Gone are the days when the families of the bride and groom would get out an etiquette book and split wedding expenses old school according to an antiquated plan. Today there are many financial arrangements for who pays for weddings and no option is considered more appropriate than any other.
Most often, differing priorities or financial capabilities mandate a less traditional method of funding a wedding, but whichever is appropriate for you and your family, here is some advice to make managing the economics of your wedding go as smoothly as possible.
The bride's family pays for everything (except maybe the rehearsal dinner).
What you need to consider: While this is an incredibly generous gift that should be appreciated greatly, when someone besides the bride and groom is paying for the wedding it is important to determine right from the beginning if money for the wedding is truly a gift or if it comes with strings attached -- which it most often does.
If the bride's parents are funding the majority of the wedding, in almost all cases, they will have their own set of priorities. They might want control of the guest list, guest count, the destination or venue, menu, band and other detail decisions throughout the planning process. If your dream is for a small destination wedding in Europe and your parents are set on a large blowout in your hometown, you will need to work this out right from the beginning or it will cause for a lot of hurt feelings and fights down the road when Dad says, "Since I'm paying for this wedding, this is how it's going to be."
Parents paying for the entire wedding should absolutely have a say in key details and should be able to invite some of their friends -- while keeping their grown child's style in mind. At the same time, the couple should be appreciative of their parents' generosity and recognize that they will need to negotiate their vision for the wedding together with their parents.
Bride's parents still pay for most of the wedding expenses, and the groom's parents contribute a set amount or pay for specific items, such as the band, bar and flowers.
What you need to consider: This is the typical etiquette book arrangement. When the groom's family contributes in these key ways, they should coordinate with the couple and the bride's parents about what they are planning and try to work best within the confines of what has already been decided. If an intimate venue that only seats 100 guests has been selected and the couple is planning to invite 100 guests, there isn't room for a 13-piece band no matter how much the parents of the groom want it. The best advice here is to discuss all of these priorities before any contracts are signed. This arrangement also doesn't mean that the mother of the groom has complete control over design of the flowers, but it would be polite and appropriate to invite her to your décor appointment and to see the sample table scape.
The groom's family pays for mostly everything.
What you need to consider: This arrangement is very common when the groom's family has significantly more funds available for the wedding than the bride's parents or the couple themselves. Once this option has been decided, it pretty much runs as if the bride's parents were paying solo, but with the groom's parents having say in the majority of the details and guest list. The only place this gets touchy is if the parents of the groom are paying for the bride's gown. When this is the case, it is important to include both your mother and future mother-in-law when you go to pick out your dress so they both feel included and make sure to only look at options within the budget.
The bride's and the groom's family split the expenses equally.
What you need to consider: This 50/50 set up is ideal when it comes to fairly dividing costs, however, it is the arrangement that requires the most negotiation. When working within this plan, set your budget and stick to it. Just because expenses are split evenly doesn't mean both sides will have the same priorities. Discuss your vision with both sides - ideally together - so everyone knows what they can plan for. Just because you want to splurge on flowers and your mom thinks it's fine, you will want to check with your in-laws before signing the contract if it puts you over the budget.
The engaged couple contributes to the wedding paid for mostly by their parents.
What you need to consider: This is one of my favorite financial arrangements for my clients. This allows the parents to pay for the things that matter to them most, with a proportional amount of say in the wedding, while the couple gets to make splurge decisions as they see fit without upsetting anyone. If the couple wants a crazy expensive dance band or wants to fly in an incredible photographer, that would be on their tab.
The engaged couple pays for everything.
What you need to consider: This financial option occurs often when the couple are older and financially secure. It is also often the choice for second marriages and times when the bride and groom recognize their vision for their wedding is more extravagant than what either of their parents are willing to pay for. Couples who fund their own weddings often have 100 percent control when it comes to major decisions like destinations, venues, guest list, menu, entertainment and décor. If you find yourself in this arrangement and your parents still want to be involved, try to invite them to participate when you go dress shopping or invite them to your tastings.
The overall best advice, no matter who is paying for the wedding is to discuss priorities and expectations with both sides right from the beginning. This will not be the most fun and exciting conversation of your wedding planning process, but it will make every other conversation go much smoother leading up to your wedding day.