CHICAGO, March 10 (UPI) -- Wedding budgets that could break the bank appear to be back in vogue, U.S. wedding experts say.
XO Group Inc., creator of leading wedding websites, TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com, said a survey of more than 17,500 U.S. brides married in 2012, suggests couples are feeling more comfortable spending a boatload of cash on their big day.
The average wedding last year cost $28,427, up from $27,021 in 2011, and that doesn't even include the honeymoon. The survey found about 1 in 8 brides (13 percent) are spending more than $40,000 on their nuptials, and nearly 1 in 4 (23 percent) said they didn't even have a budget.
"In 2011, budgets increased for the first time since the economic downturn, and this past year, in 2012, we saw that wedding budgets are continuing to rise even more and to an all-time high since 2008," Carley Roney, co-founder of TheKnot, said Thursday in a release accompanying the survey. "Couples are increasingly less concerned with the economy and are comfortable investing more than ever in the once-in-a-lifetime experience of planning their wedding and making it a fabulous experience for their guests."
Of the brides who were surveyed, 26 percent said the economy affected their wedding spending, compared to 34 percent in 2009.
Guest lists are down slightly but spending is up as today's brides and grooms dig deeper into their pockets to provide a picture-perfect weekend of events to surround the ceremony. Average wedding cost per guest increased to $204, compared to $194 in 2009. Couples are spending more on rehearsal dinners and morning-after brunches. The survey found 27 percent of brides are providing shuttles and buses for their guests.
The most expensive place in the United States, not surprisingly, was Manhattan, where brides spent an average $76,678. The least expensive weddings were found in Alaska, but even those events cost an average of $15,504.
Chicago was the second most expensive place to hold a wedding, with costs averaging $49,810. Similar figures were seen in Long Island, N.Y., and North Central New Jersey. Weddings in Hawaii appeared to be a relative bargain at $29,636.
Costs last year were up virtually across the board, with the exception of the reception band, which cost $3,084 in 2012 compared to $3,122 the previous year. The biggest costs are the venue at an average of $12,905, the engagement ring, which costs an average of $5,431, and the music for the reception. The average catering cost was $63 per guest, up from $61 in 2011.
A wedding dress last year cost an average of $1,211, up $90 from the previous year.
Brides and grooms are waiting longer than ever to get married with the average age of the bride at 29 and the groom, 31. Brides in Hawaii last year were 33 years old, on average, compared to Utah, where the average age was 25.
Smartphones, Twitter and Instragram are becoming an integral part of the of the wedding day. Forget about handing disposable cameras to guests at the reception -- that's so 2005 -- everyone's already taking pictures with their smartphones. Savvy couples are discovering they can crowdsource some of their wedding photos.
The Internet offers all sorts of advice on how to "Instagram your wedding," including suggestions that couples create unique hashtags for their weddings to make it easier to follow the photos and posts.
TheKnot.com has partnered with the wedding photo app Capsule, which gathers guest photos into a shared group album. "You encourage your guests to download the app to your phone and they will filter onto the gallery," Anja Winikka, site director for TheKnot.com, told UPI. Nearly one in four brides last year said they used or planned to use a crowdsourced photo app at their wedding.
Religion is playing a smaller role in weddings. The survey found only 35 percent of brides chose to hold their weddings in houses of worship in 2012, down from 41 percent in 2009. More couples are also choosing to have a friend or family member officiate at the ceremony. In 2012, 33 percent of couples chose a friend or family member to officiate, up from 31 percent in 2011 and 2010, and 29 percent in 2009.
Save-the-date cards that precede the actual invitation are becoming de rigueur for today's brides, with 68 percent choosing to give their guests an early alert of the impending nuptials. Forty percent of couples are sending out professionally made save-the-date cards while 28 percent are sending electronic notices.
The "something blue" in the old bridal tradition has expanded from the ribbon on the bride's garter to cover everything from table linens to bridesmaid dresses. Brides are picking blue over any other color when it comes to the wedding theme, followed by purple, green and metallics. Winikka said metallics, especially gold, are looking strong for 2013.
"Casual" weddings continue to grow in popularity, with 17 percent of brides describing their wedding style as casual compared to 12 percent in 2009.
Wyoming tends to have the most casual weddings, while Chicago boasts the most black-tie events. Casual doesn't necessarily mean less expensive, though, because renting farm tables and styling the decor to look like an Anthropologie store can be expensive.
While less than a quarter of brides last year said they were aiming for an "elegant" style wedding, compared to 31 percent in 2008, Winikka said there does seem to be a bit of a return to tradition, with dresses having a fuller appearance and more brides requesting sleeves and longer veils, a la Kate Middleton. Wedding cakes are making a return as the cupcake boom dies down and mason jars filled with wildflowers may have also seen their day as more stylized centerpieces return to popularity.
Winikka said casual weddings are really about creating a warm, relaxed environment.
"They want their guests to feel comfortable, to feel like they're at a party," she said. Brides and grooms today are older and they have their own sense of the way they like to entertain.
"This is not an event that mom and dad use to impress their friends," she said. "They want it to feel less stuffy."