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Wedding costs reach a new all-time high

The cost of "happily ever after" is rising faster than a stressed-out bride's heartbeat.

According to The Knot's ninth-annual Real Weddings Study, released Tuesday, the average cost of a wedding (excluding the honeymoon) increased for the fifth-straight year in 2015, jumping 4.6 percent to $32,641. That represents a new all-time high.

Mike Steib, CEO of The Knot's parent XO Group, attributed the steady growth to one key trend: personalization of weddings. Over the past few years, brides have found ways to differentiate their wedding from others they've attended. Often, that means spending more on the perfect band, or adding extra touches.

"If you look back at your parents' weddings, they all look the same," Steib said. "Everybody wore the same stuff."

That's not the case anymore. According to The Knot's study, which surveyed nearly 18,000 U.S. brides and grooms who were married in 2015, custom guest entertainment has more than tripled since 2009, from 11 percent to 36 percent. That includes a big spike in the amount of couples offering signature cocktails, which has nearly doubled to 22 percent since 2008.

Keija Minor, editor-in-chief at Brides magazine, agreed that personalization is playing a bigger role in couples' weddings, particularly as more of them foot or split the bill. She added that many are looking for creative ways to make their wedding stand out, as the rise of social media sharing means that "everyone has seen a million weddings."

"An idea goes from fresh to cookie cutter really quickly," she said.

That's not to say that special add-ons are the only reason costs are rising. Nearly every one of the 19 categories outlined by The Knot notched gains, with some of the biggest dollar increases being tied to the reception venue and band.

(For a full budget breakdown, click here).

Despite their best intentions, however, it can be difficult for couples to stick to a budget. That's because the majority of brides have never planned a wedding before, so they get a lot wrong when estimating their costs, Steib said.

"The planning finally comes and what is supposed to be rainbows and happiness [is] Post-it notes and bills," he said.

For 27-year-old Amanda Howard, who will marry Andy Phelan on the beach in Cape May, N.J., next month, several little tack-on costs snuck up on her, including postage.

"You budget for your vendors, but we forgot about how much it would cost to send out the invitations," Howard said. "We have to do our table numbers and I'm like, wait, how much are these little things?"

Aside from those unexpected costs, Howard said she and Phelan stuck pretty close to their budget. It helped that the couple, which is paying for all its vendors, was able to bargain on certain costs, including an extra hour for the photographer.

She was also able to negotiate a deal with the venue, for which her parents are footing the bill. Because the couple is getting married on Memorial Day weekend, she asked the venue if it would honor its cheaper Friday prices on a Saturday. Howard said she was shocked when she was granted her request without any further negotiation.

"If you have a dream in mind I would just say try to bargain," she said.

Of course, a bride's costs vary widely depending on where she is having the wedding. Manhattan once again topped the list as the most expensive location, with the average wedding costing $82,299. It was followed by Chicago, at $61,265, and New York's Westchester/Hudson Valley region at $57,501.

The most affordable state to get married was Alaska, at an average $17,361.