The $28,000 Wedding… Oh really?

When you hear $28,000 for a wedding, what would you say to brides?
Don’t freak out.*

About a year ago, I was in the wedding book section of Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon and struck up a conversation with a young woman who was doing some planning for her upcoming wedding. Something she said really struck home.

“With the average wedding costing $28,000, I’m not sure how we’re going to it. We just can’t spend that much money to get married.”

This $28,000 figure is one I kept coming across. After hearing it again from the prospective bride, I decided to get to the bottom of it. Something didn’t sound right.

There are approximately 2.1 million marriages performed every year in the United States. Industry figures for the cost of a wedding, even with the recession, cite $28,000 and above as average. (The important words here are: industry figures.)

Rebecca Mead, a regular contributor to  the New Yorker magazine, took three years to investigate the American wedding scene. Her book, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, is wise and insightful. In it, Rebecca Mead says,

“If a bride has been told, repeatedly, that it costs nearly $28,000 to have a wedding, then she starts to think that spending nearly $28,000 on a wedding is just one of those things a person has to do, like writing a rent check every month or paying health insurance premiums.”

What do these figures mean? The answer is not much. Carl Bialik, aka The Numbers Guy from the Wall Street Journal, says this:

 “The so-called average cost… is a mean…. The mean is especially susceptible to a single lavish exception: One $1 million wedding put into the mix with 54 weddings costing $10,000 each would boost the mean to $28,000, although among the 55 couples, $10,000 would seem a much better representation of the typical cost.”

He further explains that the results are tallied from e-mail survey responses conducted by wedding sites and represent a tiny fraction of the bridal population. The bottom line? Those ‘average’ costs are very misleading.

But having this ‘average’ reported extensively in books, magazines, on television and on websites is persuasive. Industry professionals naturally want business and are not above appealing to a couple’s insecurity and ignorance, suggesting that a do-it-yourself wedding is ‘risky’ or ‘tacky’ or ‘cheap’.

The $28,000 wedding is nothing more than a profitable and persuasive sales pitch.

But there’s more to it than that. I really wish I could find the young woman I met at Powell’s bookstore and say to her,

“It doesn’t matter. Really and truly. Whatever you spend on your wedding is your business. There will be many who spend fifty times the supposed ‘average’ or a fraction of it – but that’s not your concern.”

In other words, don’t freak out.

The average cost of a wedding is irrelevant to what a couple’s needs might be. How much to spend and how to spend it should be determined by the customer not the wedding industry. That is the real issue. Couples can and should take control, ignore the hype, and draw on the vendors for their valuable expertise.

I’d like to give the ‘average cost of a wedding’ a quiet little burial right now and urge bridal couples to take a good squint at what they can and want to spend.

I know lots of couples who have spent wisely and avoided starting their marriage with debt. Lots of people who participate actively in the wedding preparations. They aren’t fooled by a lot of hype but recognize that weddings do take time, planning, and effort.

I’m going to end this post with a little story. A true story.

What was the most important thing to you in planning your wedding?
The location.
How much did your wedding cost?
Did that include your dress?
That included everything.
Were you happy with the outcome of your wedding day?
We loved every minute.

I had this conversation with a young couple seated next to me on an airplane. They were headed for their honeymoon. During the trip, they mentioned they had just been married and I asked them a few questions which they were happy to answer.

I was so impressed by their air of complete satisfaction and happiness. Nothing average about this couple!

Now just to underline my point. The amount my honeymooning fellow passengers spent on their wedding was satisying to them. They threw a great wedding! But their experience is theirs alone and this post is not about their budget (I have plenty to say about budgeting which I’ll save for later.)

It is about you, making your own reasoned and personal decisions.


Wall Street Journal’s Carl Bialik, aka The Numbers Guy’s article about calculating wedding costs,

One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead  is a very compelling read from a very gifted and thorough writer. You may or may not find it in the wedding section of a bookstore. Often, it’s shelved in sociology.

For a good look at the “True Cost of a Wedding” as presented using industry facts and figures go to the following site:

* Question posed by the author to the Retail and Consumer Issues reporter Laura Gunderson at the Oregonian newspaper.

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