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The Real Cost of Getting Married

It seems that Americans have altered the age-old wedding rhyme, ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ in favor of something to the tune of ‘something new, something new, something new, something blue.’

The latest statistics suggest that Americans are spending more than ever to tie the knot.

According to the 2016 survey from XO Group, parent company to The Knot, of married couples in the United States, the average wedding cost $35,329 in 2016—and that doesn’t include extras like an engagement party or the honeymoon, which bring average costs closer to $45,000. For perspective, that’s just $10,000 less than the real median household income in America.

We’ll dive into the different average costs of getting married, from the rock to the honeymoon.

Will you marry this ring?

Many American (and increasingly Chinese, and Indian, and Japanese) men hoping to get hitched with a female partner take at face value that a diamond ring has become a rite of passage.

To be sure, diamonds are a relatively recent phenomenon when it comes to getting married. The hype in America originated from brilliant (pardon the pun) marketing campaigns starting in the 1940s by De Beers, the company that not only changed America’s (and the world’s) perception of diamonds but also controlled every aspect of the South African diamond supply chain for decades.

Between the slogan “A Diamond is Forever” and the arbitrary ‘two months salary’ rule, De Beers portrayed diamonds as everlasting (not true—diamonds are easily chipped, shattered, etc.), valuable (when they are in fact far less valuable than other high-end gemstones), and rare (also fictional).

Today, the average American spends $6,163 on a new diamond engagement ring, according to the XO survey. But, as with all wedding costs, this could vary widely.

A De Beers classic one-carat solitaire ring is priced from $12,500, while two-carat rings are more than $40,000. If you get a vintage ring, what you pay could be far less than average price. (And if you’re already feeling the squeeze, don’t worry diamond rings are growing less trendy, according to The Economist.)

Read more: Until Death Do You Part: Marriage and Student Loans

Once you’ve made the purchase, you might also pay for insurance in case anything happens to the ring—this typically costs between 1-2% of the jewelry’s value per year. For that two-carat De Beers, that’s $800 per year or $16,000 after 20 years of marriage.

This phase of costs isn’t over with the ring, though, as engagement parties have become a common affair for newly betrothed couples. On the lower end, expect to pay a few hundred dollars (likely the case if you’re providing your own venue and nibbles or casual food), whereas a bigger production can creep into the thousands (or even tens of thousands).

Adding Up the Costs

Assuming getting engaged hasn’t emptied your bank account, it’s time to pull out the checkbook (or consider a personal loan if you need to dip into credit) to handle the expenses of the actual wedding.

The most recent statistics show that the average couple contributes 42% toward expenses, while 10% of couples pay for the entire wedding themselves. Here is a snapshot of some typical costs and what they averaged in 2016, according to the XO survey:

Reception Hall $16,107
Ceremony site $2,000
Flowers and decor $2,500
Wedding cake $582
Catering $71/per person
Wedding photographer $3,000
Wedding planner $2,000
Wedding insurance $150-550
Marriage license $35-108
Officiant $278
Pre-nup $2,500


The biggest and most variable cost—and one that largely depends on how many guests you plan to have—is food and drink. Catering is typically charged on a per-guest basis, with the average estimated to be $71 per person. For a 141-guest wedding (the average wedding size in 2016), that’s $10,011 but for weddings with 300 or more guests, catering costs can quickly surpass $20,000. More upscale venues will charge more for catering; The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, for example, starts at 
$350 per guest.

Don’t Forget the Honeymoon

Honeymoons are common, if not expected, post-wedding. While you relax on the beach, your wallet will keep working; It’s estimated that couples spent an average of $3,882 on their honeymoons in 2015.

Newlyweds typically set out on their honeymoon right after the wedding, but modern couples are increasingly planning their trip for a few months out. Some even take a weekend “mini-moon” right away and plan a longer trip down the road.

Doing so allows them to both save up after the wedding, as well as spread out their vacation days rather than taking them all at once, as it’s not uncommon to take some days off around the wedding itself. Regardless of your honeymoon plans, keep in mind that expenses can add up, especially since many couples opt to spend a bit more on lavish accommodations for such a special occasion.

Happily(er) Ever After

If these costs seem high to you… they are.

In Europe, couples spend an average of close to 5,000 euros on their wedding. And many many Americans choose to do it much less expensively; a whole cottage industry of budget wedding blogs can be found on the Internet.  

Given that finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships, it may not be a bad idea to limit your wedding spend and instead use those funds for something else down the road—a down payment on a house together, for example.

Easy Ways to Cost Cut

Pick your location strategically: Wedding costs can vary by $60,000 based on location, with the average wedding in Manhattan reported to be $78,464, as opposed to $19,522 in Arkansas. Many couples also elect to get married abroad, which can be much more affordable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is limiting the number of attendees.

Venue shop: Given the venue is one of the most expensive fixed costs of any wedding, think about creative ways to save here. Some couples will use a family property instead of renting a venue; others use a venue they won’t have to pay for at all; one increasingly popular option is an elopement or even a “pop-up” wedding. If these options aren’t for you, it’s still possible to save on more traditional venues. Jodi Jackson of Savannah Wedding Dreams recommends finding a venue with chairs and tables to cut down rental fees, looking for a garden location to slash flower costs, and choosing an indoor space to avoid tent rental fees.

Be less popular: Keep your friends, but think hard about which ones will get the wedding invite. As mentioned above, catering costs can drive up your total expenses significantly, so limiting your total headcount can save a huge amount of cash.

Think outside the clock: Most weddings fall on Saturday evenings. To reduce your expenses, switch it up a bit and pick another day. Accordingly to Emoré Campbell, a Day of Wedding Coordinator, choosing a weekday not only cuts your price from the get-go, but also leaves more room for negotiation with vendors. If you’re feeling really adventurous, how about a brunch wedding — who doesn’t want a waffle cake, after all?

Weddings can add up to be hugely expensive, no matter where or when you have them. Regardless of your budget, be sure to spend those dollars on memorable items and services; After all, newlyweds tend to remember the celebration with their loved ones more than any of the details.

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