Photo by Alasdair Elmes on Unsplash
“But you’re getting married! You have to!” That empty statement is on the other end of everything from wedding cakes to bachelorette parties, lace veils, engagement photo shoots and selfie stations. It seems that from the very minute you are betrothed, everyone and their mother (perhaps especially your mother) has opinions about what you should do at your wedding. The notion that couples will only have their big day once is also used to justify tossing their financial goals out the window, and the results aren’t very romantic.
According to a survey from BMO Financial Group, Canadian couples dip into their savings and investments to front more than half (60%) of their wedding costs. For most North American couples, it is almost accepted that getting married is going to end in a sizeable debt and some serious financial stress. Does that have to be the case?
Say it with us now: It is not worth it. No wedding is worth stress breakouts, zero sex drive, fighting with your partner, or going into debt over. The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis reports that money issues are one of the three leading causes of divorce in North America. So while couples might feel like it is totally worth it to max out your credit card, borrow money, or talk yourself into going over budget in order to have The Perfect Wedding, it isn’t. A review of 115 studies about divorce found that couples who argue about finances at least once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced and couples who spend liberally on their weddings are more likely to divorce than couples who stick to a tight budget.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on the matter, the financial implications of weddings are very, very real.
The average wedding cost in Canada
Estimates range that in Canada (at least before the arrival of COVID’s micro weddings), the average wedding costs between $22,000 and $30,000 (slightly more, at around $33,000 in the U.S.). Some report that the cost of weddings have doubled in 10 years, while the median annual family income in Canada increased about 26%. It just doesn’t square: We’re spending heaps of money on weddings that have outpaced our salaries (and for many couples starting their lives together, the ability to buy property together), and what’s more, divorce rates aren’t really budging. What is driving all of this hoopla?
A massive machine called the wedding industry, to the tune of $72 billion globally. For couples trying to climb out of the tulle and champagne and keep their heads (and their budgets) straight, they have an uphill battle. The pandemic has prompted a reckoning in the sector, with couples opting for smaller, more intimate (and drop dead romantic) nuptials that are high on emotion and easier on the wallet. Prioritizing sustainability has couples looking to rent or buy previously loved attire, rather than spring thousands for a gown that will be worn only for a few hours—that’s likely made from a poly (i.e. plastic) blend, that will never, ever decompose, should it end up in a landfill. All of these factors, and more, are contributing to a realness and practicality for weddings in general and wedding budgets in particular.
How to cut wedding costs
We dove deep into this very topic while researching The New Wedding Book: A Guide to Ditching all the Rules (Dundurn Press, 2021).
Tell a little lie
When shopping around for a venue and vendors, withhold the small detail that it is for a wedding. By conveniently leaving out that particular, you’ll get a clear sense of a cost without it being inflated because it is a wedding. If a vendor doubles their price when you do tell them it’s for a wedding, decide, “Is this really someone I want to be part of my wedding day?”
Prioritize three things that matter the most
Identify three things that are really important to you as a couple. Maybe it is the catering because you love food, a great band to dance the night away to, and a photographer whose work you love. Shop around for those items first so the rest of your budget can fall in line.
Have a smaller wedding
It sounds harsh, but it is really simple: invite fewer people to your wedding and your costs will go down.
Ask your vendors for their advice
People seem shy about asking vendors if they have any advice to trim their budget. Put on your adult pants and do it!
Cut your stationery
“Save the date” mail-outs are good for two things: Adding waste to the environment and blowing your budget. Moreover, is having that oversized square envelope that requires double the postage really worth it? Who is to say that you need printed invitations at all?
Skip the limo
They’re expensive and sort of a prom throwback. Roll up in an Uber Black car or take a taxi.
How much should you give for a wedding gift?
If you’re attending a wedding (or two or 10) this year, you might want to start budgeting for gifts. There are lists out there that give dollar amounts based on the relationship you have with the person, but it’s hard to put a monetary value on a friendship or familial relationship. Take your relationship with the couple into account—you don’t want to get the most expensive item on a distant cousin’s wedding registry if you’re not particularly close with them. You also don’t want to go into debt over a wedding gift. See what fits within your budget. Consider whether it’s a local wedding or a destination wedding (if travel is involved, you’ll need to factor in that cost) and your level of participation in the wedding (the more involved you are, the more effort you might put into your gift). Bottom line: There’s no “right” amount to spend, so check out the couple’s registry, ask people close to them if there’s anything they’d really like, or tuck some cash into a card.
Are there any “rules” for wedding gift amounts?
You might have heard the rule of thumb for wedding gifts: You should give at least what the couple spent on having you attend their big day (often, the cost per head for the reception). But this is really a made-up wedding custom. It’s best to consider the four factors discussed above: your budget, your relationship to the person, your level of involvement in the wedding, and the type of wedding it is.
What MoneySense readers say
In a Twitter poll, we asked about your approach to giving wedding gifts. Vote below:
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My thoughts is to skip the gifts (most couples have what they need) and have guests pay for the dinner/ dance which usually is the most expenses part. I think nothing about paying for a dinner out so why should this be different. Then a couple does not have to decide who to invite And it can be a great party
I got married In 1990..On New Years Eve ..Dont ever do that . YOULL BE PAYING through the nose every year for an.anniversary dinner and often have to book it a year in advance!
My wife wanted extreme small wedding. Mostly because she had zero friends.
But she is also the cheapest person I’ve ever met ( not always a bad thing)
Only her family and my family in a chapel wedding.
I passed my best friend on the way to my own wedding .
No pre parties by either of us prior to.
A reception at a quaint all you can eat buffet before the new years eve crowd showed up .
Maybe 14 guests ?.
I paid the entire bill and tip
Total cost maybe $500
$400 for the dinner and $100 to the chapel
We dated for 5 years prior to marriage. I got a oil worker job starting at $100k yr in 1989.
I look back and hate every minute of such a cheap unemotional event !
She hasn’t changed ..
Ya i have lots of money and put 2 kids though university.
$1.5 Million dollar home, $800k in bank at 57 and zero debt.
Could we not have had a better memory than that ?
I hate that it was so cheap.
I didn’t care much at the time; whatever the woman wants!!
Well guys it’s your day too and if she means that much to you!! Put more effort in and make it special for YOU !
Still married and she’s still super cheap – has returned many gifts and anniversary presents because she thinks we can’t afford them or they are just a waste of $$$.
To be honest she is 100% right on that .
She loves jewelry but will never buy it as it loses half its monetary value the second you buy it and it’s too nice to wear and lose so it sits in a drawer..
She hasn’t worn her wedding ring in 25 years .
I wear mine every day.
But be aware – someone that cheap will also kill your emotion because every is seen as too expensive!!
Be wise divorce would cost me $800k up front which is fair!.. plus $60k a year every year for over 20 years from age 57 .. just spousal support!!
Make sure you know what you are doing AND get a prenuptial.
Be well all
Enjoy the wedding YOU BOTH PlAN ,not just agree to !!
I had a small wedding but it worked for us. No money from either parent, my parents were divorced, my husband’s family was out of the country. So about 50. I had a string quartet because I had always played the violin, it was a beautiful chapel on the grounds of my university that was small. Reception in the park with backlava and tea/coffee and wedding cake. Sundress wedding dress. 400 dollars US. Lasted 38 years. Would hate to go into real debt for a wedding.
I think its kind of rude to leave out the fact that its a wedding in the hopes of duping someone into giving you a cheaper price… large gatherings like weddings hold additional expenses for venues like insurance and typically a multi course dinner will cost more than say a brunch so you are not getting an accurate price if you leave out its for a wedding simply because they have no clue what to quote you on.
‘Median’ income…. not media income.
Dear Michelle and Karen,
Just when I thought that this was such a well-written article, I noticed this really bad mistake halfway down the first paragraph under the heading…. The Average Wedding Cost in Canada. People often mix up mode, median and mean (average) in the same way they mix up there, their and they’re. Here’s a friendly suggestion… It’d be helpful to provide a short glossary of terms in articles with lots numbers, percentages and stats etc. That way, readers would get a much better idea of what’s being discussed. Lots of people don’t think in abstract ideas so including a few pie charts and graphs would be great too.
Thanks! Lorne Holman -Calgary AB
Thanks for your feedback, Lorne. We have corrected the typo and considered your suggestion.
We got married on a Wednesday and that saved us BIG TIME.