Paying For Your Child’s Wedding

Life is expensive.  Weddings are more so.  The average cost of a wedding in Canada is now between $22,000 and $25,000.  This is the equivalent of 4 years tuition today – an astronomical number for those who were married a generation earlier for far less than half the price.

The increased popularity of TV shows that promote a fairy tale princess wedding is only inflating the cost further as bride competitiveness (and industry profit-making) force wedding budgets higher.  If you care to watch, you’ll hear judgments heaped on those who have a small variety of hors d’oeuvres at cocktail hour, or skimp on center pieces, or ‘go cheap’ in any number of ways.

Of course the flip-side is that by financing a large part of a wedding, some couples add so much stress to their marriage (via crushing debt) that it actually risks their demise.

This is where parents may come in.  No parent wants their newly-wed child to start their life out on the wrong foot.  And helping pay for the wedding is an obvious place to assist after the cost of schooling is figured out.  History shows that parents’ responsibility for footing the entire wedding bill goes back many centuries (parents of daughters in particular), but in my opinion some traditions weren’t meant to last.

The average age of first-time married individuals in Canada is now 31 (men) and 28 (women).  They are usually full-grown adults with life experience and the ability to make informed decisions.  Most have started out their careers, are earning income, and may even know the pain of debt.  Who better to make decisions about their own wedding?  Before stepping into the fray as a parent of the bride or groom, beware that planning weddings can become a hotbed of Expectations, Emotions and Expenses (what I call the 3 E’s).

Here’s one piece of advice to manage these E’s a little better for parents of the bride or groom:  Decide how much you can afford to give the engaged couple, and give it to them without strings.

If the desired wedding budget is more than you – and the other parents/donors – offer, it then becomes the engaged couple’s choice to fund the difference.  Being transparent with the amount up-front is important so planning can be informed and the couple can decide for themselves what wedding they want and what they can afford.

If parents offer to pay for the dress, or the reception or some other specific item, conflict can arise.  The dollar range for these can be huge, but blank cheques aren’t typically implied.  Better to say “We’d like to contribute $6,000 to the day” than to say, “We’d like to pay for the reception hall and meal”.  It also makes it easier to follow-through with similar promises to other siblings coming along (who are probably taking notes) to maintain equal gifting.

Finally, don’t be tempted to match what the other parents offer.  Each family is unique and is in a different financial position and sees these things differently.  Offering something that you can afford and are comfortable with is what you should do.  It won’t be the last gifting opportunity, so try to stay within a range that is reasonable for you.

Whatever you decide, communication is the key.  Let the engaged couple know what you are able to contribute so they can make decisions accordingly.  Don’t be the family who is forced to figure out how the Big Day will be paid for after the Big Day.  Don’t leave your child wondering what you’ll be contributing.  Empower your adult children with clear gifts without strings.  They’ll thank you later.

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