How to Avoid Spending a Fortune on Your Wedding
A new study reveals some pretty shocking numbers.
Published Feb 14, 2018 8:00 AM
If you’ve planned a wedding or attended a nuptial celebration in the past few years, you’ll know it’s no secret that weddings are getting pricy. From saying yes to the dress to personalizing the special day with florals, catering, and entertainment, every little detail adds up.
The average cost of weddings across the US is $33,391, according to The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study—with Manhattan ($76,944), North/Central New Jersey ($62,074), Long Island ($61,113), New York’s Westchester/Hudson Valley ($55,357), and Cape Cod, Massachusetts ($55,083) weddings ranking as the most expensive in the country. And those who are “high spenders” (folks spending an average of $60,000 or more) are shelling out an average of $105,130 for weddings. The study surveyed nearly 13,000 brides and grooms married in 2017 to reveal wedding spending trends across the US.
“There has been a trend recently of more expensive weddings,” says Alia Wilson, co-owner of Firefly Events, a wedding planning company based out of Los Angeles, New York City, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “People are comfortable with far larger numbers than they were five years ago.” In the past five years, wedding costs have risen nearly 15 percent, up from $28,427 in 2012.
With one of Firefly Events’ offices based out of NYC, Wilson says that they are planning more and more high end, expensive weddings from the Hamptons to Long Island. And it probably comes as no surprise that weddings in the New York/New Jersey region are more formal affairs. According to the study, Long Island and North/Central New Jersey couples prefer black-tie weddings (41 percent and 37 percent, respectively), while couples in Montana and Hawaii are planning more casual celebrations (42 percent and 33 percent, respectively).
For the couple working with a smaller budget, it’s best to live in—or consider planning a destination wedding in—New Mexico ($17,584), Utah ($18,516), Oregon ($20,652), Montana ($20,814), or Iowa ($21,982), which are the most affordable states for weddings.
Wonder who’s footing the bill for these shindigs? The bride’s parents are contributing 45 percent of the overall wedding budget, with the bride and groom contributing 41 percent, and the groom’s parents contributing 13 percent. According to the study, per the last wedding season, 10 percent of couples paid for their weddings entirely by themselves, while 9 percent of couples didn’t contribute any money toward their weddings.
How to Cut Your Budget
Hint: It’s in your guest list.
If your response to reading these numbers is packing your bags and heading to the courthouse, know that there are ways to save. Cutting your guest list is the most effective way.
“There is no other way to cut costs more,” Wilson says. “We have seen people become comfortable with inviting less people.”
Couples in Nebraska and Iowa have the largest guest lists (212 and 206, respectively), while couples in Hawaii and Nevada are opting for more intimate celebrations (68 and 86, respectively). Fewer guests mean you’re spending less on food and beverage, along with seating, tables, linens, place settings, and florals. And with a smaller guest list, couples can be more thoughtful about how they spend their money.
“Figure out what your priorities are, and decide to be flexible about everything else,” Wilson says. For instance, get a DJ instead of a band. Or, in lieu of custom invitations, order them offline or opt for e-invites.
According to The Knot’s study, while wedding guest lists have shrunk over the years (from 149 in 2009 to 136 in 2017), the cost per guest has increased (from $194 in 2009 to $268 in 2017) as couples look to create unique and meaningful experiences for friends and family.
It’s All In the Details
“Weddings in 2017 showed us that couples are focused on guests, as we see them pulling out all the stops to create a truly memorable experience for their wedding attendees,” says Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor in chief of The Knot. “Couples are also shifting away from formal affairs to create an experience that’s truly reflective of their personalities, and infusing more unique and unconventional ideas—from their venue and invitations to food, entertainment, and more.”
With the guest experience being a top priority for couples, brides and grooms are looking to personalize their soirées in all sorts of ways. While you don’t need to go all out with a performance by New Edition, or a magical carousel like Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian had during their New Orleans nuptials, there are little ways in which you can make your wedding shine. Surveyed couples ranked cost (72 percent) as the most important consideration when planning a wedding, followed by the look and vibe of their celebration (69 percent) and personalization (64 percent).
“Experiences like slow motion or black light photo booths and interactive entertainment are on the rise,” says Firefly Events’ Wilson. Think bands accompanied by dancers, along with specialty entertainers like synchronized swimmers and doo-wap singers. Since 2009, customized guest entertainment has more than tripled—from 11 percent to 40 percent.
The Average Wedding Cost Breakdown by Category
(Based on couples who hired professional vendor services)
Category/2017 National Average Spend/2017 High Spender Spend ($60k+)
Overall Wedding (with ring, excluding honeymoon)/$33,391/$105,130
Venue (reception hall)/$15,163/$42,801
Groom’s Attire and Accessories/$286/$463
Catering (Per Person)/$70/$154
Say “Yes” to More Affordable Dresses
You don’t need to be a superfan of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress to know that the wedding dress is of the utmost priority for some brides. Last season, the average spent on a wedding dress was $1,509 (down slightly from $1,564 in 2016), with Manhattan and Long Island brides spending the most ($2,504 and $2,347, respectively). Brides in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley/Poconos and New Mexico spent the least ($1,111 and $1,119, respectively).
“There are more options than ever before for affordable wedding dresses in the $1,500 and under range,” says Wilson. “Depending on your style, I think this can be an easy and great way to save on your budget. Companies like Grace Loves Lace, BHLDN, or even your favorite shopping websites like Net-a-Porter or Shopbop—both of which have a bridal section—offer great lower budget alternatives.”
Brides are also forgoing pricy gowns by opting for secondhand designer gowns on websites like Still White, Nearly Newlywed, and Tradesy. And if you’re a bride who thinks shelling out $1,000 to wear a dress for one evening is just plain silly, there are plenty of sophisticated and trendy white dresses to rent on sites like Rent the Runway and Vow To Be Chic.
Destination Weddings Are on the Rise
Destination weddings are on the rise, according to the study: Twenty five percent of weddings in 2017 were destination weddings, up from 20 percent the previous year.
“The guest experience has started to become more and more of a priority for couples, and that is what’s fueling the want to do these destination weddings,” Wilson says. “The idea of not just having a wedding, but a community experience where the guests are getting to know each other for two or three days—that is fueling the rise of destination weddings.”
Outside of New York and California, couples are planning destination weddings in mountain locales like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Aspen, Colorado. Montana, one of the more affordable wedding states, is also becoming a popular locale for destination weddings.
“More people are coming in and renting the entire property,” adds Wilson of places like the exclusive Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. “We are starting to see that popping up in off-the-beaten-path locations.” And then there are college towns like Charleston, South Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia, which are popular for sweethearts who want to marry where they met and fell in love.
“Almost all of our clientele is destination,” says Wilson, who has noticed a shift over the past five years. “It has happened really organically.”
It should be noted that the term “destination” doesn’t necessarily imply that couples and their entourage are jet-setting across the globe to far off places—they can be a bouquet’s throw away. NYC residents are planning weddings in the Hamptons, while LA couples are aiming for neighboring Palm Springs.
The Summer Wedding Is Back
To cut costs, go with winter.
In 2016, couples were all about fall, tying the knot in September and October, according to The Knot. This past year, June was ranked as a popular month to say “I do”—thus bringing back the summer wedding.
According to Wilson, September has been a packed month for the past five years, with June and October also being popular, depending on locale. While fall weddings are big in California, spring weddings aren’t as popular because of the rain. Winter weddings are more popular for couples who are planning weddings on a shorter timeline (less than six months), and just want to get the show on the road.
“I love those weddings,” says Wilson. “There is a lot of vendor availability then, and you can get things cheaper. A winter wedding is amazing.”
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