Just as the concept of gender is becoming more fluid, so, too, are gender roles. Given that reality, combined with the fact that people are on average getting married later — meaning that the bride and groom might actually have more money for a wedding ceremony than their parents — the concept of who pays for what in a wedding is no longer as cut and dried as generations past. 

Here’s what some experts are saying on this ever-evolving matter.

How It’s Always Been Done

In the past, the bride’s family usually paid for the wedding because our practices evolved out of the dowry tradition. The dowry concept — in which the bride’s family transferred property or money to the husband or husband’s family upon marriage — goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. This was the accepted way to offset a woman’s cost of living, i.e., you’re going to house and feed her, so here’s some land, money and maybe livestock to help. Now, of course, people (largely) realize that women aren’t property and that they can hold jobs and pay for their own upkeep, thankyouverymuch.

Under that yesteryear strategy, the groom’s family would typically organize and pay for the rehearsal dinner and/or alcohol for the reception. The groom himself would also pick up the tab for a lot of the preliminary costs, such as engagement rings (who can forget the three months’ salary rule?) and possibly the honeymoon.

While many countries have eliminated the dowry concept, many families still follow the bride-pays-for-the-wedding rule, at least partially. According to the WeddingWire 2020 Newlywed Report, 72% of all couples who got married that year received at least some financial support when paying for their wedding. For those couples, the parents of those who self-identify as female in a heterosexual relationship were the primary contributors (93%), providing the couple with a set dollar amount.

Why We’ve Moved On

The tradition has started to unravel, in part, because of feminism. Women today are more free to craft their lives as they see fit, and for many that includes having a career and a home of their own before settling down and getting married. When couples marry later in life, they are more capable of paying for their own weddings. According to the Newlywed Report, parents who contribute to their child’s wedding are only footing about half the bill, and the rest is being taken care of by the bride and groom themselves. If it’s a LGBTQIA+ couple getting married the breakdown is a bit different, with the couple usually paying for at least 61% of wedding expenses themselves.

Going Forward

From a wedding etiquette perspective, money equals control — whoever pays for the wedding gets to play an active role in decision-making. So if you have a child with matrimonial events on the horizon, make sure everyone is talking candidly and openly about budget, contributions and expectations. For example, if you feel strongly about distant relations being invited to the ceremony and reception, then that also might mean offering to cover some of that cost. Alternatively, if you want to contribute somehow but your offspring hasn’t brought it up, you could give the couple a generous gift toward making their honeymoon one to remember.

Typical Expenses to Consider

Now that you’re thoroughly confused, we thought it’d be helpful to break down some of the typical costs associated with a wedding in the context of traditional expectations (as provided by Vogue):

The Bride pays for:

  • The groom’s wedding ring
  • Bridesmaids’ lunch or party
  • Bridal party gifts
  • Accommodations for the bridal party, if from out of town. [Author’s note: As a bridesmaid several times over, my experience is that this has never been covered by anyone other than the bridesmaid herself.]

The Groom pays for:

  • Bride’s engagement and wedding rings
  • Wedding attire
  • Groomsmen gifts
  • Groomsmen lunch or party

The Bride’s Family pays for:

  • Invitations and announcements (i.e. “Save the Dates”)
  • Wedding gown and accessories
  • Floral arrangements and corsages
  • Ceremony arrangements
  • Reception party and vendors
  • Necessary transportation
  • Wedding photographer/videographer

The Groom’s Family pays for:

  • Officiant fee and marriage license
  • Rehearsal dinner costs
  • Music and drinks for the reception
  • Honeymoon expenses

Top image by avanti_photo, via Canva.com


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