Personal Finance

This wedding savings strategy comes with added risk

Key Points
  • Eight in 10 engaged couples say they would pick a "less-preferable wedding date," such as one on a weekday or in an off-season month, if it would cut wedding costs.
  • Wedding planners say the savings for going off-peak can be enticing.
  • The potential trade-offs can include risks of natural disasters and a smaller guest list.
Winter weddings can be a risky way to save

Cutting your wedding costs by avoiding "wedding season" may be easier said than done.

In a recent Student Loan Hero survey, 8 in 10 couples planning to get married in the next year said they would be willing to choose a "less-preferable wedding date" if it would save money. That includes looking at weekdays and off-season months.

No wonder: New data from planning site WeddingWire finds that the average wedding, including the engagement ring and honeymoon, cost $36,000 in 2017. The ceremony and reception alone were $27,000.

Although both figures are $1,000 less than in 2016, they still represent a chunk of money.

Yet there are still signs couples are overspending. WeddingWire also found that couples underestimated their budget by 42 percent, while Student Loan Hero notes that 74 percent plan to take on debt to cover their wedding bills.

Looking at wedding-date trends, it seems like there are clear peaks and valleys in popularity. (See graphic below.)

And the potential savings can be enticing.

For example, in Hudson Valley, New York, site fees can range from $5,000 to $15,000 during the peak fall season, said wedding planner Angela Christoforo, owner of Elite Wedding & Event Planning. A winter wedding could trim 20 percent to 30 percent off the venue bill, she said, and other vendors may run winter or off-peak specials, as well.

Wedding planner Janice Carnevale, owner of Bellwether Events in Washington, D.C., said she's seen a slow growth in couples looking to host weddings Mondays through Thursdays. That shift can help couples bring a desired venue into budget by avoiding high weekend food and drink minimums, or increase the chance of a venue or vendor's availability even in a peak season.

The price of tilapia doesn't care if you're getting married in January, or on a Thursday, and people who get hourly wages get paid the same rate regardless of what time of the year or day of the week it is.
Janice Carnevale
Owner of Bellwether Events

"In D.C., your venue is one of the most expensive pieces of the budget puzzle," Carnevale said, with costs ranging from $8,000 to $20,000. "If you're looking to reduce that by a third, then a Thursday night might be the way you do that."

But experts caution that going off-peak for your wedding is a tactic rife with potential pitfalls. Here's what to consider before you save the date.

1) Expect a limit to savings

A vendor's underlying costs contribute to how much give there is (or isn't) in offering a deal for off-peak timing.

"The price of tilapia doesn't care if you're getting married in January, or on a Thursday," Carnevale said. "And people who get hourly wages get paid the same rate regardless of what time of the year or day of the week it is."

Higher costs for other items can also offset savings. Flower costs, for example, can be pricier for a winter wedding if your desired blooms aren't in season and need to be imported, she said.

Keep in mind that deals may not be advertised, or offered up with the regular price list — especially if you make a general price inquiry or initially ask about a prime season or date, Christoforo said. (This is also where your bargaining skills, or those of a wedding planner, can come in handy.)

"It's always good to ask if there's an off-peak rate," she said.

2) "Off-peak" isn't easy to gauge

Broadly speaking, winter is a less popular time to get married; however, planners warn that off-seasons vary by market. And there may not be a slow time at all.

"For wedding locations that are popular wedding destinations — think Hawaii or Southern California — or locations where the weather is nice all year round, slow seasons as far as weddings are concerned are basically nonexistent," said Christina Farrow, president and co-founder of planning site, who previously ran a wedding planning firm in Hawaii.

Top wedding dates for 2018

Rank Date Holiday
1Saturday, Oct. 20
2Saturday, Aug. 18
3Saturday, Oct. 13
4Saturday, Sept. 29
5Saturday, Sept. 2Labor Day weekend
6Saturday, Sept. 8
7Saturday, Sept. 22
8Saturday, Oct. 6Columbus Day weekend
9Saturday, Sept. 15
10Saturday, Oct. 27

Source: SOURCE:

Even in a generally quiet season, there can be competition from other local events like conferences and sports games that tie up venues and vendors, reducing your odds of scoring a deal, said Carnevale.

"People think December is off-peak for weddings, and it is," she said. "But it's peak for holiday parties."

3) There's a reason it's unpopular

Skipping Miami's peak tourist season can cut your hotel and venue costs in half, but there are distinct trade-offs to a summer or fall wedding in the area, said wedding blogger Dara Smith of Stifling heat and humidity aside, off-season also overlaps with hurricane season, the rainy season and mosquito season.

Winter storms can create a host of problems, from power outages affecting the venue to bridal party members, guests and vendors unexpectedly unable to travel in, said Anne Chertoff, trends expert for WeddingWire. And picking a weeknight wedding can reduce the number of family and friends able and willing to attend.

You'll have to weigh the risk-reward of picking that less-desirable date.

Some issues can be worked around with planning. Smith said she often talks to couples thinking about a summer destination wedding in Miami about avoiding an outdoor, afternoon ceremony, asking the venue about contingencies such as fans, and being flexible with photo timing to avoid midafternoon rain showers. Also key: Dig into venue and vendor policies.

"Definitely go through all the scenarios," Smith said. "What's the emergency clause ... if there's a hurricane and everyone evacuates? Do you get all your money back?"

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Wedding insurance can be cheap way to buy peace of mind, Chertoff said. Rates are based on factors such as the cost of the wedding, with coverage kicking in to cover nonrefundable costs related to natural disasters as well as other wedding woes, such as a vendor going out of business.

Some downsides, such as a slimmer guest list, also have their own advantages for couples looking for a more intimate, less pricey affair.

"It's the guest list that's really going to determine how much you're spending on your wedding," Chertoff said. "Cutting one table of people could save you thousands of dollars."