Welcome to Taking Stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the current state of the economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult, emotionally charged questions about money. These last few years have forced many of us to reprioritize our finances — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
Last time, we talked about rising wedding costs and how a non-wealthy couple can manage to afford a nuptial fête. This week, we heard from Refinery29 readers about their own experiences (both good and bad) on affording their weddings.
Kelsea, 34 — Missouri
Kelsea got married in 2015, and had a budget of around $15,000 to $20,000 for her wedding. Although she says they didn’t exactly save for the wedding, she said it was easier to pay for things over time since they had an engagement that lasted for 18 months. “We kept ‘hard’ costs (venues, decor, rentals, flowers, photography, videographer) within budget,” she says. “In total, I’d say we spent close to $27,000. That includes things like $2,500 for my wedding dress and $1,200 for my husband’s suit that wasn’t included in our budget.”
The guest count for Kelsea’s wedding was 275. “Considering our budget, there was A LOT of DIY and compromises, but we wanted a big party and that is what we had,” she says. “Based on our guest list, that eliminated a lot of venues off the bat. Good alcohol was important to us but the $35 to $40 per person for four hours blew the budget right away, so we had to find an alternative.”
There were creative ways Kelsea and her partner saved on things. “We got married at Washington University’s Graham Chapel and it cost about $1,200,” she says. Our reception venue was actually my old grade school’s cafeteria. I did not choose this, but my mother would not budge so I gave in. The venue was free and we had it for the whole weekend.”
“Our venue had no alcohol restrictions. In the six to eight months before the wedding, we started buying liquor in bulk at Sam’s Club and Costco," she says.
For florals, Kelsea spent under $1,000 for her bouquet, 10 bridesmaid bouquets, 13-ish table arrangements, and more for decor. With the help of a friend who was good at graphic design, Kelsea got her invitations printed with pre-addressed envelopes for under $600.
Kelsea’s parents, who are divorced, both offered to give the couple $10,000 for the wedding. “This was not just cash they paid to us,” she says. “My dad lived far away so we opened a joint checking account that he could deposit money into periodically (he gave $7,500 total). I had a credit card that I used for expenses and my mom would make monthly payments to the card based on what she could afford.”
Alex, 27 — Pennsylvania
Although Alex’s budget was $85,000, her and her partner are currently at around $110,000 for their wedding — and they’re not sure they’re done spending yet. Alex says that her family has been able to sign on for about 35% of costs. “To be fair, however… let’s just say the budget ended the way it did due to certain family demands,” she says.
To afford their wedding, Alex says her and her fiancé have cut back on eating out and have opened a high interest savings account specifically for wedding spending — but she says she still feels like she’s being robbed.
“My fiancé and I are very fortunate that we could expand our budget, but we are so disappointed in what we will be getting for the amount of money we are spending,” Alex says. “And friends of mine who have just got married have felt the same.”
“We have been battling with simple upgrades like chairs and plates, because we’re required to use a partnering procurement company to set everything up — essentially no DIY. The company adds an undisclosed 40% fee on top of every item we have chosen to rent from other businesses, plus high labor fees and additional taxes! This was not mentioned upon touring, reviewing, and signing for the venue.”
“We’re pushing and asking questions, but it makes me wonder how many other couples are getting bullied into just paying up,” she says. “For our current spend, you think I could get fireworks like the newly wed Mrs. Sofia Richie. Think again!”
Melina, 31 — California
Melina had two separate wedding celebrations — one for friends and family on each coast — with each being around $5,000. “We definitely cut corners, but in as chic of a way as possible,” she says. “One trick I learned while organizing my wedding was not to say things were for a wedding. For example, I was quoted $300 per wedding floral arrangement, but we ended up buying similar ones from the same shop for about $100 each without the wedding label… We did appetizers and an open bar at one instead of a sit-down dinner, and we had a buffet and serve yourself bar at the other.”
Melina and her partner used their savings to pay for their wedding and didn’t have any financial help from friends or family. To cut costs, they didn’t hire a wedding planner, created their own playlist instead of hiring a DJ, and made a lot of the decor themselves. “Also, having a micro-wedding was a great way to have a strict guest list and cut down costs on food, alcohol, etc,” she says. “The venue we chose had a 20-person limit.”
They did splurge on two things, though: photography and what they wore. “We had to have fabulous photos,” she says. “My husband and I are super into fashion so we had to play that up. I wore a Jacquemus dress and my husband wore a Rick Owens suit.”
Claire, 32 — London
Although Claire’s budget was £20,000, they ended up only spending £4,926 on their big day. “When push came to shove we couldn't justify spending all of that money on one day so we had a smaller, cheaper wedding and we were below budget by a lot,” she says. “The bridesmaid dresses were a steal at £50 each on sale. Table flowers came from a market (£25) and we put them in jam jars. Bouquets were only £95. Servers, food, wine with dinner, toasting prosecco, corkage, pre-dinner-drinks, unlimited soft drinks, plus tea and coffee on arrival was £2,671. We paid an extra £60 for breakfast for the five guests that didn't need a hotel room.”
“We negotiated a short period of photography for £300,” Claire says. “The wedding night hotel was £140 and felt a bit extravagant because we only live a £20 cab ride away, but seeing everyone for breakfast the next morning was delightful. My dress felt like a splurge, but at only £650 it was a bargain compared to most and it would have been £1,700 plus alterations cost brand new. Even the groom’s suit was only £90.”
Claire and her partner chose to have a smaller wedding with just 26 people, which helped keep the cost down, and if she could do it again she’d spend more on photography. Claire’s mother also paid for her dress, makeup, shoes, and flowers as a gift, which came to £1,105.
Aly, 32 — California
Aly’s wedding budget was $10,000, but she only ended up spending $8,500. “I DIY'd flowers after buying them wholesale and borrowing vases,” she says. “I also DIY'd the ceremony happy hour with wine and light snacks that I prepared myself.”
Her parents contributed $2,500 to the wedding, and Aly says they were able to set aside money every month and use some of their savings. “From the time we got engaged to when we got married was eight weeks, so we relied heavily on the savings,” she says.
“The biggest splurge was dinner for 30 people at a restaurant (about $4,500),” she says. “Dinner was, of course, non-negotiable!” The couple saved money in three main ways, according to Aly: by getting married during the off-season, using a non-traditional venue (a bookstore), and cutting down on the guest list. “We had a very small ceremony and dinner, and then celebrated at a brewery with more friends later that weekend,” she says.
Kate, 28 — New Jersey
Kate’s budget was initially around $20,000 to $30,000, but the couple has already spent $40,000 to $50,000, including their attire, wedding bands, and honeymoon, on their upcoming wedding. “I am DIY-ing everything I can and still over budget — but I also realize my original budget was unrealistic for a 150 person wedding,” Kate says. “[I’m] doing fake flowers off Shein and making the bouquets to save money, and we chose a venue where we could bring everything in ourselves.”
“Once everything was booked, we calculated what we would need to contribute each month leading up to the wedding,” Kate says about how they saved for it. “We also chose a date two years from when we got engaged so this allows us enough time to pay as we go.”
The couple’s biggest splurge so far has been the venue. “If we hadn’t found it, we probably would have just eloped because we didn’t love any of the other venues we saw and they were crazy expensive,” she says. “Even though the venue was $11,000 upfront, we saved on booze and food because we are bringing that in ourselves… A non-negotiable was Haitian food since my fiancé is Haitian. Another non-negotiable was if you hadn’t met myself or my fiancé, you are not invited — it doesn’t matter if you are family. That has helped us prioritize family and friends, which kept the number lower which saved costs.”