On Details, Love and the So-Called Average Cost of Weddings

Wedding rings on a wedding invitationImage from Lane Dittoe Photographer via Style Me Pretty

One of my favorite bloggers and dear friend, Sara from Burnettes Boards wrote an article exposing The $28,500 Average Wedding Cost Myth. In it, she shows that when industry leaders and experts talk about the so-called average cost of a wedding, they’re only telling part of the story.

Some of my favorite bloggers, including Lauren from Every Last Detail, Megan from Glamour and Grace came out to weigh in on the matter and, as is typical of a great blog post, the comments are just as interesting as the article. I encourage you to read though all of the comments. If you’re interested in seeing the super geeky, math girl side of me, my comment explained that there are actually 3 types of averages.

How to Understand and Deal with Wedding Cost Averages

But today I want to talk about how to deal with the possible shock anyone may feel when you come across wedding cost numbers that rival a downpayment on a house or a brand new car.

1. Ask Better Questions

If you’re a blogger, vendor, or wedding industry pundit, instead of asking if the average cost of weddings is too high, take a peek under the statistical hood for more nuanced info.  Sara is a great example of this. She asked what type of average researchers were using to arrive at their number. In my own comments I revealed three types of averages statisticians use to understand averages and norms. In fact, you could ask also questions about sample size and composition:

  • How many brides were interviewed?
  • From what region? are their regional differences between you and the so-called national average?
  • Were the brides interviewed they self selecting? Meaning do Brides Magazine readers who volunteered to be surveyed really represent all brides? [hint: no]).

You may decide to examine the shape of the bell curve from less to lux.

  • Where is the “apex” or hump of the curve located? Remember, not all curves are symmetrically shaped like the commonly-thought-of bell curve.
  • Are price ranges evenly distributed? Is the apex of the curve skewed to the lower side, or even the higher side?
  • What did researchers look at? Vendor pricing or actual Bride spending?
  • Were all regions covered. Is there a skew with cities versus rural areas?

Finding variation and nuance can give you valuable perspective and reveal truer norms for your area or for the type of vendor/bride/blogger you are.

2. Brides, be prepared to spend some money

That big fat Average Cost number should prepare you for the reality of throwing an elaborate party for one or two hundred people. This isn’t a birthday party with paper hats. You may be asking for a fancy cake, the nicest dinnerware, an elaborate beaded dress with a long lacy train, champagne for 150, a live band, professional photography for 8 hours, and favors for all of your guests. You may want letterpress, custom graphic design on your ceremony cards, menus, and escort cards.  Cha-ching!

All these things add up. And no, in most cases it’s not just a matter of saying “wedding” and the price goes up. If you want to serve birthday-style, sheet cake at your wedding, the price goes down. As soon as you start adding tiers and fondant, the price goes up. Which leads me to my next point:

3. You have options

Nobody has a gun to your head making you spend thirty grand on your wedding. You’re an adult with choices. Let me say that again. You’re an adult with choices. I promise. Even if your parents are footing the bill and your mom is being a total control freak, you are an adult with choices. You can choose to be happy and relaxed. You can chose to love. And you can choose to figure out your top priorities and focus on them. I think Nikkol from Peter Loves Jane  wrote it best when she commented:

From my perspective as a bride, when I got married, I had a budget that I had to stick to, so I paid top dollar for the things that were most important to me. After that, I got creative and made it work. From my perspective as a wedding vendor, I think it’s important to have a budget no matter the amount you have available to spend. Make a list of those things that you’ll die if you don’t have, and pay for them first. Then allocate the remainder of your budget to cover those things that are necessary, but that you have some opinion flexibility with.

There many be some of you (especially you destination brides) who cannot imagine working the numbers in a way that will get you under 30K. You may be right. If your priorities are 1) a stunning mountain venue 2) all you friends and family celebrating with you 3) the best details, then yes, you may pay more than 30K to have your 150 guests attend your Devil’s Thumb Ranch wedding. For others, you may be focusing on venue, entertainment and photography. Everything else–cake, flowers, and favors– you are eliminating or doing by the numbers.

Or, if you really need to save money, you can cut that guest list or elope. “Oh no!”, you say, “I could never elope!” Fine, but that is your choice. Own it. Don’t blame an entire industry for the size of your guest list and the subsequent size of your reception bill. (Not to be that bitchy blogger, but it’s true. You have choices and when you make your choices, you have to take responsibility for them.)

4. Lux or Less: It’s a Personal Choice

Whether you go Lux or Less doesn’t matter. Either option is OK, and is ultimately a highly personal choice. Look through the real mountain weddings on this blog. You will find detail-rich weddings, amazing flowers, gorgeous stationary, amazing guest transportation and OOT welcome bags, and a weekend’s worth of parties and activities. You will find brides who didn’t carry a bouquet; brides who served pie instead of an elaborate wedding cake; brides who let the mountains provide “decoration” instead of going all out and covering every square inch of their venue with “details; and brides who relied on friends to do their hair, makeup, flowers, cakes, music, and invitations.

And not all of the brides  in the second group were DIY brides, nor were they “budget” brides. That split is too simple and often doesn’t reflect real people making real choices about their real weddings and finances. But a majority of the Mountain Brides featured in these webpages were down-to earth mountain brides who sorted out their priorities early and strove to stay within their budget while honoring those priorities.

They made tough decisions along the way, and ultimately chose to make their wedding day a day full of love and celebrations.  In other words, they were smart, thoughtful brides. And whether you have a 10 thousand dollar budget or a 100 thousand dollar one, you’ve got to figure out your priorities and stay within your budget. The so-called average cost of a wedding factors little into the reality of your personal choices. You are you. You are not an average bride; you’re a mountain bride! Make your own sane choices and take responsibility for them. You are Awesome! :-)

What will your favorite moment be?

I’ll leave you with this final thought. In the three years I’ve been interviewing real mountain brides, and asking them to share their favorite moment, I have never heard a bride say “my favorite moment of the day was watching my guests pick up their escort cards.” Nor do they say, “my favorite wedding moment was crying and carrying on because my mom wouldn’t buy me a $8,000 Maggie Austin cake.

Most brides cherish the memory of the vows they exchanged with their new spouse, or their parents walking them down the aisle, or the moment of quiet they spend in a beautiful place with their new husband before the reception. While details may be important to you (and that is very much OK) I promise you that the most special moments on your wedding day will not be about the stuff you buy; they will be about how you love and are loved in return. Keep that in mind when you become (temporarily) heart broken over compromises you may have to make over the details.

Christie Osborne
Christie Osborne has lived in or visited every mountain range in the US. Once a mountain bride herself, she's dedicated to helping mountain brides plan their weddings and find the perfect vendors. She's known in the blogging world for her no-nonsense attitude, and she loves to ski. Follow Mountainside Bride on Twitter Facebook and Pinterest.
Christie Osborne
Pretty #LakeTahoeWedding with Pink and White Details http://t.co/s1spqDr49d | Photography by @ericasistin http://t.co/OTm2QiWMlv - 4 hours ago
Christie Osborne


  1. says

    Great article Christie – so glad that you enjoyed my post! Your comment on it was probably the smartest thing ever written on my blog ;-) And I love how much you have added to the discussion here. I’ve actually heard that destination weddings can end up costing less than an at home wedding because your guest list reduces itself naturally, oftentimes couples will stick around after and call that their honeymoon, and as far a beach destination weddings go – a lot of resorts have pretty awesome package deals. Anyway – fab post!! xx

    • says

      Thanks Sara! Your blog is one of my favs for thoughtful commentary. You of course bring up a good point about destination weddings sometimes being cheaper because of the smaller number of guests who can attend. Thanks again for starting such a timely and needed conversation!

      • says

        Yea – it’s certainly not always the case though! I’m really only familiar with Hawaii destination weddings. Great post and it’s important that we all continue this conversation! xx

  2. says

    I’m so glad you mentioned location – this is a HUGE factor. I plan wedding in a destination location, and it is more expensive to have a wedding here than it might be in a rural part of the country. Pricing in Canada also seems to be higher than the US – I find all of the published ‘averages’ really make my job difficult, as it leaves brides with some really unrealistic expectations when they start planning.

    • says

      Yep! West Virginia is cheaper than The Berkshires. But Sara makes a great point about the number of guests who can actually attend a destination wedding affects the amount a couple may spend on reception details.

  3. says

    This is so well said and needed to be said!! Drives me crazy when everyone thinks that a wedding is $20,000 no matter the size, not matter the place! I wish I could attach this to every email I sent a potential client :)
    I will share this on my blog!!
    Mary Ellen

    • says

      Nope, destination weddings in Napa Valley aren’t always cheap :-)

  4. says

    Great post! I definitely agree with the idea of paying for what is important and then getting creative with the rest.

  5. says

    The cost of a wedding is always going to be based on the couple involved. You spend on what is needed and do what you can with the rest. Creativity definitely helps! There are always fun ways to save money.

  6. Sara says

    I recently got married in May and had a budget of 8 thousand. Sounds crazy right? It was the best day of our lives! We had amazing photography, an incredible videographer, gorgeous church and perfect reception hall. Also, our guest list was 275. We had our wedding on a Friday night (cheaper) and served only dessert and appetizers. No alcohol… just starbucks coffee (donated from a friend), water, and homemade peach mango punch! The key? Borrow, thrift, shop around, and yes… spend the money on the most important things! We had multiple people shocked at the price of our wedding… they never would have guessed that was all we spent ;)

    • says

      That’s awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience :-)