The average wedding in the US costs somewhere around $35,000-40,000 (and that number is much higher in major metros across the US). The old-school etiquette books would dictate that the parents of the bride should foot most of the bill for the wedding but the reality is that most couples end up working together with their families to cover the cost.
Of course it’s not always possible for families to contribute much so many couples opt to cover expenses themselves. By the way, there’s an upside to covering it all yourself: Complete freedom to do whatever you want with your wedding and invite whomever you want!
All that said, it really comes down to you, your partner, and your family's unique situations. Here, we’ll lay out what the traditional wedding etiquette books say and then offer up some suggestions as to how to think about each category.
The Wedding Venue
Traditionally, it was the bride's family that would cover the big-ticket reception items–including the venue rental and catering for the entire guest list. It would also include the ceremony.
These days, a lot of couples will pay for this themselves and then ask their families to help contribute to some of the other aspects of the wedding, like the music or the flowers.
Your Priority Wedding Pros
The wedding service providers that come together to make your wedding day happen are also a major expense and traditionally would fall to the bride's side. This usually included:
- Wedding cake
- Music (ceremony)
- Floral arrangements
- Wedding planner
On the other hand, traditionally the groom’s family would pay for the reception music (DJ or band or both!), the bar, transportation and the rehearsal dinner. Some etiquette books would also dictate that the groom’s family pay for the flowers.
Again, though, that was decades ago. It’s entirely up to you two how you want to divide and conquer who pays for each category. A good way to do it might be to assign a category (like cake or music) to each contributor. That way they know exactly what they’re paying for and how it will play into the overall wedding day.
The Engagement Party
This one is challenging to pin down in terms of tradition! Sometimes it was hosted by the bride's side, sometimes the groom’s side and other times, by friends or other loved ones. There are absolutely no hard-and-fast rules here. Whoever is excited to host an engagement party for you, can take responsibility for covering the cost.
Traditionally, the groom's parents both plan and host the rehearsal dinner. This includes the venue, food, drink, entertainment, and invitations too. That said, again, it’s entirely up to you two and your families. You two might want to take this one on yourselves. Or, perhaps all of the parents can go in on it together.
Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties
This is one wedding category that hasn’t changed too much as far as who pays for what. It’s usually the maid of honor and best man who are responsible for planning the bachelorette and bachelor parties respectively. That said, the cost for the party is almost always split up evenly amongst attendees.
This one is fairly straight-forward in that either you or you and your family will typically cover the cost of attire. Traditionally the bride and her family cover the wedding dress, veil, and accessories. And typically the groom and his family would cover his outfit. Same goes today with two grooms or two brides! You’ll typically cover your own costs.
As for the wedding party, it’s common for them to purchase their own attire, including shoes. That said, on some occasions, it has happened that the couple actually covers attire for their wedding party. There's no obligation though!
For those of you having children in your wedding, it’s common to have their parents cover the flower girl or ring bearer attire.
Bouquets and Boutonnieres (The Personal Flowers)
Traditionally, the groom's side was responsible for all worn or held flowers–meaning the boutonnieres, bridesmaid bouquets and wedding bouquet, plus any corsages for moms and grandmothers. That said, your personal flowers are often built into the overall cost of your flowers (which will include those centerpieces and any other decor items). So no need to worry about separating this out. Just decide who is going to be the best person to cover the cost of your flowers and go from there.
Wedding and engagement rings
Etiquette books would state that the groom should cover the cost of the engagement ring and that the groom and or his family should pay for the bride’s wedding ring. Further, the old-school books dictate that the bride’s family should pay for the groom’s wedding ring.
Given the fact that most couples are shopping for their rings together, it probably doesn’t make sense to split it amongst your families.
Back to the traditions: typically the groom's family would pay for the honeymoon (including flights and hotels). But most couples pay for it themselves. One helpful hint if that sounds like you: Opt for a "honeymoon registry" in addition to or in lieu of your other wedding registry. Some of these travel registries are set up in a way that allows guests to pay for experiences, activities and flights. Other times, it takes the form of "give what you wish." Either way, it’s a great option to help cover those honeymoon costs.
We’ve said it several times above but it’s important so we’ll say it again! All of those categories above are based on etiquette books written for weddings decades ago. Weddings are so much more modern as are the couples that celebrate them! Whether your parents aren’t there to help contribute, you’re an LGBTQIA+ couple, or you just want to do it yourselves, that’s great. You certainly don’t have to adhere to any stuffy “rules” that don’t make sense to you! In other words, deciding on who pays for what in your wedding is a choice that is as individual as the two of you.