With the tradition of big, elaborate weddings still lingering, they have typically been held up as the expectation when it comes to getting married. More recently though, with the rising cost of living, stagnant wages, and the millennial tendency to question tradition, something of a debate has been sparked as to which is preferable: would you opt for a big and lavish wedding or a cozy and private ceremony? To settle this dispute, I conducted some interviews and research to finally answer the question so many married-couples-to-be seem to be asking: should you go for a big or small wedding?

In the fall of 2019, I was maid of honor at my friend Brandi’s big wedding. It was exhausting and a lot of work, and no doubt expensive. When I asked her whether she’d do it again her response was, “I would have for sure had a simple, private wedding, with me and [my husband], and our parents. We spent so much money for one day on dumb sh*t that really didn’t matter, that we could have used for a honeymoon. We didn’t go on a honeymoon because we spent too much.”

She’s not alone in this thought process either. I checked out a forum on The Knot where users were asked if they regretted opting for a smaller wedding after considering a bigger one. Most of the responses leaned towards no – smaller weddings were indeed preferable. One response said, “my wedding was absolutely amazing and I don’t regret having a smaller wedding for even a second,” while another expressed that, “my first wedding, maybe 20 people. Second wedding, about 280. I would vote for a smaller wedding, any day.”

This isn’t surprising when you look at the cost of weddings in the United States, which range from $17,000 up to $26,000. My friend Brandi explained that her wedding costs included $500 for pictures and $500 or more for food. Her dress was “around $1,000 and I wore it for maybe an hour. I spent $500 for just f*cking tablecloths. Plus, we had to pay $1,000 for just the building to have it in and it was a sh*tty building. [For] the DJ, we spent around $600.”

There are benefits to a big wedding though. There’s no limit to your guest list, a bonus if you’re a social butterfly. This also eliminates the possibility of offending anyone who didn’t get invited due to a limited guest list. If wedding venues or suppliers set any minimum spending requirements, a big wedding will help meet that with no issues. They also allow for more helping hands to delegate tasks to.

Small weddings also pose their own challenges. It’s harder to achieve a party vibe, and with fewer people involved, there’s more you have to do yourself. If a limited guest list means you can’t invite some people, you may encounter some conflict with them. You also have to be more careful of when you plan to have it; weekdays are often preferable because they allow costs to be cut. This happens as a result of the guest list being inevitably reduced by attendees’ availability. Of course, the drawback to that is that weekday schedules may also inconvenience the people you really want to be there.

Small weddings may also limit your venue options because of the aforementioned spending limits set by venues and suppliers, and how awkward it may be to hold a smaller wedding in a grand setting. 

But the cost of big weddings has been shown to send people into huge debt, as almost half of those spending so much on weddings end up suffering financially for their decision to splurge

And they may not even truly want those weddings for themselves. “Big weddings are to brag about and to make yourselves look good,” Brandi says. There isn’t even necessarily always a positive, lasting impact of having a grand ceremony. “The only lasting impact is mainly the photos and I kept the wedding dress, but it will never be worn again. It’s left in the closet to collect dust forever. Most of the crap I bought for the wedding I had to give away because it’s REALLY hard to sell wedding stuff after it’s been used. People want things new for their wedding, so they sat in my garage for a year until I finally took it all to Goodwill.”

And it’s not as if a beautiful wedding is only possible with a huge budget. Finding affordable venues, skipping on the flowers, and buying your dress from a thrift store are all the strategies you need to ensure you have what’s necessary without throwing yourself into debt.

Obviously, the choice of whether to have a big or a small wedding is a personal decision: you just have to choose what’s best for you. There really isn’t one way that is better than the other. But here’s some advice to take on board, “don’t spend any money that you won’t get back unless you’re filthy rich,” Brandi says. “Some people like big weddings for the memories, but you don’t need to please others and spend money to make great memories.”

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  • Amanda Justice

    Amanda Justice was born and raised in Los Angeles but has spent a significant amount of time living in middle Tennessee as well as England and New Zealand before returning to California. She has a Bachelor’s in English Literature and a Master’s in Journalism and when not writing she enjoys traveling, reading horror, urban fantasy, and romance, gaming, and watching campy fantasy shows.