3 expenses that could cause your wedding budget to balloon

By Jackie Lam

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Jun 26, 2024

Read time: 2 min

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You've met The One. The person that fills your heart—and who you'd like to share the rest of your life with. Everyone wants to have a memorable wedding day. But we’d probably all prefer to remember the joy of the occasion and not the pain of the price tag. 

According to The Knot's 2023 Real Wedding study, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. for the reception and ceremony combined is a jaw-dropping $35,000. That's up $5,000 from the year prior. (Nothing is spared from inflation.) Whether you pay cash or borrow for your wedding matters less than keeping costs under control. Setting limits and shopping smart can help you avoid getting carried away.

Here are three big-ticket expenses that are notorious for driving up the cost of a wedding, and some out-of-the-box ideas that could help you stick to your budget.

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The venue 

Venue fees can eat up the lion’s share of your wedding budget. The Knot says up to 37%, in fact. The average cost for a venue is $12,800. That fee is just for using the space. For editor Kimberly Rotter and her husband, the venue they were keen on for their 2009 wedding had a $9,000 site fee (in 2024 the fee is up to $15,000). 

To knock this figure down, they poked around for less-expensive options and landed on a picturesque public garden nearby for $250. The couple had to do a little more work, like renting and setting up chairs, but the dramatic savings were worth it. 

Besides giving up on the site you’ve got your heart set on, you could also trim costs by choosing a less popular day of the week or time of the year. Instead of having a wedding during the fall, which is the most popular season to get hitched, consider a date in spring. Kimberly got married on a Friday night instead of Saturday (the most popular day).

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Catering 

No surprise, but food can cost a pretty penny for your wedding. The Knot says that catering could take up about 28% of your budget. For the average $35,000 wedding, that’s $10,000 for food. The national average cost per guest is about $85 per attendee. 

Journalist Dori Zinn and her husband opted for a brunch at a bed-and-breakfast to save on food and drink costs. And instead of hosting an open bar, their guests enjoyed mimosas. The couple spent $7,000 for their entire wedding. 

Brynne Conroy is an expert in financial matters related to disabilities. When she got married, they saved a significant chunk of change by buying in bulk at Sam's Club. The venue was the groom's aunt's beautiful property, which had a full kitchen, and the ladies from church offered to cook.

To save on catering, you can trim down the guest list.  But if you prefer not to go that route, Brynne suggests that you look into an all-inclusive venue, which either handles the catering for you or has a restaurant. 

Dori suggests looking for local small caterers on Thumbtack. Request proposals and compare the quotes. 

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Flowers 

A pretty pansy can cost a pretty penny. The Knot says that flowers typically take up about 8% of your wedding budget. The national average for flowers, which racked up to $2,800, can be chalked up to inflation and potential flower shortages due to climate change. 

The cost of florals depends on the time of year, the type of flowers, and the arrangements. Kimberly was astonished to find that for her intimate, do-it-yourself wedding, she still shelled out $2,000 for two big arrangements for the ceremony, a small centerpiece for each table, a bridal bouquet, and one bridesmaid bouquet. 

To keep the cost from blossoming, be selective in how many arrangements and bouquets you buy. Go smaller if necessary. Shop for what's easily accessible and in season in the area, or opt for less-expensive options, such as branches. Think more greenery and less fresh flowers. Consider using silk flowers for some of the decorations, especially areas farther from the guests.

Sticking within your wedding budget doesn't mean you need to skip what's most important to you, or to settle for a tacky or less memorable occasion. By looking closely at costs, considering less-expensive options, and making trade-offs, you can have a beautiful, blissful day.

Jackie Lam - Author

Jackie is an Achieve contributor. She is an accredited financial coach (AFC®) who has written for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, CNET, USA Today's Blueprint, and others. She coaches artists and freelancers.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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