If future weddings are on your mind in June, be prepared for sticker shock. The Knot website reports that the average U.S. wedding costs about $30,000, not including the honeymoon. Costs vary widely by location: The average is well over $50,000 in the New York City area, but it’s close to $16,000 in Western states such as Idaho and Utah.
Wherever the wedding might be, it’s likely to be a sizable expense. Some savvy planning can keep your outlay under control without detracting from a festive occasion.
Traditionally, the bride’s parents pay for the wedding. This tradition apparently goes back a long way, in many societies, dating from the time when the bride’s family provided a dowry to help enable the new husband to take care of his wife and any future children. If your daughter or son is getting married relatively young and also is in school or a recent graduate, it still may be the case that the parents pay for all or most of an engagement party, the wedding reception, ﬂowers, music, photography, and so on. With today’s shifting societal norms, chances are you could end up contributing no matter which side of the happy couple you fall on.
Today, though, many couples are getting married (or remarried) later in life, perhaps after establishing careers and earning signiﬁcant incomes. Although some of those weddings are still fully ﬁnanced by one family, it’s increasingly common for costs to be split between the couple’s families as well as by the couple themselves. Thus, this advice may not only be relevant to the parents of future brides and grooms but also to unmarried individuals looking forward to their own nuptials.
In some situations, the relative resources of these parties will help determine the sharing arrangements. The division of expenses should be established early in the wedding planning process. This might be awkward at ﬁrst but may help reduce future tension over who pays what.
Begin with a budget
Just as you wouldn’t shop for a new car or a second home without some price parameters, the same is true for a wedding. You should be sure that everyone’s expectations are in alignment. If you have a $25,000 wedding in mind, for example, but your daughter expects a $50,000 wedding, someone is going to be upset unless an agreement can be reached.
Brides- and grooms-to-be will differ in their ﬁnancial expertise. Some may anticipate the wedding they’d like and know the total probable cost within a few thousand dollars; others may just have an idea of where they’d like to celebrate their marriage and how many people they plan to invite without any notion of the bills that will need to be paid.
Before setting a budget, research can help. Start with online fact- ﬁnding and go to on-site visits. Once the couple has seen a few possible places and learned the cost of a reception with various numbers of guests at those venues, they likely will have a better idea of the costs involved, so an overall budget can be more realistic.
If you are going to be paying a substantial portion of the wedding expenses, you should play a role in establishing a budget. One tactic is to give the to-be-weds a check for X dollars upfront, to cover the wedding expenses. They can spend more, from their own pockets or from the other parents’. Or, they can spend less and keep the balance as a wedding gift.
Once you have a working budget, try to stay with it. Cut costs where you won’t cut into the joy of the occasion. A Friday or Sunday wedding can be just as memorable as a Saturday event—and perhaps much less expensive. The same is true for out-of-season dates; a December wedding can offer more value than one in June. No matter when the wedding is scheduled, trimming the guest list to those whose presence is absolutely necessary or desirable can provide certain cost reduction.
Remember that a wedding is a major lifetime event, not a proﬁt- making venture. Be ready to go over the budget and decide if you can manage to contribute a bit more to keep everyone smiling. Starting with a budget can help to keep supplementary requests modest and hold down the total tab.