The OFFICIAL ‘Who Pays For What’ Wedding Guide (Traditional)

who pays for what at weddings

Once upon a time, knowing who paid for what when it came to wedding planning was pretty simple: the bride’s family paid for everything. Well, most everything, especially when it came to the most expensive parts of the day. These days, with more egalitarian and older couples on the rise and parents who may just not have all that much left to give in this tight economy, those rules aren’t nearly so steadfast. This is particularly true if the groom’s family is significantly wealthier than the bride’s or if the couple has the funds to contribute to the big day.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably wondering, “What is the groom’s family supposed to pay for?”, “Does the bride pay for the engagement party?”, “How much say do parents get in planning the wedding guest list if they are paying for it?”, “What’s the etiquette for an engagement party?”, “Is it rude to ask guests to contribute?”, “How much should I spend on wedding and engagement party attire?”, “Who pays for the wedding rings?”, “Should we cover the cost of the groomsmen’s tuxedos and bridesmaids’ dresses?”, “What about honeymoon expenses, and what are standard officiant’s fees?”

Having a frank discussion with all involved parties about the assignment of financial responsibilities will help prevent resentment and anger from brewing in the lead-up to the big day. But changing the traditions means actually knowing what they are in the first place, especially if you want to show respect to a more traditional set of parents. To do that, let’s look at how costs have historically been broken down, as well as a few ways modern couples are changing things up.

The Official ‘Who-Pays-for-What’ Guide to Financing Your Wedding…

Engagement Party

In ye olde days, the engagement party (which is optional anyway) was paid for entirely by the bride’s family. However, since so many couples live far away from their parents and their network, more and more couples are paying for their own engagement parties. Friends – whether in the bridal party or not – also often volunteer to throw engagement parties as a celebration of the couple. If held in someone’s home, the costs will include mostly catering and entertainment, while booking a restaurant or bar will come with its own financial considerations that vary greatly depending on the quality of the venue.

Bridal Shower and Bachelorette/Bachelor Parties

The bridal shower is one of the few wedding events that traditionally has fallen entirely outside of the family domain to the maid of honor or bridal party acting as host as just one of the numerous bridesmaid duties. The costs here are similar to those of an engagement party, with the added expense of any bridal games and gifts. That said, it’s no longer taboo for the mother of the bride to help plan and pay if all parties are interested.

Similarly, the attendants are supposed to pay for the bachelor and bachelorette parties, but this is a rule that’s often broken, especially when traveling to another destination. In the latter case, the maid of honor or best man might pay for more expenses, like drinks, a limo ride, or, ya know, some of that other stuff that happens at bachelor and bachelorette parties while not shouldering the financial responsibility entirely.

Rehearsal Dinner

  • Payment for and planning of the rehearsal dinner has and continues to fall on the groom’s parents. While not as expensive as the wedding itself, there are still many costs to account for, including:
  • The venue
  • Catering. Pro Tip: Negotiate!
  • Invitations (if they’re going to be separate from the main invitations). Pro Tip: Make sure to invite not just the wedding party but also all out-of-town guests as well.
  • Audiovisual equipment, if there are going to be any slideshows or presentations to complement speeches.
  • Gifts for the wedding party
  • Flowers for the tables (optional)
  • Place cards

Ceremony and Reception

You probably know already that this has traditionally been the bride’s side of the family’s main domain, though a few expenses fall to the groom’s family. However, as mentioned above, this is really changing, particularly if couples want to have an expensive dream wedding. Here’s how things break down.

Bride/Bride’s Family

  • Invitations and save the dates
  • Ceremony and reception venue
  • Music
  • Bride’s wedding dress
  • Bride’s attire for the engagement party and rehearsal dinner
  • Catering
  • Wedding cake
  • Flowers for the tables, ceremony, bride’s bouquet, and bridal party bouquets (corsages and boutonnieres)
  • Photography and Videography
  • Decorations
  • Transportation for the wedding party to and from the events
  • Groom’s ring
  • The bride’s hair and makeup (and possibly that of the bridal party)

Groom/Groom’s Family

  • Marriage license
  • Officiant’s fee
  • Bride’s ring


Tradition dictates that the groom’s family will pay for the honeymoon. But that’s definitely not a given anymore, as many couples are eschewing the traditional department store registry for a honeymoon registry. On these sites, guests choose from various honeymoon activities or expenses, like airfare or a massage in a resort, or simply opt to donate travel funds and contribute to the overall experience. Two popular sites for this are Honeymoon Wishes and Honeyfund.

No matter how you slice it, traditional weddings are expensive affairs, and someone will end up shouldering a financial burden when the knot is tied. But with so many cultural norms shifting and with wedding etiquette evolving just like everything else, it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t be afraid to ask other people to pitch in (within reason), do an inexpensive destination wedding in Vegas, skip the paper invitations and custom stationery, or simply cut back on old traditions you don’t care for. No one will judge you (or they shouldn’t) for throwing a less expensive wedding so that you can afford the things you really care about, like buying a house or having an awesome honeymoon. So plan out those finances, distribute them however you see fit and enjoy your big day!

What do you think? How have times changed, and do you agree or disagree with anything on the list? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

This is a post by Alyssa who is a bridal-savvy blogger and avid DIY-er living in the Seattle area. Through her work as a professional wedding photographer, Alyssa has developed a keen eye for both classic wedding styles and modern-day trends (though she tends to gravitate towards all things vintage!). Keep up with Alyssa on Twitter 


11 thoughts on “The OFFICIAL ‘Who Pays For What’ Wedding Guide (Traditional)

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  1. marlee

    in the midst of planning my own wedding as we speak! one month from tomorrow :)

    our experience has been wild, and beautiful, and totally different than anything this blog post or the knot, or any other “tradition” one would have you believing.

    i found that with my own experience these sort of traditional ideas only perpetuated guilt & shame in my father, who could never pay for a wedding of any size. my folks have struggled financially for years, and because of blog posts that even suggest the bride’s family be responsible for ANYTHING has led him, and many other papas i know, to be filled with so much sadness when they can’t provide for the daughters in the way society has told them they need to.

    i’d love to read a post that’s like : how dad’s should feel when their kids get married…proud & not ashamed of themselves.

    my partner’s parents each gave us a few hundred bucks to help with putting deposits down for the tent, but we are the ones who decided to throw a 250 person wedding and we can’t expect our hard working michigan parents to dish out a bunch of cash for it.

    i hope in the end my parents, especially my dad, sees how INCREDIBLE it is that he is there for me, emotionally. and that i wouldn’t have found such an insanely rad fella to marry if he hadn’t been such a damn good dad. money had and continues to play no factor in the glory that are these days. if anything, it only plays a sad role in making people feel less a part of.

    1. Kristen

      Go to:

      It’s a great website for talking about all of the hard, real things about weddings. It’s a lifeline for sane people trying to plan a wedding in an insane world.

      Your family shouldn’t feel anything weird about finances and your wedding. For one thing, it’s nobody’s business outside of your immediate family. My spouse and I essentially paid for our weddings ourselves. His parents and my parents each gave us some money that was really appreciated and really helped out but both sets went by a rule of, “We gave your sibling $x, you get $x and you can do what you want with it.” Saved us from any battles with parents over venue, guest list, dress cost, etc.

      I’ve thought my coworkers who were paying for their kids’ weddings are nuts. For one thing, when people get married now, they’re statistically not 20-year-olds like they used to be but rather established adults.

      Really, go to that website. It will make you feel infinitely less alone and better about most of the important things that have been stressing you out.

      1. Anna Newell Jones

        That is a cool website and I agree with you… it seems antiquated for parents to pay for the bulk of weddings these days for the significantly older brides and grooms. I mean, it’s nice and awesome but I think parents should only do it if they truly can afford it rather that succumbing to societal pressure and taking on 2nd jobs, etc.

    2. Anna Newell Jones

      Thanks for your comment and for putting that out there. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for our extremely modest wedding and that’s okay! They gave what they could and I so appreciate it. My FIL took on a 2nd job to pay for my SIL’s wedding and it makes me cringe that he felt the pressure to have to do that. I agree… we should re-write the old ideas…

  2. dana

    thank you marlee! these kinds of “rules” seem so antiquated! getting married is something to celebrate but the money that is spent is sometimes insane for what is really ONE day, ONE party. I had to decline being maid of honour to one of my best friend’s once because I couldn’t afford to take care off all the duties.

  3. Melissa

    This weekend I will be the bridesmaid for my best friend. While I’m excited for the day and the memories that will be made, I also can’t wait to stop spending money on it. It’s overwhelming how much money is spent on weddings these days. With wedding bells in my own near future, I decided to look into how to pay for it all. This is what I came up with: . While celebrating your love and your partnership is important I’m not sure spending tens of thousands of dollars is. Wish me good luck (in not going into debt that is)!

  4. RM

    In my opinion, there are too many events leading up to the wedding. I feel that people have become way too self-indulgent- it goes beyond just money for me. Engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette (which is usually out of town), then finally the actual wedding- why would anyone expect others to celebrate them this much.

  5. Drake White

    Instead of spending thousands of dollars on rehearsal diners, engagement parties, etc and deciding who’s parents should pay for all that, why not to spend all this money on something that will be truly remembered- some exotic getaway, tropical islands or even Hawaii for example. This memory will stay for ever. So much money and effort are spent on events no one will remember a month after it happened.


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