June 23, 2011 -- Though June, one of the most popular months for weddings, is nearing its end, the summer wedding season is far from over. As couples tie the knot this year, they appear to be doing more with less though the average cost is still eye-popping.
That average wedding cost dipped in 2011 to $26,501, BRIDES magazine's 2011 American Wedding Study. In 2009, the last time the survey was published, the cost of a wedding was $28,082.
This wasn't a scientific survey of all American weddings. The 2,985 respondents to the survey were women 18 and over, engaged or married within the year who responded April 15 to April 28. Those surveyed visited Brides.com or were Brides magazine subscribers.
Brides and grooms who are nervous about the shaky economy are breaking traditions and spending less on their engagement events and wedding day.
The recession may have officially started December 2007 and ended June 2009, but many couples may still not feel confident about their financial situation. And many are opting to spend or give their money in other places.
Sally Kilbridge, deputy editor of BRIDES magazine, said most couples start to determine their wedding budget just after they get engaged.
"Since wedding budgets are set very early in the game, that decrease in the cost of weddings for 2011 actually reflects a decrease in what people were budgeting 18 months earlier, when the economic recovery hadn't taken hold," she said. "Having said that, couples are a lot more thoughtful today about how they're spending their money—when you're not sure about your job and your future, you're much less likely to go into debt."
Take the engagement, for example.
The average cost of an engagement ring is $4,647, down 27 percent from 2009, the last time the magazine conducted the survey.
The digital invite is another way to cut costs. Almost one in five couples use electronic invitations or emails to invite guests to the wedding or save the date notifications.
Kilbridge said evites seem like a good cost-cutter, but they only work if all guests are both tech-savvy and responsible enough to put the information on a calendar.
"We've also heard about couples who send out printed save-the-dates, but then forgo printed invitations and rely on their website instead," she said. "Frankly, there are so many inexpensive, stylish invitations on the market right now—you can use your home printer and they cost next to nothing—that for an event as important as a wedding, evites seem a risky money-saver."
Surprisingly only 42 percent of weddings will have a sit-down or buffet meal. The reception comprises 36 percent of wedding costs, an average of $13,367.
Of couples breaking traditions in serving food, most choose a cocktail hour (58 percent). Others choose passed hors d'oeuvres (46 percent), dessert stations (28 percent), food stations (19 percent), picnic/barbecues (5 percent), a sushi chef (2 percent) and wine tasting (2 percent).
Another 1 percent of those couples choose food trucks and 1 percent choose to serve guests a selection of cheese through cheese mongers. Speaking of cheese, the No. 1 theme for weddings is "beach, tropical, luau."
Despite these cost-shaving measures, the average couple's big day has still increased $8,000 from 2002 according to BRIDES magazine.
One in 10, or 15 percent, of engaged couples are choosing a destination wedding, an increase of 25 percent from 2009. Of those choosing a destination wedding, the average length of time away is six days/nights while their guests stay 3 days/nights.
The average wedding dress cost $1,289, up 20 percent from $1,072 in 2009. And brides buy their dresses on average 9 months before the wedding.
Not to be outshone, brides may inadvertently or intentionally choose much simpler attire for their bridesmaids. The average bridesmaids dress cost $134.
But the economy may not hold back those who have dreamed of splurging on their weddings.
According to a survey from TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com's 2010 Real Wedding Survey published this March, the average, or mean, cost of a wedding was $26,984 last year, including the engagement ring but not including the honeymoon. That was a 5 percent decrease from 2009. The 2010 median cost, however, was $16,453, which may mean people are paying less than it seems.
But Amy Eisinger, associate editor of WeddingChannel.com, said less than a third of brides (31 percent) said the economy affected their wedding budget, compared with 24 percent in 2009.
She said the bridal industry is "recession resistant" as brides will still spend money for their wedding regardless of the state of the economy. According to her study, she said 82 percent of brides still had a formal or semi-formal reception in 2010.
"Rather than cut back on spending, we know our brides will cut their guest list instead," she said. "So if they are on a tight budget, rather than opting for a simpler cake or less expensive dress, they'll more often cut their guest list so they can still have the wedding of their dreams."