The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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June 24, 2013

Gatsby-style weddings show confidence to spend big

WASHINGTON — Lauren O'Shaughnessy has boosted prices for her wedding-planning services by about 25 percent since 2009 as the economic expansion puts Americans in the mood for bigger parties and fancier locations.

Spending on the average wedding in the United States climbed 5.2 percent to $28,427 in 2012 from a year earlier, according to XO Group Inc., a New York-based company whose websites include theknot.com and WeddingChannel.com.

"People do feel more comfortable spending their money than they used to," said O'Shaughnessy, a 29-year-old partner at Bellafare, an event and wedding-planning company in New York. "We're busier, the stuff we're getting is much more grand, and we've had to hire more people to help us out with everything."

Further strides in employment, record household wealth from rising home and stock prices, and consumer confidence at a five- year high will help sustain such discretionary spending gains. More lavish special events, from weddings to bar mitzvahs, have sparked stepped-up hiring in the leisure and hospitality industry and kept the bubbly flowing for companies such as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Signet Jewelers.

"There are those who, as the economy returns and improves, are ready and willing and anxious and excited to spend more and to maximize the celebration of the biggest day of their life," said Brian Beitler, executive vice president of Conshohocken, Pa.-based David's Bridal, the U.S. largest wedding-gown retailer.

Rising property and stock values are boosting consumer finances, helping Americans cope with higher payroll taxes. Household wealth jumped to an all-time high in the first quarter, exceeding its pre-recession peak for the first time, the Federal Reserve said on June 6. Net worth for households and non-profit groups increased by $3 trillion, or 4.5 percent from the previous three months, to $70.3 trillion, the Fed said.

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