Summer is just around the corner and so is Canada’s wedding season – if you’re into traditional (local) weddings that is.

It’s wedding mania for me now since I’m in my mid-to-late twenties and I’ve been to two weddings this year already (including my first good friend, as opposed to a relative – so exciting!) and they were both here in Vancouver. Another friend is planning to get hitched in Hawaii for a destination wedding next year. My boyfriend and I were discussing what we would like to do in the future, and we were going back and forth between the romantic and financial allure of a destination wedding vs a standard traditional wedding (aka “local wedding”) where we can invite and expect more of our friends and family to attend.

Consequently I thought I would do what I like doing best here on Young & Thrifty, by creating a comparison list between the two to help me (and you) decide which one is better for the wallet and which fits your wedding goals overall. Yay for lists (can I get more A-type?)!

Destination Wedding:

A destination wedding is where the bride and groom invite the wedding party and close family & friends to an exotic resort location or a tourist mecca such as Cancun, while turning it into a mini-vacation for all.  Destination Weddings have increased 400% in recent years, clearly becoming more popular.  Common destination wedding locales are usually warm sunny places such as Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Italy, and the Caribbean to name a few. 

Destination weddings are substantially cheaper in most cases.  The average cost for a destination wedding is $17,000 for 100 people (and in many cases there are far less than 100 people that wish to attend) whereas a traditional wedding costs $25,000 for the same amount of people and here’s why:

  • You can combine your wedding and honeymoon together – no new travel plans needed.
  • You usually pay for only yourselves as the bride and groom.
  • Your guests pay for their own package (flight and hotel) to get there, and if you choose an all-inclusive resort it makes things really simply and low maintenance as all the food and drinks are paid for as well.
  • There usually aren’t as many guests (average is around 40 guests) because of obvious financial hurdles.
  • You don’t need to be as elaborate (read: expensive venue and decorations) at your reception because the location (beaches!!) speaks for itself.

The costs you would need to consider for a destination wedding are:

  • Your wedding dress and suits.
  • Passports if you don’t have them already; and Visas, if the destination requires it.
  • Wedding Insurance (if you want) in the event of extreme weather issues or other unpredictable events (hurricanes! tropical storms! yuck!).
  • Bridesmaid and groomsmen outfits.
  • Your flight and hotel package.
  • The reception (should be much cheaper because there are fewer guests) – you can probably strike a deal with the resort to include this in a package.
  • Photographer and their transport costs – although resorts often include this option in their packages.
  • Destination wedding planner if you’re using one to make sure you pick a good location and help coordinate the shindig.
  • Flowers – a base package is already included in most destination wedding packages.  Of course you can always pay for more, but with the beautiful beach to compete with I’m not sure folks will notice them much!

Although this list seems a bit lengthy, the actual cost pales in comparison to what many Canadians are paying for local weddings these days.  Usually places have packages for the bride and groom, but make sure that the hotel will give your wedding party and guests a package deal as well.  This is where negotiating comes into play. 

Here are some good websites to help you with your destination wedding planning:

Without trying to sound crass, the financial downside is that you likely won’t get gifts or cash for your wedding (nor should you be expecting any!) because the cost of getting to that exotic place is already expensive enough for the guests.  A good tip to save money for both guests and yourselves is to book your wedding during the mid-week.  You will be able to save on flight costs, hotels, photography, site fees, music etc.

Traditional Local Wedding:

The costs associated with a Traditional Local Wedding are as follows:

  • Your wedding dress and suits.
  • Bridesmaid and groomsmen outfits.
  • The reception: A big range of prices here depending on the location, fanciness of desired food options, and whether or not to do an open bar.
  • The venue: Again, there are a huge range of prices here, especially if you live in a large city.  You also may have to book two years in advance to secure your desired location!
  • Decorations at the reception and venue.  (I’ve been a part of way too many centerpiece conversations.)
  • Photography
  • Flowers
  • Limo rental (if you’re not using a friend or family’s fancy car)
  • Wedding Favors

Other Financial Considerations for a Local Wedding

A traditional wedding in Canada averages out to $32,000, but the flipside (again, there is no way to talk about this reality without sounding crass) is that you do receive gifts.  If you ask for money to be given instead of gifts, that can really help offset the cost of your wedding.  The wedding that I just attended this summer initially cost $20,000 for a wedding with 180 guests but after they tallied the gifts from friends and families (they requested money instead of gifts because they have all the toasters and glassware they need as they were living common law) they came out even!  So the wedding actually cost nothing.  I know some people consider asking for money to be in really poor taste, but I tried my best to explain why changing societal norms are making this more acceptable when I wrote this article on how to ask for money instead of gifts tactfully.  Emphasis on the last word there!

The other good thing about traditional weddings is that more people can come to your wedding.  If you would like to have a chance to celebrate your union with your colleagues, your boss, your friends, your extended family, a traditional wedding at home can be a great chance for everyone to get together and have fun (especially if there is an open bar lol).  The flipside of this is that whoever makes it to a destination wedding will likely stay for several days – so you can spend a substantial amount of time with them – instead of just a quick five minute stop at their table.

Traditional Wedding vs Destination Wedding: You Do You!

So in conclusion, a destination wedding is usually cheaper because there are a fewer number of guests. On the other hand, there could be a possibility that the traditional at home wedding is cheaper in the long run if you manage to convey to your large guest list that a monetary gift would be the way to go if they want to bring a gift at all (as unconventional as that may sound). In the end, it is up to you and your husband or bride-to-be to decide where you want to spend your money and what you ultimately want out of your big day.

Related: 10 Financial Tips For Newlyweds

On a side note, I can’t believe it’s “wedding age” already! In my early twenties, I used to watch TLC’s  all the time and analyze and tear over the wedding details.. and now that it is possibly coming up for me in the near future, I’m not sure I want all the hoopla associated with a wedding… I certainly don’t want to spend $32,000 on a wedding (more money than I currently have in my online bank high interest savings account), that’s for sure!

Readers who are engaged or married or even the single folks who read “Bride to Be” magazine every month… which would you prefer to do? Destination Wedding or Traditional Wedding?  Married folks, how much did your wedding cost, and were you within budget?  Please share to help future happy couples make up their minds!

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