Wedding Costs

his and her wedding rings on top of stack of money


Wedding Planner extraordinaire Maureen Woodman discusses wedding costs in this podcast.

John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Maureen Woodman, a wedding planner for on- and off-site catered events at the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. And today, we’re talking about the costs of a wedding. Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thanks for having me. This is a pretty hot topic.

John Maher: Yes. So, Maureen, is there a general cost for a wedding that you can give us? Or is there just a huge range of prices?

Maureen Woodman: Well, like anything else you go to buy a car, and you can buy a Ford, you can buy a Mercedes. So, a wedding is no different. But there was an episode of Chronicle not too long ago this year that said the average wedding in Massachusetts is going for around $30,000. And that’s everything. That’s your photographer, your entertainment, your food, your venue, your ceremony, probably your dress. That’s what they’re saying.

John Maher: Okay. But then, from there obviously you can just add on and have it very expensive, or maybe there are ways to cut costs as well. Are parents still paying for weddings, or is it more often these days that that cost falls on the bride and groom?

Maureen Woodman: At the particular venue that we have, I would say right now that the bride and groom are paying for most of the weddings. The second thing that I see would be that the parents of the bride and groom are somehow helping with the cost of the wedding, whether they’re buying the dress or they’re paying for the open bar, or they’re paying for something, but not everything.

John Maher: How do I begin to plan a budget for my wedding? I know sometimes when you get an engagement ring, they say the engagement ring should be two months of salary or something like that. Is there sort of a rule of thumb for a wedding budget?

Maureen Woodman: I think the first thing you have to do is find out who is going to help you. So, you have to have that conversation with your parents, his parents, and then yourselves, and say, “Okay, what do we have saved? What are we going to do?”

A lot of these kids are still in school. Everyone’s going for their masters and their PhD now. It’s not like the old days – one of them is still going to school and the other one is still paying off the college loans.

John Maher: Right.

Maureen Woodman: So, the money is definitely very concerning for them. Or their parents are paying off their college loan and that’s why they can’t help them with the wedding. So, everyone is trying to help. I don’t see it the other way, where everyone’s backing off. If anything, everyone wants them to get married. And marriage is super popular right now. It’s definitely in style.

And so, everyone’s trying to help. But I think the biggest thing to do is to sit down and say, “How much can we afford out of our monthly salary that we can put towards the wedding? How much do we have saved right now that we can put towards the wedding? How much do we think we could afford to put on credit cards? And then, can we pay the credit cards off in a timely manner, with incurring the interest on the credit cards?” And then, add in what you’re going to get from your parents and try to come up with some sense of reality.

John Maher: So, say I don’t have a very big budget, how can I save some money on my wedding? Are there elements that used to be in a traditional wedding that you see couples sort of skipping or cutting back on to help keep their wedding costs manageable?

Maureen Woodman: I say the three secrets to a successful wedding – and I tell this to my bride and groom all the time – you need three things. You need people in the room that absolutely love you. So, what that means right there is only invite who you have to invite and that will get you down right away. Those people, if they love you, in that room – I don’t care where you are, okay?

And that’s the second thing. You can be in a barn, you can be outside, you can be in somebody’s backyard, and if you’re surrounded with the loving people, good food — again, it just has to be good food. It doesn’t have to be super fancy food. It could be the best pizza that there is with the people that love you in this room. It could be the best cheeseburgers, or it could be the best — just good food.

And then, have some kind of entertainment, whether you sync your own iPod list, you know the people in the room, you know who’s going to dance, and who’s not going to dance. The entertainment, and that’s it.

Good food, people that love you, and some kind of entertainment. I don’t care where you go. You will have a great time. You will have a great time. It’ll come together.

John Maher: Right. So, other than that, just keeping that guest list to a manageable number of people, and maybe thinking about a slightly more casual venue or less expensive venue because the most important thing is who’s there and just that you have some good food and some good fun, and that’s the most important thing.

Maureen Woodman: Yes, great music, all your favorite songs that the people in that room are going to just love it. They’re going to get up. They’re going to dance, or they’re going to reminisce, or whatever they are that brings you all together.

John Maher: Any advice on what to spend on some other individual elements of the wedding, like a rehearsal dinner or the venue, or the photographer, things like that?

Maureen Woodman: Yes. Again, all these things, it’s the only way I can compare. It’s either like shopping out private college to state schools or buying a car. It’s all there.

You can spend $1,000 on a photographer. You can spend $14,000 on a photographer. You could spend $700 on flowers, you can spend $8,000 on flowers. You have to go into this and say, “My flowers are going to be X. My photographer is going to be X. My disc jockey is going to be X. My dress is going to be X. My make-up that day — every single thing.

And then, you have to walk a very fine line when you meet these vendors or you make choices that if they are out of your zone, you go away. You price out three bids and you keep going in order to try to meet where you are. And you will do it. But it’s work. It’s work just like anything else.

I think one of the biggest things to do, which I think people do not realize this, a venue that has an all-in — tables, chairs, linens —

John Maher: All included.

Maureen Woodman: — air-conditioning, cake — is going to be so much less expensive for you. When you try to do it in your backyard, people then go, “Oh, I’m going to have it at home and I’m going to save on the venue cost.” It is so not true.

And there isn’t anyone out there that won’t tell you this. You start to bring in items, every table, every chair, every linen, every flower, everything is brought in there. Every dish, silver ware, glass ware, ice container, alcohol, and you can’t believe the delivery charges or the set up charges, or the fees, the amount of time that has to go into this, the preparation of two or three days beforehand.

If cost is your concern, an all-in is going to save you money. And so, you’re going to have to sit back, and say, “Well, this isn’t the twilight theme that I wanted in this function hall.” But if this function hall can provide good food and the people that love you there, and entertainment, you’re going to have a good time. And you’re going to wake up and you’re going to be able to make it without having to give all your wedding gifts to pay for this wedding that you just created.

John Maher: Right. Great advice, Maureen. Thanks very much for speaking with me today.

Maureen Woodman: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me.

John Maher: And for more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at or call 978-768-7335.

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