Weddings aren't cheap. In the U.S., weddings cost an average of $33,900 in 2019, including all the expenses related to the engagement ring, ceremony and reception, according to the latest Real Weddings study from The Knot.
That's just $31 less than the average cost of a wedding in 2018, and a significant drop from 2016 when couples spent $35,309 on average. This trend toward spending less has to do with the fact that people are becoming more cost-conscious about wedding planning, The Knot says.
A majority of couples (69%) think budgeting is one of the most important elements when planning a wedding, second only to guest experience, the study finds. "With [the average] couple covering nearly half of [their] wedding costs, they're much more likely to prioritize and allocate budget to wedding details they find to be the most important while saving money on the rest," Kristen Maxwell-Cooper, editor-in-chief of The Knot, tells CNBC Make It.
Deciding which components to have at your wedding is a highly personal decision. "A foodie couple may prioritize unique experiential catering options, while a music-obsessed couple may splurge on a well-known DJ or standout band," Maxwell-Cooper says.
When narrowing down your wedding must-haves, it's helpful to know that more than 50% of people who married in the past 10 years agree that spending on the bride's dress, the wedding cake and photography were worth the money, a 2019 survey from Novi Financial Inc found.
On the other hand, 48.5% of those polled said wedding planners weren't worth the cost, followed by 36.7% who said videography and 36.1% who said wedding favors.
As you start the wedding planning process, it's a good idea to "focus on what is important to you by writing down all of the things you'd ideally want to have at your wedding," says Jackie Courtney, a weddings expert and founder of Nearly Newlywed. "Then, circle the ones that you feel are absolute must-haves."
Going through this exercise before you're too far into planning "can help you to know early on what is the most important and where you want to spend your time and money," Courtney says.
Another way to decide which wedding expenses will be worth the money is to ask around and get "peer advice," Courtney says. Trusted friends and family can give you insight into which party features they particularly enjoyed having on their big day — and which ones they felt they probably could have passed on.
And since your wedding is yours and no one else's, it's a good idea to practice some thoughtful self-reflection. "When you attended a wedding in the past, what did you particularly enjoy or not care about? It really is highly personal and you should listen to your gut rather than weighing expert — or peer — advice too heavily," Courtney says.
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