What Is the Ideal Wedding Budget? $10,000 Is Enough for Most Couples

November 14, 2023 · 9 minute read

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What Is the Ideal Wedding Budget? $10,000 Is Enough for Most Couples

Popular wedding sites claim the average wedding costs $29,000. Countless media reports have repeated that number while leaving out an important caveat: Averages can be misleading. Even one extravagant wedding may skew the average to be significantly higher than what most people actually paid.

SoFi wanted to know: How much does a wedding really cost? We surveyed 1,000 men and women across the country and then crunched the numbers. Read on to find out what we discovered.

How Much Did the Wedding Cost?

50% of respondents’ weddings cost less than $10,000

Total wedding budget breakdown:

•   Less than $10,000: 50%

•   $10,000 to 19,999: 18%

•   $20,000 to 29,999: 12%

•   $30,000 to $39,999: 10%

•   $40,000 to $49,999: 6%

•   $50,000 or more: 4%

Half of respondents to our wedding survey spent less than $10K on their ceremony and reception. That’s considerably less than the $29K figure that’s been popularized as “average.”

We’re not saying that the $29K budget is inaccurate — after all, half of respondents paid more than that. However, averages in general are notoriously confusing. Only 22% of couples in our survey spent about $29K (between $20K and $39K). And just 10% paid more than that.

But why does this matter?

There’s a concept in behavioral economics called anchoring. It describes how numbers can influence consumer decisions by unconsciously becoming our reference point for what’s standard or “normal.”

Let’s say you’re in the early stages of wedding planning. If you stumble across an authoritative $29K estimate, from then on you may view anything less than that as a “low-budget” wedding. And when figuring out your own wedding budget, you may make decisions that bring you closer to that total — even if a $10K wedding is more aligned with your savings and taste.

Most Common Wedding Regrets

The most common wedding regret? Spending too much money.

15% of respondents said their biggest wedding regret was spending too much money. Other common wedding regrets:

•   Type of wedding (traditional, elopement, courthouse): 10%

•   Letting other people dictate wedding decisions (guest list, location, bridal party): 10%

•   Drinking too much the night of the wedding: 9%

•   The guest list: 8%

You may have heard of a phenomenon called the “vacation mindset,” which drives travelers to splurge on special purchases they wouldn’t consider on their home turf. Well, a similar wedding mindset can push couples to indulge an uncharacteristic desire for luxury. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event! Your wedding should be as big as your love for each other!”

After the wedding, as the bills roll in, so does buyer’s remorse. And now, other big-ticket goals that took a backseat to the wedding — buying a home, having kids, expanding a business, or saving for the long term — now feel more urgent.

Nearly half (46%) of respondents who got married in 2020 or later had a nontraditional wedding (they eloped or got married in a courthouse).

Traditional or Not?

•   9% of people eloped. Of those, 6% had a reception with friends and family later.

•   25% of respondents got married in a courthouse. Of those, 18% had a reception with friends and family later.

The pandemic likely drove many couples to forgo big group events in favor of smaller celebrations. But there are other reasons behind the popularity of nontraditional weddings, according to several wedding vendors we spoke to:

3 Reasons to Have a Nontraditional Wedding

Financial goals:
“It’s no surprise that couples might want to scale back their wedding,” says Jim Campbell, founder of Honeymoon Goals. “They don’t want to spend years saving for an elaborate event when they could be saving for other things instead, like traveling together.”

“The last few years have shown people how much they value their free time,” observes Maddie Ward, of Sonnet Weddings. “Elopements and courthouse weddings are definitely lower-cost, but there’s also much less of a time investment in planning. The prospect of spending a year or more involved in a time-intensive endeavor with your partner has many people looking at alternatives.”

“The No. 1 reason to scale back to a micro wedding or elopement is stress!” insists Lee Ramsay, of Lee Ramsay Events. “More guests means more money, and more money means more problems. Save your dollars, and avoid the headache of attempting to make everyone happy.”

The venue (23%) was among the biggest wedding expenses.

Of those who said the venue was the most expensive, the most commonly reported cost was $10,000 (11% of respondents). The most expensive venue cost reported? $500,000.

It’s safe to say that those who spent $10K on their venue had higher overall budgets. Those with smaller wedding budgets often got creative about the venue, choosing a park, beach, or private home or yard.

How Couples Save on Wedding Costs

Other common ways people saved money on their wedding venue were:

•   Limiting the number of guests: 31%

•   Using buffet or family-style food service: 29%

•   Booking a venue that didn’t require additional rentals (chairs, tables, tents): 26%

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents had expenses pop up that they weren’t prepared for.

Sneaky Weddings Costs That Surprise Couples

The most common fee that snuck up on people? Marriage license and officiant fees: 23%.

Other common surprise costs reported by respondents:

•   Taxes and service charges: 17%

•   Pre-wedding events like the rehearsal dinner or welcome party: 15%

•   Meals for vendors: 13%

•   Overtime charges for vendors: 13%

•   Gratuities for vendors: 12%

•   Postage for stationery (invitations, RSVPs, thank you cards): 12%

82% of respondents who had a wedding planner said their planner helped them save money.

“Wedding planning is a lot like cooking. The more you do it, the better you get at it,” explains Jim Campbell. “The more weddings you plan, the better you get at saving money.”

According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding planner is about $1,900. But a planner’s fee can vary widely widely depending on a number of factors:

•   Location: A destination wedding requires more coordination than a hometown ceremony.

•   Services required: A full-service planner costs more than someone hired to manage certain elements, such as the seating chart or budget.

•   Fee structure: Planners may charge a flat fee, hourly rate, or a percentage of your overall budget.

Only 25% of our respondents hired a wedding planner. (Another 13% said a planner was included with their venue.)

Ryan Mayiras, of Candid Studios wedding photography, thinks many couples don’t need a wedding planner. “Believe it or not, we recommend that most of our customers skip the wedding planner step. Good vendors will go out of their way to help couples plan their wedding,” he says. “We have a collection of timeline templates that we send to our customers for reference. They can skip the planner and go with a day-of coordinator instead. A coordinator is more affordable and will keep the event on schedule, so the couple doesn’t need to worry during the wedding itself.”

Who Paid for the Wedding?

Who paid for the wedding?

39% of respondents said the couple paid for the total cost of the wedding on their own. Of this group:

•   70% said their wedding cost less than $10,000.

•   88% said it cost less than $30,000.

45% of respondents said their parents helped pay for the wedding. 27% said their partner’s parents helped pay.

Aside from the venue, the biggest wedding expenses

Of those who said the food and drinks were the most expensive, the most commonly reported cost was $10,000 (10% of respondents). The next most commonly reported cost for food and drink was $1,000 (8% of respondents).

Those who said the rings were the most expensive reported a wide range of dollars spent. Regardless of the total wedding budget, many couples (35%) splurged on their rings. Here were some of the most commonly reported costs:

•   $300: 5%

•   $500: 7%

•   $1,000: 8%

•   $2,000: 7%

•   $2,500: 5%

•   $3,000: 6%

•   $5,000: 7%

Popular money-saving tactics

The most common ways people saved money on their wedding attire:

•   Shopped around for deals: 33%

•   Bought a dress off the rack: 26%

•   Rented suits: 23%

18% of people said they didn’t try to save money on attire.

The most common ways people saved money on their wedding vendors:

•   Did their own hair and makeup: 38%

•   Hired a friend to do photography/videography: 32%

•   Didn’t provide transportation for wedding party or guests: 30%

The most common ways people saved money on their wedding decor, stationery, and gifts:

•   DIYed decor: 26%

•   Didn’t give gifts to parents: 25%

•   Didn’t give gifts to out of town guests: 24%

Money-Saving Tip

Ashley Meyer of Meyer Photo Video offered other money-saving tips:

•   “Skip traditional paper invitations and stamps, and opt for email invitations.

•   “Save a few hundred dollars by asking a close friend or family member to get ordained online to officiate your wedding.

•   “Join local bridal Facebook groups to buy discounted wedding items from couples who already tied the knot. Couples sell everything from their wedding dress and veil to candles and signage.”

What couples splurged on

The most common splurge was the rings (35%). Other wedding items that respondents splurged on:

•   The food: 32%

•   The dress: 27%

•   The drinks: 23%

•   The venue: 20%

Many wedding planners we spoke with recommended splurging on photos. Yet only 17% of respondents said they splurged on photography/videography.

The real takeaway? Couples don’t have to splurge on anything. You may feel better after your big day if you save your splurging for a new home or fat retirement account.

Financing a Wedding

Should you need a bit of financial assistance to put your wedding savings over the top, a personal loan is a better option than high-interest credit cards. With low rates and no fees required, SoFi can put those final funds at your fingertips the same day as your approval. That way, rather than anticipating how you’ll pay the bills, you can relax and enjoy your wedding.

Learn how SoFi can help you finance your big day.

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