Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chicago weddings among most expensive in U.S. By Lauren Hill

Looking to get hitched? Prepare to fork over the equivalent of a year's worth of in-state tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The average cost of a wedding rang in at $35,329 in 2016 — an all-time high — according to an annual study done by wedding planning website The Knot. Chicago couples can expect to pay almost double that. The report surveyed nearly 13,000 brides and grooms across the U.S. Manhattan topped the list at $78,464, followed by Long Island ($67,831) and New Jersey ($62,606). Chicago came in fourth with an average price tag of $60,035, down ever so slightly ($1,230) from 2015. This doesn't surprise Charlene Liang, owner and lead planner of Sweet Chic Events, a Chicago-based wedding planning company. She said venue cost is what makes the Windy City so pricey. "We are lucky to have such a variety of venues in the city, but they are expensive to rent," Liang said. Among the most popular Chicago locations: Ovation, The Ivy Room and The Chicago History Museum, according to Liang. The Chicago suburbs, which The Knot considers a separate category, hasn't made the top 25 since 2014, when it came in just over 33K. Nationally, couples spend the most on venue (averaging $16,107), the reception band ($4,156) and photography ($2,783), according to the report. It lists catering at $71 per person. The couples Liang works with tend to spend the most on venue, food and beverage. When budgeting for venues, Liang recommends the bride and groom get a written proposal of the total venue costs before committing, so there are no surprises. This prevents couples from becoming "venue poor," a term used by wedding planners when the majority of a couple's budget is spent on the event space, leaving little for food, music, dress, etc. "Off-premise" venues are a different ballgame entirely. Imagine a blank slate — ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, according to Liang — that doesn't include staff, tables and chairs, linens, catering or decor. Sweet Chic Events recommends couples start planning with an estimated guest count and their top three priorities — where they want to spend the most money. They should also consider which elements are not important. For most of Liang's clients, that would be transportation or invitations. The Knot report noted that while the amount of money spent on an average wedding has gone up, guest lists seem to have dwindled, implying couples are spending more per attendee and focusing attention on guests' experience. "Couples are also using their wedding day to make their first big statement as a couple," Kellie Gould, editor-in-chief of The Knot said in a press release. "From invitations to the reception band, couples are spending more to put their personal stamp on every detail." For example, 75 percent of couples surveyed said they had at least one "signature element," such as a signature cocktail. And 41 percent had some form of custom entertainment, including photo booths (most popular), games, musical performances and fireworks. Liang suggests saving money by getting married on less popular days or times, like midday Friday. To save on photography, only buy digital versions of the photos, and handle printing on your own. For off-premise venues, consider ordering liquor in bulk from companies like Binny's. But there are some penny-pinching ideas Liang says aren't worth the potential hassle. For one: having a friend or family member officiate the wedding, instead of getting a professional. The move may seem sentimental but can go downhill fast. To avoid disaster, make sure your loved one is well-prepared ahead of time. Some couples are opting to use an iPhone or music streaming app in lieu of a DJ or live band. But don't be surprised if some awkward silences ensue. "DJs are trained to know the rhythm of the room and how to get people to dance," Liang said. "We're trying to help the couple save but trying to get the professionals when needed." Couples can work with wedding planners or fly solo when it comes to budgeting out their big day. As for after? Let's just say, the 60K Chicago price tag does not include a honeymoon. lhill@chicagotribune.com Chicago Tribune