It's no secret that getting married can be a pricey venture. As a wedding photographer, I hear so many of my couples say at some point during the planning process: "I wish I could elope, there's just so many things we have to pay for".

First of all, I'm here to remind you, potentially-stressed-bride-in-the-middle-of-wedding-planning, that you are free to choose what you want to spend money on for your wedding day. Despite the pressure from your parents, in-laws, friends, society, wedding blogs, or that checklist from the Knot reminding you to book vendors you've never heard of, you are not under any obligation to do anything other than get married. I know that it's tough to ignore the voices chiming in with opinions and must-dos (I got married 3.5 years ago myself) but you'll truly be happiest if you stick to doing what you want to do. You don't *need* traditional cake, a photobooth, an extravagant floral ceiling display, an 8 hour reception, or whatever thing just popped in your head that's causing you stress. Do your wedding your way!

If you're getting married in the Catholic Church, you were probably surprised to find out that there are stipends/donations/fees associated with the sacrament when you went in to the office to pick your date. If you haven't done that yet, you'll soon find out! The Catechism does state that simony, the buying or selling of sacred things, is forbidden. Sacraments aren't for sale, and just because it's custom to do something doesn't make it necessary. However, it is appropriate for the bride and the groom to, in their joy and generosity, support the Church with a donation. You can get married for free - if you get married on a Sunday during the normal liturgy. To privately reserve the church for a few hours, pay for the electricity, water, cleaning cost post wedding ceremony, have the organist come play, the priest say an additional Mass with altar servers, and have people around to staff the church on their off day costs something and your stipend offsets that cost. Who else would pay for it otherwise? The church or the parishioners. Also, there are lots of people who like the aesthetic of a Catholic church without necessarily believing or professing what it teaches, so this also keeps the church from being used improperly.

Traditionally there are three or four stipends expected from the couple for a Catholic wedding:

1. Donation to the church

Depending on the parish, some couples are expected to donate to the actual church. For historic cathedrals or parishes, this cost often goes towards the ongoing restoration and upkeep of the church itself. Some parishes waive this fee for parishioners and some just discount it. There's not really a typical price either, it varies greatly across dioceses and churches.

When I got married, my parish allowed us to get married there for no cost since I had been a lifelong member, but my husband's parish asked for a stipend of $250 for parishioners. We also looked at getting married at the cathedral in Atlanta, but we weren't parishioners so it would've been $12oo for us to use the church. If your parish is not clear about the donation policy, ask the church office what is expected for this one!

2. Donation to the wedding coordinator & musicians

The church wedding coordinator is often an important part of the wedding day for a Catholic wedding. Many Catholic brides don't hire wedding planners or separate coordinators (although you should, ask me why), so these coordinators do things like run your wedding rehearsal, make sure the church is prepared for the wedding day, direct guests and organize family members the morning of, release your wedding party to go down the aisle, communicate with the musicians and priest, handle your marriage license, and lots more. It's customary to pay for this person's time and all the work they put into making your wedding Mass go smoothly! Most donations/stipends are around $100-$150.

In addition to an organist, your wedding Mass might feature a cantor, instrumentalists, or additional singers. Musicians' fees also vary, but should be outlined in your church's wedding policies. Some churches charge a sitting fee if you don't opt to use their organist, so keep that in mind when budgeting. Most organists fall in the $175-$250 range. Again, this pays for their time to rehearse your music and play for an hour on a Saturday!

3. Donation to the priest & others

The services of the priest are free, but many parishes have a suggested donation amount. This honestly will vary priest to priest too. You'll want to consider their time and effort put into your marriage prep and their time for the wedding Mass and rehearsal! We had three priests at our wedding Mass, and we gave our main celebrant a stipend of around $75 (he did not do our marriage prep), the priest who did our marriage prep a gift of $50 and his favorite bottle of bourbon, and a nice bottle of whiskey to our third priest who was my husband's spiritual director. If you don't know what to give, you can ask the church office what's customary.

In addition to the priests, if you have altar servers it's customary to tip them. I had my brothers as altar servers, so I did not tip them (family perks!). $20-$50 per server is the usual amount.

Place any stipends or donations in clearly marked envelopes before the wedding day. Your church might require them to be turned in with your marriage prep paperwork, otherwise you'll be expected to hand them out yourself. My recommendation is that you give the celebrant priest his prior to the Mass, and delegate a trusted family member with the task of handing out the rest after the Mass so that they aren't forgotten!

Remember that in the grand scheme of things, the thing that matters most is the wedding Mass. If you're spending thousands of dollars on your reception, a couple of hundred dollars is not much in comparison.

Also if you're looking for a wedding photographer for your Catholic wedding day, I am one!! Catholic weddings are my favorite thing ever, so let's chat about yours!