Who Pays the Wedding Bills?

When Prince William and Kate Middleton married last month, there was little question that British taxpayers would pick up most of the tab for the elaborate soiree. For the rest of us, deciding who pays the wedding bills is often a lot more complicated.

As this year’s wedding season moves into full swing, traditionalists still look to the bride’s family to pay the bulk of expenses. But these days the bride and groom are assuming a greater share of the wedding bills. According to theweddingreport.com, alter-bound couples paid an average of 58% of their wedding expenses in 2010, while the bride’s family kicked in 21% and the groom’s 14%.

“Since the economic downturn we’ve really seen a trend toward couples taking responsibility for many of the bills that once fell to the bride’s parents,” says Stacy Walker of Simply a Soiree in Orange, California. “The division of financial responsibility has become more equitable than it was a few years ago.”

Rising costs on everything from petit fours to party favors are also taking their toll on tradition, she says. “Here in Orange County, the venue alone can run as much as $10,000, and that doesn’t even include a trash can. When a wedding costs $35,000 to $50,000, it’s often hard for one set of parents to pick up most of it.”

Joyce Gill-Pannone of Galleria Invitations, Favors, & Tuxedos in Farmingdale, New York, has also seen an increase in couple-funded weddings over the last few years. “A lot of parents are going through foreclosure or the loss of a job, or they just don’t want to raid their retirement fund for a one-day event,” she says. ‘Those factors have definitely affected traditional financial roles.” She adds that the younger generation wants the final say on wedding matters, and they know the best way to do that is to pay for things themselves.

JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions in New York City, where a modest afternoon event can easily run upwards of $50,000, says that couples tend to pay more when they marry in their late twenties or older. “They may get a little help from the families on both sides, but the majority of them don’t rely on parents to contribute very much,” she says.

The trend has provided some financial respite for parents like 67-year-old Linda Emmons and her husband Lewis, whose two sons and their future wives paid most of their own wedding expenses. When her younger son and his fiancée got married earlier this year, their choice of a destination wedding in Maui saved the couple a lot of money by limiting the number of guests to those who could fly out. “At first I was a little concerned about a destination wedding,” she says. “But it turned out beautifully, and it was very easy on us financially.”

By contrast, younger couples often rely on parents because they don’t have a lot of money, says Gregoli. When the older generation pays, she says, the bride’s family usually bears most of the financial burden, including the entire cost of the ceremony and reception, decorations, music, and photography. The rehearsal dinner and honeymoon, and perhaps a few other incidentals, typically fall to the less weighty groom’s side of the ledger.

“I’ve been in the business 20 years, and I can remember maybe a handful of times where the bride and groom’s families split things down the middle,” she says. “There is a lot of resistance to getting the groom’s family to chip in beyond the traditional expenses, even if his side has more money and is inviting more people. Frankly, I’m mystified as to why it’s so easy to fall back on tradition.”

Gregoli, whose 24-year old daughter is engaged, has been trying to get some feedback from the groom’s side on how arrangements and expenses are going to be handled for the upcoming nuptials. So far, she hasn’t heard back from them.

Gill-Pannone has seen instances where each side of the family pays according to the number of people they invite. But such arrangements are fairly uncommon. When her daughter married several years ago her side paid for almost everything except the rehearsal dinner. “I guess they thought we were wealthier and they just assumed we would do it,” she says.

Gregoli, who has three daughters and three sons, says that ideally the couple and their respective families would distribute expenses in a more equitable manner by each paying roughly one-third of the expenses. “That’s not a common arrangement yet,” she says. “But someday, hopefully, it will be.”