Tips on how to reduce wedding costs

Your dream wedding doesn't have to become a financial nightmare. Here are some smart ways to control costs.

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A scary number was recently in the news: According to data from the wedding-focused company The Knot, the national average cost of a wedding in 2014 was $31,213, up $1,344, or 4.5%, from the year before. And that doesn't even include the honeymoon! Yikes, right? That is scary, but you needn't hyperventilate about it. The number isn't quite as meaningful as it seems, and you can easily spend less, too.

The Knot's data is based on a survey of about 16,000 U.S. brides and grooms. Here are more of the survey's findings: 

  • The average marrying age: 29 for the bride and 31 for the groom. 
  • The average number of wedding guests: 136.
  • The average number of bridesmaids and bridegrooms: four to five of each.

And here are some more average costs for elements of a typical wedding, from respondents who hired professionals for each item:

  • Reception hall: $14,006.
  • Photographer: $2,556.
  • Videographer: $1,794.
  • Wedding planner: $1,973.
  • Reception band: $3,587.
  • Reception DJ: $1,124.
  • Florist/decor: $2,141.
  • Wedding dress: $1,357.
  • Groom's outfit: $254.
  • Wedding cake: $555.

Those are just some of the many costs involved. Others include wedding rings, invitations, wedding favors, limousines, the rehearsal dinner, hair and makeup, the wedding location, musicians for the ceremony, the officiant, postage, thank-you cards, and the catered food at the reception. The average catering cost per guest was $68, which amounts to a whopping $9,248 if you have the average number of guests!

Good news

It's important to keep in mind that these numbers are national averages. Thus, while they will be even higher in many locations in the U.S., they will also be considerably lower in many others. Where you live—or, more accurately, where you get married—will make a big difference in the cost of your wedding. The folks at ValuePenguin.com listed  average wedding costs per guest in each state for last year, and the numbers vary widely, from $312 in Hawaii to $225 in Colorado to $204 in Virginia to $103 in Nebraska and $95 in Utah. The latest data from The Knot has overall averages ranging from about $15,257 for Utah to $76,328 in Manhattan.

Keep in mind, too, that though the survey was a large one, it wasn't asked of a random group of people, but instead of those connected to The Knot. That's a major wedding company, but many brides and grooms certainly don't use it, and many of them might have brought the average numbers down. Certainly many do-it-yourselfers would be going it on their own, and with small budgets.

Finally, the numbers from The Knot are averages, meaning that any outlying monstrously expensive weddings will heavily influence the average. It can be better to look at the median, which reflects the middle cost, if all costs were lined up from lowest to highest. The Knot's 2012 numbers were $27,427 for the average, but only $18,086 for the median.

Better news

No matter where you live, though, you can plan a wedding that costs $13,000—or much less. Or you can at least spend less than $31,213. Here are just some of many tips that will help:

  • For starters, thin out that guest list if you can. Even if you're paying $300 per head, on average, you can cut your bill in half by cutting the guest list in half.
  • Consider having your wedding in the off-season when there's less demand for the venues and professionals you'll need. June, October, and December are popular wedding months, so consider other times.
  • But opt for in-season flowers, as they can be a lot less expensive than out-of-season ones. Ask your florist for prices to compare. And ask about other cost-lowering strategies, such as using more greenery instead of flowers.
  • Hold your wedding at a time other than a Saturday evening, to lower costs. An afternoon wedding means you can pay less for a catered lunch than a catered dinner.
  • If you're planning to have your wedding in a high-cost region, consider having it elsewhere. You might lose out on some factors and your attendance might suffer, too, but you might gain an extra-scenic setting or the ability to splurge on some items.
  • If you choose to have your catered food served buffet-style, your price per guest will go down considerably, possibly by a third of more. If the caterer just drops off the food, you can save even more.
  • Look into hiring music students instead of professional musicians. Many are quite good and would welcome more performance experience.
  • Think about what your friends are good at. You might get friends to be your photographer, cake baker, makeup artist, invitation designer, calligrapher, and so on—either at a discount or for free. By getting qualified online, a friend can even become the officiant who marries you, saving several hundred dollars.
  • Consider inexpensive reception venues, such as public parks, church reception halls, or even a restaurant.
  • Think twice before eliminating the cost of a wedding planner. A good one might save you more than he or she charges.
  • Go online. You might find inexpensive handmade gifts, favors, cake-toppers, and other items on sites such as Etsy.com. At bridalbrokerage.com, you can "buy" someone else's canceled wedding, taking over their various contracts at a discount.
  • Negotiate. For many expenses, the price you're quoted isn't the price you have to pay.

One of the best tips for keeping your wedding budget under control is this—have a wedding budget, and stick to it. Remember that the less spent on the one-day party can mean more money available for a memorable honeymoon or even a down payment on a home!

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This article was written by Selena Maranjian from The Motley Fool and was licensed as an article reprint. Article copyright April 1, 2015 by The Motley Fool.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Fidelity Investments cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data.
This reprint is supplied by Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC.
The third party provider of the reprint permission and Fidelity Investments are independent entities and not legally affiliated.
The images, graphs, tools, and videos are for illustrative purposes only.
Fidelity Brokerage Services Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917
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