How Much Does a Wedding REALLY Cost?

Whether you're engaged, or secretly thinking about diamond rings, seven tiers of lemon cake, and the most rockin' wedding reception since the famous JK wedding on YouTube, you can't afford to forget about money. Even before your impeccable save-the-dates go out, you're going to be opening up your checkbook...and you're not going to close it til after you've said "I do." So, how much does a wedding really cost, and who's going to pay for all this?

Sock It Away Early

Most couples start planning seven months to a year before the wedding—but the average engagement period is about 16 months, so it wouldn’t hurt to start saving cash even before you have a date, venue, or ring picked out. Some national wedding stats:

  • Average traditional wedding total = $30,000, though the price varies greatly depending on your venue.
  • Average dress, plus accessories and a veil = $2,000.
  • Average photographer (for shoots, editing, and prints) = $2,300.
  • Band = about $2,000.
  • D.J. = about $800.
  • Wedding cake = about $550.
  • Tips = 15% for each of the following: D.J./band, photographer, waiters, maître d', and limo driver.

No matter your budget, expect to spend a minimum of 50% of your total on the reception.

All in the Family

Tradition (and Emily Post) say that the bride's family usually pays for the ceremony and reception, while the groom's family usually pays for the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon. But, in modern times, couples are getting married later and standards are changing. "More and more, I'm seeing the bride's family and groom's family each kicking in 25%…and the couple [paying] the rest," says Alison J. Dix, a professional wedding planner. So, don't be shy about asking both pairs of folks if they'd like to help contribute to your wedding, especially if you don't have huge cash reserves yourself. Just remember that the more Mom pays, the more say she gets in the planning process—which means that you may end up with a venue you dislike (or centerpieces from Precious Moments).

Cut Your Mother's Third Cousin's Dentist

Since the biggest expense in the reception is food, trimming your guest list is the easiest way to cut costs. There are many useful barometers, but one good way to decide who makes the cut is to ask whether you'd feel awkward going to dinner alone with each guest. If the answer is a resounding yes, then consider cutting that person from your list. More questions to ask yourself: Have you two seen or spoken to each other within the last six months? Have you received invites to this person's milestone events? Is this person really close with other invited guests? Additionally, not everyone deserves a plus-one. The best rule of thumb is to invite the significant others of your pals who are in committed, long-term relationships. When thinking about those who aren't, try to help them find other guests to travel with, and be mindful not to sit them alone at a table full of couples.

Remember What They Say About Assuming

Although a certain number of your guests will undoubtedly not be able to make it to the reception, don't assume that a certain percentage will drop out and then over-invite. Many couples choose to invite guests in waves in order to invite second choices after some first choices drop out. But, note that this takes careful planning: You'll need to send your "A list" invites at least eight to ten weeks before the wedding, says Wendy Vyborney, a wedding etiquette expert. Stay on your A-listers to RSVP quickly enough for you to give your B-listers time to make travel arrangements.

We know that this is a big day, but planning for it well in advance will leave you to concentrate on the joy of that trip down the aisle. And hey, you can rock out to Chris Brown even before you make it to the aisle. (After all, it's a song you'll never want to finish.)

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