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Is an Expensive Wedding Worth it?

I have been doing SO much research weighing the pros and cons of spending a lot of money on a wedding, as we have our own wedding coming up this summer. I think we’ve all wondered at some point or another in our planning: Is an expensive wedding really worth it?

From a strictly financial standpoint, an expensive wedding* is not a sound financial investment for most people. However, many couples express that their expensive weddings were “worth it” as long as they knew what the cost would be beforehand and they did not go over budget.

*The average cost of a wedding in 2019 was nearly $30,000 not including the ring and honeymoon (Source). For most people in the U.S., this is considered an expensive purchase to make for one day.

What is an expensive wedding? When I say “expensive wedding” I mean any wedding that costs around the average $30k or more, which is a substantial amount for most couples. However, even a wedding that costs less than this could be considered very expensive for many of us.

Most couples on their way down the aisle also have student loans, mortgage payments, and other expenses to worry about that make spending the average $30k or more on a wedding very difficult. In the end, many couples will end up overly stressed and in some cases literally sick from the amount of money they’re shelling out.

Couples who do feel that their expensive weddings were worth it are the ones who had a feasible, realistic budget going into their wedding planning, were comfortable from the get-go with the amount they were spending, and were then able to proceed relatively stress-free.

Is an expensive wedding dress worth it? Read my other post on this topic before you go wedding dress shopping!

Why an expensive wedding is not worth it for most people

I have heard so many friends and family members say something along the lines of “I LOVED my wedding day, but it would be nice to have that $15,000 (or $20,000, etc.) back right now!”

For most people who are struggling to pay bills every month, the average cost of a wedding, which the 2019 Wedding Wire Report said was nearly $30,000 plus a $5,000 engagement ring and a $4,500 honeymoon, is… just… outrageous. In my opinion! Yes, I know this is a sensitive topic and very subjective.

A wedding is not a great way to spend money from a financial standpoint, because everything except for the photos, last for only one night. If you spend the average $30,000 on your wedding and have a 6 hour event, you just essentially spent $5,000 per hour!

The entire reason we spend all this money is because we’re trying to “make it special” because it will never happen again. But this kind of thinking gets us in crazy debt and makes us sick to our stomach. Some people end up in such a state of stress that they can’t even enjoy their day from all the pressure that’s been built up around it. Is that worth an expensive wedding?! No, I don’t think so.

The money you spend on your wedding is just gone, with no return or appreciation over time. I know this is not why people have weddings — no one thinks of a wedding as an investment! We know the food will be gone and the flowers will die the next day. But aren’t our marriages an investment?

We’re investing in our partner and in our future when we get married. So why wouldn’t we also be conscious, at least a little bit, of the way we’re ‘investing’ our money for our wedding day, and try to do it more wisely?

It’s telling that, on average, most couples budget to spend $16,000 on their weddings but still end up spending the average $29,000, according to the report.

This is because nearly 80% of couples set their budgets before doing any research on vendors or venues, and have no idea what the wedding industry standards are and what they were getting themselves into. SO MANY people start out their wedding planning journey with a low number and a beautiful Pinterest board… and then are smacked in the face with sticker shock when they meet with vendors.

I frankly think it’s pretty irresponsible for the wedding industry and our family and friends (and society through media and TV) to try to convince us to spend a ton of money on our wedding days. The pressure is unreal and absolutely not fair for those people who are struggling financially and are then expected to have a Disney princess wedding for 200 people. And if they don’t– they’re made to feel judged or cheap.

If a couple’s original wedding budget is busted after meeting with vendors, they are most likely going to experience (first) sadness because they can’t meet their own expectations and the expectations that others and society have put on them. And (second) they’re going to end up spending WAY more than they wanted to, placing more stress on them, which isn’t mentally or physically healthy, especially for the start of a marriage.

The extreme stress, I believe, is reason enough to stay away from an expensive wedding if you have other major bills to pay. Putting oneself in the position of spending tons of money that one doesn’t have, while also trying to manage a bunch of other financial obligations, is just NOT A GOOD IDEA.

Shaun Cassidy & Ann Pennington, 1979

I always go back to my parents’ generation, who tell me that it didn’t used to be like this. You used to be able to have a decent wedding very affordably. Since their time, the wedding industry has exploded and with it, couples’ expectations have heightened for what a wedding should be. The pressure is much much higher than it used to be for couples to stage “the perfect day.”

My mom and dad eloped in Las Vegas and then came home to their town in Massachusetts to have a big party at a rented hall with very few frills. And they said it was great. People used to just rent a hall for a few hundred dollars, hire vendors at much lower prices than today, and everyone was happy. Probably. It was definitely a lot cheaper, is what I’m saying!

The amount of television shows and movies that sensationalize weddings and make us feel like we have to put so much pressure and expectations of perfection on this one day — this is part of the problem in my opinion, and it’s made us all a bit coo-coo.

I don’t blame the vendors and venues so much for having exorbitant wedding rates. They’re for sure capitalizing on our wedding frenzy, but really we’re just as much to blame. We’ve all drunk the Kool-aid and bought into this fantasy, and so we’re willing to pay the money for top-notch service and products. We accept the high prices when we insist that this has to be the most important day of our lives!

…when really, it is important, but every day with our significant others should be special and important, so let’s just try as much as possible not to give this one day the seriousness of a NASA space launch or open-heart surgery.

An expensive wedding is worth it if you have the money

On the other hand… if you happen to be wealthy and unburdened by debt, then perhaps an expensive wedding is very much worth it for you. I’m not here to tell people how to spend their money, especially if you have tons of it!

If your wedding day expectations are much like the rest of society and you have the funds to match it, then there’s probably no harm in spending the average 30k or more on your wedding.

If you’ve always dreamed of getting married in a big expensive mansion or on a beach in the Caribbean (or wherever!)… if you’ve always wanted to wear an expensive designer wedding dress… to have the fanciest food, the best photographer and DJ, etc. etc. and you have the money, then go for it. If you don’t feel guilty about spending the money, then this is probably not an issue for you!

Advantages of having a more affordable wedding

An affordable wedding doesn’t have to mean a “cheap” wedding. An affordable wedding just means letting go of “perfection” and looking into options that are nice but not unreasonable. It means lowering our expectations and relaxing a bit more. Because after all, this is supposed to be celebrating our union and love, not money and our ability to show off, right?

There are a lot of great things about bringing your wedding back down to Earth. Good for you, for your guests, for the planet, your health, and ultimately for your wallet and financial future.

The only reason affordable weddings aren’t more common is that we’ve all bought into the myth. We bought into the myth that we “need” to have all the things in the movie weddings and the “Say Yes to the Dress” weddings and the weddings our relatives want for us.

But the truth is: we don’t.

We don’t “need” to do or have anything that we don’t personally want to! Really! Just think about that for a minute when you’re really pressured to include this or that tradition in your wedding.

If you choose to have a more affordable wedding, you’ll find that you’ll be less stressed out during the planning process, healthier both mentally and physically, and you’ll enjoy the wedding day itself much more.

It will also allow you to concentrate on the aspects of the day that are most important to you, which you can consciously decide. You can make a list of the top 5 most important, must-have parts of your wedding day, and let everything else fall away.

If you’re able to do those other things, great! It’s a bonus. But if not, you know it doesn’t matter because you achieved the aspects that were closest to your heart and put all of your energy into only that (for example the food, dress, and music) instead of what wasn’t so important to you (for example the wedding favors, centerpieces, and flowers).

Tips for how to make your wedding more affordable

Once you and your partner have decided to adopt the mindset of: WE ARE DOING WHAT WE WANT and nothing else! (maybe not so militantly, but you get what I mean!), there are many ways to make your wedding less expensive!

STEP 1 is to realize that we’re all different and so your “essentials” will be different from mine and different from what everyone else thinks is “essential.” Don’t listen to anyone who says that something is “essential” or “necessary” for your wedding. There are no rules set in stone and you can basically just throw etiquette out the freakin’ window if you’ll only be brave enough to defend your choices. And you should!

Here are some ways that you might want to consider lowering the cost of of your wedding and avoid coming anywhere near that $30,000 average quoted in the aforementioned Wedding Wire report:

#1 Don’t Do Wedding Favors

We’ve all been guests at weddings. How much did you care about the wedding favor? Probably not all that much. I’m sure you appreciated it and thought it was cute in the moment, but would you have missed it if it weren’t there?

Yet couples stress about picking and finding the perfect wedding favor to give their guests a piece of the night to remember. It just really isn’t necessary. And many favors quickly end up in the trash, wasted.

I suggest skipping the favors all together or at least getting favors that are useful and eco-friendly if you insist on having them at your wedding.

#2 Don’t Have a Sit Down Dinner

If you really want a fancy sit-down dinner, great. Do it. But if you think it’s possible to have something a bit more casual, you could save a lot of money. Consider doing heavy appetizers only, or a BBQ… or maybe a buffet.

And then consider having some high-boy tables scattered around, a few small tables, lots of seats but not a formal set-up… perhaps some casual sitting areas for guests to eat and move about. Kind of like a backyard BBQ in the summertime.

We went to a wedding like this last summer and it was nice not to feel constrained to a table and forced to only spend dinner time with the people immediately around you. We got to mingle a lot more.

#3 Don’t Do Centerpieces

If you’re not doing a sit down dinner, then of course you won’t have centerpieces either, and that’ll save you a whole heck of a lot of money. People don’t care about centerpieces. I’m sorry, but it’s true! They are a lot of work and a lot of money and they just get forgotten about in the end.

Instead, put your focus on things you really care about. If you are doing a sit-down dinner, have simple elegant centerpieces, such as some candles and/or a vase of wild flowers that you pick yourself (or get from the local grocery store the morning of).

#4 Replace Flowers with a Naturally Beautiful Backdrop

To avoid the average price tag of $1,800 that most couples spend on their wedding (according to the 2019 Wedding Wire report), consider skipping them all together.

Again, is this something we reallllyyy really need? Who the heck is going to really mind if there aren’t any flowers? Are flowers worth that much money?! In my opinion, no.

Instead, get married in a place that’s already naturally beautiful, such as in a park, a backyard, or a beach, and flowers will be unnecessary.

#5 Get Your Dress For Less

So your dress… I have written on this site about whether or not an expensive wedding dress is “worth it” (spoiler alert: no, it isn’t!).

The average bride in the United States spends $1100 on her dress. That’s the cost of a round trip ticket to Europe, or to a tropical island (my brain always automatically compares the price of everything to airplane tickets!).

Related Post: 9 Most Affordable and Eco-Friendly Wedding Dresses

Why not instead buy a beautiful wedding dress (and I mean really beautiful) for waaaay less money and put that extra 700-800 dollars toward something else?

Here are some AMAZING wedding dress companies that sell dress for under $400 (and sometimes much cheaper):

  • Blush Fashion: For the bohemian bride looking for an affordable “flowy” dress
  • Lulu’s: Has many different style, accessories and bridal lingerie
  • Nee See’s Dresses: For the modest bride, offering more ‘covered-up’ dresses

All three of these companies also offer plus-size options.

#6 Don’t Buy Expensive Shoes

Many brides go looking for crazy-expensive wedding shoes that are shiny and sparkly and diamond-encrusted, and then they wear them for a total of 30 minutes. Because that’s how long the ceremony is and that’s about how long they can stand them!

Most wedding shoes that are super fancy are also uncomfortable, since not wanting to mess them up before the wedding, they were never broken in properly!

A much better choice is to just get some cute, comfortable ballerina flats (like these flexible ones on Amazon) that will hide under your dress (honestly, when have you EVER noticed a bride’s shoes??) or a pair of comfy and pretty wedding TOMS that will also benefit a child in need.

#7 Don’t Buy a Mined Diamond – It Might be a Conflict “Blood” Diamond Anyway!

I have written previously on the problem with mined diamonds and we’ve all heard of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “Blood Diamond” – Unfortunately, the industry is STILL not without its environmental and ethical problems. That isn’t to say that lab-created diamonds don’t have their problems as well…

However, if you absolutely want to get a real diamond, mined diamonds and lab-created diamonds are your only choice. They’re both identical chemically and physically, with lab-created diamonds even being more “perfect” in cut and color.

That being said, I would recommend going with a lab-created diamond for your ring, because not only is it WAAAY CHEAPER (sometimes 20-30 percent cheaper in fact), but it’s also more likely to be ethically-sourced.

#8 Reuse, Recycle, and Reduce as Much as Possible!

Having a “green” eco-friendly wedding is an idea close to my heart and I also happen to believe it’s the most affordable way to do a wedding. For me, eco-friendliness and affordability go hand in hand.

So remember that before you buy anything or sign a contract, think about asking around to your friends and family members: Do they have something you can borrow? Does anyone have a dress, shoes, men’s wear, tables, chairs, table clothes, glassware, etc. that you can just borrow or have?

Visit thrift shops and look at online marketplaces before you buy new. You’ll end up saving hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars!

That’s it!

So that’s my take on expensive weddings! I really hope it helps you find some relief and connect to what you really want deep inside, and how much you’re really willing to spend. I hope you discover these insights before doing a bunch of planning and signing a bunch of contracts 🙂 You got this!

I also made a video about whether or not a wedding “is worth it” on my YouTube channel which I recommend you check out below (and then go watch tons more videos on my channel 🙂 ) :


Brittany is a writer and teacher in Vancouver, Canada. She started the website Wayfaring Weddings as a way to share her research on affordable, eco-friendly, and less stressful approaches to wedding planning.