Penny-Pinching: Who Pays for What?

Q: My son is planning a wedding and I have the question as to who pays what. My son is 28 and lives in another state. This is the first marriage for both. What are we, the parents of the groom, responsible for in regards to expenses of the wedding?

A: Traditionally, the groom’s parents and/or the groom pay for: brides engagement and wedding rings, groom’s present to his bride, if he wishes to give her one, gifts for the groom’s attendants, boutonniere for the groom’s attendants, the bride’s bouquet in areas where local custom requires it, the bride’s going away corsage, corsages for immediate members of both families unless the bride has included them in her florist order, the minister’s or rabbi’s fee or donation, transportation and lodging expenses for the minister or rabbi if from another town and if invited to officiate by the groom’s family the marriage license, transportation for the groom and best man to the ceremony, expenses of the honeymoon, all costs of the rehearsal dinner, if one is held bachelor dinner, if he wishes to give one accommodations for the groom’s attendants, if required transportation and lodging expenses for groom’s parents.

It should be noted that these are traditional expenses, not written in granite. Any number of arrangements can be made, and often the bride and groom cover a great deal of their own wedding expenses these days.


  1. Lisa Marie Lindenschmidt

    Can I just say… WHAT?!? This list is crazy! What parents would cover all this?! Why in the world would the -parents- pay for the bride’s engagement and wedding rings, for instance? This is so bizarre. I read this list and tallied it up in my head and just started laughing. You’d have to take out a second mortgage! This goes beyond etiquette for me.

  2. I found this list very helpful. It seems common knowledge what the bride and her family traditionally pay for, but somehow, the traditional things covered by the groom and his family have become less known. I think parents of the groom want to help but ofte don’t know where it is appropriate and where it would not seem insulting. My husband’s family covered some of these traditional expenses and then also paid for the alcohol served at our reception. It was a generous and much appreciated gift, and it helped to take some of the financial burden from my parents, my husband, and me.

  3. Vanna Keiler

    The EPI answer seemed reasonable to me, in lieu of the question and the disclaimer that these were “traditional” expenses i.e. times change. For mainstream America, barring cultural, ethnic etiquette rules, I think what is expected and what is given no longer applies to the current cultural, economic and societal changes in the last 50 years.

    My guess is that each couple and extended family need to determine what works financially and emotionally for everyone, and what is appropriate would be what couples are willing to let others do for them, and what in-laws are willing to provide as well. The dynamics of a wedding are so personal nowadays, and there are just so many more options than there were in the past, that it seems anything goes so long as the bride and groom and anyone footing the bill (or not) are happy.

  4. Ruth Peltier

    I think many of you missed the statement that these are the expenses of the groom’s Family/Groom. A large part of the cost are to be paid by the groom, not the parents.

    • Vanna Keiler

      There is also that comment by EPI, in second paragraph:

      “It should be noted that these are traditional expenses, not written in granite. Any number of arrangements can be made, and often the bride and groom cover a great deal of their own wedding expenses these days.”

  5. Linda Osborne

    My son is 28 years old. He has a very good job and has been living out on his own, in his own home for 5 + years. My husband and I had this discussion. At what point does your adult child become responsible for his own wedding expenses? He convinced me that as an independent adult, our son should be responsible for all the wedding expenses not his parents. We gave him a small but reasonable financial gift which he could use towards the rehearsal dinner and any other expenses. The wedding was cancelled. Should the bride return the shower gifts?

    • Elizabeth

      Traditionally, it is the “groom’s side” which pays for a number of items – and how those are split between the groom’s parents and the groom himself is personal and individual to each family. Usually the groom’s parents will, at the very least, host the rehearsal dinner (as in, not only pay for it, but organize it). Parents are never “obligated” to pay for wedding related items, however, I cannot see the logic in saying that if your son married earlier, you as parents would have paid for some things, but now that he’s living on his own, you wouldn’t. Even 20-somethings are not in the position to put on the three-ring circus that weddings can grow to be. I know that when I married at age 27, there’s no way my then-fiance and I would have been able to pay for the wedding that both of our parents wanted – big, fancy, and expensive. You can certainly decline to pay for things, but then that also means that you have very little say in the wedding, including the invite list. It all boils down to what you want to contribute and what you can afford to contribute. But I don’t see what the groom’s age has anything to do with it.

      Now, with respect to a cancelled wedding – yes, the couple is supposed to return gifts. This is why they tell people not to open and use wedding gifts until the wedding has actually taken place. However, practically-speaking, there’s not much you can do to get her to return them if she doesn’t want to. Consider it a small price to pay for your son to avoid a bad marriage. Better now than later.

  6. Connie

    My daughter was to ba married this past June. Nine days before the (very large) wedding, she called off the engagement. Needless to say, canceling the wedding on such short notice was nearly overwhelming. Regardless, we support her decision. We are very thankful she realized the relationship was wrong before the big day. It would have been much more difficult to deal with a divorce than a canceled wedding. Now that the dust has settled, I received a text from the mother of her Maid of Honor, asking to be reimbursed for the bridal shower they hosted for my daughter, since the wedding was canceled. Shortly after her text, she mailed me the receipts from her shower expenses, which exceed $950.00. I’m hurt, shocked, and once again feeling completely overwhelmed! As if my humiliation isn’t substantial without this… I want to do the right thing… I just honestly don’t know what the right thing is to do. What should I do?

    • Alicia

      Bride and groom need to return or reimburse all gifts. As for the shower that is a gift and yea daughter and ex should reimburse. You should not have been contacted but daughter should have been.

      • Connie

        All gifts were returned immediately upon cancelation of the wedding. However, in my etiquette research, never have I found a rule regarding reimbursement for a shower. My daughter was given three showers, so after this one requested reimbursement, we asked the others if they wished for reimbursement as well. We got a resounding “no” from all involved parties. No one I have spoken to has ever heard of this request. Would it be the same if the wedding had taken place, yet the marriage ended in divorce? I failed to mention in my original post that my daughter offered to reimburse her bridesmaids for their bridesmaid dresses, and all of them refused, including the Maid of Honor. However, in the receipts that were mailed to me by the shower hostess (mother if the Maid of Honor), the dress and earrings her daughter wore to the shower she hosted were included (though supposedly she wasn’t asking to be reimbursed for the outfit… Why send me the receipt?) Not only that, but all decorations (including non-consumable) were included in the receipts. I’m being asked to pay for things, yet not being offered the remainder of them. I pinched pennies and frugally planned and paid for a wedding that never happened. The Maid of Honor and her mother gave a shower that was valued at almost a quarter of our wedding budget. We certainly did not expect them to go to such expense! The impression was that it was given out if love, but now it seems as though it was given out of show. We know this family very well, as we’ve been friends with them since our children were babies. Adding insult to injury, we rely solely on a farming income while they have higher paying professional careers… They just bought their daughter a new BMW. I guess if the right thing to do is pay them back for the shower, My daughter and I will set up a payment plan with them. We don’t have an extra $950.00 to give at the moment. We are waiting for income from our watermelon crop.

        • Elizabeth

          I think it is quite shameful that these people asked you to reimburse them for a party that took place and that everyone enjoyed, at the time at least. Further, I agree that, if they should ask anyone it should be your daughter and not you. But they shouldn’t be asking anyone for reimbursement. This is just life – things happen, and it’s not clear why they now feel they shouldn’t be on the hook for a gift that was freely given. It is even more galling that they sent you the receipt for the dress and earrings – would they give you the dress and earrings if you paid for them??

          In any case, you should not feel humiliated – you did nothing wrong, you are just trying your best in the midst of decisions that you are not making. I think you could A) either simply ignore the text/receipts, or B)or respond simply that you cannot reimburse them for the cost. I would not give them any justification or reasons – your financial situation is not their business. “I’m sorry that you feel you should be reimbursed, but I’m afraid it’s just not possible for me to do so. Would you like me to send the receipts back?”

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I don’t think you need to reimburse them. A shower is not a gift the way a blender or a gift card is. There’s no way to not open it until after the wedding the way you would for other gifts. I suggest apologizing and saying you can’t reimburse them, but you would like to either have them over or take them out to dinner to thank them for all they did. You can also add that you would understand them not throwing a shower the next time your daughter is engaged.

      • Connie

        Thank you everyone who offered advice. My husband is very concerned about jeopardizing the friendship between our families. Therefore, he and I agreed that we should do our best to repay them. Today I wrote a thank you card and mailed her a check for $650.00. I told her that hopefully that would reimburse her for the items that were consumable. At least I will sleep tonight knowing that I did my best to reconcile, even though I’m still confused. My prayer is that I will share God’s grace and forgive, as I’m so undeserving of His forgiveness. I’ve been far less worthy and still been forgiven through the blood of Jesus.

  7. cindy

    What I want to know with regards to expense of a wedding is it ok for a bride and groom to host a jack and jill party that is also a party to fund their wedding? Personally I find it tacky and rude. So many people seem to be hosting these wedding fund parties in which they sell tickets to a party at a cost of $20+ and then sell raffle tickets and raffle of cash and prizes. Is this proper etiquette? None of my friends or relatives have ever done this but I know others that have.

    • Lori C

      I would decline an invitation to a party whose purpose is to fund a wedding. I am also not sure I could be in any type of social relationship with people who think it is proper to shake down their friends and relatives to pay what should be the couple’s wedding expenses.

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