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The lines of who pays for what when it comes to weddings these days are definitely blurred. First of all, we have to throw out the disclaimer that there is no official ruling regulating financial responsibility. Traditionally, the bride's family foots the majority 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.
Meet the Expert
Alicia Fritz is the owner of A Day in May Events, a destination wedding and event planning firm headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan.
Whether it's their second marriage or they want independence from their parents, many couples are choosing to take on all wedding costs on their own. In some situations, it's also possible that their parents simply aren't in a place to help out at all. "More couples are hosting their weddings, or a portion of the day, than in years past. For our clients, I am not seeing that it's based on control of the day but rather it's the choice, or success, that they have had to invest more in areas or aspects of their day that mean more to them versus their parents," Fritz says.
Rather than following tradition verbatim, a three-way split among the couple and family members is another contemporary payment plan option to take into consideration. It's a rare situation, 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. Since the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognizing same-sex marriages, more LGBTQ couples than ever before reported having increased parental involvement. However, the majority of LGBTQ couples in the United States are still pay for their own weddings entirely out of pocket.
Whether you (or your parents) want to stick to tradition or you're just interested in knowing the traditional breakdown of costs, you should know that there are some very strict delineations. Ahead, we outline exactly who should front which finances, according to age-old customs.
The Bride's Family
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. Think everything from invitations and stationery (with the exception of rehearsal dinner invites) to accommodations for bridesmaids. Also included are obvious things like the wedding dress, accessories, and hair and makeup. Nowadays, perhaps a sweet grandmother offers to purchase your gown, or perhaps you're paying for it on your own. The bride's family also pays for big-ticket items such as a wedding planner, the bachelorette party, and ceremony reception costs (music, guest favors, rentals, etc.).
"While some couples do prefer to honor the tradition for which family pays for certain items, we open the discussion to our couples without the pressure of 'following suit' and what it means to follow tradition for tradition's sake versus what the family is comfortable with," Fritz says. "Hosting weddings in the current times are much different than they were when traditions like payments were established."
Be sure to budget an estimate of your expenses in an Excel/Google document. Your respective parents can then look over the spreadsheet and offer some high-level feedback, as well as volunteer for where they'd like to pitch in. (This is also valuable if one or both sets of parents are divorced, or other scenarios where multiple parties may be involved).
The Bride's Family Is Responsible For:
• Engagement party
• Wedding dress (including veil and any accessories)
• Wedding planner/coordinator
• Invitations/stationery/save the dates/wedding programs
• Transportation/accommodation for bridesmaids
• Pre-wedding parties
• Wedding cake
• Morning-after brunch
The Groom's Family
The parents of the groom are expected to pay for the marriage license and officiant fee, the rehearsal dinner (including the venue, food, drink, decorations, entertainment—and yes—the invitations, too), and accommodations/transportation pertaining to the groom's family and groomsmen. 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.
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.
The Groom's Family Is Responsible For:
• Marriage license/officiant fee
• Rehearsal dinner
• Bride's bouquet, boutonnieres, and corsages
• Transportation/accommodation for groomsmen
• DJ/band and liquor/alcohol for wedding reception
Traditionally, the bride is only solely responsible for paying for the groom's wedding band and wedding gifts for her bridesmaids. However, there are many wedding costs (everything from a coordinator to flowers and décor) that are often shared between the bride and her family. With monetary contribution comes control in the planning of your nuptials. Determine who has the final say by addressing expectations from the start. "You cannot assume that because parents are gifting money that financial contribution does not come with a stipulation," Fritz says. "It would be a shame to have hurt feelings, or mixed messages, if there was an expectation for 'control' but it was never given," she adds.
A word of advice to fellow brides: "If you are setting a budget then set the budget. Don't set a low budget to try and skimp on things that you know you are going to spend more on later," Fritz says. "Be realistic. Make certain that you keep in mind the direct correlation between the number of guests and the overall spend—the more people, the more the wedding will cost. That is not the case for every aspect but if you are working with a budget this is something you must keep in mind. Do not willingly put yourself in debt for your wedding. You have your whole life in front of you. Get creative, you can do more with less!"
The Bride Is Responsible For:
• Groom's wedding band
• Wedding gifts for bridesmaids, groom, and parents
• Hair and makeup
Precedent proposes that the groom purchases the bride's engagement ring and wedding band. As per tradition, the groom is also responsible for covering the cost of his attire—whether he buys or rents—but it's not uncommon for the groom's family to pitch in. Lastly, the groom is expected to pick up the tab on any gifts to his groomsmen and the bride.
The Groom Is Responsible For:
• Engagement ring and wedding band for the bride
• Groom's attire
• Wedding gifts for groomsmen and the bride
• Honeymoon (unless the groom's family has it covered)
Who pays for what in a destination wedding?
While the brides' parents traditionally would have covered the costs for a destination wedding (similar to a hometown wedding), nowadays, it's not unusual for the couple to pick up the tab or split the costs with their parents.
Who pays for a second wedding?
While the couple is expected to foot the bill, in some instances, the parents may be gracious enough to help cover the costs.
Gay Wedding Institute. LGBTQ Weddings in 2018: a Survey of Same-sex and Queer Identified Couples.