It’s normal for weddings to cost more than expected, but this year was a perfect storm of pricey complications. First, there was a bottleneck of pent-up demand from couples who had postponed their ceremonies during the pandemic. Meanwhile, vendors were trying to make up for two years of lost business. Factor in rising prices from supply-chain issues and inflation, and you’ve got a hot, expensive mess: A recent Zola survey found that 70 percent of couples went over budget for their weddings this year.
We spoke to three brides about how much they spent on their weddings in 2022 and the slippery slope of paying more than they had planned.
“Something would seem affordable at first and then once I committed, it would cost more and more.”— Ellen and Jack, both 30. Fashion merchandiser and doctor, Los Angeles.
My husband and I got together in college, so we’ve been talking about our wedding for a long time. We had a vision for what we wanted before we even got engaged in early 2021. Initially, we planned to get married in upstate New York because we were living in New York City at the time. We toured some venues in the Finger Lakes, and I was shocked by their prices. Two of my siblings got married before the pandemic, and they had shared their budgets with me so I was working off those spreadsheets. But the prices venues were quoting to me were not even close.
My husband and I have a ton of debt from grad school — over half a million dollars collectively. Originally, we were trying to keep our wedding under $20,000. But that was impossible. Or it felt impossible.
It was also hard to say exactly what kinds of prices we were seeing because no one would give us a straight answer about their fees. They might say, “It’s $5,000 to rent this space on a Friday or Saturday.” But they wouldn’t say that, all in, you’re looking at something like $70,000.
Even the ones that were all-inclusive, that did the bar and food and cake and everything, wouldn’t give me a range. They’d be like, “What do you want? Describe your vision. We’ll make it happen.” And I’d be like, “Fine, but my vision depends on how much it all costs!” It would take so many conversations, so many hours, so many follow-up emails to find out if we were in the right ballpark. All-inclusive places were quoting us $35,000 and up, and that was more than we wanted, even though now I wish we’d gone with that because we wound up paying way more in the end.
Then we moved to L.A. for my husband’s work. And because upstate New York was looking way too expensive for 2022, we started looking at venues in Southern California instead. We figured that would be a good way to keep it small, too, since it would be a destination wedding for a lot of our family and friends. We wound up having about 80 people there, and the cost was still way more than I was planning — about $55,000, including tips.
The big-ticket expenses were food and alcohol. I think that amounted to a little over $20,000. We had planned to save money by buying our own alcohol at Costco, but then in the week leading up to the wedding, we were so busy that we just paid our caterers to do it. The same thing happened with flowers — I was going to do them myself, but then I got too overwhelmed and found a local vendor to do it à la carte. I told her my budget was $1,000 and she should do whatever she could with that. Of course, it still wound up being more like $2,000 with delivery. But I couldn’t find a wedding florist for under $5,000, so it was still the most affordable option. Then the tent was about $5,000, and the venue was about $6,000, but it didn’t come with anything. We had to get a catering tent and rent all the furniture. My wedding dress was $2,000 and then the alterations were another $2,000. Everything kept piling up. Something would seem affordable at first and then once I committed, it would cost more and more.
It was the most stressful, emotional experience. I spent so much time and energy looking for vendors that could do what I wanted, within my budget, and failing. I also kept thinking I could do things myself and then running out of time and rushing to pay someone else to do it. So I didn’t prioritize a lot of things I should have. I wish I could go back in time and say, “Here’s my budget; let’s solve all these problems quickly.” But I’m also not sure what I could have done differently. A lot of my friends got married this year and spent way, way more than we did, like $150,000.
By the time our wedding day came around, I was expecting to be disappointed by everything because nothing had turned out like I’d planned. But surprisingly, my wedding day was the best day of my life. Still, I’m embarrassed and conflicted about how I dealt with everything. I’m a very visual person, and because of what I do for work, I’ve helped a lot of my friends with their weddings. To have my own be so different from what I had envisioned was really hard, especially since it still cost so much. I’ve had to go to therapy for the past year because I knew things were getting out of hand and I was so overwhelmed. At the end of the day, I know my wedding was not supposed to be about the creative process; it’s not about my branding. It’s really about my husband and I getting married. And that’s so important to me.
“When I started to see $20,000 credit-card bills, I was like, Oh my God, this must be wrong.” — Serena and Kwame, 34 and 35. Management consultant and start-up founder, New York.
I was one of those brides who was like, I hate the wedding industrial complex. I don’t buy into any of this shit. We’re going to be nontraditional. And of course, by the end of it, I bought into fucking everything. We had all the trappings. And it cost so much.
We got engaged right before the pandemic. 2020 was a tough year for many reasons — there was COVID, obviously, plus we moved to New York and both of our jobs were stressful, and we figured we’d have a wedding once things got better. First, we set a date for 2021. And then we pushed it back again and ultimately got married last summer.
Initially, our budget was $40,000. That’s how much my parents offered to contribute, which I’m very grateful for. We thought that would cover everything, which was naïve and is hilarious to think about now. Everywhere we looked in Manhattan and Brooklyn was $12,000 as a bare minimum, just for the venue. I started to realize how insane prices were when I got a quote from the same venue where a friend of mine got married right before the pandemic, and it was much, much higher than what she paid. When I saw that, I was like, Okay, here we go. This is going to be a shitshow.
The venue we finally decided on was about $22,000, including booze but nothing else. So we had to rent furniture, hire a caterer, all that stuff. Our caterer cost about as much as the venue. And once I knew we would go over the budget, I became progressively more comfortable with just shelling out. When I started to see $20,000 credit-card bills, I was like, Oh my God, this must be wrong. But then my sense of money got so warped that it stopped being real to me. I started telling myself that if ever there was a reason to have a big-ass party, this was it.
One thing I didn’t anticipate is how much it costs to try everything before you commit. Like, tastings with different caterers were $150 a person. You’re paying for great food, but it does add up. We spent easily over $1,000 just to choose our caterer. Same with trying different makeup and hair people. I wanted to look hot on my wedding day, so I was picky and did several trials, which cost about $150 or $200 each.
My dress was about $4,000, including fittings and tailoring. Then our rentals were $8,000 or $9,000, our photographer was about $4,000, and the DJ was $4,000. The after-party was $2,000, and the Sunday brunch was another $2,000 or $3,000. All in all, it probably came to about $90,000 total, but that doesn’t include tons of other little things leading up to it, like the Botox I got, the pebbles we put in the plant pots for the tables, and the fancy workout classes I took. I didn’t do any crazy diet stuff, but I wanted to look and feel good.
By the end of it, I was acting like a millionaire. It was actually really fun. For the first and probably the only time in my life, I was like, Fuck it, let’s do the expensive option for everything. And there’s definitely been a sad comedown from that but also a really nice afterglow. It was an incredible day, and seeing our families come together was really moving.
“We didn’t want to make a $40,000 bet on when the pandemic was going to end.” — Adrienne and Elliot, both 36. Communications manager and engineer, Seattle.
My husband and I both have big families that live all over the country, so we wanted to have a big wedding that everyone could come to. Our guest list was over 200 — we were like, “The more, the merrier!” But obviously, with the pandemic, we had to change our plans.
Our initial wedding date was in the early fall of 2021. We put a bunch of deposits down, but then the Delta variant happened. Luckily, the venue was very kind and allowed us to postpone for a few months. Then Omicron happened. And at that point, we were like, “Do we postpone again? Or should we cancel? We can’t predict anything.” We had already spent so much on nonrefundable deposits — over $10K — but we were getting more and more discouraged about whether we could ever have the wedding we wanted with everyone feeling totally comfortable and safe being there. That was looking less and less realistic. Basically, we didn’t want to make a $40,000 bet on when the pandemic was going to end.
So we canceled our venue and DJ. We were able to move dates with our photographer, and I had already bought my dress, which I still haven’t worn. And instead of one big wedding, we did three smaller things.
One was a private ceremony in the park, which was just the two of us, our officiant, and three other people, plus the photographer we had already paid for — they cost about $5,000. Altogether, including my husband’s wedding band and lunch afterward, it was a little over $8,000.
Then we did a Zoom wedding, which I never thought I would do. And I got my hair done and some flowers, but it wasn’t very expensive. And that was with everyone who was invited to the initial wedding. We had each of our dads give a toast, and we had our first dance, which was surprisingly fun and people danced along with us. It was a lot more meaningful and special than I anticipated. We took ourselves out to a nice dinner that night, which was $800 — definitely the most I’ve ever spent on dinner in my entire life.
Then, a few months later, we had a dinner party with 20 of our friends. It was really hard to cut that list down. We invited only people our age who lived close by — nobody’s parents, nobody’s kids. It was a fun party, but it’s also not really us. We had wanted a big sweaty dance party with everyone we love.
When all was said and done, we spent $24,000 on a wedding that was great, but it wasn’t what we really wanted. We lost only $2,800 on nonrefundable deposits because our venue was able to book another event for our date, so they gave us our money back. That makes me feel better. But do I feel great about the fact that I had a ceremony with six people that somehow cost $8,000? Not really.
Now everyone’s like, “You could do a big thing next year or have a big anniversary party!” But I’m just like, no. We’re moving on. We’re trying to have a baby. Not that I don’t still want to have a dance party, but we’re ready to spend our money on other things.
The Cut’s financial-advice columnist Charlotte Cowles answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org
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