Before we get started, I want you to ask you to commit to reading this blog post in its entirety. If you skim down to the hard numbers, you're going to miss all of the context. To get the most out of this blog post, please try and read all of it to fully understand all that goes into the topic of wedding costs.
When it comes to discussing finances and seeking out trusted insight into the true cost of a New England wedding, anticipating those costs ahead of time, and adding it all up: it can feel exhausting, misleading, and stressful.
To make it even more confusing, it's extraordinarily hard to pinpoint what is average when it comes to such a complex and personal event like a wedding. The variables are endless.
It's important to remember: for all of the information that I share below, there will always be exceptions. Please don't get discouraged or panicked by the numbers that I'm about to share. It is possible to plan a wedding on any budget, as long as expectations are aligned.
There's a hard truth that I want to share before we dig into numbers: weddings are complex and they are a lot of work.
Vendors do not add a "wedding tax" to their services, despite this myth that continues to circulate. Full-time wedding professionals need to make a living from their work. It is your wedding day, but this is also their career.
Let's say a photographer in New England charges $2,000 for a wedding and they max out at 30 weddings per year (which is A LOT!). That's a maximum gross earning of $60,000. When you account for all of the overhead costs related to running a business, and after taxes, you can see how that rate doesn't allow for that person to grow their business and support their family while living in the Northeast.
To make things complicated, there are many who work in the wedding industry who are hobbyists. They're passionate about weddings, but they're not operating a true business and are not pricing for full-time income.
Now, hiring someone for your wedding day who is a part-timer or hobbyist is not necessarily a bad thing. You just need to align your expectations with what you are paying for.
I know a lot of really talented part-timers who are very devoted to their craft. But: are they insured? Do they have backup equipment? If they're unable to perform, is there someone else they can send to take their place? How many years have they been doing this professionally? How many weddings do they take on per year? How much time do they plan to commit to your wedding?
Many couples are shocked when they discover the price tag associated with the full scope, professional wedding experience that they're dreaming about. And that's OK! There is no reason why anyone should know what kind of costs to expect if they've never done this before.
I want you to remember, when you come across a price tag that seems like it's too good to be true: it probably is too good to be true.
I have one more hard truth to share: a wedding, no matter the cost, is optional and a luxury. Wedding vendors are not at fault for pricing their services for profit. Society and the wedding industry as a whole are to blame for not properly managing consumer expectations.
Do you fall in love with the idea of buying a certain car or home before doing some market research and understanding costs? Probably not.
The same goes for weddings: please do not fall in love and build your expectations up before understanding the cost associated with what you're envisioning. Having a 200 person wedding with a 5 tier cake and a designer gown is not something that you have to have, it's a choice that you are and your families are making, and it's a significant investment.
Now that we got those things out of the way, I promise that I'm going to share some rough ranges for costs that you can expect.
Before I do, I want you to know that I am providing all of these numbers under the assumption that we are:
- Hosting a Saturday evening wedding, during peak season of May - October
- In New England
- Accounting for 150 guests
- Aiming for mid to upper tier pricing (not budget/DIY and not tapping into luxury)
- Hiring a complete team of experienced, professional vendors (no "budget" services, friends or family discounted offerings, or DIYs)
- What we typically consider to be the full scope of wedding elements and details, no partial services or cutting corners
Venue Rental: $5,000 - $8,000 +
Full Service Catering & Bar: $125 - $175 + per person, depending on selections
Wedding Coordinator: $3,000 - $5,000 +
Photographer: $3,000 - $5,000 +
Cinematographer: $3,000 - $5,000 +
Entertainment: $2,000 - $7,000 + (lower end represents DJ, higher end represents band)
Floral Design: $4,000 - $7,000 +
Transportation: $2,000 - $5,000 +
Stationery and postage: $1,000 - $1,500 +
Hair and Makeup (assuming bride + 5 attendants): $1,500 - $2,500 +
Wedding Officiant: $300 - $800 +
Plus, costs like wedding gown, alterations, grooms attire, overnight accommodations, travel if destination, gifts for wedding party and parents, favors, welcome bags for hotel guests, and gratuities.
All in all, we're looking at roughly $300 - $450 per wedding guest, roughly $45,000 - $65,000 for 150 guests.
It's important to remember: a wedding doesn't need to include everything from the above list. Maybe you're in an urban location and transportation is not needed. Maybe tables and chairs are included with your venue and you're not making any décor upgrades. Maybe you're planning to DIY your wedding stationery or nix the big bridal party.
Please also remember that the costs shown above are not reflective of selections that dip into more premium and luxury products and experiences. There are photographers for $10K+, bands for $12K+, venues for $20K+, and on and on. You may opt to go luxury on some items and scale back elsewhere. Every overall budget is SO subjective to your unique tastes, priorities and expectations.
One of my favorite ways of tackling budget are by applying percentages. In general, I find these percentages ranges to be pretty helpful in figuring out how to divide up your own budget. Higher percentage points can be applied to areas of most importance, lower percentage points to areas of least importance.
Venue Rental: 5-10%
Catering & Bar: 30-40%
Wedding Cake: 1-3%
Wedding Coordinator: 5-8%
Wedding Planner: 12-18%
Entertainment: 2-5% if DJ, 8-12% if band
Floral Design: 8-12%
Hair and Makeup (assuming bride + 5 attendants): 2-4%
Wedding Officiant: 1-3%
It's super important to remember that your venue and catering costs should take up no more than 50% of your total budget. If they do, you may need to increase your budget, cut or compromise many of the line items above, or be prepared to cut down your guest list.
One of the biggest mistakes I see couples make is investing too much money into a venue and guest count. This leaves them to penny pinch when it comes to photography, cinematography, coordination, décor, transportation, and other areas that will compromise both the couple's experience + the guest experience.
Remember: guest count is the #1 driver of overall wedding cost. If you want to control your overall budget and bring costs down, start with your guest count. You can try and squeeze $100 off here and $200 off there in other line items, but nothing is going impact your budget as significantly as guest list fluctuation.
So to sum it up: for 150 guests in New England without cutting corners or finding discounted vendor services (like, family friends or newbies) you're looking at around $50,000 as a comfortable starting point. If you want to add in any upgrades or luxury services or elements to your event, it can go up from there as high as you can imagine.
Let's talk about why all of these numbers may be a lot more than you were expecting.
As of February 2021: The Knot reported that the average cost for a wedding in Massachusetts is $43,600. It was also reported that MA is the 4th most expensive state to get married in, preceded by Rhode Island ($48,600), New York ($49,800) and New Jersey ($53,400).
If you've read articles like this one, it's important to remember that data is only as good as the pool that responded. This number is based on only those who reported their total wedding spend. It is not a true average. There are SO many weddings that are not reported and factored into these stats. It also tells us nothing about how many guests were at these weddings and the scope of what went into them. Celebrations of 50 guests and 300 guests can be factored into this average, which is why it's so misleading.
In general, I've found that the New England wedding market tends to get segmented into the below markets, though a lot of this is still pretty subjective:
Budget: < $40,000
Mid: $40,000 - $70,000
Upper: $70,000 - $100,000
Lux: $100,000 - $250,000 +
Reminder: the above ranges are still a reflection of around 150 guests. If you have 300 guests, lux might look like $500K+ and budget might look like under $100K.
It also completely depends on the experience you're trying to create. I once planned a social event for 50 guests that cost roughly $20o,000. I have also planned an event for 50 guests for $10,000. So when someone asks "How much will this event cost?" I have to ask back: "What are your expectations and what kind of experiences are we trying to create?"
That's why it is SO important to define your comfort level for a maximum spend and who is contributing what. Everyone has a budget. Even six and seven figure weddings have budgets.
So, if you are in the process of budgeting for your own wedding or event, I want you to take the following steps:
1. Discuss who is contributing what. Come up with an amount from each contributing party that feels comfortable in terms of a starting point.
2. Discuss your priorities and where you want to invest your money. Unless funds are unlimited, you don't get to say "everything is important." There are going to be trade-offs and you're going to have to compromise in some places. Start to rank your wedding day costs in terms of most important to least important, and then invest accordingly.
3. Consult with a wedding planner. I offer 1:1 budget consultation to help you build your budget and anticipate costs based on your vision and priorities.
4. Start to reach out to your high priority vendors first to get quotes for what you're looking for. Perhaps you budgeted $4,000 for a photographer but are falling in love with one that is $5,000. You can likely make that work within your budget by scaling back on food/beverage offerings, cutting a few people from your guest list, opting to nix the bridesmaids, and so many other ways.
5. Understand that the budget can be an evolving and fluid thing. You may decide to add in areas that are really important to you and where you see a lot of value. You may choose to cut in other places or reassess the overall balance in order to keep things on track.