smart spending

How much does a wedding cost?

Throwing confetti at newlyweds walking down the stairs | Sweet Ice Cream Photography/Unsplash

If you're wondering how much a wedding costs, consider all the expenses that go into the final tally.

After all, weddings are a big business, with everyone from florists and wedding event planners to hospitality professionals and stationery shops getting in on the wedding budget. According to The Knot, a wedding-planning website, U.S. wedding costs averaged $32,641 in 2015.

Average wedding costs by state

Within any one area, wedding costs vary depending on a variety of factors, including the size of the wedding, the timing and the venue.

The Knot performs an annual survey to get a feel for average wedding costs. In 2015, the survey revealed that some cities and states pay well above the national average, while others pay considerably less.

Costs of wedding locations

Most expensive
  • New York: $82,299
  • Chicago: $61,265
  • Westchester/Hudson Valley, New York: $57,501
  • Long Island, New York: $56,950
  • North/Central New Jersey: $55,389
  • Cape Cod, Massachusetts: $54,334
  • Rhode Island: $50,266
Least expensive
  • Alaska: $17,361
  • South Dakota: $18,890
  • West Texas: $19,261
  • New Mexico: $20,114
  • North Dakota: $20,211
  • Oregon: $20,456

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Average wedding costs: A breakdown

So how exactly do couples spend that $32,641? The survey looked at the national average for wedding budgets by expense categories. The following table contains highlights to illustrate how the average wedding cost breaks down:

Average wedding costs
Type of expenseAverage cost
Venue$14,788
Reception band$3,833
Reception DJ$1,171
Flowers and decor$2,300
Wedding/event planner$1,996
Photographer$2,618
Videographer$1,824
Wedding dress$1,469
Groom's attire$269
Ceremony site$2,089
Ceremony musicians$703

As the above table demonstrates, some of the largest pieces of the wedding budget typically go toward the venue, music, decorations, photographer and ceremony site.

The largest part of the budget goes to the reception venue, but couples on a budget can trim their costs by shopping around, scaling down or booking their reception for an off-peak time such as Sunday brunch or during off-season winter months.

Peak wedding season includes spring and fall, during which time venues typically cost more. This can vary by region. For example, summer in the Southwest is usually off-peak because of the humidity and high temperatures.

For many brides, it's all about the wedding dress, which can make or break a budget, depending on how lavish the bride's style is. Unlike celebrity brides who often spend tens of thousands of dollars on a dress, many brides spend less than $2,000.

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Tips for wrangling up the wedding budget

You can have your dream wedding, but you need to consider the average cost of a wedding in relation to what you can actually afford.

Before you start booking dates, it's important to draw up a budget. Talk to your families to establish who is contributing to the costs.

While it used to be the tradition for the bride's family to pay for the wedding, an increasing number of groom's families and the couples themselves are contributing to the wedding budget.

Additionally, you can save money in some areas by splurging on the details that are most important while cutting corners on trivial details. For example, if you have your heart set on a swanky reception site, look for a less expensive ceremony site.

Some of the major factors that influence your wedding budget include:

  • The size of the guest list: Most venues charge per head for food and drinks. More guests equals a larger bill.
  • The setting: Where you get married matters. New York weddings average more than $80,000, while Alaska weddings cost less than $20,000.
  • Date and time: Peak wedding season and evening receptions are among the priciest options. Save money with an afternoon reception or brunch instead.
  • Wedding style: Less formal weddings tend to cost less, while formal affairs have to up the ante with food, ambiance and entertainment to match the mood.

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