Remember that time a group of you went out to dinner and all split the check? Except you ordered a club soda and a salad, and everyone else had 10 martinis and lobster? Did you split the check evenly, or just pay for what you had? More importantly, did you think that situation was awkward? Well, get ready, because "who pays for what" in weddings can get even more uncomfortable.
For decades, the bride's family was expected to pay for the wedding, or at least a large portion of the big day. The groom's family would pick up other items, including boutonnieres for the groom's attendants, the officiant fee, the marriage license, the rehearsal dinner and the honeymoon. Of course, this was back before couples lived with each other prior to being married, and so the "traditional" who pays for what isn't the rule anymore.
Things to consider as a couple: Are you living together? Are you both working? How much control do you want over the planning of your wedding?
If you are already living together once you are engaged (or soon thereafter), it is generally believed that you are sharing expenses. The couple that is living together tends to pay for their own wedding themselves, or at least a portion of it. Discuss with your significant other what you can budget for your wedding, and if that will be enough to cover everything. If not, consider speaking to the bride's parents first for financial assistance. If that's not possible, you may be on your own for the most part. It is still considered odd to ask the groom's parents to pay for the wedding. However, they can be on the hook for other items, including the ones listed above.
The issue then becomes how to ask. As most would agree, asking for money in any situation is awkward, especially large sums of it. To avoid anything becoming weird, take the parents out to dinner for an engagement celebration. The conversation will naturally turn to planning the wedding and you can easily steer it to the financial aspect. Explain some ideas or thoughts you have for the wedding, and see if the parents offer their help. If you feel that it's not going that way, don't push it, but wait a week or two, and then have the bride speak to her parents one-on-one, in private. No one wants to feel pressured, and perhaps a different atmosphere is the right way to go.
There is an old saying though, that you should always remember: "He who has the gold, makes the rules." Basically, if the parents are writing the checks, they are also writing the rules. You will both have to consider their opinions on everything they are paying for, and you might even have to give up control of several aspects of your wedding. If the bride wants all peonies, but her mother (the one paying for it) is allergic and wants calla lilies, then guess what? Everything from the dress and the catering, to every other large decision, if you are sharing the expenses (or having them covered) your opinion is not the only one that will matter. Consider that when deciding if you want to ask for help footing the bill.
With that in mind, there really is no set formula for who pays for what portion of the wedding. There are different cultures, different rules and with the increased costs of weddings, many couples are asking both sets of parents to contribute to the budget, in addition to what they are already contributing themselves. Which means: There really aren't any set rules anymore, there's really only guidelines.
The other expenses in a wedding include ones that fall on the shoulders of your attendants. Since there is some flexibility here and the always differing opinions, make sure that your attendants know exactly what they are getting into. Traditionally, they are responsible for all of their own wardrobe costs, as well as hair and make up. That said, it is important to not pick out the most expensive wardrobe in the store because not everyone can afford a $500-never-going-to-wear-it-again-no-matter-what-anyone-says-bridesmaid dress. Also, make sure they know that a hair and make up artist will be styling them on the day of and that they are (if you aren't paying for it) going to have to cover that cost. When it comes to the bridal shower and bachelor/bachelorette parties, leave that up to them to decide.
Once your budget is put together, start reaching out to planners to get the ball rolling. A good planner will need to know your budget before they can even commit to working with you, and even more so before share any ideas. Come to that meeting prepared to talk numbers, and you'll be off to a great start!