The cost of an average wedding in the U.S. is reportedly over $27,000, according to an annual survey conducted by popular wedding websites TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com. We wanted to know what’s driving that cost and what impact it’s having, especially on young people who may be carrying heavy debt loads from their education and struggling to find work.
Here’s what sources from the Public Insight Network shared about their own weddings, weddings they’ve attended and what they think motivates couples to spend so much.
Laura Caldwell of Garden Grove, Calif.:
It was more important for us to have a wedding that fit our personalities rather than impressed anyone. We got married by Elvis in a themed chapel in Vegas, and our guests loved every minute of it. Since we’re artists, we also did a lot of the extras ourselves, including the favors and my dress. Only one person complained about our nonconformist approach, but that was a family member who has always rolled her eyes at me a bit. That just confirmed that our approach was the right one for us!
Sariel Alessi of Allentown, Pa.:
My newly graduated fiancé and I couldn’t afford a wedding since we couldn’t find decent jobs. We’re both college graduates and we own a home we wanted to sell but couldn’t.
With the cost of daycare it’s been impossible to even think of having a wedding except in my daydreams. We got legally married and didn’t tell anyone so we could still have a nice wedding when we could afford it. It’s very difficult to deceive people so a few have found out. Especially when I changed my last name. People arrived to the hospital after I had my youngest baby a year ago looking for someone with a different last name.
The Hispanic culture is really all about the bride becoming princess for the day, and I usually am not into that type of thing but I want it just this one time. At the same time, American culture seems to respect marriages from big weddings as if they’re more legitimate. Everyone seems to secretly acknowledge this.
Julie Duran of Northglenn, Colo. (pictured above), married her husband Kyle in August 2011. She says she worked hard to keep costs down, and ultimately ended up spending about $18,000 on the day.
I grew up in a Hispanic family and weddings are big business for us. Large groups of people, great food and music is where it’s at. That’s why I was drawn to have a similar type of wedding.
But my husband and I both agreed after the wedding, we really should have had a destination wedding. It just seemed that the whole thing was for everyone else and not for us. I tell all my friends that get engaged that it’s the best way to go. You’ll spend about the same amount of money but be surrounded by those that care the most about you and be able to relax and enjoy your wedding day. Also, you don’t have to travel so far for the honeymoon!
Kelly Hartley of Herndon, Va.:
My wedding cost about $12,000 in upstate New York in 1997, so it’s been a while, and I know that cost was pretty reasonable for that timeframe. …
My parents had to borrow money from my aunt to pay for my and my sister’s weddings. I’m not certain whether my parents ever paid it off. My fiancé and I were in graduate school fresh out of college and had little money to contribute. We got married in upstate New York to eliminate travel costs for my parents and most of my family, and things there were cheaper than where I was living at the time, which also kept costs down overall.
Stephen Parker of Minneapolis:
Back in 1993 my partner and I had a lovely life covenant celebration at a local United Church of Christ church for about 250 people.
The reception was a potluck because it was built around a shape-note singing convention (and our friends do GREAT potluck). We also had a contra-dance wedding reception where the food and music were donated as gifts. The whole thing was between $3,000 and $4,000.
David Fowler of Ogallala, Neb.:
People don’t spend nearly that much in western Nebraska. My wife and I were married 32 years ago and I don’t think our wedding and honeymoon cost any more than $1,000. And, we’re still married.
But, I am familiar with the cost of weddings. We owned a portrait and wedding photography studio together for 18 years and I was a professional photographer for nearly 40 years. My first pro wedding was in 1968, so I have seen it all.
Couples don’t NEED expensive weddings … they feel they have to in order to “keep up with the Joneses.” And, many of today’s high-priced weddings are a substitute for the wedding the bride’s mother DIDN’T have. We always had a consultation/planning time with the bride prior to the wedding and I can’t tell you how many times I heard a bride say: “Just go ahead and do whatever you want, Mom. I don’t care.” In those cases the wedding wasn’t for the bride, it was for her mother.
Scott Zurkuhlen of Louisville, Ky.:
My fiancé and I are planning on combining our honeymoon and ceremony. When we return, we’ll have a reception for friends and family. It seems much cheaper, less stressful, and more fun this way.
When we began planning our wedding, we found ourselves making decisions with the accommodation of others in mind. The wedding we were planning started to look less like something we wanted and more like something that others expected a wedding should look like.
Helen Barnes of San Diego:
We got married four years ago in San Diego. We rented out a place through Vacation Rental By Owner, asked a friend (with a restaurant business) to cater, had a friend do our flowers (through a wholesaler) and bought my dress on sale at J.Crew and STILL ended up spending about $15,000.
I was aiming more for $10,000, but you have to add in tips, rentals, etc. We paid for it ourselves, but we’re older (I was 33 at the time, he was 42), so we had some money saved up. …
When I talked to my husband about how we might have saved some money by going to City Hall, he said he didn’t regret having our wedding at all. He’s right - it was totally worth it.
Amy Livingston of Highland Park, N.J.:
My wedding, held nearly eight years ago, cost just under $2,700. We invited just over 100 people (including children) and ended up with 70. The setting was a state park; the photos were a gift from some photographer friends; my dress was a Renaissance-style bodice purchased on eBay paired with a simple A-line skirt made by my mother-in-law.
The biggest expense was the food, which cost just around $1,100, including the cost of service. This also included the cake, which was THE most fabulous cake I have ever tasted at a wedding or anywhere else. (We now go back to the bakery and get that same cake every year on our anniversary.)
There were no bridesmaids, no limos, no rented formalwear, no band or DJ…and as far as I could tell, no one missed any of these things. Instead, we took our own cars to the park (we covered the parking costs for our guests), had a simple ceremony “after the manner of ‘Friends,’” let everyone wear whatever was comfortable, and had an impromptu jam session and dancing on the grass.
Stephen Thrush is a wedding officiant from Berkeley, Calif.:
I’m assisting a niece in putting her wedding together right now and am finding that even though she doesn’t come from a well-to-do family, there is real pressure to “spare no expense” for this event. I find it difficult to explain to her, even with all of my experience in helping put weddings together, that spending lavish amounts of money on this day doesn’t necessarily make it more meaningful or memorable.
Chrisella Sagers of Draper, Utah:
I am currently in the process of planning a wedding, and every time I go to book a vendor, I thank my lucky stars that I’m getting married in Utah rather than the east coast.
Where I can pay $80 with tip for a nice hairdo and makeup in Utah, the same session can cost over $400 in Washington, D.C. (I use this as comparison because I use to live there and considered having my wedding there.) Not to mention the cost of venues, dinner, dresses, photography, etc. We will likely be able to keep our wedding to about $17,000, but we are cutting out a good number of “traditional” things (rehearsal dinner, limo to take us home, flower centerpieces, etc.) and doing a lot of DIY.
Carver Nebbe of Ames, Iowa:
I’m a physician and was married to my wife five years ago. We could have conceivably had a huge wedding, but chose to keep it small and personal. We kept the guest list to family and about 10-20 friends each. We encouraged children (weddings are no fun without children). Had the wedding at a local nature center, which was not a standard venue for a wedding, but worked for our purposes and cost only $50 to rent.
I bought a suit for $500 and my wife bought a dress for about the same. (I still use the suit.) We had a simple meal, I programmed the music through my laptop and we had a great time. Our total cost was about $2,500.
What would I have done differently? There are a few people I would have added to the guest list in hindsight and I allowed a friend to do the pictures, at her request, instead of hiring a photographer and I wish that we’d hired a photographer instead. The cost may have gone to $3,500, perhaps, but I don’t think making the wedding bigger or more expensive would have made it more fun. We did it for family and it fulfilled the purpose! I paid for it entirely from my savings account.
Do these stories sound at all familiar? Are elaborate weddings adding to the debt and stress of young people you know? Who’s paying for the parties, and who’s making the money?