The Secret Reasons We're Spending More Than Ever On Weddings

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Chances are, you've read at least a few stories on the legit horrifying costs of weddings these days, and you're a member of one of two camps: 1. "Hell no, over-the-top weddings are for suckers." 2. "Fuck it, let's get the floral wall and the Champagne tower." (Actually, there's a third camp: Pippa Middleton and her $320,000 budget. We love you, Pippa, but you're a little extra.)
Wherever you may fall on the spectrum between those two extremes, there's no denying that weddings are more pricey than ever. A new survey of over 15,000 couples from WeddingWire suggests that weddings don't just cost more, but that many people are actively choosing to go the more expensive route.
According to the survey, couples typically spent $16,000 on a wedding with an average of 110 guests 10 years ago. Today, couples spend approximately $28,000 with an average of 124 guests. This is an 81% increase in price, despite only inviting 13% more people. Keep in mind that WeddingWire surveyed a self-selected crowd — folks who have access to the internet and who frequent wedding websites — but these dramatic changes in average cost are still telling.
We may be writing much bigger checks when it comes to weddings, but that's paired with the stark fact that we're not getting richer. According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS), the median household income for the U.S. was $56,122 in 2005, compared to $55,775 in 2015. (This has been adjusted for inflation.) No wonder WeddingWire also reports that engagements have gotten longer (13 months versus 8 months a decade ago); we need more time to save.
WeddingWire expert Anne Chertoff says that couples may be spending more money because they're aiming to enhance their guests' experiences. "Couples want to spend the money on making it a wonderful experience for everyone," Chertoff tells Refinery29.
We've all read about the pressure to have a "Pinterest-perfect" wedding (although Chertoff says that these days, it's more about "fun" than "perfect"), but there are a few other reasons for this boom in Champagne-taste-on-a-beer-budget spending:
Media Pressure. Just over 20% of couples 10 years ago said they felt pressure from the media to have the "perfect" wedding, while today, nearly 40% of couples feel it. This is an 100% increase. (I call this, "a.k.a. everyone secretly wants to be on Style Me Pretty.") It also does not help that there are so few resources out there truly dedicated to steering brides and grooms toward budget options. A Practical Wedding, and...? That's about it. So many blogs and other publications are all about glorifying the look of the wedding, price be damned.
Professional Help. Perhaps because of all the media pressure, nearly a third (31%) of couples are now hiring wedding planners, compared to just over 10% a decade ago. A wedding planner can help an event look and feel more polished, but tacks on thousands of dollars to the bottom line. (The national average cost for a planner is about $3,600, but you can save by hiring a day-of wedding coordinator to keep everything running on time, which starts at around $1,200.)
Pressure From Vendors. If couples are feeling like they have to perform for Instagram and online bridal publications, there's no way their vendors aren't. After all, that's how most wedding planners, floral designers, photographers, and others find their clients these days. And clients are increasingly scoping out potential vendors on Instagram and blogs.
Vendors reason: Client spends more money, wedding makes it into Style Me Pretty (Brides, etc.), more people hire me, everybody wins! (Except the client's wallet.) It makes sense then, that more couples are becoming buddy-buddy with the people to whom they give their hard-earned cash: 40% of people become friends with their vendors during wedding-planning, as opposed to 15% a decade ago. I don't know about you, but I'm more inclined to pay more when I'm working with someone I like. (But are we friends-friends? Sneaky vendors.)
I have 100% spent more money than I have wanted to during my own wedding-planning this year because vendors have cajoled me into it. Just during the past six months, people have said things like:
"If you don't spend $500 more on hors d'oeuvres, your guests might go hungry. And then people will talk."
"You NEED to get a tent, because what if it rains?!"
"Are you sure you don't need a $1,000 headpiece to go with your already over-budget dress?" (No! No, I don't!)
Bottom line: To splurge or not to splurge is ultimately a personal decision. But this event is for you and your friends and family, not your vendors, and certainly not Style Me Pretty. So be aware of the pitfalls, like vendors trying to upsell you at every turn. As savvy consumers, we have to banish the fear factor and strike a balance between Pinterest-perfect and perfectly frivolous.

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