With this bling, I thee wed

What it costs to say, ‘I do’

Jaime Bunk, a wedding coordinator from Candlelight and Roses, flips through a bridal magazine. She says a wedding with most of the bells and whistles can be found for between $7,000 and $10,000.

Jaime Bunk, a wedding coordinator from Candlelight and Roses, flips through a bridal magazine. She says a wedding with most of the bells and whistles can be found for between $7,000 and $10,000.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

A wedding is a joyous occasion …. preceeded by months of stressful planning and dwindling bank accounts.

According to a Conde Nast Bridal Group survey of more than 1,600 brides, the average amount spent on weddings in 2006 was $27,852—almost double the 1990 average of $15,208.

In Reno-Sparks, the figures are even higher. According to Costofwedding.com, local couples spend an average of $30,240.

Those costs are only going up. The Conde Nast survey reports that nearly every wedding expense has increased by more than 20 percent since 2002.

That’s right, a down payment on a house now costs less than the average wedding. (Maybe this is why an increasing number of couples are choosing long-term shacking up over marriage?)

How does this happen? Scientists should study the minds of brides-to-be. Hook them up to an MRI, and find the colorful little part of their brain that’s pulsating with thoughts like: “But what if the colors don’t match? What if Tammy thinks my flower arrangements are puny? What if it’s too fancy? What if it’s not fancy enough?” A temporary insanity seems to develop that dissipates shortly after the ceremony. As a bride-to-be, I can confirm this mental illness, though it’s not likely found in the DSM-IV manual of mental disorders.

A lifetime of movies, magazines, and other people’s weddings may have you—and your mom and your Aunt Edith—dreaming of the perfect wedding. For occasions meant to be once-in-a-lifetime, people tend to justify pulling out all of the stops. But what if your stops stop short around the $1,000 mark? Must you spend 30 grand to do it? It helps. But you can have a nice wedding on far less.

“I had a bride come in the other day,” says Jaime Bunk, a wedding coordinator with Candlelight and Roses in Reno. “Her budget was $3,000, and that was a free venue, and she wasn’t serving food. You really couldn’t do a wedding for $1,000 unless you get married on the beach. … Somebody could have a nice wedding with all the little things normally included for anywhere between $7,000 and $10,000.”

At minimum, you need $55 for a Nevada marriage license. You also need an officiant to perform the wedding. If your best friend is ordained (something that can be done for free in about a week at the Universal Life Church website, www.ulc.net), then there you go, a $55 wedding in the best clothes in your closet. Officiants typically want to be paid, however. The Commissioner of Civil Marriages can perform it for $50; others want more. You’ll also want at least one certified copy of your marriage certificate, which is $10. So, the completely no-frills wedding will run you $65-$115.

Most people want a little more than that, so let’s keep going.

Every wedding is different. Many couples choose to splurge in one area and be more conservative in another. Some lucky people have talented friends who can arrange flowers, provide music, or make their dress, which helps cut costs considerably. But here’s a rough idea of what things cost when it comes to making it official.

“What’s going to cost you the most is location and caterers,” says Bunk.

So let’s start there.


Low end

You could just not serve food. Have cake and a champagne toast and be done with it. Some couples hold potluck dinners for more intimate weddings. Or do it yourself, and send your mom to the grocery store for some “party platters” of meat, cheeses, fruit, veggies and bread. For 100 people, that would still cost about $900-$1,000.


You can feed your guests a decent meal—with an entrée and a couple of sides—for $9-$12 per head. A barbecue or pasta buffet would be an example. Buffets are less expensive than full service caterers, who charge extra (usually $40-$60 per person per hour) for servers, set up and clean up.

But cheaper isn’t cheap. Bunk knows of a bride who had one of these “cheaper” dinners for 150 people—a barbecue with mini hamburgers and corn on the cob. She spent about $4,000.

Save money by holding your wedding in the afternoon, and then serve hors d’oeuvres.

“Hors d’oeuvres for 150 people could cost between $600 and $1,000, depending on if you get servers,” says Bunk.

High end

Gourmet meals range from $18-$60-plus per head, and could include a carving station, seafood, side dishes, salad, bread and a chocolate fountain. These caterers may also provide—for a cost—linens, plates and silverware.

Keep in mind that your venue may require that you use their caterers, or else be charged a fee (up to $750 in some cases).


You don’t have to have alcohol at all. Or maybe you do. If so, it costs a lot. If you can bring your own booze, do so: Get some kegs, or buy in bulk from a local store. Or limit it to a champagne toast.

“The bar is always a huge bill,” says Bunk. “It’s a little tacky to have people pay for their own drinks, but a lot of people do. You could have an open bar for one hour and then have guests pay the rest of the night.”


Low end

Your parents’ backyard may appear to be the cheapest option. But the wedding mental disorder is known to infect parents, too. They may decide your wedding is the perfect excuse to make home improvements, spending untold amounts (and they’ll likely be untold) landscaping the yard, maybe even getting new carpet or paint jobs. You probably won’t be asked to pay for such improvements, but know your family may end up paying more than you intended for your wedding. Still, backyard weddings are a low-budget option.

If there are fewer than 75 people at your wedding, and your officiant is performing it for free, you don’t need a permit to hold it on a Lake Tahoe beach or a local national forest. City parks and spots along the Truckee River are also good choices for small weddings.

Church members will likely be charged little to nothing to hold the wedding there. Non-members typically spend a few hundred dollars to rent rooms at a church for the ceremony and reception.

The many Reno wedding chapels and most local casinos offer wedding packages between $200 and $1,500. They typically cover the basics: 30 minutes in the chapel, a bouquet and boutonnier, some type of music and photography, champagne and toasting glasses.

Mid to high end

Local wedding companies offer a number of Tahoe “packages” ranging from $400 to well over $5,000. Included in these may be a Tahoe cruise or beach location with an officiant, flowers, photography, food (usually for parties of 50 or less), wedding cake and a DJ. That doesn’t include accomodations—some companies require you stay at their lodge—or the price of rings, attire and booze.

Local country clubs, historical homes, golf courses and resort locations are usually at least a couple thousand dollars for the facility alone. Of course, the fancier they are, the more your price climbs. The Thunderbird Lodge Historic Site, for example, is a stunning building and location and is holding a limited number of weddings in 2008—but expect to make a significant “donation” of upwards of $20,000 for the venue alone.

The dress

Low end

For your wedding dress, you can find some steals on eBay or Craigslist from former brides. If the idea of wearing another brides’ discarded duds seems unappealing for what many consider an auspicious day, a number of department stores and dress shops offer lovely bridal gowns for under $200. Target has even gotten in on the action with bridal gowns for $100. Of course, if you have any crafty seamstresses in the family, put them to work.

Mid to high end

Expect a really beautiful dress at a local bridal shop to begin at $400. The quality goes up a significant notch at the $600 mark. After that, a dress can be as many thousands of dollars as you’re willing to spend.

But remember, the dress is not just the dress. It’s also the veil ($20-$100), the corset ($20-$80), the slip ($40-$100), the shoes ($40 and up) and possibly the tiara ($30-$125) you might wear with it.

Order your dress early. Some wedding dresses take up to six months to be shipped to you, altered and ready to wear.


Men have it relatively easy. Tuxedo rentals typically are $100-$200 and include the tux, vest, shoes and tie. For a cheaper option, he could wear a suit or other nice clothes he already owns.


A simple gold band starts at $100, and if you’re lucky, an heirloom ring may be a low-cost option that’s also highly meaningful.

The price of diamond engagement rings depend on the size, quality and style of diamond. They can be as expensive as you’re willing to pay. According to Conde Nast Bridal Group, the average cost of an engagement ring is about $4,500.

People are becoming aware of ethical dilemmas concerning diamonds—some countries support their wars through their diamond industry, hence the term “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds.” Brilliantearth.com is one of a handful of websites offering conflict-free wedding and engagement rings. Prices range from $225-$9,300.


Reno-Sparks couples spend an average of $2,150 on their wedding flowers.

Most floral arrangers charge $5 or more per flower. You can also buy flowers in bulk online from places like Costco.com for $1-$2 per stem (typically 100 for $130). They ship nearly anywhere, but remember, you’ll be arranging them yourself. You could also make a mad dash to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for last-minute flowers, though you’re taking your chances with color, quality and flower selection.

Corsages and boutonniers cost between $15 and $30 each. Save money by learning to make them yourself or by having a friend or family member do it. You don’t have to use the most expensive flowers, either. An attractive boutonneir can be made from oak leaves and acorns. There are online tutorials in making corsages and boutonniers—practice before the big day.


A wedding cake at the grocery store costs about $1.50-$3 per slice. There are some very talented cake makers in Reno who charge $3-$7 per slice. Couples could get a big enough cake to feed everyone. Or order a smaller, pretty cake, and then get cupcakes or sheet cakes that can be discretely cut and served to guests. Dessert tables (five types of cheesecake, for example) or smaller cakes at each guest table are also ideas.


It’s common for the bride and groom to give each other their parents and wedding party members a gift. These don’t have to be expensive. A heartfelt letter will work in most cases. Jewelry, a framed photo, or handkerchiefs are also often given.

Invitations and stationery

It’s tempting when viewing the thousands of colorful, well-designed invitations out there to blow the bank. You can spend $1,000 or more on engraved, Vera Wang invitations, or make them yourself for about 50 cents a pop with help from the local copy center and your computer. Between those extremes is the $1-$2 per invitation range.

Invitations are typically sold in groups of 25, and response cards and sometimes envelopes cost extra. Many online sites let you type in your wedding day information for a sample view of what it’ll look like.

Response cards are nice, but to save money in paper and stamps, engaged couples can also put “RSVP to [their email address or webpage]” at the bottom of the invitation. You’re not being cheap, you’re being green … yeah, green.

Photography and videography

You’ll be hard pressed to find a wedding photographer for less than $1,000, and even those are rare sightings. More common is the $2,000-$4,000 photo package, which typically includes candid and formal shots, an engagement photo session, three to five hours of shooting, a CD of the images, an online viewing page and a proofing book of the images.


Low end

The least expensive option for music during the ceremony is to have musician friends. For the reception, save costs by downloading a well-chosen musical mix to your iPod or laptop, plug it into an amp, and turn it up.

Mid to high end

A DJ can provide music for both the ceremony and the reception. Expect to spend between $500 and $1,500 in the Reno area for 3-5 hours of DJ service. There may be extra fees if you want them to play during the ceremony (“Wedding March”, for example) or have concert light effects at the reception.

Hiring a band or musician to play at your ceremony and/or reception will likely start at $500. More in-demand bands cost more. Also, you’ll likely be asked to cover their transportation costs.

Party favors

You don’t need to buy party favors. No one really cares about a matchbook with your names together in a little heart. But OK, OK, if you do get little personalized napkins or candies or whatever, expect to pay $0.50-$5 for each one. Cut costs by making your own, such as filling sachets with candy and tying them with ribbon.


Costs for this vary, but just remember there may be some. You may want to pay for certain wedding party members to come to the affair. You may also want to rent transportation for them to get from their hotel to the wedding. Also consider the costs of a having a getaway car or limo.

Rehearsal dinner

This also varies. Hold a small get-together and cook dinner for 10. Or make reservations for 40-100 people at your favorite restaurant. The options are limitless, your budget may not be. Restricting it to members of the wedding party is your best bet for good food you can afford.

Rental fees

Depending on where you’re having the wedding, you’ll likely need to rent chairs (about $5 each) and an aisle runner. For the reception, you may also need to rent tables, linens, glasses, silverware, etc.

Knick knacks and paddy whacks

There are so many possible extras that can sneak into your wedding budget. Maybe you’re flying out the best man. Or you’re having a mimosa-tinged “mani-pedi” morning for the women in the wedding party. Then you’re getting your hair and makeup professionally done. You may want a special dress for the rehearsal dinner and lingerie for the wedding night. Then there could be the day-after brunch. Then there’s the honeymoon. The extras can go on and on if you let them.

Wedding planner

By now, you might be wishing for one of these. They can make everything a lot easier, simply because you leave it up to them. There is, of course, a fee. Candlelight and Roses, for example, charges $2,000 for full coordination, which includes finding the couples’ caterer, photographer, DJ, cake and officiant, then setting it all up and taking it down.

“You don’t have to hire a coordinator, but it’s more to keep your sanity,” says Bunk.

Keep it in perspective.

Some newly wedded brides (and their mothers) speak of “post-partum wedding depression.” There’s so much build up, and then the day comes, and it goes by so fast.

Bunk says that through all of the stress and excitement of wedding planning, brides and grooms should remember one thing: “It is just one day. I know it’s everybody’s dream, but you can still have a fantastic, wonderful time with your friends and family without spending a fortune. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Cost-cutting tips
1) Don’t give into the hype. Not even the 2,000-plus words of hype printed above. The wedding industry feeds off our need to fit the social mold. It’s your wedding, your day. Do it your way. The only thing you two really need is that official piece of paper that seals the deal. The celebration part is up to you. So do it at Burning Man; go to Mexico. Flee! Save yourselves! (Totally disappoint your family … but save yourselves!)

2) Since you wouldn’t have read this far if you’re not getting into the hype, the second best way to save money is to reduce your guest list. Fewer people means less of everything—less food, less alcohol, a smaller venue, fewer chairs and tables to rent, etc.

3) Do it yourself. From invitations to flowers, music, food and party favors, there’s a lot you can do yourself if you have the time and inclination. (Not recommended for stressed out brides and grooms.) And if your friends or family members can sing, shoot photography or make chocolate-dipped strawberries, by all means, recruit them.

4) Centerpieces. Get creative with fruit, candles, leaves, tree branches, photos, mason jars, whatever. Some book lovers stack favorite books and scatter author quotes on their guest tables.

5) Keep the honeymoon close. Exotic destinations are great, if you can afford them. But there are also romantic getaways within a days’ drive: spa resorts, bed and breakfasts or great campsites.