In the 1990s comedy "Father of the Bride," Steve Martin, as George Banks, bursts into a grocery store on a rampage. After ripping into a package of hot dog buns and removing four he doesn't need in the hopes of saving money, he yells at a store clerk, "I'm not paying for one more thing I don't need. George Banks is saying NO!"
"Who's George Banks?" asks the worker.
George's 1990s tux might date him, but his predicament? Maybe not.
Financially strapped parents of brides are still out there — which is no surprise, since the average U.S. wedding costs $31,213, according to the Knot wedding website — and tradition has long held that the bride's family foots most of the bill.
But the good news is that parents of brides might be seeing more financial relief. The Knot's 2014 Real Wedding Survey reported that on average, the bride's parents contribute 43 percent of the total cost of a wedding; the bride and groom contribute another 43 percent; the groom's parents spend 12 percent; and the remaining 2 percent of the budget is paid for by other family members or friends.
American couples marrying later are spurring the change, said Deborah Moody, executive director of the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants. Moody said the average age of a bride in the U.S. is now 28 and the average age of the groom is 31.
"They've already established themselves [financially]," Moody said. "The good thing about them paying for it themselves is that typically, when parents are paying, there are more parents' guests coming in. A lot of couples are more interested in their friends [attending]. It's all about having their signature on it."
Doing it themselves
Nikki Roseberry married Jason Keiser in October in Lincoln, Neb. While planning the wedding, they created a budget and brought it to their parents. The couple paid for most of the wedding, but each side of the family contributed $2,000.
"I think the tradition [of the bride's family paying for the wedding] is very outdated and sets up an unrealistic and unfair expectation," Roseberry said. "I am 26, and Jason is 30; our parents don't owe us anything except their love and support. I am so grateful to my parents for their [financial] contribution, but it was a gift, not an expectation."
Still, that gap between what the average bride's family pays versus the groom's family remains. The tradition dates to the days when a bride's family supplied a dowry, Moody said. And although dowries are a thing of the past, paying for a daughter's wedding is "so rooted in tradition that a lot of parents want to throw this for their children, and they don't look at it as a burden; they look at it as something they'd love to do for their kids," said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, deputy editor of the Knot.
Some parents of the groom are paying for more than the traditional expectations of rehearsal dinner. Sarah David, whose son is getting married in Seattle, is as financially involved as the bride's family.
"We feel that it is fair for both families to share the cost," David said. "We consider this a partnership between the two families, and we plan on being connected to them for the rest of our lives — we will share our children and hopefully grandchildren — for us it makes sense. We are not really involved in the planning, so it is not about control; it is about supporting them."
Watch the bottom line
What happens when a bride's parents — or the groom's, for that matter — are worried they can't afford to pay for their child's wedding? Maxwell Cooper said that the best way to avoid financial stress is to discuss finances at the start. After a dollar figure is set, create a budget and then stick to it. The Knot's survey found that in 2014, 45 percent of weddings went over budget.
"It's on the couple to be sensitive," Maxwell Cooper said. "Most of them have a general idea about their parents' financial situation. Don't let parents overspend themselves."
She also emphasized that contributing to a wedding isn't always about money.
"Support is the biggest thing," she said. "It's a very overwhelming time, so being there for their children and helping them through their decisions [is contributing]."