While 10 percent of couples pay for their own weddings these days — and some eschew tradition by not getting hitched at all — most engaged twosomes still get at least some monetary support from their parents for the big day. Since many of these parents have never planned or bankrolled an event of this scale before, one-third have admittedly blown their budgets to finance their children's wedding wants, even dipping into retirement savings when necessary. (All of those Instagram-worthy details don't come cheap!)
But with the right course of action, you can help your child have the wedding of his or her dreams without putting strain on the relationship or your own finances. Consider these expert tips on how to best approach paying for your kid’s wedding.
Set clear money expectations
Easier said than done, but the first and biggest step to a smooth process is being up front about how much you can contribute to the wedding — and stick to that budget. Also express any expectations you may have about how those funds are used.
"Define early on what you would be comfortable paying for and not paying for," advises Anil Kumar, founder of online matchmaking platform Jodi365 and wedding planning platform Peepul365. "Be reasonable and clear ahead of time so that there are no surprises, avoidable stresses or a souring of relationships." For instance, if you're a vegetarian, it may be too much to ask your child and fiancé to host a meat-free fete. You could, however, draw the line at roasting a pig on a spit for the evening's main course.
Aleisha McCormack, founder and host of wedding planning podcast Bridechilla, agrees that early communication about financials leads to a successful planning experience. "If you know how the money is going to be used — and that is important to you — and everyone is open about it, it is a lot harder to get confused further down the track," she says.
Discuss the guest list early on
A big potential point of contention for couples and their parents is who gets to attend the wedding — and who doesn’t. "Wedding donors are like political donors," McCormack says. "They mean well but often when parents contribute money and say 'we just want you to be happy,' later on, they come back with specific requests that the couple may be unprepared for — and sometimes unwilling to include — like extra guests."
Avoid conflict by discussing the size and scope of the wedding along with the budget, especially since adding more guests after planning is already underway can also add unexpected costs. You might decide to set limits like "only first cousins" or "each parent may invite X number of guests." Or, if a couple wants a more intimate wedding, and their (paying) parents insist on inviting all their family friends and extended relatives, Kumar suggests letting the parents host a large but separate wedding reception.
A planner can make the process fun, rather than fearsome.
Hire a professional
To keep planning running smoothly, enlist an experienced wedding planner. While hiring a pro will take a chunk of your budget, this person can help you stay on-track money-wise and make thoughtful suggestions for saving cash along the way. Not to mention, Kumar notes, a wedding planner will help to keep things on schedule and bring in an objective outsider's perspective when you're faced with inevitable differences in opinion.
McCormack adds that if you've never planned a large-scale event, or if the prospect of doing so is daunting, a planner can make the process fun, rather than fearsome. "Planning a wedding is no easy task, and often it can become overwhelming," she says. "Having someone on your team who is logistics-focused and has connections with other wedding vendors can be a huge advantage."
Pick your battles
It's easy to get emotional, and even heated, in the throes of wedding planning — especially when your money is funding the event. Express your opinion only when a given wedding detail really matters to you. "Jumping in and being pushy or explosive, or worse, threatening to withhold money is an unconstructive and inflammatory tactic that I advise against," McCormack says. "If you really aren't invested in the decision and its outcomes, then take a step back and save the energy."
Show your support and generosity by reserving judgment if the couple makes a less-than-ideal choice. "Saying, 'It's OK; snafus happen,' or 'Don't worry, sweetheart, we'll find a solution,' would be much more loving and constructive than an 'I told you so,'" Kumar says. "Be gracious and willing to make compromises." Ultimately, the big day belongs the happy couple.