As a parent, it often doesn’t get any more magical than watching the child you’ve loved for their whole life find their forever person. Even with all that magic in the air, the stress of wedding planning can put even the most supportive parent-child relationships through the wringer, so it’s best to be prepared when it comes to tackling these big discussions.
“In the entire wedding planning process, the two hardest things are creating a guest list and creating a budget,” says event planner Emily Campbell. If you’re planning to pony up for all or part of your kid’s big day, that conversation can be even further complicated by a myriad of factors. How do you set a number? Can you dictate how the funds are spent? Here, Campbell breaks down everything you need to know about how to talk to your children about a wedding budget—and offers tips on how to develop reasonable expectations and avoid conflict.
Meet the Expert
Emily Campbell is the founder of Go Bella Design and Planning, a full-service luxury event planning company based in Breckenridge, Colorado. She has over 20 years of experience in the wedding industry.
Do Your Prep Work
Most parents planning to pay for a wedding take the same first step: They Google “How much does a wedding cost?” The results typically return national averages of around $30,000, but it’s important to know that this figure is the average of a very disparate set of numbers. Wedding costs vary widely with location, style, and size, so Campbell urges anyone holding the purse strings to not use those Google results as the basis of their initial wedding budget. Instead, a better first approach might be to call a venue that fits the style your child is interested in and that’s also located in the area they’re interested in. Ask what costs have been for parties of sizes similar to what you’re expecting—that number will be way more realistic than any national average.
When building a budget, Campbell recommends incorporating a buffer of 10 to 15 percent. (An all-in budget of $100,000 for example, would be treated as a budget of $85,000 or $90,000, with the rest left over for unanticipated costs.) The cushion can cover fun things like rental upgrades, but also goes a long way in dealing with price adjustments for scarcity and inflation.
Once you’ve got your (well-researched!) ballpark number in mind, plan for an in-person, sit-down conversation with your child and their partner to discuss. “If you can’t be together, then Zoom,” suggests Campbell. “Facial expressions and gestures can reveal a lot.”
Adjust Your Expectations
First things first: Your child’s wedding is their wedding. While it is incredibly generous of you to financially contribute to the celebration, the most gracious thing you can do with that gift is make it a gift in its truest form. Meaning: it shouldn’t come with strings attached about how the day should look or feel. (That said, if you are paying for the event, you are also hosting it, which makes your additions to the guest list—provided they are reasonable—something that the couple should honor.)
What’s also perfectly acceptable? Assuring your money is invested wisely. “I find that with most families, the parents aren’t too involved,” says Campbell. “Generally speaking, they just want to make sure their money is spent well, the contracts are written in a way that’s mutually protective, and they want to make sure that the [vendors] they are paying are reputable.”
If you’ll only be partially contributing to your child’s wedding budget but have certain priorities for those funds, Campbell suggests this approach: “Say, ‘Here is my contribution. Just so you know, the things that are most important to me are the bar and the band,’ and leave it at that.” This gives the couple a clear idea of when to consult you during the wedding planning process without feeling like they’ve been forced into it. On the flip side, don’t expect or demand to be consulted about elements in which you don’t have a financial stake. “If you aren’t contributing, wait to be asked for your opinion before voicing it,” advises Campbell.
Trust Your Kid
If your child is mature enough to get married, then they should also be mature enough to treat your financial gift with the respect and reverence it deserves. They will likely express their gratitude in the very way you hope they will: by asking for your input.
“I do find that most couples seek advice from their parents, but they want to initiate it,” Campbell says. So have a little patience, and wait for your child to come to you with questions first. That way, when you offer thoughts on what you think they “should” do, those thoughts won’t feel like an imposition.
Work to Minimize Conflict
The first step in dealing with emotionally fraught discussions about wedding budgets is to legitimize that emotion. It’s okay if these decisions feel weighted or charged because they are! “There’s a lot of money at stake, and often a family has worked very hard, sometimes working multiple jobs, to save that money,” explains Campbell. “There needs to be respect for that.”
A key way to establish that respect is to be honest with your child—and yourself—about why certain things are important to you. If a signature cocktail or ceremony location honors a beloved relative who has since passed on, your child will be more likely to take it into serious consideration if they know the story behind it. If, however, the choice is more about impressing your business associates, it’s important to recognize that that may be an unfair pressure to ask your child to carry.
From there, both parents and children should “come into discussions from a place of love, respect, and appreciation for each other,” says Campbell. By keeping the core reason for the wedding—to celebrate love with all the people you love—top of mind, both sides will be more compassionate towards each other’s opinions. (Useful when you just can’t see eye-to-eye over the napkin color!)
Speaking of not seeing eye-to-eye: It’s important to pick your battles. Even if you are footing the bill, if you don’t really care about something, the best approach is most often to support your child’s decision on the matter. That build-up of goodwill will help minimize conflict when you do voice a differing opinion on something that is important to you down the line.
Don’t Blindly Follow Trends
Parents can get just as swept up in the latest wedding trends as marrying couples, and they can also fall prey to wanting to impress friends and colleagues with a lavish affair. “If people are coming to your event, it is because you love them and they love you. If you think they would judge you, they should not be on the guest list,” says Campbell. This important reminder will have a big impact on your wedding budget. By keeping the focus on hosting the unique kind of event that only your family could give your guests, it’ll be much easier to nix fads like doughnut walls and neon signs if they don’t work with your budget.
A wedding budget is an ongoing conversation. As your child signs with vendors and starts accepting RSVP cards, costs can start creeping up, and increasing the budget isn’t always an option. In these situations, Campbell directs her client’s attention back to the priorities they listed in the beginning. If, for example, the photographer your child wants is $15,000, but you’ve budgeted $12,000, is it important enough to them to get that photographer and cut $3,000 from somewhere else, such as the cocktail hour centerpieces?
By politely posing these types of boundary-setting questions to your child when they come to you with a budget dilemma—and by helping them brainstorm solutions when they ask for them—you can help keep them within budget without driving resentment.