Question: My girlfriend and I just got engaged, and now it's time to start the wedding planning. What would you say is customary and appropriate as far as paying the bill these days? Should it be split evenly? Divided proportionally by guests? Is the bride's family still expected to foot the majority of the bill? Thanks.
Answer: Thank you so much for asking, because it gives me a chance to say: Pleeeease start your planning with the goal of paying for the whole thing yourselves. Not with credit cards, either, but with your savings.
If you have no savings, then read that as a message to start managing your money like the grown-ups you are.
If you have only enough savings to pay for a small wedding, then read that as a message to live the life you can afford, and have a small wedding.
If you have enough savings to stage a Wedzilla for the ages, then use that as a discussion starter about treating the things you need as the baseline for your decisions, and not whatever shiny things you can have.
And if your families respond to your minimalist wedding plans with offers to help with the costs, treat that extra money as a frill. Think in terms of fashion, or home decorating: Piling on everything you can get rarely looks as elegant as you think it will, and tends to look tacky instead. Same goes with weddings. Pick what reflects who you are and refuse the rest.
Besides, any gift can come with strings; even if your families don't use money as a means of hijacking your plans, taking something from them now that you don't need may keep you from getting something later that you do need.
If all this sounds anti-fun, then consider asking around - include your fiancee, and see how people feel now about their weddings, large and small. Ask people in happy marriages, strained ones, even veterans of failed ones. If you find you identify with certain people more than others, you'll see preferences start to take shape.