NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — My first attempt at setting a wedding budget was to pick a large number and divide it based on Martha Stewart's wedding budget breakdown . This system seemed perfect until I realized that because we were getting married in a major U.S. city, my sample budget could probably only buy dinner for us and our parents. I was two days into wedding planning, and already I had gone from glowing fiancée to a whirlwind of stress.

My fiancé, Eric, and I decided to reevaluate our budget. In order to help, my parents forwarded me their friends' daughter's wedding budget, which came in roughly $10,000 -- less than we were planning to spend. Eric's parents sent a family member's recent wedding budget, which was $10,000 above our budget. After seeing both, I closed my laptop and pretended I was already done planning.

Elizabeth Clayton, founder and principal planner of Lowe House Events in the San Francisco Bay area, has seen many couples surprised by the actual cost of weddings.

"The amount of people who come to us and say we want 120 guests and a full dinner and a band and we'd like to spend $10,000 is a huge amount of people," she said. "You can have an awesome wedding for $10,000, but it's not going to look like that... In the Bay Area, if you want the Big American Wedding, it is very hard to do that for less than $25,000."

"Everyone goes into wedding planning thinking they're going to spend a lot less than they end up doing," added Clayton.

I was absolutely one of those people. I was sure that the statistics about weddings averaging upwards of $28,000 were just blown up by a few millionaires. We would be fine!

Finding a place to host both of our large families and friends was my first challenge. Massachusetts, where I grew up, is full of gorgeous historic homes and museums that host events. I quickly found out that the beautiful coastal venues can have rental fees that are more than I pay in rent for six months.

Eventually I found an arts center in Cambridge that I loved, but their $4,000 Saturday night rental fee seemed awfully steep. I returned to Google, convinced I could find somewhere cheaper.

Despite my hopes, all the venues I found that could fit our 130-person guest list charged several thousand dollars for weekend events. One had originally quoted $3,000 for a Saturday night, but when we visited the event coordinator explained that they were actually raising their cost to $5,000. Another was $3,500, but the coordinator responded to most of our suggestions with a shrug and, "Well, I guess it's your wedding, but..." Eric thought she was feisty. I was less enthused.