TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com's annual "Real Weddings Survey" reveals the average cost of a wedding each year (in 2012, it was $28,427). But it turns out that the sky-high number may not be the best way to determine what a typical couple actually pays to get hitched.
Slate's Will Oremus explained in an article published Wednesday that stating the "average" cost of weddings doesn't truly indicate how much Americans are typically spending on their celebrations. The average is found by adding up the cost of every survey respondent's wedding and dividing it by the number of respondents. So, a few extra-expensive weddings can increase the "average" cost significantly and imply that people are spending more than they actually are.
Oremus wrote that a better number to use would be the median -- that is, if the cost of every survey respondent's wedding was listed in numerical order, which number would be right in the middle? He asked TheKnot.com for the median cost of a wedding in 2012, and the answer was $18,086. That's about $10,000 less than the reported "average" cost of a wedding.
We asked wedding planners Xochitl Gonzalez and Susan Southerland for their take on Oremus' critique of The Knot's survey, and they both agreed that the national average may not be the best indicator of how much weddings actually cost, since prices vary between regions. However, they pointed out that the survey also breaks down costs by state, which does give a fairly good sense of how much vendors are charging.
"I know what the article's point was, but I think [the survey] is a good gauge to show at the top of the market there’s this photographer who's $24,000 and at the low end there's your cousin who will do it for nothing," Gonzalez said. "It's a matter of you being able to walk into [wedding planning] with your eyes wide open, knowing if this is expensive or not; if it's expensive, why is it expensive, and is it worth it to me."
In his piece, Oremus claims that vendors use the survey data to set their prices, but both Gonzales and Southerland disagreed.
"People charge according to their market. While they might use the survey for anecdotal information, I haven't met a single person who tells me, 'I will do what these studies say and that's how I determine what I'm going to charge,'" Southerland said.
Read wedding experts' top tips for saving money on your wedding in the slideshow below, and click here to find out hidden wedding costs to be aware of.
Create A Budget And Stick To It
The most important tip cited by many wedding experts is to create a budget plan before you purchase anything -- and stick to it. Wedding experts <a href="http://susansoutherland.com/" target="_blank">Susan Southerland</a> and <a href="http://www.samanthagoldberg.com/" target="_blank">Samantha Goldberg</a> agreed that couples need to sit down and figure out exactly what their wedding "must-haves" are and how much they want to spend. "If they don't have a level head and they haven't started thinking, 'Here's what I can spend without getting into trouble,' they wind up going with their heart and not sticking to it," Southerland said. And, if you follow your budget, you shouldn't have any problems with overspending. "If they have a blueprint, there won't be a reason to feel like they're going to go over, because they've been on this plan the entire time," Goldberg said (download her wedding budget tracker <a href="http://www1.hilton.com/ts/en_US/landing/gtstqut_inside.html#header">here</a>).
Cut The Guest List
By cutting the guest list, you can save exponentially on things like flowers, tables, and square footage, said wedding planner <a href="http://marcyblum.com/">Marcy Blum</a>. You'll have a better event if you invite fewer guests, rather than eliminating services like an open bar and proper facilities. "It would be much better to cut the guest list than cut the wait staff. There's no point in doing something halfway," Blum said.
Buy Discounted Gift Cards
Money-saving expert <a href="http://www.hasslefreesavings.com/">Kendal Perez</a> offered this little-known tip: buy used gift cards from stores you'd like to purchase wedding items from at <a href="http://www.giftcardgranny.com/">GiftCardGranny.com</a>. When shoppers receive a gift card to a store they don't like, they can sell the card on GiftCardGranny.com for less than face value -- meaning you can buy the card and save up to 30 percent. For example, there are cards available from 1-800 Flowers, Tiffany, and wedding dress retailers like J. Crew. "It’s a different way to save money without having to shop sales, but if you can couple that with something on sale then you’re getting even more savings," Perez said.
Don't Go Crazy With Rental Items
<a href="matthewrobbinsdesign.com/">Matthew Robbins</a>, author of "Matthew Robinns' Inspired Weddings," cautioned couples against renting too many fancy items, and instead recommended mixing in just a few special pieces with items already included in your venue. For example, rent a unique water or champagne glass to add something special to the table, or use a simple cloth from the venue for the tables and rent a beautiful overlay or runner to dress things up. "Choose wisely and consider rental items as a special accent to embellish what your venue provides," Robbins said.
Holidays are more expensive, plain and simple, said wedding planner <a href="http://www.yifatoren.com/">Yifat Oren</a>. "You might think it's easier for people to get time off work, but they'll be spending more money all around on travel and accommodations, not to mention the challenges with availability during high season times," she said.
Get On Your Vendors' Mailing And Social Media Lists
Sign up for all your potential vendors' email lists and follow them on social media in order to get the first scoop on deals, contests, and freebies, said <a href="http://www.sharonnaylor.net/">Sharon Naylor</a>, wedding expert and author of "The Bride's Guide To Freebies." You'll hear about clearance sales, "Pin It To Win It" contests on Pinterest, trunk shows and more deals you wouldn't have known about otherwise. "If you’re following them and keeping a good eye on them, you can cash in on some great stuff," Naylor said.
Do What YOU Want, Not What People Expect
Don't feel like you need to spend money on things you don't really need but feel like you have to have, said money-saving expert <a href="http://www.hasslefreesavings.com/" target="_blank">Kendal Perez</a>. Skip wedding traditions that seem necessary, like programs and favors. "I don’t think I've ever kept a wedding favor. Those things are unnecessary expenses," Perez said. "Make sure you're planning the party you want and you're not including things just because everyone includes them."
Maintain A Good Relationship With Your Vendors
Vendors will sometimes give discounts to clients they enjoyed working with and, if you ask, may agree to give you freebies or substitutions, said wedding expert <a href="http://www.sharonnaylor.net/" target="_blank">Sharon Naylor</a>. But don't forget to be nice! "You cannot be a steamroller and you can't demand it and you can't say, 'Well, I heard you gave my friend a free [food] station so what am I going to get?'" Naylor said. "When vendors don't like you you're not going to get as many freebies."
Don't Be Afraid To Explore Alternative Party Formats
There's no rule that you must have a pricey dinner or cocktail hour for all of your guests, said wedding planner <a href="http://www.alwaysabridesmaid.us/">Xochtil Gonzalez</a>. As long as you give guests something to eat and drink, that constitutes a party. Hire a food truck or consider holding a brunch on a Sunday afternoon. "If you know you have a fun crowd that’s going to dance no matter what if the music’s good and they’ve had a couple drinks, there’s no reason to force yourself to just have a nighttime party," Gonzalez said.
Register With Your Vendors
Instead of registering for kitchen supplies you don't really need, wedding planner <a href="http://www.samanthagoldberg.com/">Samantha Goldberg</a> said you can actually register for wedding items such as a videographer or upgraded room on your honeymoon. Many vendors will make cards you can put in your invitations explaining your request to your guests. "You'd be surprised -- everyone pitches in here and there and suddenly you now have this money to have something you thought you wanted but weren't able to afford," Goldberg said.