Congratulations! You've just gotten engaged to the love of your life! Now the reality hits, and all of your friends and family start asking you when and where the wedding will be, what hotels are nearby, and most importantly - will there be an open bar? After perusing some venues online, you begin to wonder... are these venues just obnoxiously priced, or is this really what a wedding will cost me?!
According to research conducted by WeddingWire, in 2018, the average cost of a ceremony and reception in the United States is $27,000. This does not include your engagement ring, which averages $5,000, or the honeymoon, which comes in at around $4,000. This brings the national average of wedding expenses to $36,000. If you live in one of the larger cities in the U.S., these costs can and will be much higher! I am going to focus on the Washington DC metro area for my post as this is where my business, Blue Sapphire Events, is located. Unfortunately, Washington, DC, is the fourth most expensive city in the US to get married. I work with many couples who have a wide variety of wants, needs, must haves, and visions - but one thing all of these couples have in common is that they vastly underestimate what their wedding will truly cost.
For a traditional wedding ceremony and reception, couples can expect to spend between $50,000-$75,000 for a 100-125 person wedding in the Washington, DC metro area. Your costs will dramatically increase the more guests that you have. Obviously, you can spend much more than these figures if you have the budget. You can also spend a little bit less by being creative with your wedding vision or having a non-traditional wedding on off peak days (Monday-Thursday) or months (January, February, March). Below is my analysis of the average costs for wedding services in the DC metro area:
Venue Fee: $7,500
Catering & Alcohol: $20,000-$30,000 (The lowest catering per person I typically see for a full service caterer in DC is around $165 pp)
Photographer: $5000 to $6,000 for a reputable photographer with experience. Luxury photographers can be much more!
Flowers: $5,000 and up (most florists now have minimums of $5,000 due to flower shortages and increased flower prices attributed to the pandemic)
Officiant: $750-$2,500 (Depends where you are getting married but some churches in the area have pretty expensive fees for using their spaces and celebrants)
Cake: $750 - $2,000
Wedding Planning: $7,500
Most of my couples are spending at a minimum $50,000 to $75,000 in the DC region. Factors like guest count and initial venue fees can greatly increase these estimates. Please note the above average fees do not include items like videographers, bands, transportation, hotel accomodations, stationary, and so on.
Median Cost: $7,500
Your venue and catering are going to drive the overall cost of your wedding. The average venue cost in the Washington DC metro area is $7,500. However, I have seen many venues that are closer to $10,000-$15,000. On the opposite side of that scale, I have seen venues for as low as $1,500-$5,000.
These higher-end venues tend to always be in a highly coveted area and have gorgeous views and spaces. However, I see many newer venues are charging these prices simply because established venues in the area are commanding these prices. I would be wary of a venue that has just opened and is charging the same prices as more established venues. If you have your heart set on a venue that has opened within the last year, I highly recommend an experienced event planner that has extensive relationships with vendors in the area and can help navigate the common challenges and pitfalls that occur when working with a new venue. If you are buying on the higher end of the scale, I would ensure that the venue is providing the essentials including chairs, tables, basic linens, parking, and on site staff. These items can add significant cost to your bottom line if they are not built into your budget.
Lower-end venues tend to be in slightly less desirable areas or further out from the city. You will also find that venues that have been open for awhile tend to decrease in demand once their original novelty wears off. Currently, the hot commodity is the "barn" style venue in the Virginia region. Couples are paying big bucks to live out their rustic fantasies. Bucking this trend and doing something different can save you big bucks.
Another way to save money on your venue fees is have your wedding on a nontraditional day like Monday through Thursday. Weekday weddings are becoming increasingly popular as the pandemic has created a "wedding boom" with many venues completely booked on the weekends into the foreseeable future. Off-peak months also provide you with drastically lower rates. January, February, and March will offer the lowest rates for almost all venues in the area.
Average Cost: $165 to $300 per person
Catering is absolutely essential for any event. One of the major advantages of living in the Washington DC area is that there is no shortage of highly-qualified, experienced and amazing caterers who can make any menu delicious and inspired. However, there are many critical aspects you need to carefully select in a caterer, as well as considering the type of catering, meal service, and how your food will contribute to the desired overall aesthetic of your event.
You can decrease your catering costs by looking to BBQ caterers or other food styles that are less labor intensive and lend themselves to being able to prep large amounts of food in bulk.
Average Cost: $28-65 per person plus tax and services charges
Alcohol is typically provided through your caterer and this is my recommended option for most couples. However, if you have the option a lot of venues in the DMV will allow you to bring your own alcohol which can help you save a significant amount of money!
Depending on your wedding vision, you may need or desire additional vendors including guest and bridal party transportation, videographers, dress & alterations, tuxedo/suit rentals, hair and make-up, invitations, rentals & photo booths... the possibilities are endless! Vendors can make or break your wedding day. This is the area where couples tend to have the most difficulty. Couples tend to focus exclusively on price, but do not realize the need to evaluate the entire scope of services included to ensure they are getting the best value. Vendors can also range greatly in price. In most instances, I can save my couples $250-$1000 per vendor. I can do this because I have worked extensively with vendors of all types and understand what goes into the services they offer. This experience enables me to cut unnecessary expenses and still achieve the overall experience you desire.
I can also explain to you the vast differences in vendor pricing and why certain vendors may be charging significantly less, or may be worth their above-average price tag. In the end, vendors are all about what is most important to you, but your vendors should also form a cohesive team. As a Wedding Planner, I act as the captain of this team and keep everyone informed and on cue on your wedding day to facilitate teamwork and ensure flawless execution.
Average Cost: $5,000-$6,000 or much more depending on the reputation of your photographer!
Wedding photography is a very important investment and this decision should not be taken lightly. Photographers with a good reputation and verified performance will be at a minimum $5,000. These will be the images you are going to have on your mantel or hung on your wall for the rest of your life! Your photographer is going to be around you the most on your wedding day. Do you like someone who is more quiet and "behind the scenes", or someone who has an outgoing personality and is going to bring you out of your shell? These are things you need to consider before your wedding day. Engagement shoots are a great way to get to know a photographer before actually booking them for your wedding. However, make sure to ONLY get the engagement shoot and not sign up for the whole package in advance.
Minimum Cost: $5,000-$7,000 can vary depending on number in bridal party and how many reception tables you have, ceremony flowers, and scope of design. The covid-19 pandemic has driven flower prices up and major shortages have drastically increased costs for florists. Most florists have a minimum order they will accept for weddings (typically $4,000-$5,000 before tax, labor, and other fees)
Low Centerpieces: $125-$250 per centerpiece
High Centerpieces: $125-$350 per centerpiece
Bridal Bouquets: $175-$300 per bouquet, varies widely depending on style, cascading bouquets are the most expensive
Bridesmaid Bouquets: $75-$150, varies depending on style, but they typically are smaller than the bride's bouquet
Boutonniere: $15-$30 per boutonniere
Delivery, Set-up, and Breakdown: varies depending on scope of work, distance from venue and many other parameters.
Obviously, the more flowers you want the more costly it will be. Pinterest can give unrealistic expectations of what sort of flowers you can have at your wedding. Please keep in mind, Pinterest is usually filled with styled shoots which wedding vendors create to have marketing material for their businesses. Usually, they are only styling one table or a small space. Most weddings will have much more than one table so it may not be realistic to think your wedding can look just like a photo on Pinterest.
Average Cost: $750-$2,500
The officiant is sometimes an overlooked component of the wedding. Many couples focus heavily on the reception and and not as closely on the ceremony details. The ceremony is truly why everyone is there! Make an impact, do something different, and for goodness sake, please make sure you hire someone who is not going to arrive 5 minutes before the ceremony and leave the moment it ends! You would not believe how often this actually happens. I always recommend carefully vetting your officiant and ensuring they align with your values. Do you want traditional, religious, or personal? These are considerations a good officiant will review with you. They should also have a template to guide you through the process of creating a custom-tailored ceremony just for you. I always recommend going with your more expensive option here. You want a professional who will plan and deliver a beautiful, heartwarming ceremony that truly represents your relationship and the love you and your partner share. I recommend meeting this vendor in person before contracting and requesting videos of them performing ceremonies for other couples.
Band or DJ
Average Cost of Band according to WeddingWire: $3,300-$6,700, Premier Bands are $8,500-15,000
Average Cost of DJ: $1,350-$2,500
The difference in cost between a band and a DJ is usually a couple thousand dollars. Why? Because a DJ is one person and a band is usually multiple people. Every member of the band will be receiving an "hourly wage" from your wedding, so keep this in mind. Personally, I prefer a band. I love the way they can really speak to the crowd and get people up and dancing. DJs are also great if you find someone who really knows how to read a crowd. This should be a very carefully vetted vendor. The average cost for a band in the DC Metro area is $3,300-6,700. You will pay more depending on the number of members in the band. Most premium bands in the area command about $7,500 to $10,000 per wedding. DJs can vary wildly in price. This is where I really warn couples to vet their DJs thoroughly; they not only need the equipment, but an ear for music, the ability to feel a crowd, and a person with the ability to follow a timeline and run the reception portion of the evening. Look for professionals, not hobbyists. The average cost of a DJ in the DC Metro area is $1,350-$2,500.
Average Cost: $600-$1,000
The price of wedding cakes can be somewhat of a shock. The national average price of a wedding cake is $582. However, you are paying for a highly labor-intensive process. The average wedding cake takes about 8 hours to bake, construct, ice, decorate, and then you have to include the price of delivery and set-up. The larger the cake or more intricate the design, the higher the price tag. Typically, prices are per slice. These prices can start anywhere from $6 per slice and up depending on how intricate of a design you may desire and the overall construction of the cake.
And last, be not least...
Average Cost of Day of Coordination: $2,000-$4,000
Average Cost of Full Wedding Planning: $7,5000 plus
Wedding Planners are the captains of your wedding day and make sure that all of the other vendors are in sync and working as a cohesive team to execute your vision to the proposed timeline. Without a Wedding Planner, you will find it near impossible to get ready, entertain guests, and enjoy your day, while also serving as the point of contact for numerous vendors and dealing with small glitches throughout the event. Wedding Planners also typically know the best venues & vendors and can help streamline your planning process by bringing you the best options within your price point. This will eliminate countless hours of online research and venue visits taking over your precious weekends, as well as the stress of feeling like you will never find what you're looking for. We can also make sure your contracts are executed properly and negotiated to the best value. The savings you will get from finding the ideal venue, best vendors, and the reduction of stress will more than pay for your wedding planner!
If you are looking for help planning your wedding within your budget, I would love to help! I have helped many couples in the DC area have the wedding they have always dreamed of all within their budget. Please contact me today to learn more about our wedding planning services!
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Owner & Lead Wedding Planner
Kolena is a wedding planning professional with over 10 years of experience. She owns and operates Blue Sapphire Events a boutique wedding planning firm based in Arlington, VA.