You've seen your precious daughter or son through potty training, soccer games, prom, and graduation. And now, the final frontier of parenthood: marriage.
When your child gets engaged it is, one expects, a happy time for all (if it's not, that's a topic for another post). But as the wedding planning gets underway, the question of finances inevitably presents itself. These days, as a parent, are you expected to contribute? How much? Does anyone still stick to the tradition of "bride's parents pay"? Should you expect anything in return for your contribution?
A few tips to follow:
DON'T Feel the Need to Follow Tradition
The tradition of the bride's parents paying for the wedding arose from the ancient concept of the dowry, a sum paid to the groom for becoming the provider for the bride. Back then, women couldn't provide for themselves economically, so the bride's parents had to "sweeten the pot" for the groom to accept financial responsibility for their daughter.
Well, times clearly have changed.
Nowadays, anything goes when it comes to paying for a child's wedding. "The tradition has been that the bride's parents pay for the wedding and the groom's parents pay for the rehearsal dinner," says Deborah Moody, director of the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants. "But nowadays, with the economy, there is a lot of group participation. Most of the time, I see the bride's parents paying for a quarter of the wedding costs, the groom's parents paying for a quarter, and the bride and groom paying for the other half."
According to TheKnot.com & WeddingChannel.com 2010 Real Weddings Study, 45% of the wedding is paid for by the bride's parents, 42% is paid for by the bride and groom and 12% is paid for by the groom's parents.
Basically, there are many ways to split a wedding budget--and each family should do what is right for them.
DO Offer to Help If You Can
If you are in a position to help, do so--regardless of whether you're the bride's or the groom's parents.
According to the same survey cited above, only 13% of couples pay for their entire wedding on their own, and only 20% of couples pay for most of the wedding on their own (90% or more of their wedding budget).
So while compared to years before, more and more couples are marrying later and able to afford to pay for their own weddings, most are still getting help from family. It's nice to be able to contribute to their special day if you can. However...
DON'T Feel Obligated or Stretch Yourself Thin
"[Paying for a child's wedding] depends entirely on each family's financial situation. There's no obligation, but there are regional traditions and budget capability to consider when deciding who will pay," says Kristin Koch, senior editor at TheKnot.com .
You should never put yourself at risk financially to pay for your child's wedding, and that means taking out a loan, taking on credit card debt, or depleting your savings--or under any circumstances, your retirement account. Your child will figure out how to have an amazing day with or without your resources. "Nowadays, brides are older," says Moody. "They have their ideas, their careers, they are savvy. They know what they want and know how to get it--and they know how to do it economically."
Being dependent on them for financial help later is no wedding gift!
DO Be Creative in Helping Out
You may not have the finances, but you might have a good friend who is an amazing florist or photographer who will donate her services (just make sure the couple thinks they're amazing, too).
"Rather than saying they'll contribute a specific dollar amount, parents can say they'll cover the band and photographer, or any combination of specific vendors," says Koch. "Another way to contribute if the couple wants to pay for the wedding on their own is that the parents can pay for a fantastic honeymoon."
Another option? Enlist others to help out. "Some cultures have 'sponsors'--it's common in many Asian cultures, like Filipino," says Moody. "They're often aunts and uncles and they help finance the wedding. They're treated specially: they have their special seats, and special corsages, they're very important. They're like godparents." There may be others in the family who are close to your child, who would be more than happy to contribute to the couple's dream wedding.
DON'T Expect Too Much in Return
The best kind of financial gift is one that has no strings attached, and is just given to the bride and groom to spend however they want, to create the day that they want.
According to Moody, one way the financial contribution typically manifests its influence is in the invitation list. Typically the bride and groom will allot a certain number of invitations to the parents who have contributed, and retain the rest for themselves. She would put some limits on this, though: "I have a rule: you shouldn't be meeting someone on your wedding day. If they're important to you, you should have already met them."
If the couple seeks your opinion on certain aspects of the day, consider yourself blessed. But don't regard your contribution as a way to buy influence over what happens at the wedding--the day is truly about celebrating the couple, and it should be the one day that is theirs.