Finance 411: The New Trend in Weddings ... Less is More
By Molly McCluskey
What would you do with $30,000?
Put a down payment on a new home? Pay off those student loans? Save for your kids' college funds? Splurge on a new car?
Or would you spend it all at once, on a wedding? According to the wedding site Zola many Americans do just that, as the cost of the average wedding rose in 2024, to around $30,000 (3% rise from 2023). While couples getting married in Rhode Island paid more than $49,000 on average, those in Alaska paid far less, with an average cost of $14,444. But couples don't need to go into debt when starting their lives together, and journalists have a wide array of options and alternatives to consider when covering the wedding season.
"Everybody's budget is different, but for a lot of people, $30,000 is a level of spending they can't easily afford," says Bruce McClary, the Senior Vice President of Media and Membership for the National Federation of Credit Counselors. "Look at what is reasonable, or where the money could go in other circumstances. The motivation for spending less for your wedding may be in other areas of your budget."
The Knot reports that the average wedding in 2023 had 117 guests. While the pandemic is no longer a driving factor for creating smaller weddings, cost is, with 30% of couples reporting reducing their guest lists by an average of 25 people due to inflation.
This explains a trend toward micro-weddings, which prioritizes a quality-over-quantity guest list, and fewer over-the-top moments.
"Luxury is in the eye of the beholder. In some places in the country, weddings can have 400 or 500 people," says Sonja Beazley Burch, who specializes in luxury micro-weddings as the owner and planner at Intimate Weddings Napa Valley. "But maybe instead of an over-the-top event, a couple might want to bring their closest family members someplace special for a weekend. That wouldn't necessarily make it a budget wedding, per se, but it might be more meaningful."
When Kari Rain, an artist and photographer in Skagway, Alaska, got married on a budget, she turned to friends and family for help. The father of her groom belonged to a local club that let them use the venue for free; she found a local caterer who was just starting their business and didn't charge very much; a friend drove them to the ceremony and reception in his Model T; the ring was a family heirloom; the rehearsal dinner was a barbeque at her parents' house; and the bridesmaids wore handmade dresses.
"I was really lucky how we saved money," she recalls. "I'm happy I didn't spend a crazy amount."
Rain says if she had to do it again, she would have invested more in a photographer. "He took a lot of really silly shots," she says. "But I don't have any of just me in my dress, or with my parents."
Beazley Burch recommends that those working with a budget prioritize the venue, and food and wine. "A lot of couples love getting married outside," she says. "And it's hard to find an ugly winery, on any budget."
Molly McCluskey is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, National Geographic and more. View her work and get in touch via mollyemccluskey.com. Finance 411 is a bi-monthly feature, presented by RTDNA and the National Endowment for Financial Education. Interested in becoming a contributor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.