My husband and I are at the point in our lives where it seems like everyone we know is getting married: his cousins, my cousins, our friends from high school, college sorority sisters and football teammates, co-workers. You name it, they’re tying the knot this year. Which means one thing for us – we’re going to be shelling out money this year to attend the nuptials. A lot of money.

Average Wedding Costs

The average cost of a wedding in the United States is now more than $27,000. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is. Just consider what you could do with $27k:

  • Put down a 20 percent down payment on a $135,000 home, thus saving yourself thousands of dollars in private mortgage insurance
  • Buy a brand new mid-size sedan, like a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, or Hyundai Sonata – in cash
  • Pay for an entire year of college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as an out-of-state student (you could pay for more than three semesters if you lived in-state)

Instead, brides and grooms across the country are plunking down tens of thousands of dollars for a single day. Think about that. We’re not talking about a series of expenses spread out over the course of a fortnight, month, or entire year. Even if you factor in a Friday night rehearsal dinner and a post-wedding brunch on Sunday, you’re looking at – at best – a three-day affair. That still averages out to more than $9,000 a day.

Wedding Party Costs

This coming fall, I’ll be a bridesmaid in one of my friend’s weddings. Her wedding will be in Washington, DC, and although she hasn’t shared the financial details of the October affair, I’m quite certain – based on cost-of-living expenses in the DC-area alone – that her wedding will cost more than the $27,000 average.

My friend has already sent me a list of various events I, as a member of the wedding party, am encouraged to attend. They include an engagement party in DC later this month, a bridal shower at her parents’ home in Massachusetts this summer, and a bachelorette weekend in Vegas – and that’s on top of the wedding itself. When I added up all the travel costs, including airfare, car rental, hotel reservations, and a meager budget for food, I estimated I’d be spending upwards of $2,500 just to get where I needed to be.

Then there are the financial obligations a bridesmaid is expected to carry out surrounding her friend’s big day. According to the wedding website The Knot, bridesmaids may be expected to pay for:

  • Bridesmaids dresses; my friend has selected a gown that costs just under $200
  • Shoes to go with our dresses; my friend, mercifully, is allowing us to choose our own footwear, as long as they match the coral gown… um, who has coral-colored shoes? I guess I’ll be shelling out $50 to buy and dye a pair
  • Nails; we’ve been “highly encouraged” to have a manicure and pedicure before the big day, although my friend has made no mention of who will be paying for this indulgence
  • Hair; while my friend is paying for this, I’ve been in other weddings where bridesmaids were left to pay for this out of pocket
  • A gift for the couple; the average wedding gift costs $50 – I’ll probably just slip my friend a sappy card with a check enclosed

Tally it all up, and in addition to all the travel costs I’ll be paying for, I’m looking at an additional $500 in day-of expenses alone. The grand total? $3,000!

Don’t Forget The Wedding Guests!

Have you ever stopped to think about what the average wedding guest pays to join in the couple’s happy day?

I hadn’t – until my husband and I received an astonishing four wedding invites in the mail over the course of a single week. There was my friend’s wedding in DC, my second-cousin’s wedding in Ohio, my husband’s old neighbor was getting married back home, and a high school friend had invited us to a destination wedding in the islands. As my husband and I did the math, we realized there was no way we could travel to all four weddings and maintain our financial sanity.

Since I’d already budgeted to be in one of the weddings, my husband and I had to prioritize the other three. The destination wedding, although it would have been a blast, was one; we simply couldn’t afford to fly to the Cayman Islands for four days. The other weddings both involved heavy travel, although because both were located near family, we’d have a free place to stay. In a crazy twist of fate, both events were on the same day, but 2,000 miles apart, so we’d only be able to attend one. We’ve RSVP’d “yes” to my cousin’s wedding and “no” to my husband’s old neighbor’s shindig.

Between the travel (we’ll be driving, and shelling out about $150 in gas for the 1,000-mile round trip), the wedding gift (a standard $50 present will suffice, although you may find yourself spending more for more lavish affairs), a new suit for my husband (his old suit is about three sizes too big; I’ll be rewearing an old dress), and childcare for my kids (children weren’t invited to the wedding, and since the rest of my family will be there, I’ll have to find a third-party sitter), I expect to pay more than $500 – just to attend a wedding!

Have Wedding Costs Gone Too Far?

Back when I got married – a whole seven years ago – my husband and I didn’t spend nearly as much on our wedding. We got married in my childhood church at no cost, hosted our reception in a hotel ballroom, thereby securing a fabulous room deal for our out of town guests, and used the hotel’s catering service, which eliminated the ballroom reservation fee entirely. I’m allergic to most flowers, so we opted for wedding greens instead, saving us thousands of dollars. In all, we spent just under $14,000. Since we came in under our budget of $20,000 we paid for our bridesmaids’ dresses and the tuxedo rentals for the groomsmen. My family also hosted the bridal party at my parents’ home, saving them even more money.

I’m not saying that all brides and grooms should be as conscious of their wedding guests’ expenses as we were, but it couldn’t hurt. Hosting a cash bar or failing to secure discounted rooms for out of town travelers can put a burden on guests; so can requiring formal dresses or tuxedos.

Reader, how much do you spend on wedding gifts? Why?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke