Answering the tricky question: Who pays for a wedding?

How to talk to your family about wedding finances

As you start planning your wedding, you’ve got plenty of important decisions to make. There’s the fun stuff (think picking the colors and tasting cakes), but there are also stressful factors, like financing a wedding. Thinking about your wedding budget tends to bring up the sticky question of who is paying for the wedding.

With the average total wedding cost coming in at about $34,000, it’s normal to worry about how to pay for your special day.1 You might fear you’ll go into debt or be anxious you can’t afford the wedding you want with the budget you have. And while many couples are footing much of the wedding bill themselves, or even paying for it entirely on their own, it’s not uncommon to think about asking your parents to chip in.

You pay, your parents pay, you all pitch in together—there’s no one right way of financing a wedding. Think about your unique situation to determine what works for you.

Who pays for the wedding anyway?

Many couples wonder, “When it comes to wedding etiquette, who pays for what?” The truth is that the expectations about who pays for the wedding have changed. It’s up to you to determine how to finance your wedding and how you want to involve your family.

Traditionally, the thinking was that the bride’s family paid for most of the wedding. That includes reception costs, floral arrangements and invitations. You might wonder how families with multiple daughters ever afforded anything else! The groom’s family traditionally covered the rehearsal dinner and the honeymoon.2

By today’s standards, that would mean the bride’s family could shell out thousands more than the groom’s. But now, you and your respective families can figure out what’s doable.

How to ask your parents for financial help

Maybe you’d like to receive financial help from your parents or future in-laws. It’s normal if you feel nervous about having that conversation: It can be tough to ask them for money, especially if they’ve already helped in other ways (like paying for college or slipping you rent money). And you probably realize just how many expenses your parents have, too. Knowing all this, you and your partner could find it helpful to prepare for the “money talk”:

  • Determine your wedding wants: Before you sit down with family members, sit down with your partner to get on the same page about what you’re picturing for the day. You might discover you both want simple ceremonies or a destination wedding, and that you only need to ask your parents to kick in a small amount. Or, you may realize that you don’t have nearly the amount of money you’ll need, and you’ll have to ask your parents for a significant chunk. Either way, it’s helpful to know that information before you’re sitting down at the kitchen table with them.
  • Let family know the conversation is coming: It might be a good idea to give your parents a head’s up that you want to discuss your wedding budget. This way, they won’t be blindsided or surprised when you ask for help. Telling them in advance can also give them a chance to assess their finances to see what they’re willing (and able) to give. Consider having these talks with your respective families separately. How much each family is contributing is information you and your partner may prefer to keep between yourselves.
  • Cut parents some slack: It’s OK to hope your parents can pitch in, but having a Plan B if they say “no” can help ease any disappointment you feel and can help get you back on track. Parents often have other expenses that can prevent them from helping you out, such as saving for retirement, caring for elderly family members or trying to pay off their mortgage. Besides, with a strategic wedding savings plan, you may be able to make it happen on your own. And if you need to keep the budget down, there are many ways to cut wedding costs, too.

Whether or not your parents help pay for the wedding, a solid financial plan can help you make your special day as meaningful as your relationship—all while helping you stay in control of your wallet. Plus, having these difficult discussions now can set the foundation for handling your financial life together as a married couple.

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