Should You Pay for Your Entire Wedding Yourself?
One of the biggest wedding decisions couples have to make is how to pay for their celebration. Should you pay for the entire wedding yourself, or ask loved ones for contributions? This post explores the pros and cons of each option.
Should you and your partner pay for your entire wedding yourself? It’s one of the most contentious questions in wedding planning. For every person who tells you “Yes! It’s the only way to be happy,” there are three more who chime in, “But how though?”
That’s a fair critique in a world where the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $28,000, (The Knot Real Weddings Study) not counting any type of engagement ring or honeymoon. To expect anybody — let alone two people who likely have a long list of other financial goals they’d like to accomplish — to shell out that kind of money is, at best, unreasonable and, at worst, classist.
So, what’s a couple to do? Here’s my best advice as a professional wedding planner on how to navigate having other people help pay for your wedding.
First, figure out your why.
As soon as people get engaged, they rush to answer one of two questions: “When?” and “Where?” This makes sense. It’s also a great way to fail. Instead, start with “Why?” — as in “Why are we having a wedding?”
This exercise helps couples figure out the answer to that question. It’s useful to know your why when it comes to budget because your why is a measuring stick. Anytime you’re about to spend money, measure it against the intention of your wedding to help decide if it’s in line with that goal.
Second, build a budget before you book a venue.
Once you’ve got a why, build a budget. There are a variety of tools here with my main advice being to build a wedding budget before you book a venue, (or any other vendors for that matter.)
This is important because often, couples rush into venue tours because they, understandably, want to figure out when they’re getting married and the when is often influenced by where they’re getting married.
Booking venue tours or meeting with vendors before building a budget you can actually live with is an easy way to blow your whole budget before you’ve even started.
Third, talk to your VIPs.
Now that you have your why and your budget, consider your VIPs. This is the inner circle of your wedding and often includes family, chosen or biological. Depending on who these people are in relation to your life, they may want to financially contribute to your wedding.
One of the biggest regrets I have about my own wedding planning is that I didn’t respect this dynamic. Instead, I assumed that I was doing my VIPs a favor if my partner and I built a wedding that we could afford to pay 100 percent for ourselves.
I wasn’t totally wrong — and the core why of our wedding didn’t change — but by making this assumption, I was ill-prepared for conversations about money with our inner circle. I told our VIPs what to do rather than share my boundaries and then listen to theirs.
In many cases, I learned that our VIPs wanted to give us money because it was a way they could show up for us as we started our marriage. In hindsight, I wish I would have approached this conversation differently by first sharing the rough plan for our wedding and then asking something like:
“Now that we’ve shared the rough plan for our wedding, we want to say that we in no way expect you to financially contribute. We also want to make sure that you feel invited into our wedding planning because you matter to us. What would be a good next step for you?”
That sounds rigid and in practice, you’ll likely say something much less formal but hold to the core premise of this request. You’ve shared the boundaries of your and your partner’s wedding. Now, ask and listen to what your VIPs have to say.
But don’t feel like you have to give in.
This doesn’t mean you have to give in to what they want.
For example, if you and your partner have planned a wedding with a budget of $5,000 and your VIP comes in and says, “Too cheap! That needs to be three times as high” you do not have to take them up on this. Your “must-haves” are likely different than those of your loved ones, and at the end of the day you are planning *your* wedding.
Hold true to your intention and use it as your guiding star while also not neglecting these important conversations.
Redirect where needed.
Of course, as soon as someone gives you money for your wedding, they have power. This is why I call these people “The Board.” They have invested in your wedding and as such, they now have power over what it becomes.
Because of this reality, before you accept money, it can be useful to first ask what the person giving you the money wants you to do with it.
For example, if a VIP says, “We have $1,000 to help pay for the wedding” a good follow-up question is “Thank you so much! Is there any particular part of our wedding that you would like us to use that money for?”
I suggest this technique because often, people have the strongest feelings about the most unexpected wedding things. More than one client has told me, “I didn’t know so-and-so cared so much about flowers!” or “My mom really wants to host this event that she’s never even mentioned before.”
In many cases, “tradition” and societal pressure play huge motivating factors as people might feel like they’re “doing a bad job” if they don’t pay for a certain part of the wedding. For my own wedding, my parents felt very strongly that they wanted to buy me the outfit I would wear. I bucked against this without reflecting on why they felt this way about my wedding dress.
Consider Wedding Etiquette.
Traditionally, a bride’s parents were responsible for footing the bill for the wedding celebration, ie the ceremony and reception. Therefore the family’s name was on much of the pre-wedding stationery such as the wedding invitations. The groom’s parents often covered the rehearsal dinner and/or sometimes the engagement party.
Just because these are the traditional routes doesn’t mean you have to take them, but they can be a good starting point to take when thinking about who you accept funds from and for what.
Decide between you and your partner and anyone else contributing financially to the wedding day expenses how you want your host line on your wedding invitation to read. You may decide to include both of your parents’ names on the invitation as a compromise.
Communicate with empathy.
When somebody’s pick for their contribution doesn’t make sense to you or your partner, I encourage you to ask why. Lead with empathy and if the response doesn’t vibe with you and your partner’s goal, offer examples that redirect the VIP toward parts of your wedding that hold more value for you and your partner. For instance, if a VIP insists that they pay for a rehearsal dinner but you and your partner could instead really use help on affording a DJ, tell them as much. This could look like:
“Thank you so much for helping us with our wedding! We really appreciate you offering to pay for the rehearsal dinner but are curious if you’d be open to instead contributing toward another part of the wedding where we need help more. Specifically, we want to hire [insert details about what you want to hire and how the VIP’s money would make a difference toward accomplishing this goal].”
Sometimes this doesn’t work — thanks, societal pressure — but often it does. That’s because the main reason the VIP is giving you money is to help you. If you tell them where their money will do the most good, they’re usually more open to the change. And if they’re not, I would seriously encourage you not to take money (or quite as much money) from this person to begin with.
Respect The Board.
While we don’t have to give in to every demand just because someone is helping pay for the wedding, we do need to respect the power The Board has. The main place this comes up is around the guest list. If a VIP is spending such-and-such amount of money on a party, they likely want their friends to be there.
Alas, your VIP’s friends are probably not also your friends and in a world where catering costs $70 a head before alcohol, it can be hard to justify “just a few extra people”, especially if inviting those people bumps your people.
This is where that hard work you and your partner did in the early days of your wedding planning comes into play. When you built your budget, you likely had an estimated guest count. I highly recommend allocating at least 10 of those spots to “Board invites.” These are people whom you would likely not invite to your wedding if you were paying for it yourselves but are getting an invite because of a Board member.
Ten spots may not be enough but if you’re on that thin of a tightrope before you even talk to your VIPs, seriously reconsider the budget and plan for your wedding. These conversations will not get easier later, particularly after money has been exchanged.
Say thank you.
Whether your loved one wants to contribute to the wedding cake or your bridal accessories, be gracious and appreciative, and be sure to say thanks. There are so many ways to thank people at a wedding that I rarely see couples take advantage of. A few ideas:
- write thank-you notes to each Board member to give them the day before or the day of the wedding
- acknowledge them in a toast, whether at the wedding or at an event leading up to the wedding
- give them flowers, such as a boutonnière or corsage that acknowledges that they’re a VIP
- after the wedding, give them a photo of you together (also doubles as a great holiday or birthday gift!)
Saying thank you matters because no matter how you cut it, these people sacrificed to help make your wedding happen. Whether they cover all of the wedding costs, some surprise fees, or a small wedding expense, generosity deserves to be acknowledged. It might not always have been easy but you’re all here now and that’s a goal worth celebrating.
Are you paying for your whole wedding yourselves or are you receiving monetary help from family? Let’s discuss in the community!