Do you know what’s crazy? Spending $25,000 – $30,000 on the average cost of a wedding in America if you make a median household income of $52,000. What’s worse is going into debt to get married, especially since there’s a 50% chance it won’t last!
In many Asian countries, the parents of the bride foot the entire wedding bill because of the now backwards idea that the husband is “relieving” the parents of the financial costs of caring for their daughter. I can hear many Westerns scoffing at this way of thinking, but before the 1970s it was rare to have dual income households in America. One of my neighbors is a 30-something year old woman who still lives with her 55+ year old Chinese mother. Living with your parents until marriage is quite commonplace for many Asian and Hispanic cultures.
The one thing many Asian weddings have that Western weddings don’t have is the ability to make money during your wedding. I went to my friend’s wedding in Taipei and he actually made about $100,000 from his 50 table, 400 person wedding. The Chinese have a culture of giving monetary gifts in the form of red envelopes during weddings and Lunar New Year. If you are a business associate invited to the wedding, you better give at least $500-$1,000 or else you might not have much business left for the year!
In many Western countries, the parents of the groom pay for all wedding expenses. The thought process is that the groom’s parents are honored to have such a wonderful woman be their son’s life partner to love and care for him through sickness, health, wealth, and poverty. I like this thought process a lot, but as a son of middle class parents who went to a cheap public school, I would feel bad for my parents to pay. But as noted with the many commenters in this post, in America, there’s also a strong tradition of the parents of the bride to pay.
Finally, there’s a growing trend for many lovebirds to pay for the large majority of their wedding cost themselves. Out of the past five weddings I’ve attended, all five were predominantly paid for by the bride and groom. I’ve asked other 25-40 year olds and they’ve said the same thing. Perhaps parents might pay for the venue, or the flowers, but certainly not everything.
One of the main reasons why more wedding costs are born on the bride and groom is because they want their wedding to be a certain way. We’re much more picky and elaborate nowadays it seems. And if your parents are paying for everything, they may put a lot of pressure on you to do things their way instead of yours. This may affect the guest list, the location, the vendors, and more.
THE 10% WEDDING PAYMENT RULE
Given it’s the year 2015, all men and women are more or less equal. The gender wage gap for work performed is hardly noticeable now, and there are plenty of female breadwinners as more and more men figure out ways to convince their wives to work longer in order to be stay at home dads or live a life of leisure.
So many men I’ve talked to between the ages of 25-45 are extremely excited to have the opportunity to do other things with their lives besides working at a job they dislike in order to support a family. It’s been a great blessing for more women to bring home more of the bacon!
Let’s just focus on financials for determining who pays for the wedding given gender discussions can get touchy.
There are two parts to the Wedding Payment Rule:
1) Spend no more than 10% of your combined gross income on the total cost of your wedding. For example, the median household income in America is roughly $51,000. Therefore, spend no more than $5,100 on your wedding if you’re a median household income earner. According to CostOfWedding.com, the average wedding in the United States costs between $25,000 and $30,000. In other words, most Americans are paying way too much. This does not include the cost for a honeymoon either. Spending more than 50% of your annual gross income on a wedding that lasts less than 24 hours is absurd, don’t you think?
The whole idea of the 10% of gross income rule is to keep your emotions from getting the best of you financially. When you are in the heat of passion, lust, and love, it’s easy to spend way beyond your normal budget. You want everything to be perfect. Then things cool off and you’re stuck with a massive credit card bill.
2) Split the costs of the wedding proportionate to the incomes of the newlyweds. Once you’ve calculated your combined gross annual income and set your wedding budget equal to 1/10th of your annual gross income, simply split the cost proportionate to your income split. For example, let’s say your combined income is $100,000 ($40,000 for him, $60,000 for her). The bride would pay $6,000, and the husband would pay $4,000. It’s impossible to argue when equality is deployed because you guys are a team!
Given you want to start your marriage on the right foot, splitting costs between the two of you based on income cuts out all the problems that tend to come up when family is involved. It’s your wedding, so you should pay for it. Your parents are also protected from further financial burden and the awkwardness that comes with discussing money with family.
Of course if your parents want to gift you money on the side, buy you a house, or buy you a car, then great. But once you start accepting money from one set of parents, then you are pretty much obligated to their desires.
ONE TOUCHY SITUATION
The only potential problem with my 10% Wedding Payment Rule is when one spouse wants to have a mega wedding, and the other spouse wants something more low key. If the spouse who wants a huge wedding makes less, then conflict will occur. This situation may be a huge red flag if the spouse who wants a big wedding isn’t willing to pay more, or at least his or her share. It’s called being greedy.
It’s important to align desires with responsibility. The reason why we get into mega-debt is due to entitlement and lifestyle inflation. Do not get into debt to pay for your amazing wedding. Figure out a way to make your wedding fit your budget.
SIMPLE WEDDING SAVINGS TIPS
1) Get married at City Hall (Kerry from SITC did it)
2) Get married at a public park, on the beach, in your home, at your friend’s or relative’s home, or at your favorite restaurant.
3) Request all your friends be your wedding photographers instead of an expensive professional crew. Cameras and smartphones have such great lenses nowadays, and you can just have your friends snap away at all angles. Even if just 5% of 2,000 pictures taken by 20 people are amazing, you’ll have at least 100 free and amazing wedding pictures.
4) Hold an immediate family and close friends wedding only. Discriminate against nobody by discriminating against everybody with the invites.
5) Don’t get married during peak wedding season (April, May, June, July, August). Fall has amazing weather. Shoot for September and October instead.
6) Have a friend be the DJ using his or her laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Surely you or one of your friends has a portable Bluetooth speaker you could use too.
7) Reserve flowers only for those in the wedding party. No need for beautiful bouquets of flowers at every table.
8) Follow my 10% Wedding Payment rule. Once you do the calculations, you’ll most likely want to spend less money, not more. The way the wedding industry gets your money is by playing on your emotions. Be careful about getting taken advantage of during your joyous occasion.
9) Read The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Couple, to get you motivated to build wealth together. This post provides a framework of how to view wealth as a team.
PAY YOUR OWN WAY THROUGH LIFE
We should be responsible for paying for our own weddings, like we are responsible for our own finances once we become adults. The money we don’t spend can be used for more longer term things like buying a house, saving for retirement, or saving for our child’s education.
The true value of marriage is being able to come home to someone you love everyday for the rest of your life.
Update: From the comments left in this post, it is obvious that there is NO one traditional standard on who pays for the wedding! The decision has become murky from the old ways of 50-100 years ago. I like the polls above, because it demonstrates the modern method: the people getting married split the bill.
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Updated for 2019 and beyond.