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How to plan and pay for an LGBTQ+ wedding

Gay couple dancing at their wedding
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Thousands of LGBTQ+ couples in the U.S. plan weddings every year, from low-key to lavish.

A 2020 study found an estimated 293,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. have been married since 2015, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling paved the way for legally recognized same-sex marriage. Those couples spent an estimated $3.2 billion on their weddings, according to the study. That works out to an average per-couple wedding tab of nearly $11,000.

So, how should LGBTQ+ couples approach planning and budgeting when they’re preparing to say “I do”? In many cases, the items and expenses on their lists don’t differ much from the costs of weddings in general. But there are a few things LGBTQ+ couples should be aware of before they march down the aisle.

The new normal for LGBTQ+ weddings

Katie Brownstein, in-house wedding expert at Joy, an online platform for wedding planning, emphasizes the importance of assembling an inclusive team when you’re planning an LGBTQ+ ceremony.

“Look for companies and vendors that represent commitments to inclusivity within the wedding community, such as those that display ‘Unity Through Community’ and ‘Equally Wed’ badges on their website.”

— Katie BrownsteinExpert at Joy

Melissa Trentadue, senior manager of community at online wedding platform Zola, also stresses the need to pick vendors you feel comfortable with.

“You’ll be working with them a lot leading up to and on your big day,” Trentadue says. “And they are really your support system throughout this process.”

Jordan Elisabeth Smith Whitmore and Katherine Elizabeth Williams of Overland Park, Kansas, got married in October 2020 and held their reception in August 2021. They learned firsthand that not every wedding vendor accommodates LGBTQ+ couples. Two vendors they contacted were “unavailable” as soon as they found out Jordan was a woman, not a man, Whitmore says.

LGBTQ+ couples who are planning a wedding “must protect themselves from disappointment and discrimination,” Whitmore adds. “It is unfortunate, but even today one must have a thick skin.”

Paying for an LGBTQ+ wedding

Unfortunately, some parents of LGBTQ+ couples don’t embrace the notion of same-sex marriage. So, some LGBTQ+ couples might not receive financial support from Mom and Dad for a wedding.

If you’re in a similar situation, Trentadue suggests crowdsourcing contributions from friends and other relatives to cover wedding expenses. In 2021, the average wedding in the U.S. cost $28,000, says The Knot, a wedding-planning website.

“Be sure to let your close circle know that really any bit they can contribute makes a huge difference,” says Trentadue. “You can also add wedding items — like photographer’s fees and venue costs — as cash funds on your registry.”

Credit cards and wedding loans can also help to finance a wedding. In addition, you might be able to trim costs by tossing out customs normally associated with non-LGBTQ+ weddings. For instance, a lesbian couple might opt for suits instead of gowns, perhaps saving hundreds of dollars in the process. The average wedding dress cost $1,800 in 2021, according to The Knot, while the average wedding suit costs between $200 and $500.

“As an LGBTQ+ couple, you have the opportunity to throw tradition aside and do whatever you want,” says newly married Tom Wehr. “Keep traditions you like. Throw away what you don’t want. Choose what represents you as a couple.”

Wehr and his husband, Scott Burkhard, said their vows in June 2022 before 90 guests at La Joya Dulce Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They live in Seattle.

Wehr and Burkhard shaved some wedding expenses by ditching one long-time wedding tradition: professional floral arrangements. The typical couple spent $2,300 on wedding flowers in 2021, according to The Knot. Rather than hiring a florist to create floral arrangements, Wehr and Burkhard ordered flowers online and crafted their own arrangements. That way, they could set aside more money for food and photos.

In all, Wehr and Burkhard carved out about $50,000 for their wedding activities. “Choose what’s most important to you and what you wouldn’t mind saving some money on,” Burkhard says. “For us, we wanted good food and a good photographer.”

Whitmore and Williams also plucked a few monetary petals from their floral budget. Instead of setting out professionally designed floral centerpieces at the reception, they fashioned centerpieces from locally picked wildflowers placed in Mason jars. Doing so allowed them to allocate extra cash for the photographer and DJ.

“We splurged on the photographer because the photos she took will last us a lifetime,” says Whitmore. “We chose to get an expensive DJ to keep the party going.”

Budgeting for an LGBTQ+ Wedding

By and large, wedding experts strongly recommend establishing a wedding budget, regardless of whether the couple-to-be is LGBTQ+. A budget, perhaps tracked in a spreadsheet, can help a couple prioritize expenses and avoid overspending.

Wehr recommends that a wedding budget include estimated costs, payment amounts and due dates, and potential last-minute changes that could cause expenses to spike.

“Be realistic from the start. Once you set your budget, stick to it and be willing to say no,” advises Trentadue, the Zola expert. “Be upfront with your vendors about your budget, too. They are the experts and can help you figure out what’s realistic and find in-budget alternatives if needed.”

Trentadue recommends coming up with an “ideal” figure for a budget that’s a bit less than what you can actually afford and a “hard” over-the-budget limit. Inevitably, couples come across small expenses they failed to include in their budget, such as tips for vendors, so it’s wise to give yourself some wiggle room, she says.

Austin Abernathy and A.J. Mistretta of Houston forked over about $23,000 for their November 2021 wedding in New Orleans, Mistretta’s hometown, and related activities. They went down the marital path without much understanding of wedding expenses, though.

Abernathy and Mistretta contemplated several settings for their ceremony and associated events before settling on New Orleans. They benefited from the fact that all eight of the New Orleans venues they explored offered all-inclusive wedding packages.

Once the couple selected the New Orleans Botanical Garden as the spot for their ceremony, they profited from the knowledge of a wedding planner “who helped us put together a simple but elegant event,” Mistretta says.

Mistretta advises future brides and grooms to find a well-seasoned wedding host that knows “how to do weddings right.” And be on the lookout for hidden costs, such as taxes and venue fees. Make sure you know the all-in cost before signing any contracts.

Whitmore and Williams’ no-frills wedding and reception cost about $12,000, still $2,000 above their initial budget. Their wedding took place in Louisburg, near the reception venue, a city-owned historic farmstead in Olathe, Kansas. A bartender served wine, craft beer and soda. Their fried chicken reception dinner was catered by a grocery store, and they opted for a sheet cake from Whitmore’s favorite bakery instead of a tiered wedding cake.

When you keep your wedding budget low, you’ve got more money to devote to the honeymoon, Whitmore points out. After all, the honeymoon is “when the two of you can celebrate and have fun as a couple without any of the pressure you might experience at your wedding.”

Whitmore and Williams are saving for an extravagant honeymoon trip after heading off on a post-wedding, mini-honeymoon in Southern California.

The bottom line

Regardless of whether you spend $12,000 on wedding events, as Whitmore and Williams did, or $50,000, as Wehr and Burkhard did, it doesn’t hurt to conserve cash so you can prioritize the facets of a wedding and reception that resonate most with you.

“There might be some setbacks along the way, but this is your special day. Enjoy the triumph and freedom we have won,” Whitmore advises other LGBTQ+ couples who are planning to get hitched.

“Even though we do not have full marriage equality for every single citizen in America, the LGBTQ+ community has come so far, and your wedding is a celebration of you, your relationship and every victory we have won along the way,” Whitmore says. “Surround yourself with joy, and let your special day be about you, your relationship and the years of companionship ahead.”

Written by
John Egan
Contributing reporter
John Egan is a freelance writer and content marketing strategist in Austin, Texas. He is a contributor for Bankrate and specializes in content focusing on personal finance, real estate and health and wellness. Among the outlets where John’s work has appeared are CreditCards.com, Forbes Advisor, Experian and U.S. News & World Report. He is the former editor-in-chief of the Austin Business Journal.
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