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Yes, you can have a "real" wedding in Las Vegas. What does it cost?

Coworkers, friends, and family would say I’m a frugal person. There are some things I don’t mind spending money on, like a great pair of jeans, an excellent bottle of wine, or a vacation. A wedding does not make the list.

According to The Knot, the AVERAGE cost of a wedding for 2018 was $33,931. According to CNBC, ¾ of engaged couples plan on “going into the red” to pay for their wedding. I looked up those exact figures to write this blog, but I had at least heard rumors that as soon as a vendor hears “wedding,” the price at least doubles, which is why I never wanted to have a traditional, expensive wedding.

A typical wedding in my friend and family groups goes something like this: white dress, church ceremony, reception at separate venue, plated meals, open bar, and dancing.

My best friend’s wedding was held on a beautiful estate on the water in Miami. The decorations were perfect. The bride looked amazing. The weather could not have been better. Aric, my boyfriend at the time (now husband), and I had just moved in together when we attended that wedding, so we knew we were on a path to marriage and had had some discussions. I was team courthouse; he was team full wedding extravaganza. As we left that wedding, he turned to me and said, “That was an amazing wedding and I don’t want one.” It hit him how much time, effort, and money went into pulling off such an event. This wedding would have been above The Knot’s average cost of ~$34,000.

Aric proposed in November 2018. Decision time was upon us. What to do? Are the options really courthouse wedding or full event? We could:

  • Go to the courthouse and then go out to dinner just the two of us.

  • Elope to Las Vegas. Tell no one until we get back.

  • Have a Catholic ceremony at church in a simple white dress, then go to dinner with immediate family.

  • Have the religious ceremony, go directly on a honeymoon, then have a party when we got back with family and close friends.

  • Have the Catholic ceremony, then just have the party right after, but just do a potluck and use a playlist. Might as well add coworkers to the guest list.

  • Have the ceremony at the church, then have a reception at a venue, with bartenders, caterers, photographers, and a DJ. Maybe we could save money by going light on the flowers and using a venue that lets us bring in our own alcohol. We can add parents’ friends to the guest list – it’s not that many more people.

  • Do it “right”: ceremony at the Catholic church, hire a wedding planner, interview vendors, get a high-end venue and invite the 150 people closest to us, then have a full reception.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s easy to fall into this trap: If we’re going to ___, then we might as well ___.

Which route did we choose? Ironically, we used elements from all the above. It so happened that Aric’s grandparents’ 50-year wedding anniversary was the following summer. His whole family was planning to travel to Las Vegas to attend a vow renewal ceremony. I started thinking that perhaps in Las Vegas, we could avoid going over the top. That city KNOWS how to host simple weddings.

We started making “middle ground” wedding plans. First, we created our invite list. There were around 100 people on it. We reasoned that at least 30% wouldn’t make the trip, so we started looking for venues that could accommodate 70 people. These venues are actually not the easiest to find in Vegas. Ten people? No problem – you can get married in the Eiffel Tower at Paris. Twenty? Sure – you can book a small chapel and an Elvis impersonator.

Once we had our short list of potential chapels based on size and price (located at Paris, Caesars, and the Luxor), we moved on to nearby restaurants for receptions and got prices for those. Then, we loaded costs into a spreadsheet. We ended up choosing Caesars Palace and Trevi Italian, located in their forum shops. Below, I’ve included those budgets, what the packages included, and the other categories from The Knot’s article.

Caesars Classico Chapel: $2,000, less a 25% discount for the summer rate, so $1,500

  • Minister

  • Pianist

  • 1-night stay

  • 30 minutes photography

  • $100 photography credit

  • $100 flower credit

  • Total budget: $2,000 (includes buffer for extras)

Trevi Italian

  • No venue cost, $4,000 minimum purchase

  • Private mezzanine

  • Hors D’oeuvres: $9 per person

  • Caesar salad, bruschetta, lasagna/chicken fettuccine alfredo: $36 per person

  • Unlimited beer and wine (3 hours): $46 per person

  • Cake: $500

  • DJ (4 hours): $1200

  • Photographer (4 hours): $550

  • Decorations: $250

  • 5% banquet fee

  • 16% gratuity

  • Total budget: $11,000 (includes buffer for misc decorations)

Other Categories included in The Knot's Average Cost:

  • Wedding dress (I actually had a jumpsuit) and shoes: $250

  • Groom attire and shoes: $200

  • Favors: $120

  • Gifts for Wedding Party: $200

  • Rehearsal Dinner: none

  • Videographer: none

  • Florist: none, beside bouquets budgeted under Caesars above

  • Rings: $9,000

  • Hair and makeup: $200

Then I did what most middle-class daughters do, and I asked my parents to help. My mom and I went over the spreadsheet, consulted my dad, and they gave us a $15,000 wedding gift. This was clutch because they then couldn’t be too forceful with their opinions because they weren’t technically paying for the wedding.

Actual costs came in a little higher than this because we ended up going with a 4-hour open bar when people didn’t seem ready for the party to end on time. We made some of that extra cost back because we ended up with only 60 guests. Our wedding, including the engagement ring and our bands, costed about $24,000, meaning without the rings it was $15,000 – thanks, Mom and Dad!

Overall, you could consider our wedding towards the “full extravaganza” side of the spectrum, but without the full $34,000 price tag (30% less).

Naturally, we had some travel costs with the Las Vegas trip (as did our guests), then our honeymoon afterwards to Portland, ME. As I mentioned before, though, we don’t mind spending money on vacations!

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