me.

    • Sydney says

      That’s nice her parents paid! Yeah things add up quick when 200 people are on the guest list. I’m glad it turned out well for you guys! I can see how girls can get a bit competitive with weddings. The engaged bridesmaids at the 80k wedding I went to were talking about how they wanted this that and the other like what my friend had at that wedding, but then all kinds of other extra stuff they wanted to add at theirs to “one-up” the wow factor.

  19. says

    Average cost of a wedding in DC is close to $60,000! Really depends on the area. Biggest thing for couples to do is prioritize what’s important, spend money on those areas and skip the others. For a reception there are 3 keys: 1. Food 2. Booze 3. Music if you have those elements it could be in a field and still be a blast. Establishing and sticking to a budget is really hard to do. Vendors raise their prices or have wedding prices because these clients usually need more help than working with corporate planners or other professionals and they only get married once so acquisition costs are high. Bottom line don’t spend more than you have, put it towards the house instead:) Or DIY or friend source where it makes sense.

    • Sydney says

      Oh man 60 grand, painful! It’s hard to keep a budget when there’s pressure to invite a lot of people. I think it’s ridiculous when some parents hijack the guest list and make their adult children invite their friends that the bride and groom don’t even know that well. I agree that food, drinks, and good music are elements to focus on and not so much on the venue. People have way better memories if they’re having a blast at a plain Jane venue versus having a boring night in a fancy hotel ballroom.

  20. Waneeka says

    My cousin is getting married this June. Her parents are spending almost 150,000 to 200,000 in their wedding. I do not understand why people even marry in such a lavish way. At the end of the day , all you will be left with of that day is a few photographs and video clips. I really think new couples can put the money they spend on their wedding for something related to marriage .. Like perhaps get nice furitures. I really think its a waste. There is no point.

    • says

      Oh wow, $150-200k?! Ouch. That is a painful amount of money to even think about spending for just one day. I agree with you that couples should put that type of money towards something that will last them for the long term instead. It’s better for the marriage and also doesn’t put any type of burden on the parents. Hopefully your aunt and uncle are very well off financially to be able to foot such a giant bill.

  21. Mel says

    This is an older article, but obviously still relevant. I think that part of the problem with having a small(er) wedding is that the wedding industry actively discourages it. I was married a year ago with an invitation list of about 85 people, knowing that at least 10 of those invites wouldn’t be able to come. It was so difficult to find a venue that would accommodate my reception on a Saturday evening, when most of them required at least 100, some even 150 people in attendance. We ended up having the reception of 70 (including my husband & myself) in a hall owned by the city in which I grew up, which was perfect because we had the ceremony on the adjacent beach. Having it in on city-owned property saved us tons of money…. Our reception, including open bar & buffet, with cocktail hour, and DJ, ended up costing about 7K. I feel lucky in many ways because many of the private venues in the same region (right outside of NYC) would have cost twice that for food alone. In addition, I saved 1,000 dollars on photography by finding a photographer willing to do 4 hrs instead of the standard 8 and then we filled in the rest of our album with the wonderful photos from the reception that family and friends took. It did take me a while to find a photographer willing to do this, but it saved so much in the end. The point is that it is possible to have a beautiful, traditional wedding reception at a far more reasonable price than the so-called average. It just takes research and persistence. At the end of the day, no one at my wedding, especially the many out-of-towners, would have ever known we were on a budget and I am still proud of that.

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