Parents of the bride: You are still getting stuck with most of the wedding costs
Parents of daughters, beware: The age-old tradition of the brides’ parents funding the wedding is still very much alive. According to the 2017 Newlywed Report — the largest survey of 2016 weddings, conducted by WeddingWire — parents of both the bride and groom paid for 67 per cent of the total wedding cost; of that number, parents of the bride paid 43 per cent, while parents of the groom paid only 24 per cent. Generally, the couple themselves picked up the rest of the tab.
The practice of the bride’s family covering wedding costs is a centuries-old tradition which functioned as the equivalent of a dowry — a gift to the groom’s family for the expense of taking on a dependent woman. “It’s a direct descendant of the idea that women are depending on men and don’t support themselves, so a woman’s family should make one last big investment,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, a History” and director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Texas at Austin.
Paying the ‘dowry’
Even though times have changed, and women and men typically come to marriage with similar earning power. And yet, the bride’s parents are still paying the equivalent of that dowry, Coontz said. “It’s particularly ironic today, because many younger women actually have more potential earning power than their hubbies, being more highly educated,” she added. But she said many women still hold the old-fashioned notion that marriage should be the high point of their life, represented by a special day, and brides’ parents buy into the idea that their job is to make that special day possible.
The groom’s family typically pays for the rehearsal dinner and the bar tab at the wedding reception. That’s a trend that Gloria Boyden, director of education for the Association of Bridal Consultants, and owner of Events by Design in Carmel, Indiana, has seen. And, she says, as a practical measure, this system works well; having the brides’ family in charge allows them to be in control, minimizing disagreement.
How to save?
So how and when do parents start saving up for their daughters’ weddings? Kathryn Hauer, a financial planner in Aiken, South Carolina, said it can’t hurt to set up a savings account at your local bank that is earmarked for wedding expenses, and to put extra money in it when your child is in high school or getting serious in a relationship.
“Even if you only have a small amount in there when that wedding rolls around, it will be better than nothing,” she said.
She said most financial planners don’t recommend taking out personal loans or home equity loans to help pay for weddings, though many parents of brides do this. A lower-rate personal loan if you qualify is often a better choice than maxing out credit cards, she said.
Mitchell Kraus, Financial Planner at Capital Intelligence Associates in Santa Monica, California, said the clients most interested in saving for weddings are the parents of daughters.
“The more I see us approach an equitable society, this aspect never seems to change. I can count dozens of clients that have paid or expect to pay for their daughters’ weddings and none who are saving or plan to save nearly as much or anything for their sons.”
Still, some are trying to change this long-held tradition of the bride’s family footing the majority of the bill. When it came time for Lisa Garber’s daughter to be married in Michigan, Garber initiated a discussion with the groom’s family about how much they wanted to contribute. His parents agreed to pay a portion of the event, which was held in February.
When her second daughter got engaged on New Year’s Eve in 2016, she gave the groom a head’s up that she would have a discussion with his parents about how much they would be contributing for the wedding this June; that family has also agreed to pay for a portion. Realizing this broke with tradition, “I was prepared to get nothing, so I was thrilled,” Garber said. There are, of course, major exceptions to the brides’ family paying.
“In general, the choice engaged couples and their families make is impacted by a range of facts, including the age of the couple and the financial status of the parties involved,” said Angela L. Thompson, a sociology professor at Texas Christian University.
Boyden says it’s not unusual for a groom’s family to foot the bill if the brides’ family can’t afford to do so, while older couples often pay for their wedding themselves. That’s also the case for 74 per cent of same-sex couples, according to a 2016 survey by gayweddinginstitute.com.
Bernadette Smith, the group’s founder, says that’s because only half the couples have the emotional support of their parents, and many same-sex couples marry when they’re older and are in a better position to pay for the wedding.
Coontz hopes the tradition of brides’ families paying for weddings will someday fade away. “That strikes me as something that really needs rethinking as a practical basis in today’s society,” she said.
That strikes me as something that really needs rethinking as a practical basis in today’s society