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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

#85: Those Darn Wedding Cost Estimator Websites

It's easy - simply plug your zip code into a website like Cost Of Wedding [dot] com and you will learn the average amount of money that couples in your area spend on their weddings. Helpful, right?

Not necessarily.

Sure, you're curious. You want to know what to expect. You want a ballpark figure. You want the thrill of feeling ____. (Fill in with: shocked, affirmed, angry, and/ or amused.) You want to know if you can get away with selling just one kidney or if you need to make it an even two.

But be forewarned: Don't pay too much attention to these websites. 

Let's start with a practical reason. There is a LOT of room for inaccuracy, obviously. With so many factors involved, these web calculators are smart to play it safe and provide you with an expansive price range. Even then you might find yourself to be an outlier.

(For example: According to this website people in my area typically spend between $29k and $49k on their weddings. My husband and I spent $10k. Even when I plugged in all of the particulars of my casual wedding in the above website's wedding survey plus calculator it came up with between $14k and $23k.)

But I think websites like the one above say less about what you will probably spend and more about: (1) the cost of living in your area and (2) the cultural/ regional wedding norms and expectations of your area. Which, by the way, don't *necessarily* have anything to do with what you should expect to pay for your wedding.

Why? First, because you might have different needs and tastes as your neighbors. Second, because you and your husband may not have similar spending habits as them. And third, you might not be as influenced by regional wedding norms. (Oh, and people: wedding norms ARE regional. I just learned over at APW that in Vermont and many other states, weddings are not fancy catered events that take place in banquet halls -- they are DIY, or potluck, or cake-and-punch-style parties at the church hall or in the backyard. That ain't nothin' like what I've seen in my neck of the woods!)

Here are a few damaging things that those websites can do:
  • It can bring down morale. (We should expect to pay X amount? Well, it's doable if I bank all of my paychecks throughout next year. And if I don't eat. SO worth it. Umm...right? Damn - I'm already hungry.)
  • It might give you permission to spend more than you had intended, which is probably (although not necessarily) a bad thing, depending on your financial situation. (If X amount is "normal" in this city, then any risky financial sacrifices and crazy purchases I make that allow our wedding bill to fall within that range is excusable.)
  • It gets you caught up in the numbers game. And once you start comparing your wedding or your budget with others it's simply a no-win situation. There will always be someone richer, someone thriftier, someone who makes you second guess good decisions you've already made, and someone who thinks your budget is ridiculous. If what's comfortable and authentic for your and your partner is dependent on others, you'll always feel just shy of complete.
  • It can squash creativity. (Why bother Googling "budget weddings" or take on  DIY projects when our budget falls perfectly within the normal range?)
What has your experience been with online wedding budget calculators? What budget tools have you found helpful? Which ones make you nutty and which ones keep you sane?

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  1. LMAO! I never used a budget calculator. But I did notice that when I was looking in the city at venues it was $100 per plate and up. I was determined to beat that number and get a more reasonable price. But I do remember we were first looking at the Hyatt at Penns Landing cuase Penns Landing is where we had our first date, got engaged etc. and we thought it would be so fitting to have it there. Until they told me it was $155 per plate! Ben did the math (cause I suck at math lol) and figured with 200 guests that came out to $37k just for the reception. Or as he put it "Each day of work this year would pay for one of our guests." Um, HECK NO!!!

  2. I've heard of the cost estimator, but never used it. I wasn't using many vendors except for our ceremony site & reception site. Both were based on budget (beach area can be expensive, but we found some good deals). I tried the cost estimator right now with 200 guests and there is a difference with a 5 minute drive ! I put in the zip code for our ceremony site ($18,107-30,179) and our reception site which is 5 min. away ($16,991-28,318). Proud to say we are definitely way under those numbers. Brides-to-be need to remind themselves their wedding can be beautiful without having to be extravagant. Wedding vendors are like any other business-they will do whatever they can to get you to spend. I'm very thankful for family helping, etsy, and diy (which I'm very proud of a seating chart I thought of last minute this past weekend that involves a map of a "theatre" with all the seats numbered to go with theme with our movie poster/concert ticket invites) :)

  3. @ Steph - "Or as he put it 'Each day of work this year would pay for one of our guests'."

    That would mean 200 days of work...without paying your other bills or eating. Yeah, something about that isn't very appealing.

    @ Nightingale - Exactly. The numbers don't mean much when you're willing to get creative, do research, and cut out wedding traditions that are not meaningful or relevant to your life. Those wedding calculators totally perpetuate the WIC.

    PS. If your wedding is half as joyous and cool as your joint bachelor/ bachelorette party (as seen in your FB photos), it's going to be amazing.

    PPS. Your theatre/ movie poster/ concert ticket theme kicks booty.

  4. I decided on a number that I thought was attainable and made me only slightly nauseous... then used budgeting tools to get an idea of the percentages (e.g. 48-50% on the reception, which is set apart from music and centerpieces, so really food and beverage). Well, as it turns out, my numbers don't match much of anything. Wedding is less than three weeks away, so it'll be interesting to see where we end up (percentage-wise; we'll be under budget - hallelujah!).

    So really, I don't think any of those sites are helpful. Decide on what you can stomach for an overall budget, and then spend money on things that are important and ignore the things that aren't! Simple, hey?

    P.S. I think that little note under Post a Comment is new since the last time I babbled back and I enjoy it.

    P.P.S. Congrats on surviving the wedding ;-)

  5. Wow they said our wedding would cost 25k to 40k. I guess we did well. We spent 20k or really 18 and change since my mom paid for my gown, veil, shoes, and mani/pedi and his mom paid for the flowers.

  6. @ Kim - Deciding on a number that makes you "only slightly nauseous" - ha! I like that strategy. Nice and simple.

    @ "Poetgrl78" - Niiice. Must feel good to come in under budget even after having all of the traditional elements and luxurious perks incorporated into the celebration. Your wedding was super fun!


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