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 samagonas—a 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.