Weddings – Who Pays For What ?

Jo Nunney,
6 October 2021

It’s ALL about the money! That’s not true at all. Weddings are all about the luuurve, but no matter how grand or intimate your wedding celebrations are they will cost money. You’re probably familiar with the old-fashioned way of the father of the bride paying for the wedding. You’re probably equally familiar with the fact that this isn’t often how things work today!

It would feel marvellously modern-minded to claim that there are no expectations around who pays for what at weddings anymore. We’re almost free of expectations, but it’s not quite realistic to say that there are none. It would be pretty unexpected if you asked your usher to pay for your honeymoon! So, where do these wedding traditions come from, and who pays for what now?

 
 
brides-to-be shopping for bargain wedding dressesImage with thanks to A Family Affair Bridal (Kendal)
 
 

What Is A Dowry?

 

Tradition and common practice around who paid what for wedding celebrations can be traced back to the days of dowries. As the father of the bride gave away his daughter’s hand in marriage he would also pass on a financial gift to his new son in law. The Dowry could be made up of money, precious metals, land, or even livestock. The idea being that his daughter and any potential grandchildren would be well taken care of in their new married life. Dad’s were always protective of their daughters, so there was an element of ‘if you upset my daughter I’m taking my goat back’.

 
 

Who Pays For What At A Wedding, Traditionally?

 

The father of the bride paid for everything wedding-related, right? Not quite. Wedding-budget etiquette was always a little more complex than you might think. Whilst the bride’s father would be expected to pay for most of the wedding day itself (mums didn’t hold the purse strings then) the groom’s father had his share of the bills to pay too, which is often forgotten.

Tradition warning! Before you jump to the list below we must stress that this is just a little history lesson. This is not a page for you to print out and stick on your dad’s shed door in the hope he takes the hint and magics up a BACS transfer tonight!

 
 

What Does The Father Of The Bride Pay For, Traditionally?

 

 
 

What Does The Father Of The Groom Pay For, Traditionally?

 

  • The bride’s wedding band
  • The grooms wedding suit and accessories
  • The best man’s & usher’s wedding outfits
  • The church fees, officiant fees and marriage registration fees (the groom’s family handled all things legal…once they had accepted their goat)
  • The honeymoon, travel for the couple from the reception, travel insurance, and the grooms travelling outfit
  • Thank you gifts for the bride’s parents, the bride, the ushers and the best man

 
 

What Does The Groom Pay For, Traditionally?

 

  • The engagement ring, traditionally costing three months salary.
  • The wedding bouquet, though if money were tight he would pick a selection of wildflowers himself.

 
 

What Does The Bride Pay For, Traditionally?

 

  • Nothing! Hold your horses girls. With equality comes equality, so go find your purse.

 
 

mother of the groom blushes as groomsmen share a laugh at weddingImage with thanks to Denise Winter Photography
 
 

Who Pays For What At Modern Weddings?

 

Weddings have changed. Families are now fabulously multi-facetted. Same-sex couples are now happily tying the knot. Equality is strived for and traditions are evolving – which is great, especially for those of us whose dad’s don’t have any goats to offer. Along with all of this wonderful change weddings are frankly more fun-loving and celebratory than ever before. Financial traditions are also just a history lesson now. Expectations are equal, so for parents of boys who think they’re laughing, they’re wrong! So, what is the modern etiquette over who pays what?

It’s really important to remember that it was only a few generations ago when getting married was the first financial demand we placed on our parents. Today’s parents may well have already forked out for university fees, driving lessons, cars, deposits on properties, or even mini-business loans before wedding plans join the list. Couples are usually financially independent before marriage, so parents paying for weddings in full is much rarer nowadays.

You might plan to cover the cost of your wedding alone, or with some help from your family. Help may come in the form of a simple financial gift, a specific purchase like your wedding outfit or honeymoon, or a temporary loan. If both sets of parents are in a position to help one donation will likely be greater than the other. Everyone’s financial circumstances are different.

Do you have a great aunt who tapes a few pound coins into a Christmas card? Quite often parents will offer a substantial sum in the belief they are covering the cost of the wedding, not quite realising how much the cost has changed. Most couples say that they had financial help, but had to, or chose to, top up the budget themselves. This seems to be becoming the new ‘norm’.

 
 

How Do I Ask For Financial Help For The Wedding?

 

Once you announce your engagement you might be hoping the folks immediately offer their live savings on a plate. Chances are they weren’t quite prepared for your wonderful news, or even if they were expecting it they haven’t called in their financial advisor quite yet! Financial gifting is a huge decision for any parent, especially if they’ve become accustomed to their children being financially independent. Give them a little time to digest the news and do their sums if you are contemplating asking for help.

If you are happy and able to fund your own wedding that’s awesome! Go you! If you need a little monetary help to realise your wedding-day dreams, then you’ll need to know how much help (if any) is available before setting your wedding budget or knowing how long you’ll need to save up for. Engage your families in excited chats about your wedding ideas and hopes. Explain how you are super keen to set a date but first need to finalise your wedding budget. This should nudge offers along if they are available.

 
 

Should We Accept Money Towards Our Wedding?

 

You probably know your parent’s financial situation fairly well. If you are concerned that they have offered a gift they perhaps cannot afford then you should address it with them. It’s their choice of course, and they love you and want to treat you to the best. They may have had this fund stashed away for quite a while whilst waiting for someone to take you off their hands! If they insist but you’re unsure whether you should accept, perhaps suggest accepting the money as an interest-free loan. Remember that when people gift financially towards your wedding they may expect to have an input in your decisions and the guest list.

 
 
Beautiful embrace between father of the bride and the brideImage with thanks to Damion Mower Photography
 
 

Should Wedding Guests Pay For Their Food and Drink?

 

Wedding guests expect to be fed and watered. This may as well be a written rule. Ceremony guests will expect a daytime and evening meal and for drinks to be provided alongside the wedding breakfast. Your evening guests will expect some sort of sustenance in appreciation of their presence and to fuel their dancing feet. Treats such as a champagne reception, a free bar, canapes or nibbles are all nice to have but not expected. Guests will expect to pay for their own drinks at the bar. If your dad is getting all nostalgic and requesting that your wedding is a totally traditional affair, then remind him that means he pays the bar bill too. See if he still feels so traditional!

 
 

Should Wedding Guests Pay For Their Accommodation?

 

Yes, they should. Don’t sweat this one. Whether your wedding is close to home or miles away from it your wedding guests should expect to be responsible for their own transport and accommodation costs. It’s pretty reasonable for guests to accept that you can’t afford to cover costs like this for every guest. Lots of wedding venues offer preferential accommodation rates for wedding guests so you can pass these savings on.

 
 

Should Bridesmaids Pay For Their Dresses?

 

One of the most common wedding-expense debates is the one about the bridesmaids! How much you can expect your wedding party to pay for your wedding? Bridesmaids are sometimes asked to pay for their own dresses, wedding hair and makeup. If you just recoiled in horror at the mere suggestion you should know it’s just a done thing in the US and Australia where the bride chooses the dresses but the bridesmaids are expected to pay for them.

Deciding on a dress that suits you and expecting someone else to pay for it feels a bit icky to us. If you are happy that bridesmaids select their dress then asking them to purchase them so they can wear them again is just about acceptable (it’s still a bit touch-and-go and you would have to accept their choices).

Bridesmaids still generally expect their dresses to be chosen, purchased and altered for them. If you have a specific dress that you are insisting on then it’s definitely going to be you that pays for it. If you aren’t concerned about matching up your maids when it comes to shoes and wedding accessories, then it’s fine to ask that these are ‘models own’.

 
 
bridesmaids support bride on her wedding dayImage with thanks to Damion Mower Photography
 
 
 

What Should Wedding Guests Pay For?

 

You might think that you are asking very little of your wedding guests financially, but attending weddings can be an expensive business, especially for your wedding party. We’re not saying you need to cough up for your guests’ expenses – you really don’t – but try to be mindful of their expenses before making any inflexible decisions. Making your wedding unaffordable might mean fewer guests are able to attend.

Here’s a little example of how not-even-my-wedding costs can build up for your wedding party. It’s not unusual or an over-exaggeration that you are indirectly asking your bridesmaids to part with hundreds of pounds. Your typical maid of honour is first invited to a meal (which she pays for) to meet the other bridesmaids, then asked to plan and attend the hen party which involves a few more planning lunches (which she pays for), a bespoke outfit or fancy dress (which she pays for), and then accommodation and spending money (you get the idea).

Your maid of honour may travel multiple times to attend wedding-dress boutiques punctuated with lunches and cream teas. She’ll attend the wedding paying for travel, accommodation and drinks (the cost of an entire holiday here if you get married abroad). She’ll buy her shoes and accessories for the wedding. She’ll buy you a gift because she’s lovely. After your wedding she’ll attend your wedding photo viewing, again stopping off for lunch on the way home.

 
 

There are no longer any rules around who pays for what at your wedding, but there is still a place for etiquette and consideration towards the family and friends who support you in planning your perfect wedding. Remember that your guests’ presence alone is a gift in itself: it will be costing them time and money to attend.