There’s no right or wrong way to split wedding costs — each family and situation is unique.
BY Nina Ross
Fresh off your engagement, you’re probably ready to book a venue, secure a wedding planner and buy a dream dress. But before you tackle any of that, there’s one major question you have to address: who pays for the wedding?
“These days, anything goes when it comes to paying for a wedding. Engaged couples taking care of the finances is on the rise. In fact, our academy surveyed wedding professionals for our annual International Wedding Trend Report, and 68% reported that the couples were funding the majority of their own expenses,” says Kylie Carlson, the CEO of the International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning. “At the same time, the tradition of the bride’s parents contributing is still very prevalent, especially in particular regions. With some weddings, costs are split between the couples and other members of the family. You’ll also run into scenarios where parents are divorced or remarried, and splitting the costs. Grandparents may chip in — it really does depend on each individual wedding.”
In other words, nothing is set in stone when it comes to who pays for a wedding. There are wedding traditions, of course, but you don’t have to adhere to them. Anything goes! No matter who contributes, it’s a welcome gesture—whether it’s set of parents, both sets of parents, grandparents, or anyone else. On the other hand, if the couple funds the entire affair themselves, they retain more control over the wedding budget. There’s no right or wrong way to split wedding costs—each family and situation is unique.
As you navigate your own wedding, budget and cost-splitting, here are some things to keep in mind as you figure out who pays for what.
1. Ask Each Set of Parents If and How They Would Like to Contribute to the Wedding
It is best for the bride and groom to have a private discussion first before speaking to parents about helping to cover costs. “Please, please talk about costs up front,” 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!”
“Communication is key to keeping the peace. The last thing you want is a misunderstanding and you find yourself coming up short, or someone feeling like they need to contribute more than they expected,” adds Carlson.
2. 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, cohost 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 present for the groom.
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.
3. …But Also That Today, Most Couples Contribute Financially to Their Wedding
Today, more couples are directly contributing to the wedding. Simultaneously, more grooms’ families are also willing to split costs. Still, it’s not “courteous for the bride’s family to ask the groom’s family to pay,” explains Post.
4. 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.”
5. Financial Contributions to Your Wedding Can Come with Strings
If you’re family is helping to significantly foot the bill, you might find yourself in tricky situations where they are insisting 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.
6. 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 honor 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 honor 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.)