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When the average wedding costs more than a car

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The Burger-King Wedding In Jacksonville, Ill.
The size of bridal parties is growing, along with the costs of the average wedding.
Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images

Millennials may be waiting longer to get married — but some are spending more than ever on their weddings. Some figures put the average wedding cost as high as $25,000 — the cost of a nice car or the down payment on a house.

To discuss the trends in wedding budgets, MPR News' Kerri Miller was joined by Jennae Saltzman, the owner of Blush & Whim, a Twin Cities wedding planning firm, and Meg Keene, the editor-in-chief for A Practical Wedding.

In her experience, Keene says the average wedding today probably costs closer to $10,000 or $15,000, once you factor out the high-rollers dropping $250,000 or more on their special day. 

One of the things Keene sees that drives up the wedding cost? The baby boomer mom. While some millennials come in looking for a thrifty event, there are "baby boomer moms not wanting to go along with this smaller wedding plan," Keene said.

Saltzman, on the other hand, has seen the opposite. "A lot of our mothers of the brides are coming in and can't believe the price ticket, because when they got married, they did it in church with cake and punch in the basement. They can't imagine the prices now," Saltzman said.

What does Saltzman think is driving up the costs? Social media. Namely, Pinterest. 

A woman browses Pinterest
A woman browses Pinterest.com.
Karen Bleier | AFP/Getty Images 2012

"Everything is so saturated with celebrity weddings — the most expensive weddings in the world," Saltzman said. "When couples are looking online for their dream wedding, they're not looking at average weddings, they're looking at extravagant events."

Keene calls this "expectation inflation." The expectations of a wedding have jumped from a simple reception to full sit-down meals. Decades ago, "only the truly wealthy had sit-down meals for weddings because it costs a ton of money."

With family and friends living farther away than ever, meals have become a necessity. "As people are more and more spread out, weddings are being leaned on to be a family reunion as well," Keene said. "As people fly in from all over the country, it's harder to tell them, 'Well, I got you some punch and cake.' You have to feed these people."

For all the worrying about costs and budgets, Keene said it's important to remember how the wedding will feel — not look. "As my husband pointed out to me a week before our wedding, 'pretty' is not an emotion."

Elaborate wedding arrangements
The outdoor wedding of McKenzie Westmore and Patrick Tatopoulos featured elaborate table arrangements at a winery in Malibu, Calif.
Frazer Harrison | Getty Images

Listeners called in with their wedding stories about how they did — or did not — keep costs low. Laurel spent $25,000 last year, which was a combination of parents' contributions and the couple saving. 

Who pays for the wedding, Keene and Saltzman agreed, is directly tied to how expensive it is. As millennials marry later in life, they may be more financially stable and can contribute to the cost — they're also more likely to be economical when they're footing the bill themselves.

One caller related how her guest list ballooned when the parents insisted they add their friends and acquaintances to the list. The parents were paying for it, so they got their way, and the attendance — and costs — almost doubled.

Some callers did share tips for keeping costs low: Consignment store wedding dresses, handmade decorations and favors, all-inclusive venues or even a potluck reception where guests brought food instead of gifts.

The most unique cost-saving tip came from Ryan, who estimates his recent wedding cost $6,000: The main course of their dinner reception was wild pig — which Ryan and his bride shot themselves.