The Wedding-Spending Diaries

A recent statistic puts the average cost of a wedding in New York City at $41,465. Yikes! How does anyone afford to get hitched in this expensive town? To find out, we asked four newlyweds to dig through their receipts and break down their itemized wedding bills* (anonymously, of course, as it’s a touchy subject). Here, proof that it’s possible to have a relatively affordable wedding in New York—for $12,500—and that even those with ample budgets have to make compromises.

Illustrations by Omnivore

The bride, 27, and groom, 36, set a $15,000 budget and came out spending less. “It was the thrill of the bargain,” the bride says. Booking their reception during the day, at a time when the restaurant they chose as their venue was normally closed, allowed them to negotiate down the cost. Plus: “During the day, people don’t drink as much, so we saved on the liquor costs.”

Venue: $6,500
Terrace in the Sky. Five and a half hours for 50 people ($110 a head, plus $1,000 deposit). Included outdoor rooftop space for ceremony, greenhouse for cocktail hour and reception, catering, cocktails, and open bar.

Wedding correspondence: $697
Save-the-dates, invitations, and “cheeky tabloid-inspired” DIY programs, from Staples.

Hair and makeup: $195
Juliet Campbell from Scott J. Aveda Salon styled the bride and a bridesmaid, and the price of the trial was included.

Wedding bands: $260
Jean Schlumberger band, Tiffany’s (hers; $225), and titanium ring, eBay (his; $35).

Bride’s attire: $1,759
Floor sample from Allure Couture at Jon’s Bridal, plus alterations ($1,600), shoes from ($119), and the bride’s “something blue”: a cocktail ring from Chelsea Flea Market ($40).

Groom’s attire: $199
Suit from Michael Kors at Century 21 in Paramus, New Jersey. (He already owned his shirt, shoes, and tie.) “There are better finds in New Jersey than in the city.”

Getaway-car rental: $150

Photography: $600
Aaron Almendral. “An excellent find on Craigslist. I posted on a whim and was overwhelmed with responses.” Included eight hours of photojournalism-style digital photography, 1,000 photos on CDs, and the retouching of 275 photos (no album).

Flowers: $800
Flower You. “Another Craigslist find.” Included a stargazer-lily bouquet, white-rose-and-crystal bridesmaid bouquets, three orchid-and-rose corsages, three white-rose-and-orchid boutonnieres, and ten orchid centerpieces for the reception.

Ceremony and reception music: $700
D.J. A. J. Hughes. “He was another awesome Craigslist find!” (

Cupcake tower: $250
From Sugar Sweet Sunshine. “Luckily, the venue didn’t charge a cake-cutting fee.”

Favors: $400
From Economy Candy. Included mini packages of hot cocoa, martini-recipe cards, and Jordan almonds in tulle.

Guest book and pen: $60
From Wedding Things.

Illustrations by Omnivore

The couple, both 26, “wanted a Saturday-night wedding in the fall, but all of the outdoor locations we liked were already booked,” the bride says. “But then we saw that Sunday over Columbus Day weekend was available, and we knew everyone had Monday off, so it’d effectively be like having a Saturday-night wedding.” Because they booked the Sunday of a holiday weekend, they got a cheaper rate.

Venue: $400
Snuff Mill at the New York Botanical Garden.

Wedding correspondence: $1,005
Couture invitations from Serimony, “a stationer in Carroll Gardens”; a family member did the calligraphy for free. The cost included postage and DIY save-the-dates and programs made with Microsoft Publisher and printed at Kinko’s. “I wanted blue hydrangeas on the invitation because they were on the tables at the reception. The stationer glued dry-pressed flowers onto the invitations, by hand, one by one.”

Favors: $530
A donation to and personalized ivory-rose seed packets, bought online from the Tender Seed Company, that doubled as place cards, reading, “Please plant yourself at table number …”

Hair: $800
The Bridal Lounge. For the bride and seven bridesmaids.

Makeup: $400
“One of my bridesmaids has a friend who is good at makeup, and she did it. She did mine for free for the engagement party as the trial run.”

Kim Kirkley. “She was more expensive than some other people that we looked at, but it was worth it—we’re an interfaith couple (Jewish and Catholic), so we customized our ceremony with her help.”

Ceremony and cocktail music: $1,200
Uptown Vocal. Two hours of a jazz-based a cappella group from Columbia University. “I talked them down to $1,000 and covered their travel costs.”

Wedding bands: $1,500
From Fortunoff.

Bride’s attire: $1,510
Dress by Maggie Sottero/RK Bridal, alterations included; veil from eBay ($10); shoes from Stuart Weitzman from Saks Fifth Avenue ($90; “on sale!”).

Groom’s attire: $30
Cuff links, tie, and vest from After Hours tuxedo rental. “He only had to pay for the accessories that came with the tux package. The tux rental for the groom was free, which seems to be a common promotion.”

Transportation: $1,050
From Romantique Limos. Included two limos for immediate family, one Rolls-Royce for bride and groom.

Photographer: $1,500
Marianela Vera. “Not as creative as a more expensive photographer might have been, but a great deal.” Included the proofs and negatives.

Videographer: $800
Halo Video. “Jose was wonderful. No one felt they had a camera shoved in their face.”

Caterer: $19,500
Abigail Kirsch, the exclusive caterer for the New York Botanical Garden. Included top-shelf open bar and Champagne, cake, décor setup, and a day-of wedding coordinator.

Flowers: $4,000
Forever in Bloom. “The New York Botanical Garden has four florists they accept, which cost anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000.” Included blue hydrangeas, a modified chuppa made of flowers and branches, petal cones with petals for tossing, and ivory-rose and cascading-ivy bouquets and boutonnieres.

Reception music: $1,200
A Starry Night D.J. for four hours. “You can’t have a full band at the Snuff Mill.”

Wedding-party gifts: $600
Necklaces for the women; watches for the men.

Polaroid guest book and guest-book handler: $220
Guest book from Kate’s Paperie. Cost included a $200 tip to one of the makeup artists, who stayed to oversee it.

Gift bags for out-of-town guests: $100
Included a subway map and mini black-and-white cookies from Glaser’s Bakery.

Illustrations by Omnivore

After setting a $68,000 budget with her parents, the bride, 34, hired a planner “to cut down on my stress and time constraints,” she says. “The planner was also a buffer between me and my parents. My priorities were décor, music, and photography, but my parents really cared about the food.”

Venue: $0
Battery Gardens Restaurant (no site fee).

Planner: $7,500
In Any Event. “They helped us allocate our budget wisely.”

Wedding correspondence: $3,000
Alpine Creative Group. Included save-the-dates from$250); simple invitations on heavy card stock from Alpine Creative ($2,200); calligraphy by Invitations by Ana ($200), who also did the place cards ($250); programs from ($250); and postage ($100).

Hair: $1,100
Corey Morris. Seven hours before the wedding; touch-ups for the ceremony. “He’s my regular hairdresser who at the time was at Sally Hershberger, and now he’s at Jason Croy Salon.”

Makeup: $1,200
Sandy Linter from the Kenneth Salon at the Waldorf Astoria. Included day of for the bride, as well as the makeup trial.

Officiant: $500
Rabbi Burt Siegel.

Ceremony, cocktail, and reception music: $9,000
Ronnie Gesser. Included a ceremony trio, a cocktail-hour trio, and an eight-piece band for the four-hour reception.

Wedding bands: $5,500
Gold Art LLC.

Bride’s attire: $8,050
Carolina Herrera dress from Saks Fifth Avenue ($6,000) plus alterations ($450), Pedro Garcia shoes from ($400), veil from Saks Fifth Avenue ($400), jewelry from Ten Thousand Things ($800).

Groom’s attire: $500
A previously owned tux; a new vest and tie from Barneys New York ($200), Hugo Boss shoes from Bloomingdale’s ($300).

Transportation: $1,000 Included black sedans to and from the reception for bride, groom, families, and wedding party.

Photography: $7,000
Cappy Hotchkiss. Included nine hours of photography, all proofs, an assistant photographer, and black-and-white and color film, as well as old-fashioned cameras for effect.

Videography: $3,000
Josh Hume. Included twelve hours of filming, plus the raw footage and three DVDs, each comprising a ten-minute short and a 45-minute edit.

Flowers: $6,020
Artfool. Included three bouquets, seven boutonnieres, a birch-branch chuppa with organza overlay, a moss-and-petal-strewn aisle runner for the ceremony; tree branches and candlelit bowls with floating orchids for cocktail hour; nine tall pear-branch and low orchid centerpieces; and a place-card-table centerpiece with cards hanging from the branches.

Catering: $26,000
(In-house.) Included eight passed hors d’oeuvre, six stations (cheese, vegetable, Mediterranean, carving, seviche, and pasta), a four-course dinner, an unlimited bar for cocktail hour and the sit-down dinner reception, a sorbet, a chocolate fountain, and cookies.

Cake: $1,500
April Reed. “I have allergies, so we had to find someone who didn’t use almond flour. We did, but it was pricier.”

Favors: $320
“My dad is famous for his chocolate-chip cookies, so we gave tins of them out to guests.”

Gift bags for out-of-town guests: $160

Illustrations by Omnivore

The couple, both 29, wanted a high-end hotel wedding—but the bride’s parents wouldn’t allow for indulgences. “They wouldn’t pay for a chocolate fountain,” says the bride. “We saved money on transportation since everything was held in one spot.” Still, in the end, they underestimated how much their wedding would cost by a whopping $50,000.

Venue: $61,667
The Mandarin Oriental. Included eight passed hors d’oeuvre, two buffet stations during cocktail hour, and a three-course meal; top-shelf open bar, and a day-of wedding coordinator. “The Mandarin has a preferred list of vendors, but we didn’t use them.”

Wedding correspondence: $3,416.42
Full suite from Blue Tulip, including save-the-dates, invitations, thank-you cards; calligraphy by Esta Cohen ($348); and postage ($329.75).

Hair: $1,070
Devon Ross, a freelance stylist formerly of Avon, styled ten women. “Hiring a freelancer who doesn’t work for a salon was cheaper, because she charged per person rather than hourly and she came to our hotel suite.”

Makeup: $730
Damali, for five women. “They do lash extensions and are all Bobbi Brown–trained.”

Officiant: $400
(Name withheld.) “We’re interfaith, and it was hard to find someone who would do a Reform ceremony.”

Yarmulkes: $224.04
“My mom ordered them online from J. Levine. They had our names on them.”

Wedding bands: $4,300
The groom wore his grandfather’s ring, but “we engraved it and dipped it in platinum. I got mine from Gem World.”

Bride’s attire: $5,767.12
By Vera Wang ($4,867.12), with alterations ($300): “I got the veil for free and gave us a 10 percent discount on the bridesmaids dresses.” Shoes by Christian Louboutin ($600).

Groom’s attire: $300
Tie and vest from Saks Fifth Avenue ($300).

Photography and videography: $6,556.82
Brett Matthews. Included two photographers—one photojournalistic and the other for portraits—for ten hours, shooting in color and black-and-white; proofs; an album; and four copies of the DVD.

Flowers: $17,308.02
Atlas Florist. Mini calla lilies for the cocktail hour; twenty centerpieces of dogwood branches, bidium orchids, hydrangeas, and roses for the reception; bouquets; chuppa; and boutonnieres.

Music: $13,000
New York City Swing. Twelve-piece band for four and a half hours, including ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception music.

Wedding cake: $2,167.50
From Gail Watson.

Gift bags: $500

Wedding-party gifts: $4,000

Paid for by: The bride and groom.
Method: “We put money in an interest-bearing Certificate of Deposit that matured a week after our wedding. We charged as much as we could on our credit cards (since we get points) and paid that debt off with the money out of the CD. We put wedding cash back into a money-market account, to pay for our honeymoon.”
Bottom line: They were underbudget by $2,500.

Paid for by: The bride’s and groom’s parents, with less than a third paid for by the couple.
Method: “My parents covered the catering and reception fees; his parents mainly handled the independent vendors. We paid paid for all the deposits.”
Bottom line: They were overbudget by $2,000.

Paid for by: The bride’s parents covered most of the costs. The bride paid for the planner.
Method: “It’s not like they had a ‘daughter’s wedding fund’ in the bank, but there was enough.”
Bottom line: They were overbudget by $12,000.

Paid for by: The bride’s parents.
Method: “They always said they’d pay for the wedding. When they got divorced a few years ago, my dad said he’d pay for 75 percent of it and my mother could cover the rest, which she did.”
Bottom line: They were overbudget by $50,000.

*The itemized statements above do not necessarily add up to the total amount spent, and displayed, since these diaries largely reflect the cost of big-ticket expenses (venue, caterer, band, etc.) and do not always include smaller miscellaneous details.

The Wedding-Spending Diaries