The average wedding costs $30,000. That's incredible but understandable when you start adding up all the "standard" wedding costs. After paying for a venue, rings, a wedding dress, food and alcohol, and all the other things that make up a wedding, it's pretty hard to stay frugal.

The average American wedding costs $30,000, according to The Knot, a popular wedding planning website.

$30,000!

That money could buy a nice new car or be a 20% down payment on a $150,000 home. It’s also more than many Americans earn in a year.

How do wedding costs get so out of hand? And what can you do to keep costs down when it’s your turn to tie the knot? I’m getting hitched in less than three months, so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. Here’s what I’ve found.

It’s ironic that most people I know (my wife and I included) always say things like “We don’t want a big wedding” and “It doesn’t have to cost much.”

But, as soon as you begin planning the big day, the costs add up. Some people call this hypocrisy, but many aspects of planning a wedding (and its costs) are out of the bride- and groom-to-bes’ hands. There’s that old truism that the wedding is not really about the people getting married. It’s about their families. Even if you don’t want to spend money on a fancy reception site/music/food/alcohol/etc., somebody involved may influence these decisions anyway.

Even if you maintain tight control over wedding decisions and costs, they add up. Unless you get married at city hall, you’ll probably want to add rings, clothes, and an officiant. Add a photographer, food for even a small number of guests, and a party, and your costs will be well over $1,000. And for every guest on the list, the costs add up.

Lauren and I were fortunate enough to have families that covered the largest of our wedding costs. That’s good, because the majority of our 160—yes 160—guests are extended family members. (If we had to foot the bill alone, we likely would’ve stuck with 40 close family and friends).

Still, our out-of-pocket wedding costs were not insignificant. We paid for our rings, clothes, invitations, our band, and our photographer. (The latter two we considered optional, but were important to us). Undoubtedly, there will be more costs down the road.

In our research and planning, it’s easy to see why $29,000 is the average wedding cost. Consider, for example, this list of sample wedding costs. (This isn’t a model of our wedding, and it falls short of the average $30,000 wedding cost, but you’ll see how it adds up).

  • Church/Officiant Fee: $500
  • Reception Site Rental: $2,500
  • Food: $40/plate x 100 = $4,000
  • Photographer: $2,000
  • DJ or Band: $1,500
  • Flowers: $750
  • Cake: $500
  • Rings: $5,000 (Read more: How much should an engagement ring cost?)
  • Dress/Tux: $500
  • Open Bar: $3,500
  • Total: $20,750

Obviously, this example isn’t for a cheap wedding, but for 100 people, it’s probably an average one. Any of the above costs can vary greatly based upon your choices, and could easily skyrocket. Some brides spend thousands on their dress alone.

And you can always save by trimming the guest list. Since we were limited there, here are a few ways we saved on our wedding:

  • Lauren “stole” her dress; she found one that cost less than $300
  • I bought my wedding ring from an online jeweler for half of what it costs at a retail jeweler  (Read more: You can save on an engagement ring and/or wedding band)
  • We had a relative make our wedding cake
  • I bought a suit that I wear again and again rather than renting a tux; my groomsmen will most likely be able to wear outfits they already own
  • We held our wedding reception in the early afternoon and followed it up with a BYOB after-party, which helped control alcohol costs

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About the author

David Weliver
Total Articles: 308
David Weliver is the founder of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues he faced during his first two decades as an adult. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.