Decades ago, an engaged couple probably never had to agonize about asking their parents to help pay for their wedding. It was understood that the bride’s parents would pick up the tab in its entirety, from the champagne toast to the favors nobody really wanted. (This was at a time when the only people getting legally married were men and women who identified as heterosexual.)
The groom’s parents were under no obligation to cough up any money except for the rehearsal dinner, a casual affair whose “wow” factor was purposely kept at a low setting to avoid stealing any thunder from the wedding the next day. When young women started moving out of their parents’ homes and becoming self-supportive, they also began chipping in for their weddings, breaking with tradition and effectively ending the bride’s parents’ reign as the sole wedding sponsors.
Today, if an engaged couple wants to have a wedding they can’t pay for in full on their own, they turn to both sets of parents for help. And they’re getting it: A recent Wedding Wire Newlywed Report found that parents pay an average of 52 percent of the wedding bills while the couple shells out about 47 percent. Given that the average wedding in 2020 cost $19,000—down from a pre-COVID-19 high of $28,000 in 2019, according to a Knot Real Weddings Study—it may make sense for multiple parties to hand over their credit cards.
But how do you broach such a delicate subject as money? You can do it with honesty, respect, and a polite demeanor. Awkward, yes, but a necessary step since you need to know how much your budget is so you can start planning. Your folks love you but will that translate into them paying for the bar, the wedding cake, or (hopefully) more? Here are a few tips to make the talk go smoothly:
Give them a heads up
If you think that blindsiding your parents with a monetary request is a good idea, listen closely—it’s probably not. A better, proven strategy is asking to have a conversation with them in the near future. “This allows them time to get their thoughts together and give you a constructive answer,” says Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute, in Burlington, Vermont, and cohost of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast. “Say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I want to set up a good time to talk with you about wedding finances and any potential contributions you were thinking of making. [Spouse-to-be] and I are figuring out what we’re working with.’ This leaves room for them to say, ‘We wish we could pay for the whole wedding but can’t. This is what we can do.’” The best place for the talk is their home or a quiet restaurant, Post adds.
Talk to them separately
Rather than making it a team effort, consider whether you and your partner should talk separately to your respective parents. “It might make some families feel a little more comfortable talking about money with just their own child,” says Post. “Especially if they’re delivering bad news.” Include each other in any subsequent money talks with your parents.
Find out if the funds are conditional
This happens more than you might think: A bride’s mother could offer to pay for the wedding dress but with one stipulation: She gets to choose it. Or she and Dad might want to dictate the guest list, the event location, or some other major aspect of the wedding. “Whether a parent offers to pay for something specific or write a blank check, you should ask if any strings are attached,” says Post. “Ask that question as though it’s perfectly fine if there are conditions—it lets you know their expectations so you can say, if need be, ‘I really want the freedom of choice on this one so I’ll respectfully decline your help.’”
Don’t bring up how much more they gave your sister five years ago
No, it’s not because they love you less—the reason may be that they simply had more to give back then. Now they may be saving every penny to retire in a few years, have a huge medical debt to pay off, or are earning much less. Whatever the reason, don’t dwell on it; instead, keep your eye on creating a spectacular wedding with the funds you do have. “The more you keep focusing on how great you’re going to make your wedding, the less you’ll think about what your sister had,” says Post.
Be gracious, even if they offer nothing
As disappointed as you may feel, you should be understanding—they may feel worse. “If they say, ‘We can’t do anything for you,’ say, ‘I’m so glad we asked,” says Post, “so now we know how to move forward with the planning.’”