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Statistics-Shmatistics

From the articles on every wedding website and app in existence to all of the "experts" that surround a couple the minute after the proposal, there is an onslaught of confusing and incorrect information out there being given to couples.
08/04/2016 01:47pm ET | Updated August 5, 2017
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From the articles on every wedding website and app in existence to all of the "experts" that surround a couple the minute after the proposal, there is an onslaught of confusing and incorrect information out there being given to couples. Planning a wedding can be overwhelming enough without having to do detective work about what things really cost. A quick search from a phone will give numbers like $16,000 as an average nationwide budget, while other sites and reports will say $30,000, or $40,000 or anything they have come up with based on whatever algorithm they are using for what they consider an "average" wedding.

A statement I hear from not just my clients, but others planning a wedding is that they don't know what anything costs. With all of the information out there, it's a wonder anyone does. Between each article and website not agreeing on numbers and the flood of Pinterest boards promising a celebrity style wedding for just under $1,000, couples are getting frustrated trying to figure out what's real and what's not. Besides, we all know that celebrities get free stuff at their weddings, so let's deal with reality as much as we can please.

The majority of engaged couples fall into the millennial category and they are relying heavily on internet information. I know this, because my clients that question me always have some website as their evidence. The phrase, "I read on..." makes my ears bleed because for every article a couple has read, there are 47 other articles that say something else. Meanwhile, when reading these articles, there is rarely a source mentioned. So where are these numbers coming from?

I mean, I remember in college when I wrote papers that I actually had to cite facts and references. I believe today's slang would be providing "receipts".

Where are the receipts?

Sometimes the site will say (in the smallest print ever) that the numbers are based on some poll done with some group with some margin of error. Other times there will be some vague reference to "data collected" and it sounds about as shady as a drug deal on a dark corner. Nevertheless, it is human nature to believe what you want to believe and if the number works for the couple, they tend to latch on to it.

The problem starts when that number is their foundation and they are not the "standard" or "case study" example being used. An "average" wedding is defined by what? Who defines it? Search for that and you'll have pages of differing information there as well.

According to The Knot and their Real Weddings Study, in a poll conducted of 18,000 brides and grooms married in 2015, the average wedding cost was $31,213. That's 18,000 weddings total. Yet, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 2,118,000 couples wed in 2015 alone in the United States.

Which means the average wedding cost of $31,213 reported is based on less than 1 percent of everyone in the country that got married in 2015.

Seriously. Let that sink in for a moment. Couples are being asked to use what less than 1 percent of everyone in the country spent on their wedding as a solid foundation for the national average cost of a wedding. What the actual hell is going on here?

In addition to the survey including such a small amount of people, there is no way to find out how "even" the control group was. Were 2,500 from Idaho? How many represented Florida? The markets all vary based on location and while there are always mentions of how certain areas are more expensive than average (those areas being the NYC metro area and Southern California), the huge, glaring, in bold print number is the national average of $31,213.

As if the fact that the percentage of couples polled being insanely low wasn't bad enough and that there is no way to find out if this survey was even (aka not a statistical disaster), these couples were all registered with The Knot. Now, depending on your location, you may rely heavily on this website or you may not have even heard of it. However, as a planner, I can tell you that many people in the industry that used to rely on the site for business are now leaving because the advertising costs are not being covered by the inquiries and bookings received.

In general, every wedding website in existence has a certain "couple" they are marketing to, and if you aren't that type of couple, then what does what you spend have to do with what they are spending? Nothing, that's what.

For every wedding website that gives the national average (or something) of wedding costs, there are 5 articles on Pinterest sharing secrets of how to plan your wedding for 5 cents. These are articles written by former brides sharing their secrets or random authors that are suddenly wedding experts because google says they are. If you actually read these articles though (and I have, believe me) there is never anything of use in them. Save thousands, cut your guest list to 10 people. Have your dream wedding by not offering a bar because who needs alcohol? Answer: Everyone.

So if that $30k average is built on a foundation of sand, and none of those Pinterest articles are real, what are the real numbers? Well, I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I can give some ranges for those in the NYC metro area and show some quick math on how those numbers come about. I'm sorry for anyone reading this outside of my area, but unlike so many wedding websites and "experts" available out there, I prefer to only speak about what I actually know.

First and foremost, reducing your guest count really is the best way to save money. You not only limit the amount you are spending on food and alcohol, but you reduce your table count which reduces your centerpieces. If you are offering transportation, you bring that cost down as well. Less ceremony chairs? Less flowers to hang on them. In my area, catering can be anywhere from $140 per person and up into the $300-$350 per person range. Tack on the little "plus plus" of 7 percent or 8 percent (NJ or NY) and anywhere from 18 percent-23 percent for service charge (this isn't gratuity and don't let some website tell you otherwise) and you've got a hefty bill for your reception and catering. If we use 150 guests, since anything less than that will keep you out of many venues as that is their minimum, and $150 per person, your cost here is $22,500. This would be a good time to mention that weddings in this area tend to have higher guest counts, closer to 200+ people, and by the time the menu with upgrades is done, they are spending much more than $22,500. But let's use $22,500. You know. For fun.

Because I'm just that awesome, I'll round the national average to $32,000, which will give me $9,500 to take care of everything else. Everything else includes: flowers, transportation, wardrobe (aka the wedding gown), stationery, music, photography and videography. I'll stop there because I can't add in little extras that you see all over those Pinterest pictures such as chargers, specialty linens, crossback chairs, etc. Fully styled tables must not be considered "average".

With 150 people and seating 10 people per round table (because you are not getting those farmhouse tables you're pinning without spending more), that would be 15 tables and thus, 15 centerpieces. Let's keep this number down and say $100 per centerpiece, which is $1,500. Add to that all of your bouquets and personal flowers, as well as any ceremony and cocktail hour décor, plus that annoying labor and delivery fee and you're entering the $3,000-$4,000 range. Let's split the difference and say $3,500.

Now I am down to $6,000. And I still have photo, video, music, the gown, etc. These are generally big ticket items with photography and videography in this area starting close to $3,000. Each. But, since now we're at zero dollars, let's assume you're not interested in videography and give back $3,000.

$3,000 for music, the gown and a handful of other items. Treading water here.

Look, this is not supposed to be all doom and gloom and make you think that a wedding cannot be done without writing out endless checks and taking out a second mortgage/promising your first born. But it's absolutely ludicrous that there are no real numbers anywhere and that the numbers being given are based on extremely flawed statistics. Equally unfair is how the websites promoting these numbers and offering up DIY tips are the same ones showcasing styled shoots and celebrity weddings to "inspire" you, when really, all they need to be showing are pictures of weddings that cost what they say the average wedding actually costs.

I won't even get into how irresponsible it is that they offer budget calculators when they have shown not only how bad their math skills are, but how they really haven't got a clue as to what a real wedding might cost.

Statistics are a very powerful tool and ones that people use to back up their arguments all the time. But when the statistic is so horribly flawed like the "national average wedding cost" put out by The Knot, using it as a marker for what you should be spending is not a good idea. A better idea is to know your budget going in, figure out your priorities and find out exactly what that will get you for the area you are in with the venues and vendors you will be working with. Those are the numbers that really matter.

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