How To Pay for a Wedding and Still Have Your Dream Day

Chang Fu
Jul 12, 2021

Wedding traditions have always evolved with trends. Forty years ago, brides wore high collars and puffed sleeves. Now, modern brides play with color and casual silhouettes. Couples can plan the wedding of their dreams and embrace the traditions that serve them, though there’s an important question left unanswered with this move away from tradition. 

Who pays for the wedding?

Parents used to cover the ceremony costs. Many couples now accept the bulk of the responsibility and have to figure out how to pay for a wedding. The average wedding cost was $19,000 in 2020, which is a massive amount to save for many Americans, especially when you consider that the average millennial has a total net worth of just $18,000.

If you’ve just started wedding planning, don’t let the sticker shock stop you from having the wedding of your dreams. Check out these steps to show you how to pay for a wedding, including creating a wedding savings account or getting a personal loan. Our budget wedding ideas will also help you celebrate and save. 

Table of Contents:

How Expensive Are Weddings?

Pie chart shows the average cost breakdown of a wedding in 2019.

The average wedding ran $19,000 in 2020. Weddings were $9,000 cheaper last year than in 2019, considering COVID-19’s impacts on celebrations. The gap is even larger according to Statista, which placed the average cost of a wedding with rings at $33,900 in 2019. 

Wedding costs add up quickly. Here’s a breakdown of the top costs to help you visualize the average wedding budget in 2019:

  • Venue and Reception: $10,500 — 31% of the budget
  • Engagement Ring: $5,900 — 17% of the budget
  • Reception Band: $3,700 — 11% of the budget
  • Photographer: $2,400 — 7% of the budget
  • Flowers and Decor: $2,000 — 6% of the budget
  • Rehearsal Dinner: $1,900 — 6% of the budget
  • Wedding Dress: $1,600 — 5% of the budget
  • Event Planner: $1,500 — 5% of the budget

Of course, you can absolutely plan a wedding on a budget. Choosing to hire a DJ for $1,200 instead of a live band at the reception could save you $2,500 immediately. 

Weddings under $10,000 are also a popular challenge for couples planning a wedding on a budget. If a large party isn’t for you, micro-weddings and elopements are great alternatives to celebrate your love without taking on debt. 

How To Save for a Wedding

Saving for your wedding may seem overwhelming now, but a thorough budget and clear savings steps can help you reach your ceremony goals. 

Mockup of the vendor payment spreadsheet on a laptop.
Click to download the vendor payment spreadsheet.

1. Brainstorm Your Budget

When you first sit down to start a budget, have an honest conversation with your partner about what you can realistically save. If you already have money saved, how much can you guarantee for the wedding? It’s also helpful to decide a set amount you can contribute to savings each paycheck and have that money automatically deposited to a wedding savings account. 

Now use your current savings expectations to decide a ballpark budget. If you know you want to be married in 12 months, how much will you have saved? Alternatively, if you want a $20,000 wedding, for example, how long will it take to save that amount? 

2. Talk Money With Your Family

Many families want to help you celebrate your big day and may have been saving for just this occasion. Sit down with your partner and family to talk about money and ask if they would like to contribute to your wedding day. If they say yes, ask if they know how much they can give to help you build a budget. 

You don’t have to put any pressure on your family to contribute a specific amount of money. Thank them for their generosity and keep them updated on the wedding plans if they’d like to know. 

“Find a theme that is charming and meaningful, and that will appeal to a wide range of contributors,” recommends Weddings are Cake’s Iris Wisher. “Create an eye-catching way to highlight your storyline and save money by asking your friends and relatives to cover minor costs.”

3. Decide Your Must-Haves 

Now that you have a better idea of what you can afford, sit with your fiance and nail down your must-haves for the wedding. These will be the first services you and your partner build into the budget. 

Do some research to find out the average costs for each item in the area. You may have to reach out to a couple of local vendors to get accurate prices, but it will save you time and stress in the long run. 

“Talk to an experienced planner in advance of committing to a venue or caterer — be prepared to discuss your budget in full as well as all of your crazy ideas. It’s worth categorizing your ideas into 'must have', 'nice to have' and 'only if possible’ to ensure that your priorities are fully understood,” says Chris Adnitt, head planner at The Wedding Arrangers

Mockup shows printable venue comparison sheet with location, price, and amenities.
Click to download the venue comparison printable.

4. Create a Detailed Budget

It’s time to really get detailed with your wedding budget. It’s helpful to look at average wedding and service costs, but be sure to customize this to your wedding needs. If a bonfire party is your idea of a perfect reception, then there’s no need to plan $10,000 for a formal banquet hall. 

Start with the basic costs, including your venue, wardrobe and catering. By now you should have a guest list to help you estimate your venue and catering needs. 

Next, work with your must-haves and decide how much you want to spend on these. If a photographer is nonnegotiable but flowers aren’t your thing, redirect some of the decor money to your photographer or hair and makeup artist to guarantee perfect photos. 

Don’t forget to build in some wiggle room. The Knot reported in 2017 that 45% of couples blew their budget by an average of $7,319. If you give yourself a couple extra thousand dollars for unexpected expenses and don’t need them, the worst-case scenario is you have more for your honeymoon. That’s much better than finding yourself on the hook for thousands you don’t have.

5. Wedding Savings Account

Now that you have a budget and a savings goal, set up a wedding savings account to put your savings in. A separate account will be harder to dip into and keeps it easier to track your progress. Set automatic deposits if you can so you don’t forget to contribute each month. 

For short-term savings goals like a wedding, it’s a good idea to look into high-yield savings accounts or certificates of deposits. These accounts offer a higher interest rate than regular savings accounts, though they typically have minimums to keep your account open without fees. 

6. Collect Credit Card Rewards

Using credit cards to pay your vendors makes sure your payments are on time, gives you security if something goes wrong and allows you to rack up rewards points. Rewards and travel points can help cover your honeymoon travel and save on other wedding expenses. 

If you do use a credit card, be sure you have the cash to cover the bill in full each month. Otherwise, you may pay more in interest than you save. Credit cards also shouldn’t be an excuse to push your budget — you don’t want to be paying for your wedding years after the confetti settles!

7. Consider a Personal Loan

If you’re coming up short in your wedding savings, consider a personal loan to cover the costs. Personal loans offer low interest rates and fixed payments, so they’re a better choice than relying on credit cards. Credit-building loans can also benefit your and your partner’s long-term financial well-being. 

Who Pays for The Wedding?

Traditionally, the couple’s parents foot the majority of the bill. Which family pays for which aspects of the ceremony depends on the culture. It’s also not uncommon for other family members or communities like churches to help cover the costs, too. 

Below is a breakdown of expenses by who would traditionally pay the bill. 

The bride’s family responsibilities include:

  • Venue rental and ceremony costs
  • Reception catering and decor
  • Bride’s gown, hair and makeup, accessories
  • Floral arrangements and bridal party bouquets (excluding the bride’s bouquet)
  • Photography and videography
  • Engagement party
  • Invitations
  • Groom’s ring
  • Transportation

The groom’s family responsibilities include:

  • Marriage license and officiant
  • Reception entertainment and bar
  • Groom’s tuxedo and accessories
  • Bride’s bouquet, groomsmen boutonnieres, and corsages for mothers and grandmothers
  • Honeymoon expenses
  • Rehearsal dinner
  • Bride’s rings

Budget Wedding Ideas

Illustration of a wedding cake highlights that 45% of couples went over budget by $7,319 in 2017.

If you’ve run your budget, searched local prices and are struck with sticker shock, you’re not out of luck. There are still plenty of ways to save with a few budget wedding ideas. 

Reconsider the Venue

Choosing an affordable venue is the easiest way to stick to your wedding budget since venues can easily run 30% of your costs. Take time to detail the cost benefits of a full-service venue, public spaces like parks and gardens, and backyard weddings. 

If you’re looking for a full wedding experience, then a full-service venue will probably give you the best deal. You don’t have to worry about finding a trustworthy rental company, entertainment or cleanup. If you’re really looking for a full-service discount, consider getting married in the off-season or during a weekday. 

  • Backyard Weddings: Backyard weddings can save on venue and catering costs, but you’ll make up for it in rentals for tents, seating, audio/video equipment, restrooms and more. Backyard weddings are a good option for micro-weddings or elopements that don’t need as much space and planning.
  • Public Parks: Parks can be great for a ceremony, offering beautiful scenery, parking and restrooms. You’ll likely have to find an alternative for your reception, but renting a room at your favorite local restaurant is likely more affordable than catering and an open bar. 

Consider Your Catering Options

Catering is one of the most expensive aspects of your wedding. Couples are getting creative by hiring food trucks and hosting barbecues instead of a formal dinner. Ask your venue what catering restrictions they have before signing so you can consider all of your options. 

“Family-style meals are much cheaper than plated meals.”

“Instead of a sit-down dinner, have family-style seating where the bride and groom are able to walk around and greet guests while they eat. Family-style meals are much cheaper than plated meals,” recommends Jeff Gitlin of Hawaii Luau Company

Trim Your Guest List

Catering is expensive and can easily cost you $100 (or more!) a plate. Finding a venue with affordable catering built-in or the flexibility to hire your own caterer can help you save on your reception. 

You may also want to take a look at your guest list to cut down the number of plates you’re paying for. A good rule of thumb is to limit plus-ones to close family and friends, and only allow partners who have been dating for at least a year. 

“The wedding cost is directly proportional to the number of onsite guests. Reception meals, cocktail hours, and open bars are especially costly,” JinJing Liang, co-creator of Lovecast, reminds couples. 

Shop Secondhand Decor and Gowns

Illustration of a wedding dress states the average cost of a wedding dress in 2019 was $1,600.

A lot of decor can also be purchased secondhand for a discount, then resold after your wedding. Keep an eye out at thrift stores and online marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook. Glassware, pillar candles and fabric are usually easy to collect. 

Consider saving on your gown or tuxedo by renting or buying used. The average cost of a wedding dress in 2019 was $1,600, which is a significant amount for a budget wedding. 

Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch says shopping secondhand can save you big bucks without sacrificing quality or style. “The best tip is to go up a size so you have plenty of room to make fitting tweaks. There are so many sites to find a quality wedding dress for less: and are two great sites to check.”

Skip the Favors

Favors are often thrown away or left behind after the ceremony. Most guests won’t mind if you skip the favors — they’re ultimately there to celebrate you, after all. 

If you do want to give your guests a gift, there are plenty of affordable favor options. You can make a bulk donation to your favorite organization, offer a candy bar with to-go bags or combine your table decor and favors with something small like succulents. 

Get Creative and DIY Your Wedding

You can always DIY your wedding if you have the time and craft skills. Just be sure you finish your projects well before the wedding so you can pamper yourself and enjoy a stress-free wedding day. 

Learn to arrange your own flowers or consider fake flowers if they’re not a must-have for your wedding. You can also practice your own hair and makeup for a few months leading up to your ceremony so you’re confident in your style and products.

You’ll cherish your wedding memories for the rest of your life, so of course you want to plan the perfect party.
Preparing an accurate budget and prioritizing what’s most important will help you understand what’s worth getting financially fair loans for and what you skip. That way, you can celebrate your day without the financial stress.

No matter what, your wedding day will be perfect because it’s all about you, your fiance and your new life together.

Chang Fu

Chang is an avid writer, among other things. He grew up loving reading and writing, creating his own poems and even a book he's now hidden in an old closet, unpublished. His financial experience at a large bank along with his passion for technology to help underserved communities inspired him to write for Possible.

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