It has been widely reported that the average cost of a wedding is above $27,000. This is the consensus of several widely used websites, the knot.com, costofwedding.com, and Conde Nast Bridal Media online. However, when individuals are surveyed about how much they think weddings normally cost, the average is about $15,000. My student Brittney Hertog examined the methods used to arrive at these two figures to figure out why there is such a discrepancy. She relied especially on a report in The Wall Street Journal by Carl Bialik.
On the side of the higher figure is the fact that the websites rely on reports of actual costs of weddings, rather than the guesses of a varied group of people, some with little experience of real or recent weddings. All of these websites counsel brides to prepare for sticker shock when they start to price wedding items, and to plan on spending at least 50% more than they first expected to. One of Hertog's biggest ticket findings is that hotel charges for hosting receptions normally start at $10,000, a platform to which costs are only added.
On the side of the lower figure, though, is the fact that the websites rely on professional wedding suppliers -- people who sell dresses, flowers, cakes, rings, invitations, catered receptions, etc. This leaves out homemade weddings. If a couple have an open wedding at their church, reception to follow in the fellowship hall, dress made by the bride's friend, and food made by the family, the total cost will be way under the official average, or even under the normal guess. Such weddings do not figure into the denominator of the websites' calculations, because they do not consume the professional wedding supplies that those calculations are based on.
Moreover, as Bialik argues, median cost is a more realistic indicator than average cost. A few megaweddings, averaged in with a large number of normal weddings, can pull the "average" cost way above what most people will experience.
There is a further reason that the high average cost figure is so often used: it makes the average bride feel thrifty. If she, and those helping her plan the wedding, know that $27,000 is the average cost, then they can feel they have achieved real savings if they spend only $17,000 - even if that is actually more than what most weddings actually cost.
I think spending $27,000 on a wedding is ridiculous. That should be put to the downpayment on a house. It is helpful to know, therefore, that this is a very misleading number, and is should not be used to guide your (my students', my daughters') own wedding plans.