Tales from the Wallet: Wedding Finances

Wedding, Finances, and Budget | CorporetteWhat are the financial implications of getting married — and how does your wedding budget affect your overall financial health? What other major milestones affect your financial health?  I’ve often read that how you handle a few major milestones in your life — wedding!  grad school!  baby!  buying a house!  divorce!  retirement! — can have a significant impact on your overall financial health.  So I thought we’d start a series on Money Milestones.  (We’ve already talked about how where you live affects your finances, as well as what a general money roadmap, through life, should look like.)

First up:  the financial implications of getting married.  The question to everyone who’s been through this: what choices did you make that affected finances? What would your advice be to someone just going through it (either for the first time or again)? To those of you who decided NOT to get married because of the financial implications — please share some of your thoughts with us!

For my $.02, these are my best tips:

  • Be on the same money page as your partner.  When I started dating my husband, my landlady — a tiny Slovenian woman in her 70s (at least) — took me by the shoulders when she saw me alone one day and said, “I like him.  He’s tall and he doesn’t spend money.”  I thought it was hil-AR-ious at the time… but you know what?  She was right.  I have no fear of my husband making some huge, crazy purchase without discussing it with me first — and when we started talking about money (around the time we started talking about getting engaged) I was happy to find that we were on the same page with a lot of different things — for example, we both had saved what we could from paychecks, no matter how small they were.  It was important to both of us to live below our means.  Neither one of us was comfortable with debt (he didn’t even have credit cards when I met him!).  This isn’t to say that these are the “right” attitudes to have about money — my point is rather that having the SAME attitude about money is really important, both for the wedding and the marriage itself.  Studies show that having financial arguments is the top predictor of divorce, and while I haven’t started researching the divorce milestone post yet (stay tuned!) I’m going to go out on a limb and say that getting a divorce can decimate your finances (even with a pre-nup).
  • Don’t go into debt for the ring.  When we started talking about getting engaged, I told my then-boyfriend (now husband) that I did not want him to go crazy on the ring — and certainly not to borrow money in order to buy it.  It just seemed silly to me to burden a new marriage with unnecessary debt.  We told ourselves that we could make it bigger later on if we wanted to, either by sizing up or adding baguettes. (Also, some of my friends at the time who had big rings confessed that they rarely wore their engagement rings once kids came along, so that was a consideration also.)  Frankly I’ve always been thrilled with what he picked out (a simple 1-carat emerald-cut ring — bought through a friend’s connection in the Diamond District, so hopefully bought at a good price).  It’s a modest ring but has made me very happy (and I wear it daily!)  Of course, it’s ok if you want something bigger, but be wary of getting carried away.  (Psst: here’s our old discussion sparked by a reader wondering if big engagement rings were unprofessional.)
  • Don’t obsess over wedding magazines — and don’t start your wedding dress search above your price range.  I looked through a few magazines when I was looking for my dress, but ultimately I wanted to first exhaust the possibilities in the stores and trunk shows I was visiting.  The last thing I wanted to do was see some $10,000 dress in Vogue Bridal (or whatever) and decide everything else paled in comparison.  I’ve only watched the show “Say Yes to the Dress” a few times, but it never ceases to amaze me when normal women (presumably not backed by a trust fund) end up buying a five-figure wedding dress.  Again, if you really want it, and nothing else will do, then go for it — but just watch out about getting carried away.
  • Don’t let the food eat your budget.  There are two components here:  how many people are you feeding?  What kind of food are you ordering?
    • Your guest list.  We’ve talked before about whether you have to invite your colleagues to your wedding, but think carefully about the guest list beyond that.  An “easy” way to modify this list is to limit plus-ones — but please do keep an eye on how many people it’s actually going to affect.  I had one girlfriend do this at her wedding (only people in relationships could bring plus-ones) and I, being single at the time, wound up at a table with her younger cousins instead of other people my age, feeling completely depressed about my single-dom. For my own wedding I refused to limit the guest list like that.  Your wedding venue may also limit the number of invites — the place where we got married had something like a 65-person capacity, so our guest list was limited to 80.  We still spent way too much on food, though, which brings me to the next component:
    • Be open to what “wedding food” looks like.  Two of the best weddings I’ve been to, foodwise, did fairly nontraditional things.  One wedding was held at a restaurant that had been rented for the occasion.  The food was served hot, by a staff accustomed to serving in the space — and as a result everyone kept raving about the meal.  The bride later confided in me that the price per person was about the same as the caterers she’d gotten quotes from.  The second wedding I remember, foodwise, was one of my very good friends who just offered snacks and nibbles all night at different stations.  Sliders!  French fries!  Even egg sandwiches near the end of the night.  The guests were free to move about the space the entire time (so no worrying about seating arrangements, tablecloths, or centerpieces) and eat what they wanted.  Each station was refreshed or swapped out for a new type of food as the evening went on.  I thought it was a very elegant solution — and the food was amazing.  By contrast, my wedding dinner was buffet-style, with salmon that was, sadly, a bit clammy after my father and brother finished extraordinarily long toasts, pierogies that were a bit like hockey pucks, and steak that I barely even remember.  The fact that it wound up being half of our budget still horrifies me.
  • On the flip side, recognize that this will (hopefully) be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some things.  One of those is to see so many friends and family in one place.  Before I got married, I haaaated when women said that “getting married was the best day of my life!”  Vomit.  I thought, ugh — like you aren’t enough of a person and need to be a Mrs. in order to feel validated?  You have a princess complex?  So it is with some sheepishness that I say: getting married was the best day of my life to date.  It was so, so much bigger than just getting married to my best friend and love, but getting to be surrounded by so many loved ones encouraging us and supporting us as we started this journey together.  Friends and family who would never have met otherwise now know each other from the wedding.  I have memories and professional photographs of some dearly departed friends and family enjoying themselves on our day.  (And while nothing beats the overall joy of having kids, the actual day of their births was, both times, filled with way too much pain and discomfort and concern, that the cushy, princess-like experience of getting married beats their birthdays hands down).  Another thing to keep in mind:  you only get a “honeymooon” pass once in your job.  In my experience, after the honeymoon it is very, very hard to take a 2-week vacation to some exotic locale, both in terms of your work schedule, and, once kids get involved, the amount of gear involved in traveling for so long.  So make it a good honeymoon — splurge a little.  If it takes a day just to get somewhere, don’t worry about it too much.
  • Finally, understand the legal implications of getting married.  If you or your spouse is about to incur big debt (such as grad school tuition), make sure you talk to an advisor — in some states you may be liable for the debt as well.  Beyond that, the tax equation changes — there are a lot of different limits and other things that change once you get married, such as how much of your IRA contributions (if any) are deductible, how much you can contribute to a 529 account, etc., etc. — so make sure those are on your radar.

Finally, I loved (loved!) the budget series at WeddingBee where brides tell you the dirty details — it’s great to see how the numbers vary by venue, state, etc.

Readers, what are your best tips on saving money on your wedding?  Did any of you have exactly the wedding you wanted — for the price you wanted?  Does anyone have any big regrets about wedding expenses?

Wedding finances and wedding budget tips - great advice from professional working women on how to deal with financial aspects of getting married!


  1. Marriage List :

    Here is the list my fiancé and I came up with of things that might be affected by marriage. We want to understand the effect before making any decisions, and so we are working our way through researching:

    Income taxes
    Tax withholdings
    Estate taxes
    Health insurance
    Social security
    Long term care insurance
    Flexible spending account limits
    401k / 403b / 457 limits
    Prenup to protect against former spouse(s) re increased alimony/child support based on perceived new source of money
    Effect of marriage on FAFSA and eligibility for financial aid for kids from first marriage

    It was based in part on an article in the Washington Post. Link to follow.

    ETA: If you are interested in the financial aid issue, say so and I can discuss it briefly.

    • Marriage List :


    • just wondering :

      How can a prenup protect you/your spouse against claims by an ex spouse for alimony/child support? It would seem like a pre nup would not be controlling as against third parrties.

      • Marriage List :

        In California, if you say in your pre-nup that second-wife’s income and assets will not be used to satisfy husband’s obligations (including his obligations to first wife) and you record a notarized version with the county recorder’s office, then if/when first wife plays the whole “now you’re married to someone who makes lots of money so I want to modify alimony upward” card, you can respond by telling first wife: (1) under CA law, second spouse’s income and assets are not supposed to be considered by the court, and (2) you had constructive knowledge of our pre-nup, so if you don’t withdraw your request, I will ask the court to both deny it and impose sanctions on you. Or so I have been reliably counseled by one who practices in the area.

        • just wondering :

          Wow. Must be a community property thing. I haven’t heard of anything similar in non-CP states. Maybe it’s just because I fled the matrimonial business years ago.

    • Yes, I agree with the OP that all of these are effected by MARRAGE, but my dad say’s that he will bankroll all incremental costs that I incur if I am to get MARRIED soon. That mean’s even my taxe’s will NOT be effected b/c even tho they will (if I marry a rich guy), I will NOT pay anything more to the IRS if I become an MRS, and also my health insurance will be paid for by DAD if we go to National Health Care b/c we will be in a different tax bracket and we will NOT get any goverment subsidie’s unlike most peeople in NYC who do not make alot of money. Also, b/c I will NOT be abel to put money into a ROTH IRA any more, DAD agree’s that he will set aside an extra $15,000 for every year I am MARRIED, so 10 year’s from now, I could get an extra $150,000 from him, if I can just find a guy to MARRY me. I have done EVERYTHING I can to find a guy, and now I have to go home for the holiday’s, again, with no boyfreind and no HUSBAND. I am sure David will be there makeing a play for me with DAD, but he was the one with cold feet (but still with HOT hand’s), lookeing to find something he thought I would provide for him. FOOEY! NOT without marrage, I do NOT want another Alan gooping up my sheet’s and then burpeing and farteing up the bed and then leaveing it for me to launder all over again! DOUBEL FOOEY!

      If the hive has an eligibel bachelor for me, let them present him to me so I can introduce him to my DAD! YAY!!!!!

    • KateMiddletown :

      Can you go into the FAFSA concerns for a 2nd marriage? My SO has two tweenagers from marriage #1.

  2. ChicagoAnon :

    Can anyone recommend a Chicago-area lawyer with pre-nup experience? Thanks!

  3. My husband and I were recent college graduates when we got married. Moving halfway across the country for his new job forced us to choose between waiting until we had salaries in our new jobs and having a lavish wedding half of our family wouldn’t be able to come to or get married before moving with a more modest wedding and have all of our family and friends there.

    We went with a smaller wedding and I’m so glad we did. Our wedding cost us $7,500 for 100 people and to me it was perfect. I bought my dress used on OnceWed.com, made the flowers, bartered for a photagraphers services, had a daytime Saturday wedding instead of a night one, got married by the mayor instead of a private officiant that charges big bucks, and lots of other things. The day felt like us and was so filled with love. That’s what was important to me. :)

  4. It is NOT mandatory to have a wedding. I know it seems like common sense, but honestly no one “told” me this when I was younger. I always assumed I would have a wedding, all the way up until a month before the proposal. I randomly read a news article about more people foregoing weddings, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. It’s situation-specific, of course, but in my case, my husband and I are kind of introverts – having a “whole day about us” that involves never ending social interactions would be torturous. Add to that the fact that both our mothers can be really difficult, and the expense, and it was a no-brainer for me.

    • Anonymous :

      Or, rather, getting married alone at the courthouse IS a wedding :)

      • Good point! The better way to say what I said is: Be flexible about your definition of “wedding” :)

        • Exactly. A wedding requires two people plus a third to officiate, plus any other number of people that the couple chooses to invite (from zero to some big number).

    • Anastasia :

      Yes, as an introvert, I had zero desire for a big party. We went a little bigger than a courthouse, but our wedding essentially amounted to our immediate families+grandparents and a couple – literally 2 – very close friends getting together for dinner in a private room at avery nice restaurant. The dinner just happened to be preceded by an exchange of vows outside on the restaurant’s picturesque patio, and the dessert just happened to be wedding cake, which was also supplied by the restaurant . We did have flowers (my MIL is a florist and gifted us), and I did wear a traditional wedding dress (a floor sample that was $500 because it was last year’s design) but we skipped a lot of the other wedding acoutrements, because I just didn’t care and didn’t want to worry about it. It cost us a few thousand for the food and drinks, and photos/photographer were maybe another thousand, but overall it was cheap by DC standards. My husband and I had a great time, the guests seemed happy with the whole situation, the food was amazing, and we love our photos. Those were our goals, so success.

    • I would second the advice re: to be on the same financial page. This goes for wedding planning as well as for the marriage. As someone who honeymooned on safari in Africa, I would absolutely co-sign the advice to take as long a honeymoon as possible and go somewhere you otherwise would not go. I am constantly daydreaming about exotic locales that I will not be able to see for some time because I highly doubt I will ever be able to take off 2 weeks in a row again. (Retirement dreams?!)

      The other advice I would give (at least to my wedding planning self) is to let go and live a little. I was an anti-wedding bride who wanted to elope even through the wedding planning. Thankfully, my husband knows me well and “insisted” that we have a large wedding anyway (we both come from very large families and he knew I would have been upset not to have all of our loved ones at our wedding. He was right).

      It ended up being about 160 people in a large mansion on the water with an outstanding band, great food, and it was truly the most memorable evening of my life. At the time I was panicking at the thought of spending so much money on only one day; I felt that it was very financially irresponsible! But it was amazing and I would do it all over again. The caveat being, no one went into debt for our wedding and we were very laid back throughout the planning. We basically hired great vendors and let them do their thang. I never read a wedding magazine, never went on Pintrest or Etsy, and did not drive myself crazy with wedding stuff, which I would have found to be very overwhelming. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t thought about the money so much during the process and just said, “eh, I’m getting married, this is a one-time expense.” YMMV obviously but stressing about the money made the process less enjoyable for me, because the day of was well worth it.

  5. My SO and I got married at city hall – my splurge was a $2000 valentino lace dress in blue that I adore and still wear. We had a big dinner party at our favorite restaurant where we rented out the whole thing and had an open bar for our family and friends. It cost ~$3000, so I suppose we could have had a small wedding with everything included. But I far preferred a low key ceremony and an indulgent feeling, but relaxed, celebration.

  6. My only comment is that if you’re planning a larger wedding (my husband and I both have large families) – I feel like there is time, stress, and money – and you get to pick two. For example, you can do lots of stuff DIY, but it will increase your time and stress significantly. Or you can have a big budget and let someone else handle it, but you’ll spend more money (which if you’re me stresses you out – and I think there is an inherent stress associated with throwing a “fancy” wedding of getting things “right.” But see my next comment about that.)

    Actually I lied, my other tip is to abandon the idea that your wedding has to be that ONE PERFECT DAY and so you need to see every option because there could be something better out there. I found that the fact that I did my research, found one to three options in my price point, and picked the one I liked best. And then *stopped* shopping for the thing. The less pressure you put on each individual decision, the happier you will be I think.

  7. I’m missing a credit for this photo. Is it from your wedding, Kat?

  8. Frozen Peach :

    Just going to put in a plug for apracticalwedding.com– fantastic resource for wedding planning and life advice related to families and relationships.

  9. So timely for me. I’m working on planning a wedding and have been breaking out into cold sweats over the price of the food! We can easily afford it without much concern, but it’s just against my nature to spend that much on food of questionable quality (we’re planning remotely and I’m on assignment in a completely different state, so trying anything right now is out of the question)! My usually frugal fiance isn’t batting an eye at the escalating costs.

    Of course, it sounds dramatic but our wedding will still be well under the “average” cost. And my ring was very reasonable. So I know we’re making good choices and it’s not something that is going to impact us in the long run, but still! I want to keep my money!

    I think part of it also is both of our family’s outlook on money and how that has impacted how we view money. My fiance’s family has always been good with money and thus sees no problem in occasional splurges. My family has always been horrible and I’ve had to go through a lot to unlearn the habits I grew up with. So while we’re both on the same page about money, my fiance generally feels secure about money during most situations while I feel insecure even when we are doing really well!

    • I was really shocked by the quotes we got for caterers for our wedding. I was not cool with spending a crazy amount of money per person for very mediocre food- think traditional wedding chicken and beef entrees that were not at all exciting (we LOVE cooking and quality food, but didn’t have the budget to feed 180 guests in this fashion).

      We ended up catering from a phenomenal barbecue place and a Costa Rican place for our wedding- bbq and a taco bar! It was a huge hit and I didn’t miss having traditional plated food for a minute. Granted, this has to fit your vibe- ours was an outdoor garden, so it fit the setting.

  10. Sydney Bristow :

    Oh goodness, I’m right in the thick of this right now. My fiance saved up the cash to pay for my engagement ring. We both have student loan debt but agree that we don’t want to ever take on more debt, except possibly for a mortgage way in the future.

    We are very lucky in that both of our families gave us some money for our wedding next summer and we have enough time to save the rest. We aren’t going into debt for the wedding day or our long honeymoon. Trying to keep prices down in general, but luckily I don’t feel like we are sacrificing anything that we really, really want. We are spending money on the things that are important to us (food, cake, and photography) and skipping the things we don’t care about (programs, DJ, rented venue).

  11. Anne Shirley :

    Keep an eye on your wedding guest expenses. It’s really easy to say yes to half a dozen weddings a year and that adds up quickly.

  12. Decide on a budget and actually stick to it! It’s shocking how fast all the little expenses add up. There are a lot of free budgeting tools out there. We had to make concessions on just about everything, but we had to pay for the entire wedding & honeymoon ourselves and were only a few years out of college.

    Nobody will know how much you spent on things. Yes, you can tell the difference between a $10k & 100k wedding, but not $15k and $25k.

    Stay the heck off of Pinterest. I’m so glad that it didn’t exist when I got married!

    • And wedding blogs! They feature very lovely parties, but I think it’s important to know that someone else’s vision of a wedding doesn’t have to be YOUR wedding for your wedding to be lovely.

  13. Very timely – I got engaged 2 months ago, and am in the middle of the wedding planning. Not directly related to the wedding:

    – Updating beneficiaries: We both need to update the beneficiaries on our existing 401K and life insurance; they’re currently going to our parents, and we need to actively file paperwork to change that.
    – More life insurance: Mostly because we’re planning to have kids soon, we want to get enough life insurance that the surviving spouse can quit their job / drop to part time / hire really good nannies as appropriate. We both feel strongly that our kids should not be in full time daycare.
    – Combining finances: So many things here. I came into this with a high paying job, lots of savings, and a house. He had a reasonable job and some credit card debt (not too crazy). I’m paying off his existing debts, because my savings are earning horrible interest rates anyhow. The house is probably staying in my name for the next 10 years, because I don’t want to try to mess with the existing mortgage. We really do need to find a good lawyer and get a prenup signed . . .

    Wedding wise, I suddenly understand how $25K weddings happen, especially when you have 125 relatives who have to be invited, and might want to invite some friends as well. Fortunately, our families will be picking up most of the bill for that. We both want to have a big party with our families, and I don’t want the food / drink to be DIY with our family members supervising the potluck instead of enjoying the event! $12K food + $4K booze + $3K location + $2K photographer is $21K before any invitations, decorations, or clothing enters the budget!

  14. Gail the Goldfish :

    Can people who are married give me a sense of how much weddings actually cost? What region was your wedding, how many guests, etc?

    • Hmm – I have a giant budget from my wedding but it’s on an external hard drive at home with other archived stuff. It was about $125 pp – I think the site & food & drink (it was a package) was about that, maybe a little less, like $110. Photographer was expensive – at least $7000. Band was about $4000. Musicians for the church were $500. My dress I purchased on my own but it was around $5000. This was 16 years ago, and we live near Hartford, CT. We had 190 guests. Our honeymoon is another story – and a separate budget. My ring was separate too – my husband spent about $8k on it. At the time, our combined income was about $220,000 and we had already bought our house. Funny, our income today is about $240k. The recession was really hard in New England.

    • 9 years ago, San Francisco Bay Area, 115 guests = approx $27K (excluding rings, honeymoon, and officiant).

    • Richmond, VA, 2 years ago. 40 people total including us and a handful of kids/babies, so maybe 36 people for dinner costs. We did it in the private dining room of a French restaurant (including ceremony); paid our officiant $200 and I wrote the ceremony myself; dinner cost about $5k for passed appetizers during cocktail hour, 3 course seated dinner from the regular restaurant menu, and open bar with a pre-selected selection of wine. Maybe $800 total on what we wore that day (jcrew dress for me, new dress shirt, tie, pocket square for him), no photographer b/c my now-FIL would’ve taken more pictures than the photographer anyway so we just used his, no music/dancing b/c the handful of us who would’ve wanted to dance went out to a club after dinner. We were also ruthless about the guest list – even though we each have a handful of cousins who we would’ve liked to have there, we would’ve had to invite all the cousins, so instead we invited no cousins. It was great and the food was actually delicious (my #2 priority, after minimizing the planning/effort on my part – restaurants come with tables, linens, centerpieces, dishes, so didn’t have to do anything on that front either).

    • Anonymous :

      New England coastal resort town. We had 85 people and it was about $13K, not counting the rehearsal dinner which my in-laws hosted. The biggest costs were the food (around $50 a head) and photography (I think around $3-4K). Other significant expenses were my dress, the flowers and the room rental fee, which were all around $1K each. Everything else was $500 or less, but all those little costs add up as well.

      • Anonymous :

        This also excludes the rings & honeymoon and photo albums we had made with the professional photos.

    • lucy stone :

      Wisconsin, two years ago, $15,000, 200 guests. Church wedding, buffet dinner at a golf course. Includes rings, excludes honeymoon which was in Alaska, expensive, and awesome.

    • Wow I’m amazed by these responses. I’m not engaged yet, but my boyfriend and I have talked about getting married and our families almost account for 100 people. My cousin just got married with over 100 guests and the wedding was $25k and the bride DIY’d a lot of it. I’m totally not up for that! My boyfriend’s cousin had a “budget” wedding that cost $10,000 and we weren’t even invited. Is Chicago really this expensive? Help!

      • We had ours in Chicago at a family member’s home. We ended up with 180 guests and thought we could get away with a casual backyard wedding for around $15k. HAH! We ended up spending around $25k even though we served barbecue and tacos. A large part of the cost was the fact that our “venue” needed everything brought in- a tent, servers, ice, bars, etc. We could probably have actually saved a bit if we’d gone with a more traditional venue- depending on the venue, of course- but then we’d have ended up with a generic hall with dry chicken and fish. I’d guess most of my friends in this area that have had typical weddings with 100-200 guests have spent at least $30k (and up! The sky is really the limit with weddings).

      • Upstate NY is that expensive! The only way you’ll get under that is to not feed everyone a meal, and / or not serve any booze. If your family is local, that may be an option . . .

      • Agreed – I’m planning a wedding right now and thought I was keeping it simple… apparently I live in an expensive area?

    • Santa Fe, 9 years ago, 150 people, $12K. But, we had talented family members donate cake, flowers, and a mariachi band.

      We splurged on the venue, a gorgeous old hotel downtown with an open terrace, but saved on food (Mexican + sushi, so non-traditional but really fun), drinks (beer, wine, sangria, and soft drinks only), and used an ipod for music during and after dinner.

      • NY (suburban wedding), 2.5 years ago, 160 people, $55-$60K (excluding rings and honeymoon). The items I can remember offhand: Flowers – $4K, Band – $11K, Photographer – $5K, Dress – $1,600. The venue and food / open bar were by far the largest expense, as expected.

    • AnonBride :

      We’re getting married next May in California wine country with about 75 guests = approx. $60k (rings and honeymoon not included). About 20% of that cost is for the exclusive rights to our venue (a winery) for the evening – yikes. We’re still booking vendors and finalizing details, so the total may come out to about +/- $5k when it’s all said and done.

      We’re paying for it 100% ourselves and can afford to pay for the whole thing in cash, which is a fortunate position to be in. I NEVER thought we’d spend this much on a wedding, but we couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else and we want to make sure the wedding is worth the trip to wine county for our families and friends.

      Honestly, I haven’t told anyone in real life how much our wedding is going to cost because I’m a little embarrassed by it (and wine country is so expensive that $60k won’t sadly actually LOOK like a $60k wedding somewhere else).

      • You could have an off the hook wedding in Pittsburgh for $60k! We spent $15k for a church & country club wedding without any splurges. Around 100 guests. That’s everything except my engagement ring & the honeymoon.

      • Anonymous :

        Don’t feel bad… that’s how much weddings cost in California. I didn’t want to, but I spent even more than that to get married in Los Angeles and we still skimped / negotiated / watched the budget carefully.

    • wedding costs :

      3 years ago, $15k (not including honeymoon), 150 people, small college town in Virginia

    • gingersnap :

      $7,000 , 3 years ago, South Carolina
      Church wedding with reception in the parish hall, ~65 guests Splurged on photographer: $2500
      Food=fruit & veggie trays from Publix, plus other snacks (hummus, guacomole + salsa, mini bagels, etc). A girlfriend baked cupcakes instead of wedding cake. Navy blazer+ new khakis for him, vintage dress off of Ebay for me.

    • About $4,000 (counting everything but rings), Central California, last year, about 50 people

      One of my best friends performed our late morning ceremony in a National Forest picnic area under a gorgeous 1,000+ yr old Giant Sequoia tree, then the reception was 8 miles down the road at a historic hotel/restaurant for lunch with an open bar. No bridesmaids or groomsman or wedding processional. Many of the guests (friends & immediate family) also spent either the night before and after at the hotel, which was awesome, so our wedding sort of lasted all weekend.

      We did have a photographer, who gave us a deal as he was just getting started, we skipped flowers as the forest was beautiful enough, bought two red velvet cakes from Costco for dessert, and I found the perfect dress as a sample on Ebay for $100.

      I’m smiling now just thinking about it. It was perfect for us.

    • We had 80 guests for the ceremony, followed by a late lunch at a restaurant. Flowers were $500, my dress was $500, and we spent about $5K on the rest. This was in 1996.

    • Seatown Gal :

      Our wedding was 3 months ago. We had 150 guests in Portland, OR. Total cost was about 30k. We kept the DIY to a minimum, as I knew that would drive me crazy. We also had full service wedding planning. Cost does not include rings or honeymoon.

    • ParalegalNC :

      Cary, NC. ~200 ppl, 2008, church wedding, 15K not including the ring or honeymoon. Our main thing was that we had a seated dinner. I personally hate buffets, and felt the seated dinner was ‘classier.’ My husband’s uncle is a photographer & did our wedding for free. Unfortunately, we got what we paid for in that situation….

    • kellyandthen :

      Four years ago (today!), coastal New England beach town, in a private beach club, apx 175 people, seated dinner, 2 hr cocktail hour, live band and live music for on-site ceremony and cocktails…I estimate $30k. I estimate because my parents paid for everything and, being completely “traditional”/old fashioned and stubborn, they refuse to tell me how much it cost. I simply know that when my mother told me about a friend’s daughter’s wedding that included at $40k wedding planner fee (…just for the planner, nothing else), I was aghast, and she said “your whole wedding didn’t cost nearly that much!”

  15. Gosh, there’s so much advice I’d love to give here, and only part of it comes from my experience as a tax accountant.
    1. Absolutely you must have several discussions about money before getting engaged – not just salaries and spending, but also saving goals, assets/net worth, etc. My DH had a financial advisor, and we went to meet with him before our engagement and laid out our financials, for better or for worse! Consequently, 16 years later, we’re meeting our goals and we’re still together.

    2. WHEN YOU FILE A TAX RETURN AS MARRIED filing jointly, you are jointly and severally liable for the return. So if hubby does the return and you sign, YOU are on the hook. One of the best things you can do for your future is to take a course on taxation or at least personal finance. You need to be able to read your return, and if you don’t think it’s right, then seriously consider filing separately even though it makes no “financial” sense to do so.

    3. Wedding cost. We wanted a small wedding – immediate family & closest friends only, and planned for that. Because we were both established in our careers and his parents were retired, and my dad was semi-retired, it did not make sense to me to have either of them pay for our wedding. We figured out what we could afford, and worked back from there. The dress was very important to me, so I splurged (but not 5-figures!). When we took our plan to our parents, they freaked when they saw that their friends would not be invited. SO we agreed that they could invite their friends, but they would pay the additional cost. Our cute, intimate 80-person wedding became a big production with 190 guests. No regrets, but I’m glad we went into it eyes-open. And we insisted no guests whom we didn’t know! We didn’t hire a videographer and I wish I had. We spent a lot on the photographer and I wish we hadn’t. Our band was ok, and we had a sit-down dinner which was lovely. And although our package included a full bar, we had beer and wine ONLY, which made it more elegant. Because we had so many people, we were very limited in our options for the reception, which was frustrating for me.

    4. Wedding gifts. We registered at Macy’s and Williams Sonoma, and also at Ross Simons, which is a discount china/crystal/silver store & site. Most of our guests bought at Macy’s, while Ross Simons offered the same pattern at less, and threw in a soup bowl too. I wound up returning most of our Macy’s gifts, crediting it to our Macy’s card, then had a check issued and purchased our china from Ross Simons. I had enough leftover to buy our silver off of eBay. We then used our cash gifts to pay for incidentals on our honeymoon.

    5. Honeymoon/vacation. We decided to rent a house on the water in Kauai, and it was the best move. We saved a ton in eating out because we could cook at the house if we wanted. Generally we’d either have appetizers & cocktails out, and then dinner at the house (or on the beach!), or appies & drinks at the house and dinner out. Also with a house rental, you have to pay in advance. So the only cost we came home to was a few charges for meals & gifts, and the rental car. Now we always rent when we travel – MUCH more private & fun & cost-effective.

    6. Don’t feel like you have to do the whole wedding thing as others do. I hate limos – as a consultant, I lived in them for work – so we rode in a friend’s RV to the wedding and then to the reception. We had cocktails and appetizers on the way to the reception and it was a blast. Plus I didn’t have to sit down, which was great on the way to the wedding. Also after the wedding, we drove home, changed, and took our dog for a walk. Then we visited the family after parties. We had our “wedding night” the next night as we were both so tired the day of. And then we didn’t leave for our honeymoon until Monday, so we had plenty of time.

    7. Focus on the marriage, not the wedding. We spent a lot of time doing premarital counseling with both of our churches, and designing the ceremony to match our values (he’s Catholic, I was Protestant, and we had it co-officiated). I didn’t play the wedding march. We didn’t have the usual recessional. We chose Bible readings that meant a great deal to us, and every hymn was hand-picked. We also took a moment before I walked down the aisle to pray together (we did photos before). I had my bouquet designed so I could take a single rose out of it and place it on a table by the altar in memory of my mom. We walked up to do that after I walked down the aisle, and put our heads together and said a quiet prayer. It was so important to us to honor her and others we had lost before we celebrated our union.

  16. If the two of you intend to have children, you might also discuss how financing that venture is going to go. My DH and I found ourselves expecting nearly the day after our wedding and had to start talking 529 plans before we unwrapped all the gifts. Surprisingly, he said kids should pay their full way through college while I was of the opinion that mom and dad should bear the cost … which complicates a savings plan. And there are different philosophies on gift giving to children … I believe most should be done around holidays and birthdays, he believes it should be on impulse which is maddeningly near daily. And will you get their gear and clothing new from boutiques (him: because they deserve it and we can afford it!) or as hand-me-downs and second hand (me: because it’s more fun and earth friendly)? None of these will foil a solid marriage, but they are worth exploring as you would any facet of your prospective spouses’s value system.

  17. I loved my wedding and it was definitely one of the most special and memorable days of my life but you know what day was even better? The day after the wedding when my husband and I were finally alone and could start our lives together (and also set off for an absolutely incredible honeymoon). Maybe it’s my introvertedness, but while I appreciated all the extended family and friends showing up, it was pretty stressful and exhausting having so many people there and feeling like I had to be a good host and take care of everyone and that next day when it was all over and we could just be alone and enjoy being married was pure bliss.

  18. We spent $5k for our wedding in Manhattan. 35 people for a brunch reception in a beautiful private room of a Tribeca restaurant. Open bar and they included a cake and a million candles decorating the room. Our ceremony was in Central Park, so free. The 5k includes a new Ted Baker suit for my husband, a mini-cooper rental to drive from the ceremony to the reception, and the helicopter ride we took our attendants on in lieu of a gift. My Jenny Yoo dress was about $650. I bought a sample that was 75% off from a sale at the designer’s showroom. I paid $400 for alterations and sold the dress after the wedding. I don’t have room to store it and was never going to wear it again. My mom threw us a more casual party for my extended family in my home town a few months later. Sometimes I wish I had a bigger wedding but I’m glad we didn’t spend more money. I also found wedding planning very stressful between managing the expectations of my family (who wanted a huge wedding) and my husband (who would have eloped, so we got married only a few months after we got engaged, and I think it was probably better for me not to drag out the process longer and have more stress.

  19. fully engaged :

    My wedding day was far from the best day of my life. We went to Hawaii and married on the beach at sunset. Just our parents there. I have never been into weddings so I wore a nice white dress from Nordstrom. The whole thing was just OK. We went all that way for a five minute ceremony and lei exchange then out to dinner. We went with a budget photographer and the photos weren’t great. My camera phone’s pictures my dad took were nicer. At least we can say we went. Wish we’d done a courthouse wedding like I wanted. Our parents all really wanted to see Hawaii at some point in their lives so that was good.