Survey Says: American Weddings are Too Damn Expensive

Survey Says: American Weddings are Too Damn Expensive

Every year, The Knot compiles statistics from thousands of weddings in their annual Real Weddings Study, and we get to learn all sorts of things about the ins and outs of what makes up a wedding in America. While there's plenty of interesting statistics, such as how 83% of couples used a smartphone in planning their wedding, the marquee stat is cost, and for the past five years that number has crept onwards and upwards to a brand new record that's just insane when you compare it to the average wedding in Europe.

$32,641.

That's just crazy talk. No, I don't think it's crazy to spend $32k on a wedding, but I think it's madness that a number that high is the national average. Americans are spending nearly 2/3rds of their median household income on a party (with an average of 139 guests, mind you).

Why have a wedding when you could buy a boat?

Europeans seem to have it figured out. They spend an average of $5495 on their weddings. That's right, the average American wedding costs six times that of their European counterpart. Sure, everything's bigger in America, but there's more going on here. I blame the Disney Princess culture where girls are encouraged to envision their dream wedding from the moment they can walk. CNBC blames Pinterest. It's probably both of those things, along with a culture that typically sees personal debt as an acceptable away of life and does a poor job of educating our children about preparing for their futures. Sixty percent of those same frugal Europeans polled said they would rather splurge on their new house instead of an elaborate wedding.

As a photographer, I am actually a part of the $60 billion a year American wedding industry, and even I agree, as a culture, we need to rethink weddings. And this goes beyond the common complaints against couples that don't blink at $5,000 in flowers, but want a discount on their $2,000 wedding photography. It starts with this bit of advice we give to every client: "Don't do anything for the sake of doing it."

It's your wedding. Not anyone else's. You could go to the courthouse for $50 and achieve the same end-result. Ultimately, a wedding is just a party to celebrate your relationship. Don't over-think it. Keep things simple and both you and your guests will have a better experience.

Just don't forget to tip your wedding photographer.

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34 Comments

Was just married...can confirm. We did ours as cheap as we could. We didn't hire a single vendor. Our friends and family did all of the decorating. I brought my own stereo and played music from my phone. We were able to get our wedding down to around $10k (food and drinks were around 5k alone). But after you add in the ring and the honeymoon we are getting very close to the national average of 30k.

Pat Black's picture

you probably could have cut that drink budget in half if you hadn't had Nick and I there

This is true

Austin Paz's picture

lets see this peter hurley wedding photo critique!

Anonymous's picture

Dude you could've bought a really cool motorcycle for $10k.

dCall me cynical but I'd bet good money that your wife loves you just as much as she did the day before the Wedding but now we have to worry about some chick we've never met owning half of our favorite photo blog.

If you insist on getting married -- I know a few Nigerian Princes who need help getting their millions out of Africa.

Justin Haugen's picture

Unless you live in Tucson, I'm more than certain we're well below that national average, we're probably around 20k, which sounds like so much to me still

Sean Molin's picture

The average wedding in the state of Utah is "only" $14,000. Probably has lots to do with Mormon weddings and the lack of alcohol and having to pay for a venue.

My wife and I did it on the super cheap. License: $45. Cake: $150. Champagne and flowers for reception at home: $200.
I worked at a camera store so the guests were a bunch of photographers. I did my own formals with a Rolleiflex and self timer.
Honeymoon at the Del Coronado in San Diego was expensive-ish but three days only.

Jason Vinson's picture

The reception is the best part! That's the celebration where you get to see, talk, and have fun with all the people that came to your wedding.

Sean Molin's picture

Exactly. I think you're better off just getting married at a court house and then having a party!

Michael Aubrey's picture

The answer is in this sentence:

"Americans are spending nearly 2/3rds of their median household income on a party (with an average of 139 guests, mind you)."

If the story reported the median amount spent on a wedding like the median incomes, then the cost of a wedding wouldn't be so high. $32,000, as an average, is inflated by the top, high income spenders and isn't representative of what normal people actually spend. The median amount spent is going to be substantially lower.

Sean Molin's picture

I'm not sure I'm following that logic. Medium income and median wedding cost are the two factors being compared, yes? Median = average?

There are outliers in both weddings and incomes.

Michael Aubrey's picture

Medians and averages are two different ways of viewing a set of numbers.

The average is the sum of the set divided by the number of tokens, so if we have:

5, 10, 12, 12, 14, 16, 20, 90, 120, 120

Then the average would be: 44.888.

But the median is simply the middle number of the set which, for the nine numbers above, would be: 14.

In the context of wedding cost, we can imagine these are thousands of dollars. People are more likely to be able to related to $14,000 (the median) spent on a wedding vs. $44,888 (the average) spent on a wedding.

The average is really useful for somethings, but if you have lots and lots of smaller numbers and just a few really large ones, then those outliers are going to inflate a cost that normal people can relate to.

In the context of wedding photography, we can plan our business better if we know whether which number is more normal for our clients: the median or the average.

That's why it isn't really helpful to to discuss annual incomes in terms of the median (which basically disregards the ultra-rich by definition who probably aren't the clients hiring us unless we're both really, really lucky and also really, really talented), while discussing wedding cost in terms of the average (where the ultra-rich's wedding spending inflates the apparent cost of a wedding).

Sean Molin's picture

Duh, brain fart. You are correct. It's been a while since I've taken a math class, obviously. Haha.

Average US income is $72,641. Median is $51,939. The median income is probably more relevant in that discussion because of the massive income inequality. The 1% skews that number so dramatically.

In any case, even half of average income is still a lot for a party!

Michael Aubrey's picture

Agreed!

I think I spent around $7000 on my wedding.

Patrick Hall's picture

One thing to consider is just how diverse "Americas" are compared to traditional European cultures. Lee and I shot a multinational wedding in Germany and quickly realized that most Germans don't even hire a wedding photographer at all except maybe for a family photo after the ceremony. This is probably pretty common in Europe.

I know a bunch of wedding photographers in California, Texas, and NY who specialize in Indian weddings (Americans from India) and their weddings can easily be $50,000-$100,000. One of these photographers actually booked a client who paid around $100,000 just on their photography alone (with 3 separate engagement sessions equallying $30,000). Yes, Wedding photography is doing quite well in some markets!

So I guess you can say it all averages out when you compare the $200 weddings to the multi million dollar weddings but in general the "American" wedding is very diverse compared to many other cultures. Just like popular music and pop culture, America has typically influenced Europe more than European culture has influenced the US so I can totally see these stats as being accurate. However, I bet other US influenced countries are probably spending more and more on weddings as they incorporate our version of the overly resourced ceremony.

Sean Molin's picture

My thought was that in rural Europe, most weddings are very much family affairs. Most weddings probably don't have paid venues or even a catering expense. I imagine families provide both of those.

Norbert Tukora's picture

Even in rural Europe it's rare if the family brings the food to the wedding. :D :D
Venues and catering are cheap here (eastern Europe).

Stephen Kampff's picture

I'd also suspect that currency comes into play here. Polish Zloty, Croatian Kuna, Hungarian Forint - are all worth far less than the Euro, Pound and USD. Everything over in Eastern EU is generally cheaper than the western side.

35000 pln for a big wedding in Poland is about $9,000.
Here in Ireland, you'd be lucky to get the same for €25/30k.

Ngaere Woodford's picture

Doing it on the cheap is still costing me 15k in Australia...madness. I agree to spend the money in the right places. As a wedding photographer myself my fiance left me to choose the photography, as for me the photos and the rings are the 2 things you are left with after all said and done so thats where I concentrated getting what was best for us. AU$36000 was the average wedding spend here last year. And yeah the ol' can you do a discount on the photos? after the table setting has cost people a bomb, chestnut has been asked of me a few times.

Gabriel SAP's picture

I don't have real numbers, but here in Brazil the majority of wedding I photograph cost around U$30,000. I think it's a pretty high amount for a country with a minimum wage of around U$250.

Sean Molin's picture

The top-tier weddings are probably REALLY top-tier.

Also, they people who do these studies may not have any practical way to poll people without internet connections.

Anonymous's picture

I blame Religion for the pressure to get married. It's a terrrrrrible investment, you spend $50k to acquire one of the greatest liabilities a man can have.

Patrick Hall's picture

To counter this, many atheist still get married and if you do it wisely and don't destroy your own marriage there is often a big tax incentive to marriage. I'd hope after 5-10 years you would have saved more than that in taxes potentially.

Anonymous's picture

If you stay married for life it's a tremendous advantage. Just like winning powerball or getting drafted to the NBA. Chances are you'll end up paying child support and alimony to a marginally overweight women who started fucking her personal trainer while you were at work.

I'll admit, Lee might've snagged a good one but I hope you guys prenup'd her out of Fstoppers because I love articles here and I don't wanna see this blog end up in divorce court.

Sean Molin's picture

Unless being married pushes your combined income into a higher tax bracket. That sucks.

If you ask me, the government should only offer civil unions. Churches can have marriage and all the "rules" that go along with it.

Patrick Hall's picture

I believe you get the option to file separately or jointly though so that shouldn't ever be an issue. Since I'm not married I forget which is the best way to play the game but depending on if two people make close to the same income or they have a very different income there is a correct way to file your taxes to take advantage of the marriage deduction.

Michael Zawadzki's picture

I can attest that this is true, my ideal client is one that does not spend a lot on their entire wedding, but values photography. When this happens, I have the best experience, and so does the couple. They are not stressed, and are generally very easy going. The best weddings I've shot are typically low budget as a collection of parts, but without my prices being discounted. For reference, my rate starts at $3,250.

This is certainly a worthy discussion starter, and as a society I hope more people will move towards the kind of weddings I've described. Nowhere does this post say that wedding photographers should be paid less, and nowhere does it say that wealthy people still can't have their fancy gala-style venues and posh weddings, but rather that the average couple in America is really stretching themselves thin by paying for a typical wedding.

I think I spent about $3k on my wedding. Pretty sure my wife spent twice that.

The scary thing about that $32k figure is that the average Utah wedding (one every 11 seconds) probably costs under $2k. Skews that something horrible.

By the way, if anyone wants to specialize in $300 weddings, come to Utah. ;) My boss is getting married next month, doesn't understand why I won't shoot his wedding, but he knows that my wife booked me to shoot a wedding in New York earlier this month. Budgets vary greatly around the country.

Sean Molin's picture

The average wedding in Utah is around $14,000. Probably because half the weddings are $2000 Mormon affairs, and the other half are regular $32,000 ones. Ha.

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