Rehearsal dinner budgets begin with this question

Rehearsal dinner budgets begin with this question

Your son is getting married and you’ve been asked to host the rehearsal dinner. Congratulations! One of the the first tasks should be to set a budget for this event, and the very first question that must be answered is: “What can I afford to spend?” Before we talk about the number of guests, the theme or venue, this starting-line question needs to be addressed.

You may think I’m over-simplifying this as step number one. However, the more moms and brides I talk to, the more conversations I overhear and reality shows I watch, the more I respond to stressed-out mothers of the groom who stop by this blog with their nightmares and dilemmas, the more I realize that this basic question frequently (almost always?) gets buried in a tote bag full of ideas and issues that seem, somehow, more important.

Let’s stop the insanity, hopefully before it begins, by realizing now that financial investment does not equal emotional investment does not equal love. Really. I promise. Regardless of who is hosting the event, this is the beginning: what can I afford? Everything else flows from there.

When answering this question, don’t forget that while the rehearsal dinner may be one of your biggest expenses for your son’s wedding, it will by no means be the only one. You are likely to spend money on clothes, travel, food, and other small but certainly not free details that will leave your bank account lighter than before the wedding. I also recommend, if possible, having reserve funds on hand in case you have an opportunity to help the couple with last minute or unexpected expenses. You can be sure they’ll appreciate that and you will feel good about it too.

Average Rehearsal Dinner Cost

For perspective and a baseline, you may find it helpful to know that in 2013 the average cost of a rehearsal dinner ranged from $1,200 to $1,400, according to some of America’s most trusted wedding experts. reported the average cost at $1,184. reports a range between $1,198 and $1,414.

My own informal group consisting of about 40 friends and friends of friends who have been the mother of the groom, declared similar, though slightly higher numbers. A pricetag of around $1,500 was most commonly reported in our group. In the case of people that I know, this included food, venue and theme decor. I am reasonably true this is the case for the official statistics as well.

Unless your resources are unlimited, you’ll need to plan carefully and creatively to keep costs under control. Like with everything else in a wedding or life, you can spend as much as you like and it is really easy to lose perspective in the emotionally-charged moments that inevitably surround this season. Establishing limits by having a budget will make saying “no” — to yourself, vendors, or performance pressure — easier, and finding other options more appealing.

Theme and venue drive costs up

The number of people invited to the rehearsal dinner is certainly a key factor in cost, but the theme and venue will drive the number of dollars you spend up or down, way up or way down. Interestingly, among my informal group, the cost was steady and similar despite the fact that the number of guests ranged from 30 to 70. Most of the smaller events were held in restaurants. The largest (my own) was catered at the same venue as the wedding. Because there are nearly limitless options for what sort of soire this will be, the cost per person can be from nearly nothing to extravagant. It is less expensive, for example, to feed 60 people at a picnic than at a restaurant, and just as much fun. Use your imagination, the internet and the ideas of good friends when you’re needing to adjust the costs. What you spend on the rehearsal dinner is really up to you — and your budget.

Of course, you want to please the bride and groom. (Life is so much easier when you do.) As I recommend for everything related to your son’s wedding, ask the bride what she wants. Find out what theme, venue or menu she has her heart set on, and if you are able, make it happen. If what she envisions is more than you can afford, then it’s a great lesson in real life and learning to compromise. If the fantasy can’t be modified to fit your budget, consider pooling resources or writing the couple a check for what you would have spent on the event and let them prepare for the rehearsal dinner themselves or with the help of friends.

Don’t forget: this is the ice-breaker for the wedding. It is a wonderful opportunity to set the mood and flow for the event. As the frenzied wedding week calms (hopefully), and friends and family reunite or meet for the first time, your ability to be a gracious host can be hampered by the stress of overspending. Your own peace will have more effect on the atmosphere than food, flowers or any accessories. Think of this before you make decisions you may pay for, literally, for months or years.

Remember this too: memories last longer than receipts.