Here's Who Traditionally Pays for What in the Wedding Budget
If you're dreading the thought of divvying up your wedding budget, you certainly aren't alone. The topic of money can be challenging to navigate, especially when it comes to getting married. Weddings are steeped in tradition, and common "etiquette rules" seemingly dictate nearly aspect of the day, like what you should wear, how the ceremony is comprised, and who pays for the wedding. If you've done any amount of research, you might be aware of an old-fashioned rule that says certain people have to pay for certain wedding costs. But we're here to say that concept is completely outdated—partly because it's based on old gender roles and stereotypes, but also because couples are completely rewriting the rules for getting married today.
In the past, it was generally expected that the bride's family would cover the majority of the wedding costs. Not only is that exclusive of all couples, it doesn't reflect the reality of how to-be-weds now manage money. According to The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study, the average age of marriage is 34 years—an increase from 2019 and 2020, when it was 32. Because people are getting married later in life, they're more financially equipped to take on more (or all) of the wedding costs themselves. Plus, given the importance now placed on the overall experience, more couples are willing to splurge on upgrades and extras they want to make their dream wedding a reality.
Of course, that's not to say to-be-weds don't receive any financial help from family members. Our study found that, on average, parents contribute to 51% of the wedding budget, while couples cover the remaining 49%. So, how do you decide which rules to follow when it comes to who pays for what in a wedding? The choice is ultimately yours. "Some couples definitely still subscribe to these traditions, but it's hardly a 'given' these days as we are seeing many more couples opt for less traditional splits," says Landis Bejar, founder of NYC-based boutique wedding therapy practice AisleTalk. "In some cases, that looks like both partners' families contributing more equally, the couple making a substantial contribution or financing the wedding themselves, or any combination."
Since there are essentially no rules for budgeting, it can feel tricky to determine who pays for the wedding. To help you get started on making your budget, we've created a traditional wedding payment breakdown that explicitly dictates who pays for what in a wedding, from the ceremony fees to the decor and even the honeymoon. It's important to note, though, that these tips are purely based on heteronormative tradition. The rules below certainly aren't set in stone, and should simply be used as a guideline to allocate who pays for what in your own wedding budget. You're encouraged to change this outline based on what's best for you and your financial circumstances.
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Who Traditionally Pays for What in a Wedding Budget
Ultimately, the way you decide who pays for the wedding is up to you, your partner, and your families. You might be aware that the bride's family is expected to cover the majority of the wedding day costs, while the groom's family pays for a variety of extra activities, like the rehearsal dinner and the honeymoon. The bottom line, though, is that these rules are open to your interpretation.
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- The bride and her family generally pay for the church, synagogue, or house of worship, along with the sexton, organist, and other vendors specific to the ceremony.
- The groom and his family pay for the marriage license and officiant fee.
- Who pays for the wedding dress? This ultimately falls to the bride and her family. They're also expected to cover the cost of the veil, accessories and the rest of the wedding wardrobe, including outfits for the shower, bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, and honeymoon.
- The groom's family pays for the groom's outfit and accessories such as shoes, socks, a watch, and cufflinks.
- The wedding party is generally expected to pay for their outfits: the bridesmaids pay for their dresses, while groomsmen pay for their suits.
Flowers and Decorations
- The bride and family pay for floral arrangements for the ceremony (including a chuppah if it's a Jewish wedding ceremony) and reception, plus bouquets and corsages for bridesmaids and flower girls.
- The groom and family pay for the bride's bouquet, boutonnieres for men and corsages for mothers and grandmothers.
- Generally, the groom and his family pay for the complete honeymoon.
- The bride and her family pay for all wedding photos and videos.
- The bride or groom's family plans and hosts the engagement party; if there's more than one, the bride's family hosts the first one.
- The groom's family plans and hosts the rehearsal dinner.
- The maid of honor and bridesmaids host the bridal shower and bachelorette party.
- The best man and groomsmen host the bachelor party.
- Friends may throw additional engagement parties or showers.
- The bride and her family pay for all professional services, including food and decorations.
- The groom's family pays for the DJ or band and liquor.
- The bride and/or her family pay for the groom's ring.
- The groom and/or his family pay for both of the bride's rings.
- The bride and her family pay for invitations, announcements and wedding programs.
- The bride and her family pay for transportation of the wedding party to and from the ceremony and reception.
- While not necessary, some couples choose to purchase gifts for each other to open on the morning of the wedding.
- The couple pays for gifts given to family and wedding party members on the wedding day.
Extra Wedding Weekend Events
One trend to be aware of is the addition of wedding weekend events. Lauren Skidmore, the in-house wedding specialist for Skyline Lodge in Highlands, North Carolina, says that more couples are interested in extending the experience, especially if they're swapping vows in a picturesque location. "We see a lot of couples wanting to extend their stay to relax after the wedding and enjoy the property," she explains. "Others may want to come earlier and experience the local atmosphere with their family and friends, particularly through things like cooking classes, brunches, or hiking trips or other excursions." If this might be of importance to you, it's important to bake in the extra costs early in your planning process.
- Additional wedding weekend excursions, such as group activities, are covered by the couple.
- Some couples may want to host a wedding welcome drinks/reception party, especially if they're hosting a destination wedding requiring guests to travel. If this is in addition to the rehearsal dinner, the couple pays for the party. If it's in lieu of the rehearsal dinner, the groom's parents may pay.
- Typically, the newlyweds host and pay for the postwedding brunch. Parents can step in if they want to.
How to Modernize Wedding Payment Traditions
Despite the traditional wedding payment breakdown listed above, it's up to you and your loved ones to decide how best to choose who pays for what in the wedding budget. "In some ways, 'old traditions' made it easier on couples, because they provide a script to follow with no confusion and perhaps fewer difficult or awkward conversations," Bejar says. "But when we buck tradition, we get to make our own rules."
She notes that, while it's empowering to modernize wedding payment traditions, it can also feel confusing to set guidelines without a clear breakdown of who pays for what. Her advice? It's all about open and honest communication with financial contributors. "For better or worse, you have to discuss the breakdown of who pays for what with your family and come up with a plan."
Here are six key tips to help you modernize wedding payment traditions and determine who's covering what in your budget.
Discuss Your Priorities First
You might think that setting a budget is the very first wedding planning step, but it's not! "Before creating a budget, the first thing to do is have conversations about what's most important to the wedding," says Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, author and founder of financial platform The Fiscal Femme. She notes that aligning your priorities is key, as this will dictate where you allocate funds.
Consider what elements of the wedding day are most important to you. Do you want a lavish estate venue? Do you want a lively dance party led by a band that goes late into the night? Do you want to treat guests to an immersive food experience? Highlighting key elements you want for your big day will indicate where the majority of your budget needs to go, and where you can afford to scale back.
Be Realistic About What You Can Afford
During this discussion about your priorities, it's crucial to be realistic about what you can afford. While you might dream of having a venue covered in lavish floral arrangements, for example, that exact vision might not fit into your budget. The average cost of a wedding is currently $28,000, which can be used as a baseline to guide your budget conversations.
It's also helpful to consider various money-saving techniques to use while working on your wedding budget. While finalizing the number, Gerstley recommends adding a buffer to your budget to account for unexpected overages and last-minute additions, thus saving you from overspending. "The budget is a guiding north star, and I recommend building in a buffer to account for things that might come up or things you might forget," she explains, adding that looking into payment solutions can also help you spread out wedding costs over time. "It's great to use a pay-over-time solution, such as Affirm, for things you didn't plan for or things that cost more than you expect. This gives you more time to pay for those costs."
As awkward as it can feel to talk about money, being realistic from the start of your wedding planning journey is the best way to stay on top of your budget and avoid overspending (or going into debt) for the big day.
Ask Family to Contribute If You Feel Comfortable
Given that wedding payment traditions indicate family members usually help cover costs for the wedding, consider asking your parents or future in-laws if they can financially contribute. When it comes to tackling this conversation, Bejar recommends doing it sooner rather than later. "Have the conversation as early as possible to manage expectations and establish clear and normal conversation around finances," she suggests. "It can be awkward depending on your family's relationship to money, but it's better to know what you're dealing with early, rather than when you've started to pay for things or get emotionally invested in the process."
Another tip? Go into the conversation with the intention of asking if they can contribute, rather than expecting it right off the bat. Instead of assuming your family will follow the traditional wedding budget breakdown, try asking if they'd like to cover specific costs, or if they are willing to contribute a lump sum to be used at your discretion. "When you say, 'Let's talk about budget!' follow up with respectful questions like, 'Are you able to help us with the cost of the wedding?' or 'Did you have a budget in mind or specific elements you would like to contribute towards?' and 'How did you envision the cost breakdown?'" Bejar recommends. "This approach allows parents to want to contribute and not feel like an ATM."
Confirm Expectations Early
Set a goal to leave this initial conversation with a clear understanding of expectations. Aim to know exactly what your family will contribute, when they will share the money, what their preferred form of payment is, and how they would like their funds to be used, if applicable. "Make sure you are on the same page when you leave," Bejar says. "Confirm that everyone knows what was discussed, and create a chart or a spreadsheet to organize things."
Of course, talking about money can be highly sensitive. If you notice that the conversation gets off track in the heat of the moment, it won't hurt to put things on pause. "If things take a negative turn, take a break and make a plan to revisit," she adds.
Consider Who Can Have Input for Wedding Decisions
You might be familiar with the phrase, "If you pay, you have a say." This long-debated wedding rule is particularly relevant when it comes to setting a budget. Some may think they deserve a say in wedding decisions if they're contributing money, while others disagree. Ultimately, this is another conversation that Bejar urges couples to have with contributors early on. "Families differ on their perspectives on what a wedding means," she says. "For some, it's a family affair. For others, it's all about what the couple wants. Most American couples are socialized to view it as the latter and can encounter some distress when they start planning and realize there are a lot more opinions and stakeholders in the process than expected."
So, how do you avoid this wedding budget pitfall? The choice, again, depends on your family's interpretation. Bejar recommends level-setting expectations early, "when there is the least amount of emotional involvement."
Communicate Honestly and Transparently
Determining who pays for the wedding may seem challenging at first, but it doesn't have to be. "Talking about money can be nerve-wracking with family, so break the ice with kindness and approach the conversation with openness and honesty," Gerstley recommends.
Remember that your family members might not be aware of what it actually costs to host a wedding today, so keeping the conversation respectful is crucial for making progress. "The wedding industry changes a great deal year over year, so if this is a parent's first wedding since planning their own, they might be very shocked about what it means to volunteer to cover catering, for example," Bejar explains. "Things also vary a great deal depending on the location, venue, and size and scope of the wedding."
The bottom line is that you and your S.O. should feel empowered to approach your wedding budget in the way that makes the most sense for you. Whether you follow tradition or toss the rules completely, know that communication and honesty is key for success.