You're engaged! As you bubble over with excitement, you might have a nagging question at the back of your mind — who pays for the wedding?
Wedding traditions dictate their own set of rules, but modern-day couples are also evolving how they'd like to handle wedding finances. So to make it easier, and give you a sense of some old and new approaches (see what we did there?), here's a guide on different ways you can tackle wedding costs.
Before we even get into wedding costs, let’s not forget that having the “who’s going to pay for what” conversation can be super stressful. Doesn’t everyone love asking their parents or in-laws for financial help?! (Lies, no one does.) You can avoid the drama by walking through a carefully designed process that respects everyone’s perspective.
Here’s our recommended process:
Set your expectations with each other before meeting up with the parentals. Discuss how much each of you can chip in towards the wedding (if at all) and a realistic idea of what you’ll ask your families to cover.
Having a sense of your overall budget will be helpful going into a conversation with your parents and/or in-laws. Plus, it will show that you’ve done your research! Try and break out what you’ll want to spend in different categories (food, music, venue, etc.) so it will be easier to divvy up wedding expenses amongst everyone involved.
Once you’ve actually begun discussing who’s going to pay for what, you’ll want to consider being transparent about your own finances, mindful of others’ situations, and flexible and open to compromise. Instead of telling them, “we’d like you to cover these wedding expenses,” ask them, “what would you be comfortable paying for?” Remember, any contribution towards your big day is a nice gesture, so don’t forget to show them some love.
Here are a few cute thank you gifts to consider giving.
Now that you know how to handle the “who pays for what” convo like a boss, let’s get right into the different ways a wedding can be paid for.
Traditional wedding etiquette began hundreds of years ago when dowries were commonplace — parents of the bride paid the groom’s family to accept their daughter into the new family (eye roll). While weddings today have evolved considerably since then, the concept of who pays for what in this traditional context has remained steadfast. Typically, the families of the bride and groom pay for the celebration, leaving the newlyweds without a bill to bear. Here’s how the expenses usually break down:
While the parents cover most of the costs in this traditional model, the bride and groom do pay for a variety of things for each other and their wedding party. This includes each other’s rings/bands, gifts for each other, gifts for bridesmaids and groomsmen, and gifts for their attendees. The groom also typically pays for the marriage license on his own.
Talk about a hefty bill! As is painfully clear above, the bride’s family traditionally has a much larger financial burden. To some couples, that doesn’t seem fair, which is why modern couples are choosing to revise that strategy.
Many modern couples are taking it upon themselves to pay for their own weddings in full. This is an especially popular option when the parents of the bride and/or groom can’t afford such expenses. When couples take on the cost of their weddings, budgets and more affordable strategies (like renting a wedding dress) are of utmost importance. Sticking to the essentials and prioritizing your absolute “must-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves” is a good way to stay true to what matters most to you.
Another option in determining who pays for what in a wedding is to simply take the full cost of the event and split it evenly between the bride/groom, the bride’s family and the groom’s family. This way, each family involved is paying an equal portion of the wedding costs. The best way to do this is to determine a contribution amount early on (say $10k each) and then craft a budget to help you stick to that amount. This is a popular method amongst young couples because everyone shares in all expenses equally.
Another option is to let the bride and groom’s families own the bill together. For those families who want to and are able to take on the wedding costs for their children, this is a great option that still creates fairness between families.
Setting a budget can be incredibly helpful in determining who pays for what in a wedding, especially if you create a wedding budget for each expense. For example, if you decide that photography and videography will make up 15% of your total wedding budget, you could delegate that cost specifically to the groom’s family.
As you budget specific items within your overall wedding budget, you can delegate those items to family members (and yourself) accordingly. This is a great solution for families who can’t contribute across the whole budget but can contribute towards something specific. Keep scrolling for one of our favorite wedding budget templates!
The thought behind this approach is that if one party has more people in attendance, then they’ll pay for more of the wedding expenses. Let’s say the bride’s family wants to invite second and third cousins, friends of friends, and maybe teachers that had an impact on them growing up. But, the groom’s family only wants to invite immediate family members. Since the bride’s family has a higher headcount than the groom’s family, they’d be responsible for paying more of the wedding costs.
While these are all valid ways to decide who pays for the wedding, you’ll want to choose the right fit for you, your spouse-to-be, and your families. Once you’ve collectively decided on the ideal way to pay for the wedding, keeping track of the planned expenses will reduce stress for everyone.
The best way to stick to those planned expenses is to keep track of it in a budget. Start by outlining the potential costs of the wedding, broken down by sections or categories. Here’s one of our favorite wedding budget templates. Use this as a jumping off point and you’ll be well on your way to being a wedding budget pro.
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