Weddings are a special day that many people dream of, but they can also be expensive. I learned this firsthand while planning my wedding last year, and I wanted to share my experience. In this post, I’ll talk about how much I spent and some of my thought processes along the way. What I did for my wedding may be completely different from yours, but this can help give you an idea of what to expect.

The Start of Wedding Planning Journey
When I first started my wedding planning, I found it difficult to find information on specific costs. The estimates were often broad ranges that were heavily dependent on various factors. When it comes to big purchases like your wedding, the cost can get out of hand quickly if you are not careful.

When speaking with family and friends about their weddings, the total cost seemed to be anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000. And to be honest, when I first heard that, I wanted to elope. I couldn’t imagine spending that much money on one day.

However, my lovely wife, Jessica, had always dreamed of feeling like a Disney princess on her wedding day, and there was no way we weren’t having a wedding.

At first, we had no idea what we wanted in a wedding, large or small, city or suburbs, destination or not, etc. So if you are just getting started, don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to figure it out.

What We Ultimately Decided
After much thought, we chose to have a destination wedding in Cancun, Mexico. The total cost was $16,850. We used a shared Google Sheet to keep track of all our expenses, and Zola for all other aspects of wedding planning.

Here is a breakdown of where the money was spent:

  • Venue and Food: $7,500
  • Photographer: $2,600
  • Flowers: $2,200
  • DJ: $1,600
  • Extra Lighting: $1,000
  • Gift Bags: $500
  • Bridal Suite: $400
  • Invitations & Save the Dates: $400
  • Engagement Pictures: $350
  • Miscellaneous: $300

The Most Important Purchase
The most expensive parts of the planning process are the venue and the food, but they are also the most important. It is often recommended to build a budget first, but I found that difficult to do if you don’t know exactly what you want or how much things cost.

The first thing we did was get around 10-15 different quotes. I recommend creating a shared email address with your fiance. This way you can keep track of all your quotes and start getting an idea of what you like and don’t like, as well as what fits within your budget.

For example, we saw a venue in Chicago that cost just under $25,000. This price included food and a venue for 80 guests. The prices of the venues we toured ranged from $20,000 on the low end to $30,000 on the high end. Be sure to ask if taxes and gratuity are included in the quote. Some venues include these costs, while others do not.

After gathering a few quotes, the average cost of food and venue was ~$250 per guest.. So let’s say you are estimating 100 guests will attend your wedding. It will probably cost around $25,000 ($250 x 100 guests) for just the food and venue.

We decided to look at a few international destinations and ended up deciding on Dreams Jade Resort in Mexico. The total cost was $7,500 for up to 80 guests, which included a rehearsal dinner or beach bonfire. This was approximately one-fourth of the price we would have paid for the same number of guests in Chicago.

Gamechangers to The Wedding
A DJ was another significant expense for us. This was something that we were not willing to skimp on. In my opinion, a good DJ keeps the party going. A mediocre DJ will turn a wedding into a snooze fest.

The photographer was pretty straightforward. The more pictures you wanted, the more it cost. We chose a package that included photos and a ten-minute video. Jessica took the lead on this and our next item…

Now don’t get me started on flowers. I never imagined I’d spend so much money on flowers. They definitely add to a wedding, but boy are they costly. We sent pictures of our ideal flower arrangements to several vendors to find the best price..

Something that was extremely helpful in a lot of our decision making was joining a Facebook group of people who also got married at the resort. Brides, DJ’s, Photographer’s, and other outside vendors all posted within the group. It was a great resource throughout our whole wedding planning process.

Don’t Waste Your Time
The items below, in my opinion, will have minimal impact on your big day. We probably spent too much time fine tuning these small details. But reflecting on our experience,we realized that they were not as important as others. Try to not spend too much time sweating the small stuff.

Items like: table numbers, name cards, wedding favors, welcome bags, invitations, guest book, and other miscellaneous gifts.

What’s Not Included in Our Total
Here’s some of the items we are not sharing in our total cost:

To me this is a personal item so I didn’t want to share exactly how much I spent. A tip for those looking for engagement rings, is to familiarize yourself with the “4 Cs” before going shopping. Also, don’t hesitate to negotiate when you’re in a jewelry store. The commonly mentioned guideline of spending three months’ salary on a ring is, in my opinion, a marketing tactic. Don’t feel obligated to follow it; set a budget that makes sense for you and your partner.

Wedding Dress
The expense of a wedding dress can vary widely, ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. All I can say is that Jessica looked stunning, and I’m not even going to ask about the price of the dress.

Similar to wedding dresses, the cost of suits can vary greatly. As a gift to my groomsmen, I paid for their suits. I thought this would be a meaningful gift, especially considering the amount they already spent to be part of our special day.

Flights and Room
Our total costs for flights and accommodations was right around $4,000. We stayed for seven days and it was an all inclusive resort. The great part about traveling over a holiday break, is that we got to spend New Years with our closest friends and family. However, the obvious downside is that it is an expensive time to travel.

Ways To Save Money
There were areas where we found ourselves overspending on our wedding. If I were aiming to save a bit, here are some of the areas where I would consider cutting back:

Wedding Bands
While I love my wedding band, the truth is you can find options that look just as good for less than $100 bucks. It’s a matter of personal preference, but there are affordable alternatives without compromising on style.

String Lights
String lights and other miscellaneous decorations are most likely overpriced. However, you only get married once (hopefully), so it is okay to splurge a little. It is important to work with your significant other to find the right balance that works for you.

Choosing fake flowers, which are often a lot cheaper, or even forgoing flowers altogether can be a personal preference that can save you big. We were able to save some money by using our ceremony flowers as centerpieces on guest tables during the reception.

Bottom Line

Everyone’s budget is different when it comes to weddings and there is no one right answer. I hope it gives you a better idea of what to expect and helps you plan your own wedding. Remember, the most important thing is to have a great time with family and friends. Try not to stress too much about the details and enjoy the process!

George Maroudas, CFP®

George Maroudas, CFP®

Twitter @ChicagoAdvisor