A walk down the aisle is more expensive than ever for U.S. couples. According to The Knot's latest Real Weddings Study, brides and grooms spent an average $35,329 on their special days in 2016. But there are always ways for a thrifty, creative couple to save money, including -- although it may not seem glamorous -- shopping at the same place they get bulk paper towels and hulking jars of mayo. Here are 10 ways Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's Wholesale Club can help save on a wedding compared with the cost of doing business as usual, according to figures from The Knot and other sources.
The national average cost for a wedding cake is $582, and that assumes buying outside an expensive metro area such as New York or San Francisco, where high-end cakes can cost $15 a slice or more. Even simpler cakes in less expensive areas can command about $2.50 a serving.
A warehouse club may not offer the elaborate cake of your dreams, but it can bring big savings. Sam's Club offers two- and three-tier cakes to serve up to 66 people. A three-tier cake with buttercream is only $65 and can be customized with a variety of simple designs. For a larger wedding, supplement it with a Sam's sheet cake that serves up to 96 for just $40 and can be made with the same icing and filling. That's enough cake to feed 162 guests for just $105 -- roughly 65 cents a serving.
Fresh wedding flowers can be a big drag on a wedding budget: an average of $2,534 last year, including bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces. Even on the low end, a bridal bouquet by itself can cost $100 and bridesmaids' bouquets start at $50, according to the Midwest flower and gift chain Bachman's.
For couples willing to adjust their floral vision, warehouse clubs can help save a pretty penny. Costco offers collections starting at $200. A 20-piece rose and calla lily collection includes a bridal bouquet, three bridesmaids' bouquets, six corsages, six boutonnieres, and two centerpieces for $450. (Add 5,000 rose petals to spread down the aisle and on tables for $70.) Sam's Club has packages ranging from about $200 to $1,600, with options including roses, sunflowers, and calla lilies in a variety of colors. A 23-piece rose collection includes a bridal bouquet, four bridesmaid bouquets, six boutonnieres, and six centerpieces for $579.
Costco and Sam's Club offer digitally printed wedding invitations for thrifty brides and grooms. Costco prices start at 69 cents for each coordinated save-the-date card, RSVP card, enclosure, announcement, shower invitation, wedding program, and thank-you card. Sam's offers packs of coordinating thank-you cards, RSVP cards, wedding programs, and invitation enclosures at 68 cents each. BJ's offerings, limited to save-the-dates, wedding announcements, and shower invitations, are the priciest at a minimum 76 cents each.
Wedding photography is expensive -- costing an average of $2,783 in 2016 -- and relatively consistent no matter where you are, according to the personal finance site ValuePenguin, although there may be savings with smaller packages or less-experienced photographers. Then there's the photo album, which can cost $500 on the low end and easily top $1,000 when curated and printed by the wedding photographer, according to the wedding site Woman Getting Married.
For couples willing to forgo massive prints and heirloom quality, there's no reason to spend that much on a wedding album. As long as the photographer sells the digital rights to the photos, you can design your own album at a warehouse club. BJ's largest hardcover photo books are 12 by 12 inches and start at $60 for 20 pages. Costco's 12-by-12-inch hardcover books start at $40 for 30 pages; the store offers a smaller-format book with a padded leather cover starting at $28. Sam's has the most options, including smaller keepsakes and a 12-by-12 leather lay-flat book starting at $40.
Costco Travel offers vacation packages just for members that are often a solid deal, including the lowest price on three out of four cruises in a head-to-head comparison with other travel agencies by The Points Guy. It also beat Travelocity and booking directly with United and Hyatt for a six-night trip to Costa Rica (but was pricier on a trip to Venice). BJ's offers similar services; Sam's Club recently suspended its travel offerings. The real strength of warehouse-booked vacation packages is often the extras, including resort credits, meals, and other upgrades. Gift cards also may be thrown in to sweeten the deal.
Favors are a tangible way to thank wedding guests for sharing a special day. Most favors are small -- it's the thought that counts -- but can still add an average of $268 to the bill. Even frugal, do-it-yourself options tend to clock in between $100 and $300 for 150 guests, according to ValuePenguin.
Sticking with a popular edible favor is a safe way to keep costs low. A 4-pound bag of Hershey's kisses -- roughly 400 pieces of candy -- costs as little as $28 at Sam's. Buy a few more bags and there's enough candy for 150 guests for $112. Non-chocolate bulk candy is even cheaper, and cellophane treat bags cost next to nothing on Amazon.
An engagement ring is one of the first expenses on the path to matrimony, and one of the priciest. Of course, tastes vary -- some brides are content with faux diamonds, smaller diamonds, or diamond alternatives -- but the average ring cost $6,163 in 2016. And don't forget wedding bands: In 2015, a bride's wedding band averaged $1,417; a groom's averaged $558.
Savings at warehouse clubs depend on what you want, of course: Costco offers everything from a modest 0.11-carat diamond set in yellow gold for $380 to a 2.75-carat platinum ring with 51 diamonds for $20,000 (and way beyond). Sam's Club's offerings start at $700 and top out at an eye-popping $79,419 for a 4.79-carat princess-cut diamond set in white gold. BJ's has a more modestly priced selection, from $400 to $2,000. Experts recommend buying rings with a Gemological Institute of America report, which not all warehouse diamonds have.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen traditionally get a token of gratitude for their time, effort, and friendship (and their patience). Engraved jewelry and flasks can easily run up to $100 each, and bridesmaids' robes and gift duffel bags are typically about $40 each.
Costco can help brides rethink gifts and lower the cost with makeup bargains such as a Sara Happ brown-sugar lip scrub and Lip Slip balm gift set ($12.50). that will leave lingering memories of a sweet time. For groomsmen, a handsome Mele & Co. Rory wooden charging valet for a phone and tablet, with room for watches and other valuables, is $40. Sam's Club has fragrance gift sets from brand names such as Calvin Klein and Elizabeth Arden starting at $35.
One of the biggest costs of a wedding is feeding the guests, even with a less-expensive buffet-style meal. Wedding catering cost an average of $71 a person in 2016. Skipping dinner in favor of an hors d'oeuvres-only reception can still cost more than $30 a person.
For a wedding venue that allows outside catering, all the major warehouse clubs offer impressive appetizer selections, such as 3 pounds of cooked shrimp for $20 at Sam's Club. Just don't forget to pick up napkins, plates, and serving utensils, especially if skipping catering completely. One 120-person wedding featured on The Kitchn had only a $650 tab for food -- much of it from Costco -- for a family-style dinner, but incidentals raised the total to about $1,000.
Don't forget to factor in the cost of booze. CostHelper estimates suggest that the cost could be $12.50 to $37 a person on the low end -- and that's with just beer and wine. Adding mixed drinks to the equation brings the minimum to $17 a person. At expensive venues in major urban areas, prices can be an eye-popping $102 a person for an open bar -- yikes.
If the venue allows it, bring the alcohol. Warehouse clubs are an ideal place to buy in bulk and save, and there are numerous sources online for figuring out how much will be needed. Following guidelines on sites such as A Practical Wedding while shopping at a warehouse club can lower the cost of drinks to less than $9 a person. (Just don't forget bartender costs and potential budget busters such as setup, corking fees, insurance, and gratuities.)