Engaged couples aren't the only ones facing big wedding bills.
Even as brides and grooms pick up more of the tab for their nuptials, parents are often still on the hook for a big part of the budget. In 2016, just 1 in 10 couples paid for their wedding entirely by themselves, according to The Knot's annual Real Weddings survey of nearly 13,000 couples.
Parents of the bride and groom collectively contribute about $19,000 to the wedding, or about two-thirds of the total cost, according to a new report from marketplace WeddingWire.com. That breaks down to an average $12,000 from the bride's parents, and $7,000 from the groom's.
This spring, the site polled 506 parents, each of whom has a recently married child.
The shift in who pays for the wedding is coming from both generations, said Anne Chertoff, trends expert for WeddingWire. Couples are getting engaged later, when they have their own assets and income to spend — and they often want to have more influence over the planning, she said.
Parents whose retirement prospects and financial security have taken a hard hit in the recession may also be more apt to push back against those old wedding traditions that they shoulder the whole bill.
"A lot of parents are just saying, 'We're going to spend what we can afford,'" Chertoff said.
But missteps still abound. One-third of parents in the WeddingWire survey said they spent more on their child's wedding than they initially budgeted. One in 5 used a credit card to finance their contribution, and 10 percent dipped into a retirement account.
Here's how to strategize around contributing to your child's wedding:
It's critical to step back and look at your own finances before pledging money for the wedding budget, said certified financial planner Liz Revenko, senior financial planner at Mosaic Financial Partners in San Francisco. You might find that you need those savings or income to catch up on retirement savings or meet another high-priority goal.
"Overspending now so that your child has to help you financially in retirement is not a gift any bride or groom really wants," she said. "If that happens, it's not a gift — it's a loan with heavy interest."
Roughly 1 in 4 parents in the WeddingWire survey set aside cash specifically for their child's wedding. More than half of those started saving when that child was a teenager.
That early of a start may not be realistic for families with other goals and expenses competing for their paycheck, said Brett Anderson, a certified financial planner and the president of St. Croix Advisors in Hudson, Wisconsin. But with the average engagement lasting more than a year, you could comb through your budget to see if there's room to save a little with each paycheck.
"If it's really important to have money for the wedding, then this is your opportunity to cut other things," he said.
But if you're pledging money you don't yet have toward the wedding budget, make sure that goal is reasonable and attainable even if a financial emergency arises, Anderson said. You don't want to be in the position of damaging your own finances to keep a promise — or your child's, by failing to come through.
Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page about your wedding contribution and limits, said Anderson. Weddings can trigger a lot of emotions, he said, and it's not unusual to see one spouse overspending.
Wedding experts typically advise engaged couples to reach out to family early in their wedding planning process, to see if they are able and want to provide financial help. Don't wait. Go ahead and initiate that talk.
"It's super important that you have that [money] conversation early in the process," Chertoff said.
That way, your child won't make any assumptions about what you might or might not contribute — or worse, make a purchase or sign a vendor contract based on that fictional figure. Be specific about how much you want to give, and any specific expectations for that money (like being able to invite a table of your own friends, or having personalized wine bottles as the guest favor).
A family wedding money talk is also a good opportunity to plant the seeds of how that money might be used responsibly, said certified financial planner Chris Balcerowiak, a vice president with Ameriprise Financial Services in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Budgeting wisely could give the young couples cash left over for a home purchase, reducing student loan debt or another goal.
In the WeddingWire survey, nearly 6 in 10 parents said they agreed to pay for particular items or vendors. If that's the route you want to go, research prices before you make such a pledge, said Chertoff.
The site often hears from brides whose parents have sticker shock over the going rate for say, a wedding cake or a top-notch photographer, especially in a big city. The average costs in 2016 for those services was $500 and $2,400, respectively, according to WeddingWire data.
Advance research might help you better frame your contribution to keep you and your child within budget, she said. For example, "I'd like to pay for the wedding band, up to $2,000." (That average spend? $3,700.)