Weddings are expensive—well, that might be the understatement of the century. Weddings are really freakin’ expensive. With the average cost of a wedding topping $35,000, it’s a massive financial commitment. So where is that money coming from? Traditionally, it has been the bride’s side that pays for the wedding, as a last vestige left over from a time when brides came with dowries. So why should it hold sway in modern day? Sure, if her parents happen to be wealthy and want to contribute, that’s great, but the same is true of the groom’s parents.
And when that happens, it should be considered a gift—a choice rather than a responsibility.
Views Are Already Shifting
The truth is, many people are already realizing how outdated that tradition is. “In conversations with clients, not only are our unmarried clients working toward their wedding goals as a team, but when parents are brought into the conversation, it’s almost always with a mindset of equal monetary contribution,” says Priya Malani, cofounder of Stash Wealth. “I start by saying this because I think it shows that the current wedding-age population has already accepted that the idea of ‘the bride’s side pays’ is an antiquated, unfair practice that doesn’t have a foothold in today’s society, regardless of culture, tradition, or religion.” Most, but not all.
I watched a bride’s family buckle under the financial toll of a wedding while the much wealthier groom’s family contributed almost nothing. The overall view is shifting, but the gen pop needs to catch up.
Money Is Tight and We Have Other Priorities
Couples are getting married later in life, and we have different priorities. The cost of living is high, student-loan debt is crushing, and education costs are through the roof. So when parents are thinking about their children’s future, it makes sense that education would take priority. “As we design financial plans for our married clients, we ask them to think about the type of financial support they’d like to provide for their children, real or hypothetical,” Malani says. “The conversation naturally goes toward two topics: college planning and wedding planning.
Without fail, clients are prioritizing college over weddings, and when they do plan for weddings, they do so equally, regardless of sex.”
We’re Getting Married Older
Couples are getting married later in life and increasingly are starting to want something different out of their wedding. Because they’re getting married older, they’re more likely to take responsibility for the wedding costs—and for a lot of us, that means dialing it back a little. “More and more, we are seeing brides swap the traditional wedding concept for a city-hall wedding,” Malani says. “The millennial generation is more focused on saving up for travel and other experiences than blowing a ton of money—theirs or their parents’—on one specific day.”
The other aspect that comes into play when getting married later? Parents are older. A lot of them are looking toward retirement and may not have the cash to fund a wedding. Is it really fair to expect them to pay when they’re trying to save up for their golden years?
That’s right—how are same-sex couples supposed to navigate this antiquated tradition? Not only does it put undue pressure on one bride or the other to assume a specific gender role, it also adds a level of inherent awkwardness for the parents. Bickering over whose daughter is more “bridey” and therefore should pay for the wedding just doesn’t jibe with 2017 values. If one bride’s parents, both brides’ parents, or neither bride’s parents want to contribute, it shouldn’t be because they feel obligated to subscribe to a supposed wedding norm.
The idea of the bride’s side paying has a long tradition, but it doesn’t make any sense today. “If you want to have a wedding, it requires joint effort,” Malani says. “And if you decide to involve your parents, do so in a way that is fair and equitable. We no longer live in a world where brides’ families must bribe the groom’s family with dowries and a flashy wedding or gifts, which is part of where this tradition came from.” And even more than that, this is the start of the rest of your life together.
Wouldn’t you want to start it off on equal footing? If one (or both) of you has parents who want to gift you a contribution, then you’re very lucky and should take advantage! But if not, remember that it’s a choice, not a given. Taking the time to budget, prioritize, and work as a team will get your marriage off to a strong start.