My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, January 27, 2020

My child is engaged. Do I pay for the wedding?

Late last year my colleague Carmen McHale popped by The Blunt Bean Counter to answer a question we hear a lot: Should I pay for my child’s university education?

This week I asked Carmen to come back and share her thoughts on whether parents should pay for a child’s wedding. Paying for a wedding brings up different questions from those parents ask about paying for university. But the two topics share a core theme: when parents need to cut the financial cord with their kids.

Almost everyone who has children tackles the issue at one point or another. Carmen deals with it here and wraps up with some final thoughts on teaching your children about financial responsibility.

By Carmen McHale

Weddings challenge parents to make a bunch of difficult decisions in advance of the happy occasion. One of them is finances.

Many cannot fathom not paying for their child’s wedding, at least in part. But a wedding can easily cost upwards of $50,000, so paying for even half of that can set your retirement back a year or two.

Let’s say you agree to pay half the cost – $25,000. What does that do to your retirement? If you could invest that $25,000 at 4.5% over 20 years, you will lose $60,000 in retirement savings. (This is assuming after-tax dollars.) If you are struggling to save for retirement like most Canadians, that $60,000 pays for one year of retirement. By covering half of your child’s wedding, you may have to retire a year later. Now consider that for two, three or four children – the costs begin to add up.

In practice, parents generally follow one of these courses of action, moving from covering no costs of the wedding to covering the entire cost. Parents:
  • Do not cover any costs, because they believe their children should stand on their own two feet
  • Do not cover any costs, because the wedding does not fit their budget
  • Assist child with the costs
  • Pay the full cost of the wedding and then ask their child to repay some of the outlay using wedding gifts
  • Pay the full cost of the wedding because their bank account can foot the bill
  • Pay the full cost of the wedding, even though it stretches their finances, because we love our children and want to help them in any way we can. (Just remember that this may affect your retirement.)
Deciding whether to pay for a wedding brings a host of financial complications that don’t stay in the family. If parents do pay – which set of parents should pay? And how should they divide the cost? What if one set of parents doesn’t have the same financial means as the other, or has completely different views about paying? These matrimonial nuances have spurred the imaginations of sitcom writers and generated a range of formulas to divide the financial hurt.

In the end, while easier said than done, parents need to do their best to separate their emotional concerns and love for their children, from their financial concerns when paying for a wedding; or else, the financial pain may be felt in retirement.    

Teaching financial independence to your children

My husband and I are blessed with a 13-year-old daughter, and she has been learning how to manage her money since she was six (that’s what happens when your mom is a financial advisor).

We used to give her a weekly allowance in loonies and toonies so she could learn how much a dollar would buy. She has now graduated to having her own bank account and has developed the skills to save for larger items, like a new headboard for her bedroom (the proudest moment for her mom).

It is important to teach children to make their way in the world – after all, that is what we are tasked with as parents. Part of this teaching should include finance, and it should start at a young age. Make children responsible for something – their allowance is just one example.

To help older children become financially literate, first come up with a budget and make them responsible for it. If that doesn’t work for them, help them understand they have two options: spend less or earn more. Either way, the bank of Mom and Dad is closed. This lesson in financial responsibility will hopefully keep them from a lifetime of dependence.

The decision of whether or not to pay for a wedding finds its roots in habits modeled and learned in childhood. If you plan ahead, the conversation about finances with your newly engaged child will be just one in a chain of chats – and if you have taught them how money works, they likely have thought about this already. This will help avoid the surprise that can add strain to the parent-child relationship.

BDO Canada LLP senior wealth advisor Carmen McHale is based in Calgary and helps entrepreneurs and professionals create comprehensive wealth plans.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.


  1. I had no expectation of my parents paying for my wedding. We were conservative, married on a campground - but it still cost around $15,000. My parents wound up gifting us the bar - they bought the alcohol and gave us the cash from the $2 bar. It was a big gift! I hope to be able to do something similar for my children if they choose to get married. A gift, without expectation. Something that will help ease the burden, or send them off with some fun money for a honey moon.

    1. Thx for sharing - a gift without expectation - not the standard these days -