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Wedding bills: $28,427 to get hitched

That's a 5.2% price hike over last year, which may mean increased confidence in the economy. But do we need to spend so much?

By Donna_Freedman Mar 12, 2013 11:24AM
Logo: Wedding ring (Jamie Grill/Photolibrary/Photolibrary)It doesn't have to cost a lot to get married, but we sure do like spending money on weddings.

According to's annual "Real Weddings Study," the average couple spent $28,427 to get hitched in 2012.

This amount does not include the cost of a honeymoon, by the way.

That's a 5.2% increase from the previous year, which isn't surprising: The cost of just about everything has gone up.

But site co-founder Carley Roney thinks there's another reason.

"Couples are increasingly less concerned with the economy and are comfortable investing more than ever in the once-in-a-lifetime experience of planning their wedding and making it a fabulous experience for their guests," Roney said in a press release that accompanied the study results.

The study also notes that the average wedding budget did not increase between 2008 and 2010. Anybody but me remember what was happening during those years? And what's still happening to plenty of Americans?

Some startling numbers

A site called The Wedding Report came up with a slightly lower figure: $25,656 excluding honeymoon, an increase of less than 1% over its previous year's amount. However, that site surveyed only 5,650 women versus's more than 17,500 brides.

I suppose I should be delighted that consumer confidence may be on the rise. However, I think that spending so much could smack of overconfidence -- the feeling that things will always go your way.
Maybe they will. But you could certainly help them along by being intentional about your spending. The wedding-cost breakdown from includes items like: 
  • Engagement ring, $5,431; wedding gown, $1,211.
  • Wedding planner: $1,847.
  • Ceremony site, $1,711; reception venue: $12,905.
  • Rehearsal dinner, $1,135; catering, $63 per person; wedding cake, $560.
  • Ceremony musicians, $554; reception band, $3,084; reception DJ, $988.
  • Photographer: $2,379; videographer, $1,619.
  • Flowers/decor: $1,997.
Alternatives exist to some of the "average" expenses cited. If you go to a church that doesn't charge members for use of the facility, you can save a ton (especially if there's space for the reception on the premises). Perhaps you can buy your gown secondhand ("Worn only once!"), or even lease one from a site such as Rent The Runway. College music majors are often willing to sing or provide chamber music for the ceremony.

Some couples skip the band and/or disc-spinner in favor of smartphone apps like "Wedding DJ." More and more people are using e-vites (some of which are free) instead of paper invitations.

And remember, the job of "wedding planner" is a fairly recent invention. People were getting married long before someone was willing to charge money to help you obsess over just the right color for the save-the-date cards.

Fairy tales cost money

I can hear the entitled wails now:

But it's my special daaaaay

It has to be perfect!

I want the fairy tale!

Isn't that how we got ourselves in trouble in the first place -- by willing and total immersion into a consumeristic mentality? By coveting more than we could cover?

Put another way: The average U.S. income is $39,959, according to the Social Security Administration. That average citizen would have to spend 71% of a year's pay on an "average" wedding.

Obviously it's up to you to decide whether the fairy tale is worth it. But letting the wedding industry decide what you "need" for your nuptials is like asking the barber if you need a haircut.

How many months (or years) do you want to spend paying for one day? And couldn't that $28,427 have bought you something a little more lasting?

After all, you'd still be married even if you spent just one-fourth of that amount. Would you willingly pay more than $21,000 for a wedding DVD and a few albums of photographs?

Got any tips for keeping wedding costs at a reasonable level?

More on MSN Money:

Mar 12, 2013 12:07PM
I spend 100 on candlelight  weading in a chapel ,very nice 40 on  small cake ,50 on dress and 60 for  a simple ring after 12 years still wear the same ring . we cook for same close friends and relatives and I am very happy about my decision. People go on debt, $ that they can use for other things.
Mar 12, 2013 1:41PM
Fools and their money are soon parted.
Mar 12, 2013 1:46PM

Wedding + dress + dinner + honeymoon = $3500. Got married at a butterfly sanctuary, so plenty of flowers. Didn't get a wedding cake, as I've noticed they look better than they taste. All the guests could pick their own dessert. No DJ, just a nice little dinner in a private room. Far less stress than what my sister went through (for $30k and it lasted 2 years), and we had money to put down on something more permanent than a few hours' worth of party and food - a house.

Mar 12, 2013 1:26PM
I spent $75 on the magistrate and the license.  Worked well for me.
Mar 12, 2013 2:05PM
you must be kidding..28K is a downpayment on a house! too much concern about
a lavish wedding and less concern about the relationship...would never spend
that in a million years!
Mar 12, 2013 1:42PM
Great article. It's the marriage that counts, not the wedding, and unwise spending/financial stress take a toll on marriages. Spend a generous $5,000 and you'd have a nice downpayment (or extra payment) on a house. We Americans are over the top in spending on luxury and "perfection" in just about every area of life.
Mar 12, 2013 1:51PM
Our daughters both had lovely weddings in chapels that were very inexpensive to rent, with receptions at local restaurants. We provided great meals, beer and wine. One wore a dress she found on a clearance rack and the other bought hers online from a site where owners had cancelled their plans after buying a dress - $150 for a brand new $1500 dress. My MOB dress cost more than her wedding gown! We bought flowers in bulk and I did the arrangements for the weddings and receptions, and for Wedding 2 the bride did the bridal bouquet and bouquets for her attendants with roses she bought in bulk - they were gorgeous. For Wedding 1 we hired a chamber ensemble for music; for the other one, the chapel organist played for only about $100. We did all the planning and organizing ourselves, and ordered invites, save-the-dates, etc. online. We had saved $10,000 for each wedding, and each daughter saved enough by being reasonable to get a sizeable check for the difference to use as a down payment on a home, pay off student loans, or whatever they needed to help them get started in their new lives without debt. Needless to say, neither was a bridezilla, determined to have everything she and the wedding marketing machine could imagine. 
Mar 12, 2013 1:48PM

When I got married in 2007, we spent under $2000.  And half of that was for a professional wedding DJ.  We had an outside wedding in a park and paid very little for a reception hall.  Our families made the food, so we didn't have to pay for catering.  That also allowed us to have a far greater selection of food than a catered wedding has, so everyone could get food they would enjoy.  The rerhearsal dinner was pizza.  All of our guests had a blast and so did we.  You don't need to waste money to have a great wedding and reception.


A low cost wedding is usually far more enjoyable for guests than a super expensive wedding.  When you spend so much on a wedding, you lose the relaxed atmoshere.  It loses the friendly and fun feeling and becomes more rigid.  That doesn't make for much enjoyment.  Sure, there will be the few who just love all the glamour without caring about anything else, but most people just feel that it becomes stuffy when you go all out.

Mar 12, 2013 1:58PM
Is it just me or are wedding cakes the worst tasting thing ever? And they get more elaborate and expensive year after year.

"Couples are increasingly less concerned with the economy and are comfortable investing more than ever in the once-in-a-lifetime experience of planning their wedding "


By "couples" he means "women"

Mar 12, 2013 2:28PM

I especially like this part:

"I can hear the entitled wails now."


I refuse to spend that much on a wedding, but my June wedding will be classy and fun!

I would much rather focus on my marriage and having fun with family and friends.


-I'm my own planner.

Mar 12, 2013 1:55PM
I keep seeing this $25K+ statistic and have to wonder who they polled and what they had in common.  Average cost of a wedding using a coordinator, maybe?  I don't know anyone who spent that kind of money on their wedding.  I know I sure didn't! 
Mar 12, 2013 2:00PM

Unless you are wealthy its wrong to have a large wedding where the couple have to go into debt. I have heard of weddings where the couples divorced within a few months of their expensive weddings. They still had to payoff this debt.


The most important thing after the wedding is that the couple learn to live together happily.

Mar 12, 2013 2:36PM
I often wonder if all that money spent on weddings would be better spent on premarital relationship counseling that covers all aspects of life (finances, emotions, unhealthy patterns, etc.).


My husband and I have been married 18 years, we had a vey simple, simple wedding. Held in my in laws back yard, with a 100 guest, everyone brought a dish, friend of my brother in law provided a keg of beer, $300 for bride, groom and flower girls attire, $ 300 for the cake and $200 for the band and $200 for the honeymoon, lol.


There is no reason to spend thousands and thousands of dollars, that does not make your marriage matter or successful, and no debt to anyone.

Mar 12, 2013 4:46PM
My wife and I had been dating for six years. Two of those we were living together. I was working midnight shift and had got home about 8:00 that morning. I was watching her sleep and thought to myself God I love this woman so much. I woke her up and said will you marry me? She got dressed, I changed clothes, and we headed to the courthouse. Filled out the paperwork and the JOP married us on the spot. I won't ever forget I ask him how much do I owe you. He said I have no set fee just whatever you want to give. I had $9.93 left in my pocket I swear on my Mothers life, and gave it to him. That was 17 years ago. Every anniversary we laugh when I ask her can I have my 10 bucks back. She is just as beautiful today as she was that morning. Love you baby! 
Mar 12, 2013 2:25PM
I'd rather elope, then spend the money on travelling the world with my new spouse.
Mar 12, 2013 2:35PM
Having never been married, I get the idea of wanting the fairy tale...but isn't it far more important to have fun? You can do that for a LOT less the almost 30K! A canopy in someone's yard, family style catering at $20.00 per person, an inexpensive cake.  Flowers can be done by students at a local community college, just like musicians.  Get creative! Invite all your freinds and family.  Down the road, THAT will be what's remembered! 
Mar 12, 2013 1:57PM
An amazing wedding doesn't have to cost a fortune.  We are going to San Francisco for vacation.  While we are there, we are spending $300 for an officiant, $1200 for a photographer (could have paid less, but I LOVE their photos), I spent $200 for a dress. We are going to have a beautiful wedding, on a beach in San Francisco for under $2000.  Under $3000 if you include our vacation/honeymoon costs (flight, hotel, ect.). 
Mar 12, 2013 1:55PM

Star t a marriage in debt? Silly! No wonder divorce rates are so high. Not only that but most people that go to weddings dont even want to go. They feel obligated. I recommend getting married on a cruise. Invite guests on a 3 day cruise at their expense. Any family members or close friends who truly cant afford it, you can help. Easiest way to weed out those that dont want to be a part of it. At the end of the weekend send them all home happy and then continue on your own honeymoon. I'm sure you will have saved a fortune, and you havent hurt the feelings of those that didnt go because the option was there for them. 


For inlanders, you can substitute a cruise for something closer.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.