Published in: Research | Sept. 2, 2020
By: Christy Bieber
Weddings have become more than just a chance for a couple to express their commitment to each other -- they've become big business.
Couples budget, on average, around $23,000 for their wedding but end up spending around $30,000, with more than half of all couples increasing their projected spending during the planning process according to Wedding Wire's 2020 Newlywed Report.
With couples spending enough money to buy a car or put a down payment on a home on a one-day event, let's take a look at where this money goes, where it comes from, and who covers the costs.
According to The Knot's 2019 Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a wedding in the United States came in at $33,900. This doesn't include the honeymoon, but does include the engagement ring.
However, it doesn't tell the whole story in terms of how much a wedding is likely to cost couples, as the price tag can vary substantially from state to state as well as based on the type of wedding.
Where you live can have a major impact on how much you spend to say "I do" to your beloved.
In fact, weddings cost a whopping $33,700 more in New Jersey -- where couples have the honor of hosting the nation's most expensive weddings at an average price of $53,400 -- than in Utah, the cheapest place in the U.S. to get married (couples spend just $19,700 on average).
The extra $33,700 that Garden State residents spend would be enough to cover the full cost of an average wedding in 36 states!
Surprisingly, though, there are just three states in the country where the average cost of a wedding comes in at under $20,000 -- Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.
The table below shows the average price throughout the country:
|State||Average wedding cost in 2019|
|North Dakota & South Dakota||$29,200|
Where you live isn't the only factor that affects how much you're likely to spend when you celebrate the start of your life with your beloved. The type of wedding also makes a difference:
Hometown weddings come at a lower average cost than destination weddings for obvious reasons -- it's cheaper to stay local than to incur the costs of travel.
However, some of the extra wedding costs of a destination ceremony may be offset by a lower price tag for the honeymoon, assuming the couple celebrates in the location where the wedding was held.
It's surprising, though, that millennials -- who have faced unprecedented financial struggles -- tend to spend more on their nuptials than their older counterparts. This discrepancy could be explained by the fact that social media has played an increasingly important role in driving the price of weddings up. More than half of all couples set up their own wedding hashtag in 2019.
Sexual orientation made almost no difference at all in average wedding costs. Opposite-sex couples spent an average of $28,000 while same-sex couples spent just $500 more.
For many betrothed couples, weddings will look very different in 2020 -- and perhaps beyond -- due to COVID-19.
With most states imposing limits on the number of people attending gatherings and with coronavirus continuing to spread, lavish affairs are being replaced with alternatives, including these three options:
While shift weddings will likely retain the high average cost of more traditional affairs, microweddings and minimonies come with much smaller price tags.
In fact, one venue that normally charges approximately $30,000 for a standard wedding with 300 guests has indicated microweddings cost an estimated $2,750 for up to 30 guests or $4,500 for up to 50 guests.
While average wedding costs can provide insight into what couples are spending, they don't always tell the whole story and can establish unreasonable expectations.
By nature, averages can be skewed by some couples spending exorbitantly -- if, for example, two couples marry and one spends $1,000 and another spends $100,000, an average wedding cost of $50,500 isn't a very accurate representation of what either actually spent.
Median cost can shed more insight into what typical couples are spending, as it is the middle number in the list. Unfortunately, median cost isn't as widely available. However, a quick look at the most recent year in which median wedding cost data was published shows a substantial discrepancy between the median and average cost.
With the median coming in more than $10,000 below the average, it's likely that the average is skewed by some couples throwing over-the-top affairs while most spend a more reasonable sum.
With tens of thousands of dollars on the line, it's important to understand what couples prioritize and where this money goes.
For most couples, budget increases are driven by five primary factors, according to Wedding Wire:
The data below shows average wedding costs for different spending categories, according to Wedding Wire:
Not all couples will incur all of these expenses, and some will choose to spend far less on certain areas in order to splurge on others.
Let's take a closer look at variation in costs for some of these major categories.
Where you get married can be one of the biggest drivers of cost, as the price tag of the most expensive venues can be several thousand dollars more than the least expensive.
In fact, according to Wedding Forward, here's the average cost of different wedding venues:
Wedding flowers are surprisingly complicated, with more than 15 different types of possible arrangements to consider. Brides.com provides some details on what couples can expect to pay for some of the different floral items at their wedding.
Mixing low- and high-priced florals can help keep budget costs down, as can reusing flowers from the ceremony at the reception and choosing flowers that are in season.
Most brides dream of finding the perfect gown, but the price of perfection isn't cheap. When looking at the average cost of a wedding dress in every state, Insider DATA found that most states came in around $1,500.
In addition to the dress itself, brides may need to pay for extras including:
More than 90% of couples hired a photographer in 2019, according to The Knot. This didn't come cheap at an average price of $2,400.
However, as this data from Wedding Forward shows, the cost depends on the skill level of the person taking the pictures. Here's what you can expect to spend if you hire photographers with varying levels of experience:
For couples who want to capture their magical moments on video, rather than just on film, the average videographer comes at a price of $1,799 according to Wedding Wire.
However, most couples spend anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 with the cost determined in large part by the amount of time your videographer spends at your event as well as the level of editing requested.
For couples looking to end the night with something sweet, wedding cakes typically cost anywhere from $1.50 to $12.00 per slice, with the overall average landing at $540, according to Wedding Forward. Factors that affect the price include
Unfortunately, couples hoping that alternatives such as wedding cupcakes may cost them less will likely be disappointed as Wedding Forward reports that common options such as wedding cupcakes or cake pops carry an average price tag of $2.50 to $4.00 per serving -- on par with a low- to mid-priced cake.
With so many moving parts to make up a perfect wedding, many couples turn to a professional for help planning it all. An estimated 30% of couples hire a wedding planner to take care of some or all of the logistics, according to Wedding Wire.
While the average cost of this professional help comes at a price of around $1,500, the price tag depends what type of assistance your planner provides.
Couples have the option of choosing
Obviously, the less assistance a planner provides, the lower the price will be.
The average wedding size is 131 guests, according to The Knot. Having so many people present for your big day is a wonderful way to celebrate, but it's also one of the reasons weddings have such a high price tag.
With catering alone averaging $70 per person, every 10 people you can cut from your guest list could save you as much as $700.
A smaller wedding could also enable you to reduce the size of your venue and save on alcohol.
As many as 92% of couples serve alcohol at their wedding, and the average cost of adult beverages is approximately $2,300, according to The Knot.
With such a high price tag, it can be hard for many couples to cover the costs of the typical wedding. Many get help from their parents while others use savings or even charge wedding-related purchases on their credit cards.
The charts below show how costs are split among the couple, their parents, and other generous contributors, along with how couples come up with the funds to pay for their special event.
Percent of wedding paid for:
Here's where couples draw money from to pay for their part of the wedding:
The United States is far from the only country where couples spend extravagantly on their nuptials. The data below from WeddingWire shows the average price of a wedding around the world in U.S. dollars, using currency conversion rates as of March 2019.
The United States is the most expensive on the list by a wide margin in terms of average cost, but couples across the globe have a keen interest in making their wedding special and are willing to pay a relatively high price in order to do so.
Unfortunately, weddings aren't immune to unforeseen circumstances. (If you've lived through 2020, you know just how true this is.) Which is where wedding insurance comes in.
Wedding insurance policies cover a wide variety of items, from lost rings to injured guests.
Cancellation insurance covers the deposits you made on the venue, DJ, vendors, photography, and so on. It might also cover loss or damage of attire, rings, cake, gifts, and other items, depending on the provisions in your policy.
Liability insurance covers injuries to the people who attend your wedding.
So how much does all of that cost?
According to The Knot, you'll pay between $155 and $550 for a basic cancellation policy that covers things like rings, attire, gifts, and deposits. General liability insurance will cost about $185.
In general, $200 to $400 is probably a safe bet for the average wedding insurance. But costs and levels of coverage can vary widely, so be sure to check multiple options.
No matter how you add it up, the cost of a wedding is likely to be several thousand dollars at a minimum, even for a small affair.
Couples would be well-advised to consider their budgets carefully and make sound decisions during the entirety of the wedding planning process, including setting limits up front -- and sticking to them.
Those who are involved in the wedding planning process should likely also aim to pay for as much of the wedding in cash as possible, rather than relying on credit cards that can carry high interest rates. Charging wedding costs can sometimes add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the final price tag depending on how long the couple pays finance charges.
By taking a financially-responsible approach to their special event, couples should be better able to avoid starting their married life with the substantial wedding debt that can result from such a lavish affair.
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