When it comes to wedding etiquette and budget, should Mums and Dads still pick up the big day bill? Should the bride and groom pay for the big day? We look at the options facing couples when planning their wedding budget.
The lines of who pays for what when it comes to weddings these days are blurred. First of all, we have to throw out the disclaimer that there is no official ruling regulating financial responsibility. Traditionally, we probably all know that the bride’s family foots most of the bill, but that’s not stopping modern couples from spending their own savings to have the wedding they want.
“Building your wedding budget is one of the most important and difficult things to do, but taking the time at the forefront of planning can be one of your greatest aids along the way,” says Alicia Fritz, the owner of A Day in May Events. “Budget conversations should begin at the same time that guest list and venue discussions begin. Most couples do not draw a correlation between their budget and their guest count, but understanding your ‘cost per guest’ early on will allow you to make better budget-aligned decisions, especially when reviewing vendors whose fees are independent of the guest count,” she says.
When it comes to paying for the wedding, there are differing views. Back in the day, the bride’s parents were responsible for hosting (and paying for) the entire celebration. Today, most people believe the couple should pay for their own wedding—especially if they have lived on their own for some time. Of course, parents often want to pitch in. Contributions should be negotiated according to willingness and ability, but the following slides’ traditional divisions will offer some more guidance on who pays for what at a wedding.
Whether your parents (or your future spouse’s parents) are generously offering to pay for part or all of the wedding, it’s helpful to understand who historically has paid for each aspect of the big day. While it’s by no means mandatory for the bride’s family to pay for the engagement party and the groom’s parents to foot the bill for the rehearsal dinner, working knowledge of how a wedding bill typically shakes out will help everyone navigate this tricky business.
Setting a wedding budget is one of the most important parts of planning. But before you can figure out how much you can afford to pay for your big day (and of course, use WeddingWire’s free budget tool to stay organized), you’ll need to decide who pays for the wedding. Of course, there’s the old-school, traditional way of figuring out financial responsibility. However, nowadays, there are lots of ways to divvy things up. Many couples pay for their own wedding themselves. Some families split things up more equally, or perhaps one family contributes, and another does not.
If you’re an LGBTQIA+ couple, paying for the wedding won’t be divided along gender lines, so couples and their families need to devise their own budget plan (61 percent of LGBTQIA+ couples pay for a majority of their wedding but are receiving financial help from friends and family more than in years past). But in the end, it’s really up to you to decide what works best for you and your families. Here is the breakdown of the “traditional” (read: old-school) way to divide up the budget and figure out who pays for the wedding—use this as a starting point and not the final word on the matter.
You may have heard of the old-fashioned rule that certain people have to pay for certain wedding costs. But don’t worry—the bride’s parents don’t need to take out a mortgage to pay for the wedding. And if you’re like most couples, the two of you might even be covering a good portion of the expenses yourselves. The best way to work it out? Sit down with The Knot Budget Calculator, or just a trusty pencil and paper, and figure out what you want and can afford. Below is the traditional breakdown (as in the bride’s versus groom’s families’ typical responsibilities) of costs for everyone involved. But hear us out: These might seem like rules, but they’re not set in stone—feel free to follow or stray from them based on what’s best for your financial circumstances.
With couples more invested in the look, feel, and the never-before-seen nature of their wedding day (or wedding weekend) than ever before, planning a multi-day celebration, a night of dinner and dancing. Even a less formal ceremony or celebratory luncheon begs the question: Who foots the bill? The traditionalists insist that all accounts be sent to the bride’s father, but then there are the more contemporary ways to approach wedding expenses. Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, personal finances, priorities, and what couples and their families are willing and able to spend is evolving daily. Transparency, honesty, level-setting, and managing expectations have never been more key in ensuring a planning process that works seamlessly for both the couple and their families alike. Here, a breakdown of all the ways to budget your wedding costs—choose your own adventure.
Table of Contents
- 1 For The Traditionalists
- 2 The Twists On Tradition
- 3 Who Pays for What in a Wedding in 2021?
- 4 A Guide to Cost Splitting
- 4.1 Ask Each Set of Parents If and How They Would Like to Contribute to the Wedding
- 4.2 Consider Who Traditionally Pays for the Wedding
- 4.3 The Couple’s Age Has Nothing To Do with Who Pays for the Wedding
- 4.4 Financial Contributions to Your Wedding Can Come with Strings
- 4.5 Find Ways to Show Gratitude at Every Turn
For The Traditionalists
Put succinctly, and tradition states that the bride’s father is responsible for paying for the wedding. How could we forget the sweetest dad in movie history, Father of the Bride’s George Banks (played by Steve Martin), stressing over the finances of his beloved daughter Annie’s wedding? Grappling over how much is too much, while also wanting to give one’s daughter the wedding of her dreams, is a far too relatable tale for fathers who hosted weddings in the Age of Emily Post.
And this is no small feat or fee—it includes everything from the venues to the décor, transportation, attire, florals, music, food and beverage, and more. This is why the bride’s parents typically receive that well-deserved place at the top of a classically composed wedding invitation. Keep in mind that this historical hosting method makes the parents of the bride the de-facto hosts of the event. They’ll be the main point of contact for vendors and have the most say on matters that concern the budget, including the guest count, guest list, and critical décor and entertaining decisions. While the bride’s opinions, dreams, and desires are usually (and supposed to be) paramount, it’s essential to have honest conversations about who makes the final call, no matter who is footing the bill. As with any business decision, most suppliers will assume that the actual client is the person who signs the check. Tradition also states that the groom’s family hosts the rehearsal dinner.
Traditional Breakdown of Who Pays for What in a Wedding
Bride’s Parents and Family Members
If you’re going the very traditional route, the answer to the question “who pays for the wedding?” is “the bride’s family.” But you’ll see that even in traditional roles, the bride’s family doesn’t pay for everything—but they’re a big part of the equation. The bride’s family pays for the wedding venue and vendors and most products and services related to the day.
- Engagement Party (though friends or other loved ones may host this)
- The Wedding Ceremony – venue, décor, and music
- Reception venue
- Reception Music
- The Bride’s Attire and Accessories
- Wedding Planner
- Flowers (except, in some cases, for bride’s bouquet, men’s boutonnieres, and corsages for mothers and grandmothers)
- Stationery – save-the-dates, invitations, ceremony programs, escort cards, etc.
- Wedding Cake
- Day-After Brunch (if desired)
The Twists On Tradition
The concept of ‘tradition’ has evolved over the years. It’s become commonplace to see both sets of parents, a member of the family on either side of the couple contributing what they can, rather than feeling the pressure to spend beyond their means a la George Banks. “We’ve hit fast forward to the twenty-first century, where new traditions are being forged all the time,” says Bryan Rafanelli, founder and chief creative officer of Rafanelli Events. “In this day and age, there is no single answer to who is paying for a couple’s wedding, and it has made things much more personal and meaningful.” Per Rafanelli’s note, it’s now not uncommon to see other, more distant family members or older generations contributing to a couple’s event, be it grandparents, aunts and uncles, or godparents. Affirms Rafanelli, “Anything goes. We work with clients where both the bride and groom’s families pitch in together, and clients where only one family, be the bride’s or the groom’s, pay for the entire wedding celebration.”
It’s also becoming more customary for family members or the couple to handle or contribute to one of the wedding’s many experiences, rather than simply offering up a lump sum. Be it the wedding cake, the dress, or an activation like a photo booth, or a surprise performer, the responsibility of paying for all the aspects of a wedding now tends to be shared amongst different parties to alleviate the financial burden on one person, family, or the couple.
Steve Moore, co-founder and creative director of Sinclair and Moore, encourages couples and families to “Be collaborative. While the bride’s parents might be expecting to foot the bill, they may be relieved to share the responsibility with contributions from the groom’s side as well. Given the current struggles of the global economy, a collaborative approach might be the best way to achieve the wedding you have been dreaming about planning financially.”
Rafanelli agrees, explaining that those looking to contribute can do so in a more subtle or surprise way, should they prefer. “We recently produced a stunning wedding in which the bride’s parents took care of the total expense; however, the groom surprised the bride (and her family) with an out-of-this-world fireworks display at the end of the night! The personal piece comes in when one or more aspects of the wedding are essential to the bride or the groom, like a killer DJ for the after-party, or really over-the-top, gorgeous flowers.” Word to the wise: Should you be looking to surprise the couple, consult the wedding planner, or a family member key in the planning process, to ensure your surprise will be well-received and accommodated by the timeline.
Who Pays for What in a Wedding in 2021?
Before we jump into the traditional breakdown of who pays for the wedding, let’s take a look at how things stand right now. According to the 2020 WeddingWire Newlywed Report, parents pay for 52% of wedding expenses, while the couple pays for 47% (the remaining 1% is paid for by other loved ones)—so parents are still paying for a majority of the wedding. However, couples are chipping in fairly significantly. This does vary based on the Age of the team. Younger millennial couples (those born between 1981 and 1996) pay for less—42% of the wedding expenses, while parents pay for 56%. On the other hand, Gen X couples (those born between 1965 and 1980) pay for 78% of wedding expenses, while parents only pay for 20%.
The who pays for what breakdown also varies for LGBTQIA+ couples, who pay for 61% of wedding expenses themselves, while their parents pay for 37%.
And if it’s a couple’s second wedding, they’ll most likely foot the bill themselves, paying for 88% of wedding expenses, while their parent’s chip in for 10%.
From a wedding etiquette perspective, remember that money equals control—whoever pays for the wedding can take an active role in decision-making. This means, for example, that if your parents are paying for a good portion of the event, they should have a say in the guest list, wedding venue and vendor selection, and more. They’ll also be listed as the hosts of your event on the wedding invitation.
A Guide to Cost Splitting
Ask Each Set of Parents If and How They Would Like to Contribute to the Wedding
The bride and groom should have a private discussion first before speaking to parents about helping to cover costs. “Please, please talk about costs upfront,” says East Coast event expert Rebecca Gardner. Post agrees and advises couples to then delicately broach the subject with family members. “It is best to phrase it as, ‘We were wondering if you would like to contribute to the wedding,'” she suggests, adding that couples should emphasize that they are “not expecting anything.” If parents are willing to contribute, ask them to be clear about their expectations and what they are, or aren’t, willing to pay for. “I can’t tell you how many brides’ mothers won’t pay for a dress if it’s not a spaghetti strap dress!” says Post.
Consider Who Traditionally Pays for the Wedding
Traditionally, the bride’s family assumed most of the financial costs associated with a wedding, including the wedding planner, invitations, dress, ceremony, and reception, according to Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast and great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post. “It’s harder to think about this now, and I am a feminist, but historically it has to do with the ancient practice of a bride’s family giving a dowry to the groom’s for assuming the ‘burden’ of a bride,” she says. “In Victorian times, that changed a bit to giving a trousseau, which was a year’s worth of clothing and home items in addition to paying up-front costs.”
The bride’s parents also traditionally hosted the engagement party. The bride herself was responsible for the wedding flowers, bridesmaid gifts, the groom’s ring, and a groom’s present.
The groom’s family traditionally paid for all costs associated with the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon, wedding day transportation and the officiant. That came with a string, in that the groom’s parents typically then chose the officiant, as well. The groom paid for the bride’s engagement ring, wedding ring and groomsmen gifts.
The Couple’s Age Has Nothing To Do with Who Pays for the Wedding
“Age has very little to do with paying for the wedding,” says Carlson. “It’s really more about how financially sound the couple is on their own, as well as the role their family wants to play in the wedding.”
Post agrees: “Age shouldn’t be a factor when contributing. Whether you are getting married in your 40s or 30s or 20s, a parent should want to help, as long as it is financially viable for them.”
Financial Contributions to Your Wedding Can Come with Strings
If your family helps to foot the bill significantly, you might find yourself in tricky situations where they insist on their way rather than your way. If you can foresee that happening, you may want to consider taking care of the expenses yourself. “You’ll be far calmer having the wedding you want on your terms, even if you ultimately end up scaling back the festivities,” says Carlson.
Find Ways to Show Gratitude at Every Turn
Gratitude goes a long way when people do commit to helping. “Brides should remember to take care to be effusive if someone else is paying for their wedding,” says Gardner. “You have to honour their part in the wedding. Remember the golden rule: Whoever has the gold, rules.” This applies especially when invitations are being drafted, as well: “If the bride’s family is paying for the wedding, their name should come first and almost exclusively,” says Post. For example, the invitation would then begin with something like: “Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Smith request the honour of your presence at the wedding of their daughter Mary Ann to Everett Montgomery.” If both sets of parents are paying, you can opt for wording like: “Charles and Delaney Tout and Harold and Claudia Kohn invite you to celebrate with their children Amelia and Stephen.” (If the bride and groom are paying for the wedding, then only their names need to be on the invite.)