Affording a wedding is still a family affair and the bride’s parents continue to pay for the bulk of it, thanks to centuries-old tradition.
“Hundreds of years ago, women were considered chattel and the bride’s family used to have to pay off the groom’s family in the form of a dowry to take their daughters off their hands,” as The Offbeat Bride humorously (but also kind of accurately) describes.
In 2017, even as men and women are marrying later in life, their parents continue to pay.
Only 10% of couples pay for their wedding entirely by themselves, according to The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study. The study found that the bride’s parents tend to chip in the most, 44% of the overall budget, while the bride and groom pay 42%, and the groom’s parents offer 13%.
“From my experience with clients, some families are still very traditional where the bride’s parents pay for the wedding and the groom’s parents pay for the rehearsal dinner. Typically, I find those families are usually getting married in a church so they might have more traditional beliefs,” says Ashley La Fleur, Owner & Lead Planner at La Belle Fleur Events.
It’s one thing if your family proactively offers to pay and looks forward to contributing. And you don’t mind accepting and perhaps needing to get their approval of some expenses (like guests and venue). In that case, consider yourself very lucky.
In other cases, you may be only hoping that your parents will assist. If that’s the case, how do you gauge the topic with them? And if you and your partner insist on paying for everything yourselves, do you risk offending family members who really looked forward to contributing to your Big Day?
Here’s a primer on how to address this sometimes-sticky financial issue. As always, if you have additional advice, please share in the comments section below.
Is this really doable for your family?
First things first, even if your family offers to pay for some or your entire wedding, do be mindful of their financial needs. Would giving you and your fiancé, say, $25,000, set them back? (For what it’s worth, the average wedding cost in the U.S. is $35,329 and the average annual expense for an American retiree is $44,600).
Would they still be able to live comfortably? Parents can sometimes act irrationally and sacrifice their financial well being for the sake of their children (e.g. skimping on retirement savings to pay for college.) Don’t be shy about asking how the gift might impact their financial planning. A way to break into that conversation could be to say, “Thank you. This is such a generous gift. We know weddings can be expensive and in no way do we want to jeopardize your savings. Are you sure about giving us so much? Have you budgeted for this?”
Newlyweds Steve and Maggie insisted on paying for their weddings themselves. “Both of our parents are retired and don’t generate income,” says Steve. “We find it more satisfying to take care of things financially on our own without any help…especially if there is the possibly it might strain someone else.”
If your family promises their contribution won’t jeopardize their finances, great. But you also want to know how they want their contribution to count. If you’re worried about your parents stepping all over your plans, a good follow-up question might be: “We’d love to share our plans with you. Do you have any preferences we should know about before forging ahead?” Maybe the gift comes with no strings attached. But typically parents would like to review the guest list and join in on making the invitations and other arrangements. And if they’re giving you thousands of dollars (and you’re accepting), I’d say this is a pretty fair non-negotiable.
My family hasn’t offered to help. Now what?
Before sitting down with family members for the big ask, be sure that you and your partner have run some real numbers using quotes for all the things you may want to coordinate for your wedding including the venue, music, flowers, etc. Imagine you’ll need to pay for the wedding yourselves. Have a budget in mind that will work for just the two of you in case you don’t receive any outside money. If parents do offer to contribute you can adjust your wedding plans and expenses accordingly.
Karen, whose getting married this fall, found that being honest with relatives was best. They can help spread the word a little, too. “At the beginning of planning I was chatting with my sister and telling her I was worried and wondering where the money would come from…but it was a friendly talk. I wasn’t really asking her for money, but then she offered to support us. Later on, she talked with my father about it…and he offered to pay for the band.”
You want to pay for the wedding yourself?
That’s how my husband and I felt when we made wedding plans. Nobody was offended. Perhaps they were relieved? But they did generously offer to pay for our rehearsal dinner and post wedding brunch. Our parents wanted to celebrate us and contribute in a way that was meaningful. We wanted to respect that in a way that worked for everyone. And as far as how to communicate, clear and friendly emails worked best to keep everyone on the same page.
Along the way we tried to keep our parents in the loop on the plans and they (I think) appreciated sharing in the experience of scoping out venues with us, seeing the invitations before they went out and being asked if there were any distant relatives they absolutely thought we should invite. It just felt like the right thing to do and helped to avoid unnecessary drama.
Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.