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For Richer or Poorer

The top 10 average wedding expenses for 2007.

About 2.4 million couples will get married in the U.S. this year — and spend more than ever: an estimated $27,490 each. Do the math and the industry is looking at bringing in roughly $66 billion for 2007. Theweddingreport.com, an online wedding statistical service, has provided this year’s averages of top wedding expenses, and it’s all about the party. Most of the top 10 expenses happen on the day of the wedding and during the reception that typically follows. Sharon Naylor, wedding expert and author of more than 30 wedding books, agreed. “Couples want to give their guests a show,” she said. “They want to create an entire experience, especially when guests take the time to travel — couples are focused on making sure they love their food, they’re well entertained and that they get the best of everything.”

RECEPTION FOOD SERVICE

Average cost per couple for 2007: $9,400

According to Theweddingreport.com, the average number of wedding guests is 167. Sharon Naylor, a wedding expert based in Madison, N.J., pointed out that a recent trend is to bypass the typical dishes of chicken, beef or salmon and instead create combination platters of unique dishes that guests can’t get every day. “Organic and ethnic dishes are becoming really popular — people don’t want to serve what their guests have had at 10,000 other weddings,” Naylor said. “The more creative you can be, the better. This is where the bulk of the money is spent — couples are cutting costs in places like flowers in order to make better, more extravagant food.” Here’s food for thought: Couples can save a fortune by planning a Friday night celebration, one earlier in the day on Saturday or a Sunday afternoon or evening.

ENGAGEMENT RING

Cost: $5,400

“Buying an engagement ring is one of the most significant decisions in a person’s life and one of the biggest investments,” Frédéric de Narp, Cartier North America president and chief executive officer, told WWD in May. Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, both owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont, have opened bridal sections in their respective stores: Cartier in its New York boutique and Van Cleef in Paris. “Cartier’s 607-square-foot room showcases the brand’s classic bridal collections, which includes engagement rings, wedding bands, earrings, necklaces and bracelets, as well as its new band collections that start at $1,100,” said WWD. Some couples who choose to stray from the very popular diamond solitaire standard have been opting for colored stones, such as sapphires and emeralds.

HONEYMOON

Cost: $3,700

Couples will spend an estimated $7 billion on honeymoons this year. According to brides.com (which, like WWD, is owned by Condé Nast Publications), some of the hottest destinations currently include Maui, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and London. One trend is to have close friends and/or family pitch in for the cost of the honeymoon. Liberty Travel, a travel agent company with locations across the eastern U.S., allows couples who plan their honeymoons through the agency to “register” for their honeymoon, just as they register at Bloomingdale’s or Williams-Sonoma. Another unique approach is to have a destination wedding — that way, the honeymoon is already built into the travel expenses.

RECEPTION BAND

Cost: $3,100

The ceremony band, or DJ, is crucial to the mood of a wedding reception, and therefore the process of selecting one can be quite painstaking. Katrina Keller, a Larchmont, N.Y., bride-to-be, told WWD, “We were surprised at the cost of bands. In this particular area, it’s about $1,000 per musician for a five-hour reception. Since the music can make or break the party, it was important to us to find a band who could play what we wanted — sort of an old-fashioned, big band/Sinatra type of feel for an elegant Saturday night country club event — while also ensuring that there would be the right mix of styles to really make it a party after dinner.”

RECEPTION BEVERAGES/BARTENDER

Cost: $2,800

Yes, wedding guests enjoy their beverages, and cocktail hour is really the opening act to the main event. Another recent trend is that couples have been enhancing and extending their cocktail hours by lengthening the time into two hours, for example, and by going heavy on the hors d’oeuvres. Providing more elaborate and extravagant food areas, such as caviar stations and raw seafood bars, is also popular. And, of course, an open bar “is an absolute must these days,” said Naylor. “A good suggestion for people on tight budgets is to close the bar after a few hours and serve coffee and tea.” Naylor also said that alternatives to liquor are starting to include sophisticated, fun drinks, such as a sparkling cranberry-grape combination, or even high-end orange sodas and nonalcoholic fruit drinks.

PHOTOGRAPHER

Cost: $2,300

Most photographers will offer couples various packages that may or may not include albums for the families, photos on CDs and often even a sitting for an engagement picture. Prices will vary among photographers — some charge for the entire day, others charge by the hour. Juan Carlos Torres, a wedding photographer, told Weddingphotousa.com: “The latest trend in wedding photography is toward a more fashionable approach. Inspired by high-end fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, In Style, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, etc., the photographer seeks to make the couple’s fantasies real. The everyday couple becomes celebrities, and attention to detail is required to achieve the perfect look.”

WEDDING DRESS

Cost: $1,500

For many newly engaged brides, the wedding dress is really the top priority. Designers such as Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Amsale (left), Reem Acra, Badgley Mischka and Nicole Miller cater to these new brides each year. Shorter dresses above the knee, shrugs and jackets have all been trends that have been seen on the bridal runways. Ways to cut the dress costs? There’s always eBay. Over the past 90 days, 2,598 dresses have been sold on the auction site, with winning prices ranging from $50 to $5,200. And with more mainstream retailers, such as J. Crew and Ann Taylor, bringing bridal gowns into their stores at lower prices, shaving the cost of the dress is getting easier. There’s also the option of borrowing a dress from a friend, which is a widely accepted trend these days. Besides, each bride needs “something borrowed,” doesn’t she?

WEDDING PLANNER

Cost: $1,500

Hiring a wedding planner is an option if couples have the extra money to spend and don’t have the time to decide the minor details. It’s critical to find someone who is willing to keep the couple calm and organized on the big day. “Some brides are more hands-on and want to do everything themselves, while others really want a lot of meetings and plenty of guidance throughout the process,” said Sylvia Harris Douglas, a professional wedding planner. Harris Douglas started her business eight years ago in Columbus, Ohio. She customizes her packages, and the price ranges from $1,800 to $3,800, depending on the level of service the bride and groom select.

CEREMONY BAND

Cost: $1,400

Amazingly, the cost of music for a wedding ceremony is quite pricy these days. Musicintheair.com is a Web site devoted to professional musicians who join together and perform for wedding ceremonies, based on exactly what the couple is looking for. Rates start at $400 and depend on the size of the ensemble preferred, or if soloists are requested. Naylor also noted that couples are becoming more creative with their wedding music. “Anyone can walk in to Vivaldi, but couples are happy to try specialty musical acts for an hour for their ceremony,” she said. “I’ve heard of couples using jazz pianists, Hawaiian drums, Scottish bagpipers, African drums — couples want to do something unexpected.” Saving tip: Hire a group that also will play through the cocktail hour.

VIDEOGRAPHER

Cost: $1,400

“The beauty of video is that it is able to capture the whole day, from the small, intimate details to the broadest spectrum of emotions,” says Frugalbride.com. Unfortunately, there is always that one wedding reception everyone remembers — the one with the huge camera on the dance floor that kept barging in everyone’s way, while the videographer chased people down for words of wisdom for the happy couple. “Improvements in technology, smaller cameras and the need for less artificial light can allow the right videographer to capture the day’s events without actually being a part of it anymore,” assures Frugalbride.com. Videographers also offer packages at different price points, depending on what the couple wants.

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