Modern Weddings Who Pays For What – Who Pays For Wedding Costs?

When planning a modern wedding, who pays for what? In decades past, because of the old tradition of dowry, the bride’s family traditionally paid for most or all the wedding costs. “Traditionally”, around the 17th or 18th century, the brides mother and/or father would pay for everything needed for the wedding and reception, including the venue (location of wedding/reception), bridal gown, music, flowers, venue, food, bar costs, gratuities and anything else. Then they also give a generous wedding gift to the happy newly married couple. However, times have changed.

Nowadays, it is very common for the bride and groom to pay for all or most wedding expenses themselves, or to more evenly split the wedding related expenses among both sets of parents. Why have the traditional rules of who pays for what in weddings changed, and how should engaged couples, parents and families deal with the more modern view of wedding etiquette in relation to the wedding budget and the question of who will be paying for the cost of the wedding?

There are a variety of reasons for the change from traditional to modern in regards to wedding planning and the budget. One reason is that people are choosing to live together before marriage for a period of time, deciding to get married later in life and are more financially established in their careers at the time of their wedding. Another reason is that there are more women working than ever before, compared to the ancient, archaic time period of women staying home “barefoot and pregnant” while men worked outside the home, so brides nowadays are often able to help pay for their own weddings. A third reason is the rising costs of weddings and the increased financial burden placed on parents who may not be able to afford paying for their son or daughter’s expensive dream wedding.

I am a firm believer in tradition, traditional values and beliefs, but I also believe in living within your means and adults paying their own way in life. There is often a big difference between the “traditional” division of wedding expenses and what people/parents can legitimately afford to pay without going into debt, or using their life savings or retirement accounts to pay for a wedding. Hence the numerous emails that continue to fill my inbox from mothers and fathers whose son or daughter is planning a wedding they cannot afford, and the sometimes manipulative tactics used to get the parents to pay more than they can afford.

Since writing the “who pays for what” article in answer to a disabled mother’s problem with her daughter demanding she pay more of the wedding than she could afford, the emails and questions just keep on coming. This time, rather than restating what I’ve already said on the subject, I decided to provide a variety of helpful links to online articles talking about Who Pays For What in Weddings as reference points for brides, grooms and parents.

Note: References to “traditionally who pays” are not rules written in stone but are merely guidelines for creating a wedding budget and determining who pays for the wedding. Sometimes the traditional wedding planning checklist needs to be modified for financial reasons. Brides, grooms and families should understand that your own personal finances will dictate what type of wedding/reception you can have, and who ultimately pays for what is entirely up to you and your families and their ability to pay.

Modern Weddings – Who Pays For What?

Engaged couples should first sit down with both families soon after announcing the engagement to work out the details of the wedding budget and who will pay for what. Without further ado…

Bridal Guide Magazinesays, “If you’re lucky, your families will approach you and your fiance’ to let you know what, if anything, they plan to contribute to your wedding. If your parents don’t initiate a conversation, you will need to, and the sooner you do it the sooner you can start hammering out a realistic wedding budget.”

“After announcing their engagement, the bride and groom sit down and estimate what they’ll spend on the wedding, probably after finding a reception site and making general decisions about theme, style, time of day etc. They then approach their parents and after describing what they’ve decided on so far, say gently, “We were wondering if you would be able to pitch in for any of the costs.” The parents may look at the budget and say, “We’d like to pay for the reception food and the flowers” for example. They may also offer a set amount they’ll contribute. If their parents say they can’t afford to contribute, or only offer a small amount, the bride and groom say, “Thank you for considering,” and perhaps have to revise their budget or find creative ways to pay for the wedding.” Read more here about who pays for what.

“64% of bride and grooms are breaking with the age old tradition of the brides parents footing the bill, by paying for their own wedding. With less than 18% of couples preferring to stick with tradition and allowing the brides parents to pay for the wedding and only 13% of the bride and grooms parents joining together to pay for their children’s big day. With nearly a thousand couples polled the results came as no surprise, confirming the steady shift in the way society views individual responsibilities, with financing for your own wedding being no exception.” Read more here about poll study results on who pays for modern weddings.

“Tradition was not financially kind to the bride’s family. Fortunately, at least if you’re looking at the situation from the viewpoint of that family, times have changed. Rather than burden one family with practically the entire cost of a wedding, it is common practice these days for both families—and sometimes the bride and groom—to share expenses. The best way to decide who will pay for what is for both families (or all the families that apply) and the couple to sit down together and have a frank discussion about what each party can afford to contribute.” Read more here about couples and families paying for weddings and wedding loans.

“Get together with every single person who might contribute to the total cost of the wedding. That means all parents, you and your fiancé, and anyone else with a financial interest (may you be so lucky as to have an eccentric and wealthy aunt). This is the fastest way to find out how big you can dream. More and more often today, weddings are paid for by a two-family counsel—and more than 60 percent of brides and grooms are paying for at least part of the costs as well. This makes it pretty clear that the old rules of divvying up the wedding bills simply no longer apply.” Read more here on traditional vs modern wedding planning and costs.

“Gone are the days when a wedding means the bride’s father stands with an open palm awaiting a bill for all the expenses. Although traditionally the bride’s family was responsible for most (if not all) of the wedding finances, today’s perspective is one of practicality and a general respect for individual outlooks and varying alternatives. Wedding etiquette has evolved to take a host of variables into account. Current day ideologies embrace doing what works best for each couple and their family. No one should feel obligated to accept a financial burden, and couples should understand who will be paying well in advance of the selection process. Keeping everyone’s comfort in mind will allow for a wedding that is both spectacular and affordable.” Read more here

“Forget the archaic rule that says certain people have to pay for certain things. The bride’s parents need not take out a third mortgage to pay for the wedding, and the groom’s parents are not off the hook either. Besides, the two of you might even be covering a good chunk of the expenses yourselves. The best way to work it out? Sit down with pencil, paper, and calculator and figure out what you really want and can afford. Keep in mind that informal weddings are usually smaller (and therefore cheaper), and formal weddings tend to be larger (and therefore more expensive). Here’s a list of the traditional costs for everyone involved — but remember, these “rules” are made to be broken!” Read more here

“The most contentious subject for any wedding (and one that, without a doubt, will cause the most arguments) is money. Now you’ve set your budget you need to guide yourselves through the murky waters of working out who’s responsible for paying for what. Whilst traditionally the bride’s parents used to pay for the majority of the wedding, these days with a multitude of different familial circumstances it’s not so cut and dried. The costs may be divided equally between the two families. The bride and groom may choose to pay for the wedding themselves. The bride and groom may pay for majority of the costs with both families contributing towards elements that they’d like to help with, eg. the flowers, transport or cake. The two families may offer to contribute a certain amount towards the wedding, to be spent as the bride and groom wish. If either or both sets of parents are divorced a compromise can usually be found using a mixture of options.” Read more here

“These days, the cost of a wedding makes a year at Harvard and Yale look affordable. How are you going to scrape together the bucks so you can have the bash you want? Put that idea about sticking up the Federal Reserve on hold. You have options — legal, time-honored, respectable options. The kind of options that, unless you’re in the habit of bouncing checks, won’t land you behind bars. Here’s a rundown of some of them, plus their pros and cons. Keep in mind that a combination of two or more may be how you end up getting your wedding paid for.” Read more here

“Nowadays, the cost of even the most modest wedding can be astronomical, but times are changing (phew!) and often the family of the bride, the couple themselves and even the groom’s family can contribute to costs. A wise father will set his budget as early as possible and advise the couple as to what he is able, and prepared, to spend. Then there can be no misunderstandings and the couple are able to budget accordingly and decide where their priorities lie.” Read more here

“There was a time when the Father of the Bride was essentially expected to hand over a blank check in order to cover almost all wedding expenses. That was during an age when marriage was the ceremonial transferal of responsibility for (and possession of) the bride, from her father to her husband. She usually came with a really neat dowry, like two donkeys and a sack of lard. While many still count on Dear-Old-Dad (and Mom!) to foot the bill, most contemporary couples are dealing with a more complicated set of rules, or lack thereof. This is due, in part, to the fact that many couples are getting married later in life and therefore are more financially stable when they do; and also because a greater number of women are enjoying successful and lucrative careers than was the case in previous generations.” Read more here

“Weddings can be elaborate and very expensive or they can be fairly simple and affordable. The decision about a wedding budget is one that needs to be made by the bride and groom and their families-together. While tradition dictates that the bride’s family covers most of the expenses of a wedding, that tradition is not necessarily relevant today. Particularly with marriages that occur after the bride and groom are educated and established, many of today’s weddings are primarily financed by the bride and groom themselves. In other cases, the traditional divisions of responsibilities for wedding expenses are more flexible than ever.” Read more here

Are you getting married soon? Have you initiated the “money talk” with your parents yet? Who will pay for your wedding, reception and/or honeymoon? Are you sharing costs equally? Are you paying for your wedding yourselves or are you and your families splitting the costs in some way?

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22 Responses to “Modern Weddings Who Pays For What – Who Pays For Wedding Costs?”

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  1. I was lucky in my case, with parents-in-law who were enthusiastic about making their first child’s wedding a huge event. That said, it’s the 21st century and the “bride’s family pays” tradition shouldn’t have to happen if it’s impractical.

    As you pointed out, it all comes down to common sense and, more importantly, treating one another decently as human beings. Recognising the potential for stress is a good way to avoid it, and it helps to consciously step back when things get a little heated. My own technique is to never, ever raise my voice. It forces people to keep relatively calm, and doesn’t add any tension they can build upon.

  2. confused says:

    Our wedding is at a hotel, who pays for the rooms for the bridal party? Who pays to have their hair & makeup done on site? Should the bride be taking care of this?

  3. T says:

    Hi, I starting to plan my wedding to my boyfriend who I have been with for 5years. When we first met his mum said we would go half with the wedding as she wanted a wedding for 500 people. I decided i wanted something more intimate and small (300people) which i think is still big. She now says she does not want to go halfs and she knows my parents situation (i have four other sisters who my dad has to marry). I do not understand this as at the end of the day big or small it is still her sons day not jus mine. I do not know what to do, we do not want to beg for their help

  4. Great article. Weddings have become a very expensive exercise. Here in Sydney the average price per head to book in a wedding venue is over $110 per head. Not including all the bling bling that comes with that. We see many couples taking out loans or getting assistance from families. What will the year 2013 bring?

  5. Jim says:

    You forgot to give the most important reason the traditional practice of the father of the bride handing out a blank check for wedding costs rarely occurs anymore; it is that the bride has abandoned the traditional practice of involving her father in her selection of the groom and ignored her father’s counsel on chastity and living together before she gets married.