Paying for the Wedding

 “Music videos, moonshine and man caves — here’s what’s hot for 2011. Take a look, get excited, and then steal a few of these ideas for your wedding day.”

Show me the money.”*


Show yourself the money. Before getting excited about the moonshine and considering theft.

Most of us incur debt. It is useful and often necessary. Education? Yes. Mortgage? Sure. Wedding dress? Oh, come on.

Going into debt for a wedding is a poor idea. A fine wedding will have lasting memories but no tangible outcome that justifies debt and its burdens.

So as the common sense guide, I say, go into debt for things that last. Pay cash for your wedding.

A young friend says this:

“We budgeted $5,000 for our wedding and I’m glad we stuck to it. If I’d awakened
the next day and realized I’d way overspent, I would have felt awful.”

The image of the day after your wedding is an important one to keep in your head. Will the cost of a fantastic dress and a fabulous reception make sense if you have to spend months or years paying for them?

If you are paying for your own wedding, have a clear idea of what you wish to spend right from the start. If others are paying for your wedding, have a frank discussion of what their expectations are.

Several years ago, a good friend related the following story. She and her husband offered a sum of money to their daughter for her wedding. They wanted to be involved in the celebration but, respectfully, felt the details were for the bridal couple to decide. At a certain point in the planning process, their daughter confronted them matter of factly, saying, “I need more money. The wedding will cost more that I realized.”

The parents were shocked by the request. They felt their daughter somehow didn’t understand that the money offered was what they were prepared to give. And no more. For her part, the daughter felt that they hadn’t made the limits clear and she was put in a position of appearing greedy.

They worked it out. The bride scaled back and the wedding was just fine. But as an exercise in why it’s important to be very clear about money, this anecdote is apropos. A very uncomfortable situation was resolved. But frank talk at the outset might have prevented the whole ordeal.

Sharing the cost of a wedding is not uncommon and can be a great relief for the bridal
couple. However, as with any group effort, problems can arise. Divorced couples
who share the expense of their offspring’s wedding can get into real hassles over money. In-laws who don’t know one another can easily run into awkward situations over who pays for what. If the bride and groom are the planners and their parents (divorced or not) are the funders, I would urge everyone to remember with whom they are dealing.

Even if all parties are wild with glee that you are getting married, a wedding won’t change personal views or habits when it comes to spending. If one person is doing all the planning and spending, the other participants will want some input. Good communication can smooth out some misconceptions.

To be blunt: be realistic about your expectations. If family members have trouble discussing and managing money, a wedding will not change that. Make a plan, and prepare to negotiate and mediate.

And while you’re at it, as the bridal couple, take a good hard look at your own approach to finances. Are you reliable when it comes to money? Do you tend to underestimate the cost of purchases? Are you able to work out money issues together? If these subjects are difficult for you, step to the plate. Planning and paying for your wedding responsibly can establish a solid approach to your future spending habits. And that is good news for your marriage.   

Sometimes a generous but impulsive offer can lead to hurt feelings and worse. Here’s an example: your aunt would like to give a bridal shower. You all agree on the date and time but somehow, the food and drink has not been discussed. Your aunt decides to hire a catering company, finds it too expensive, and asks other family members to chip in and pay for the shower. Hmm. Awkward. You might not have even wanted the shower to begin with. The lesson here is be grateful for the generosity of your family but be sure the gift doesn’t create a burden for the donor or the rest of the family.

Making assumptions about who pays for what at a wedding is misguided and offensive. The groom’s family is supposed to pay for the rehearsal dinner? The bride’s family always pays for the wedding? These are myths. True for some but don’t count on others having your same perspective.

Your wedding may incur costs for your guests and in particular, members of the wedding party. These costs are not always welcomed.
My young friend, Simona, a recent bridesmaid, says this:

Participating cost me a lot of money. I paid for my own bridesmaid dress and shoes and hair as well as the bachelorette party, bridal shower and gifts. Just to give you an idea, my dress was $250, shoes $150, bachelorette party $200 each, bridal shower cost me $80 with the gift, hair $50, $100 for wedding gift. Having to pay that much was definitely really hard, especially since I am a student who only works part-time. I had to really save and be aware of my spending for weeks before and
after the wedding.

Simona’s story is familiar, unfortunately. This kind of expenditure is too much to expect and puts a horrible strain on a friendship. Expecting guests to travel long distances and pay for hotels is another sensitive issue. Your close friends may dearly want to celebrate with you, but at what cost? Your wedding should not be a loyalty test. When you budget for your wedding, consider exactly what you want to ask of your friends and family. Will your special day be a cause for celebration or financial hardship for others? Be sure to warmly include long distance friends and relatives but let them know up front that their attendance is hoped for but not an obligation.

Destination weddings really get the commonsense guide’s hackles up. Are you eloping? Taking you parents with you? A sibling or two? Are all of you really on board with the idea? Well, have a great time. If, on the other hand, you plan to invite many guests outside of your immediate family, you will be asking your guests to pay to attend your wedding. It makes no difference whether your guests ‘can afford it’ or not. It’s a matter of principle. Before you mail all those invitations, consider this: will your guests appreciate having to take time from work or use vacation hours to participate in your event? Does it occur to you that some folks might think you are simply angling for a gift and not their presence? (Trust me, this is what folks think.)

Bottom line? Have the kind of wedding you want but don’t ask your guests or your friends to foot the bill.

Most couples have little or no experience planning weddings. This is not a drawback just reality. In theory, weddings are no different from other transactions. You gather some facts and figures, determine what you will spend, and pay for it. What makes weddings different from, say, buying a car, are the pressures you encounter and the huge array of choice. The pressure to spend will come from many sources, such as the wedding industry but can also include your family, friends, and even yourselves.

Despite these pressures, what you spend is ultimately your decision. And whether you do everything yourselves or hire others, it will all cost money. And that is the piece of the puzzle that you can determine and control.

So work out what you want to spend, stick to it, and start off your marriage on a firm financial footing.


*Uttered by Cuba Gooding in the film Jerry Maguire.


3 thoughts on “Paying for the Wedding

  1. Thanks for a necessary bit of reality. I would add: if the bride and groom were paying for the wedding in entirety with no help from family, how much would they spend?

  2. I have purposely not attached a dollar figure because there are so many factors in determing cost (age, income, # guests, location and on and on).
    What I want to make very clear is this: the amount spent should not tip a couple into debt. The rest is up to them.

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