The Wedding Budget: Who Pays for What?
Written by: Rob Franklin
When it comes to planning a wedding, one of the first steps (and oftentimes one of the most stressful aspects) can be figuring out the budget. Who pays for what, and how much should each person contribute? It can be a delicate subject to navigate, especially if you and your partner come from different financial backgrounds or have different expectations for your big day.
The First Step In Wedding Planning Budget Conversations
First things first: it's important to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about your priorities, financial situations and what you can realistically afford. You may want to consider hiring a wedding planner or financial planner to help you create a budget. And while it's critical to set a budget, don't be hard on yourself if you go over it - you're not alone. According to The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study, nearly 50% of couples spent more than they'd planned by an average of $6,373 (with some with higher budgets blowing past their their limits by over $20,000).
Traditionally, the bride's family was responsible for paying for the majority of the wedding expenses. However, times have changed and it's not uncommon for the couple to pay for their own wedding, for the groom's family to cover it, for both families to contribute, for there to be two grooms or two brides, or for people to prefer other terms altogether. There are no hard and fast rules, and there's no right way to do it, so it's important to do what works best for you and your situation. It's also not uncommon to hear in these conversations a (polite) version of, "if it's not a priority of ours or in our budget, but it's important to you and we're happy to include it, you can cover it."
Here are some guidelines as a conversation-starter for who pays for what when it comes to the wedding budget, but you're encouraged to make this feel right for you and your partner:
- The wedding ceremony: Traditionally the bride's side would have paid for most of the ceremony and all of the rentals and decorations, while the groom's side paid for the officiant's fee (if there is one)* and marriage license. It's now not uncommon for the couple to pay for the ceremony, including any rentals or decorations needed.
- The reception: This is usually the biggest expense and can be paid for by the couple, one, or both families. Sometimes it'll get split up with one partner paying for the DJ or band and alcohol, while the other partner pays for all other vendors like decorations and food.
- The attire: The bride's wedding dress and accessories are typically paid for by the bride or her family. The groom's attire is usually his or his family's responsibility.
- The bridal party: The bridal party is usually responsible for paying for their own attire, lodging, and flights, while ground transportation on the day-of the ceremony (when multiple stops are involved) is usually covered by the couple.
- The getting ready events: The bride sometimes covers hair and/or makeup for her bridesmaids, or they'll cover their own. The groom sometimes covers any day-of activities (golf, lunch, etc.), or the groomsmen will pay their way.
- The invitations: The invitations are usually paid for by the couple, while it was traditionally covered by the bride's family.
- The welcome bags: The welcome bags are usually split between the couple, or if one family is local (or more passionate about this addition), they may opt to cover it.
- The photography and videography: The couple is typically responsible for paying for these services.
- The additional weekend events: Traditionally when the bride's family covered much of the wedding and the post-wedding brunch, the groom's family paid for the rehearsal dinner. Nowadays, there could be welcome drinks that the couple covers, a rehearsal dinner covered by one partner, and the bulk of the reception covered by another (or any combination).
Keep in mind that these aren't rules set in stone, and every couple's situation is different. The most important thing is to be real with your partner about what you can afford (and care about), and to come up with a budget that works for both of you.
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*NOTE: More than half of couples these days are asking a friend or family member to officiate. Usually people don't pay their loved one for the service, which saves the budget thousands of dollars. Their officiant may not get a registry gift for the couple and have the ceremony be their gift to the couple. The couple may also offer to get a thank you gift for the officiant (which could be in the form of covering a night of lodging for a destination wedding, a gift card to the officiant's favorite restaurant, or something else that feels like a special thank you).