How Much Does a COVID Wedding Cost?

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PHOTO BY HARWELL PHOTOGRAPHY

The cost of a wedding at any time, pandemic or not, depends on a variety of factors. Which suppliers are you choosing? Are you eloping or staging a large reception for family and friends? Are you buying your wedding dress off the rack or leaning towards couture?

The pandemic has forced many couples to choose cheaper options. For example, limits on gathering sizes have meant scaled-down guest lists. International travel restrictions have led to domestic and usually cheaper honeymoons. On the other hand, the pandemic has also added some additional costs to weddings like PPE and on-site rapid testing.

So just how much do COVID-19 weddings cost? To get the answer we turned to experts Jessica Carrillo and Elisabeth Kramer. They talked us through different types of pandemic weddings and which costs each one entails.

Meet the Expert

  • Jessica Carrillo is the owner of Art & Soul Events, a wedding planning company in Los Angeles.
  • Elisabeth Kramer is a day-of wedding coordinator in Portland and co-founder of Altared, an event for wedding vendors who want to change the wedding industry. 

Elopements

According to the Brides American Wedding Study, 81 percent of couples reimagined their weddings during the pandemic. For many that meant eloping instead of having big bashes. Eloping can save couples money because there is no need to spend large amounts on an elaborate reception or ceremony. The wedding study found that couples spent on average $13,257.50 total for the reception venue, food, drinks, decorations, and party favors. The ceremony cost them an additional $3,149.90.

The cost of eloping changes depending on how elaborate you want it to be. It's possible to get married at City Hall for well under $200 in most states (that includes a marriage certificate and a small fee for the officiant.) If you add new clothes, hair and makeup, a photographer, and a celebratory meal after, the price goes up.

During the pandemic, hotels launched elopement packages for those seeking to turn their wedding into a memorable trip. At the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, for example, you could elope for $2,500, a prince that included a ceremony in a garden full of lemon trees and a two-tiered wedding cake. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts launched packages at their properties across the country that started as little as $1000.

If a couple already had a full-scale wedding in the works they might lose non-refundable deposits. "If a couple decides to cancel, rather than postpone, they are not likely to get a refund," said Carrillo. "The vendors take into consideration how much the client has paid vs. how much time/effort/work the vendor has invested in the couples planning experience." She points out that this amount is still minimal compared to what a full wedding would cost. "Many of my couples decided to get off the wedding rollercoaster, elope, and call it a day," she said. "They lost a few retainer payments but they walked away before getting in any deeper."

Micro Weddings

Micro weddings have become increasingly popular during the pandemic. These allow a couple to have all the trappings of a regular wedding - there is a reception with music and a ceremony with a walk down the aisle - but with fewer guests, usually no more than 50. Because some costs have nothing to do with crowd size, micro weddings still have many of the same expenses as traditional weddings. There is still the venue fee (couples spent $3034.30 on their reception venue on average last year), photography services ($1673.90), videography services ($1507.30), the cake ($947.60), wedding day beauty services ($1124.90), etc.

The real cost savings come from having fewer people to feed. "Many of my clients have cut their original guest list in half or even a fourth because they are planning to host fewer guests," said Carrillo. "The financial advantage to this model is that it saves money on food. My clients typically spend about $500-$700 per guest, all in for the reception contracts. If you multiply $500 X 50-guests rather than 100-200 guests, it is sizable savings."

During the pandemic, many couples have gotten creative with micro weddings. With fewer guests, they've staged them in their backyards and asked friends to make flower arrangements and a small wedding cake. Taking these steps can cut costs dramatically.

Kramer said even micro weddings need precautions to keep people safe during a pandemic. "Weddings are super-spreaders unless we work very very hard for them not to be," she said. Couples now have to spend a few hundred dollars providing masks and hand sanitizer for guests. Many also chose to rapid test guests before the festivities begin. Costs vary depending on which part of the country you are in, but private concierge services usually charge about $100 to $125 a person.

Full-Scale Weddings

In some states, there are no restrictions on the size of gatherings. In others, current guidelines still allow for a sizable affair (If a ballroom can fit 1,000 people, and the state allows venues to operate at 25 percent capacity, a 250 person wedding is still doable.)

When planning any wedding, COVID or not, the couple chooses what to spend money on. According to the Brides American Wedding Survey most people sprung for a DJ, personalized wedding favors, special alcohol, a photo booth, and special food experiences. On average couples spent $1766.90 for reception music and entertainment, $2947.40 on wedding favors, and $1795.60 on beverages including alcohol at the wedding reception. Another significant cost is clothing for the bride, the groom, the wedding party, and the couple's parents and siblings (The most expensive, of course, is the wedding dress. On average brides spent $2439 on that.)

Even if they are having a traditional, all-out wedding, 47 percent of couples still said they are downsizing their guest list during the pandemic. That means money saved on per person food and drink.

COVID has added some additional costs. Kramer said many of her clients had to send another set of invitations if their date changed or additional save the dates to update guests about evolving plans. These can cost in the hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars depending on if they are printed.

In addition to spending money on rapid testing wedding guests ($100 to $125 a person), hand sanitizer, and PPE, Carrillo has also seen many couples hire extra janitorial staff members for their affairs. "They continuously disinfect frequently touched surfaces like bar tops, door handles, and stair railings, with a special emphasis on bathrooms." That can cost $150 to $250 per staff member.

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