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A couple at their wedding Photo: IC

Shanghai's marriage-related industries like wedding planning and photography services have been thriving in recent years. A recent report on China's wedding industry published on the Labor Daily shows that the average newlyweds in Shanghai tend to spend over 200,000 yuan ($30,058) on their wedding, almost twice the amount spent by couples in any other city on the Chinese mainland.

Contrasting this is the local employee's average annual salary: 71,269 yuan last year, according to Jiefang Daily.

The Global Times talked to a local industry expert and three newlyweds to find out what the costs go to.

Chen Jining is the founder and CEO of Dreamarry, a mid-range wedding planning service in Shanghai. He acknowledged that the average wedding budget in the city exceeds 200,000 yuan, and said most ceremonies opt for a banquet.

Five-star dining

"Shanghai couples usually host around 20 tables at a wedding banquet at five-star hotels, with each table costing between 8,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan. So the banquet alone could cost at least 150,000 yuan," Chen said. He added that the average cost is more than twice the spend in Beijing, where each table runs about 3,000 yuan to 4,000 yuan.

Despite expensive banquet fees, Chen said that most of his clients in Shanghai prefer to hold ceremonies in five-star hotels as opposed to other venues and outdoor locations, and that this preference also drives up prices.

"It's very competitive to book a wedding banquet at local five-star hotels, because Chinese people tend to hold a wedding ceremony on an auspicious day. With strong demand and limited supply of venues, those hotels raise prices for wedding banquets," he explained.

Another big cost is the fees for hiring a wedding planner: about 20,000 yuan for average-level agencies, whose services include decorating the wedding venue, arranging the emcee and securing a makeup specialist and photographers, Chen said.

But he said that cost for other expenses, such as the photography service and rentals for the wedding dress and cars only account for a small portion of the budget.

"It usually costs 5,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan to shoot wedding photography, and about 7,000 to 8,000 yuan to rent four nice bridal dresses, and less than 10,000 yuan to rent four or five luxury cars," he added.

Liu Yuling, a 26-year-old bride who declined to give her real name, works in marketing. She said she spent a lot on her wedding banquet. Total costs for their wedding expenses came to 700,000 yuan, while the drinking and dining alone cost around 480,000 yuan.

Large number of guests

"My parents have so many friends, and in order to host a large number of guests I had to organize two wedding banquets, one at noon and one in the evening," Liu said. She said she had 60 tables at a five-star hotel to host her parents' friends as well as her relatives and friends at noon.

She and the groom hosted another 20 tables in evening, with most of the guests coming from his side. The cost for each table was about 6,000 yuan, Liu said.

Liu said she also spent considerably on the wedding planning and their rings. She said she paid about 100,000 yuan to a wedding planner to customize a wedding ceremony for her.

"I preferred an impressive and stylish wedding ceremony, with most scenes in red and black," she said, "I also wanted to present in the ceremony the love story between my husband and me."

Likewise, Liu preferred wedding rings from a high-end brand, so she bought a diamond ring and a pair of couple rings from Tiffany & Co. during a trip abroad, which cost her about 100,000 yuan.

Though Liu was satisfied with her wedding, she admitted that if she had a second chance, she wouldn't spend so much money on it.

"I would prefer to have a simple and small banquet with some of the most important families and friends. That could save lots of money and time," she said, adding that both of her and her husband's parents paid for the event.

Small budget for nice experience

But there are also cases of couples that have a nice wedding experience while spending relatively little.

For instance, French designer Antony Duc, who just got married with his Chinese wife on August 14, said that his wedding cost him around 77,000 yuan, most of which went to wedding rings and the banquet.

Unlike Chinese couples who usually buy wedding rings from brand stores, Duc invited his good friend to make rings for them. "I didn't want a branded ring, I wanted something unique for both of us," he said, adding that the rings cost him about 27,000 yuan.

Notably, the wedding photography was free. "It was a coincidence, as my wife and I were models for a fake wedding shoot earlier this year," Duc said. "We didn't even plan to get married back then. So we just used those pictures for our wedding."

As for wedding dresses, Duc and his wife first went to a wedding market in People's Square to look for ideal styles of wedding dresses, and then they took pictures of the clothes they liked and asked tailors in his wife's hometown to make similar garments.

Duc added that he and his wife both had two kinds of clothes: one of traditional Chinese dress for the ceremony, and a more casual one for the lunch afterward.

Notably, Duc's wedding costs were also kept low from location. Their ceremony and banquet was held in his wife's hometown, a small village in Central China's Henan Province, rather than in Shanghai.

Duc said that his wedding ceremony and banquet were held at a hotel ballroom, with about 250 invited guests, most of whom were from his wife's side. "We had 25 tables of 10 persons. Budget was 800RMB per table," he added.

Unlike couples in cities that rent luxury cars on the wedding day, Duc and his wife rented horses. At the end of their ceremony, they had a fireworks show.

He said that both he and his wife are satisfied with this wedding experience, and are still amazed by how beautiful and great it was. "I didn't get any feedback from the Chinese guests, but my family was very enthusiastic and happy to come see a traditional wedding," he added. "They all loved it and my grandmother said it was one of the most beautiful experiences she had."

For expats who want to have their wedding ceremony in China, Duc said his main advice is to ask someone local to handle it, which frees the bride and groom of much  trouble.

Newlyweds in Shanghai tend to spend over 200,000 yuan on their wedding. Photo: CFP

For example, his wife's family paid a local wedding agency to take care of most of the details, including the emcee, decoration, music and horses.

"We went to the wedding agency two days before the wedding to check all the details and that's when we discovered the layout and elements they planned to use," he said. "As a designer, I was nicely surprised. Some details were cheap, but the overall atmosphere was magic and beautiful."

Though Duc didn't spend too much on his wedding, he said that it is acceptable for couples to spend almost a year's family income creating a wedding experience.

"I remember my parents getting married when I was 12, and it was a lot more expensive than they could afford back then, probably about 30,000 euro," Duc told the Global Times. "I guess celebrating their love was priceless for them, so that's why we had to make some sacrifices the next years."

Similarly, the wedding experience of 28-year-old office worker Lin Mengxiao is also a good example of holding a nice celebration on a relatively small budget.

Lin said she comes from Zhejiang Province, while her husband is from Anhui Province. To accommodate friends and family better, they organized banquets in Shanghai and their respective hometowns.

Lin said she did a lot of research and bargained hard, and she was able to squeeze her wedding budget to about 160,000 yuan. She added that her wedding looks much more expensive than it really cost. Like many young couples in Shanghai, Lin planned to hold her wedding banquet at a five-star hotel. But instead of paying 8,000 yuan per table at a banquet, she used her social connections to save money.

"My company would always hold company events at a nearby Marriott Hotel. So I consulted the hotel's staff to see whether I could get a discounted price," she said. "Fortunately, one newly built banquet room was unreserved on my wedding day, so the hotel personnel agreed to offer a discounted price to me, only about 4,000 yuan a table."

Lin added that she only booked 11 tables and most of the guests were her husband's friends and their close family members. 

For the two wedding banquets in their hometowns, the fees were paid by the couple's parents, Lin said.

Lin said she was also able to save on her dress. She said that shops on a street near Laoximen sell and rent wedding clothes, and she went there to look for nice and affordable wedding dresses. After comparing prices at several stores, she eventually rented four ideal wedding dresses at 8,000 yuan for her wedding day.

She suggested that if couples want to save more money, they could go to Suzhou in Jiangsu Province to rent or purchase wedding dresses, and where four nice wedding dresses can sell for 8,000 yuan.

Additionally, Lin's budget for wedding planning was smaller than average. Her advice is to compare prices of different agencies and bargain.

"I consulted several agents in Shanghai, and most of them wanted to charge around 20,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan," Lin said. "But after some market research, I found the cost for organizing a wedding ceremony, as I expected, was not as high as 20,000 yuan, so I kept bargaining with agents. And eventually one agent agreed to plan my expected wedding ceremony for 16,000 yuan."