How this couple spent $40K on their pandemic wedding(s)

A first-person account of all the costs that went into their big day.

Elissa

By

Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about finance and insurance since 2019, with an emphasis in estate planning and mortgages. Her writing has been cited by MarketWatch, CNBC, and Betterment.

Published August 27, 2021|7 min read

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Monica, a recruiter at a tech startup, and Colin, an accountant at a public accounting firm set their wedding for midsummer 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into their plans, like it did for so many others. Read Monica’s retelling of how the couple, who are both 26 years old, made the best of a very up-in-the air situation and their “sequel wedding” that took place this past spring. (Names have been changed so they could speak candidly about their experience.)

Ceremony: July 11, 2020

Reception: April 17, 2021 

We got married July 11, 2020 at a church in Piermont, NY, and had a mini reception in my in-laws' backyard due to COVID. Then we had our “real” reception on April 17, 2021 at a venue nearby. The town is small and super cute, right on the water with views of the Tappan Zee.

We had planned a much bigger wedding than we ended up having. Our original guest list was about 220 people. Once COVID hit in March [2020], our church and venue basically had no idea whether or not we’d be able to get married or have a reception at all —  but they also didn’t want to cancel or reschedule until they absolutely had to. Everything was so in flux, and [then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo] was sending some very mixed messages on what would and wouldn’t be allowed and when. 

We ended up making our final plans, what to move, who to “uninvite,” and what we would officially move forward with, about three weeks before the wedding date. The photographer we booked let us split their hours over both dates — two hours for the July ceremony and five or six hours for the reception that was pushed back. 

We were in the lucky bunch who were able to keep our venue and church the same as originally planned. We — well,  I was — very bullish on not losing a boatload of money on deposits. My husband also didn’t want to lose money, but he is a much less aggressive individual than I am. Our budget was about $30,000 all-in, and we were very close to sticking to it. There were quite a few tracking spreadsheets, but it was pretty difficult to stay on track with all the moving parts, dates, and potential and real changes. At the end of the day, we ended up over a little bit over because we basically had two weddings instead of one. 

Wedding #1

We were allowed to have about 100 people at the church, because it was really big, and about 50 or so people at my in-laws for the outdoor mini-reception based on COVID gathering limits at the time. We had a maid of honor, six bridesmaids, a best man, and six groomsmen.

Churches don’t technically charge a fee, but there was a suggested donation amount. Ours was about $400, but because of the pandemic, we ended up giving a bit more — I think $600 — since we knew they had likely lost a lot of income and we knew we could afford a little bit more.

For the mini-reception, we held it outside in a tent along with some tables, chairs, and Porta Potties. Food was catered from an Italian deli my husband has been going to since he was a kid. His family also knows the owner, since they've been going there so long, so we definitely got a good deal. It was about $400 with tip and delivery covering food for about 50 people.

Getting the Porta Potties was a TIME. My mother-in-law was pretty concerned about folks coming into the house to use the bathroom so she got slightly fancier ones (read: flushable) and it was about $1,200 for two for the day. She also told us they only had two options left and very low quantity, so she ordered just in time for us to actually get them. 

The ‘real’ reception

Since there was a bit of time between the wedding and reception, we had a little bit of a breather. We also moved, and I got pregnant in between, which added some wrenches into the ability to constantly be in wedding mode. It definitely felt like we were thinking and talking about the reception all. the. time. but in terms of doing, there wasn’t a ton to do. 

Our reception venue provided pretty much everything, and we had already worked out our contract with vendors, so all we really had left to think about was flowers, hair and makeup, and the little last-minute sort of things — like name cards and seating chart, and party favors. We got personalized M&Ms in our wedding colors, sky blue and light dove gray. It was like $350 including shipping, for 125 of these little packages wrapped with a bow. Flower-wise, we kept it pretty simple, because of cost, and did table arrangements for the reception. (We had bouquets and boutonnières for the ceremony prior.)

The reception was pretty much just a normal reception: drinks, a plated dinner, and dancing. We had considered doing a “vow renewal” type of situation before the cocktail hour, but felt it would be weird since we were also announcing the pregnancy. The final guest count was about 125. 

The dress(es)

I was going to wear the same dress, but ended up getting a second dress for the reception, because pregnant. The ceremony dress was from The White Gown in Manhattan —  highly recommend, great selection, amazing staff — and it was easy to choose. I bought the first one I tried on, which was also the first dress I saw in the store window. Funnily enough, my mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother were the exact same way. With alterations and the custom veil, it was about $3,000 total.

My reception dress was a bit harder to pick. I wanted something a bit less formal, but still wedding-y and that I could dance and move comfortably in, but also not feel like I was wearing a garbage bag to cover my tiny baby bump. I ended up getting a dress from Show Me Your Mumu’s bridesmaids collection in white for the reception. So comfy and not outrageously priced — about $200.

For the bridesmaids, they wore matching dresses for the ceremony that we ordered from Azazie, but whatever they wanted for the reception since it was a different season than the ceremony. I did not pay for their dresses (about $100 each), but I did pay for hair and makeup for both the reception and ceremony.

As for suits, my husband and his groomsmen did Men’s Wearhouse. They cost about $150 for the rentals, and I believe my husband got a discount on his since he had over five groomsmen for the reception. We didn’t want to make them re-order suits, so they all wore the same suits they had for the ceremony and reception, as did my husband. 

The hardest decision

The hardest decision money-wise was honestly figuring out what size and type of venue we wanted. I loved where we ended up, but we struggled in the search because of the total guest-to-budget ratio. It was hard finding something that didn’t seem like our guests would be super cramped, or where we’d have to pay a lot of additional money for things like cakes and open bars. Our venue was all-inclusive, so we got a package deal with plated food, open bar, and cake.

The most unexpected cost

Probably tipping everyone, not that I didn't know we’d have to, I just sort of forgot to factor that into budgeting, and then was like holy cow there’s the extra $5K or so in tips for photographer, DJs, florists, bartenders, etc.

The extras: before and after

My in-laws hosted and paid for a rehearsal dinner for the ceremony, and my parents did the brunch for the reception day and we did an “after party” of sorts where we just provided alcohol for people in the hotel. The day of the ceremony, in April, we had an “after party” with friends who we couldn’t invite to the mini-reception at my in-laws with drinks, pizza, and lawn games.

We were supposed to go on a honeymoon, but COVID squashed that so we decided we’ll do a baller five-year anniversary trip instead.

How did you pay for it?

We started saving together once we got engaged and also got some unexpected help from our parents  — about $10K toward the venue, and they paid for my dress. It let us put some of the money we didn’t spend into a separate savings account so we can eventually buy a house

We were already living together and shared most expenses, so we reconfigured our budgets to save for the wedding as well. We both saved equal amounts, since we split pretty much everything 50/50 and also make very close to the same amount of money.

Estimated costs

  • Venue (all-inclusive): $20,000

  • Photographer: $4,000 

  • DJ: $2,000

  • Flowers: $1,100 ($400 ceremony, $700 reception) 

  • Dresses: $3,200 ($3,000 bridal gown, $200 reception dress)

  • Hair and makeup: $2,300 ($1,500 ceremony, $800 reception)

  • Vendor & bartender tips: $2,000

  • Party favors: $350

Ceremony and mini-reception:

  • Church donation: $600

  • Ceremony music: $200

  • Catering: $400

  • Drinks: $200

  • Porta Potty rental: $1,200

  • Rentals (tent, chairs, etc.): $1,000

Total: $38,550

Image: Dragos G / Getty Images

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about finance and insurance since 2019, with an emphasis in estate planning and mortgages. Her writing has been cited by MarketWatch, CNBC, and Betterment.