Staggered by how the wedding costs are mounting up? Compare what others are spending:
- In 2017-18, according to large-scale surveys by wedding sites and magazines, the average cost of a wedding in the UK was a whopping £30,000+; in the USA almost $34,000; and in Australia a hefty A$ 53,000 (though Australian government figures are less at A$36,000).
Millennials demand an exceptional event and are willing to pay the price
Weddings have always been a big expense for families but today couples are more often than not paying for all or much of the cost – so they get to say exactly what they want. And they want something really special.
Frankly, you can’t argue. If they are paying, they get to choose the budget. But mothers are all thinking how much more value the couple will get from their savings (or credit card debt) if they rein in wedding costs and channel their outlay towards their life after they’re hitched.
But millennials have grown up with the idea that the world runs on debt and it doesn’t cause them to lose sleep in the way it might have done for us. They see life less as a set of one-off essential expenses they must save up for and more as a series of long term rentals that will offer them the experiences they aspire to. Just think about how we buy cars these days. They see everything in these terms.
So don’t fret too much over costs. The happy couple will have discussed how they intend to save for or pay off their extravagant big day. It’s an iconic event for them. And they want it to reflect their values, their tastes and their aspirations. How do you put a price on that?
How much couples actually pay for each aspect of the wedding
Since the wedding industry is now worth £10 billion and employs 500,000 people in the UK alone, you can be sure there are plenty of people interested in putting a price on every aspect of the couple’s big day.
I’ve used the 2018 Real Weddings Study by popular US wedding site The Knot, their equivalent in the UK Bridebook, and for Australia I’ve taken figures from the government site Moneysmart. Plus I’ve added costs cited by the Australian magazine Bride to Be and the sites Wedded Wonderland and Easy Weddings. Using these surveys I’ve come up with the comparative cost for most aspects of weddings in the year 2017-18.
These figures will help you get perspective on what your daughter is spending. And if she is going well over the average spend on one category the figures might give you the courage to speak up for a little caution.
No doubt there will be items you have said you will pay for. By having an accurate and up-to-date idea of what each area of wedding costs amount to, you will be able to propose an area you feel happy putting on your tab. And you will also have a general price in mind when it comes to deciding exactly what gets purchased.
When working out these average figures the surveys have included block-buster weddings which, though rare, immediately zap up the average. But these are generally balanced by the many smaller dos at home or in a local hall or restaurant, often selected by older brides and grooms, couples with several children or those marrying for a second or third time. So the average is still a good benchmark.
To compare across countries I have used the March 2019 exchange rates and converted all costs to US $. Remember that exchange rates change! And see below for each country’s costs in that country’s currency.
|UK (£)||USA ($)||Australia (A$)||Australian Gov (A$)|
| Average |
|Venue and meal||15,671||15,439||15,560||13,239|
|2,005||1,631||3,727|| 3,027 total|
| Groom’s |
| Outfits for|
|2,112|| DJ 1,292, Musicians|
|Venue dress-ing, Favors|
|Bride’s hair + makeup||497||225||711||see general|
|Cake||421||528||677||inc in Venue|
Not all categories of cost are included above so the figures may not add up to the full average cost. And remember that these are rough averages and a lot depends on who is being surveyed.
Where the survey is being done by a magazine or website you have to imagine that the couples responding will tend to be those interested in spending on the latest trends. There will be thousands of couples who do not read wedding magazines or websites or who have less interest in adding their data to the survey. These, I guess, would be more likely to be couples spending less on their day.
This is probably the reason that the Australian government figures are lower than the Australian website figures. The government figures presumably look at the whole spectrum of weddings including the many very simple civil ceremonies.
The cost of getting married in the UK
|UK (£) 2017|
|Average total spend||30,355|
|Venue and meal||12,014|
|Bridesmaids’ + Groomsmen’s Outfits||638|
|Photography and videography||2,249|
|Venue Dressing, Favours, Flowers||1,740|
|Bride’s hair and makeup||381|
- Venue costs
There tend to be three popular choices for venue in the UK – country house, barn and place of worship. The most popular and second most expensive option is the country house at an average of £7,188. Packages make the cost per person more affordable than getting separate vendors in.
Myth-buster: Many couples will imagine that a grander house or stately home will be a lot more expensive than a modest country house or barn but these grand venues cost less than £200 more on average. Country weddings (44% country house or barn) are now very popular so prices are catching up.
- The cost of a London wedding
As with all costs London is vastly more expensive than anywhere else for a wedding venue. The average venue is £4,833 more, with a marquee costing a whacking £17,814 compared to the national average of £5,468.
If you are thinking of getting a marquee or tent take a look at this article: Tents and Marquees – Styles, Size Calculation and costs.
- A home or backyard wedding
Only 2% of couples decide on a home wedding with a marquee in the garden or backyard. When you do the sums, you can see why.
If your daughter is thinking of a home, or what Americans call a backyard, wedding reception then read this article first: 20 questions you absolutely must answer before you decide to have the wedding reception at your home.
- A destination wedding
Sounds pricey doesn’t it. In fact it is the cheapest option of all at a venue cost of £3,425 and a total spend of £14,151. And perhaps just as important, couples that marry abroad are the least likely to go over their budget.
- Bar costs
Having an open bar is becoming more popular but by no means the norm, with two thirds of couples expecting guests to pay for their own drinks after the meal is over.
Myth-buster: If you think providing wines and champagnes from the supermarket will save you money, think again. The average corkage charged by venues is £5 a bottle – and that’s not counting any additional costs for delivery and storage (and if you’re going to keep hundreds of pounds worth of alcohol in your garage you should think about your insurance cover too). Even venues with higher corkage charges have done their homework and make it hardly worth the hassle. This option is really only worth considering if you are bringing in vintage champagnes or high-end wines.
- Buying the dress and dresses
The vast majority of brides (well, those completing the survey anyway) buy a new dress and buy it from a specialist bridal designer. If your daughter is opting for a single day of festivities, count yourself quids in. Many couples now celebrate over two or three days, so, guess what? Yep, that means more than one bridal outfit!
Bridesmaids’ dresses are not always paid for by the bride and there’s a move to allow bridesmaids to buy any dress they like as long as it is in the right colour.
- How much do couples spend on music and entertainment?
A band is four times the price of a DJ. Go figure! There’s a desire to have a series of ‘wow!’ moments throughout the day so couples also spend out on fireworks and a whole array of outlandish treats and surprises. Blame Pinterest and Instagram.
- Videography and Invitations – the two exceptions that prove the rule
With total wedding costs rising by 12% in a year, almost all categories of expense have shot up. There are just two things that brides are saving on.
Fewer couples hire a videographer than in previous years. Phones do a reasonable job of capturing special moments and how many couples look at their wedding videos more than a handful of times?
With the handmade, upcycled and rustic movements gaining pace lots of couples are now crafting their own save-the-dates, invitations and programmes. These are sent out by email or in the post. That silver edged stationery that was the staple of weddings in bygone times is on its way out.
- How wedding prices are changing
Prices are steadily rising. The average spend on food in the UK went up 25% in 2017 compared to the year before. If you hired a marquee then you’d be paying an extra 24%. Venues in general moved up by 19% with the interest in styling to a theme adding 22% to venue dressing costs.
The cost of getting married in the USA
|USA ($) 2017-18|
|Average total spend||33,931|
|Venue and meal||15,439|
|Bridesmaids’ + Groomsmen’s Outfits||?|
|Photography and videography||4,700|
|Entertainment||DJ 1,292, Musicians 4,247|
|Venue Dressing, Favours, Flowers||2,656|
|Bride’s hair and makeup||225|
No great surprise that getting married in New York City or any other major city will set you back much more than say, Rexburg Idaho. So these average figures are a very rough estimate indeed. However they are the result of a survey of 13,000 couples marrying in 2017-18 so form a good benchmark if you realize you need to scale up or down according to where the wedding is being held.
- The cost of an NYC venue
If your daughter has her heart set on marrying in the most expensive city in the US then she will be looking at an average figure of $77,000 (2017). The Plaza starts at $350 per person whilst Cipriani proposes an average of $300-325 per person plus 24% tax. New York Public Library is yours for $60,000 plus a basic beverage package of $50 per guest. All of these venues will expect you to be using a professional wedding planner. Of course there are lots of other less famous venues throughout the city. But none come cheap.
- Myth-buster – kids are so cool these days that they’re going for a green, eco, pared-down celebration that is kind to the planet.
The rising spend on everything from food to cut flowers to favors suggests coolness does not equal savings. The wedding ‘industry’ (a harsh but realistic word) is worth $79 billion (2016) to the US economy so don’t expect spending to slow down anytime soon. However there is a trend towards organic food (which as you know, worthy as it is, ups the price!)
- What do bridesmaids pay for?
In the US it is standard practice to ask the bride and groom’s attendants to pay for their own clothes, accessories and jewellery. If the bride wants them to be professionally styled then she pays for a hairdresser and make-up artist.
On the night before the wedding many couples rent accommodation for the wedding party. This is paid by the couple. And all transport from then on is payable by the couple.
- Myth-buster – everyone uses a wedding planner these days.
Not true. Less than 20% of couples used a wedding planner in 2018. If they did, they paid an average of $2000-$3000 for her/him.
The cost of getting married in Australia
| Australia |
| Australia |
Gov. figs. 2017
|Average total spend||53,168||36,200|
|Venue and meal||21,958||18,683|
|Bride’s Outfit||5,260||4,271 all clothes|
|Groom’s Outfit||1,932||see bride|
| Bridesmaids’ + |
| Photography |
| Venue Dressing, |
| Bride’s hair and |
|Cake||955||inc in Venue|
I’ve put in two sets of figures in the table above. One is from amalgamating figures quoted by Bride To Be magazine, Wedded Wonderland and Easy Weddings and the other is from the Australian government. Expect them to use a different set of data. The magazines and wedding sites probably asked readers, the government probably looked at vendors’ income, thus a much wider spread of wedding types.
- Here’s the rundown on the most expensive states to get married
And of course the capital and major cities of each state will be above the average.
Victoria (includes Melbourne) average price per head: A$161
NSW (includes Sydney) average price per head: A$160
S Australia (includes Adelaide) average price per head A$154
W Australia (includes Perth) average price per head A$145
Queensland (includes Brisbane) average price per head A$108
Tasmania (includes Hobart)average price per head A$105
Australian Capital Territory (includes Canberra) average price per head A$100
- Myth-buster: All wedding prices have risen over recent years.
Not true. The spend on weddings in S Australia has remained much the same over the last two years and in Australian Capital Territory has actually gone down by 10%.
- Myth-buster: Australians are casual people so expect wedding prices to reflect this relaxed ambience. Woah there! On many categories of spend Australians outdo the UK and the US.
The dress: almost double the UK spend and more than double the US spend. Same for the groom’s attire and the bridesmaids’ dresses. Photographer and videographer: almost double the UK and more than the US average. Flowers, favours and venue styling: over double the UK and almost double the US. Hair and Make-up: hey what’s happening here? The Australian figures are way beyond UK and US! Even the wedding cake comes in at more.
I have to say, though, that these studies do not compare exactly the same items or types of couple, so it’s possible Australia is not much different than elsewhere. If we look at the government figures, that is the case.
- Myth-buster: The lower the cost of living in a region the lower the cost of a wedding. Sydney has the highest cost of living in Australia but ranks second on wedding spend at A$160 per head.
Perth has the second highest cost of living yet is 5th on the cost of a wedding at A$145. Melbourne is the 4th most expensive city in Australia but you’ll pay the most to get married here at A$161. But things may be changing. Perth put up its prices/spend by more than any other region in recent years whereas Canberra, 7th most expensive city to get hitched at A$100, has lowered its prices/spend recently.
- Darwin – can these figures be true?
My online research suggests than Darwin hosts weddings at an average of double the national spend. If you have any reliable resources on Darwin I’d really appreciate if you’d leave me a comment so I can update this city’s prices.
Why are weddings so expensive these days?
It used to be about parents showing their neighbours, relatives and friends that they were doing well. The wedding was a public display of status and income – even if it meant going into debt to fund the event. Added to this was the dowry or, in more recent times, the big present. Think first car, deposit on house, trust fund for potential children’s private education or college fees.
But today most couples are already making a life together and usually both have employment and a regular income. They’ve probably already got a car. They might even have a mortgage on an apartment, unless they work in a very expensive city. There is no need for mothers to stuff a ‘bottom drawer’ full of linens and cutlery to start the couple off. The couple already know exactly what they want and the style they prefer. Ikea, frankly, has brought the trousseau into the weekly shop.
What has happened is that because of college fees, the difficulty of getting on the property ladder and high rents where employment is to be had, parents have, over many years, opened the Bank of Mum and Dad. With steady drip-drip funding for their offspring, parents have already paid out the wedding funds by the time their child is 30 or so – the age at which most of our kids now marry.
So the ‘children’, having hopefully struggled their way up the property and employment ladders with their parents’ help, are now marrying at their leisure, at a time when they feel they can afford it. Not a rushed affair so that finally they can have sex whenever and wherever they want, or so that the bride’s pregnancy can be legalised, but a highly-co-ordinated party to signal their intention to go for life together. Many already have children, if not between them then from previous marriages or partnerships.
So the meaning of the day has changed. It’s about aspirations the couple have, about their take on life and style, and their wish to share this with friends, relatives and colleagues. That’s why theme is now so important in a wedding. The bride wants her friends to say ‘It was SO her’ at the end of the day.
They do not expect to do anything similar again – though the financially successful may plan a similar spree for their 50th birthday or 25th anniversary. But for most – this is it. They know who they are, or hope to be. They are willing to put their credit card and savings behind the event.
If it’s good enough for royalty, then it’s good enough for your daughter
In the past proud parents would sometimes tell the newspapers about the forthcoming wedding and ‘society’ pages would do a spread on the daughter of a wealthy family getting hitched. But during the last 30 years or so, the big weddings of film stars, popstars and royalty have started to fill specialist magazines. Then with the millennials, along came social media. Suddenly Facebook was telling everyone you’d ever met how great your life was. Millennials never lose contact with friends and colleagues. Beyond Facebook have emerged Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram where instant photos, videos and comments are constantly uploaded to everyone.
Today everyone is a celebrity. Everyone is the star of their own bio-movie. And the wedding is a major highlight in the rom-com of life.
So, little wonder that the couple, especially the bride, feel it is essential to show their wide-ranging contacts that they are successful, happy and settled. And to do this they mimic the celebrities and royalty who constantly pump out what items and styles display success.
She wants Instagram moments and Pinterest chic
Finally, you need to realize that with the advent of Pinterest, every bride knows every cute styling tip there is. I love Pinterest*. But it has had a massive effect on weddings as suppliers have to keep up with all the latest styles. They come up with what women want. But this level of personalisation and detail is expensive. And that’s one reason why every year wedding spend goes up.
*Not using Pinterest yet? You’re in for a treat! Not only will it give you more style tips for a wedding than you could ever need but you will fall in love with all the home styling and garden design ideas, the recycling projects, the recipes and the clothes. You can find I’m Mother of the Bride there too – gathering together (‘pinning’) images from the suppliers and bloggers you and your daughter may find useful.
Help the couple stay on budget
If the sums mentioned above shock you, that’s because you are still thinking a wedding is a legal union binding two families together. If you see it from your daughter’s point of view you will view the day as a public assertion of all the couple holds important in life.
So rather than holding up your hands in horror that all that money is going on a party, take a step back and know that all their friends are doing the same. Your role as Mother of the Bride can be to map out areas or specific items you are happy to fund (and use the above figures to justify how much you intend to spend) and to keep the couple on budget.
Get involved in their dream but keep your feet firmly on terra firma by asking them to put a figure on all areas of spending.
Many couples say later that they are sorry they spent so much on the wedding. They probably don’t regret their original budget, what they do regret is their overspend.
39% of couples in the UK spend more than they intend to.
You can help your daughter say no. It’s not pleasant to ask bridesmaids to fork out for their dress but you probably don’t know them as well as your daughter does, so it costs you less to tell them.
It’s not pleasant to haggle with suppliers but you’re never going to meet them again, so why not have a go?
On top of the 39% who overspend, a massive 26% of UK couples don’t get round to setting any sort of budget at all. Use the figures above to open a discussion with your daughter about total spend. Ask her if you can ‘keep the accounts’ for her wedding (not pay them). In this way you can nudge her when she’s tempted to overspend.
So, in all, 65% of couples, that’s two in every three, mess up their finances as the wedding plans unfold.
You know you can help your daughter not to fall into this error.