Understanding Who Pays for What in a Wedding

African American newlyweds toasting with family
Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

It wasn't very long ago that tradition called for the bride's family to pick up most of a wedding's tab. Though it may still be the case for many couples, it's not always so clear in modern times who pays for what part of a wedding. Couples getting married later in life who have the funds may prefer to pay for the entire event to keep total control. Or family members may offer to pay for parts of the wedding. It helps to take a look back at these unwritten rules of how traditional costs were split as a guideline while planning your wedding. Setting a budget and confirming expectations ahead of time with those who are involved financially will help keep conflicts to a minimum.

A New Way to Pay

Split the budget in three ways. The bride’s family, the groom’s family, and the couple each pay for a third of the wedding's budget. This plan lessens the financial burden for everyone. But discuss expectations beforehand. A parent paying for a portion of the wedding may wish for a concession or two.

Traditional Costs for the Bride's Family

The responsibilities of the bride's family begin before the nuptials. The bride's parents typically host and pick up the costs of an engagement party as a way to welcome the groom-to-be and his family into the bride's family. In addition, the bride's parents are traditionally the main hosts of the reception. It's their job to make the festivities run smoothly and make guests feel welcome. In addition to paying for their attire and travel, the bride's family is responsible to pay for the following:

  • The reception, including food, music, decorations, rental fees, and entertainment
  • The cost of the ceremony, including rental fees and decorations
  • Flowers for the ceremony and reception
  • The bride's wedding dress and accessories
  • Invitations, announcements, programs, and mailing costs
  • Wedding favors
  • Photography and video fees
  • Officiant's travel and lodgings (if from out of town)
  • Bridesmaid's lodgings (if from out of town)
  • Transportation of bridal party on the wedding day

Traditional Costs for the Groom's Family

The groom's family traditionally has a separate set of financial responsibilities. In addition to paying for their attire and travel expenses, the groom's side is responsible for hosting the rehearsal dinner. A rehearsal dinner can be casual or formal, but the purpose is to have an intimate occasion for both families and bridal parties to meet and mingle. The groom's family is traditionally responsible for funding the following:

  • The entire rehearsal dinner, including food, invitations, decorations, and entertainment
  • A wedding gift for the couple
  • Corsages and boutonnieres for parents of both families
  • Lodging for out-of-town groomsmen
  • Though optional, sometimes the groom's family pays for or contributes to the costs of alcohol served at the wedding reception

Traditional Costs for the Bride

The bride is the star of the wedding. But, she's traditionally been responsible for a few things, including:

  • The groom’s wedding ring
  • A wedding gift for the groom
  • Gifts for her attendants
  • Hair, makeup, and beauty treatments for herself and the bridal party
  • Sometimes accommodations for any out-of-town bridesmaids if her family has not taken on the responsibility

Traditional Costs for the Groom

The groom's list of financial obligations includes the honeymoon. Traditionally, the groom pays for the honeymoon as a symbol of starting the couple's new life as head of his new household. The list of items the groom pays for includes:

  • The marriage license
  • The officiant's fee (but note the bride's family pays for an officiant's travel and lodging)
  • The bride’s engagement ring and wedding ring
  • The honeymoon
  • A wedding gift for the bride
  • The bride’s bouquet
  • Gifts for his attendants
  • Boutonnieres for attendants in the wedding party
  • Accommodations for any out-of-town groomsmen
illustration of who pays for what for a wedding
Illustration: Maddy Price. © The Spruce, 2019