First comes love. Then comes marriage. But when the romance is said and done, these occasions are almost always followed by another, less-intimate commonality: a massive credit card bill.
According to The Knot's annual Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a wedding (excluding the honeymoon) reached an all-time high of $31,213 in 2014. That's up 4.5 percent from the prior year, and marks the fourth consecutive year of gains.
The findings showed that 70 percent of weddings rang in somewhere between $10,000 and $65,000, suggesting the more affluent bride drove the average higher. But the uptick in spending was represented across all income levels and regions, said Dhanusha Sivajee, executive vice president of marketing for The Knot's parent XO Group.
"I think it goes beyond inflation," Sivajee said. "We've seen the amount of guests go down but the amount of spend per guest go up."
Sivajee said couples have thrown tradition out the window, and are instead focused on holding a wedding that highlights their personalities. One way they're doing so is by hosting the event in nontraditional locations, something 40 percent of respondents said they were looking to do. These venues include historic buildings and homes as well as farms.
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Couples are also shelling out cash to make their weddings more fun. The Knot found that while the average bride and groom are spending more on the reception and cocktail hour than they did a few years ago, they're spending less on the ceremony itself.
Along those lines, the trend toward more casual celebrations is on the rise. Whereas 20 percent of couples had formal, black-tie events in 2008, that dropped to 16 percent last year. Similarly, the number of people who described their wedding as casual increased to 18 percent from 12 percent.
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the challenge of reining in costs. Last year, 45 percent of couples said they busted their budget, while 23 percent said they didn't even have a budget to begin with.
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Peggy Duncan, whose then 22-year-old daughter, Katie, was married at a mansion in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, in May, said she and her husband began saving for college and weddings for their eight children back in 1993. Since Katie was the last to get married, she felt a bit more free with her budget, but still wanted to keep spending in line.
Duncan said her daughter found a number of ways to cut back on expenses. They included getting married about 35 miles outside of Nashville because it was less expensive than in the city; opting for comfortable rhinestone sandals instead of heels; and having her mother make her veil. All in all, she estimates the wedding cost about $25,000.
"She was pretty good at cutting costs and being willing to do different things to save," Duncan said.
That includes bartering. Duncan's husband Craig performs in a dance band and he worked out a deal with a photographer to swap services. Craig performed in the photographer's daughter's wedding in exchange for photos of Katie's nuptials.
As always, the cost of getting married varied greatly by location. Utah was named the least expensive place to be wed, at an average price of $15,257.
Manhattan once again topped the list as the most expensive place to be married, though the cost dropped by about $10,000, to an average $76,328. Sivajee attributed this "discount" to brides finding ways to cut costs, such as holding the ceremony on a Friday or a Sunday—two options that are less expensive than a traditional Saturday ceremony.
This was the eighth year The Knot conduct its study. It surveyed 16,000 brides and grooms across the U.S. who were married last year.