I recently spoke with a bride on the telephone about her upcoming wedding, and eventually we got around to talking about her budget – both her overall budget for her wedding, and specifically her budget for a DJ.  Something that she said really struck me – she said, “I bought a wedding planner book at Barnes and Noble, and it has a ‘budget’ sheet in it.  It says the average wedding DJ costs $600 for four hours.”  Obviously, there are some DJs in this area that charge $600 (or even less) for a four hour wedding - just look on craigslist.  What struck me as strange about this was the fact that her book said it was $600 for the average wedding DJ, which seemed really low. 

After we got off the phone, what she said was still bugging me.  The average cost for a wedding DJ can’t be that low, could it?  I came to the conclusion that either the bride’s book was incorrect, my impression of the average cost for a DJ was incorrect, or both.  It was time to do a little research.

I eventually stumbled upon a pair of fantastic resources: The Wedding Report, which is geared toward wedding industry professionals, and Cost of Wedding, geared toward brides and grooms.  Both sites use the same data set in different ways, with Cost of Wedding giving an average price range based on zip code and The Wedding Report giving absolute averages based on all sorts of criteria.  What I found was incredible!  The average cost for a wedding, and all of its associated products and services, can vary wildly based on geography. 

According to The Wedding Report’s statistics, there were 2,190,363 weddings nationwide in 2008.  The average amount of money spent (not budgeted, but actually spent) on each wedding was $21,814.  Digging deeper into the numbers, I decided to pull the average cost for a handful of wedding-related services in order to compare them: 

DJ at reception: $691
Band at reception: $1,194
Wedding Photographer: $1,500
Day-of-Coordinator: $679
Full Service Wedding Planner: $1,940  

Having spent the last 10 years in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area market, these numbers immediately looked ridiculously low.  But, they are actually the national averages based on the massive data set that The Wedding Report used to compile its 2008 statistics.  So, it appears that the bride’s book was closer to the national average than I thought, and was probably just a bit outdated. 

Being curious, I decided to pull the same data for the greater Washington, DC metro area (this data set included central Maryland and northern Virginia as well) and the numbers blew me away.  Take a look:

  National Average: DC Metro Area Average:
Total Amount Spent Per Wedding: $21,814 $42,537
DJ at reception: $691 $1,347

Band at reception:

$1,194 $2,328
Wedding Photographer: $1,500 $2,925
Day-of-Coordinator: $679 $1,324
Full Service Wedding Planner: $1,940 $3,783

Wow!  That is a huge difference.  The average wedding in the DC metro area costs more than twice the national average, and each individual service was also close to (or more than) twice the national average.  You can see similar figures for other major metro area markets around the country (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.), with the prices for services and overall cost significantly higher than the national average. 

What does this mean?  In short, it means that brides should not base their budgets on what they read in books and magazines, since they typically use national statistics.  Creating a realistic wedding budget is essential for most engaged couples, and starting with estimated costs that are so far off from the reality in their area can lead to serious budget problems later in the planning process. 

Want to play with the numbers and see for yourself?  Wedding professionals can join The Wedding Report for free, and get access to this same data state-by-state and by metro area.  Brides and grooms can search the zip code where their wedding will be held on Cost of Wedding for free, and get a general range of average prices for each service.  It’s very interesting stuff, go check it out!