Wedding woes: the real cost of nuptials

Getting engaged can be a whirlwind occasion with lots of love, laughter and happy tears. But once the initial euphoria wears off, prepare for the cold dollars-and-cents reality to set in: Weddings cost money. Lots of money.

Getting engaged can be a whirlwind occasion with lots of love, laughter and happy tears. But once the initial euphoria wears off, prepare for the cold dollars-and-cents reality to set in: Weddings cost money. Lots of money.

Trust me on this. I’m currently planning my own wedding, and when I saw how much these things can cost, I nearly booked a flight to Vegas so my fiance and I could avoid the whole mess.

The average wedding in the U.S. costs about $31,213, not including the honeymoon, according to The Knot 2014 Real Weddings Study. Weddings are most expensive in Manhattan, where the average tops $76,000, and cheapest in Utah, where couples spend an average of about $15,000.

Don’t panic yet. Locally, the price drops a bit—the average wedding in Stark County in 2014 cost $22,308, according to market research firm The Wedding Report.

And while the average Stark couple spends between $16,646 and $27,744, a large portion of couples (46 percent) spend less than $10,000 on the big day.

Still, $10,000 is a nice chunk of change for many couples (my fiance and me included), and it’s not hard for even the most financially savvy duo to go over budget.

Plus, according to The Wedding Report, going with well-experienced professionals, picking a popular event location, and splurging on designer labels or unique and custom products easily can bump your budget up 50 to 100 percent.

Deep breaths, fellow brides. Even if you’re not feeling an elopement or eager to visit the courthouse, we can make this work.

PRIORITIZE

As a first-time bride and wedding planning amateur, I called in an expert to help tackle the big budget question for us.

First things first: Set a guest list, said Merry Rini, owner of Merry Me Creations in Jackson Township and a wedding planner with 14 years of experience.

It’s her standard advice for every newly engaged couple. Getting a list together can be one of the hardest parts of wedding planning, especially when dealing with blended families, but dinner for your guests will make up the bulk of your budget, she said.

It sounds crass, but every guest you invite ups your total cost. Sometimes there just isn’t room for your mother-in-law’s old roommate (sorry!).

Next: Prioritize.

“Without a budget, costs can quickly spiral out of control,” Rini said. “It’s not uncommon for a bride without a budget to spend all their funds early and then realize they still have important purchases to make.”

Wedding magazines and sites such as The Knot and A Practical Wedding have checklists with every possible wedding expense, from the dress to cocktail hour appetizers. Grab a checklist and start figuring out what you can devote to each category.

Don’t hesitate to just cross out those items you don’t care about. I’m not having a flower girl or ring bearer, for example, so it was easy to eliminate those things from the checklist. Everything else, I ranked in order of importance. If you really want a photo booth but it’s not going to fit into your budget, see if you can eliminate something you don’t care about, like wedding favors.

Before you start looking at anything, try to get an idea of what it realistically is going to cost. That’s where I’ve made my biggest mistake so far—way underestimating how much a venue would cost.

The Wedding Report, at costofwedding.com, breaks down the average price of an item in your area. If I had checked out the site beforehand, I would know that couples getting married in Stark County spend about $2,677 to $4,461 on event locations.

I didn’t, so when my fiance and I went on our venue-visiting spree a few months after getting engaged, I more than once fell in love with a venue only to be heartbroken when I was told the price.

We eventually found the perfect spot—at the perfect price—but not before lots of phone calls and site visits.

Couples should shop and compare, but be wary of bargain prices. “Is your wedding day a day when you want to use a bargain vendor, a friend or a family member?” Rini said.

In my case, yes. I’m not advocating for gambling on the big things—like buying a discount dress off a shady website—but if you’re lucky enough to be friends with some generous and talented folks, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

My fiance is an artist, along with many of our friends, so we’ve called on their expertise to help with invites and decorations. A good friend of mine is an amazing baker and (as a gift) she’s making our groom cake.

An area where you definitely don’t want to cut costs is photography; always go with a professional, Rini said.

“Every wedding that I have been involved with, the couples tell me that their day was a whirlwind and they wish they could do it all again. The closest thing you will ever have to this are your photographs,” Rini said.

“I’ve never heard a bride and groom say they wished they had spent less on photos.”

SURPRISE COSTS

Once you’ve got your budget sorted, watch out for any unplanned expenses.

Always read your contracts and understand them before signing, Rini advised.

It’s not uncommon for a venue to blow you away with an amazing tour and photos of past weddings, and then hand you a folder with pages of information. Read all of it before committing. I was surprised that many venues require you to use only approved vendors—in some cases caterers with preset menus—and that others require you to hire security past a certain hour.

Be willing to bend, but also know where you’re not willing to compromise. For example, my fiance and I are big craft beer snobs, so for us, any venue that didn’t allow us to choose the alcohol was a no-go.

Almost everything has hidden costs, such as mandatory gratuity or janitorial services at the church. Some venues may charge more for decorating time or to cut the cake. A dress shop may charge extra for alterations, Rini said.

“The list of hidden costs is constantly growing,” Rini said.

Be sure to include the cost of adding your DJ and photographer to the guest list—you’ll depend on these vendors for much of the wedding and you want to keep them fed and happy, she said.

Be wary of trends that can escalate the budget. An outdoor ceremony, for example, often requires you to have a backup indoor location, and automatically adds stress and expense to the wedding, Rini said, adding that you shouldn’t avoid an outdoor wedding if that’s your dream wedding.

An outdoor ceremony was part of my dream, so along with praying for sunny skies next September 17, we’ve worked the cost of a backup tent into the budget.

When in doubt, call in the professionals.

A wedding planner can help a couple develop and stick to a budget, Rini said.

“Good wedding planners can give couples advice that will help them save and still manage to have their dream wedding,” she said.

As a fellow amateur, here’s my advice: You’re getting married and that’s amazing; don’t let the stress take away from how exciting this is.

Stark County wedding data 2014:

Number of weddings: 2,073
Average Cost: $22,308
Average number of guests: 141-151

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass