When my boyfriend popped the question in April 2004, my parents made us an offer they thought we couldn’t refuse. The deal? They would give us $10,000 in cash. The catch? We’d have to elope and forgo a big church ceremony and all the wedding costs that would go with it.

My parents’ gamble came up short – my now-fiance and I wanted that church wedding and a reception in a big ballroom. We also wanted to do it on a budget. My parents said they’d pay for it, but I didn’t want them to be swallowed up in wedding expenses. So, we planned a wedding budget as if we were paying for the fete ourselves.

Our Wedding Budget

My parents had pledged to invest as much as $20,000 toward our big day; anything wedding costs beyond that, they’d said, would be on our heads. Here’s what the final budget for our May 2005 wedding looked like:

  • Dress – $750, including tax and alterations; I actually found a beautiful – and reasonably priced – gown off the rack at David’s Bridal
  • Reception dinner – $8,000; this covered a sit-down, three-course dinner and four-hour open bar for up to 125 guests; because we chose to use the hall’s caterer, we did not have to pay to reserve the facility; because the facility was at a hotel, we also got a complimentary night’s stay in the honeymoon suite
  • Flowers – $1,250; since it was spring, we used in-season blooms, which were substantially cheaper than hot-house varieties or those flown in from warmer climates
  • Music – $1,200, split between a string quartet for the ceremony and a DJ for the reception; the quartet we booked was actually a group of students from a nearby music school, which translated into a price cut for us (they were awesome!); we used a DJ who was a friend of one of my cousins – he gave us a discount, although he did screw up on our first dance
  • Invitations – $600, including postage; I didn’t see the point in wasting big bucks on custom stationary when most guests would simply throw it away
  • Photography – $850, which included a bound album and a certain number of prints; again, we booked someone based on a reference, and got a price cut because of it
  • Transportation – $450; we got a 16-seat Lincoln Navigator limo, which took us and our wedding party everywhere we needed to go the day of the ceremony

In all, our wedding budget was $13,100 – far below the limit my parents had set, and far below the national average for wedding expenses in America today (just over $27,000 in 2011). Even if you adjusted our budget for inflation, it would still come in at just $15,335 in 2012 dollars.

Wedding Budget Mayhem

This weekend, I’m off to a wedding where the bride and groom have budgeted over $60,000 for their big day – that’s nearly four times what we paid just seven years ago. It seems crazy – there’s so much you could do with $60,000, like buy a new car (or three!), put a down payment on a starter home (and avoid private mortgage insurance), or pay off all your existing credit card debt or student loans. I can’t imagine why anyone would need to spend a whole year’s salary on a single day, yet according to The Huffington Post, this is a growing trend.

While the 2011 Real Weddings Survey found the average wedding expenses last year were just over $27,000, the study found high-priced weddings are on the rise. Last year, twenty percent of couples spent more than $30,000 on their big days, while one in ten spent more than $40,000.

Granted, cost of living differences can make a big impact here. I got married in the midwest, where costs are comparatively low; my friend who’s days away from tying the knot is doing so in our nation’s capital, where everything from real estate to average salaries are substantially higher.

How much did you spend on your wedding day? Do you think wedding costs today are out of control?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke