How Much a Wedding Actually Costs
Those dream nuptials you’ve seen on websites like ours? Prepare to take out a loan or two, friends.
We’ll admit it: we’re spoiled in this industry, writing about weddings like this one in Capri or this one in the Utah desert, that are so crazy-magical, extravagant, and all-out, we begin to think that’s normal.
Not to rain on anyone’s fondant-frosted fantasies, as it were (because, trust us, we have these fantasies, too), but after talking to Jess Levin Conroy, the founder of Carats and Cake, a company that provides business tools for the country’s top wedding vendors, we realized that we needed a bit of a reality check.
Here’s the deal, in case any of you need a reminder: in 2015 the average wedding in the US cost about $33,000. In Manhattan and other expensive cities, it’s more like $82,000—on average. So those three-day extravaganzas with custom stationery and a fireworks display, well, they add up. Here, we got some of Carats and Cake’s most experienced planners to break down exactly how much things really cost when the sky’s the limit and your fantasy is on the line.
The factors that will push the price up:
“Two of the biggest factors that influence budget are guest count and venue. Both of those decisions will trickle down through almost all of a couple’s remaining financial decisions. In an expensive market like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles, I advise couples that a luxury wedding for 200 guests or more will cost about $1,400 per person at minimum. This spend should cover all of the usual wedding and reception expenses for high-end vendors (planner, photographer, catering, floral, decor, entertainment, printed materials). However, if a venue requires tenting or extensive transformation of a space (carpeting, draping), the budget can increase by $50,000 or more.” —Laurie Arons, Laurie Arons Special Events
A whole lot depends on the venue:
“Keep in mind the location where you are planning to tie the knot—costs can vary greatly depending on the region. For example, a site rental fee in Napa Valley usually ranges between $6,500 and up to $25,000, whereas this rental fee may be less in more rural areas. When considering your rental fee, ask the venue what is included in that cost—sometimes this fee may include basic rentals of chairs, tables, etc., but in other cases such as with many private estates in Napa Valley, this fee may cover the cost to rent the property only, with rentals as an added cost.” —Jacin Fitzgerald, Jacin Fitzgerald Events
Consider all the extras you’ll need to bring to your dream venue:
“Consider the ‘back-of-house’ costs that might be involved. An abandoned barn might seem like the perfect template for your dream of a rustic wedding…but it will likely need a kitchen, restrooms, generator, heat/AC, and custom lighting to make it a usable venue. Not to mention a good scrub-down! Back-of-house costs range on average from $15,000 - $30,000. But keep in mind that these costs are relative to the scope and scale of your wedding—not simply the guest count or how formal/casual the wedding will be. A generator, for example, costs the same for a 50-guest wedding as it does for a 250-guest wedding, but it costs more if you need extensive lighting to cover acres of ground versus a small backyard.” —Heidi Mayne, Red25 Events
And then there’s all that custom stuff you wanted:
“Luxury weddings are rarely cookie-cutter affairs. Couples in this segment of the wedding market strive for one-of-a-kind experiences and a great deal of personalization, like customized decor and unique menu offerings, for example. To achieve this, there are often countless meetings, hundreds of emails, several site visits, and special procurement of materials. The vendors who work on these types of weddings spend a lot more time and energy to come up with the perfect result. This does come at a cost to the client, who should expect to fairly compensate vendors for their time. There are also more vendors involved with these types of weddings. For example, if a couple wants a beautiful custom chuppah for their ceremony, this involves hiring a skilled builder in addition to a talented florist. A caterer may need to subcontract a high-end seafood vendor to offer a raw bar at the cocktail hour. Or a tent company may not offer the color or style of draping a bride or groom likes, so another vendor is brought in just to provide that aspect. Specialty items like this drive a budget up quickly.” —Laurie Arons, Laurie Arons Special Events