With all the excitement around a wedding, it can be difficult to discuss the less glamorous aspects, like finances. (Who wants to talk about money when there are dresses to try on, flowers to pick out, and venues to explore?) But the reality is that weddings—and the events surrounding them like rehearsal dinners and brunches—cost money, and every couple has to decide on and stick to a budget. While some couples pay for everything themselves and only have to discuss the topic internally, others get financial help from one or both sets of parents.
If that's your case, you might be wondering exactly how to discuss the wedding budget with your parents and your soon-to-be in-laws. Money is a tricky subject to talk about no matter what, and you want to approach the conversation in a way that is both respectful and productive. For help, we turned to two experts. Jessica Bishop is the founder of The Budget Savvy Bride, a website that helps couples budget for their wedding. Caitlin Harrison is an individual and couples therapist at Kindman & Co, a practice in California. She has worked with many clients in the throes of wedding planning. Read on for their advice.
Meet the Expert
When to Talk to Your Family About the Wedding Budget
Bishop says that before you approach any wedding vendor, you should set your wedding budget with all relevant parties—including your parents and in-laws. "Out of respect for everyone's time, couples shouldn’t begin booking or meeting with potential vendors until they have a firm grasp on their total wedding budget," she says. "You’ll want the full picture of what you have to work with budget-wise, so it’s important to find out if your families plan to contribute as soon as possible."
She recommends having these discussions shortly after your engagement (after you've had time to celebrate, of course). "Ask your families if they plan to financially contribute to the wedding and if so, how much," she says.
How to Talk to Your Parents and In-Laws About the Wedding Budget
"If at all possible, this is a conversation that is best to have in person, or if not, via phone," says Bishop. "Tone can be misinterpreted via emails and also comes off as impersonal. This is your family. Treat them with respect and kindness, especially when asking them for money."
She suggests coming to these discussions with an open mind and gratitude. "Money can be a taboo and stressful subject in any relationship. It’s important to approach your families without expectations or entitlement, but with graciousness and respect for whatever they are willing to give," she explains. "Express that you are grateful for their support and for any financial contributions they are willing and able to provide." During the discussion, get specifics on the amount they are giving and when you can expect to receive the funds. That way there won't be any misunderstandings down the road when the bills arrive.
Harrison suggests going into the conversation with specific questions that will lead to clear answers. "The people getting married should have a conversation with the folks contributing and ask for their intentions and/or expectations regarding how involved they want to be in the budgeting and planning process," she says. "This conversation should start with, 'Thank you for your generosity in contributing to our wedding. We need clear expectations on how involved you would like to be in this process. Would you like to pay for a specific aspect of the wedding? Or would you like to contribute to the event overall? If the latter, what are your expectations for how the money would be spent?'"
After the meeting, keep your parents and in-laws updated on how wedding planning is coming along. "If people have opted to pay for a specific portion of the wedding, then keep them in the loop on how that element is going," says Harrison. "Oftentimes, people want to be a part of the process because they love and care about you. Try to focus on that care and provide folks with tasks throughout the process."
What to Do If You Disagree About the Wedding Budget
Bishop said it is important not to argue with your family over how much they are giving you for your wedding. "Remember, your family isn’t obligated to give you anything to pay for your wedding," she says. "Accept anything they offer graciously. If your family cannot contribute enough for you to have the wedding you envision, you’ll have to find a way to cover the difference yourself or alter your vision."
If you need more funds, consider extending your engagement. This will give you more time to save up for the wedding you'd like. If getting married sooner rather than later is important to you, scaling back the guest list to maximize your budget might be necessary.
She also recommends educating your family on the cost of weddings before the discussion. "If you feel like your family doesn't have a firm grasp on the actual cost of weddings, share the latest data with them on average costs so they can get a better understanding," she says. "But you must also be realistic about your family's financial situation. Don't expect your family to foot the bill for an extravagant wedding if that's not within their means."
Harrison suggests taking a pause if discussions get heated. "Should you run into conflict when discussing the wedding budget, call it out. Acknowledge that things are getting heated and request a 10-minute break for everyone to separate, cool down, and then return with more level heads," she suggests. "Remember, you are able to set the tone. Request a break, and then leave the room first, providing an example of the behavior you would like to see."
There is also the option to outsource the discussions to a third party. "If you’re able to offload any of this emotional and mental responsibility to a wedding planner, mediator, or financial consultant–please do so," she says. "This is the time to ask for help."
Bishop encourages couples to pay for the wedding themselves if they want to avoid any potential conflict. "Paying for your wedding yourself also comes with the benefit of not feeling obligated to consider other people's input and opinions on how you spend your budget," she says. "Nothing is stopping you and your partner from contributing your own funds to achieve the wedding you want. Rather than pushing your family to contribute more than they are comfortable or willing to, put forth some extra cash yourself if you want more than you can afford with just the funds from your family. "