Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Weddings Costs $27,000!" Not Really

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.


wha said...

Being myself in the process of wedding planning, I've come to a few conclusions myself about why weddings cost so much.

The people in the wedding industry are not ethical business people. They get you booked and then reveal the hidden fees, even if you think you knew what those fees where (you were wrong).

In any other situation, you would throw a fuss, bail, and find someone who could do it cheaper. But because of the limited number of venues (especially if you and your to be have several different circles of friends and large families), by the time you realize the hidden fees, the other places are booked. Because these people have the power to turn "her special day" (that you hope only happens once), you bite the bullet and go along for the ride.

I now return to the lack of ethics. These people know that they and others like them, have a monopoly on the market. Sure, you can make the food yourself, and you can buy the dresses from an online discounter or make them yourself, but there are only so many people who can make a wedding cake, and there are even fewer locations where you can host 150+ of your closest family and friends. And if you want to book one of those places, you have to use their caterer or another licensed caterer. All of a sudden you're nearing your first five figures.

Of course, you could always elope or have a destination wedding, but if you're like me, the wedding is the public pronouncement of your intentions and the meaning is lost if your slice of "society" isn't there to be a witness.

peter hoh said...

I want to see a study that looks at the relationship between cost of wedding and length of marriage.

Bubba said...

Me too. I'd love to see data on how many of the marriages that cost $27,000 and up actually make it through the first year without divorce. If you are spending this much on the ceremony, you better already be rich, or this is bound to have negative effects on your financial status early in the marriage, lead to arguments, etc.