What can you do with $31,213? It’s about enough cash to pay tuition and fees for one year at a private four-year university—or to host 136 of your closest friends and family for a really big party, according to recent numbers from The Knot. That’s the national average cost for a wedding now, up from $29,858 last year.
The numbers vary depending on location, of course. In Utah, the average nuptials cost just $15,257. But in Manhattan, the average price tag is more than $76,000.
“I think this number keeps going up because weddings are becoming a weekend affair,” says Kristen Maxwell Cooper, deputy editor of The Knot. “They’re not just about one day anymore. There’s a welcome party the day before, a party following the reception and brunches the next morning.”
In other words, brides and grooms are focused on creating a guest experience. “So many weddings are out of town, and so throwing an amazing party for their friends and family and showing them how appreciative they are for coming all that way is really their main focus,” Cooper says. “And they’re adding all of these personal details, and those little extras are making the costs go up.”
One thing that’s upping the price of weddings is social media. Now that there are so many ways to share photos, couples are determined to hire the best (and often most expensive) photographer to make sure they get it right. “And it’s about the engagement shoot and the shoot afterwards, the ‘Trash the Dress’ shoot,” Cooper says. “There’s the ‘Boudoir Shoot.’ Some of these packages are getting more expensive because you’re getting more.”
That doesn’t mean you have to spend that much money on your vows. Many couples today are asking how can I save money on my wedding. Here are some pointers from experts on keeping your wedding tab reasonable:
Set priorities. “My happiest clients choose from the beginning what’s important to them,” says Branden Harvey, a wedding photographer based in Portland, OR. For instance, a recent client told him they valued great photos, lots of dancing, and a great rehearsal dinner. Then they started ditching things they didn’t value. “They cut out expensive flowers and opted for beautiful paper flowers,” Harvey says. “They cut out a big cake and opted for cupcakes. They cut out an expensive, ornate venue and opted for a rock music venue. After their wedding, they said they wouldn’t have done it any differently.”
Set a budget. “It’s amazing how few couples actually set budgets and commit to keeping to them,” says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations with the Freedom Financial Network. “It does mean creating the wedding around the budget, which usually means making hard choices.”
Stick to one location. Having one spot for your ceremony and reception will save more money than you think. “You won’t need to rent a limo from your ceremony location to your reception venue,” says Caryn Lim from Montreal wedding design firm A Timeless Celebration. “You won’t need to keep guests entertained for more than an hour of cocktails between the ceremony and reception. And you can easily reuse your florals from your ceremony for your reception.”
Be wary of expensive catering. “I’ve had a $5,000 quote and a $20,000 quote for the same quantity of people and the same style of food,” says Johnna Guzman, a wedding producer with Purple Fire Productions in Chicago. “So shop around. And let’s face it, food trucks are delicious and cheap. I once went to a very expensive wedding with a plated dinner and the whole shebang, but when Skyline Chili dogs came out at 11 p.m., everyone went crazy. I still, to this day, can’t remember what we had for dinner.”
Shrink your guest list. “As a general rule, couples should reconsider inviting guests that they haven’t seen or spoken to in the last six months,” says Regina Brooks, owner of Régine Danielle Events & Design in the Chicago area. “By eliminating just 10 guests, couples can save over $1,000 on food alone.”
Shrink your cake. “Four- and five-tiered cakes can get pricey,” says Nicole Batiste, owner and president of Events by SB in Valhalla, NY. “Have a two- or three-tiered cake for the slicing ceremony, and then have sheet cakes for the kitchen staff to slice and serve to the guests.”
Get off of Pinterest. “Pinterest is overflowing with so many amazing ideas and inspiration,” says Kendra Barnes, owner of the wedding-themed CUTEnCRAFTYshop on Etsy. “However, sometimes the abundance of awesome ideas can start to add up and get you further and further away from the wedding you had in mind. You want your wedding to be memorable because you married the love of your life, not because you went $10,000 over budget.”
Talk to three wedding vendors for every category. Do this even if you love the first one you find. “I often speak to brides who fall in love with something—such as an expensive florist—and then claim their budget is busted and call it a day,” says Tracy Brisson, a wedding officiant in Savannah, GA who also runs Savannah Custom Weddings & Elopements. “If you continue to talk to more vendors, the worst case scenario will be that you find that your first choice is as amazing as you originally thought and you are justified in spending every cent.”
Get married on a Friday—or in February. “Saturdays in the summer are obviously the most in-demand time for weddings, and therefore the most expensive,” says Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. “If you’re set on a summer wedding, consider a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon. Or plan your wedding during the off-season. A winter or spring wedding makes for an easy theme and décor because it’s already unique and unexpected.”
Reconsider your definition and perception of a wedding. “The only thing you ultimately have to do to get married is the legal stuff, which costs no more than a couple hundred bucks,” says Stefanie O’Connell, who blogs at TheBrokeAndBeautifulLife.com. “Strike ‘have to’ from your vocabulary and start prioritizing what you really want. Keeping that perspective might help you realize how unnecessary everything else really is—even the iconic white dress or wedding cake. It’s all optional, so do what works best for you.”