Weddings are expensive. Everybody knows that. But how expensive? When readers asked us how much the average wedding costs, we did what we do best. We created a SuperMoney Guide to Wedding Costs.
We talked to experts in wedding planning, dove deep into the leading wedding cost surveys, and organized mountains of data into graphs that answer all the questions you never knew you had about weddings. For example:
Which states are the stingiest and which are the most extravagant when it comes to weddings?
How do wedding costs today compare with what people spent in the 1930s and 1940s?
How does the U.S. wedding industry compare to the national budget of major countries?
The answers to these questions may surprise you.
The quick answer to “What is the average cost of a wedding?”
The current average cost of a wedding in the United States is $26,720 (TheWeddingReport survey).
No, wait. The average is $35,329 (The Knot Survey).
Just kidding, the real average cost of a wedding in 2017 was $28,000 (WeddingWire survey).
Needless to say, the answer to depends on which survey you trust. In case you’re interested, the average of averages for the three leading surveys was $30,016.
However, the average is probably not the amount most people are looking for when they search for the “average cost of a wedding.” I would bet my tungsten carbide wedding ring that what you really want to know is what most people spend on their big day. And that is not the same – not even close – to the average cost.
What you’re looking for is the median cost of a wedding.
Guide to Wedding Costs: Median vs. Average
The average costs mentioned above are plugged into countless news stories as if it were a fair representation of what couples are spending. Wrong.
Neither $26,720, $28,000, or $35,329 are representative of what most people spend on their weddings.
Knowing the average may be useful for businesses preparing market projections, but it’s pretty pointless if you’re planning a wedding and want to get an idea of what most people are spending. Let’s use a simple example to illustrate the danger of trusting averages.
Say you live in a small town that has 10 weddings in the same month. Nine couples spend about $10,000 on their wedding, but the mayor’s daughter spends that just on flowers and has a total budget of $100,000. The average cost of a wedding in that town would be $19,000. But that would be nearly twice as much as what 90% of the couples spent.
The median cost of a wedding is a much more useful number if you want to know what the average couple (see what I did there) is spending on their wedding.
Household income is another good example of how the average can be deceiving. In 2016, the average household income was $73,298. However, most households don’t have that kind of income. In fact, only 20.7% of households made that (or more) a year. The median annual household, $56,516, is a much more representative amount of the “average” household.
How do you calculate the median cost of a wedding?
As you probably know, the median is calculated by sorting the data in a sample from the lowest to the highest amount and selecting the one in the middle. This guarantees that outliers don’t skewer the results.
At least 50% of the sample is lower, and 50% is higher than the median. In our small town’s example, the median would be $10,000, which is a useful and representative amount for its population.
Ok, so what is the median cost of a wedding?
The median cost of a wedding in the United States was $14,399 in 2016, according to the WeddingReport.com.
What does that mean? WeddingReport.com survey collected data from 9,298 survey samples for its 2016 report. That means 50% of the couples in the sample (4,649) paid $14,399 or less, and 50% paid more. In fact, 73.2% of couples spent less than $20,000 on their wedding. Compare that to the average cost of a wedding $26,720.
Anecdotally, I asked my hairdresser how much she was going to spend on her wedding. It’s amazing what you can get away with asking (and what people will tell you) when you mention you’re writing an article on the subject. Her budget? $15,000. Considering she lives in a midscale city in the Midwest, I think we can chalk down one for the trusty median.
Which wedding cost surveys should I trust?
We used the WeddingReport survey to calculate our median cost for a wedding. What about the other leading surveys?
Well, first, they didn’t share their median values. Second, they are wedding planning sites. That means they obtain their data from their clients.
So, even if they did share the data, it would over-represent couples who use a wedding planning site. Most modest weddings wouldn’t make it into the survey. It’s sort of like calculating the average household income based on a survey of Wall Street Journal subscribers.
What is the average cost of the most expensive wedding expenses?
If you’re planning a wedding, you’re probably interested in knowing the cost of the big-ticket items. These are the areas you can save big by shopping around and comparing prices.
The table below summarizes the average cost of the most expensive wedding items based on multiple wedding surveys. We collated the results to give you a range of prices.
Just remember that the average is not the same as the most common. As explained above, most people spend less than the average amount.
Are couples spending more on weddings?
Yes and no. It all depends on what year you’re talking about and whether or not you use inflation-adjusted figures. Look at the graph below.
Overall, we are certainly spending more money than our parents and great-grandparents spent on weddings. The average couple paid $2,240 in 1945 and $392.30 in 1935. In 2007, wedding expenses peaked at $28,732 and have since dropped to $26,000.
However, these figures don’t consider inflation.
As you probably know, inflation is the rate at which the price of goods and services rises over time. When this happens, the purchasing power of a currency decreases. In other words, a dollar in 1935 was worth much more than a dollar today because things were cheaper back then (i.e. inflation). When prices go down, it’s called deflation.
See what happens when we compare wedding expenses using inflation-adjusted amounts.
Couples in 1945 spent an average of $30,483 when you use 2017 inflation-adjusted dollars! That is more than the average wedding cost in 2017. Remember that next time grandma brags about how little she paid for her wedding dress!
Comparing wedding costs in the 1930s
It’s not easy to get statistics for wedding costs before the 1990s. The wedding industry was not as organized as it is now. So, there isn’t much data to work off of.
One study that gives us a glimpse of the wedding costs in the 1930s is a survey carried out by B.F. Timmons, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois. The report was published in 1939 in the American Sociological Review and looks at the wedding expenses of 154 couples.
Timmons’ study mainly included friends and relatives of his students. Most of the couples were from Illinois and nearby states. Therefore, the study was biased toward middle-class Midwestern couples and was not representative of the entire country. However, as mentioned above, most of the wedding surveys today also suffer from sample selection bias.
How much did Americans spend on weddings in the 1930s?
The average overall cost of a wedding in Timmons study was $392.20. That’s a lot of money when you consider the median family income in 1935 was $1,160, and the average annual household savings was $11 (source). Once you take inflation into account (see graph above), $392.20 is about $7,013 in today’s money.
Source: American Sociological Association 1939
Just as today, wedding budgets varied widely from couple to couple. One of the couples in the study spent only $7 on their wedding– $2 on the license and $5 on the officiant. That’s being frugal. On the other extreme, one couple spent $1,927 on their wedding. That is $34,454 in today’s dollars, which is close to the average cost reported by some surveys in 2016.
The big changes are in the cost of catering and renting the venue. In 1935, the average cost of the reception was $541 (adjusted), while in 2016 the average was $6,044 – once you include bar service, food service, venue, and venue rentals.
Which are the average wedding costs by state?
Tracking the cost of weddings is not easy. Cost varies widely by state, city, and neighborhood.
“My luxury client in New York City averages a wide range depending on the number of guests and location,” says Jessica Jordan, the owner of a high-end event planning company based in Manhattan. “In New York City, on average, my clients spend approximately $1,200 per guest. If my client has 250 guests, that would be $300,000. This includes everything, including my planning fee.”
Manhattan is certainly the place to open shop if you want to be a wedding planner. The average cost of a wedding in 2017 was $88,176.
But what about wedding expenses by state? The table below shows the average expenditure by state and the median household income.
When it comes to spending on weddings, Mississippi and Utah are the stingiest with $12,769 and $13,301, respectively.
Which are the most extravagant states?
New York and Rhode Island are the biggest spenders when it comes to weddings. New York stands out because, on average, couples spend 89% of the median annual household income for the state. If you include engagement and honeymoon expenses, New Yorkers literally blow a year’s worth of wages on their weddings.
Which states are more frugal with their wedding expenses?
Comparing states is complicated due to the differences in income and the cost of living. The graph below compares states by what I have called the wedding frugality index. This index divides the state median income by the average wedding cost of that state.
The states with the highest wedding frugality index are Utah (4.98) and Nebraska (4.46). Couples there spent “only” spent 20% and 24% of the median annual income on wedding expenses.
How big is the wedding industry?
In the United States, alone, weddings generated $72 billion in sales in 2016. That’s the national budget of Ukraine, Kenya, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico combined.
Take a second to let that sink in.
American couples blew in one day what three governments spend on 106 million citizens in an entire year.
How are people paying for their weddings?
At this stage, you are probably asking yourself “how are people affording these weddings?” What if you want to get married and you don’t have $15k to $30k lying around in a savings account?
Wedding expenses are usually shared among family and friends, but they are still a financial burden many people can’t afford to pay with savings alone. About 36% pay for at least part of their wedding with credit cards and loans (source). Paying for your wedding expenses with a credit card is a great idea, as long as you don’t carry a balance. Choose the right rewards card and you could pay for your honeymoon trip on points alone. 0% APR cards are another good option, as long as you pay it back before the introductory 0% APR period ends.
Getting into debt is not the ideal way to start a marriage. However, sometimes unexpected wedding expenses happen, and a modest loan can help bridge the gap.
Read this article for more information on the pros and cons of a wedding loan. This article provides 5 ways to fund your dream wedding. Avoid paying for your wedding with a loan whenever possible. But if it makes sense in your situation, this post offers a detailed guide on how to finance your wedding with a personal loan.