BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Wedding couples who let a case of cold feet cancel their plans will be lucky if their relationship is all that gets lost in the exchange.
Wedding jitters and nullified nuptials are just fine when it's Julia Roberts' Runaway Bride lacing up the track shoes or Simon Pegg's Run, Fatboy, Run character on the lam from responsibility, but it can become a costly proposition for grooms or brides looking to bail out before the big day. The mean cost of an American wedding last year, including the engagement ring, was $26,984, according to TheKnot.com (Stock Quote: KNOT) and WeddingChannel.com's Real Weddings study. The fact that the total price dropped 5% from the year before likely comes as little consolation to former couples whose wedding investments were wiped out by second-guessing and doubt.
"There are a lot of costs associated with the wedding that are nonrefundable at the very beginning," says Amy Eisinger, associate editor of WeddingChannel.com. "Typically that includes the engagement ring -- even if she says no -- and the wedding ring. Same with your formalwear, wedding dress and bridesmaids' dresses."
By buying an engagement ring, which averaged $5,400 last year, couples are already putting a nearly 20% nonrefundable deposit down on their ceremony. Add on the average costs of a wedding gown ($1,099), groom's attire ($216), bridesmaids dresses ($139 a pop for an average of four bridesmaids) and groomsmen's gear ($146 apiece for an average of four groomsmen), and that $7,855 couples are forfeiting is already nearly 30% of the wedding's cost. That doesn't even factor in the average $784 and $572 that wedding research company The Wedding Report says couples spent on bride and groom wedding bands, respectively, in the first half of 2011.
"We have no data on cancellation costs or last-minute jitters," says Shane McMurray, chief executive and founder of The Wedding Report. "They are usually completely disengaged by this point."
What McMurray's firm does have, however, is a pretty good idea of what runaway brides and grooms are paying to make the panic go away. In the first half of this year the engagement ring, wedding dress, groom's attire and wedding bands were more than 31% of the $18,859 average total cost of the wedding, according to The Wedding Report.
The remaining portions aren't fully refundable, either. Real Weddings put the average cost of a ceremony venue at $1,393 last year, while a reception venue including food, drinks, bar service and fees went for $12,124. If a couple gets lucky and manages to put down only a 10% to 20% deposit, they'll lose only $1,350 to $2,700. If their split is somewhat more spontaneous, however, it could cost them more than $6,700 (or 50%) out of pocket. The Wedding Report puts the total venue cost at only $6,900 in the first half of this year, but that still puts couples on the hook for up to $3,450 if they break it off.
"You have to realize that when you put your deposit down, your vendor has put that date in their book and they are no longer taking any calls about that date," Eisinger says. "They're out potentially more money from someone else if you cancel that date."