Stories by LEIA LARSEN • Standard-Examiner Staff
Turns out, there are a lot of feelings interlaced with weddings. Attitudes about them certainly set Utah apart from other states. Here, brides and grooms are younger than the national average. Millennials here are more likely to tie the knot than other young couples in the U.S. They’re also a lot more frugal — signally so.
“My average weddings are $20,000 to $25,000 here in Utah,” said Rebecca Thomas, of Farmington-based Wedding Expectations. She’s been in the wedding planning business for 10 years. “But from calls I get, the majority are spending more between $10,000 and $15,000 sometimes less. Once in a while get a call for a $3,000 or $5,000 wedding.”
Earlier this year, wedding planning website The Knot released some national statistics. Nuptial spending is on the rise, with the national average cost of a wedding reaching a record high of $35,329 in 2016. That doesn’t even include the honeymoon.
Utah couples, however, spend an average of $20,337 when they get hitched. That’s the second-lowest rate in the nation, falling just behind Arkansas’s average of $19,522.
Thomas said she’s noticed Utah couples spending more on their ceremonies since the recession. But they still remain innovative in the ways they pinch pennies.
“There’s a lot of DIY decor,” she said. “I’ve noticed a lot are trying to create things on Pinterest and save money that way. Also music — I’d say seven or eight years ago, iPods took over DJ roles some of the time.”
Another reason Utahns spend less on weddings could be linked to the prevalence of Mormon culture. It’s free for couples to get married in LDS temples and have their receptions at LDS churches. Those receptions also tend to be more laid-back than weddings elsewhere around the country.
“I notice doing weddings here, that if it is an LDS wedding, for the most part it’s super casual,” said Rachel Heslington, owner of Ogden-based Saints Photography.
Originally from Texas, she’s been shooting weddings since 2013.
“People show up in jeans and T-shirts, they say ‘hi’ to the couple, eat some snacks and leave,” she said. “I guess they happen so often, weddings, that it’s just another dance or another cake cutting.”
Both Thomas and Heslington said they’ve noticed LDS couples make up less of their clientele — which might mean they’re less likely to hire professional wedding services.
Utah couples are also more likely to get married young, which means they often don’t have as much to spend. Even while 20- to 34-year-olds are more likely to delay marriage compared to couples in 2000, Utah millennials are far more likely to get married than their peers in other states, according to an analysis by the The Pew Charitable Trusts.
“The younger couples, their parents are still helping,” Thomas said. “They’re more budget-conscious. Usually they have a lot of children in family, so the budget is smaller.”
The national average age of marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men. Utah couples, however, are the youngest, with women on average first saying “I do” when they’re just shy of 24 and men making their vows at 26.
While Utah couples tend to be young and on a budget, they still find ways to express their individuality and creativity on their special day.
Thomas said she’s seeing a lot of wedding traditions dropped — things like throwing the garter and bouquet tosses — in favor of elements that express the couples’ individuality.
“Cake is not as important as it was even five years ago. A lot more couples recently are doing a really small, simple cake, then doing things like pies or cupcakes in addition,” she said. “They want to personalize their wedding ... they don’t want their wedding to look like their cousin’s wedding.”
Heslington said she’s noticed a lot more social media being incorporated into weddings and the planning process, too.
“They’ll do their own Instagram hashtags,” she said. “I’ve also gotten several clients who found me on Instagram ... also, I ask my clients to build Pinterest boards for me ... I want to make sure I see what clients envision for their photos.”
Both Thomas and Heslington said they’re seeing brides and grooms embrace nature for their weddings as well.
“I’m seeing a lot of really huge bouquets. It’s not the classic roses anymore, it’s more wildflowers, peonies, just these elaborate wedding bouquets,” Heslington said. “I’ve seen a lot of floral crowns.”
A few years ago, Thomas said she noticed more of a “rustic chic” esthetic at weddings — lots of burlap and lace. In recent years, themes seem more organic.
“It’s now moving to a boho trend, that’s huge right now. It’s basically a really natural color scheme — greens, ivories, some brown tones — then still the rustic wood slabs, wood arches,” she said. “And with boho, it’s a little hippie, so they’re incorporating things like dreamcatchers, lace on tables and tapestries.”
Weddings also more frequently incorporate Utah scenery — which has an added bonuses of saving on couples’ decor budgets. Outdoor weddings venues like ski resorts are becoming more common. Heslington embraces natural landscapes in her bridal and couples portraits, too.
“We live in such a gorgeous state that has a lot to offer,” she said. “You pretty much can get any type of scenery — desert, a beach scene, mountains, lakes, it’s amazing to live in a 100 mile-radius of all that gorgeousness.”
While Utahns might pride themselves on their frugality, some things are worth the splurge. Both Thomas and Heslington said it’s worth spending extra to get a good photographer.
“That’s what they have left when day is all done, the pictures,” Thomas said.
Heslington said she made the mistake of not hiring a photographer for her own wedding day. She was young, in college and strapped. It’s her biggest regret.
“I don’t want my brides to have that excuse,” she said. “I try to provide my clients with high-end looking photos for really cheap. I think people deserve to have beautiful photos on their wedding day.”
It also helps to have a planning service, Thomas said, even if it’s just for the day of the ceremony.
“I get a lot of calls a month or two before the wedding where brides or their family took on the planning, but then they’re down to the wire and freak out,” she said.
Stressing the details, she said, is often the biggest mistake she sees couples making on their big day.
To capture Northern Utah’s unique approaches to weddings, we interviewed four couples who were married in the last year. Explore their stories below: