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Growing Cost of Weddings Forces Some Consumers Into Debt

Wedding rings on money
When Johnathan Ness decided to get married a month ago, he avoided the average financial strain most couples experience.

Ness and his wife Leah had the wedding and reception at Briarhurst Manor near Colorado Springs. The ceremony and reception only cost the couple $3,100. After all of the expenses were added up, including a cruise, a wedding dress and wedding rings, it only jumped to $5,600 — significantly lower than the national average.

According to theknot.com, the average cost of a wedding excluding the honeymoon costs $28,427. This number has increased from 2012 when it was $27,427. Last year the median cost was lower at $18,086, meaning that more lavish weddings caused the average cost to rise higher than most couples are spending.

Despite a growing national average cost, some couples are refusing to add to their debts and are making their weddings as frugal as possible.

Ness, a 32-year-old author of Christian fiction, said that he and his wife wanted a wedding they could afford and one that did not rely on her parents for financial support. He said they both have no regrets about having a wedding day on a budget.

Part of it has to do with their frugal mentality.

“We have never fought about money, and I believe part of that is because neither of us are saddled with onerous debt payments,” he said.

A Memory, Not an Asset

Todd Mark, vice president of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS), told loans.org that the cost of a wedding does not provide any real value beyond the ceremonious day.

“A wedding is a memory and not an asset like a house,” he said. “It is important to really think about if it makes sense financially to have the wedding of their dreams in the timeframe they want. It might make more sense to push the wedding out in order to save for the wedding the couple really wants.”

Mark, who also teaches financial relationship classes entitled “Couples and Money,” and “The Wedding Planner,” said that CCCS prefers couples to spend within their means.

“We have seen that people are less likely to enter into debt to pay for a wedding after experiencing the financial difficulties of the recent recession,” Mark said. “Couples are keeping things close to the vest as to not be overextended should financial hardship come their way.”

After the wedding is over, younger couples usually take on more financial responsibilities such as the cost of a child or purchasing a home. The Ness’ were able to have an inexpensive wedding day, but not all couples are lucky enough due to their location and the staggering cost of rental properties.

Regina Cialone, founder of Cloud Nove Events, said the average cost of a local wedding in New York City and Long Island, is significantly more expensive than the national average. She said weddings average around $50,000 with the cost ranging between $30,000 and $130,000.

Part of that cost is the cost to rent a venue, which can vary between $9,000 and $13,000. Cialone said most of her clients are shocked and confused by the large figures.

Nearly one-quarter of Cialone’s clients take out short-term loans such as personal loans. She said most utilize their savings or accept financial support from family members in order to avoid this option.

When savings are not an option, couples will turn to lenders or family members for personal loans.

“In those cases, the parents did not charge interest on the loans, and the couples were able to repay the parents fairly quickly, mainly using gifts received from the wedding,” she said.

Personal loans and gifts have replaced the tradition that parents will cover the entire cost of the wedding.

“It’s just not as feasible as it may have been in the past,” Cialone said.

The Growing Cost of Attendance

Weddings are expensive for more than just the bride and groom; the day can be just as financially draining for attending guests. Cialone said she hears complaints beyond the bridal party.

“I hear negative feedback constantly about how expensive weddings can be — to plan and to attend,” she said.

The average cost for a wedding guest skyrocketed for 2013 to an average of $539. Last year it was $339. For those in the wedding party, the cost increases further to an average of $577.

In 2013, over 69 million adults plan on attending at least one wedding. For consumers with multiple wedding invitations, it can put a large damper on their disposable income.

Despite a growing cost, Cialone said her clients are more aware of how their wedding impacts their guests. She said some couples will provide transportation from the hotel to the ceremony location, or an open bar to help reduce the cost and improve the environment for guests.

Whether the wedding is simple or lavish, the theme across the board is similar. Ness said that a great venue or an expensive dress would be great, but taking years to pay them off is not worth it.

“The real prize is the other person, not whether the walls are mahogany or not or whether the dress has a designer label,” he said.