10 Biggest Wedding Expenses

For a dreamy wedding, be prepared to pay up.

The average U.S. wedding costs nearly $30,000, not including the honeymoon or engagement ring (more on that later). Many couples plan and save for years leading up to the big day, but even with a carefully prepared wedding on a budget, most go overboard as they work to achieve the perfect day.

But what exactly are couples spending this much money on? And why is it so easy to break the bank when it comes to getting married? You might be surprised to see just how expensive certain elements of a wedding can be. Brace yourself for a little sticker shock.


10: The Stationery Suite

In the stationery category, invitations are only the beginning. Beyond invitations, there are reply cards, save-the-date notices, ceremony and reception programs, seating cards and thank-you notes.

While the invitations alone cost $659 on average, the remainder of the stationery suite adds nearly $200 to this total. If you plan to spring for traditional hand-engraving or thermography printing, expect to spend hundreds of dollars on top of that. Add a few hundred more if you want a professional calligrapher to address your invitations. Another popular (read: expensive) trend is a personalized wedding day logo or design on invitations and other wedding stationery, which requires a graphic designer and custom printing plates.


To keep stationery costs in check, some couples choose to print their own programs and seating cards from home, though professionally printed invitations and reply cards are still the norm. Most couples are willing to pay for expensive stationery because the invitation sets the mood for the whole event. Plus, they're planning on having it framed later!

9: The Music

Harping on your music budget? Slash virtually all costs by letting your iPod be the DJ.

As meaningful and emotional as your wedding day can be, you'll also want to cut loose and have fun. For many couples, this means finding the right music to keep the party rolling late into the evening. A DJ can spin your favorite songs and help get guests up and dance, but many couples opt for a live band -- or both.

Expect to spend around $900 for the DJ (much more if he or she is really well-established) and nearly $3,300 for a band to play the reception.


Of course, there's also the cost of musicians for the ceremony. You could get by with just a pianist, but who can resist throwing a harpist, violinist and organist into the mix? If you want classical musicians to play during the ceremony, add another $450 to your music budget.

A parting word of advice on this topic: Tipping musicians is optional, but many will expect a little something at the end of the night.

8: The Drinks

A wedding is a celebration! Accordingly, the requisite champagne, wine, beer and liquor cost couples nearly $3,000. Add an open bar and some thirsty friends, and you're going to be paying a much bigger tab.

If you're going to be serving alcohol, plan on shelling out for more than monogrammed cocktail napkins. You've also got to pay for liquor permits, bartenders and gratuities, which can easily add hundreds more to your total budget. While it's tempting to offer a wide selection of drinks to keep your guests happy (and mingling), keep in mind that the more variety you offer, the higher your costs will soar.


One final note: We're not sure who started the rumor that a cash bar is a suitable answer to your budget crisis. It's never acceptable to ask your wedding guests to pay for their drinks (they also shouldn't be tipping the bartender, so make sure there aren't any tip jars lurking on the bar). If cost is a major concern, offer a signature cocktail and just one or two varieties each of beer and wine.

7: The Dress

You've been dreaming of a dress like this...

For many brides, the wedding is all about the dress. But when the dress plays such a major role, it can be difficult to stick to a budget. After all, how do you put a price on the perfect dress for your special day?

Even the least expensive wedding gowns cost several hundred dollars, while designer creations can cost tens of thousands. In fact, the average bride spends $1,134 on the dress alone -- and accessories like shoes, a veil or headpiece, jewelry and lingerie can add another $600 to the bride's attire expenses. Is that all? Let's not forget that some brides like to change out of cumbersome wedding gowns and wear a short dress to the reception, and some like to wear a sporty getaway outfit for the grand send-off. If you're planning several wardrobe changes throughout the evening, budget accordingly!


6: The Flowers

Flowers play an important role in many wedding traditions -- and they photograph beautifully, so the more, the better!

In addition to the classic bridal bouquet, you'll need bouquets or corsages for the bridesmaids, along with boutonnières for the groomsmen. The mothers of the bride and groom need corsages, too, and dads will require boutonnières. Anyone participating in the ceremony (musicians, readers, greeters, ushers) should also be given corsages and boutonnières to wear. In addition to those blooms, you'll need the requisite petals for your flower girl to toss as she moves down the aisle, as well as decorative garlands and floral arrangements. Your reception site will need some floral décor, too, so plan on shelling out for a variety of larger arrangements for the buffet and entrance hall, as well as centerpieces for the tables.


Couples should budget a minimum of $2,000 to cover flowers and floral design. In the off-season, many flowers will need to be shipped in from other regions, which can dramatically increase costs. Those who plan to use exotic blooms and other hard-to-find flowers will pay even more.

5: The Photography

Don't skimp on photography -- you'll cherish those beautiful memories for years to come.

With so much activity and excitement, your wedding day may be over before you know it. To make sure you don't miss a moment and to preserve memories you'll cherish forever, it's important to capture the event on film. Gone are the days of disposable cameras -- many modern brides employ a photographer and videographer to take both pictures and video. It's also not uncommon for the videographer to start filming the day before the wedding to capture final preparations.

In addition to simple photos and video images, these vendors offer elaborate packages that range from large bridal portraits to brag books for every member of the wedding party. Some even set up photo booths at the reception to entertain guests and to provide candid shots.


Of course, all these precious memories won't come cheap. Wedding photographers charge nearly $2,500 for prints and services, while the average videographer costs $1,481. Many venues also charge extra if you want to come in early to pose for pictures, so inquire ahead of time to ensure your budget is sufficient.

4: The Rings

What's a wedding without the rings? Wedding rings serve as symbols of your love and commitment, and they'll also (with a little luck) remain on your fingers for the rest of your lives. With this level of significance, it's no wonder that couples spend more than $2,000 just for simple wedding bands. This price can go even higher if those bands feature diamonds or other precious stones. (Of course, this is pennies compared to the cost of the engagement ring, which averages nearly $6,000. However, most industry experts don't count the engagement ring as a wedding expense since it's typically paid for out of a separate budget.)

While costs for standard jewelry-store designs are staggering enough, some couples choose custom-designed rings, which can send costs soaring even higher.


3: The Honeymoon

Can you put a price tag on scenery this serene?

Nearly 85 percent of couples enjoy a romantic honeymoon after the wedding, though the cost of this trip is rarely included in the wedding budget. Because you'll be setting aside funds for the honeymoon around the time you're in the thick of wedding planning, we think it's helpful to take a frank look at the cost.

A week at a tropical resort will set couples back more than $5,000, yet this cost is almost an afterthought compared to the huge expense of the wedding itself. Those who choose a more elaborate vacation spot or a longer getaway may spend tens of thousands of dollars.


Surprisingly, a full 1 in 10 couples combine the wedding and honeymoon into a single experience with a destination wedding. The cost of flying in relatives and friends, or paying for wedding services at a luxe resort can easily surpass standard stateside wedding and honeymoon costs. Paying for paradise doesn't come cheap!

2: The Food

Imagine treating more than 100 of your friends to dinner at your favorite upscale restaurant. With wedding catering costs averaging $63 per guest, it's easy to see how food is one of the biggest wedding expenses couples will face. In fact, with the average wedding guest list topping out around 149 guests, catering can easily surpass $10,000! This figure doesn't even include the cake, which can add another $500 to $5,000 to your food budget, depending on its size and design.

A rehearsal dinner can increase catering costs even further, though you may get a break if you use the same company for the rehearsal dinner and the reception. Don't forget: You'll also have to pay and tip your servers at both events.


1: The Venue

Even the simplest chapel weddings come at a high cost.

The wedding venue is often a top priority for couples, and it's also one of the biggest expenses. The average cost to have your ceremony at a church is $500 (which may seem fairly reasonable until you add in the cost of the reception site on top of it). And remember: This is just the cost of the space itself. Presumably, you'll want to decorate it, throw in an officiant and some guests and add some music to the mix.

Long gone are the days when people celebrated in the church reception hall. Now, you can have your reception almost anywhere -- but the setting of a lifetime will come with a hefty price tag. Want to hold your reception at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City? You can, starting at $235 per person, or $35,000 for a wedding of 150 guests. A four-hour reception at Walt Disney World starts at around $10,000, and even a local historic home may charge as much as $5,000. Venue costs soar even higher during peak wedding season, which runs from May to October.

While costs vary dramatically, the average couple spends more than $12,000 for the reception venue, which often doesn't include extras like valet parking or decor.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Bridal Association of America. "The Wedding Report." July 2006. (April 22, 2010).http://www.bridalassociationofamerica.com/Wedding_Statistics/#costbreakdown
  • Disney Parks. "Disney Weddings Pricing." 2010. (April 22, 2010).http://disneyweddings.disney.go.com/weddings/florida/pricing/wishes/detail
  • Four Seasons New York. "Wedding Packages." April 6, 2010. (April 22, 2010).http://www.fourseasons.com/newyorkfs/weddings/wedding_packages.html
  • The Knot. "The Knot Unveils 2009 Real Weddings Survey Results." Feb. 17, 2010. (April 22, 2010).http://www.theknotinc.com/press-releases-home/2010-press-releases/2010-02-17-real-weddings-survey-results-2009.aspx
  • Valhouli, Christine. "What Your Honeymoon Will Cost." MSNBC/Forbes. Dec. 13, 2006. (April 22, 2010).http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16176493/