Who Pays for the Wedding, Traditionally?

Our comprehensive guide to who pays for what in every scenario.

Updated 12/07/19

Photo by Pedro Vilela

The lines of who pays for what when it comes to weddings these days are definitely blurred. Who pays for the wedding dress? What about the wedding rings? How about the wedding band?

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 the majority of the bill. But our annual American Wedding Study revealed that a majority of today's couples are also spending their own money to have the wedding they want, with more than half of all couples paying for or contributing to the cost.

When the time arrives for you to determine what kind of divvying up works for your particular financial and familial situation, we recommend that couples decide together along with their families who is ready and able to bear various costs. It can be helpful to first budget an estimate of your expenses in an Excel/Google document before meeting the with the folks. That way, as a starting point, your decisions for your dream wedding day aren't being influenced by whose card chip is being inserted, per se. Your respective parents can look over the spreadsheet and offer some high-level feedback, as well as volunteer for where they'd like to pitch in, especially now that they know around how much it'll run them in the end. (This is also valuable if one or both sets of parents are divorced, or other scenarios where multiple parties may be involved.)

But if you (or your parents) want to stick to tradition—or you're just interested in knowing the way it used to go, as a reference—there are some very strict delineations. Here, our etiquette experts outline exactly who should front which finances, according to age-old customs.

The Wedding Dress

Even though this rarely applies these days, it's interesting to note all the costs expected of the bride's family, once upon a time. These included obvious things like the wedding dress, accessories, and hair and make-up. Nowadays, perhaps a sweet grandmother offers to purchase your gown—or perhaps you're paying for it (or your beauty regimen, your hair and makeup, and/or your splurge-worthy wedding-day heels) on your own. Word to the wise: Just don't ask your bridesmaids to pay for your dress...!

Wedding Planner/Coordinator

The wedding planner or coordinator is another big-ticket item that traditionally falls to the bride and/or her family. (Here are some digital friends to help shave off some of these costs).

Rings/Wedding Bands

Precedent proposes that the groom purchases the bride's engagement ring and wedding band, while the bride purchases the wedding band for the groom.

Ceremony/Reception

Per tradition, the bride and/or her family pay for the ceremony and reception costs including music for both, guest favors, and any rentals. The groom and/or his family take care of the marriage license and the officiant fee. (One cost-saving trend: More couples are asking a friend or family member to get ordained and marry them, which could save some funds, if that works for the two of you).

Invitations/Stationery

The invitations and all corresponding stationery—with the exception of rehearsal dinner invites—conventionally belong on the bride and/or her family's bill. Thankfully, hashtags are still free, but you can pay someone to come up with them for you.

Transportation/Accommodation

The groom and his family cover accommodation and transportation if he and the bride need to travel to the wedding. The bride and her family promise accommodations for all bridesmaids, and all of their party's transportation needed for the big day. Meanwhile, the groom and his family are tending to the lodging and transportation of the groom's family and groomsmen. (We suppose that means, traditionally, the two of you would split the cost of a party bus if you decided to use one for the entire wedding crew, though party buses may be as far from "traditional" as it gets).

Pre-wedding Parties

The bride and her family would understandably organize and pay for the bridesmaids' luncheon. When it comes to bachelor/bachelorette parties, the bride and groom are the only ones who, for the most part, don't pay their way.

Rehearsal Dinner

The groom's family customarily absorbs the rehearsal dinner costs. We're talking the whole affair: venue, food, drink, decorations, entertainment, and invitations.

Wedding Party Gifts

The bride's presents for her bridesmaids and the groom are typically her responsibility to cover, just as the groom's gift to his groomsmen and the bride are on him. (Psst...! About those gifts for your 'maids, here's some bridesmaid gift inspiration as chosen by our editors).

Photography

All photography (and videography) expenses are commonly captured by the bride and/or her family.

Honeymoon

The groom and/or his family would traditionally plan and pay for the honeymoon, but nowadays, the planning and budgeting is generally more collaborative—and even crowd-funded. Some couples set up a place at their reception for guests to throw in some fun money towards their "honeymoon fund," while others add honeymoon costs—ranging from airfare segments to honeymoon activities and experiences—to an online honeymoon registry.

Flowers/Décor

For the most part, the cost of wedding florals are traditionally included in the portion of the overall wedding budget that's paid for by the bride and/or her family—all flowers and décor for the ceremony and reception, as well as florals for the bridesmaids and flower girls. The groom and/or his family would traditionally purchase the bride's bouquet and all of the boutonnieres and corsages for the wedding party and important family members. (If the thought of classic bouquets for your 'maids doesn't thrill you, check out these creative alternatives).

Remaining Wedding Attire

The groom's attire, whether he buys or rents, is a cost typically picked up by him and/or his family. As a thoughtful gesture (and if budget allows), some couples put a little something towards their bridal party's ensembles, but this is entirely optional.

More Contemporary Payment Plan Options

It (Only) Takes Two

If as a couple you've agreed upon and are committed to taking on all wedding costs on your own for any number of reasons—you're in a place financially to cover wedding costs and want the independence; it's your second marriage; or perhaps your parents simply aren't in a place to help out at all—of course you can opt to pay for everything yourselves. And the recent American Wedding Study found that more than a quarter of couples did just that. Trust us: If you can manage the stresses of planning, budgeting, and paying for a wedding together, that's a good indication you're ready for the many challenges marriage has in store!

Three-Way Splitsies

Another common scenario: Rather than following tradition verbatim, families often agree to divvy up costs in ways that work for them—with the couple chipping in, too. It's rarely a situation where the budget is evenly split into thirds, but if that works for everyone, that's an easy way to do it. What's most important is to strike a balance that works for all parties involved—meaning all parents and any other family members, too. Always be gracious about offers to assist with the wedding from a financial standpoint, but also make sure you're clear about any expectations that might come along with having donated so "thoughtfully." Will they insist on reviewing (or even adding to) the guest list, or expect to have input on key wedding planning decisions, such as your wedding and reception venues?

Same-Sex Weddings

Since the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognizing same-sex marriages, more LGBTQ couples than ever before report having increased parental involvement—both financially and in acceptance of their union, according to a recent survey by WeddingWire. Still, a majority (61 percent) of LGBTQ couples in the United States pay for their own weddings entirely out of pocket—in which case, you're in the same boat as every other couple taking on all of the wedding expenses. (An extra dose of patience and mindfulness goes a long way when it comes to budgeting out the nitty-gritty details with your partner). If any of your parents are eager to give, make a date to get together and bring that aforementioned Excel sheet over and start figuring out exactly how they can help the two of you kick off your happily-ever-after.

Related Stories