I planned a wedding in 2017 that was 1/3 of the average cost for a NYC wedding. I’m here to help you manage your wedding budget like a pro. When planning a wedding, the number of guests you invite has the largest impact on how much your wedding will likely cost. That’s because 40-50% of your budget is directly related to how many people you invite! Here’s how to calculate how much weddings cost per person and how cutting your guest list can mean big savings.
On average, you can expect to pay $300 per person for your wedding according to our research across studies from The Knot, Wedding Wire, and Value Penguin. Those numbers include fixed costs, like the costs of the venue, and variable costs, like catering.
That doesn’t mean you’ll save $300 if you decide not to invite your Great Aunt Kathleen, because a number of the fixed costs wouldn’t change. Let’s dig into these costs a bit more to understand how much of the budget you can control by how many people you invite.
Here’s a table of what you can expect your wedding to cost based on the number of people you invite.
|Number of Guests||Estimated Average Cost of Wedding|
|Less than 20||$5,000-$7,000|
But wait a second, if the average cost per person is $300, then wouldn’t a 300 person wedding cost closer to $90,000? Not necessarily! With wedding planning there are fixed costs that don’t change based on the number of people and variable costs that do. So your average cost per person will go down as you go up in numbers. Let’s break this down.
How to break down the wedding budget
For the numbers above, we took the average range of costs for the essentials like the wedding venue, flowers, photographer, cake, dress, hair and makeup, catering, drinks, wedding favors and invitations. Then we separated them into fixed costs and variable costs.
For fixed costs, we assigned a low, medium, and high value based on the ranges in our research. The reasoning is that if you only have 20 guests, you have more options to find a smaller wedding venue at a lower cost, you have fewer tables so you need fewer flowers, etc.
Conversely, if you have 300 people the mid-range and lower cost venues are probably harder to find. You’ll need to select a venue that can accommodate that many people. You likely need to spend slightly more than the average on a venue, as well as flowers, etc.
For the variable cost, we did a simple calculation of how much those are per person (on average) and multiplied it by the number of people. For example, invitations usually cost $2.50 per set. Does that number go down when you buy them in bulk? Absolutely. But not enough that it affects the calculation significantly.
We accounted for variation by providing a range in the table. Ultimately, a lot of things can affect your wedding budget so you should treat the table above as an average starting point when planning. If you live in a high cost of living location, you will find the costs are more than the averages above.
You can check out my free budget guide if you sign up for my newsletter. It automatically calculates what you should spend where based on your budget and guest count and helps you stay on track. It’s like the fairy godmother of numbers.
Why the number of guests matters
Here’s why the number of guests affects your wedding budget so much: the largest cost associated with your wedding is food and drink. Catering and alcohol costs typically account of 26% of your wedding budget. A close second, the venue costs accounts for about 18%. Both of these costs are greatly impacted by the number of guests you choose to invite.
Food and drink will go up or down as you get RSVPs in, so knowing the exact cost per person will be important to your final budget. Choosing to invite or not invite a single guest will be $70-100 towards your total. For most people, that number doesn’t tip the scales enough to leave them off the guest list. But as you get towards the end of your planning and have spent a lot of money, a declined RSVP might feel like a $100 gift.
The venue you choose will vary based on how large your wedding is as a whole. For 20 people, maybe you choose a a restaurant or club house as your venue or you feel comfortable hosting it in backyard. For 300 people, hosting it in a backyard becomes a cumbersome and expensive task. That can be the difference of thousands of dollars. So if you’re really trying to stick to a tight budget, your guest list is the first thing you should evaluate.
Read more about why choosing and booking a venue is an important beginning step when planning a wedding.
How to manage guest list expectations
What is often a problem for engaged couples is that the couple doesn’t agree on how many people to invite or the couple’s family doesn’t agree. This can cause budget conflicts, as well as emotional ones. If you’d rather have a smaller wedding than your partner, show them this chart and have a conversation about how the guest list affects the budget.
If the disagreement is with someone who is helping to finance a portion of the wedding, show them how adding their guests affects the wedding costs. Often the person is willing to contribute an additional amount towards catering for the additional guests. That may be enough. But if their guest list is bumping you up to another category of venue, adding multiple tables for flowers, or other fixed costs, have a conversation about how these costs are affected as well.
In conclusion, you can see that cutting 10 people from your guest list could save you almost $1,000. And going from a standard size 100 person wedding to a 30 person wedding could save you almost $10,000 based on some major changes in your fixed costs. That’s why your guest list is the place to start with wedding planning.
Looking for more ways to hack your wedding budget? For a community of like-minded brides in my exclusive, free Facebook group for Bold On A Budget Weddings.