Weddings are expensive. Everybody knows that. But how expensive? We talked to experts in wedding planning, dived 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 the costs of weddings today compare to what people spent in the 1930s and 1940s?
- How does the dollar value of 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 wedding cost in the United States is $20,286 (The Wedding Report survey).
No, wait. The average is $19,000 (The Knot Survey).
Just kidding. The real average price of a wedding in 2020 was $28,000 (WeddingWire survey).
Needless to say, the answer depends on which survey you trust. In case you’re interested, the average of averages for the three leading surveys was $22,428.
However, the average is probably not the amount most people are looking for when searching 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 they were a fair representation of what couples are spending. They’re not.
Neither $26,720, $28,000, nor $35,329 is representative of what most people spend on their weddings.
Compare that with the cost of remodeling a kitchen.
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 each of their weddings, but the mayor’s daughter spends that just on flowers and has a total budget of $100,000. The average price 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 2018, the average household income was $89,930. However, most households don’t have that kind of income. The median annual household income, $68,703, is much more representative of the “average” household.
Find out what it takes to be considered rich nowadays.
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 skew 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 survey.
What does that mean? WeddingReport.com 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 weddings. 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 price tag for the most costly wedding expenses?
If you’re planning a wedding, you’re probably interested in knowing the cost of the big-ticket wedding services and items. These are the things you can save big on by shopping around, comparing prices, and planning your wedding budget well, depending on your priority list.
The list below summarizes the average price tag for the most costly wedding expenses based on multiple wedding surveys, including WeddingWire and the Association of Bridal Consultants. We collected 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.
A rule of thumb is to always check the rates of wedding vendors in your area and compare their prices. The whole wedding planning process might drain you on your big day, so you can opt to hire a wedding planner, either a full-service wedding planner or just a partial planner. Full-service planners can help you with almost everything, from hiring wedding vendors and negotiating vendor prices to entertaining your guests, depending on the terms agreed upon.
Added to these, of course, are various lower-cost items. A few sample items and their costs are the following: hair and makeup, $150–$600; wedding cake, $300–$700; and Tuxedo rental, $100–$199.
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 had 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.
In terms of 2017 inflation-adjust dollars, couples in 1945 spent an average of $30,483! Remember that next time grandma brags about how little she paid for her wedding dress!
Comparing average 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 then as it is now. So, there isn’t much data to work from.
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 looked 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 average for 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 The Knot’s 2019 Wedding Study.
The big changes are in the cost of catering and renting the reception venue. In 1935, the average cost of the reception was $541 (adjusted), while in 2019, the average was $10,500 — once you include bar service, food service, and venue rentals.
What 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 set up 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, spending $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” 20% and 24% of the median annual income on wedding expenses.
How big is the wedding industry?
In the United States alone, the wedding industry market size is $73.3 billion in 2021. 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 four 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 them 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.
FAQ on Wedding Costs
How much does the average wedding cost?
The average cost of an average wedding is $30,000. That’s incredible but understandable when you start adding up all the “standard” wedding costs. After paying for a venue, rings, a wedding dress, food and alcohol, and all the other things that make up a wedding, it’s pretty hard to stay frugal.
How can you save money on a wedding?
If you want to save money on your wedding, start that process with these seven tips: avoid Saturdays, invite fewer people by trimming the guest list, check for hourly rates for professionals, get creative about wedding reception dining, have the ceremony and reception at the same venue, bake your own wedding cake if you have the skillset, and do your own hair and makeup. And the biggest wedding budgeting mistake you can make is not keeping track of your expenses.
Why do wedding venues cost so much?
Yes, one of the most important decisions factoring into the wedding ceremony is location. Here are the top five most expensive states to get married in, based on 2019 statistics: New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York., Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
How much should your wedding venue cost?
According to a recent survey of brides, couples spend between $12,343 and $14,006 on average for their wedding venue. This cost includes location fees, food, drinks, and incidentals like tables, chairs, and linens.
Who typically pays for a wedding ceremony?
Traditionally, the bride’s parents are responsible for covering the largest portion of the budget, including invitations, flowers, photographers, transportation, and both the ceremony and reception venues.
Andrew is the managing editor for SuperMoney and a certified personal finance counselor. He loves to geek out on financial data and translate it into actionable insights everyone can understand. His work is often cited by major publications and institutions, such as Forbes, U.S. News, Fox Business, SFGate, Realtor, Deloitte, and Business Insider.