Who Pays for What When Planning a Wedding?

Rearview shot of a young couple arriving hand in hand at their wedding reception.
Hiraman / Getty Images

The rules of who pays for each component of a wedding celebration were established generations ago.

“Traditionally, the parents of the bride pay for the wedding, the parents of the groom pay for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding party hosts the shower,” said Jennifer Hines, a wedding planning consultant at Top10WeddingVendors.com. “In today’s wedding world, many still follow those traditions.”

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But perhaps just as many don’t. In some weddings, the checks to pay for the venue, the dinner, the dessert table, the bar, the bride’s dress, the officiant and more are being written by a variety of parties.

“Who pays for what in a wedding? Unfortunately, the answer these days isn’t a clear, hard and fast rule, as in years past,” said Jessica Bishop, founder of The Budget Savvy Bride. “The truth is: It depends. The decision on who pays for various aspects of a wedding are typically based upon a myriad of factors from the couples’ financial situation to their family’s ability or willingness to contribute.” Read more about who pays for the wedding.

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The Cost

So let’s start with the cost. According to The Knot 2021 Real Weddings Study, released in February 2022, the price tag for an average wedding was $28,000, excluding the engagement ring. The location of the wedding played a big part in the cost, ranging from about $16,000 for the ceremony and reception in Idaho, Oklahoma and Wyoming to $44,000 in Washington, D.C.

A sample budget from The Knot outlines how much the key parts of a wedding swallow from a wedding budget. They include:

  • Venue, 30% of the overall budget
  • Catering, 23%
  • Band, 13%
  • Alcohol, 7%
  • Flowers, 7%
  • Photography, 7%
  • Wedding rings, 7%

“We have this high-grade pressure coming from a $72 billion global wedding industry wagging its finger at couples telling them how their wedding should be and who should be footing the bill,” said Karen Cleveland, co-author of “The New Wedding Book: A Guide to Ditching All the Rules.”

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The Shift

A wedding represents a huge bill for a family to foot, especially for parents of the bride who didn’t start saving for their little girl’s wedding the day she was born. Given a shift in demographics of couples getting married, a change in who pays for the wedding has followed. The Knot reports that in 2021, the average age at marriage was 35 for men and 33 for women. That means couples now are further along in their careers and have more money to contribute than couples in the past.

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“Couples today are getting married at older ages than in previous decades,” Bishop said. “Getting married even five years later puts individuals at a different stage of life than previous generations who were entering into a marriage.

“Many couples are choosing to pay for wedding expenses themselves and have a variety of reasons for doing so. Some couples don’t want to cater their wedding decisions to family members’ preferences because they are footing the bill, so they opt to cover more or most of the wedding expenses themselves. It also depends on the size and formality of the event.”

The Reality

Today, the spending is almost 50-50 between couples and their families, according to The Knot. Its 2021 wedding study said couples pay about 48%, with the families footing the rest of the bill.

Kathleen Malone, a financial advisor for Wells Fargo Advisors, said it’s key for couples and their parents to take a “collaborative approach” when planning a wedding.

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“It’s important that the bride and groom have a conversation with their parents about finances — and specifically who is willing to pay for what,” she said. “During these exciting times, there may be a tendency to overcommit and go beyond your budgets.

“To avoid resentment or hurt feelings, I recommend that the open discussion include a financial range — as opposed to a hard figure, because it’s difficult to nail wedding expenses to the penny — that the family is comfortable spending.

“Once the budget range is established, I feel that it’s incumbent upon the bride and groom to clearly articulate their priorities. For me, music was at the top of my list; and, as far as flowers, I’d have been content with a daisy in a bottle on the tables. Create your list of priorities in a thoughtful manner.”

The Others

Malone’s daughter, 34-year-old Emily, also is a financial advisor at Wells Fargo. She elaborated on the spending required of guests and members of the wedding party.

“Weddings these days tend to be over the top, and I think we owe this trend to social media. There are an overwhelming number of parties to attend before the wedding — and they’re rarely held in the couple’s hometown,” Emily Malone said. “The mentality is, ‘Let’s schedule an international trip. Let’s take amazing pictures on this yacht. Our bridesmaids are going to wear couture dresses — that cost as much as a bridal gown!’

“I have served as a bridesmaid in 10 weddings over the past six years, and the expectation is that the bridal party attend all of the events and parties leading up the wedding. This often includes airfare, accommodations, matching swimsuits, themed outfits and various ‘swag.’ I think that I spend about $3,000 per wedding.”

No matter who pays for a wedding, it’s a significant expense. In light of today’s shifting burdens of wedding costs, it’s crucial to have a clear picture of who will pay for what before signing any contracts or getting too deep into the planning.

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor at daily newspapers in all four corners of the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates experience as a sports editor, business editor, religion editor, digital editor — and more. With a passion for real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still weighing whether to take the plunge into selling homes — or just writing about selling homes.
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