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Monday, December 29, 2008

Advice: The Wedding--Who Should Foot the Bill?

Henry and Anita Siegel's 1937 Wedding (Aunt Savvy's in-laws)

My daughter Angie and her fiance Michael have just announced that they are engaged and plan to get married in two years. When I asked why they were waiting so long--they have been living together for the past two years--Angie said, "I want to have the wedding of my dreams, and we want to give you and Dad some time to save up for it."

Aunt Savvy, I know that all the etiquette books tell you that the bride's parents are responsible for hosting the wedding, but I was taken aback. Of course we want Angie to have a very special day, but my husband and I are struggling to send three children through college (they all work and contribute toward their books and tuition, but still, most of their expenses fall on us). We have already funded Angie's education and would like to offer the other children the same benefit. To "host" an expensive wedding would really set us back for years, especially in this shaky economy; on a day to day basis, we don't even know if we'll be keeping our jobs.

We would love to host a simple reception in our church hall; I'm even willing to cook the food myself and bake the cake (or have the local supermarket do it), and I know my sisters would help out with decorations and wedding dress, but Angie has her heart set on the most expensive hotel ballroom and caterer in town, and the wedding dress she wants will cost low four figures.

But Angie wants what she wants.

How can I tell Angie that if she wants a lavish wedding and designer wedding gown, she and Michael will have to pay for it themselves?
--My Name is Not Money-bags

While Aunt Savvy finds most rules of etiquette chock full of common sense, she wishes to rewrite them when it comes to the modern wedding and who pays for what. Current wedding etiquette is premised on the social construct that a daughter is a liability who needs to be married off ASAP, so to finalize the acceptance of the liability being passed to the bridegroom's family, a dowry is paid to his family. Moreover, the bride's family is expected to host the ceremony and reception, which signifies the closing of the deal: the bride now belongs to the bridegroom's family.

Hummm. This premise is definitely at odds with the modern liberated young woman who has come a long way, baby.

That aside, for the sake of argument, let's assume that on some level this custom is still relevant and that you will be expected to foot the bill. How you decide to foot it and how much you have to spend should be up to you and your husband, not your petulant daughter.

Aunt Savvy has been around long enough to remember wedding receptions taking place in church or fire halls, with the Ladies' Auxiliary hosting and catering them. The rice was still thrown, the pictures taken by a friend or uncle, the food often very good, the booze still flowing, the DJ a high school kid and a record player hooked up to a microphone, and wedding cake smashed into each other's faces, but on a much lower budget.

Sigh. Those days seem to be gone forever; young women these days seem to plan and spend more for The Wedding Day, which is more like a major choreographed production, and less for the marriage itself, which is probably one reason why so many marriages seem to fail. One wonders if young couples really sit down to discuss important issues, such as religion, children, finances, politics, interests, and how their overall goals and values mesh.

But Aunt Savvy digresses.

In your case, a return to these simpler values might be in order. Certainly, Not Money-bags, you and your husband should sit down and decide how much you can afford. Then the two of you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with your daughter and fiance and offer to host the wedding and reception on a budget. As you show your maximum number, do so with firm kindness. Just say something like, "We're happy to help out to the extent that we can do so without going into debt and depriving your brothers and sisters."

If Angie insists that she must have the wedding of her dreams, then let her know that she and Michael will be paying for it and that you will give your maximum as a money gift. If you have raised your daughter right, she will understand and accept these conditions. If not, again in calm voice, repeat your terms and suggest that she and Michael talk it over and crunch the numbers for themselves. Remind her how much you love her and how much you wish you could give more.

Once Angie and Michael realize the costs involved, they may rethink your offer to scale back the extravaganza and involve you in the planning. But if they don't and proceed on their own, you may have to step back and allow them to plan their wedding without your help--that is, unless you're asked specifically for advice.

Of course, if Michael's family is well-heeled and offers to pay, Aunt Savvy sees no reason why you should refuse. However, even if you know that his family is rich, do not approach your daughter's future in-laws or even Michael with this suggestion. Chances are, Michael will know best if he should ask his wealthy parents for wedding funds. It could be that they are steeped deep in tradition and would be mortified if their friends knew they were asked to pay for the wedding.

For those of you who are planning your own weddings, there are ways to cut expenses:
--Elope ("The Golden Ladder"). Kidding aside...

--Rent your wedding dress, or have it made by a crafty family member who may be happy to do this as your wedding present. Certainly better than that re-gifted toaster she was planning to palm off on you.

--Arrange to marry during off season; reception hall rentals tend to be cheaper in January than in June.

--Have your local supermarket bake the cake--they often do a fantastic job at the fraction of the cost.

--Have your local supermarket arrange your flowers for the reception tables.

--Create your own wedding favors for guests.
Don't skimp on
--Wedding photography and video recording.

--DJ services (a professional is less likely to run afoul of copyright laws regarding the commercial use of music).

--Floral sprays for the bride and corsages for the bride, groom, parents, and grandparents.
Finally, Aunt Savvy would like to share a memory:

She and her first husband were dirt poor, and her future in-laws had four children still at home; in addition, her own parents were dead set against the marriage.

Her wedding and reception took place at her home. Her future mother-law-baked the cake, a lemon sponge cake with lemon icing, topped off by a real yellow rose. It was a hot day, and the cake started listing to the side. The rose and part of the icing slid off onto the cake plate. By cake-cutting time, the top layer was half off and definitely lopsided, a little like the Tower of Pisa.

But you know what? Although the marriage didn't last, she will always remember that cake with fondness because it was made with loving hands, not some impersonal baker. In fact, Aunt Savvy still admires her ex-mother-in-law, although she has not been married to her son since 1980.

So, dear readers, when all is said and done, The Wedding Day reception is just an overblown party. The most important aspect should be the marriage itself, which (if approached properly) will join together two people who are totally committed to making their union work and raising lovely children.


Note: This is not a real question, but a what-if scenario based on a possible family problem. Aunt Savvy will always disclose when a question is based on a scenario.

Aunt Savvy would be pleased to consider answering your real questions for this site.

If you you would like to add anything or don't like Aunt Savvy's advice, comment to this post (Comments are moderated, so please don't double post).

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