You’re Getting Married! The Cost to Say “I Do” 

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Spending

Before you hear those wedding bells, you’ll have a journey of planning to make the wedding day go from your dreams to a reality. As you embark on the planning process, you’ll need to set a budget so you can have a starting point when it comes to making your selections for vendors and more. Ceremony and reception together or separate? Plated or buffet style meal? Live band or DJ for entertainment? The choices are yours, and the budget will surely inform them. 
As you sort through all the wedding #inspo online, you may find it helpful to have some information to calibrate your expectations and reality. That’s where we come in! In this blog, we’ll break down the cost of a wedding, where you should allocate your wedding budget, and share some tips on how to save money on your big day. 

Mean vs. Median Cost of a Wedding 

We know you just can’t wait to get into the numbers, but before we jump in, we have one important note to consider. Most reports directly from sources in the wedding industry use the mean as their average. This is the total amount people spend on weddings divided by the total number of weddings (or specific line items). However, this can inflate the numbers as a smaller amount of high-budget weddings or splurges inflate the category. Another way to look at the average is by median, which is the midpoint – half of weddings cost more while half cost less. 

For example, MoneyGeek reports that in 2021 the mean wedding cost was $27,063, while the median cost was $16,739. That means more couples are having weddings with a total cost that’s lower than the reported average.  

We try to use the median whenever possible to reflect what’s more typical for more people. However, in this blog post we’re using the mean as the average going forward because of the quality and recency of these data sources.

Cost of a Wedding by State 

The first thing that’s important to consider is that the cost of a wedding is influenced by many different factors. Just like housing and groceries, the location of a wedding impacts the overall cost. Regional costs of goods, services, and labor juxtaposed with local wedding customs can sway the amount you’ll spend to have an equivalent celebration in one location to the next. 

According to the 2024 Zola First Look Report which surveyed 7,000 couples, the average cost of a wedding ranges from $14,444 to $49,207 depending on the state. We’ve pulled the five most expensive and five most affordable states: 

Average wedding cost by state with the top 5 most expensive states being Rhode Island, Washington DC, Vermont, New Jersey, and New York and the 5 most affordable states to have a wedding are Arkansas, Iowa, Nevada, South Dakota, and Alaska
Source: 2024 Zola First Look Report

The report also found some metro areas had a higher average than their state. For example, San Francisco’s average wedding cost of $44,229 is a more than 22% jump from California’s average of $36,068, and New York City comes in at around 10% higher than the mean of the whole Empire State. 
Of course, if you live in an area with a higher typical wedding cost, you can find ways to spend a lot less; if you live in an area with more affordable weddings, you can spend a lot more than the average. This is meant to be a helpful reference when doing research to set your own expectations – and maybe something to share if any family member gives you a hard time that you can’t throw a wedding for what they paid three decades ago

Cost of a Wedding by Guest Count 

The next highly impactful aspect of a wedding’s overall cost is the number of guests. As the guest list expands, so does the amount you’ll spend on catering, but also potentially a larger venue and additional rentals such as tables, chairs, utensils, tablecloths, and even decor to fill the space.  

Zola’s report shows the 2024 average cost by guest count ranges:  

  • 500+ guests: $54,500 
  • 200-300 guests: $42,751 
  • 150–200 guests: $41,286 
  • 100–150 guests: $33,957 
  • 75–100 guests: $24,769 
  • 50–75 guests: $20,581 
  • 30-50 guests: $18,768 
  • 10-30 guests: $17,048 
  • Fewer than 10 guests: $11,667 

The Knot’s 2023 Real Weddings Survey of nearly 10,000 couples found that the average wedding in 2023 had 115 guests and a cost per guest of $304. 
When planning a wedding, many experienced event planners recommend starting the process by making a guest list before you begin researching and touring venues and meeting with other vendors. This can help you get a sense if your budget is realistic for the crowd you’ll be inviting, and if you need to trim it down or have room to invite some more people!

Wedding Budget Breakdown

Now that we’ve covered the average cost of a wedding, the next step is to get a sense of allocating that total budget across all of the different line items that go into the big day.  Here are what four wedding industry sources have to share: 

Brides Magazine shares this recommended budget breakdown. This one is particularly helpful if you’re considering an all-inclusive venue that will tackle multiple line items such as venue, catering, rentals, setup and cleanup together: 

  • Venue and Catering: 40% 
  • Photography and Videography: 15% 
  • Music/Entertainment: 10% 
  • Décor: 10% 
  • Flowers: 10% 
  • Wedding Attire and Beauty: 5% 
  • Transportation: 3% 
  • Stationery: 3% 
  • Cake: 2% 
  • Favors and Gifts: 2% 

Here Comes the Guide has a more detailed breakdown which is likely more relevant for an a-la-carte style wedding or a more DIY effort: 

  • Food: 18% 
  • Reception Venue: 18% 
  • Photography and Videography: 10% 
  • Beverages: 8% 
  • Flowers and decor: 8% 
  • Music: 8% 
  • Attire: 7% 
  • Emergency / Slush Fund: 5% 
  • Wedding Coordinator: 3% 
  • Wedding Rings: 2% 
  • Beauty: 2% 
  • Cake: 2% 
  • Ceremony: 2%  
  • Transporation: 2% 
  • Favors/Gifts: 2% 
  • Stationary: 2% 

However, sometimes in practice the percentages can get a little wonky when translated into real dollars, especially if your budget is at the lower or upper end of the range. For another look, Zola’s 2024 report lists these as the top four most expensive wedding expenses and average cost ranges: 

  • Wedding venue: $6,500 – $12,000 
  • Catering: $6,500 – $10,000 
  • Band or DJ: $2,000 – $7,000 
  • Photographer: $3,500 – $6,500

The Knot provides an average from 2023 weddings for more line items: 

  • Venue: $12,800 
  • Photographer: $2,900 
  • Florist: $2,800 
  • Wedding dress: $2,000 
  • DJ: $1,700 
  • Cake: $540 
  • Groom’s attire: $330 
  • Hair and makeup: $290 
  • Catering: $85 per person 

How to Save Money on a Wedding

Depending on your budget, after seeing these numbers, you may be envisioning what you can splurge on or googling “cheapest wedding venue in [location]” as fast as your fingers can type. No matter how much you have to spend, knowing some money-saving or budget-stretching tips can help you on your wedding planning journey. 

This is especially important for those whose budgets are more in line with the median rather than the average. Finding ways to trim here and there can make a difference while still ensuring you have a fun and memorable celebration with some of the things on your wish list.  

Trim the Guest List

As we covered earlier, a higher guest count correlates with a higher overall wedding cost. One of the most effective ways to cut costs is by reducing the number of guests. Consider inviting only close family and friends to keep the event intimate and affordable. This is especially helpful if your venue is an all-inclusive style where you pay per guest. If you have a big guest list on a budget, you could go for a more casual celebration. 

If your guest list is small enough, it could qualify for a venue’s “micro wedding” package (often 20-50 guests) which can give you the all-inclusive experience for less than you might expect! 

Choose a Less Expensive Location 

No surprises here – our next tip is to choose a more affordable location.  Often, couples will get married near where they live or the highest concentration of their family and friends, which makes logistical sense. However, if you and your partner have people on your guest list concentrated in multiple different locations, explore venues in the more affordable states or metros. Expand your search radius and you never know what kind of gems you’ll find! 

Choose an Off-Season Date 

Getting married during the off-peak season can lead to significant savings. Venues and vendors often offer discounted rates during slower months, which can help stretch your budget further. For many areas, this season is January-March after the holidays have passed and before spring and summer arrive. Off-season travel can also cost less for any guests coming in from out of town, and it’s less likely to conflict with other events on their social calendar at peak times.  

To find these, skip the wedding vendor directory websites. Go to your favorite search engine and enter “off season wedding deals [location]” and scroll down you will likely get some search results from the websites of local venues and other vendors, like photographers. Keep scrolling and compiling your options.  

Shorten the Engagement Period 

A shorter engagement means less time to spend money on wedding expenses. By streamlining the planning process, you can minimize the temptation to splurge on unnecessary items and focus on what truly matters. You can also potentially skip sending out “save the date” cards and just do one round of invitations which can reduce how much you’ll spend on printing and postage.  
You may also be able to snag a venue for a deal this way too. Venues may offer lower prices to fill empty slots, or throw in some extras that aren’t typically included to help you stretch your dollars.

Scale Back on Extras

While it’s tempting to go all out with extravagant decorations and entertainment, scaling back on extras is an easy way to reduce your costs without feeling like you’re missing out on the key parts of a wedding. Think back to weddings you’ve attended. What aspects stand out in your memory as a guest? Use that as a way to help prioritize!

Consider Bridal Salon Alternatives

As we cited earlier, The Knot reported the average cost of a wedding dress is $2,000 – which can be a substantial portion of a budget! Luckily, you don’t have to stick with the traditional route with a made-to-order bridal gown.  

Explore options for buying or renting secondhand wedding dresses, suits, or tuxedos. Many consignment shops and online marketplaces offer gently used attire at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and StillWhite are filled with former brides reselling their dresses and can be a great option if you have a specific dress or designer in mind. 

Another option with an easier or quicker shopping process is to shop from a department store or fashion brand directly. You can find a long, white gown for a few hundred dollars, a big savings from the average cost! You may be able to try on in-store depending on the selection in your area, or ship to you and make a return or exchange to the store if it’s not the perfect one.  (Nordstrom, Azazie, ASOS, Macy’s, Tadashi Shoji, Mac Duggal, and Lulus are some retailers with bridal options at a variety of different price points!)  

If you do want to experience the wedding dress try-on experience (totally understandable!), look for bridal salon sample sales.  This is when bridal salons will sell off the sample gowns brides try on in-store before ordering theirs from the designer. This can be a way to score a dress for a great deal, or help you determine what type of styles you like before you go the secondhand or department store route. 

DIY Decor and Details

Get creative and put your crafting skills to work by making decorations, invitations, and other wedding details yourself. Pinterest and other online resources offer endless inspiration for budget-friendly DIY projects that add a personal touch to your big day. You can use free templates from Canva for print materials and signage.  

If you’re not the greatest with crafts, check out Facebook groups for weddings in your area. Many couples will batch and resell their décor which can make it easier for you (and cohesive!)

Go Semi-Professional

Save money by opting for a semi-professional approach to certain wedding services. For example, order a floral package from a supplier like Flower Moxie or Costco Floral and arrange the flowers yourself. You’ll save on the cost of hiring a professional florist while still achieving beautiful floral arrangements.

Screenshot of the Costco website offering two floral packages: the Blush wedding collection ranging between $219.99-$529.99 and the Orange Sorbet wedding package ranging between $219.99-$549.99
Source: Costco Floral

Or, work with a vendor who is offering their services as a side hustle from their main job and offering more competitive pricing. Go to a cosmetology school rather than a regular spa for that pre-wedding facial to get your skincare on point. This can be a great compromise between professional and DIY. 

Choose an All-Inclusive Package

If your budget allows, you can simplify your wedding planning and budgeting by opting for an all-inclusive wedding package. These packages typically include venue rental, catering, and other essential services for a predictable cost, such as a flat rate with a guest maximum or a per-person cost and an event minimum. By bundling services together, you can often save money compared to booking each component separately, because there are fewer vendors involved, all of which need to make a profit. If your budget is around the average for your metro area (or more), or you’re willing to explore other destinations to stretch your budget, this can be a realistic great way to get a fantastic value. 


Weddings are one of the most important and joyous days in our lives, and often involve the added layers of celebrating cultural or religious traditions. Incorporating all the things that matter to you as a couple (and potentially other family members who have a say) involves balancing needs and wants with what your budget allows. The amount of money you have to spend on your wedding makes an impact on the many choices you’ll make about the kind of celebration you’ll host. No matter your budget, being informed about the typical cost range of various aspects of a wedding and some ways you can allocate your wedding budget efficiently will help you along the planning process. Best wishes on your wedding planning and impending nuptials!  

If you’re looking for a place to save up for wedding expenses, check out Milli! We’ve got helpful spending insights, automated savings features, a highly competitive annual percentage yield, and customizable Jars. Milli is designed to help you save more for the things that matter most – like a great honeymoon or a few splurge items for the wedding! Download Milli from the App Store or Google Play and sign up today. 

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