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Who Pays for a Wedding? And Why?

The Caveman Gets Married
The Caveman Gets Married

My wife and I had been together for about five years before we got engaged, and we were engaged for about another five years before we finally tied the knot. I remember the engagement like it was yesterday. Nothing about our relationship has ever been “traditional,” and our engagement was no exception. In typical frugal fashion, I insisted on paying cash for the engagement ring. I also did some research and found out that I could get a much better deal going through an online jeweler than a brick-and-mortar jewelry store. For about $1,000 I had a gold engagement ring with a half-carat princess-cut diamond on it. The best part was that my future-bride picked it out, herself. The “proposal” was non-eventful. The ring arrived in the mail, and she got to it before I did. We had been devoted to one-another for years, so this part just seemed like a formality.

Over the next few years, we finished college and started our careers. We had decided beforehand (even before the engagement) that we wouldn’t get married until after college. College is busy and stressful enough without having to plan a wedding, plus we really wanted to feel fairly “established” when we tied the knot.

Once we started planning the wedding, the first thing we had to figure out was this: who pays for the wedding?

Parents of the Bride Pay, Right?

The traditional rule is that the parents of the bride pay for the wedding. That’s what we all hear growing up and that’s the assumption a lot of people still use today. The problem is that this tradition is archaic and is based on assumptions that typically no longer exist.

The tradition of the bride’s parents paying for a wedding dates back to a time when women had very little rights, when compared to today. They couldn’t vote, couldn’t work to earn a living, and it was also a time when women did not leave their parents’ care until marriage. As such, a wedding was really the transfer of financial responsibility of the woman from the parents to the groom. As you can start to see, the parents of the bride had a lot to gain in this event, which is why they typically paid for it.

Today, that is obviously not the case. Women often leave their parents’ care shortly after high school on their own accord, they can work to earn a living, vote, and otherwise take care of themselves. Today, the wife might work and the husband might stay home with the kids. Or more commonly, both spouses will work.

With the way society has changed, it really is no longer valid to expect the parents of the bride to pay the full cost of the wedding.

The One-Third Rule

My wife and I did it this way: We budgeted the total cost of our wedding, and simply divided it by three. My parents paid for 1/3, her parents paid for 1/3, and we were responsible for 1/3 of the cost. We simply had our parents write us a check for their share of the wedding at the beginning of the planning stage, and we covered any overages or things we didn’t initially budget for. Once everything was paid for, we actually ended up paying more than half of the cost.

Really the way things work today, this is the most equitable solution. You could try to divide things up by event, such as the groom’s parents paying for the rehearsal dinner and the bride’s parents paying for the reception, but we found out that with all the odds and ends needed for a wedding, it was easier if everything went through us. The bonus? We got to collect all the credit card rewards cash!

Obviously your situation will dictate whether this is feasible or not. Some couples aren’t financially-able to pay very much toward their wedding, and other couples insist on paying for the entire thing themselves. If you can swing it, though, my coined “One-Third Rule” is really the easiest method to pitch to your parents and doesn’t make anyone feel like they didn’t contribute enough. Cuts out any harsh feelings about one set of parents feeling like they paid too much or too little, and it’s a great way for the couple to be financially accountable for their own wedding.

How did you pay for your wedding? Did you split the costs? Let’s discuss in the comments below. 



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  • KT

    I think that if two people are adult enough to be married, they are adult enough to pay for their own wedding. Parents shouldn’t be required to (or expected to) pay for anything. My husband and I budgeted for a wedding we knew we could afford. In the end, we both have wonderful parents who each offered to pay a third. But neither of us approached them. We are just lucky 🙂

    • The Caveman

      I don’t disagree with you, and actually, that’s pretty much exactly the situation my wife and I were in. We postponed marriage for a few years until we could afford to pay 100% for our wedding, but we had both sets of parents offering to help right from the get-go. Her parents wanted to pay for the whole thing and didn’t like the idea of us paying anything for it, and my parents wanted to at least chip in. That’s how we decided on the 1/3 method.

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