Personal finance

The average wedding costs well over $30,000. Some couples are having ‘micro weddings’ instead

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Vanessa Acosta marries Sam Roberts in their backyard in Pasadena, California, on May 25, 2024.
Courtesy: Vanessa Acosta

Last year, Vanessa Acosta and Sam Roberts found their dream venue for a black-tie wedding.

But a series of family events made the couple reconsider their plans: “We don’t need to do this big thing where we’re going to put ourselves out financially,” said Acosta, 35, of Pasadena, California.

Instead of hosting around 150 guests and spending about $75,000, the couple decided to get married in their backyard with just 54 of their closest family and friends.

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Such events with roughly 50 guests, max, are called “micro weddings.” A so-called minimony is even smaller, usually attended by no more than 10 people, according to The Knot, an online wedding marketplace.

Acosta and Roberts had a new budget of $3,000, and they knew they needed to get creative.

“We DIY’ed and thrifted everything,” Acosta said. “We thrifted my husband’s shirt, he used his really nice dress shoes he already owned. I made my dress and I thrifted the fabrics; I made my veil.”

Cutting the guest list made the wedding “much more manageable,” she said. The couple tied the knot on May 25.

Why micro weddings are becoming appealing

Vanessa Acosta and Sam Roberts pose together on a street in California.
Courtesy: Vanessa Acosta

The average cost of a wedding ceremony and reception in 2023 was $35,000, according to The Knot 2023 Real Weddings Study. The total cost is a $5,000 increase from 2022.

Inflation over the past few years was a key driver to higher costs, according to the Knot. The report polled 9,318 US married couples between January 1 and December 2023.  

“Put simply, weddings are expensive,” said Allison Cullman, wedding expert and the vice president of brand marketing and strategy at Zola, another online wedding marketplace.

‘The number one way’ to save on wedding costs

As the cost of typical weddings in the U.S. has swelled in the past few years, experts say cutting down the guest list is the best way to save on costs, even if you don’t trim it to micro-wedding levels.

In 2023, weddings with 25 to 50 guests took up about 15% of the market; weddings with less than 25 guests made up roughly 2% of the market, according to data from The Wedding Report, a wedding research company, provided to CNBC.

The average guest count at weddings has been declining since 2006, when the average was about 184 people, according to data from The Wedding Report.

We don’t need to do this big thing where we’re going to put ourselves out financially.
Vanessa Acosta

The lowest count was in 2020, when the average headcount declined to 107, primarily due to restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic, said Shane McMurray, CEO and co-founder of The Wedding Report. The size of weddings rebounded in 2021 to 124 because people wanted to socialize after the lockdowns, he said.

“But because of how expensive it is to get married now,” he said, the size of weddings is “probably going to start to come back down.”

“The number one way to save money on your wedding is to cut the guest count,” said McMurray, as many wedding costs, like meals, invitations and favors, are based on your headcount.

Indeed, “having a minimony or a micro wedding allows you to still have an incredibly special celebration without having to pay for 150 meals,” said Cullman.

A sign that reads, “Welcome to the wedding of Vanessa and Sam.”
Courtesy: Vanessa acosta

“It literally was not stressful to deal with the food situation for like a 50-ish person wedding,” said Acosta, who booked a taco stand for $640 instead of roughly paying $90 per plate for about 150 guests.

“Ninety times 150 people. It was a drastic change to go from that to a taco stand that was able to feed every single one and there was still food left over,” said Acosta.

Set a ‘clear and realistic’ budget

Engaged couples should come up with a “clear and realistic” budget from the beginning, as well as make a list of what their priorities are, said Cullman. Doing so will help you when you have to make “difficult decisions to stay within your budget,” she said.

“Couples should discuss what is the most important to them, and what they want to allocate towards items that will make their wedding feel unique, authentic, and most of all, fun,” said Cullman.

Confirming such priorities will help you “determine where to focus your budget and where you can save,” said Lauren Kay, executive editor of The Knot.

You might need to make trade-offs along the way.

“Typically, the venue requires the majority of your budget, and food and beverage costs are determined by the number of guests,” said Kay. “So if the location is your highest priority, keeping this in mind will help you properly allocate your budget and make decisions on the guest list size.”

Being flexible with the ceremony date can also help reduce costs, said Cullman, as off-peak dates can be less expensive.

Exploring “upcycled” or thrifted attire typically won’t “set you back hundreds of dollars,” she said. In that vein, you can even take the proverb of “something borrowed” more seriously and rent a wedding dress or even flowers.

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