My Costly Wedding Mistakes (and How You Can Avoid Them)

Editor’s Note: This is the first article from our new contributing author Kali Hawlk. I’d like to welcome her to the site and look forward to all the great articles she’ll be bringing us this year. Kali will have a weekly column that will appear each and every Wednesday.  You can also find more of her work at:

costly wedding mistakesIf you’re like that poor young woman in the photo that went viral a few weeks ago, you’re probably glad “engagement season” will be over soon. Don’t get me wrong: getting engaged is fun and exciting time in someone’s life.

But there’s a financial danger lurking here. In America, the average wedding costs a little over $25,000. To put that in perspective, that’s ten thousand dollars more than what my car cost in full when it was bought new from the dealership.

Here’s the thing: you could spend something like 25 bucks to apply for a marriage license, or you could spend 25 thousand bucks and legally end up with the same result. No, heading to the courthouse to get your paper stamped isn’t for everyone. But the point remains: you don’t have to buy into the hype and spend the equivalent of a down payment on your first home on your wedding to have a beautiful, memorable day to commemorate your marriage.

When I got married, I was determined to not give in to the pressure I felt from Pinterest-crazed friends and excitable family members. I think I did pretty well, but it was much easier said than done. I didn’t get anywhere close to that $25,000 mark, but looking back I do feel like we spent too much. So allow me to explain my costly wedding mistakes. Recently engaged couples, take note and learn from the errors of my ways:

The Venue was Overpriced

Where we held our ceremony and reception was gorgeous: it was outdoors by a spring-fed lake. The venue was specifically built and rented out for weddings, and you could tell in all the little touches. It was beautiful. And expensive.

The place could have held hundreds of people – but we only had 60 guests (and that included the wedding party and our families). We should have picked a much smaller place closer to home; we could have still had it outdoors and had a garden wedding instead of renting out a field roomy enough for all of us and a herd of cattle.

Costly Wedding Mistakes: Picking an oversized, overpriced venue or being so dazzled by a place that you forget about the price tag.
Savings Solutions: First, look to friends and relatives. (Does your great-aunt have a giant house with a two-acre backyard that she’d be willing to let you use as your wedding venue?) If that’s not an option, be realistic when assessing your needs. Don’t rent more space than you truly need and consider nontraditional options. It may be cheaper to rent out a locally-owned restaurant than a venue that solely hosts weddings.

We Didn’t Turn to Talented Friends

One of my biggest regrets is hiring a professional photographer – for $2,000 – instead of asking one of our friends who enjoys photography as a hobby to shoot the wedding for us. I was furious when I got our wedding pictures back. To give you an idea, I have almost no pictures of guests (or family: my mother is in roughly three photos), yet I have about 50 overexposed shots of my shoes and our rings.

Costly Wedding Mistakes: Not taking advantage of the pool of talent in your network and asking for help from friends.
Savings Solutions: Have a friend that loves to bake? Ask if she’d be willing to make your cake as her wedding gift to you. Does a buddy of yours like to dabble in videography? Maybe he’d be willing to gift you his services, too. Utilize the talented people you’re close to. You’ll save yourself some money and offer them the option to gift you something they’ll probably enjoy doing anyway.

We Asked for Stuff We Didn’t Need

I was so excited to register for wedding gifts that I never stopped to think about how I could allow guests to gift us more useful things than a salad bowl set that we didn’t need. We registered at the places we were expected to: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond. But for modern weddings, there are so many creative registry ideas that allow your guests to give practical (and awesome) wedding presents like portions of your honeymoon or home improvements and repairs.

Costly Wedding Mistakes: Thinking you need more stuff (you probably have enough clutter).
Savings Solutions: Okay, yes, you might need a handful of new towels. But it’s likely that you have more important things to pay for, too. Use a site like Honeymoon Wishes or Hatch My House to get funds for experiences and projects you’ll appreciate for far longer than an expensive set of dish ware. At the very least, ask for gift cards to places you buy everyday supplies and groceries to save you a bit of money during your first few weeks as newlyweds.

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Weddings are fun and exciting, and it’s a big day in anyone’s life. But it’s not the only day. Be smart about it, budget for the event, and plan ahead to avoid the mistakes others have made so you can maximize your savings. One day with a big party is not worth years with a big debt.

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Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to chat about personal finance. She's passionate about helping millennials manage their money while learning to live well on less.

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    • says

      You’re right, Anne – the costs add up faster than I would have liked! I am disappointed in the professional photos, but using an app called Wedding Party made up for it. Guests took pictures with their phones and I have a huge album of awesome shots thanks to the app and my friends and family!

  1. says

    Sorry to hear that your photographer messed up. We had a professional photographer for our wedding and we were very happy with the results. He took a series of engagement pictures of us that were great, so we figured we had a good photographer for the wedding. An uncle also volunteered to take video of the wedding. We never saw anything from that. Our professional photographer cost $1600, and he was worth it. We rented our outdoor venue at one of the local county parks. It cost $200, and chairs were another $200. Total cost for our wedding was $3000. We didn’t need any gifts, so we asked for nothing but peoples well wishes. We and our 85 guests were very happy with the entire thing. You can read about it at
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer recently posted…DIY Home InspectionMy Profile

    • says

      We had engagement shots done by the same photographer, and those turned out great – so it was a surprise to have the wedding photos be so disappointing. Sounds like you did a nice job having a great event on a small budget!

  2. says

    I’m so sorry about the photographer. That is really disappointing. It’s one of those items that was high on our priority list, so I understand your frustration.

    We were fairly frugal for our wedding, but we did pay $2k for the photographer and had about 80 guests. We opted for the public meeting space at our Town Hall, which was actually pretty nice; did the centerpieces ourselves; and a friend made our tasty wedding cupcakes.

    I have to admit that I’m glad we registered for All Clad pans though — especially now that we’re pinching pennies, I love using pots and pans that never disappoint!
    Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions recently posted…7 Ways Renters Can Reduce Heating CostsMy Profile

    • says

      It was high on mine, too – but we did still get lots of great pictures from guests. Thank goodness for the excellent camera on smartphones these days! Smart to use a public space that’s available for cheap/free – once the inside gets all fancied up, it looks just the same as a venue rented specifically for weddings.

      You know, getting a nice set of pots and pans was one thing that I absolutely DON’T regret about registering for the traditional stuff. I didn’t think it would really make that big of a difference, but it really does!

  3. says

    That blows about the photographer! Mine just asked me to be sure to list “must have” pics, so I’ll be sure to emphasize guests and loved ones! I completely agree, too, about ‘homey hook-ups’ – my friends have helped creating my invites, giving me deep discounted rates with photographer (friend of a friend), referred me to the most economical caterers, etc. It gives a personal touch to a lot of things! Great post, Kali, and congrats on the weekly column! :)
    anna recently posted…Wedding update – two month countdown!My Profile

    • says

      Great idea, Anna – definitely stress to your photographer those details! And I would suggest using an app called Wedding Party. It allows guests to take pictures with their smartphones and upload everything into one online album for you to access anytime. When we used it, it was free (I hope it still is)! Oh, and thanks so much – I’m excited to be a part of Your PF Pro and writing here!

    • says

      I was definitely really mad for a few months after we got our pictures back. I was mad at myself for not making a better decision, and admittedly mad at the photographer too – some of the shots I still look at and thing, “what on earth were you thinking?!” But on the other hand, it sure does make me cherish the good pictures that much more.

  4. says

    Great post! I can definitely relate – I loved my wedding day but in retrospect, it was far more expensive than it needed to be. My biggest regrets are the cost of the food and photography. Everyone loved the food but it was our biggest expense and pretty unnecessary! A cocktail scene would have sufficed. I’m similarly disappointed in the pictures from our pricey photographer and wish I would have tapped a friend’s talent for the task. However, I do think some compensation should at least be offered when asking friends to contribute. If they want to exchange their talent for the gift, that’s great, but I would also offer them cash. You’ll spend way less than you would on a professional and they’ll feel like the work and effort they put toward the task is worth it.
    Kendal @HassleFreeSaver recently posted…New Year, New DealMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Kendal! We did okay with the food because we did just that – tried to go more cocktail-esque with lots of finger foods and a buffet. It was very relaxed and casual and everyone raved about how good it was. That was one part I got right! Most of the rest, I’m with you. Looking back, I can see where we spent too much.

      Offering some sort of compensation is a very thoughtful gesture. We had a friend serve as our officiant, and we gave him a small thank-you gift plus about $50. It felt good to be able to show some of our appreciation!

  5. says

    We were disappointed with our photos, too. We paid a local photographer who came recommended by many friends. Her shots were good, but her editing process was pretty sloppy and we had to do some corrections ourselves to get them looking decent enough to print.

    That said, we we had almost no money to get married with — a budget of just $500, and we made sure to make the most of it. All told, we spent about $514.

    That meant a lot of questioning what things were important to us, and finding other ways to reduce costs. I think if we’d had more funds, we’d have done more — definitely hired a better photographer — but I also think everyone who attended had a great time and we don’t feel like we missed out on anything by not breaking the bank.
    Adam Kamerer recently posted…One Simple Change To Forgive Yourself And Find Your Successful FutureMy Profile

    • says

      I love that you stayed true to what you and your significant other really wanted! That is so crucial – no need to give into pressures to have a lavish event if you don’t want it. Thanks for sharing, Dojo!

  6. says

    Yikes. I definitely let my photographer know I wasn’t interested in detail shots, only of people (not that we really had any detail stuff TO be photographed anyway). Our wedding may not have been magazine worthy but I love our photos.

    I was a little disappointed in our food actually, but oh well.
    NZ Muse recently posted…What to do when visiting AucklandMy Profile

    • says

      I should have done that with my photog! That’s great advice for engaged couples.

      Looks like we kind of traded off – I was disappointed in my photographer, but our food was delicious! Can’t have it all I suppose :)

  7. says

    I can do flowers, but I cannot gift wedding flowers, it’s just too much! I will reduce prices (so I carefully quote ‘real’ then ‘friends’ rates, cause no matter, people will think it could be cheaper!!

    I’m not a huge fan of gifting money or giving for a honeymoon, but I understand the practicality for couples…

    And BTW, I LOVE details shots, so the right sort of photographer for me! Although, I’m not sure how much I’ll want a photographer at my wedding, I hate photos, and so does the BF. IN any case, I won’t be making guests wait whilst we have ‘photos’ – I don’t like it much as a guest…
    SarahN recently posted…My minimum standards around the houseMy Profile

    • says

      That makes sense that you can’t gift flowers completely. We had a friend help us out here – we gave her the cash to buy the flowers wholesale, she showed us how to make some simple arrangements, and then we put everything together. It worked out well as her “gift” to us because we could do all the work!

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