Weddings are surrounded by tradition at every turn — and those traditions extend to who pays for the various elements of a wedding. Of course, traditions are changing, with many couples taking on the financial responsibilities of their own weddings in different ways. As you plan your wedding, though, it's still helpful to understand the "rules" governing how to split costs, if only to use as a starting point for your own budgeting process. Take a look at how wedding costs have traditionally been split between the bride and groom and their families.
The Traditions: Who Pays for What?
Traditionally, the bride's family was responsible for paying for most of the expenses for the wedding and the reception. Because of that, they are typically in control of making the major decisions about the style and size of the wedding. The rules, however, have been in flux for a while, so use these traditions as a guideline to establish what you want for your own wedding and to determine who will pay for it.
The bride's family is traditionally in charge of making the arrangements for and paying for the actual wedding ceremony. This includes all rental fees for the church, synagogue, or other venue. It also includes payment to all musicians playing during the ceremony. Some venues may also add extra charges for insurance and security; these are also paid by the bride's family. In addition, if the couple is using a wedding consultant, the bride's family should pay their fees.
The groom or his family has a few financial responsibilities attached to the ceremony. He should pay the fee of the ceremony's officiant, and he should pay for the actual marriage license.
The wedding rings are at the heart of any wedding. You can have a wedding without a long line of bridesmaids and groomsmen, without a fancy reception or even a cake, and with a very minimalist ceremony — but it isn't a wedding without the exchange of rings.
Traditionally, the bride purchases the groom's wedding ring, and the groom purchases the bride's ring. The groom, of course, also purchases the bride's engagement ring. (If the groom is also wearing an engagement ring, as is becoming more common, the bride purchases that.) The couple's families may pitch in with the expenses if they choose.
The Invitations and Other Stationery
Wedding invitations can range from complicated packages with multiple envelopes and pre-stamped RSVP cards to simple handwritten notes — or, today, even emailed invitations with links to the couple's wedding website. In all circumstances, though, the bride's family is responsible for the creation, printing, and mailing of the invitations. The bride's family also takes care of the creation and printing of any announcements and of programs to be handed out at the ceremony.
The Wedding Attire
Not surprisingly, the bride and her family are responsible to pay for the wedding dress, as well as all the accessories that go along with it, such as the shoes, veil, and any jewelry. They also pay for the bride's trousseau, if she's packing lots of lingerie for the honeymoon.
The groom should pay for his own suit, whether he buys it or rents it. His family may pitch in to help with this cost in some cases.
All bridesmaids and groomsmen are expected to pay for their own wedding attire, including their shoes. However, the bride traditionally pays for any beauty treatments for the bridal party, including hair and makeup on the day of the wedding.
The Flowers and Other Decorations
Most traditional weddings are decorated with flowers everywhere you look. The participants wear and carry flowers, the wedding ceremony venue is decorated with flowers, the reception is also filled with the flowers, and sometimes little girls even toss flower petals down the aisle as the bride approaches her groom.
Almost all these flowers are the responsibility of the bride's family, who often choose to reuse the ceremony floral displays at the reception. The bride and her family should also buy any bouquets, floral crowns, and other flowers that are part of the bridesmaids' outfits, and they should purchase corsages for special helpers and relatives. They also buy the flowers for any flower girls, and, in a Jewish ceremony, they're responsible for the chuppah and its decorations.
The groom and his family have a few floral responsibilities, however. They should purchase the boutonnieres for all the groomsmen, as well as the corsages and boutonnieres for the couple's parents and grandparents. In addition, the groom traditionally pays for the bride's bouquet, and for her going-away corsage, if she plans to wear one.
The Photography and Videography
Brides and grooms have commemorated their wedding with photographs of the special occasion since cameras were invented, and modern couples often want the more detailed memories that videography can provide. The bride's family is responsible for all costs associated with photography and videography, including making copies of photos and videos for family and the bridal party, if desired. They should also pay for any engagement photos and bridal portraits.
The reception can be one of the priciest aspects of a wedding, depending on the couple's choices. Once again, the financial responsibility falls on the bride's family, who are the official hosts of the reception — though they often get some key help from the groom's family.
The bride's family pays for the rental fees associated with the reception venue, the food being served, and all the decoration. They also pay for the wedding cake. The groom's family, however, very often pitches in by paying for all alcohol served at the reception. They also often pay for the music and entertainment, whether it's a DJ or a full band.
The Rehearsal, Rehearsal Dinner, and Other Pre-Wedding Parties
For many couples, the wedding is the highlight of a series of celebrations which may have more or less official status. Primary among these is the wedding rehearsal, which traditionally involves a rehearsal dinner.
The groom's family is the host of the rehearsal dinner, with the entire bridal party and any relatives (especially those who have traveled to the wedding) invited. The rehearsal dinner can be formal or casual, depending on the couple's wishes. The groom's family pays for not only the dinner and drinks, but any invitations, entertainment, and decor.
Other festivities can include an engagement party, which can be hosted (and paid for) by either family or by the friends of the couple. The bridesmaids typically pay for the bridal shower and bachelorette party, though in some cases, brides host (and pay for) a pre-wedding luncheon or weekend away with her bridesmaids. The groomsmen pay for the bachelor party.
In the case of a destination wedding, a morning-after brunch is often hosted by the bride's family.
Once the wedding is over, it's time for the groom to get out his checkbook. Traditionally, the entire honeymoon is the groom's financial responsibility, including the accommodations for the wedding night.
Travel and Transportation
A small wedding that's close to home may not incur any costs related to travel or local transportation. When those items are needed, the responsibilities are split as follows. The bride and her family pay for:
- The travel and accommodations for the officiant
- The accommodations for any out-of-town bridesmaids
- The wedding day transportation for the bridal party, including any limousine for the bride and groom
The remaining expenses left for the groom and his family include:
- Accommodations for any out-of-town groomsmen
- The transportation for the bride and groom leaving the reception
The New Traditions: Other Options for Paying for a Wedding
Traditions about who pays for what in a wedding have been changing over recent decades as weddings and marriages themselves have seen change. Couples getting married late in life, often not for the first time, see no need to defer to their families regarding wedding-related choices or expenses. Divvying up what the bride or groom should pay for makes little sense when a wedding has two brides or two grooms.
While many people still rely on the traditional division of wedding expenses detailed above, others simply sit down, make a budget, and divide up the expenses depending on the bride's and groom's income. In some cases, where a groom from a wealthy family is marrying a woman of lesser means, the groom's family may choose to pay for the entire wedding. Often, couples choose to host their own weddings, sometimes aiming for a minimalist ceremony and reception so they can devote their resources to the honeymoon or to buying a home.
One new tradition that many people are adopting is that of the three-way split. In this case, the wedding costs are divided equally between the couple, the bride's family, and the groom's family. As long as everyone agrees on their expectations for the wedding, this plan can work well.
Regardless of how you decide to allocate the costs of your wedding, one of the most important things you can do is make a wedding budget — and then stick to it. Decide with your loved one what elements of your wedding are most important to you, and then start planning a wedding that truly reflects who you are as a couple.