Are Americans Spending Too Much On Weddings?

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An annual study reveals what American couples spend just to get married.

— 

On March 7, 2013, XO Group Inc. released results of their annual Real Weddings Study, something I stumbled on while doing research for another writing project. This report surveyed over 17,000 brides to find out how much they spent on their weddings.

Here are some highlights:

  • Average Wedding Budget: $28,427 (excludes honeymoon)
  • Most Expensive Place to Get Married: Manhattan, $76,678 average spent
  • Least Expensive Place to Get Married: Alaska, $15,504 average spent
  • Average Spent on a Wedding Dress: $1,211
  • Average Marrying Age: Bride, 29; Groom, 31
  • Average Number of Guests: 139
  • Average Number of Bridesmaids: 4 to 5
  • Average Number of Groomsmen: 4 to 5
  • Percentage of Destination Weddings: 24%

Price tags like $28,427 or $76,678 seem very high to me. According to 2011 data (the last available), the average American household income is $50,502. Of course, finding the average salary in a society as complex as the United States—where income inequality is rapidly increasing—doesn’t say what it might elsewhere. For me personally, a wedding costing $10,000 would require me to take out a loan. I suspect most of my middle class peers are in the same boat.

To compare these sums of money:

  • Average price of a single year of college education: $22,261
  • Starting price of a 2013 Honda Civic EX-L: $22,265
  • Median rent in Manhattan (2012): $3,200
  • Average rent within 10 miles of Chicago (2013): $1,715
  • Average amount a family of 4 spends on a vacation: $4,000
  • Average weekly food bill for a family of 4: $146-289
  • Average yearly health insurance policy (2009): $13,375
  • Average estimated cost of attending a Destination Wedding (excluding gift): $1,500

I feel it’s exorbitant to pay for a wedding what it would cost to insure a family against illness for two years (this is not a defense of the high cost of insurance). For about the same amount of money, you can also feed your family for several years. I have not heard Americans feeling pleased with the price of food. But you can’t avoid buying food, and it’s unwise to go without health insurance.

A reliable car, like a Honda, is a sound financial decision—in most parts of America, a car is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s stunning to realize that, for what the average couple chooses to spend on their wedding, I could take my family of four on vacation seven times.

♦◊♦

But the most shocking statistic to me is that almost a quarter of couples expect 139 of their guests to fork out $1,500 to travel some place. According to Christine Negroni of the NY Times, author of the article where I pulled the stat, couples choose destination weddings because they turn out to be cheaper for them. When you plan a destination wedding, you can calculate that fewer guests will attend, thereby lowering the cost.

So…we calculate that some portion of the people we invite won’t attend our wedding? Isn’t that like inviting people you don’t want there in the first place? Out of what, faux-politeness? Are we spending this money because we want to celebrate sincerely with our closest loved ones? Or does all of this add up to an inflated sense of ourselves? If we don’t spend enough, will we consider the day ho-hum?

While looking through these data, I was reminded of Marriage Therapist Aaron Anderson’s article, 5 Ways Disney Films Are Bad For Married Men. I’m wondering how much of this price tag—which couples pay entirely by choice—has to do with the fairy tale fantasy he examines, the one couples bring to his counseling sessions. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m going to guess there’s some relationship.

♦◊♦

I want to offer, by contrast, the story of how my friends from Klaipėda, Lithuania got married. It took place in a village, out in the open air, and the ceremony was in a gorgeous field near a little pond, butterflies fluttering all about. The couple, along with rowdy groomsmen and bridesmaids, an accordionist and a flute player, rode from the field to the reception area in the back of a vintage wooden hey wagon. Like the pair of work horses that pulled it, the wagon was borrowed from a local farmer.

The reception was out in the yard of the bride’s father’s country house, essentially a small fruit farm. A long table—quite uneven in places—had been hammered together by cousins from the village’s available tables and boards. All sixty or so guests fit here nicely and ate a meal prepared by ten family women working together: fish and chicken and salads and potatoes and fresh baked rye bread. Most of this food was prepared using whatever was growing in the village’s gardens or forests, swimming in the nearby lake or squawking about yards.

Well over fifty liters of vodka were consumed, probably over 100 liters of beer, several cases of champagne and several jars of samagonasa good quarter of this booze had actually been brought by the guests. People danced to accordion and flute jams, later to a cacophony of rhythms played on empty samagonas jars, champagne bottles and naked bellies. According to tradition, the sweat lodge was fired up by midnight, and guests went skinny dipping in the pond. (Prudes relax, this is something normal on any random weekend in the Lithuanian countryside.) People crashed wherever they could: in barns, attics, on benches and piles of hay.

The wedding was not an expression of opulence, gourmet tastes or of anyone’s access to credit. Yet there was nothing ho-hum about it. Any random person would have understood the purpose: Let’s get together and celebrate the sincere love of these two people, and let’s have a damn good time doing it, explode with joy. We’ll use whatever’s at our disposal. And we’ll do it a just a few miles down the road, a place most anyone we care about can reach easily.

 

Photo by bradleygee.

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About Gint Aras

Gint Aras has two decades of experience teaching, over ten of them in a Chicago-area community college. He writes a weekly column, True Community, about young men and education. His writing has appeared in St. Petersburg Review (forthcoming, 2014), Antique Children, Criminal Class Review, Curbside Splendor, Dialogo, Šiaurės Atėnai and other publications. He's a photographer and the author of the cult novel, Finding the Moon in Sugar. Check out his website, Liquid Ink. Follow Gint on Twitter @Gint_Aras and "like" him on Facebook.

Comments

  1. I am highly dubious that the typical couple are spending such sums on a wedding. While the average wedding may indeed cost such an amount, what we really need to know is how much the median cost of a wedding is. Let’s not forget that the average will be dramatically skewed by however much the most recent Kardashian wedding will have cost.

  2. I remember my wedding in 1984 cost $2000–and we naively thought it was very opulent. My then-brother in law later told us that he would have rather seen us spend the money “on a side of beef” than that “silly wedding”. At the time, it really hurt my feelings, but now (long since divorced and almost thirty years later) it makes more sense to me as I struggle to make a living.

    I love the idea of a wedding, but I hate the idea of starting off a marriage in debt from the wedding.

    If I were to get married now, I would have a celebration that was in tune with my (our) finances.

  3. Weddings have become spectacle. If only we paid as much attention to the marriage portion of the program.

    • Considering that most couples have had sexual relations and cohabited, perhaps even had children for some time before marrying, and marriage is increasingly approached as something that you slide into by degrees, the wedding, unsurprisingly, becomes the focus of a much larger portion of the expectation and planning.

  4. My husband and I eloped just pastor us and the maintenance men who served as our witnesses. Entire wedding including license, dress and hotel stay was under $500. DH’s family through as a party at a local restaurant costing $1000 in 1998. We had my family over for a cook out. Have never regretted it not once. We were telling our story to my husband’s niece and new husband after their $40k wedding. They looked at us like we were nuts. After two years of marriage they downsized to a one bedroom apartment from a two because they still don’t have a down payment for a house. Hmm.. I’m wondering which one of us is nuts.

  5. Did anyone mention the cost of bar/bat mitzvahs? Same like weddings, I suppose…

    Has anyone done a study on the lavish cost of a wedding in relation to its longevity? I have been to quite a few fancy affairs and have been quite surprised to see some of these marriages end up in smoke so many years later….

  6. Yesterday, unwell, I had a TV day. It was mind numbing, but at the same time fascinating … There was on one channel alone two wedding movies in the afternoon. Bride Wars and Leap Year. (oh dear to both!) On the other channel was ‘He’s Just Not That into You’ (which was, not bad, it has to be said) .. but ultimately it’s a movie about getting hitched. But flicking thru’ the other Sunday movies on offer .. that was the answer to all the endings!
    Living in Europe – we see the US from the outside – so it’s different (and vice versa of course). Sure the world over gets married – but the Hollywood preoccupation with wedding movies – or sole solution happy endings – to be married – just comes off as bizarre. (And ripping the sole out of good actors too.) But more .. it puts that huge subliminal social pressure on people, thinking that the whole Overspend, Cinderella dream is what has to be bought into – to be happy.
    I know a RomCom is a great excuse for IceCream Popcorn day, and we all love a sick day in front of the TV. But actually, a lot of people watch what their fed and then go on to think it’s real (look at Fox News, people actually believe that stuff!)
    From the outside … It’s like the American dream is to go to a school in 90210, join a Frat and (if you’re not eaten by a Vampire) get married … There’s like nothing else on offer.
    Once again .. we gotta be careful what we buy into. Break out of the hypnosis machine. And be an individual. Especially in Love… it’s precious. Not prescription.
    Happiness is connection. Not to a Checkbook, the top Jock and a Vera Wang wedding dress, but to each other. And there’s no price on that ..

  7. John Anderson says:

    I personally would rather have the down payment for a home than spend the money on a wedding, since I already have a home it might not be as important. At age 30, they may already be somewhat established and feel that they can splurge.

    A friend of mine was invited to a Filipino wedding. He was amazed at the amount of money spent. I told him that I’ve been to a few especially of family member and it’s not unheard of to spend over 40K, but it’s not just the couple. There are usually several sponsors each kicking in 1 or 2K, the parents help out, etc. I contributed $200 to a girl’s cotillion once.

    It’s a good thing you didn’t mention how much money is spent on a bachelor party. That could run several thousand dollars as it is, but I guess if people are stripping off at the wedding, that could reduce that cost too. :)

  8. I was looking for a small-ish wedding with close friends. My wife’s family didn’t feel that way. Damage to the tune of $100,000, but hey, the in-laws’ hearts want what the in-laws’ hearts want. I was just the groom.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      LOL Zack …. my daughter’s wedding didn’t cost that much but for me, the $30K+ was a lot for my check book. But my wife and I eloped 38 years ago and total cost of the church, supermarket cake and coffee, our clothes, we may have inched upward toward $200. My wife and I have no regrets but it was for damn sure my wife wasn’t going to let her daughter get married the same way. We paid for the wedding, they saved and bought their house …. It all worked out in the end.

  9. Yep. Pretty much. People spend way too much money on these weddings and not enough focusing on what it all means, the significance of what is being celebrated, about how to strengthen their partnership. Weddings are a madhouse industry in and of themselves. It’s sad that that gets lost in what a marriage means.

  10. catherine Stukel says:

    Karolis:

    Remind me to show you a text message I sent to someone yesterday. It was about this VERY topic. I totally agree. Wbat ever happened to gold bands and bath towels?

    Geez.

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] Leave a Comment Tweet This comment was on G+ by Joel Ferris in response to the post “Are Americans Spending Too Much on Weddings?“  We woke up Monday morning and said “Let’s get this over with.” Got our license that [...]

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  4. […] Gint Aras, Marriage Editor for Good Men Project, posted an article presenting some staggering statistics of the average cost of weddings. Apparently, people in the U.S.  spend an average of approximately $28,000 for their wedding. […]

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