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We all want our big day to be unique — even if it'll put us thousands of dollars in wedding debt.

5 minute read

You can buy a brand new $32,000 Acura ILX with all the bells and whistles for less money than the average wedding in the U.S. today [1].

Nearly three-quarters of couples are going into wedding debt, according to a Student Loan Hero survey [2]. Of those soon-to-be newly-weds, 61 percent plan to use credit cards. Most couples can’t afford a wedding without debt, and it’s no wonder they have to go into the red when they’re spending an astronomical $33,391 on their weddings, according to the Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study [3].

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 [4].

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.

In Manhattan, weddings cost an average of over $78,000. Here’s a look at what weddings cost across the U.S.

wedding costs

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 [5].

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.

In sickness and in health — and in wedding debt

Costs after the wedding tend to linger as well.

The average unmarried American has roughly $40,000 in debt, which seems like a lot. At least until one considers that the average married American owes more than $86,000. When those without any debt are factored, out the gap increases further: The average married person in debt owes more than $120,000, compared to the $61,580 that the typical single borrower owes.

Much like the amounts owed, the types of debt that married and unmarried people carry differs as well as priorities shift. While unmarried Americans are more likely to owe on student loans and credit cards, spouses tend to have more car loan and mortgage debt.

Have the day of your dreams while saving for happily ever after

It costs a minimum wage worker more than two-years salary to afford getting hitched [6]. But it isn’t necessary to go through all the glitz and glam to have a special day with the people you love.

Most of the cost of a wedding lies in the details, so by getting to work on some DIY projects, you can cut the costs. For example, instead of renting table cloths from your venue, have a craft night and make some.

Many decorations such as lanterns, centerpieces, canopies and more can be made with a few items from the Dollar Tree, or recycled items around the house.

As far as the dress goes, some aspects such as the veil and sash can be made with fabric you can buy at a craft store instead of spending hundreds of dollars on something designer.

You don’t have to be forever in debt to have your happily ever after. For tips to avoid spending more than you have, check out Debt.com’s in-depth guide How to Save Money on a Wedding.

If you’ve racked up credit card debt from your big day, Debt.com can connect you with credit card debt experts.

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Cameren Boatner contributed to this story.

Updated on: June 19th, 2019

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About the Author

Michelle Bryan

Michelle Bryan

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

Published by Debt.com, LLC Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Wedding Debt is Up And Traditions Are Out - AMP.