Wedding Budget Q&As

Answers to who traditionally pays for what, who pays for whom, and other issues of wedding finances.

wedding budget
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1. How can we bring up the budget to our parents?
2. What does the bride’s family traditionally pay for?
3. What do the groom’s parents traditionally pay for?
4. What do brides and grooms typically pay for themselves?
5. Is it worth the money to hire a wedding planner?
6. How much should we tip our wedding vendors?
7. Are welcome baskets necessary?
8. Who covers guests' travel expenses for a destination wedding?
9. Who covers travel expenses for an out-of-state bridesmaid?
10. Do we need to give a gift to anyone hosting a pre-wedding party for us?
11. Does the flower girl need to contribute financially to the bridal shower?
12. As a guest, how much money should I spend on a wedding gift?
13. Who keeps the ring if the wedding is called off?

Have an etiquette question? Leave a comment below!

Q: What's the most tactful way to ask both sets of parents if they will help pay for the wedding?

A: Asking parents if they intend to help out with wedding costs should not be a scary thing. But for a lot of couples broaching the subject can be a bit uncomfortable, especially if their parents have not said a word about making any contributions. Naturally, you do not want to be in limbo wondering how much you will be able to spend on your wedding, so the sooner you do ask, the easier it will be to start your planning.

First, discuss with your fiancé the type of wedding you want to have — and be practical. Chances are a guest list of 500 for a wedding in Venice will not fit into your budget! Decide how much you both can afford to spend. Determine a rough estimate for your guest list, the time of year you would like to marry, the day of the week and where you might like to have your reception. All of these factors will determine the expense of the wedding. Next, ask your parents if they can meet for lunch or dinner—you will want the setting to be relaxed and casual - to discuss wedding plans. You and your fiancé may choose to do this together or you may want to talk with your own parents separately.

When you do get together with your mom and dad, let them know the type of wedding you envision, how much you think it will cost and what you and your fiancé can afford to spend. Ask your parents if they had planned to help out in any way. And make sure they understand that your intention is not to embarrass or pressure them, but to determine if you need to alter your plans to accommodate a smaller (or maybe even larger!) budget. How they respond depends upon their financial status and personal beliefs. They may not be able to contribute a great deal of money, but may offer to pick up the tab for some part of the wedding. Let them know that any amount offered is appreciated.

If neither set of parents can provide any financial assistance, you and your fiancé will probably need to rethink your original plans. But do not get discouraged: Most wedding pros will offer suggestions in order to work within your budget. And with a little ingenuity and creativity, many couples have had beautiful weddings for far less than they imagined.

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Q: What does the bride's family traditionally pay for?

A: In generations past, the bride's family paid for the majority of the wedding expenses. Nowadays, with the costs of weddings growing and many couples marrying later when they are more likely to have careers and incomes of their own, more brides and grooms are contributing to, or even picking up entirely, the cost of the wedding. However, here are the traditional expenses that the bride's parents cover:

Engagement party (optional)
Wedding invitations and other stationery (announcements, thank-you notes, etc.)
Services of bridal consultant
Wedding gown and accessories
Flowers for ceremony and reception sites
Bouquets for bridesmaids
Bridal party transportation to ceremony
and reception
Family's wedding attire

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Q: Help! My future in-laws are insisting that I plan a very traditional (and somewhat expensive) wedding but are refusing to help pay for anything. Is there an official list of financial responsibilities for the groom's parents?

A: You may be surprised to discover that a "list" of monetary obligations for the groom's parents does not exist simply because, traditionally, they were only expected to pay for the rehearsal dinner. The bride's parents paid for the majority of the expenses, including all ceremony and reception costs (food, liquor, wedding cake, music, photos, flowers), the wedding invitations and related expenses, and the bride's attire and trousseau. The groom himself picked up the costs of the marriage license, the bride's engagement and wedding rings, the bride's bouquet, corsages for the mothers, the boutonnieres, the ceremony officiant's fee, and the honeymoon.

However, with the costs of weddings growing and many couples marrying later (when they are more likely to have careers and incomes of their own), more and more brides and grooms are contributing to - or even picking up entirely — the costs of their weddings. If this is your situation, then you are certainly entitled to spend your money as you see best in order to stay within your budget. Explain to your future in-laws that as much as you might want to include several traditional aspects in the wedding, you must limit your expenses and would greatly appreciate their understanding. Ask them if they have any suggestions or advice so that they realize how sincere and concerned you are. After all, you do not want to disappoint or antagonize them but you and your groom-to-be must be realistic about your financial situation and goals for the wedding.

Most importantly, be sure that your fiancé fully supports you in this decision and that you together present a united front. Even if his parents are contributing to the costs in some way, you are not obligated to heed their every wish. In this case, though, you might give them the option of putting their money toward those elements that mean the most to them.

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Q: Our parents have generously offered to cover most of the wedding costs; which costs are my fiancé and I supposed to cover for ourselves?

A: These days, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to who pays for what. You may determine a specific budget for each contributing party — it's common for the bride's family, the groom's family, and the couple to split the wedding costs evenly. However, here's a traditional breakdown of what the bride and the groom should cover:

The groom's ring
The bridesmaids' luncheon
Gifts for the bridesmaids
Wedding gift for the groom

The bride's rings
The marriage license
Officiant's fee
His formalwear
Personal flowers: the bride's bouquet, boutonnieres for wedding party, corsages for mothers and grandmothers
Gifts for the groomsmen
Wedding gift for the bride
Gifts for parents
Transportation to the honeymoon

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Q: I am really feeling overwhelmed. My job is very demanding  I have to put in long hours, travel and even work some weekends. My fiancé is just as busy, We both feel that theres no time to tackle wedding planning details. A friend suggested hiring a wedding consultant. What exactly do they do and how much do they cost?

A: Sounds like you are an ideal customer for a wedding consultant! A good consultant can do many things: He or she is a professional party planner, with experience in coordinating all types of weddings, who can not only save you time but may also be able to save you money. Because of their extensive contacts, consultants can often get discounts from vendors. They will work with your budget and make sure you get the most for your money — negotiating contracts with vendors as well as coordinating and supervising details and, in general, keeping things organized and on schedule. Your wedding consultant will advise you about etiquette and offer creative ideas and cost-cutting tips.

Consultants fees vary according to where you live, how big a wedding you are having and how much time the consultant spends on the job. But you can expect to pay in one of three ways: Some consultants charge an hourly rate (anywhere from $75 to $200 per hour), others charge a flat fee and still others may ask for a percentage (usually 10% to 15%) of the entire cost of the wedding.

If you think you may not be able to afford a consultant to plan your entire wedding, consider hiring one for an initial three-hour consultation to get you started and help map out a schedule of what you need to do. You can also bring in a consultant at any point during the planning process or hire one just for the wedding day itself to keep things running smoothly. In light of your demanding jobs and busy lifestyles, its certainly worth looking into. Call the Association of Bridal Consultants (860-355-0464) or the National Bridal Service (804-288-1220) for names of wedding consultants in your area. Chances are you will have less stress, more peace of mind and will really be able to enjoy the months before your wedding.

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Q: Are there any particular guidelines for tipping wedding professionals? I am not sure whom to tip or how much I will need to give them.

A: Tipping depends somewhat on where you live and, in some cases, is included in your overall fee (especially when dealing with caterers or banquet halls). You should clarify this when you sign your contract. An additional tip of 15 to 20% is generally expected for your maître d' or banquet manager. Limo drivers also expect to receive a 15% tip, as do many wedding consultants.

It is not necessary to tip musicians, florists, bakers or photographers, however, unless they perform an extra-special service. Clergy members are generally given a small "gift" (ask what's typical for your congregation), while civil officiants charge only a flat fee. Other possible people you will need to tip: ceremony assistants (altar boys or girls), organists, powder and coat room attendants and parking valets. Again, many of these gratuities will be included in your overall fee, so be sure to ask.

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Q: Who distributes the welcome baskets, and how can I put these together without spending a fortune? 

A: Your welcome baskets need not be elaborate or pricey. Keep the contents simple: Include an itinerary of the weekend festivities, a map of the area, brochures on local attractions and a list of restaurants in the area (with phone numbers included), as well as a packet of tissues, candy, mints snacks or fruit. If your budget allows, include bottled water and keepsake votives. Finally, a message welcoming your family and friends to your wedding is a gracious personal touch.

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Q: My fiancé and I have planned a romantic destination wedding in the Caribbean and have invited 20 guests from the U.S. Are we responsible for their airfare and lodging? 

A: Not to worry! It is solely the responsibility of your guests to pay their own way if they want to attend your wedding. You should, however, try to make their travel plans as pleasant, convenient and budget-friendly as possible. Set aside a block of rooms at a hotel and look for leads on low airfares (you may be able to get a good deal if a lot of seats are bought at once). Why not send your invited guests a brief newsletter now with hotel and airline recommendations, itineraries and any other interesting and useful tips about your destination? Your guests will appreciate your efforts and will still be free to make their own travel arrangements at their convenience.

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Q: One of my bridesmaids lives in another state. Am I responsible for paying for her transportation to and from my wedding? 

A: You are not responsible for your attendants" travel expenses. However, you are responsible for their accommodations and should make arrangements for your out-of-state attendants to stay with you, another member of the wedding party or any friends and relatives who graciously offer a room in their homes. Its probably a good idea to discuss travel costs with your bridesmaid now so that there is no misunderstanding about finances later on. And if the travel costs will be too much of a burden for her, you may want to help contribute to the expense as a gift for being in your wedding.

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Q: We plan to give gifts to everyone in our wedding party. However, my godmother is hosting a pre-wedding party for us, and some friends are performing at the ceremony. Should we give something to them as well? 

A: Smart of you to ask! You’re right on target and, yes, your godmother and friends should receive a token of thanks. To be more specific, gifts should be given to soloists and musicians or to anyone who goes above and beyond to assist in some way. And don’t forget the guest-book attendant, friends or relatives who host or drive out-of-town guests and your parents. These gifts needn’t be expensive, so don’t panic about the cost. Money clips, business-card cases, key rings, picture frames, small jewelry items or decorative boxes, engraved pens, flowers or plants, scented soaps, potpourri, candles, votives, stationery and mani/pedi gift certificates—all are wonderful presents that won’t break the bank. Believe me, the gesture is well worth it, and your friends and relatives will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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Q: My daughter is going to be a flower girl in my brother’s wedding, and the maid of honor asked me if I would like to help pay for the bridal shower. Am I supposed to make a financial contribution? 

A: No, you’re not. The bridal shower is the bridesmaids’ responsibility. They plan it and pay for it unless, of course, the bride’s mother also offers to chip in. The parents of the flower girl and ring bearer are only required to pay for their children’s attire, shoes and accessories and any travel or lodging expenses. Obviously, the maid of honor is not aware of the protocol, so I would politely decline any involvement and let your brother know about her request. If his fiancé hears any grumbling from her bridesmaids, she can set the record straight.

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Q: What’s considered the right amount of money for a wedding gift? I’ve recently been laid off and can’t afford to give my friends as much as I had originally planned. I don’t want to seem cheap, either.

A: There isn’t any set amount that’s considered appropriate for a wedding gift. You give what you can afford. Period. Let’s face it, the bleak economy has cut into nearly everyone’s budgets and, with your job loss, it’s perfectly understandable that you can’t be as generous as you’d like. If writing a check makes you feel uncomfortable, then select an item from the couple’s registry list. They’ll be glad you were a part of their special day, and they’ll appreciate receiving something that can be put to good use in their home.

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Q: Eleven months ago, my ex-fiancé broke our engagement and refuses to return the ring—even though I've asked her several times. I don't understand why she would want to keep a symbol of a failed relationship. Should she return the ring? 

A: Ethically, since she broke the engagement, she should return the ring. If you called it off, however, then she would not be expected to do so. Unfortunately, many state laws dictate that an engagement ring is a gift and the property of the person who receives it, so she has no legal obligation to give it back. Obviously, she is not thinking of the ring as a symbol of any kind, and my guess is that she expects to profit from it financially, which may have already happened. I'm sorry for your heartbreak and disappointment, but, trust me, you will look back on this one day and be very grateful that you never walked down the aisle with this woman — especially after you've met that special someone who will give you the kindness, care and love you deserve.

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My question is: if renting a house for the brides family are we expected to pay for the grooms family? One 6 bedroom house will take care of our family, the grooms family would require another another 4 bedroom and then his attendants, or do they pay for their own????? Help! If I could get a response ASAP that would be awesome.