How To Help Pay For Your Child's Wedding (Without Going Broke)

101 quizzes for brides and groomsCongratulations! Your daughter is engaged. Now it's time to start planning the big event. The Mother of the Bride Guide: A Modern Mom's Guide to Wedding Planning covers everything you need to make sure your daughter has the perfect — and stress-free — day of her dreams. Here, author and wedding planner Kate Martin explains how to tackle the wedding expenses.

Oh, How Times Have Changed!

If you come from a conservative and traditional background, etiquette will play a huge role in budgeting your daughter’s wedding. However, in today’s economy and culture, your two families need to be on the same page to figure out what sort of budget will work and who will pay for what, as there are no hard and fast rules anymore. The reality of who assumes what expenses in a typical wedding is not always bound by tradition.

Today, more couples are waiting until they’re a bit older and established in their careers before they get married. Where a bride was once either fresh out of college (or even younger) when she took her wedding vows, it’s more likely these days to see a bride who has been out in the real world, having started her career already. As a result, she can typically afford to contribute to her own wedding — or perhaps (along with her fiancé) even pay for the entire thing. Your parents may have scrimped and saved for your wedding, but that is not necessarily the case for today’s brides.

Another bonus for a bride who has the money to spend on her own wedding is that she can either go all out and plan an extravagant affair or go to the other extreme and plan a very simple event. Whatever the case, if the couple is bound and determined to pay for most of this wedding by themselves, don’t wallow in guilt. If you want to contribute, they may accept or refuse. Don’t push the issue. You don’t want to end up squabbling over expenses.

Help Wanted

funny mother of the bride and father of the groom shirts
Photo Credit: Tracey Ann Photography

What about the bride and groom who are able to pay for part of the wedding but are also expecting some help from one or both sets of parents? How do you go about splitting the bill three ways? Does it have to be exactly even? Who takes the initiative on which parts? You need to know if the groom’s parents are even interested in making a major contribution to the wedding. First and foremost, it is up to your daughter and her fiancé to take care of asking his parents whether or not they can contribute anything at all. You don’t want to be caught in an embarrassing situation by calling them and asking yourself. Once both sets of parents are on board, one of several situations will present itself:

  • You and the groom’s family can simply hand your wedding contributions to the bride and groom, and the kids can go ahead and plan their wedding. This route is highly recommended to make sure they have the wedding of their dreams.
  • The groom’s family might agree to pay for certain aspects of the wedding (for example, they might want to pay for the bar bill and the limousine — or any other expense of their choice).
  • You might go ahead and plan the entire wedding and then accept payment from the couple and/or her fiancé’s family.

What happens in the end will be the result of who trusts whom and who feels comfortable doing what. In other words, if you and the fiancé’s family barely know one another, don’t expect them to hand you a check for several thousand dollars a whole year before the reception.

Or Maybe Not...

What happens when three different parties converge in an attempt to pull off the wedding of everyone’s dreams? Sometimes the end result is a fairy-tale wedding; other times, the planning process is so nightmarish that the couple wishes they had eloped. It is your role as MOB to help your daughter navigate this process. You’re trying to help her pull off the wedding she wants. Their family, however, may not be on the same page. If her fiancé's family is paying for part of the wedding, they may feel as though they’ve been given the green light to do whatever they want. You might end up playing referee.

While it’s very difficult to set ground rules for adults who are contributing their own money in an effort to assist in the planning and lessen the financial strain on your pocketbook, it is possible to be tactful about the whole situation.

The Rules of Planning

Your job is to stay out of the head planner’s seat (even if you really are the one who is doing all the legwork) and to not make all the calls for your daughter. Your daughter and her fiancé are the ones who need to express their wants and needs to their parents. After all, the money her fiancé’s parents are handing over is really a gift to the happy couple — it doesn’t belong to you, per se, even if its real purpose is to alleviate your financial burden.

You really shouldn’t get involved in this particular matter until the bride gives you the go-ahead. Hopefully, she already will have made the first foray into the topic with her future in-laws. Once the couple has some idea of where his family stands on the issue of money as it relates to this wedding, they will either give you the green light to contact the future in-laws or let you know that you’re on your own.

Finding the Money (It Doesn’t Grow on Trees?)

bride groom money
Photo Credit: iStock

Where are you going to get the money to pay for your part of this wedding, anyway? Years ago, it was common to hear about families saving for their daughters’ weddings. But nowadays, a wedding fund is more likely to be something a daughter only hopes exists. If you’re short an entire fund for the wedding, but you’re planning on writing at least a check or two to cover some of the costs, you might have some ideas swirling around in your mind. Are they feasible?

1. Nix the Re-fi: Refinancing is probably not the best idea, unless you were already planning on doing so before your daughter’s engagement. Here’s why: when you refinance your home, you get a check (and a lower mortgage rate — at least temporarily), which is great if you have big bills to pay (bills related to a wedding, for example), but you’re trading the equity you already have. In most cases, you’re essentially starting from square one, as though you just bought the house. This is just fine if you’re not planning on selling anytime soon (you can kiss your profit goodbye if you try to sell right away), and if you don’t fall into the habit of cashing in on your home’s value every time you spend a little too much money here or there.

2. Home Equity Loans: Home equity loans can be lifesavers...or they can come back to haunt you. In this transaction, homeowners can borrow a percentage of the value of their home to pay off higher-interest loans or large debts. The interest on the loan is usually tax-deductible. Again, this may be a good way to go if you’re careful with your money to begin with, but borrowing against your home to pay off your wedding debt isn’t recommended. The advantage is that you’re paying less interest on your wedding debt right now. The downside is that you’re paying off this loan for thirty years. Also, if the loan exceeds 100 percent of the value of your home, the interest is not tax-deductible, which means you’ve entered into a standard loan. If you fall behind on your payments for whatever reason, you might find yourself packing your bags.

3. Cash or Credit? Is it advisable, then, to pay cash for a wedding? Believe it or not, it isn’t — at least not literally. While it is smart to set a budget and a spending limit while simultaneously deciding which areas of the wedding are priority issues (does your daughter want stretch limos for the wedding party and the families, or would she rather spend that money on an open bar?), it’s not wise to hand over cold, hard cash to pay the bills. Whenever possible, try to pay deposits by credit card, but keep track of what you’re spending. Once you give cash or a check to a vendor, your money is out of your hands, and if there’s a problem in the future (say, the caterer decides he’d rather use your money to take a vacation instead of feeding your daughter’s wedding guests), it’s very possible that you’ll never see a refund. Conversely, if you’ve used your plastic, your credit card company will help you fight any fraud or bogus charges. The chances of your being reunited with your dough are much better in this instance. And of course, always, always get a receipt and put it away somewhere safe.

Sharing the Burden

If you take a look at your financial status and realize you just can’t swing $30,000 within the next year (which is the average price tag of today’s wedding), it is time to have the conversation about who is going to pay for what. Maybe you can pay for half of the wedding or just a small amount. You have to be realistic. You did not get to this point in your life to burden yourself with debt just because your daughter wants to celebrate her marriage in high style. Your daughter probably knows you best and will already have a pretty good idea as to what you can actually afford. So take the time to figure out the wedding budget and who will be paying for what after you have assessed how much you can contribute. This will undoubtedly be better than going into debt and selling off all of your valuables!

Excerpted from The Mother of the Bride Guide by Katie Martin. Copyright © 2016 F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.