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4 min read

A wedding is a joyous union in which two people vow to share everything — the house, cars, kids, and the checkbook. But in the stretch of time between the official announcement and the walk down the aisle, a pressing question looms: Who pays for what? 

Historically, the question of who pays for what in a wedding was answered by long-standing cultural norms. These norms varied widely throughout the world, but in the United States, it was typically the bride's family who took on of most of the wedding-day expenses. The groom's family usually paid for the rehearsal dinner and maybe the honeymoon.

Today, what was once fairly clear-cut has been blurred by new ideas in wedding planning and the reality that one partner might have more cash than the other. You might want to just toss old notions out the door and play it by ear, but it's still important divvy up the costs. 

Who Pays for the Venue?

The wedding venue is one of the most important expenses and also the most expensive. You can expect to pay several thousand dollars for a banquet hall, historic hotel, or rustic barn on a lavender farm. Traditionally, this hefty cost is allocated to the bride's family. If her family isn't on board with that idea and thinks Aunt Kathy's backyard is good enough, it's entirely acceptable to take on the expense together as a couple.

Who Pays for the Food and Drinks?

What's a wedding without some really awesome food? You're going to need appetizers, a first course, a second course, the main course, and a multi-tiered cake, not to mention an extravagant rehearsal dinner before the event even occurs. A caterer will charge around $70 per person, a cake can claim around $500, and an open bar can cost about $25 per head (triple that for your lush cousin Gary).

Usually, the couple covers the wedding cake while the rehearsal dinner is paid for by the groom's family. If you're planning on serving a sit-down meal at the reception, it is customary for both families to pay for food costs together. Many couples disregard this practice, however, and prefer to pick up the whole tab themselves.

Who Pays for Wedding Rings?

Wedding bands are your iconic symbol for the union everyone has come to witness. Traditionally, the wedding rings were bought by the bride's family and presented to the groom before the ceremony, but today, it's not uncommon for each partner to use their own money to buy the other's ring. 

Some couples don't allow an ample budget for the rings or put off the expense by using faux bands during the ceremony. The intention to get more expensive jewelry later often never happens, leading to long-term regrets. You can avoid this trap by recognizing the importance of your rings. The emotional impact of receiving a stunning and authentic band on the most memorable day of your life is simply priceless.

Who Pays for the Band/DJ?

Good entertainment keeps the party going, but hiring a DJ or band will be one of your most expensive expenditures. You can expect to pay around $500 for a DJ or live musicians, and this number doesn't include a piano player for the ceremony.

The wedding couple, the groom's family, or both families together usually cover this expense. This is also one area where you have plenty of flexibility, so get creative if your budget is tight. Maybe your best friends play in a phenomenal cover band? Ask them for a discount! During the ceremony, you can use recorded music if the sound system is good and have a talented relative sing a love song right before you exchange rings.

Who Pays for Wedding Photos?

Photography and media are other areas with significant price variation. For wedding pictures, you can expect to pay around $2,000 for an inexperienced photographer with a decent camera. A professional wedding photographer will cost anywhere from $5,000 or more depending upon his or her experience level and equipment.

Traditionally, the wedding couple is responsible for part or all of the wedding photo budget. Families may contribute if they want to orchestrate some of the shots. 

Who Pays for Wedding Attire?

Every person in the wedding party (bride, groom, parents of the wedding couple) is expected to finance their wedding outfit. For the bride, this can be a significant expense as some gowns cost thousands of dollars (not to mention the veil, shoes, undergarments, and other incidentals), so couples and their families might compensate by picking up other things, such as salon bills and wedding party gifts. After all, every bride should be drop-dead show-stopping gorgeous on this dream day, and that takes lots of cash!

How to Decide

The planning is about to begin, so how do you decide who pays for what? You aren't totally traditional and are willing to buck norms, but you still need a strategy for covering the costs.

Start by asking your folks if they will contribute to the cost of your wedding. If so, have them commit a specific amount. Add up all their contributions together with yours when creating the budget. Alternatively, ask each set of parents to finance something different (such as the ceremony or catering). Keep in mind that what's most affordable to them may depend largely upon what's being covered by other people, such as grandparents and the couple themselves.

Next, win the lottery (just kidding).

Finally, put your priorities in order. You probably won't be able to afford everything you want, so think about what's most important. Wedding rings will be with you forever, whereas flowers wilt in a week. You'll keep your photos and videos until you're old and gray but will barely remember the limo that took you to the reception. And don't waste time on trivial things. Pull away from that Pinterest board and shop for your men's wedding rings and bride's rings today. Put your money where your heart is and you'll soon drink a happy toast to your investment in true love.