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The Utah Effect: Why weddings here are the cheapest in the nation

Published April 21, 2015 3:49 pm

Fewer drinkers, more family helpers lower state's average wedding cost to half the national expenditure.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you close your eyes and imagine a Utah wedding, would the reception take place at a ski lodge or an ornate hotel ballroom? Would men in tuxes escort women in elegant gowns? Would those women delicately remove their silk gloves before sitting down to a dinner served on china? Would there be a big band and free-flowing alcohol?

Probably none of the above.

It's far more likely that the Utah wedding looks like the one Heather Diston and Brian Allen are planning for July. Diston is doubling as the bride and the caterer. Allen is the groom and the drummer in a makeshift band. A relative got them a great deal on the Officers Club at Camp Williams. The photographer is offering her services in exchange for personal-training sessions from Diston, who works at 24 Hour Fitness, and the florist is the bride-to-be's grandmother.



If you think Diston would prefer a fancier wedding, think again.

"I don't like formal. I think it is boring," she said. "This is probably more stressful, but it is more fun. I would rather do it yourself than have someone do it all for you."

And that do-it-yourself attitude is a big reason why Utah has the lowest average wedding cost in the United States.

TheKnot.com, a wedding-planning site, conducted a national survey for 2014 and found the average celebration in Utah cost $15,257, half the national average. Kristen Maxwell Cooper, TheKnot.com's deputy editor, said the biggest costs tend to be reception venue and the accompanying food and drink. Utah's per head cost is $33, while the national average is $68. She attributed that to the state's large Mormon population, about 60 percent, most of whom don't drink alcohol.

"The open bar and the alcohol is very expensive," she said, "and a lot of weddings are not including that."

The Mormon effect clearly plays a role in some of TheKnot's findings. As an example, the average reception cost — the average Utah reception venue is $5,346 as opposed to the national average of $14,006 — may be deceptively low because it includes people who held their celebration in an LDS meetinghouse, which is free. The Mormon influence also leads to the state's larger family sizes (more kids mean more weddings) and the lower age of marriage (25 for grooms, 23 for brides). It is no wonder families want to keep those wedding budgets tight.

But just because many Utah couples are Mormon doesn't necessarily explain why photographers are $1,000 cheaper in Utah or why the cake is on average $150 less. Or why a DJ and flowers would be half the cost.

Kathy Garamendi, Diston's grandmother and a florist with 30 years' experience in Utah, says young couples are driven by discounts, hearing from friends how they were able to save money.

"A lot of my brides really, really want a deal," she said.

Some get family members to do centerpieces or larger arrangements, but then come to Flowers by Kathy for a wedding bouquet. The drive to get the nicest wedding for the cheapest cost is a point of frustration for Garamendi, who believes too many couples are low-balling talented vendors.

"I know I do really great work," she said, lamenting that some customers will go to great lengths to get friends and family to play the role of florists, photographers or DJs. "Every single thing they think they can do."

They can't make a tuxedo, at least not most of them.

That gives Dee Shirts, the owner of Tuxedo Junction, an advantage, and it may also explain why one of the few categories in which a Utah wedding meets, if not exceeds, the national average is in the groom's attire. The survey found that Utahns spent on average $260, while the national figure was $254. That amount mixes suit purchases, which could go into the thousands, with rentals, which Shirts says is about $160 nationally and around $100 in Utah.

"The average cost of renting is mainly dictated by national stores like Men's Wearhouse," Shirts said, but that doesn't mean his business is immune from the push for a lower-cost wedding.

"Even though dressing the men's side of the wedding is usually the cheapest thing they do, everybody is conditioned that they don't do anything unless they are getting a deal," he said. "I had a groom who came in here several weeks ago. His dad gave him a $300 budget and he asked if he could get eight tuxedos."

He left empty-handed.

Diston is not going that far. She plans to spend about $10,000 in all for her July 12 wedding. She wants a lively and interactive event, and that doesn't necessarily require mountains of money.

"I've been to really expensive weddings before," she said, adding that her wedding will be "more fun."

The food, the beer and wine are her biggest expense. And her dress wasn't cheap. But she's saving through her grandmother, Garamendi, on the flowers and decorations. With that, she's adding a photo booth.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham

The Utah Effect, a blog by Tribune reporters, looks at statistics that explain The Beehive State. Find past entries at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/UtahEffect.

 

 

 

 

 

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