How Much Money Does the Average American Spend on a Wedding?

exchanging rings

Exchanging rings | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Life’s biggest moments often seem to come with the biggest price tags, too. Buying your first car was probably a financial milestone in your life, for example. The same is true for having children, buying a house, and, yes, getting married. Of course, the cost of a mortgage or investing in children is a little different than spending money on a one-day investment for your wedding. All the same, it’s one of the easiest events to overspend if you’re not careful.

In a few fortunate cases, couples might not have to worry about a budget for their big day. But in most cases, there’s a ceiling where you have to call it quits on spending for a wedding. According to recent surveys from The Knot and WeddingWire, average spending on wedding days has continued to rise. The Knot pegs the average wedding cost — not including the honeymoon — at $35,329 nationwide. WeddingWire estimates a more conservative $29,000, but that figure doesn’t include the engagement ring or honeymoon.

That might seem like a jaw-dropping amount to spend on one event, but those costs add up quickly. If you’re hoping to stick to that average — or end up way, way below it — you’ll need to have a money-saving mentality as you plan your big day. Here are a few mistakes to avoid, compiled from wedding experts.

1. Skipping the budget talk

young couple figures out their budget together

Couple figuring out their budget | iStock.com

First comes the ring and the few days of post-engagement bliss. But after that, you should sit down and have a financial heart-to-heart with your fiancé about a realistic budget and what you’re both comfortable with spending.

Financial planning can be one of the biggest stressors in marriage, so you might as well start practicing good habits ahead of time. Loop in family members at this point, if applicable, to know how much you’ll be responsible for covering as a couple and how much your family might want to help with.

“You can’t start planning and hiring vendors if you don’t know what you can afford to spend,” Anne Chertoff, WeddingWire’s trend expert, wrote in an email.

Break down spending into as many categories as you think you’ll need, including the venues, attire, photographer, florist, and more. If you think you might be missing something check out resources, such as WeddingWire’s budget tool, that give a list of pretty much anything you could want. Then, allocate your funds accordingly.

2. Not asking whether strings are attached to money

marionettes

Marionettes | Francois Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images

Your parents or future in-laws might hand over a check to put toward your wedding day, but it’s important to ask politely if that money comes with strings attached. Do they expect you to spend it on certain items, such as the venue or the photographer?

“Once they’ve told you how much they’re contributing, ask them if they have any requests, such as inviting all of dad’s golf buddies or wanting to use a specific vendor,” Chertoff wrote.

Some of those ideas might mesh with your plans, as well, but you might have to compromise if they had a vision you don’t exactly share.

3. Forgetting to add in accessory costs, tips, and more

men shaking hands and exchanging money

Tip money | iStock.com

Wedding budgets aren’t typically broken when it comes to picking the venue, the DJ, or the cake. Instead, you can easily overspend when you don’t account for all the extras you throw in, including gifts for your wedding party, last-minute accessories, stationery for thank-you cards, and tips for your vendors.

When it comes to tips in particular, check the fine print of the contracts you sign. In many cases, what you’ve already paid might include a tip to make things simpler. If not, check out these pointers from Bridal Guide about what amount is appropriate for each one.

4. Not emphasizing what’s important to you

A wedding at Highclere Castle

A wedding at Highclere Castle | Zeus Films

Weddings can quickly become about managing expectations from family members and friends instead of thinking about what’s important to you. It’s your day — and likely at least some of your money — so remember to speak up about what your goals are. If you care much more about the quality of your photographs than how many flowers are in the venue, choose to splurge on the person manning the camera instead of the florist.

“Each couple will have specific wedding elements that are more essential to them,” Chertoff wrote. “Some couples want a delicious menu, while others are all about the band.”

Your best friends might have sunk their money into a harpist, while you’d prefer to spring for a photo booth or a stunning venue. As long as it’s accounted for in your budget, make the decisions that will make the day special to you.

5. Ignoring sales cycles

wedding dresses

Wedding dresses | Mark Mainz/Getty Images for Fox

Weddings are expensive no matter the time of year, but there are some times that have better prices than others. Wedding dresses rarely have big variations in price, for example, but there are some times of year to keep a special eye on prices. Many boutiques run sales in February or March to attract new brides looking for their summer weddings, but the biggest sales come as dress shops try to clear out old inventory.

According to Yahoo tech columnist and author David Pogue, look for the biggest markdowns in November or December.

“Nobody’s buying wedding stuff in November and December,” he said. “So that’s when the bridal shops mark down their wares to make room for the new year’s designs.”

If you’re looking to save big on everything, consider getting married in the off season during the winter months, when there’s less demand.

6. Shopping for big items without sticking to a price

Baie Beau Vallon beach

An island honeymoon is great, but only if you stick to your budget | iStock.com/SimonDannhauer

You made a budget, but the hard part is sticking to it. What’s another $1,000 for an unbeatable honeymoon or an extra $500 for the perfect dress?

The key here is hold yourself and the salespeople you work with to your original number. This is especially important if you’re on a tighter budget than most. Be up front with any budget you’re working with, and expect the salespeople to help you stay in that range, not try to convince you otherwise. If they push too hard, consider taking your business elsewhere.

7. Registering for items you don’t need — and forgetting ones you do

bed bath & beyond sign

Bed Bath & Beyond storefront | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Setting up a wedding registry is likely the biggest shopping spree you’ll ever have — at least with other people’s money. To avoid wasting those gifts, make sure you select items you’ll actually use. Also, do what you can to go through a complete list, so you don’t forget important items, such as bedding, utensils, or other things you’ll use on a regular basis.

Most retailers will have some general guides to help you in the process, but it doesn’t hurt to do some research ahead of time. Whatever you do, try to avoid some common mistakes couples make.

8. Heading straight for the bridal section

wedding cake

Wedding cake and champagne | iStock.com

If you’re hoping not to overspend, make the bridal section of any store or website your last-resort stop for decorations or accessories. In most cases, you’ll pay a significant upcharge for anything that has “wedding” on the label. Items, such as champagne flutes and your guest book, will be cheaper if you look in general housewares or craft sections than the wedding aisle.

Case in point: A strand of 100 white lights retails on Target’s website for $5.99. Another similar set of 100 white “bridal” lights, which look exactly the same, retails for $9.40. That accounts for a 57% upcharge for a single strand of lights. A $4 difference might not count for a lot, but similar price increases can be rampant on almost any item. It might take some creativity, but looking for items in other departments or on other websites might save you a fortune.

9. Not having a money cushion

safety net

Safety net | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Yes, sticking to your budget is important. But like with any major event, it’s a good idea to plan for contingencies. You might have a big-ticket item slip your mind or simply have emergency costs come up through the planning process.

Just like you should have an emergency budget for the rest of your life, it’s probably a good idea to set aside some cash for your wedding. Essentially, it can help to cover areas where you spent more than planned.

10. Not saving money for the last month of preparations

Two toy soldiers fighting over dollar bills

Don’t let your wedding hold your money hostage | iStock.com/gonzalo_harogonzalo_haro

If there’s ever a time that’s the most vulnerable for blowing your budget, it will most likely be the last weeks leading up to your wedding. While a money cushion throughout the process is great, make sure to leave some of that for the final weeks. You might need last-minute alterations, lunch for your wedding party, or other things you didn’t think of until they’re staring you in the face.

“There are always last-minute purchases that brides and grooms may not think of when allocating their budget initially, such as the cost of the bride’s mani and pedi or ribbons to tie the favors or white umbrellas if the forecast calls for rain the day of the wedding,” Chertoff wrote. “Make sure to leave at least $500 to $1,000 for last-minute purchases so they don’t catch you off guard.”

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