the $28,500 average wedding cost myth

I’m not a math person. In fact, when I’m commenting on other blogs and their comment approval system uses a math problem to prove that I’m human I panic.

So that’s why until recently I’ve always believed what news outlets and infographics on Pinterest have told us all: that the average cost of a wedding is in fact (at least here in America) $28,500. Or at least that’s what the number came out to in 2012.

$28,500 is A LOT of money. That’s some people’s salary. And it really got me thinking – is that true?

Well, I don’t believe it is and here’s why:

If you want to know how much brides in America are spending on their weddings you need to look at the median, not the average.

What happens with an average is this: 9 brides have a wedding and they each spend around $15,000. The tenth bride comes along and has a luxury wedding and it costs her $150,000.  Add all those weddings up and then divide by 10 to get the average, which in this case comes out to $28,500.

But 9 out of 10 brides had weddings WELL below what the media is now telling you is the average cost of a wedding in America!

(I reeeaaallly hope my math is right on this. Someone check for me please)

So does that make the average cost of a wedding in this example $28,500? Mathematically yes, but certainly not in the way that we use and understand the word average on a day-to-day basis.

What you should be looking for if you’re interested in this sort of thing is the median. What the median is is quite literally (in Latin) ‘the middle number.’ To find that you take your data sample, line them all up from highest to lowest, and whatever the middle number is would be your median. So in my imaginary example the median cost of a wedding in America would be $15,000.

average cost of weddings in America myth

Media outlets like The Knot and The Wedding Channel periodically collect data from surveys they do where brides type in how much their wedding budget is or former brides disclose how much their wedding cost. They then average it out and get a number like $28,500.

Then news outlets like Huffington Post and Financial Times  blast that all over the Internet and people around the world gawk in shock and horror and leave opinionated comments haranguing those who choose expensive weddings or bashing industry professionals for what they charge.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not disparaging people who have expensive weddings. I had an expensive wedding. But what does get me going is when I hear brides-to-be talking about how their wedding is going to be terrible or ugly because they can’t afford near the ‘American average.’ Or when couples think that they need to spend close to $28,500 just to get married to each other. Or when people start accusing florists, wedding planners, and other industry professionals for price gouging.

That number is a myth and now you know why.

***

image via OneWed

How do you feel about the way that wedding costs are portrayed by the media? Let us know!

Comments

  1. Great post Sara! I’ve always found those surveys to be misleading especially when there are so many variables to consider. Weddings come in all shapes, sizes, and budgets so I think it’s just important to take all these numbers with a grain of salt.

  2. Those surveys are definitely misleading- always better to have the real numbers in front of you! It’d be nice if they also provided how many of those weddings had budgets of $5k-15K, $16-25k, etc.

  3. Hm, well I still think that number is pretty accurate. It is really hard to get a wedding done under $20,000. It all of course depends on so many factors, location and number of guests has a lot to do with it. A different survey done by Every Last Detail (http://theeverylastdetail.com/2012/09/27/what-does-a-wedding-cost/) goes about it a different way: interviewing hundreds of vendors from across the country and asking what is the norm that brides spend with them. She then took all the planners, all the photographers, etc and averaged those. Then took the top 10 vendors that are mostly used and added together and got $35,000. Of course you don’t have to use all the vendors and can try to DIY some things, but they are all basics. Things and people cost money, you can’t really get away from it. You will either pay someone professionally to do it, or pay yourself in the time it takes for you to try to do it on your own.

    • I LOVE Lauren’s infographic – thanks for sharing it here! You’re right about the many many factors. But I think to some degree as wedding bloggers we get a little jaded because most of what we see is on the pricier side.

  4. In Israel the average cost per wedding is so much higher :( but I guess it’s because most weddings here are for over 300 guests….

  5. I think the problem is really that there IS no average cost, just as there is no ‘average’ wedding. Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, DIY or with vendors, 300 people or 20, destination 5 star resort or home-town community center. Couples just starting their planning don’t often truly grasp this (hard to convince them sometimes that you can do anything you want, and make your own rules) and go by what their friends tell them – “Oh, I did my wedding for 10K – don’t spend more than that!” even if they just booked a venue with a 5K rental charge. Sure, 10K is totally doable… but not with a 4 course meal, an open bar, a talented photographer and a designer gown!

  6. I have to disagree – I think the number is pretty accurate (echoing Megan and Laura as to why). I actually thought more like you once upon a time, thinking that my expensive wedding (where we tried very hard to keep things inexpensive) was expensive because I married in LA, but then my brother planned his wedding in Pittsburg, which is sure to be less expensive than LA, right? Turns out, not really. Unless you are having a DIY wedding on a family farm or estate (and even then you have to rent so many things to make it work) it is really hard to have a wedding (in the traditional sense that you hire the usual vendors, have a good sized guest list, etc.)

    While I think it is important to stress to couples that you can have a wedding at any budget, you can’t necessarily have your “dream” wedding at every budget. And it is good to go into your planning with an accurate idea of what the average vendor costs and the average wedding costs, so you know how to cut costs yourself and find vendors that fit your budget. Can you have a wedding for $10k? Absolutely. But you may have to cut your guest list, forgo that designer gown, cut some vendors from your list, or elope or have a small wedding to do it.

    But I think you’re continuing an important conversation out there about the cost of weddings and how to make your wedding budget work for you!

  7. Mine was around 30K. ::gasp:: But I think you’re right in the fact that it isn’t what most people spend. The truth is that you can get it done for cheaper. You simply have to cut a few corners and stick to a budget. But you’re right… it’s totally doable to have a more affordable wedding. And I think nowadays more than ever, people are trying to figure out ways to do just that!

  8. Very good point, Sara! I’ve always thought the media overinflated the figures for shock value, but you’re right – it’s a matter of median vs. average. Plus, it’s a matter of size (hehe). But lots of people don’t have huge weddings with hundreds of guests. That really tips the scales, as well.

  9. Agreed…I have never believed any of those “averages/means”…actually I should change my statement to “I never trust averages/means” Like you said, median is more believable…more so the “mode” is even better if the data samples are evenly spread.

    Lol…did I just blab maths and stats right here?

  10. I had to laugh when I considered your “9 brides spent $15,000, and the last one went wild.” I had never considered that, but you are probably right. I should ask all of my married female friends how much they paid, but I feel a little bit invasive posing the question, especially since I’m not exactly in the market at the moment…great and informative post, Sara!

  11. What a fantastic post Sara. Brava! This is something I am constantly having to remind myself of when it comes to my big day later on down the road. What I love is looking at weddings well under the average and saying, “Wow, that is gorgeous… I could do that.”

  12. It’s always interesting to talk money + weddings! I have lived in a few different cities in the US and the amount couples spend on weddings vary significantly from place to place (as in $3000 vs. $225,000) From my perspective as a bride, when I got married, I had a budget that I had to stick to, so I paid top dollar for the things that were most important to me. After that, I got creative and made it work. From my perspective as a wedding vendor, I think it’s important to have a budget no matter the amount you have available to spend. Make a list of those things that you’ll die if you don’t have, and pay for them first. Then allocate the remainder of your budget to cover those things that are necessary, but that you have some opinion flexibility with. I appreciate so much when a couple tells me where invitations rank on their personal scale of importance, and what they are wanting to spend on them. It allows for an honest discussion as to whether or not we are a good fit. If not, I can always recommend someone who can better help them. Since we usually think of vendors in regards to style, we forget that there usually are vendors to fit every budget, too.

  13. I definitely think it depends on what the couple wants. Location is a huge determining factor and venues alone can bring up the cost. However, there are always ways around this by choosing a smaller venue, having less guests, etc. Great discussion!

  14. Really interesting thoughts and discussions going on here! There is alot that can be done for less, that is for sure – it’s why The Budget Savvy Bride exists, after all! I do think that the ultra luxury weddings drive the average up and I’d have to agree that *most* brides probably spend less than that national average. Let’s remember that multi-million dollar celebrity weddings get factored into these averages, too!! I’d love to see more data from these studies to get a better picture of things.

  15. Ha! I love this. I’m a stats girl, myself. LOL, I almost majored in stats after earning a perfect grade for the semester freshman year.

    To that point, there are actually three types of averages: mean, median, and mode. Mean is what we typically think of as average. It’s adding all items together and dividing by the number of items in the group. Median is what you explained. It’s finding the number in the middle and calling it good. For example if you have 15 weddings and weddings 1-6 have a $15K wedding, wedding number 7 has a 50K, numbers 8-10 have a 60K wedding, numbers 11-12 have a $75K wedding and numbers 13-15 have a $150 wedding, your *median* average is $50K. That is the middle number in the distribution. Mode, on the other hand, looks at frequency. Taking the example from the median scenario, the modal average would be $15K, because that is the most frequent number, even though the middle number is $50K.

    So yes, you are absolutely right! The average of anything can be derived many ways. And knowing both the method researchers use to get to an average, and why they choose as they do is crucial.

    I have long suspected that rather than looking at actual spending, wedding-cost researchers look at the cost of goods and take an average of each one and add them together. This tells us less about actual consumer behavior and more about what the market will bear (or what economists call “price equilibrium”) for each individual good or service. In other words, it doesn’t factor in a brides spending priorities and where she’ll spend and where she’ll save. Another thing that’s typically not taken into account is regional differences and the cost difference between destination and local weddings.

    I would like to see more discussion on research methodology when we discuss about “average cost” numbers. What was the sample size? Who was in the sample? Did we look at vendor pricing or bride spending? What’s our confidence level given our sample size? What region(s) were looked at? Are we looking at a perfect bell curve with equal “Lux” and “Less” spending? Where there any crazy outliers that were inappropriately included? What’s the standard deviation? {OK I’m done being a nerd, but these questions do make for more accurate and nuanced discussions.)

    Brilliant article Sara. I love the way your mind works! Thanks for broaching such an important topic. I think brides sometimes feel pressured to spend more than they have because the “average cost of a wedding is so-and-so.” Let this article free all Brides from the fear and pressure that their wedding will not be good enough because it doesn’t meet the average :-)

  16. Wow– these are SUCH fascinating comments! The “average cost of a wedding” is probably a total myth, because every region and every “type” of wedding has a totally different set of priorities and, thus, a totally different budget. I always assume West Coast weddings are super pricy; where I’m located, in a super wedding-crazed market and region on the East Coast, the “average” wedding is definitely above the national average. Tell a vendor here that you only have $30k to spend and you are low budget… and most likely will have to suffer quality to work within that budget.

    For example: my parents only offered us $30k for my wedding last fall. I work in the wedding industry, was given significant deals by friends/vendors… and we spent double that initial budget. With discounts and all. And I wouldn’t say our wedding was excessive or over the top.

    Obviously if you want to go with renowned vendors– Jose Villa, for example– you’ll spend half of this “national average” to work with him. I just can’t really fathom having a wedding for $15-30k

  17. It is possible to have a wedding under that average but you really have to do a lot of DIY projects. My son and daughter in law had a beautiful wedding for $12,000. It looked like a $25,000 wedding but we did a lot of DIY projects and I mean a lot….I’m still tired five years later…lol!

  18. This is such an important point. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of that Knot data…

    Have you seen the website http://www.costofwedding.com/ ? They break things down by region, which I think is a huge factor. They also give you the “average” cost, but then say things like “but most couples spend between X and Y amount.” Since I’m planning from out of state I’ve found it super useful in helping me decide if prices I’m quoted are fair for that area.

  19. Mine was few hundred dollars. Invited some about a dozen people over for NYearsEve party.
    Made the food. Bought a cake. Bought the wine. Email invites. It was perfect.