APW Is Trending on Buzzfeed! What My Parents’ Wedding Would Cost in 2017

No, millennials can’t just “be smarter about our budget”

A wedding couple stand quietly in a church

As anyone planning a wedding knows, there is one conversation you hear from friends and loved ones that that simply will not die. I call it “Back in my day, when we planned weddings, we did so much more with less.” I’ve had that conversation as recently as this month. (And in case anyone is paying attention, I’m not even planning a wedding.) But instead of rolling my eyes heavenward and trying to explain that literally everything about weddings is different now than it was in the ’60s, or ’70s, or ’80s, I said, “Actually I just did some long-form research on that subject.” And then outlined for them why millennials are not to blame at all.

And if you head over to BuzzFeed right now, you can read that article. It talks about the pace of wedding inflation versus regular inflation and what happened when I tried to plan my parents’ exact wedding in 2017. (And, if after reading the article, you’re dying to see my parents wedding pictures, you can check them out right here.)

a couple cutting their wedding cake with a sabre

Here is a taste of what I wrote. Though sadly, I cannot offer tastes of their enormous cake.

I got engaged in San Francisco, exactly 35 years after my parents’ 1974 wedding. Their San Francisco wedding cost about $2,000, which in today’s money is roughly $10K. So naturally, when we started planning, my mom thought that if I made the same good practical, frugal choices that she and my father had made, I should be able to pull off something similar for $10K. I just needed to be smart about it.

In fact, when most people get engaged, I think we generally assume it should be possible to get married for $10k BECAUSE THAT IS A FUCK TON OF MONEY. And yeah, if you cut some corners, in many parts of the country you actually can pull off a pretty nice wedding for $10K. (Hell, I’ve built a whole business around helping people do just that.)

But by today’s standards, my parents’ wedding was BEYOND. They got married in San Francisco’s reigning massive church, Grace Cathedral, three days after Christmas. They had a whopping 300 people in attendance, and a cocktail reception at the swanky Marine’s Memorial Club. Their cake alone was so big that when we tried to re-create their wedding, we couldn’t even find a baker that still made cakes that large.

And yet their budget was only $10,000 in 2017 dollars.

So, with the help of my cooperative parents, my staff and I set out to re-create their wedding in today’s economy, to show exactly what wedding inflation looks like. Luckily, my dad is a mathematician who remembers every number ever, so we were able to re-create their line-item wedding budget with astonishing accuracy. He gave us a line item on costs that added up to $2,195, or just under $10,000 in today’s currency. Then we made a bunch of undercover phone calls to see what the same things would cost in real life 2017 Wedding Dollars.

This is what we came up with.

Read the rest on BuzzFeed.

So who’s going to send that to their Mama? And who needs a good vent about wedding inflation and parents’ unreasonable expectations?

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  • theteenygirl

    I read this on Buzzfeed on the weekend – I’m so happy you posted a photo of the cake!!!

    I think one of the things that my parents just didn’t understand as an expense was the photography. A friend of the family offered to take photos as their wedding present to my parents and I mean, the photos themselves are great for 1984. But there are maybe 50 photos in total from walking down the aisle, the ceremony, and family portraits. None of the details, getting ready shots or of the reception (which was just cake and coffee at my grandparents’ house) which are standard in today’s photography. My mum was SHOCKED that my photographer wasn’t putting any of the photos from our wedding in an album for us, since we paid SO MUCH for photography. I had to explain to her that 1) we have like 1000 photos, they’re not going to print them all and put them in a book for us and 2) well, yeah the photographers in the 80s had to print the photos and put them in in album for you.. SO YOU COULD SEE THEM! It’s not like they were going to just give you the film negatives at the end of the day and walk away…

    • Zoya

      Ha, my mom had the opposite reaction. She’d assumed the photographer only made money off of prints/albums, and came to me very concerned about whether she and my father needed to spend a certain amount of money on prints in order to fairly compensate the photographer (who was great). I reassured her that, no, that part was already well and truly handled. :)

      • theteenygirl

        That’s actually so cute of your mom!! We loved our photographer and I’d love to support her by purchasing large format prints from her.. but I can’t justify the album through her. 60 photos in a 10×10 for $750 just isn’t going to work for me.

      • Rose

        My mom was also really pleased/surprised by how inexpensive ordering prints was. I think it’s a definite change!

    • Hannah Paige Woodard

      Yes so much this!! The switch to digital from film almost necessitates the higher expense. It’s kind of counterintuitive, because hey, digital shots are “free” whereas every film shot had a cost attached in materials and developing. But, because now the digital files are so easy to create, there are more of them. Which means higher expectations and more post processing time, which means a higher cost. There’s also the fact that because clients want to buy the digitals, allowing them to make as many copies as they want, the photographers have to factor that into their cost. Back in the day, you didn’t get the negatives, so the prints you bought were all you had. Print sales actually made up the bulk of photographers’ profit, not just the ‘sitting fee.’ Getting the digitals with printing rights is actually being given SO much power to do what you want with your photos! So photography costs a lot more these days, but you get a TON more than our parents did.

  • Kaitlyn

    I loved this article! My mom ran into similar sticker show when it came to wedding dresses. It seems like everyone I know spends about $1500 on their wedding dress (Boston area, fairly elaborate dresses from both small boutiques and David’s). When I told her that, her response was, “mine was $500” (in 1989). We popped that puppy into an inflation calculator and it came close to $1500. She was impressed by the change and understood the cost now.

    • suchbrightlights

      In the $15k bridesmaid dress thread I mentioned that my mother made a comment on the dress she picked out for me to wear at my bat mitzvah: “This costs more than my wedding dress did.” Definitely a different world, and although she was absolutely determined to pay for our wedding- apparently she had been saving towards my sister’s and my weddings since our childhood and I had had no idea- she had some sticker shock, for sure. I put together a budget and every time she said “that seems high” I said “that is an actual quote.” The one thing that was under was invitations. Ann’s Bridal Bargains FTW.

      On the bright side Mom recently consigned that wedding dress that cost less than my bat mitzvah dress, and I would imagine that she got about half of her money back on it- before adjusting for inflation.

      (And I wish that buyer a good alterations specialist, because that dress, like the prices we are discussing, is definitely a product of its time.)

  • rebecca

    Bless you. This is totally an act of public service.

    I was incredibly lucky that my parents took the “here is a check for what we can contribute, we support you and your choices” approach to our wedding budget but I still lied in a “winkwink I’m telling you this is the number because I know the real number would give you anxiety” way when my mom asked, because while I’m very proud of how we handled our wedding budget, my grandfather literally made the wine for my parents’ wedding himself!

    ETA that my grandad was not a vintner, this was like a one-off thing from grapes grown the finest terroir central Michigan has to offer haha

  • Zoya

    This is GREAT.

  • Anya

    the “back in my day” arguments/advice bothers the hell out of me. Thank you for writing out this article. It’ll be my go-to next time people complain about Millennials not doing X, Y, Z…

    I had to fight a lot of battles like this when we were planning our wedding in the Bay Area.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Yeah, I’d like a whole series of these articles on cars, houses, college degrees… Give me a whole stack of ’em.

      • lamarsh

        My dad (a non-terrible baby boomer) always points out the following great example when people are going on about the student debt crisis. When he was in college, he made enough money in his summer job that he could pay for a full year of tuition and room and board at a state school. There is no way that you could make enough at your summer job to pay for a year of school in 2017.

      • Right.

      • Anya

        That. And having kids. The number of times I hear “when I was your age, I already had X kids” is starting to grate on me.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Random, but cars are actually a really interesting one: Pickup trucks and SUVs are astronomical compared to what they once were. Regular economy cars? Meh, they’ve gone up, but adjusted for both inflation and the fact that you’re getting a much better car, it’s not really that different. But luxury cars? Those have actually gone down…a new BMW 3-series had a base price of roughly $30k in the mid-80’s, and that’s still more or less the base price now.

        Inflation is weird.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          There are also a ton more trucks and SUVs on the road than there used to be. People don’t buy little cars anymore. They know where to make their money.

  • Amy March

    Also like come on. Your wedding 30 years ago probs did not actually do more with less. It did less with less.

    • CMT

      Ok, but they probably did have to walk up hill both ways in the snow to get there.

      • Violet

        After putting themselves through college by working a summer job.

        • Zoya

          Aaaaand now there is tea on my computer monitor.

    • Katharine Parker

      In this case, they got the champagne punch, instead of full champagne service!

      I love that Meg priced this out and it was… $70pp instead of $80. Of course.

      • Oh and they were like “Um maybe.” It was pretty clear from that convo that they were not actually going to come up with a $70 option.

        In fact, we were trying to be overly fair. I don’t think you could really have that wedding for the price we quoted, because that was the best case scenario for every possible budget item. And some of those quotes were given SO begrudgingly, they were clearly not ever going to be honored.

        • Katharine Parker

          You were already getting a 2.5% discount, Meg. You couldn’t expect them to be any more accommodating.

          • You should have seen how hard we had to argue for that discount. They were like “What? Oh, that thing. Sure I guess it’s… I have it here somewhere… oh yeah, 2.5%.” My grandfather was rolling over in his grave, I can guarantee you that.

          • Katharine Parker

            This says a lot about the difference between a social club 70 years ago and a social club today. One was actually a social club.

          • EXACTLY. Now it’s a social club in name only. And the Marine’s that founded it did so because they didn’t want money put into a memorial, they wanted a living memorial that everyone could use, so they could be together. Now it’s… a wedding venue. I try not to imagine their horror at that twist of fate.

        • Zoya

          Right. We could have bargained and negotiated on every single quote for our Bay Area wedding, and then insisted on holding them to every single discount, and maybe that would have saved us a couple thousand dollars overall. But that would have been *so* much extra effort, on top of our actual jobs and lots of other life responsibilities. At a certain point, the tiny discount isn’t worth it.

        • Ashley Meredith

          I like that you used the best possible quotes (just because, baselines are a good thing to have in mind), but if quotes weren’t going to be honored, then using them is almost a disservice to the point you were making.

          • We figured: better not let the internet burn itself up debating that we could have gotten a slightly cheaper quote. For example: very experienced SF wedding photographers do not run $2,500 (the quote we used). And they had a very experienced photographer. But sure, let’s best case it. Really, I think there wedding would probably run you $60K+, not the $47K we quoted. But $47K is your very best case, so it’s not overstating the facts.

    • People will tell me the venue that they smartly got married at for free, and I’m like DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT VENUE COSTS NOW? The answer is often in the $5K range. In 2017, you do not get free venues just by asking nicely.

      • Amy March

        I feel like 40 years ago when society still bought into the (fiction, often) of waiting for marriage there was much more of an attitude of young people have to get married, we’ll all collectively make this a possibility. Now? Marriage is presented as an optional luxury (like children) that you simultaneously must pay for entirely on your own AND that you must make as perfect a reflection of yourself as possible because you chose this.

        Like, I get why churches charge big bucks for this, and I don’t begrudge them that entirely, but also c’mon.

        • YES. Having dug into the history of weddings for my first book, that sea change happened in the late 70s, early 80s. Obviously it caught on more as the years went on, but there was a really specific time when it changed. Once weddings were a luxury option and a choice you were making, forget it.

        • NolaJael

          There’s definitely a correlation between the decline in social organizations of all kinds (VFWs, Lions Clubs, churches) and the pay-to-play climate we have now. I agree with Meg that it’s not that small business owners are necessarily greedy capitalists, but there is a shift from things like venues being something that everyone helps collectively subsidize to a service that is being purchased at fair market value.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        I wonder how much of that is due to younger people being less involved in church life. My parents’ wedding was in the social hall of their church, and if it cost them anything, it wasn’t much. My dude and I aren’t religious, so that’s not an option.

        • rebecca

          Also people discounting women’s labor. My grandmother’s “Women’s Circle” at her church were incredible artisans all of whom would work themselves into the ground whenever one of them had a charity event or a kid who got married or graduated or whatever. They did a lot of things “on the cheap” that were extraordinarily beautiful bc they only paid for raw ingredients for anything that was food or textiles and donated what would have been thousands of dollars of labor.

          • I mean, see my parents getting at discount at the church in exchange for my grandmother needlepointing a kneeler. (My Grandmother was an ACCOMPLISHED textile artist, so I’m sure whatever she produced was serious business.)

            The flip side is, weddings did have more of a community, informal vibe. I can guarantee you that no discounts would be offered in 2017 for needlepoint, no matter how nice.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            I think the “informal vibe” part hits the nail on the head here.

            Needlepoint takes an insane amount of time, and it’s not cheap to do. At say, $10 an hour+cost of materials, I suspect the cost of that kneeler would be in the four figure range, easily rivaling the discount they gave.

            In small towns, you can still cut deals like that. I’ve done divorces and bankruptcies in exchange for the client’s old car or sheetrock work on my house, not because I particularly cared about the person, but because there wasn’t some corporate boss who I had to approve the deal with. As long as it seemed favorable to me, we could make the trade. However, you can’t make that deal over at Bryan Cave–it won’t matter if you offer them a $30k Lexus in exchange for $10k in services, because they just aren’t set up to get paid in cars.

          • Anon

            You never know! My fancy law firm is currently getting paid in pizza by one client who was short on cash but able to provide a trade. It’s glorious.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            What!?!? That renews my faith in life! So wishing someone would pay the firm I work at now in pizza!

          • NolaJael

            THIS.

          • suchbrightlights

            I ask out of ignorance, not to ignore the immense amount of work that goes into this. Can you describe how the “Women’s Circle” relates to the community? I ask because I’m not familiar and it’s unclear to me whether the women doing putting forth prodigious amounts of effort would have had a relationship to the families of the couple (in which case their time and work is a labor of love) or whether they were bonded by shared community (in which case it’s more a testament to the goodness of their hearts.) A friend of mine is very involved in her congregation and described the incredible help that the “church ladies” gave to her and her husband for their wedding, but her description sounded like the relationship was like having a posse of aunts. You you seem to be describing a group of women who have self-organized to serve the greater community, which to me seems more of a mitzvah, if that makes sense.

          • Amy March

            Both? I mean, in my experience being a member of a congregation with church ladies, yes, they act like a posse of bossy aunties and also they have self-organized to serve the community, and also that community would not function without their unpaid under recognized labor.

          • rebecca

            Hmm I’m not sure I follow but in the community I grew up in I think it’s both? In this context, I think it’s more important to draw attention to the economic contribution of that labor which goes often goes unacknowledged than it’s motivations. Whether it’s done out of personal affection, religious obligation, interest or some combination of the three, unpaid labor definitely lowers the cost of a wedding and has become more rare as our lives have become less community oriented.

            My exp is in a rural US Catholic community (pop 2000 or so, Catholic pop much smaller) so it’s small enough that everyone has a relationship with everyone. In the church I grew up in circles are formed by the church (there’s an announcement “If you’re interested in joining a circle, call Pam” and then Pam tell you which 10 ladies you have to play card with for the rest of your life. Usually they’re women whose kids are about the same age). The purpose of circles is for women to support each other in their faith. One of the ways they express their faith is through service, so maybe your Circle is running the food bank this month, or is responsible for the altar decorations or furnishing food for funerals. Wedding stuff isn’t stuff you formally sign up for, like those things though. I live very far away and am not religious and my mother’s Circle had a giant falling out after George W Bush got reelected so there weren’t any “church ladies” involved in my wedding (a great example of some of the reasons weddings have become less community oriented) but the way my parents talk about my grandma’s Circle at their wedding, it was definitely an obligation to/labor of love for, my grandmother than my parents haha. It is a mitzvah in that Catholics are called to serve (“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace”) but particularly in Catholicism, women seem to be called to serve much more silently.

          • Sarah E

            Yup. Though, my experience with Circles is through my grandparents’ Lutheran church (ELCA) rather than the Catholic congregation I attended.

          • suchbrightlights

            Thank you! I wasn’t trying to devalue the work you are describing- rather, understanding where these women fit into their communities helps me understand and appreciate that work in its context. Given expectations for families to pull together around events like these (whether or not those expectations make sense) I am even more impressed that womens’ groups as you describe didn’t necessarily have familial relationships to the people who benefited by their efforts. Thanks for the education!

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Heck, this applies to the very part about Meg’s grandmother creating a needlepoint kneeler!
            I’m pretty sure that at $10 an hour plus materials, that would come pretty close to the cost of their current fee!

        • Given that I outline the church costs here, no, that’s not really it.

          Also, we’re religious, and it didn’t make our wedding free-er, sadly enough.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            I meant specifically for the reception venue, not the ceremony. (Sorry, I wasn’t clear. My parents rented the church for the wedding itself, but their reception was in the social hall.) I actually messaged my mom earlier in the day to see if she remembers what her wedding expenses were, but I’m pretty sure I remember her telling me that holding the reception in the social hall was either free or dirt cheap. I also don’t know anybody my age who was married in a church who had their reception in the same place, now that I’m thinking of it.

          • I think that still can be the case, though everything else is still more expensive (like food). That’s actually an option we would have considered, but living in an urban area, our synagogue’s social hall was tiny, and not really up to the job. Also within Judaism, you’d be expected to pay a significant rental or donation fee in exchange for use of the hall, so it would have been cheaper, but not free.

            ALL that said, I think the greater point is really that weddings were far more of a community event (down to and including being held in Church social halls), and they’re less of a community event on every level now.

          • Violet

            “They’re less of a community event on every level now.” Yes. So if you want to include your community, it’s going to cost you. This is what the “Save money- just go down to City Hall!” folks don’t understand. Going to City Hall is a great option for those who want it, but now that the community aspect feels more optional, you gotta pay through the nose to choose it.

          • Yeah, exactly. Community was our #1 goal of our wedding, which meant that things like City Hall were not on the table for us… and damn, did that cost us.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Isn’t that so sad?

          • Violet

            I think so! Plus it feeds into the lose-lose dynamic of planning a wedding. You’re either self-centered for saving money and eloping without your people, or you’re self-centered for spending a lot of money on “your special day” (ie, you want your people with you). Ugh.

          • Rose

            We were married in the church I grew up in (my mom is still a member), and the social hall was our bad weather back-up location, so we paid to rent it out all night. It came to something like $600 for the extra time past the ceremony–so not free, but definitely cheaper than most venues. Of course, that included nothing aside from the actual space. Still cheaper than getting a tent for the yard would have been, though, and a better back-up for more extreme weather (it snowed there exactly a year before our wedding, so). Anyway, it can be cheaper if you’re a member, but in my experience not free.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Thanks, that’s kind of exactly what I was wondering! If you had wanted to use the church’s tables and chairs, or their kitchen (assuming there was one), would they have charged you extra?Obviously inexpensive church halls are a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall change in industry costs, but I wonder a lot about how people being less involved in church life changes the way we do things as a society.

          • Rose

            I think that included something like $50 for use of the kitchen. There were tables and chairs, and I think I was informally told that we could use them if we needed, although they weren’t officially part of the arrangement. I do think we got some extra flexibility for being members.

            I just checked, and the quote for the service/social hall reception at my MIL’s church (which we also considered) was $300, with I think another $100 for the kitchen use. I’m pretty sure that included tables and chairs. I think that may have been the rate for members and it was a bit higher if you weren’t, but I’m not entirely sure.

            Another factor is that churches vary in their rules on alcohol–ours only allowed it if the renters were members of the congregation, and I don’t remember what MIL’s church’s rules were. Some people would be ok being flexible on having a dry wedding, some definitely wouldn’t. Also the reception would have had to end a bit sooner, and a few other things.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Yep. Definitely. Thanks for looking up numbers!

          • Rose

            No problem! It’s kind of fun to look back and think about those weddings-we-could-have-had. (well, some of them, some were well past our intended budget)

          • NolaJael

            We were active members of a church when we got married and it would have been dirt cheap (like $1200 pastor, ceremony & reception venue) to have the wedding in its beautiful facilities (Gothic sanctuary, cypress paneled dance hall) BUT because we’ve moved all over for school and life, it wasn’t a convenient location for anything else – like family coming in as guests. It was our church, but it wasn’t that same multi-generational church thing that our parents had going on. So I think there are multiple layers to the not-as-connected-to-the-community thing.

          • Again, YES. THIS.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Yeah, I feel ya. I moved away for school, and I really miss the church family of my hometown. They’re still happy to see me when I visit, but I don’t have anything like it here, and I’m too far away to be an active member of that community anymore.

        • A single sarah

          I expect it varies a ton by congregation and region. I’ve attended churches where the only cost of a wedding is the tip to the pastor and churches where the price for members paying cash starts at $2000. Guess which was the fancy church in the city ;)

        • SS Express

          Mayyyybe. My husband and I tried to get married at a church, and while the ceremony cost more than renting a fancy venue and hiring a celebrant, hiring the crypt for a self-catered reception would only have been $660 (compared with $2000 room hire at the reception venue we eventually went with). But when you calculate the cost of tables, chairs, linens, plates, cutlery, caterers, alcohol, AV, DJ, decorations, etc etc etc, it was about the same as our all inclusive venue which had a team of experienced event management staff as opposed to one totally incompetent admin lady.

          • Yeah, we voted down a community space near our synagogue for the same reason. Cheaper… though literally nothing was provided, so not really cheaper. And couldn’t manage to return a phone call to save their lives, which seemed like a Very Bad Start.

        • Alexandra

          I thought this post was fascinating, because it proved a hunch I had about our own wedding. We are very involved at a church, and we got the church and the country club for our reception for free. No venue fees at either because church members donated them. The church didn’t charge me a venue fee because I was a member and had been teaching Sunday school for four years.

          Also free:
          The wedding cake (church secretary made it)
          Pastor officient (a friend)
          Dress alterations (a missionary friend)
          Day-of coordinator (daughter of the Sunday school director; a friend)
          Flowers (from congregants’ backyards; arranged by Day-of coordinator and a fellow Sunday school teacher)
          Ceremony music (pastor’s wife, a friend)
          Ceremony music #2 (school-where-I-work’s choir)
          Church decor: lots of church ladies helped out with this out of stuff they had around the house
          Reception decor: more church ladies’ stuff

          Our ceremony in Kailua (on Oahu) and reception at the country club Obama golfed at several times: coincidentally, $10k. The majority of the money went to reception food/booze. We also made a number of donations to the various religious causes of all the friends who volunteered.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Holy connections, Batman! I really think if I had stayed in my hometown and an active member of my mom’s church, where she sings in the choir and teaches Sunday school and runs Bible camp and makes a quilt for the raffle every year, it may have come with some perks. Having an army of church ladies in your camp is a magical thing. Also, it’s lovely that the school choir showed up for you.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Yup! I didn’t get quite that good of a deal, but my church’s member fee was $250, plus another $70 for our organist to come in. My country club’s rental fee was about $500, and catering prices were the same as their regular meal prices would be any other day of the week.
            We didn’t have amazing connections, but we were active members of both organizations, and they were neither one terribly in-demand venues, so they basically charged us just enough to break even.

      • Katharine Parker

        I also refuse to believe in all of these free venues. People forget lots of costs. I have already forgotten some of the costs of my wedding, and it was this past summer. (I could check a spreadsheet, but that will be lost to time/sacrificed to the gods of google sheets at some point.)

        Maybe the venue was free, maybe it was only free to you because of who your mother/cousin/best friend was, maybe you thought it was free but actually your parents paid an amount that they never told you about, who knows. It’s not free now.

        • No, they were honestly free or nearly free. Weddings are just really different now. It’s an industry. That’s the real issue.

      • uggggh

        The ceremony venue I have for my (upcoming, 2019) wedding will be 100% free. The reception hall is operated by a non-profit and will cost us $1325 USD for the entire day and night plus the day before for set up, including kitchen, tables, chairs, everything needed to serve the meals.

    • SS Express

      Totally. And if we tried to do the exact same “less” today we’d be criticised for that too! I remember from the original post about Meg’s parents’ wedding that her mum’s dress was a little bit too short (hence the ballet flats). I imagine the “we did more with less” crowd would have an awful lot to say about a bride in a slightly-too-short dress these days.

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Yesssss!!!!!!

      I got married last year. I spent $6-8k depending on exactly how you run the numbers. It was wonderful, and from a guest perspective, it was indistinguishable from a $15-20k wedding (as in, it had all of the basic trappings, but you knew full and well that you weren’t watching Prince William get married).

      But you know what? Even compared to those outwardly comparable $17k weddings, I was doing less with less. I did my own makeup. The bridesmaids and I spent $20 apiece on hair, but that was because we went to the local equivalent of Great Clips. I made due with a cheaper photographer. I did an absurd amount of DIY that ate up every second of my evenings for months on end. We did the flowers ourselves, and though they looked perfectly nice, I would NOT have been happy if a florist had charged me $3,000 for something comparable.

      We got an amazing value for the money, and the corners we cut didn’t really show, but still, there were a lot of corners cut that the comparable $17k bride didn’t have to cut.

      The same applies tenfold when we’re talking about vintage weddings: Even high end wedding photographers weren’t there from 6 a.m. until after midnight, capturing every second of the wedding day. Nobody would have known what a makeup trial was. If you served a full meal at all, it probably was NOT locally sourced free range organic lobster truffles.

      In some areas, prices have legitimately skyrocketed, but in others, there just aren’t any neat apples to apples comparisons.

  • Laura C

    This is great. Just so good.

  • Sarah E

    Shared this with my cousin getting married next month (and tagged my cousin getting married next year) because real numbers are so helpful when taming the capitalist/social pressure demons.

  • Katharine Parker

    The past is a foreign country; they do weddings differently there.

    • Word.

      Also they price weddings differently there.

  • ManderGimlet

    I love this! Our planning process has been thankfully pretty shame-free, though I did laugh when my mom proclaimed “we only spent $200 on flowers for our wedding!” (also in 1974) as though that would not equal over $1000 in today’s money even without industry-specific inflation.

    • Basketcase

      We managed to spend only $100 on our wedding flowers in 2010. By the magic of having known the florist since primary school, only wanting small bouquets for the bridal party and parents, and no decorative flowers. Oh, and going in with “I want something non-bridal, and our rough budget is $100, what can you do?”
      They did amazing.

    • Eh

      Flowers were a huge sticker shock for me. It was $700 and that was just bouquets, boutonniere and corsages.

      • ManderGimlet

        I used to do sales for a florist many moons ago so had a pretty good idea of prices, but still pared way back from my original plan because of costs. You can only DIY so much until you are then investing in a separate refrigerator and rental van just to store and transport!

  • Hannah

    Thank you for reminding me how much I used to love those Vintage Wedding posts on APW! Is that something you would ever consider bringing back?

    • Yeah, we totally would. We should get on that, I loved them too.

    • Jess

      I loved those so much!

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Someone sent me a link to the Buzzfeed article before I was even out the door this morning. It’s absolutely bananas how much more everything costs. I do feel a little good about supporting some small indie businesses, so I’m clinging to that silver lining.I am so glad to see a photo of their epic cake.

  • Abs

    I LOVED this piece and sent it to everyone in my family, including my stepsister who’s planning a wedding, but I think in my family the issue is a bit different, because both my parents and my stepmom and dad had super small weddings (like 30 people). So their issue was less “millennials are spoiled” and more the same issue as most people who’ve never planned a big event–they just haven’t wrapped their minds around how much it costs to feed 100+ people.

  • JC

    I’m so glad to keep this tucked into my back pocket to whip out in a loving and non-vindictive way.

  • Eh

    I wish this was around 5 years ago when I was planning! My FIL commented constantly about how expensive weddings were (note: BIL/SIL we’re engaged for 18 months and got married just before we got engaged so it was almost 3 straight years of wedding planning for them). Our original budget was $12,000CAD but we pushed that to $14,000CAD (so we could get some things that we wanted since we could afford it). My FIL could not get over how much weddings cost. My BIL/SIL’s wedding was about twice as much as ours. But my FIL couldn’t get past that they didn’t spend more than $2000 on their wedding and his one son spent more than they spent on their first house (he also can’t imagine spending what we spent on our houses either since they bought their first house for less than $20K). When my inlaws saw that our choices weren’t extravagant they started to get the impression that weddings costs a lot more today than 35 years earlier (they celebrated their 35th anniversary a week after our wedding).

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Oh man, I was sooooo thankful that I had a cousin beat me to the altar for precisely this reason!

      Once upon a time, my parents would have been the types to insist that $2k should pay for a perfectly nice wedding…then my cousin spent $25k on a wedding that wasn’t particularly extravagant. After that sticker shock, my poor dad was so thrilled about my $8k wedding that he chipped in an extra $1,500 as a wedding gift! (It should be noted that my parents are NOT the kinds of people to give $1,500 as a gift. Ever. Last year, I got an ice scraper and an L.L. Bean tote for Christmas.)

      • Eh

        My husband had six cousins get married before him, plus his brother. My FIL probably had no clue how much his nieces/nephews weddings cost. Some of the weddings did cost less than ours but others were probably around the same cost or more.

        Another frustrating part of my FIL’s comments is that they gave us $10K for our wedding (and/or house). We used $4K for our wedding and $6K for our house (we bought a house a month after our wedding). My dad gave us $4K for our wedding (and then $1000 as a wedding gift – also used for our house). We never asked our parents for this money and we paid the rest ourselves (although, as you can see it was just a shift of money, since what our parents gave us covered our wedding). Why give us so much money for a wedding if you think that’s too much money for a wedding? Without the money from our parents we would have had to delay buying a house a few months and we probably would have spent a bit less on our wedding. But we made our wedding choices knowing how much they were giving us (my dad told me years ago how much he was giving me and my sister, and my inlaws told us when we got engaged).

  • I’m so glad we get to see that glorious cake, because that is what I have been thinking of all day since I read the Buzzfeed article.

  • Amy CT

    So this post got me SUPER interested, as we are currently planning our wedding with significant financial help from my parents. We’re at the point where we’re scrimping to cut costs and it made me wonder how their costs worked out.

    For the record, the MINIMUM wedding reception costs at their reception venue these days would account for 70% of our budget. They also got married in a big cathedral where they wouldn’t be eligible to be married these days (my Mum’s not catholic and my Dad wasn’t local so therefore not a member of the parish), but I betcha it cost a pretty penny.

    Anyway, thank you for writing, Meg! This was genuinely eye-opening and made me feel a LOT better about our choices!!

  • In amongst the usual one-downmanship in the comments on the Buzzfeed article, one person makes a very good point that part of the reason the prices have gone up is a lot of the vendors no longer have work that isn’t weddings. Stationers used to provide invites and other stationery for a wide range of occasions, including just “staying in touch”. Florists have lost a lot of basic bouquet trade to gas stations and supermarkets. Photographers are only used at events with formal portraits. Venues have lost a lot of the other community events that would have kept them going. For some many elements of the WIC, the only way to stay afloat now is weddings, so they’ve got to leverage that to stay afloat in a way they didn’t have to two or three decades ago.

    On top of that, with a decade of wage stagnation while prices continue to rise, inflation doesn’t accurately reflect what people have to spend. Even doing a full on DIY wedding takes a larger proportion of your wages than it used to (and you’re working longer hours to get those wages, which means you’ve got even less time to DIY in!).

    It’s kind of interesting to note that wedding dresses themselves have stayed broadly in line with inflation, because that’s always been an industry with a narrow focus. Maybe we’ll see the other costs leveling back off in line with inflation now they’ve specialised?

  • I loved this! Super interesting story angle, plus it really puts things into perspective.

  • macrain

    As someone who first discovered APW as I was planning my wedding circa 2013, it made my heart happy to first see this on Rachel’s blog, and then see on here that it’s blowing up. Love this piece. Nice job, ladies. <3

  • Thriftypenny

    Although no longer engaged, I well remember the conversation with my dad of “You should be able to have a very nice wedding with 5k if you’re responsible”

    As someone who started but never finished wedding planning: Haha. Hahaha. Ha.

  • NotMotherTheresa

    Here’s another thing: In 1974, relatively few people were having these big, grand weddings. For every one wedding like the one Meg’s parents’, 30 others had weddings more like the one my parents had: Ceremony in the bride’s childhood church, followed by cake and punch in the church basement.

    When I got married last year, my venues were roughly the same price as they would have been in the 70’s (adjusted for inflation), precisely because they weren’t the “in” places to get married. Their price structure didn’t reflect the fact that 400 other brides were all vying for the same location on the same date, because there ~weren’t~ 400 other brides vying for those venues. Instead, the fee I paid covered the overhead associated, plus just enough profit to make it worthwhile for everyone to bother coming in on a Saturday night.

    My other vendors? Those were more expensive, in part because their pricing had to reflect the opportunity cost of losing out on other weddings.

    The WIC has indeed driven up expectations (I doubt Meg’s parents’ photographer was there at 7 a.m. to take pictures of the bridesmaids getting ready), but it’s also made it so that there are more people vying to have a wedding at Grace Cathedral, which, with supply and demand being what it is, drives up prices…particularly for things like venues, which are naturally constrained on the supply side.

    • I think it would be interesting to try the same experiment with a lower key wedding, because I think there are a lot of costs even for a cheap wedding that have risen over inflation, but they might not be the same ones. How does furniture and crockery rental stack up, for example? Does the fact wages haven’t risen with inflation mean it works out cheaper to hire waitresses, or have labour reforms balanced that out? What about the cake – a lot of food costs have come down compared with inflation thanks to intensive farming, so would that be cheaper to make yourself now compared with then?

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Oh man, yes, that would be an interesting experiment!
        Also, how much of a difference would changes in the economic trajectory of the city itself make?
        I suspect one thing that drove the prices in the article up so much was the simple fact that San Francisco isn’t the same city that it was in 1974. EVERYTHING in San Francisco is expensive now, because San Francisco.
        But does that mean that some relative costs of a wedding in Detroit would have gone down? And would that answer once again depend on whether we’re talking about a high end wedding vs. a low end wedding? Would a struggling economy mean that you can get better (relative) prices on places like Grace Cathedral, but higher prices on budget options due to supply and demand? Or would it be the opposite, since with growing inequality, high end places are still able to get top dollar from a handful of wealthy brides, while low end options have proliferated?
        And, for that matter, how would simple changes in taste have impacted things? I know that when I got married, I got a steal on venues that would have been pretty pricey in 1985, simply because in my town, country club receptions are no longer en vogue like they were 30 years ago.
        There are really so many variables, and the nerd in me is interested in all of them!

    • Eh

      We got married in my husband’s hometown instead of the city we live in, and one of the benefits was that it was cheaper. My BIL/SIL (who still live in my husband’s hometown) got married the year before in the city we live in at a wedding/conference centre and it was way more expensive. If we compared our wedding to my inlaws wedding and adjusted for inflation, our wedding would probably still have cost more, but part of that would have been because we had a civil ceremony and they had a church wedding (we spend $500 on a officiant, compared to free/almost fee for them), and the cost for the photographer (our photographer came from the city where we live, so it was a bit more expensive than photographers from my husband’s hometown). We also had an open bar which my inlaws did not have (they actually tried to discourage us from having an open bar because it is not done where they are from, even though it was one of the few things my family asked for). I think it’s also different when you get married at 18 or 19 years old, compared to getting married at 29 years old. They had just graduated high school, compared to us, who had been living on our own and working for years.

      On the other hand, if you compared my husband’s cousin’s (who got married at a younger age, had a church wedding with a community hall reception) wedding to my inlaws wedding it would have probably been more comparable.

  • Kathryn

    My husband and I were gifted our wedding reception venue, a beautiful winery in downtown SF (we were friends with the wine maker, otherwise could have never afforded it) and got staff pricing on the wine; a “friend” price of basically cost of food and labor on the catering (my husband is a chef and had friends do it); and choose a comparatively inexpensive venue for the ceremony (we made a Jewish wedding work in a church, because the price was right, the venue was beautiful, and they offered to take down the crosses). We skipped a band, negotiated a shorter, cheaper set with a DJ, and sourced our photographer on Craigslist for what seemed way below the average costs I was finding. I bought a floor sample of a past season designer dress with an all cash discount and did my own hair and makeup. Our guest list was 70 people. With all this luck of connected/talented acquaintances, bargaining and cutting back on the “traditional” line items our wedding still cost just over $20K (not including the honeymoon). Still today that doesn’t feel real, but that’s what it cost; no shame.