We all want our big day to be unique — even if it'll cost us as much as a luxury car.

You can buy a brand new Acura ILX with all the bells and whistles for less money than the average wedding in the U.S. today.

That luxury car would run you $32,000, according to Auto Trader. Meanwhile, the average cost of a wedding is now $33,391, says the Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study. And that’s not even the highest average wedding cost in recent years.

Wedding costs are down?

If you’re shocked to learn how expensive weddings are in the U.S., you may be even more surprised to find that cost is down by nearly $2,000 from a year ago.

But it doesn’t seem like anything, in particular, got cheaper. In fact, spending per guest is up to $268, which is $70 more per head from 2009, says the study.

Instead, couples are saving in other ways. For one, more of them are ditching formal weddings in favor of alternative venues that have personal flair. Although that doesn’t mean they’re going economy-class.  Brides and grooms are glamming up the experience to fit their personalities by adding things like photo booths or even flamenco dancers.

And now that the average cost per guest has gone up, couples are inviting fewer of them. The typical guest list has dropped from 149 to 136. Then the bride and groom have to bring everyone together in one place.

The venue is still the largest cost

Almost half of that $33,000 wedding price tag — $15,163 of it — goes to paying for the venue.

What’s on the outs? Anything that reminds a couple of their parents’ wedding. Weddings in churches or other religious institutions. Receptions at hotels, resorts, and country clubs. All are on the decline.

Though banquet halls continue to be the most common place to hold a reception, their grip at the top is thin with 17 percent of couples choosing to celebrate there. That’s down from 2009 when the banquet hall was the destination for nearly a third of all weddings.

Instead, more than half of all couples decide to say their vows in the great outdoors. Barns, farms, ranches, and historic homes are all on the rise as wedding and reception venues. But some want to go out of town for their weddings.

A quarter of couples seek a destination wedding, says the survey.

That destination could crank up costs. Topping the list of most expensive place in the U.S. to host a wedding: Manhattan, where the average cost is $76,944. Cities in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are not too far behind.

On the other hand, getting married in New Mexico, Utah or Oregon, where the average weddings range from $17,500 to $20,700, could save some bucks if the destination wedding is your thing. The extra savings could be used to boost up the entertainment at the reception.

Wedding singer? Nah, let’s add a selfie station

Nearly two-thirds of couples say they place a priority on entertaining their guests, and that expense can rival the cost of the engagement ring ($5,764 on average).

Hiring a band for the reception will set you back about $4,000. Go for the DJ and you can save $2,769. But today’s couples aren’t satisfied with simply providing a dance floor.

Instead, 40 percent are shelling out for what’s called “custom guest entertainment.” This is nearly four times the amount who did in 2009.

What else they’re adding on:

  • Photo booths: 69 percent
  • Sparklers: 24 percent
  • Selfie stations or video booths: 22 percent
  • Games:  19 percent
  • Candy bars:  13 percent
  • Bonfires:  12 percent

“Weddings in 2017 showed us that couples are focused on guests, as we see them pulling out all the stops to create a truly memorable experience for their wedding attendees,” says Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor-in-chief of The Knot.

Also in the mix: fireworks, dance performers, cigar rolling stations, wine and liquor tastings, and magicians.

The soon-to-be newlyweds also embrace their roots. Cultural touches including a Chinese tea ceremony, Irish bagpipers, Moroccan belly dancers, and traditional Hindu ceremonies are all newer trends, says the wedding study. Now, someone’s got to pay for this all.

Who’s footing the bill?

Against a typical wedding tradition, more feel that the groom’s family should cover the majority of expenses.

Three-fifths (61 percent) of men and 57 percent of women say the groom and his family should pay a bigger share of the wedding bill, says a survey from SweetRing dating app.

Another 15 percent thought the costs should be split evenly. But based on The Knot’s survey, modern couples so far remain decidedly old school on this front.

The bride’s parents continue to pay the biggest portion (45 percent) of the bill, couples cover 41 percent, and the groom’s parents contribute 13 percent — on average.

Only 10 percent of couples paid for the entire wedding by themselves. And only 9 percent of couples paid nothing, relying on family to pick up the whole tab.

What’s the budget?

Most couples plan their wedding with cost as the top consideration. More than half (54 percent) begin by seeing how much their families are willing to chip in.

Some 40 percent further craft a budget after researching costs, according to The Knot. Only a third set a spending limit. Of those who set a cap, 45 percent manage to exceed it by more than $7,000 on average.

While the average wedding from the engagement ring to tossed bouquet rung in at over $33,000, The Knot identified a whole other class of wedding: Those put on by big spenders.

Big spenders commit more than $60,000 to the big day with some going into six figures. At one of these weddings, the bride’s parents are usually in for more. They’ll pay more than half (56 percent) of the affair rather than 45 percent.

The groom’s parents chip in more too, while the bride and groom typically are on the hook for less — 28 percent rather than 41 percent. Only 4 percent of big spender weddings are paid for entirely by the couple getting married compared with the more typical 10 percent for more affordable weddings.

And at a more expensive wedding, it’s almost twice as likely that the couple (16 percent) is paying nothing while someone else (9 percent) picks up the tab.

Most people when told their wedding bill will exceed $26,000 vow to cut costs, according to SweetRing. Nearly half would like to see the wedding day come in under $20,000. Cutting costs can be done without cutting corners, but it will involve negotiation and some well-crafted inquiries.

If you’re looking to save by negotiating, Debt.com offers these tips when it comes to haggling with wedding vendors.

Meet the Author

Michelle Bryan

Michelle Bryan

Public Relations and Communications Manager

Ms. Bryan is the Public Relations and Communications Manager for Debt.com.

Budgeting & Saving, Family

couples, marriage, save money, Video, wedding

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Article last modified on September 20, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Wedding Costs Are Down And Traditions Are Out - AMP.