Out With the Old In With the New: Who Pays for What When Planning a Wedding?

Photo by 3 Cats Photo

Let this sink in…an average wedding within the United States can exceed $35,000 and that doesn’t even include the honeymoon! In the areas where we plan (Charlottesville and the DC, Maryland, NoVa area) that’s just the tip of the iceberg with a lot of our couples spending double to triple that amount! So who is footing the bill?  Once upon a time, there was no question…the bride’s family was responsible for all of the wedding planning expenses…from stationery to flowers to the venue. Fast forward 20 years and that is a hefty amount of money to expect anyone to be responsible for. While tradition may still ring true with some families, a lot of couples are taking a step back from customary values and defining a new type of tradition.

Sticking with Tradition 

When a couple and their families believe in the importance of tradition, it usually will span across the entire wedding. Traditional couples wouldn’t think twice about getting married in their place of worship, offering a formal sit down dinner and tying cans to their bumper as they drive off into the sunset together. When honoring tradition, the bride and her family are responsible for most of the expenses that have to do with the wedding. They will pay for the obvious things such as the bride’s dress, her accessories, and her hair and makeup. Traditionally they are also responsible for the invitations, the flowers, the music, any out of town accommodations for bridesmaids, transportation and wedding favors. On top of this they will also pick up the tab for big ticket items such as the wedding planner, the venue, catering and some of the pre-wedding parties (any that are centered solely on the bride).

 Although it doesn’t seem like there is much left over to pay for, the groom’s family is also responsible for some costs as well. They are typically responsible for the rehearsal dinner and the cost to obtain the marriage license and the officiant’s fee. While the scale seems to be tipping more in favor of the groom’s family, people have done this for years without question.  

My Wedding, My Decisions 

Although the idea of someone paying for your wedding may seem enticing, one caveat of tradition is that the parents who pay for it may also have the decision making power. Let’s remember that money often equals control so whoever is paying is likely going to take an active role in the planning. As we move from traditional values and people are getting married later in life, some couples are deciding to take on the wedding expenses alone. Modern couples are established, can create and navigate a budget based on their income and may have parents that cannot afford to take on such a huge expense (I mean…that’s pretty reasonable considering that a fancy wedding can cost more than most people’s annual salary) …whatever the reason, we say more power to you! Being able to hand select every aspect of your wedding as a couple without anyone else telling you what to do is empowering and an incredible lesson of compromise for the future Mr. and Mrs.  

Family Split 

Over the last decade or so, we have seen many new “rules of etiquette” when it comes to weddings. First and foremost, not all couples are brides and grooms anymore (yay for our same ex couples!!!), and sometimes this is an encore wedding for one member of the couple. Whatever the love story, people have adapted and therefore adopted some new etiquette practices along the way. Some families who are able to take on the costs of their child’s wedding will split the bill.  This is a great option for parents who still value the tradition of paying for their child’s wedding, but also want a balance of fairness between families.  

Another option is a three way split, where the couple also contributes to the costs allowing them to have say in their wedding but also have financial help from their parents. Although this may seem more of a rare and contemporary payment plan it could be a situation that works for everyone; allowing the decision making to be that of a group effort.  

Whatever you decide when it comes to wedding expenses, the best rule is to always do what is financially best for your family…and for your future. A wedding is a celebration of your love and a time of togetherness but it should never put you or anyone you love in debt. Whether you value the marriage customs of old or you are taking a step away from tradition…remember the celebration of your love will be magical, no matter how much or how little it costs!