To Hell With Tradition: Who Should Really Pay For What In A Wedding?

With our wedding just two weeks away, Kristin and I recently were talking about budgeting for the wedding, and how our process seemed to be different than what a lot of other young couples go through. We’re thankful to be in the financial position we are, and we were able to make sure we’ve invited the people we want, at the location we want, with the sort of style and experience we want.

We aren’t having a big over-the-top wedding, and it’s not a destination wedding per se (though it’s a destination for many people who will be traveling from all corners of the country), but it definitely has cost us a not-insignificant amount of money to pull off. It was a conscious decision we made about our big day and our future; sure we could have had a much smaller, less expensive wedding. We also easily could have had a much more elaborate wedding. We chose to do something that was somewhere in between those two; in part because we were fortunate enough to save a boatload of money on it – a topic I will cover in more detail in a couple weeks.

When we first got engaged and started talking about our budget, we both agreed right away that we would keep our wedding modest and within our means. We did a fair amount of research on prices, and through sites like TheKnot read up a bit on who “traditionally” pays for what (such as the rehearsal dinner being paid for by the groom’s parents, for example).

If you do some reading like we did, you can pretty easily find things that are paid for by the family of the bride or the family of the groom, for example. Doing some more browsing, I started seeing articles and forum posts about people quite literally begging others – friends, family, GoFundMe, you name it – for money for their wedding.

To me, this is absurd. Have weddings become so glorified that we need to resort to begging, taking out loans, and piling on stress and debt??

Very early on – before we even got engaged – we decided “to hell with tradition” in regards to wedding expenses: we were going to foot the bill ourselves, and if we couldn’t, then we would deal with each thing on a case-by-case basis. I didn’t want our parents stressing out about anything, and both Kristin and I certainly weren’t raised to live above our means or ask others for financial help unless it was basically a “life or death” type situation.

Now, I’m not saying weddings are cheap. Believe me, we know they aren’t. But it’s perfectly possible to have a wedding within your means by potentially considering the following:

  • Lower your guest count. If you want to have a nice wedding but aren’t able to afford the cost per head for everybody, it might be time to start cutting your list. About half your guests may RSVP ‘no’ – we were told that’d happen, and sure enough it did. But I wouldn’t necessarily bank on it. Lowered guest count means potentially a smaller venue, fewer transportation services (shuttles alone for us were a pretty significant cost), and less money spent on things you may not consider when figuring out your budget, like invitations, RSVP’s, favors, and even silly things like stamps ( literally HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS OF STAMPS!)
  • Choose a less expensive venue. If you can lower your guest count, chances are you’ll be able to move to a smaller venue as well, which can help save some costs. Lots of venues will also have lower rates on “off” days like Sunday or Friday; though just keep in mind that if you get married on a Sunday people won’t stay as late (need a day for the hangover) and Friday will miss some folks as well due to work. Who knows, maybe that’d end up being a good thing!
  • Skip the wedding altogether and get married at the courthouse; throw a casual party later. Kristin and I aren’t doing it this way, but I’ve read about tons of folks who just go down to the courthouse, get their marriage license, and then later throw a big party. Sure it’s still going to be a bit pricey maybe, but it’ll undoubtedly be less expensive than the whole full-fledged wedding. Plus, depending on how casual and how small the party is, you can probably get away with skipping some things that otherwise would have added costs like favors and transportation.
  • Move your date back so you have more time to save. If you absolutely CAN NOT cut costs anywhere else, you may need to move your date back before locking anything in so that you can save up money to be able to afford the wedding you want. Having a slightly longer engagement isn’t really that big of a deal. Make sure you discuss with your to-be-spouse what you both want out of a wedding, and why it’s important. Especially if it’s putting other parts of your life in a stressful position or on hold, figure out what is important to both of you and go forward with a plan from there.

Regardless of how much your wedding costs, the only people who should be expected to pay for a wedding are the two people getting married. Unless it’s an arranged marriage (which doesn’t typically happen these days in many cultures), the bride/groom shouldn’t expect their parents to chip in for anything. If they want to, that’s fantastic – but asking for money, in addition to putting your friends and family members in an awkward spot, is tacky. If you can’t handle it without outside help, it may be time to take a look at your other spending habits as well and see if there’s an underlying issue that’s preventing it.

At the same time, I really wish that people who do contribute financially to the wedding would do so without strings attached. A lot of times I’d read about people whose parents helped, but insisted on the wedding having some sort of special thing. Maybe it’s a specific band (and conveniently they didn’t contribute enough to even cover the cost of that) or having the wedding at a specific venue.

Weddings are supposed to be a fun time for friends and family to celebrate the love that the happy couple has found in each other. Whatever makes them happy should also make you happy. There shouldn’t be this expectation that weddings need to meet specific criteria, and there shouldn’t be strings attached to financial assistance. But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world. Until that time, just make sure if you’re planning a wedding, you do what makes YOU feel comfortable. The wedding is for you, not for your guests.

That’s my groomzilla rant.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m pretty nontraditional and my fiancé and I are paying for our wedding ourselves. It never occurred to me to ask anyone for help. My mom offered some money a few days ago, but we said no, because we don’t need it, and would rather she save it for her own retirement. A couple posts ago, I wrote about how I saved up for my wedding even before I even had a serious boyfriend. Saving way earlier than when you actually need the money is the way to go, imho. But not everybody has that foresight.

    Do people actually beg parents to help pay? From my experience, parents usually just offer by themselves. I do think it’s super outdated to follow any rules as to who should pay for what. Whoever has the means should pay!

    My only beef with the parents paying is that I think it really drives up wedding costs for everyone. You spend your own money differently from how you spend other people’s money. I doubt many people would drop $10,000 of their own money on a wedding dress, but those prices continue because the parents are happy to foot the bill.

    1. Just read your article: That’s a great way to start thinking about wedding budgeting and making sure that you’ve got a bit saved up beforehand. I had a fair amount of stocks I was able to sell (specifically intended for a wedding, through my employee stock purchase plan) so that worked out really well for us.

      I’d be curious to see how parents drive the bill up – like you said I’m sure it does. 10k on a dress is insane!

  2. I will admit I was one of those “women” who argued and cried over not being engaged on MY timeline. My now husband and I fought and fought. I cried and cried several times over the course of several years that we were not engaged and married. But when the time came and we started wedding planning I was grateful for the time my husband spent saving. Enough though I was told by my parents that they would contribute to our wedding, it wasn’t enough “financial security” for my husband. Going into the wedding process, we planned to pay for all of our wedding and planned accordingly. We chose areas that were the most important to us. I found ways to cut corners and cut costs by having simple center pieces and asking for cash deals. I got my wedding dress for half the price by buying off the rack. We booked events off season. We did what WE wanted and we wouldn’t change a thing. Any financial compensation we got from our parents were a “bonus” in our eyes. It was NOT expect but COMPELTELY apprecitated.

    1. Those are some awesome tips! I have a project in mind coming up that I may want your input on. 🙂

      Being able to pay for your own wedding is definitely a good feeling. I can understand the frustrations with your husband but it sounds like it all worked out!

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