Planning a wedding is something of a social minefield – even starting with the proposal itself. Should it be a surprise? Is the man supposed to ask permission of the bride-to-be’s father? Can the woman propose? How long is an acceptable engagement? Who pays for the wedding? The questions are endless, and the etiquette is confusing. With the finance question in particular it is incredibly difficult to figure out what the right thing to do is – in part because everyone’s financial situation is different, and every culture is different, so the correct answer is often “whatever feels right for you as a couple”.
There are some traditional guidelines, however. Here’s an overview of who would usually pay for each part of typical English wedding.
Traditionally, the bride is expected to pay for the groom’s wedding ring, and for his wedding present. These are the only expenses that she faces.
The groom faces more expenses than the bride, being expected to pay for the engagement ring, the bride’s wedding ring, presents for the bridesmaids, usher and best man, ceremony fees and many of the trappings of the ceremony (such as the choir and bell ringers), transport to the reception for the couple, transport to the ceremony itself so that he and the best man arrive in style, and other extras such as corsages and buttonholes.
The Bride’s Family
The bride’s family faces the lion’s share of the expenses for the event itself, being expected to pay for invitations, order of service sheets, cake, the bride’s dress, venue hire, catering, entertainment, flowers at the church, transport for the bride, the photographer, toastmaster, and other general event staff.
The Groom’s Family
The groom’s family would traditionally pay for any marriage license or other legal expenses, as well as for the honeymoon for the bride and groom.
The Wedding Party
The wedding party are the non-family members that face the biggest expenses. Wedding party members are usually expected to pay for their own attire for the wedding (including shoes), and also to pay for any expenses associated with getting to the wedding or staying overnight. The Best Man is usually responsible for organising any stag do, and the head Bridesmaid is usually responsible for organising the hen night.
Close friends aren’t obligated to spend money on the wedding, but they may host engagement showers, wedding showers or post-honeymoon parties. It is traditional for friends to bring a gift that is about the same value as the cost per head for the catering/reception as well, although most couples would gladly say that they would rather have the pleasure of the guest’s company than the monetary value of the gift, if the guest cannot afford to pay.
A modern wedding can cost as much as £30,000 so it’s understandable that the cost be split among as many people as possible. It is becoming more commonplace for people to spread the cost in more open ways though. For example, instead of having expenses that are exclusively for the bride’s parents, or exclusively for the groom’s parents, the families simply split the costs down the middle.
Many couples live together before getting married, and have shared finances, so it makes sense for them to just share the cost of the couple’s own expenses. In some cases, the couple could have one or both partners being on their second marriage, or one member of the couple may be estranged from their family and not want to have anyone else chip in with the wedding costs. Indeed, given the changes to the education system, in some families a young adult could be in a much better financial situation than their parents, and therefore not want to put the financial burden of a wedding on their families.
As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer. Whether you opt for a small registry office wedding or something much bigger and more traditional is up to you. Try to remember that the day is just a celebration of your relationship, and while it is nice to have everything exactly as you would like it to be, it’s just a marker of the start of the rest of your life together. Don’t let others influence the day that you plan, and don’t feel pressured to go into debt to have the “perfect wedding”. Start your marriage in the best way, and enjoy a long and happy future with your spouse.