Financial Analysis: How Many Years of Work Does A Wedding Cost?

A friend of mine’s daughter got married last summer and I was shocked to hear that the wedding was costing $35,000. It turns out that is close to the average cost of a wedding in 2016 according to a website called, TheKnot.com.

I don’t remember how much our wedding cost 28 years ago, but while it was a beautiful day, we certainly didn’t break the bank when it came to planning the event. Assuming we spent an average amount for 1990, it would have cost about $15,000. Wedding costs have risen about 3% a year on average since then (according to Elle.com) – not too different than the rate of general inflation.

Please understand that I am certainly NOT saying that getting married is a bad investment. Marrying someone you love is priceless and marriage has incredible financial benefits compared with living alone. Yet, it is interesting to consider the opportunity cost of our 1990 wedding:

Over a 28 year period, an average $15K of wedding expense would be worth $149,300 if invested – or 2.5x the annual median household income in the United States. In a sense, it takes 2.5 years of extra work before retirement to pay for that wedding as opposed to simply eloping. Even a fair amount of discipline on wedding spending could probably save you 6 months or a full year of work before retirement. This analysis doesn’t account for the value of money or gifts received, but those aren’t necessarily proportional to the cost of the wedding.

My friend offered his daughter and her fiancé the $35K average wedding cost outright. If they spent more, the young couple would have to cover the overage. If they spent less – even much less – they kept the extra. They certainly had the opportunity to invest some of the money for the long term and shorten their working horizon. That means they might enjoy a very long – if delayed – retirement honeymoon in the future, doesn’t it?

Any advice with managing wedding costs?

Image Credit: Pixabay

16 thoughts on “Financial Analysis: How Many Years of Work Does A Wedding Cost?

  1. Neat way to look at this! Our total wedding costs were well under $9.000 (excluding a 20 day honeymoon to Hawaii). This covered everything from venue, foods, live band, rings, etc. Still a lot of money, but it was one heck of a good party!

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  2. Weddings are such a racket! Everyone feels like you HAVE TO HAVE A DREAM WEDDING when most people get married when they are young and hella broke. I could live for years off $35k! For my future wedding, we’ll keep things simple. No fancy ballgowns, venues, or table decorations for us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are certainly wedding arrangements to consume any budget. I’m guessing the standard deviation of what is spent is pretty high, relative to the $35K average.

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  3. Our wedding cost was very close to $0. We went to a Justice of the Peace and my wife made her own dress with fabric she got for free. Only my parents and a friend attended and my parents took us out for a nice meal after the wedding. We’ve now been married over 33 years.

    My theory is that the cost of the wedding is directly proportional to the probability of divorce. Maybe people get more excited about the idea of a wedding than the actual marriage?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know a State Judge who performs a fair number of weddings for family, friends, and people referred by family & friends. He has performed ceremonies at a lot of different locations, and none need to cost too much. I’d like to see if your theory on divorces is right!

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  4. We just held our youngest daughter’s wedding last October (2017). We spent about $30k (roughly 200 people). My daughter wanted to be married on our lake property, so we agreed thinking it might be more cost effective. Not so much…although it appears we are below the national average you quoted above.

    I also offered a similar “keep the money” deal to our newlyweds, as mentioned above. I offered to give them the cash, up to the total estimated cost ($30k), if they wanted to go with a smaller wedding and keep the difference. I proposed it as a possible down payment on a first home or duplex, if they wanted to purchase sooner rather than later. (I wish someone had made me the same offer 32 yrs ago!) But they both chose the big wedding instead of the cash.

    It turned out to be a beautiful wedding, and I’m very happy we were able to provide their dream wedding, but the costs really are not practical for most people. I hope they don’t second guess their “wedding over the money” decision 5-10 years down the road. Thirty thousand dollars would have been a great jump start for any young couple. Advise…save early and often!

    One daughter down…one daughter to go…!

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    • We have a son, but no daughters. I’m not even sure how it works between most families anymore. That’s great that you & your wife could pay for and host the event. I think we are quite a few years away from that still!

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  5. Couldn’t resist sharing this story of a relative who’s Father offered her cash or a big wedding. She opted for a small church wedding, reception in the basement of the church, honeymoon at the family lake cabin and she and her new hubby bought a house with the money. They lived in the house for decades, had 3 children, divorced, sold the house for twice the value and split the profit. With the profit she bought herself a new, smaller home, suitable for a single gal :). I don’t know what her now ‘x’ is doing.

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    • Well, financially it worked out for them, even if the marriage didn’t ultimately last. I think the $ in the example/calculator were invested in the stock market, but I would guess that most people (like your relative) are at the point in their lives where they would invest in a house.

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  6. We got married in 2006. It was a lovely event and I don’t regret spending the money, but I wish I had been reading PF blogs back then because it never occurred to me to save up the money ahead of time. We put everything on the credit cards and then paid it off over time. So, the $15,000 we spent was actually more than that after interest. Ugh…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure many young couples do the same. Credit cards are potent financial weapons that have long term consequences. We got credit cards when we were in college and it took us several years to pay them off. I’m sure there were some wedding expenses on those cards, too.

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  7. I’ve got 4 daughters, so this article certainly peeked my interest, and I found it to be helpful. I like the idea mentioned of giving a flat amount and letting my girls choose how much to spend on the wedding. Though I now realize my idea of $10K per child does not keep up with inflation as my aim is to pay for 50% of an average costs of a wedding–applying some sort of framework that makes sense. So $17.5k *4 it is! I hope they choose the JOP and VTSAX option.

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