What a Dad Needs to Know About Wedding Budgets

Father Daughter Dance

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Weddings can be elaborate and very expensive, or they can be fairly simple and affordable, made doubly so if you hire a planner instead of doing it yourself. The decision about a wedding budget is one that needs to be made by the bride and groom and their families, together. While tradition dictates that the bride's family covers most of the expenses of a wedding, that tradition is not necessarily relevant today. Particularly with marriages that occur after the bride and groom are educated and established, many of today's weddings are primarily financed by the bride and groom themselves. In other cases, the traditional divisions of responsibilities for wedding expenses are more flexible than ever.

Average Cost

The average U.S. wedding today costs about $20,000, not including the honeymoon. That is a pretty staggering figure, but recognize that the costs associated with a wedding can be controlled based on several factors.

  • About half the cost of a wedding will go towards the reception. This includes the cost of the venue, the catering, the clothing (except for the wedding dress) and associated costs. These costs can be managed by scaling the reception appropriately, by determining what food will be served, and by selecting an affordable venue and decorating scheme.
  • Wedding dresses vary dramatically. You can expect to spend about $500 to $1,000 on a good quality machine-made wedding dress. If your bride wants something more customized, expect to pay upwards of $2,000. If the dress is a custom creation, tailored specifically to your bride, the costs are perhaps 3 to 4 times as much.
  • Photography is more expensive than you may think. Currently, you can expect to spend around $2,500 or more for a photographer, including proofs of the photos. Enlargements and an album will be added to the base price.
  • The legal stuff is a bargain. The costs for the ceremony itself-what really counts-is perhaps the least expensive part of the wedding. A marriage license and the costs associated with the officiator (minister, rabbi, judge, public official) probably run together under $200.
  • A wide world of invitations. One of the more variable costs for a wedding is the invitation. From a few hundred dollars to $1,500 or more, the invitations and postage are often the basis on which people judge a wedding (and maybe the bride's family).
  • Wedding rings are important. After all, what tangible evidence do you have of a wedding 20 years later when the photos and memories are put away? There is also a very wide difference in the costs of wedding rings. Quality is important; showiness probably less so.

The Budget

  • Set a total budget amount that the parties can afford for the wedding, and live within the budget.
  • If one expense goes over budget, another one must come in under budget by a similar amount.
  • Provide some contingency in your budget for the unforeseen.

The Reception

  • Consider not serving a meal for the reception but serving less expensive finger foods.
  • Consider using a home or a backyard for the reception rather than a reception center.
  • Sometimes public buildings like a county courthouse or city hall can be very nice and less expensive.
  • Consider booking a reception center on a weeknight or during the off-peak season. You can often save a significant amount on the fees and catering costs.


  • Select a photographer who shares your view of what wedding photos should be. If you don't want the artsy shots, don't pay for them.
  • Most fathers try not to scrimp too much on photographs; when all is said and done, they are the real memories of the wedding.
  • Hire the photographer for only a portion of the reception; get the formal shots with family and put instant cameras on the tables for candid shots of the guests.


  • Engage in comparative price shopping; costs will vary widely among printers.
  • Consider using a photo of the bride and groom as the invitation; have your photographer produce a wedding announcement that can be printed at the local photofinisher.
  • Eliminating an RSVP card and stamped RSVP envelope in favor of an RSVP postcard will save costs.

The Dress

  • Consider buying an off the rack wedding dress, and then having a seamstress add detailing features.
  • If the bride wants something truly extravagant, consider renting the dress as opposed to buying one.


  • Consider using locally grown and seasonal flowers; they will be less expensive and just as beautiful.
  • Decorating the hall, if necessary, can often be done with items you have at home, or a friend or relative may have at home. Wrought iron furniture, hanging flower baskets, candle holders and centerpieces are often found at home.
  • Do double duty with bridal or bride and groom portraits. Placing some of these portraits in frames and on easels in the hall add a nice touch and can be used after the wedding as home decor.