MoneyUnder30.com
MoneyUnder30.com

Wedding Expenses: Worth it or Worthless? Thoughts on What Counted on my Big Day

If you’re planning a wedding—or even just imagining getting hitched anytime soon—the thought of paying for all that stuff can be overwhelming.

The list of typical wedding expenses is long, and few are cheap.

Now that it’s been a bit more than a month since my wedding, I’ve been reflecting on the experience and have started to get a new perspective on what expenses were worth it…and which weren’t. (Obviously this is very subjective, as you can see from the 140+ comments on this post about wedding budgets!) But I want to share what I found and let you chime and in and see if you agree.

First, here’s a bit about my wedding:

Our families helped us throw a fairly traditional ceremony. We had about 275 guests. The ceremony at two was followed by a trolley ride for the bridal party and later a reception that lasted until midnight.

It was a wonderful day—I wouldn’t have changed much—but I can see now that there are some alternatives I could have chosen to have made every dollar we spent count just a bit more. Here’s what I found:

Worth It

Guests

If I learned anything from throwing a decent-sized wedding, it’s that the people that you invite are the best expense. There’s nothing quite like having a relative come up to hug you and give you their well wishes after not seeing them for many months—if not years. Your friends and family are generally as excited (or sometimes, even more excited) about your nuptials as you are. It’s a great feeling to spend such a memorable day with them. If you’re deciding between some extra decorations or inviting 20 more family members, definitely go with the extra invites.

(Read more on saving money on your upcoming wedding and get a free wedding budget and guest list spreadsheet.)

Professional DJ

If you’re having a reception, a DJ can really make or break the atmosphere. As long as you work with the DJ ahead of time, they can usually play your style of music and really make your reception “you”. The DJ basically schedules the entire evening with their cues and announcements, which is really important for a distracted and busy bride and groom.

Bridal Party Entertainment

If you have some extra wiggle room in your budget, consider adding some bridal party entertainment. For my wedding, this was the trolley ride between our early afternoon wedding and our evening reception. This was by far our favorite part of the day. It’s like having all your favorite people in the same room for couple hours on a very happy day. Definitely worth it.

Honeymoon

No matter if you’re choosing to staycation or splurge on two weeks on a tropical beach, make sure you make the honeymoon a priority. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you relax, unwind, and get away from it all with your new husband or wife for a little while. Most brides and grooms are a little bonkers by the time the wedding actually arrives, so it’s important to start your marriage off on the right foot with a little relaxation and quality alone time.

Not Worth It

Centerpieces

Although my centerpieces weren’t a huge expense (I spent hours figuring out how to make them budget-friendly), they were a huge hassle that didn’t seem worth it in the end. I never saw one centerpiece the day of my wedding – I was too busy with other things. Most of our guests seemed more concerned with the location of the bar, the food, and the dance floor than how cute our centerpieces were. It’s not the cost that I regret, it’s the amount of time and effort my family and I spent organizing them. I would have opted for some fake flower petals and some votive candles instead had I known how time-consuming they’d be.

Limousine Getaway & Downtown Hotel

Like many brides and grooms, my husband and I booked a limo and a swanky downtown hotel suite for our wedding night getaway. The 200-hundred dollar limo ride downtown seemed overpriced and we spent most of the long ride in an exhausted wedding daze. If I had it to do all over again, I’d have stayed at a nearby hotel and had our favorite uncle (or some other family member) drive us there after the reception.

The Extras

Many people agree that extras, like wedding favors, are the most disposable wedding expense.

Luckily, I didn’t fall for the wedding favors expense, but I was a victim of the “little extras” that seem to sneak up on every bride and groom. My husband bought a $45 bottle of champagne for our toast “because it was special”. Guess what? We took one sip and the rest went to waste.

I ordered 600 green and pink cocktail napkins for the bar. Now I have about 550 sitting in my kitchen cabinets and we use them at the dinner table. I bought nice dress shoes that I wore for one hour during the ceremony and then switched to flip-flops. We bought several little miscellaneous items like these that just were not worth it when it was all said and done.

Worry

I don’t think I’ve ever worried more in my life than I worried about my wedding. As I was sitting on our trolley the afternoon of our wedding day, I turned to one of my bridesmaids and said, “I have no idea why I worried about this so much. I’m having so much fun!”

As hard as it is, try to curb the worry. Just remember that it will be the most memorable and most exciting day of your life.

What do you think? What are some expenses that you thought were worth it or worthless for your wedding day? Let us know in a comment.

###

About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @ambergilstrap.

Comments

  1. David Weliver says:

    For me, ditto on making the honeymoon a priority. Whether you can afford to go somewhere or not, take time to be alone together. We didn’t realize it at the time, but there really is something special about a honeymoon—getting that time after all the wedding madness —and it’s something you may not get again for a long, long time, especially considering that after getting married your lives typically just keep getting busier and busier with houses to buy, careers to advance, and kids to have.

  2. Fortunately, our parents paid for everything so I don’t know much about the budget side of things, but I do know what made our wedding special and memorable. For the ceremony, we thought about every detail and tried to make everything unique and meaningful. Every word that was spoken, every song that was played and every person who was involved had a special meaning to us. One of the unique things about weddings is that you have several groups of friends/family (her friends, his friends, old friends, new friends), and in each group there is someone who had an impact in your life. So in our wedding we tried to feature those individuals and the impact they had in bringing us together that day. All of that is free. So the moral: make the most of your wedding by making it unique and meaningful.

    The other thing I’d recommend spending money on is the honeymoon. We spent a week at an all-inclusive, adults-only, couples-only resort in Cancun and it was the best experience we’ve ever had. Chances are, your honeymoon is the first and last time that you’ll be able to get away from work and splurge a little, so I recommend you make the most of it and get it out of your system.

    • Chase — we also stayed in an all-inclusive, adults-only resort outside of Cancun. I feel like Cancun offers such luxury without the high costs. The trip was definitely worth it to rid ourselves of all the wedding stress. :)

  3. Sheelah says:

    I was really excited by the first part of this post’s title. I decided to forgo a wedding entirely (married at city hall) and instead spent a fraction of the money on an amazing three week honeymoon traveling around New Zealand. I think we should reconsider weddings as standard expenses, similar to the way many MU30 readers have reconsidered having student loan debt or mortgages as just the way life goes. Thank you for this post!

    • Wow, 3 three weeks in New Zealand! That sounds great! It’s always interesting to see how people divy up their marriage budget – splitting it between wedding and honeymoon or spending it all on either just a wedding or just a honeymoon. Your trip sounds fantastic!

  4. If you are going to have a wedding, I would suggest splurging on a top-notch photographer. Make sure you like the photographer’s previous work and make sure you are comfortable around him/her. There’s so much anticipation for your wedding day, and when it comes, it can be overwhelming. At the same time, time flies on that day. So in all honesty you won’t remember THAT much of the experience. The wedding and reception might last 6 hours, but the pictures last a lifetime.

    My parents tried to save money at their wedding by having a friend take pictures. She forgot to put film in the camera. They have very few pictures of their day. Some of my friends went with budget photographers and are unhappy with the results. My wife and I paid a lot for our photography, but it was worth every penny!

    • Agreed. There’s nothing more disruptive or unsatisfying than a bad photographer. I was at a wedding over the weekend and you could tell where they had cut costs. The audio didn’t work during the ceremony so the only people that could hear the vows and such were the wedding party. Also, the photographer decided to stand in front of 1/4 of the audience the entire time rather than taking pictures from the back with a bigger lens. I’m not sure how the rest of the bridal party looked, but the groomsmen were stunning!

      There’s also nothing more annoying than “click-click-shutter-flash” during an entire ceremony.

      • Totally agree. And it’s funny you mention photos because I just spent yesterday evening printing out hundreds of wedding photos. These days you can often purchase the rights to all the photos and get them all on a DVD/CD. It’s not much more expensive and you can print the photos for much less at Target or Wal-Mart. We were lucky enough to find a great photographer for a mid-range price, but it’s really important to do you homework!

    • Agreed. I noticed “photographer” was not under the worth it section. I’m getting married in a month and we did a worth it/not worth it list. Having done wedding photography, worked w/wedding photographers, I know the value. It amazes me how people can accept a cheap photographer. I’m fortunate to be paying a small amount because the photographer I interned with and worked for was kind enough to offer me his master talents at an amateur’s price.

      I agree on the guest, however, we chose location over guests. I wanted my location to be at a place on the beach. We found the perfect spot. We rented a home right on the beach. This meant we could only invite a limited amount of people. Plus side, we cut down the cost. Although renting the home seems like it would be quite the expense, it turned out to be cheaper than renting a hall with 100 guest at a location I really didn’t want. It was more important to have the wedding I want then to invite more people.

      Thanks for posting. I was able to really put in some thought on expenses by reading things like this prior to running out and spending money. Our budget was 4k, we went over budget but 1k. We will have 40 guests but the wedding is everything we want!

  5. Arthur P. says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m getting married in 26 days from now and we are on a strict budget of $10k.
    It’s a $500 dollar amateur photographer, a $200 reception place, which includes chairs & tables, a $150 church fee, a $400 limo for four hours, and around $2k for the food, which we will cater ourselves. These are just the big ones, of course there’s a lot more to it. It helps to have a good network of friends that will help you out, doing things for free, or a very low cost.

    Another thing is, we’re not serving alcohol-so that saves a lot of money too :)

    • Congrats on your upcoming wedding! And that’s awesome that you are sticking to your budget. $400 for a limo for 4 hours is a great deal!

      • Arthur P. says:

        Thanks a lot! Yes, the limo is the cheapest I could find. Another great idea is to rent a couple of escalades for a day or two and decorate them with ribbons, flowers, etc.=much more value for your buck.

        p.s.
        I like your point about dishing out on a nice hotel. Unless it is the first time the couple is sharing a bed, I think there’s no need to overspend in that area.

    • Good idea on not serving alcohol. That is a HUGE expense that you cut out!

  6. Congrats on getting married. Thanks for sharing your reflections after the post-wedding day daze.

  7. You are totally right about spending money on people. I’m approaching my 1 year anniversary and we invited 400+ people and had almost 300 in attendance. It will always be such a precious memory of so many different world’s colliding in celebration. I was so glad that we spent money on food to appropriately thank people who were traveling far to see us but that didn’t mean we went with the most expensive dish.

    Also, your point about centerpieces is right on. I just coordinated the reception for a good friend of mine who had $100 for her reception budget. I bought tule on sale from JoAnn fabrics, grabbed vases from flea markets, scales from antique shops and picked wild flowers and threw here a GORGEOUS reception for $75 in total. Afterwards as we were giving away the bouquets (and throwing out most of them) I was so thankful we hadn’t bought them it would have been like pouring money down the drain!

    • Congrats on your almost 1-year anniversary! :)

      We gave away our centerpieces after the reception, too! It was almost like a wedding favor and it was a nice way to thank people for coming instead of just throwing all our hard work and money into the trash.

  8. Hi Amber. Great post and congratulations on your new MU30 gig!
    My fiance and I are getting married (a relatively small ceremony) this Saturday and have definitely learned which expenses are important and which we can skimp on. We recently cut the string ensemble for the ceremony and opted for a boombox (who really cares where the music is coming from anyway?) and are having the ceremony in a beautiful public park, which saved us a ton over renting a private venue (we can deal with a few gawkers).

    • Thanks, Andrew! Congrats to you on your upcoming wedding! That’s great! You will have beautiful scenery in the park without the added cost — good luck with everything!

  9. I got married about a month ago… and the company we hired was horrible… Never go with orange county beach weddings… that’s for sure..

    What we were glad we spent money on was our photographer. She only cost 450 and we have all the rights to our photos, but the shots are fantastic.

    I wish we would have done a more home spun wedding and spent more money on appreciating our guests. Instead we wasted a lot of money on a wedding company that didn’t deliver… (We are planning on sending them an itemized list of things we want refunded or threaten to take them to small claims court!)

  10. The money I spent for my dress and photography was worth it.

  11. I found that being flexible (no rigid dream-wedding-planned-since-you-were-a-girl mentality!) allowed us to save tons of money. I had the perfect dress pattern and fabric picked out to have a dress custom made…and then we came across a white dress my grandmother had made 50 years ago…my mother tweaked it and voila! A free dress, and something sentimental to boot!
    Also, we had the perfect venue picked out…and then decided to spend the $ completely re-doing our back yard instead, and we hosted the reception at our home. We used friends/relatives for photos – no posed shots (our choice). This is risky – we didn’t know what we would get, but wound up with tons of fun candids. I spent about $25 on flower seeds/bulbs in the spring, and the day of the wedding went out and picked what looked best for bouquets.
    Invitations are not worth much – no one cares about the gold-lined envelopes and heavy cardstock! Same with centerpieces, big floral arrangements, party favors, and expensive booze. These things will not be remembered.
    Good (and plenty) food and drink are definitely worth it. Ambience is worth it. And spending time writing sincere thank-you cards (with a note from both bride and groom) is definitely worth it.