With rising inflation, planning your dream wedding can be stressful and overwhelming, especially when you have a strict budget to stay within. But, with a $20,000 budget, you can still have the wedding of your dreams without sacrificing what you truly want.
From finding the perfect venue to picking out attire, entertainment, and more, we created a budget breakdown to help make your planning process a little easier. So, let’s get started on creating the perfect wedding.
- We’ll cover some of the biggest expenses couples spend on their wedding day, including the venue, wedding dress and suit, photographer, food and drinks, and more.
- The costs for different expenses will depend on what you and your partner feel are the most important things for your wedding.
Wedding Budget Breakdown By Expense
Here are the average wedding costs broken down by expense according to 2021 data from The Knot:
- Venue: 30%
- Catering: 23%
- Band: 13%
- Wedding rings: 7%
- Photography: 7%
- Alcohol: 7%
- Flowers: 7%
- Videography: 6%
- Couple’s attire: 6%
- Wedding planner: 5%
- Lighting and décor: 5%
- DJ: 4%
- Guest entertainment: 3%
- Transportation: 3%
- Stationary: 2%
- Other: 5%
Note that these are just averages and not absolutes. Depending on your priorities and size of your guest list, the costs could vary.
Now, let’s dive into each category to understand how it fits into your wedding budget.
Finding the perfect wedding venue is a crucial part of the wedding planning process and should be one of the first things you do. You want a location within your budget that fits your desired guest count and matches your vision for your special day.
Look for venues online, ask for recommendations from friends and family, and tour multiple locations before making a decision. You do not have to choose a traditional wedding hall or a destination specifically for weddings. Unique and popular options include museums, art galleries, beaches, parks, historic buildings and landmarks, private estates and gardens, wineries, barns, etc.
Many venues offer all-inclusive packages, but be mindful of what items are included and what you may need to add on. If you are not careful, you could end up paying for items you don’t care about, which eats into your budget for other important things. Ideally, you want to look for venues that allow you to take advantage of equipment they already have onsite and won’t nickel and dime you for every additional item. For example, some venues may charge you separately for tables, chairs, cutlery, linen, plates, glasses, etc.
Some venues have restrictions on vendors not affiliated with them or time limitations. For example, some wineries may limit your wedding to 11 PM (which is not necessarily bad and could end up saving you money on entertainment and drinks). Make sure you understand any limitations before making a decision.
Another key consideration is the location’s atmosphere. Do you want a destination wedding or a wedding somewhere close by? You want a venue that fits the style and vibe you want for your wedding. For example, if you are claustrophobic, you may want a venue with tons of windows, allowing natural light to flow in. If you want your venue to be accessibility-friendly for your guests, find a venue with everything in one area and on the same level. To save money, zone in on a venue with adequate room for dining and a decently sized dance floor.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you find a venue that fits your vision but is over your budget, ask if they can make adjustments. You can also ask if they give discounts for cash payments. It’s not unusual to get a 5-10% discount with certain vendors if you pay in cash. With a limited budget, you need to find a venue that enables you to remain in control of your finances.
2. Food and Drinks
When it comes to good wedding food, there are many options to consider that are delicious and still affordable.
If the venue does not allow external caterers, work with them to create a few signature dishes. They could include a special family recipe or dishes featuring locally-sourced ingredients. Popular plated options include steak, salad, shrimp, salmon, and pasta. Don’t forget finger foods or appetizers, such as sliders, bruschetta, and flatbread.
Incorporate seasonal ingredients to add a touch of freshness to your menu and cut down on costs. In-season produce and ingredients are often more readily available, which means they cost less. Work with your caterer or venue to create a menu using seasonal ingredients, such as fresh berries in the summer or root vegetables in the winter. Be sure to taste-test the food to your liking.
Another option is to consider a family-style service over plated dishes. This type of service involves large dishes of food placed on the table for guests to help themselves. Family-style service can be more cost-effective as it typically requires less staff and less time to serve. Alternatively, if the venue lets you bring in your own caterer, get a buffet-style service. Your guests can serve themselves while also accommodating their dietary restrictions.
An open bar can quickly add up, so consider limiting your alcohol selection to a few types of beer, wine, and signature cocktails. This not only saves you potentially thousands of dollars but also ensures that your guests have a safe and enjoyable time without getting too hammered. If outside alcohol is allowed, buy bottles of liquor at BevMo or Costco, which are more cost-efficient and come in bigger sizes.
A dessert station is a great way to add a special touch to your wedding. Consider setting up a dessert station with various sweet treats, such as cakes, cupcakes, donuts, and pastries. You can also include a hot beverage station with coffee, tea, boba, and hot chocolate for guests to enjoy.
3. Wedding Planner or Coordinator
A wedding planner or coordinator can help guide you through the many decisions and details involved in creating and executing your dream wedding while taking the stress and burden off of you, your partner, and your family and friends.
Wedding planners assist in a range of areas, from budgeting and vendor selection to theme and color scheme decisions. Some wedding planners double as wedding coordinators and can help with day-of coordination, ensuring that your wedding runs smoothly and exactly as you envisioned.
Wedding coordinators, on the other hand, focus solely on the execution of the wedding day. They ensure that everything runs according to plan and any issues get resolved quickly and effectively. They can be especially helpful on your wedding day when you want to focus on enjoying yourself and your guests without worrying about the logistics or pestering your family or friends for help.
Full planning services can be a significant investment, but they can also save you time and money in the long run. If you’re working with a small budget, you may want to consider just hiring a day-of coordinator who will focus solely on ensuring the smooth execution of your wedding day.
A wedding officiant can cost anywhere from $100 to $800 depending on the location. Officiants solemnize your wedding and act as the legal witness to your marriage. They will be there during your big moment and lead the wedding ceremony, so having the right officiant can make all the difference on your special day.
You can opt for a ceremony company to find an officiant or have a family member or close friend marry you off for a more intimate experience. Just offer to pay for their license and send them a thank-you gift. This option is more cost-efficient and allow you to feel more comfortable and relaxed when you exchange vows with your partner.
5. Marriage License
For the most part, getting a marriage license is an unavoidable cost required by the government. If you want to change your name or want your wedding to be legal, you need a marriage license and subsequently, a marriage certificate.
In the U.S., fees for marriage licenses can range anywhere from $10 to $150+ depending on the state, county, city, or municipality, as well as your residential status. Ideally, you should file for your marriage license at least one week before your wedding but no earlier than 90 days beforehand.
6. Flowers and Decorations
With flowers and decorations, you could spend thousands of dollars to deck out the venue if that is high on your priority list. But there are ways to cut costs while still having a picture-perfect wedding.
Look for a venue that is gorgeous and elegant on its own (bonus points if it fits your wedding aesthetics). That way, you do not need to stress over adding additional décor to mold the venue to fit your vision.
For example, if the venue has floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed brick, flowers can stand out and add color to the room without any extra decorations. Some venues may also have décor and rentals available that comes with the wedding package and may be cheaper than sourcing the decorations from an outside vendor.
Ideally, you want flowers that are in season. One of the reasons why weddings are more common during the spring or summer is because people have more varieties of flowers to choose from. Daffodils, violets, hyacinths, irises, forget-me-nots, and lilacs are popular types of flowers in season during the spring. Roses, poppies, hydrangeas, bergamot, dahlias, and daisies are in season during the summer.
If the venue doesn’t come with decorations, you may need to hire a wedding decorator and florist to help with floral accents, centerpieces, boutonnieres, and the bridal bouquet. Shop around with different florists to find one that understands your vision and matches your budget.
To cut costs, consider doing some DIY with family and friends using tutorials and ideas from Pinterest or buying flowers and supplies in bulk at Costco, Hobby Lobby, Goodwill, etc. See if you have any items at home you can use for the venue decoration as well.
7. Music and Entertainment
Music is a must-have at any wedding, adding to the mood and emotions of every part, from the processional to the reception. You can opt for a DJ who doubles as an MC or a live band. Your budget can also cover the cost of sound equipment if needed.
As you look for a DJ, interview them to ensure their style matches what you’re looking for at a reasonable price. Discuss the genres and styles of music you are interested in having at your wedding so you can get paired with the right DJ. Some DJs may also bring their own DJ booth equipped with playbacks of music videos and uplighting for free.
If possible, have the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception at the same location to save money on set-ups and tear-downs. If the DJ has to do multiple set-ups and tear-downs, they may need to bring extra equipment, which will cost extra.
8. Photographer and Videographer
If capturing all the moments, big and small, is vital to having a successful and memorable wedding, you will need to hire a good photographer and videographer. The costs typically include the hours of coverage, photo and video editing, an engagement shoot, an online photo gallery, transportation, and equipment.
Do your research and look into several photographers and videographers in the area. You only get one shot at capturing your big day, so check their portfolios before booking to ensure that their style matches exactly what you are looking for. Some photographers will include an engagement shoot in their pricing package as well.
If you have the budget, including a second shooter for a few hundred dollars extra is highly recommended. That allows one photographer to be with your partner while the other stays with you to capture the getting-ready photos. Additionally, having guests take photos and record videos is a great way to capture even more memories. You can set up a make-shift photo booth with some DIY and a Polaroid camera like the Fujifilm Instax Mini.
If you’re planning a destination wedding or the venue is located far away from your home, you will need to find accommodations to stay at to get ready and crash in. Depending on your wedding date, you may need to book a place several months in advance to lock in the best housing option.
Look for an accommodation that is close to your wedding venue so it’s convenient to get to your wedding. If you plan on having guests over and stylists to do your hair and makeup, consider an Airbnb or Vrbo rental so you have more room and parking spots. A unique home, such as a farmhouse or ranch, could also provide a stunning backdrop for your getting ready photos.
If you want a grand entrance or stylish getaway, you may be considering renting a limo, ferry, party bus, horse and carriage, etc. These options typically start at several hundred dollars and could go into the thousands depending on what type of transportation you want and the location.
Additionally, if your guests are traveling from out of town, you may want to rent shuttle buses or vehicles to get them to your wedding venue and the after-party. Get quotes early to ensure you don’t leave your guests hanging, and use your negotiation skills to find the best deal.
11. Wedding Attire/Accessories
Finding the perfect wedding attire is a top priority for many couples. For brides, the dress is often the centerpiece of the day, while grooms’ attire typically set the tone for the overall look and feel of the event.
When searching for wedding attire, start early and have a clear budget in mind. There are thousands and thousands of dresses and suits out there, so having a set budget before you begin shopping is key.
You can start your search by browsing online or visiting local bridal shops and suit stores. Bridal shops and boutiques typically require several months of lead time for ordering a wedding dress, and suits or tuxedos may need to be ordered or tailored to ensure a perfect fit. So, book appointments in advance. If you plan on trying on dresses, bring a trusted friend or family member for support and to help with the decision-making process.
For grooms, find a suit or tuxedo that fits well and matches the formality of the wedding. It’s also important to consider the wedding’s location and time of day when choosing the color and style of the suit.
Some couples opt to rent suits and gowns to save money, but you will not have the luxury of tailoring your clothes to get the most flattering fit. You will also need to consider the attire of the wedding party, including bridesmaids and groomsmen. The couple should choose colors and styles that complement each other and coordinate with the overall look and feel of the wedding.
Be sure to factor in the cost of any necessary alterations, accessories like ties or jewelry, and shoes. That will ensure that the total cost of attire is accounted for and allows for a less stressful shopping experience.
12. Wedding Bands
Wedding bands are symbols of love and commitment you’ll wear every day, so it’s crucial to choose rings that fit your style and personality.
In 2021, on average, couples spent $1,417 on the bride’s band and $558 on the groom’s band, according to Long’s Fine Jewelers. This cost obviously depends on various factors, such as the style, type of metals and stones, engravings, size, and budget. If you want a simple and classic look, that will cost much less than something more unique and eye-catching.
Whether you are shopping online or in person, research the companies and read reviews beforehand. Ask the sales representatives for their recommendations and get a feel for their expertise.
Also, consider the quality of the materials used, the manufacturer’s warranty, the return policy, and the durability and maintenance of the rings. Some materials, like white gold or platinum, require more upkeep than others, like yellow gold or titanium. You may also want to insure your wedding rings in case of loss or damage.
13. Invitations and Other Wedding Stationary
This category includes wedding invitations, thank you cards, place cards, props, and other wedding-themed items. Because most of these will end up in the trash after the wedding, it’s a spending area you can put on the lower end of your priority list.
You can find affordable and elegant designs on Etsy and order invites and RSVP cards on a site like Vistaprint. Make sure to sign up for the Vistaprint newsletter to get promo codes for discounts. To avoid purchasing return stamps, create a free website on The Knot where guests can RSVP to your wedding electronically
14. Hair and Makeup
If you are worried about messing up your makeup or hair, hire a professional hair and makeup artist for your big day. The last thing you want is to stress about how you look and feel self-conscious on your wedding day.
Typically, the costs include the bridal makeup trial, bridal makeup and hair, and maid of honor makeup and hair. Research your stylist’s portfolio ahead of time to find one whose style fits what you are looking for. Be sure to provide photos as well to set expectations.
If budget is a concern, go to a professional makeup artist and stylist just for the trial. After you get a good sense of how you want to look, you can purchase the same products at Sephora or another beauty brand and try to re-create the look on your own.
15. Wedding Cake
The cost of a wedding cake can vary widely depending on what type of cake you want. Couples spend $500 on average on their wedding cake, though it can range from $300 to $1,000+. The budget allocation should also include taste testing fees and delivery fees.
If you are not a cake person, consider alternatives like cupcakes, bite-sized cakes, donut cakes, or other dessert options. You can also have a fake cake, which is essentially layers of foam shaped like a cake. These often get paired with sheet cakes you can serve guests after the cake-cutting ceremony.
16. Wedding Favors
Some couples may go all out on wedding favors, but if you are on a budget, there are ways to get quality gifts that are still affordable. In previous weddings, I’ve seen couples give out customized hand sanitizers, wine glasses, and even small jars of honey. You can also opt for practical things to give to your bridesmaids and groomsmen, such as mini alcohol bottles and accessories.
The Bottom Line
A budget of $20,000 can result in a stunning wedding with proper planning. Having clear priorities, a dependable support system, and utilizing creativity can help you achieve your desired wedding experience.