The Average Cost of Weddings is a Lie
$26,720 was the average wedding cost – but 3 in 4 couples spent less than $20,000
Weddings are notoriously expensive, especially in the US. Venue rental, catering, flowers, photographer… the cost adds up quickly. Whether it’s the excitement of starting a new life or anxiety of keeping up with expectations, the pressure to spend comes from all directions. Not surprisingly, many couples rely on the internet for information on average wedding costs but wedding vendors, we see rampant misinformation on how much couples are really spending when it comes to their big day.
Here’s why online articles titled “This is how much a wedding actually costs” are about as reliable as crazy Uncle Arnold’s RSVP response.
A Single Source of Information
A simple Google search for “average wedding cost” yields billions of results, many with dramatic headlines:
What seems like a consensus across the web on the exorbitant cost of a wedding is really thousands of articles reciting the same two studies repeatedly. A vast majority of information comes from just two sources: The Knot and Wedding Wire (both of which are owned by the same parent company, but we will get to that).
The Knot’s Real Wedding Study and Wedding Wire’s Newlywed Report have been cited thousands of times in the last year alone. When Google searching “Average Wedding Cost”, every first-page result except one links to one of these two studies.
We can’t ignore that the parent company of these two sources, XO Group, is in the business of advertising wedding vendors. The Knot and Wedding Wire are essentially giant ads where vendors pay hundreds of dollars a month for a directory listing in hopes of finding couples willing to spend big on their services.
When it comes to wedding cost statistics, the powerhouse that is XO Group has the authority to decide what information to report, even if it’s not necessarily the most representative or helpful to wedding planning couples. After all, their target customers are wedding vendors, not couples.
Both The Knot and Wedding Wire conduct surveys to get information on the average wedding cost. They boast about their large survey sample sizes. Which, to be fair, is true. Wedding Wire surveyed 27,250 and The Knot surveyed over 25,000 couples in 2019. However, the group represents some heavy selection bias. Under their “Methodology” section, Wedding Wire states:
“The data is collected from couples who provided their email to The Knot Worldwide and were married between January 1 and December 31, 2019. Respondents represent couples from all over the country with various ethnicities, income levels, race, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
While it sounds like the survey does an excellent job at finding information from diverse populations, it clearly state the data collected comes from those who provided their email to The Knot Worldwide. The Knot is a wedding planning website most often consulted by couples looking for vendors and thus, the survey selecting for those planning larger weddings.
The methodology and population sampling alone are drastically skewing the results of the study.
On top of that, the surveys can’t seem to decide what expenses should be included in the average wedding cost metric.
What is considered part of the wedding?
One of the biggest statistical blunders committed in these two studies is the inconsistency in what is included in the wedding expense.
The most significant offense is the removal of engagement ring and honeymoon costs from the overall average in 2019. The studies themselves call out when something changes from year to year but the thousands of articles using this information often don’t explain the discrepancies or even worse: wrongly attribute it to other factors.
For example, the article The average wedding cost $19,000 in 2020, about $10,000 less than the year before from Business Insider.
Obviously, changing a core measurement tactic is not the most reliable methodology and still sources around the country continue to perpetuate the falsehoods.
Average vs. Median
Questionable survey methodology aside, lets take a look at why averages are the worst possible method of summarizing data when it comes to couples planning their wedding budget.
The average reported wedding spend was $26,720 but 3 in 4 couples are spending less than $20,000 on their event. How is that possible!?
A few big spenders are skewing the average but the median is not impacted by these outliers.
We know it’s been a while since anyone took a math class, so lets review the difference between average vs. median and explain why using the average is so misleading.
The average is the arithmetic mean of a set of numbers. To get the average, add all the data together and divide by how many pieces of data you have.
The median is the middle number of a data set, a value that falls right between the top half of the data and the lower half.
By nature, averages can be skewed by a small amount of extremely high or extremely low values.
For example, if ten couples marry and nine couples spend $10,000 and one couple spends $150,000, the average wedding cost would be $24,000. This isn’t a very accurate representation of what other couples should expect to spend. Even with a larger sample size, skewing is still a problem.
Median cost can shed more insight into what typical couples are spending, as it is the middle number in the list. In the example above the median would be $10,000.
Medians eliminate the skew of a few couples with very large or very small budgets. Let’s compare the two over the last 10 years:
Historically the median is about $10,000 less than the average.
Interestingly, The Knot reported more realistic wedding cost figures (like the median) until 2013 when they suddenly stopped. In 2015, writer Will Oremus contacted The Knot to understand why:
“I asked Rebecca Dolgin, editor in chief of TheKnot.com, via email why the Real Weddings Study publishes the average cost but never the median. She began by making a valid point, which is that the study is not intended to give couples a barometer for how much they should spend but rather to give the industry a sense of how much couples are spending…But then she added, ‘If the average cost in a given area is, let’s say, $35,000, that’s just it—an average. Half of couples spend less than the average and half spend more.’ No, no, no. Half of couples spend less than the median and half spend more. When I pressed TheKnot.com on why they don’t just publish both figures, they told me they didn’t want to confuse people”
But what could be confusing about publishing information that could help couples build more realistic wedding budgets?
Social Media Distortion
Social media adds fuel to the flame when it comes to unrealistic wedding budget expectations.
We estimate up to 80% of wedding inspiration images on Pinterest are not from real weddings. Rather, they are from carefully curated styled photoshoots with models, props, and scenes that would be far too expensive to duplicate on the larger scale of an entire wedding.
Instagram and wedding blogs are even worse. Oftentimes the weddings tagged as Real Weddings are just photoshoots carefully staged to look like a real event.
And what is the result?
Elaborate floral arches costing thousands of dollars posted on “budget wedding” websites. Expertly prepared centerpieces parading as a DIY project that no normal person would have enough time or talent to pull off.
These social media lies create a distorted picture of the “average” wedding
Don’t be deceived by Average Wedding cost
Most people don’t plan a wedding every day and have no sense of what is considered a “normal” price for something. Unfortunately, industry vendors can take advantage of this and quote reported averages to perspective couples. In the words of our writer friend Oremus,
“Complain about a reception venue’s $250 ‘cake-cutting fee,’ or its $10,000 food and drink minimum, and you’ll be curtly informed that it’s standard in the industry,” writes Oremus.
“Photographers who charge $2,000 for an evening’s worth of snapshots point out that The Knot’s reported average is $2,379, so you’re actually saving $379.”
Our hope is that couples will see through the online pressure to spend big for their event. The reality is that 3 in 4 couples are spending less than $20,000 on their event. In fact, a large subset of these couples spend significantly less. Whatever you and your significant other choose to spend on your big day, be sure you are not letting the lies of the internet fool you into spending more than feels comfortable.
“2016 U.S. Median Cost of a Wedding Was $14,399.” The Wedding Report, wedding.report/index.cfm/action/blog/view/post/pid/670/title/2016_U_S__Median_Cost_of_a_Wedding_was__14_399. Accessed 19 Sept. 2021.
2. Oremus, Will. “The Wedding Industry’s Pricey Little Secret.” Slate Magazine, 19 Mar. 2015, slate.com/human-interest/2015/03/average-wedding-cost-published-numbers-on-the-price-of-a-wedding-are-totally-inaccurate.html.