New York - It’s a day many dream about their whole lives and the $60-billion-a-year wedding industry knows just how to stoke expectations and drum up sales. While many couples have a limit on what they plan to spend on their wedding, a new Consumer Reports survey found that many of them go over budget, with some even dipping into savings and retirement accounts to pay for the occasion.
Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed 464 Americans who’d had a wedding reception in the last five years; 78 percent of those newlyweds reported they had budgeted for their reception. But almost two-thirds of those who went over budget said they had overspent by at least 20 percent. To afford the bill, 41 percent said they withdrew from savings; 11 percent took out a loan from a bank or credit union; and 9 percent, all under age 50, withdrew some money from a 401 (k) or 403(b), or IRA – a move that can trigger a tax penalty and be a potential threat to savings.
What Consumer Reports found when it sent its secret shoppers out to determine whether couples planning a wedding are being overcharged may explain why some people may go over their budgets. Pairs of shoppers called the same photographers, florists, limousine services, caterers and other party vendors at least a week apart and got comparative estimates for a wedding and a 50th anniversary party that were identical in every other respect. They gathered prices from 40 vendors in 12 states. Among the results that could be compared, vendors quoted higher prices for the wedding than for the anniversary party in more than a quarter of the cases.
Among the findings uncovered by Consumer Reports secret-shopper investigation were built-in wedding-based gratuities up to 26 percent and a $7 per person cake-cutting fee buried in some caterers fine print; photographers who inflated their prices because the affair was a wedding; and limousine companies that priced bridal packages higher than other, comparable services.
“If you’re planning a wedding, you need to be aware that you may be paying a premium for products and services in some cases,” said Tobie Stanger, senior editor at Consumer Reports. “You may not think to bargain, but you should. While our findings aren’t enough to indict an entire industry, they’re a warning to wedding shoppers to read fine print, ask smart questions, and negotiate before signing anything.”
The full report, “Get More Wedding for Your Money,” appears in the June 2016 issue of Consumer Reports and online at ConsumerReports.org. In addition to the survey and secret shopper investigation, the article also features 31 money-saving strategies, advice on avoiding wedding-shopping gotchas, what to spend on a dress, wedding planner costs, and how much guests should give as a gift.
How to Get More Wedding for the Money
According to The Wedding report, Americans now spend an average of $27,000 on a wedding, but there are ways to keep a lid on costs. Below are some money-saving strategies that were uncovered:
Negotiate. Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers were able to strike deals with different types of vendors including limousine companies, photographers and florists. It’s worth asking for a lower price, all the vendor can do is say no.
Choose low-demand season, day or time-of-day. In many locations, January and February weddings are the least expensive. Friday and Sunday weddings are less costly than those on Saturday nights. Booking a venue before dinnertime for lunch or brunch can also yield savings; 21 percent of survey respondents said they chose a less timely-cost of day for their reception.
Compare buffet and sit-down pricing. Thirty-five percent of respondents to Consumer Reports’ survey said they chose a less costly menu. Surprisingly, a buffet may sometimes be more costly because people eat more and often there is more variety offered than in a sit-down menu.
Save on alcohol. Limit the open-bar to a certain amount of time. Skipping premium brands and sticking to the venue’s house spirits can also reduce costs. Find a caterer that allows you to provide the booze and ask them to hire a licensed bartender. Then you can take home what hasn’t been used.
Forget the favors, or DIY. If not, give something people may really use. Order enough for half the guests and still expect to see leftovers. In Consumer Reports survey, 22 percent of respondents said they made favors themselves to save money.
About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit, consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates.