Y’all, it’s Friday! Hurrah! And that means it’s time for Ask Team Practical with Alyssa. Today we’re talking about a tough question: what do you do if your parents want to contribute to your wedding, but aren’t really in a position to do so? For me this is a question about wedding budgets, but it’s also a question about adulthood. What do you do when you have to parent your parents? How do you tell your parents no – and not, “No, I don’t agree with you,” but “No, you can’t help me out in that way, because I care about you, and that’s not the best choice for you.” There are no easy answers, but this is Alyssa, so we do get wisdom like, “letting their pride write checks that their butt can’t cash.” So happy Friday, and amen to that.
My wedding is next summer in my hometown in Florida. My fellow and I live in NYC, both in graduate school, and both broke in that hopeful, scraping-by way that as only graduate students can be. Sure, it would make sense to wait a year and make some money and then get married, but we’ve been waiting and we are ready to be married. [Editor's note: f*ck yes!] His family has given us a small wedding fund and we are creative, penny-saving folks so we are making it work with that money. Sure, doing it on a budget is sometimes stressful, especially from this far away, but that’s cool, we all know that.
The problem is my family. They are the only ones living in the city where we are having the wedding and they are outrageously good at being terrible with money. They have a long history of painful money problems, including home foreclosure, borrowing tons of money, bankruptcy, and (in the last few months) job loss. We have made it clear that we are aware that they won’t be able to help, but they continue to make promises of the “oh we’ll make ____ work” variety, and I know, from them, these sort of things can unravel a lovely time. They are from the South, and feel on some level that they “owe” their daughter a wedding. I’m a big girl, and don’t care if they can’t give any time or money, but find myself sensitive to what will undoubtedly be their broken promises when I try and give them some way to help. While one side of the family is purchasing week-long beach castles, I worry that the other won’t even come through with the three fans they have promised to rent.
So how to include all family members, when money is a ridiculously touchy subject, when one side has far more than the other, and when I am far more sensitive about my parents money problems than I should be at this point in life?
This is very tough. Your parents’ hearts are in the right place, but as you said, they’re gonna have trouble with the follow-through. This is another example of an area in which weddings do not change things; just because their daughter is getting married doesn’t mean that your parents suddenly get better at handling their finances.
Let’s start with finances in general. Have you had a serious talk with your family on what they are going to contribute? Families are notorious for being vague, they like to say things like, “Oh, we can pay for X. As long as it doesn’t cost too much…” Anyone dealing with familial financial contributions need to nail down what exactly that “too much” is. Are they offering to pay for specific things, no matter the cost, or are they giving you a check? Will they contribute as the process goes along, or are you paying out of pocket and they’re reimbursing you later? It’s a tough discussion, but it needs to happen so that they are not saddled with a large bill they didn’t expect and you are not left scrambling to find another vendor when they don’t pay for your first one. Iron out numbers, how they want to pay, and when they will be paying.
Since you know there will be differences in the amounts that both sides contribute, keep those discussions private. If anyone asks, your parents contributed as much as they could and as much as you were comfortable with, and that’s that. Letting either side know the details of the contribution is just going to set the stage for bad feelings; your family will be sad they couldn’t help more and his family might be resentful that they are bearing the bulk of the budget.
As far as your parents’ contributions, you’ve known they probably won’t be able to help, and beyond that you’ve listed a lot of reasons that it is better that they don’t. So, game plan! Continue to plan your wedding using your money and your fiance’s family’s money, and stop counting on them to come through financially. If they do, it’ll be a nice surprise and you’ll tell them how much it means to you. If they don’t, you’re already covered, and won’t have to scramble last minute.
Your family will be there with you for the rest of your lives and they will contribute to your life in ways that money cannot measure. Just because they can’t contribute monetarily doesn’t mean they can’t be a meaningful part of your wedding. There may be other ways that they can help, especially since they are in the town in which you’ll be getting married. Maybe closer to the wedding, they help you handle logistics. Ask them to put together your favors, or come dress shopping with you, or weigh in on floral arrangements. Or maybe your mom is just a good shoulder to cry on. That stuff is important too.
You’re allowed to be a little sensitive about your family’s finances. Nobody likes their family’s faults or dirty laundry brought to light, especially if your fiance’s family seems to be doing better than yours. Just keep remembering what you already know; your wedding is not a show and family contributions are not a competition. It’s disappointing to be promised something and then not have it delivered, and it sounds like this is something you’ve been dealing with for a long time. And that’s hard. It is absolutely NO FUN to realize that you might be a little more grown-up or responsible than your parents, but that’s part of the growing up process. And it BLOWS. Stupid adulthood. On the plus side, you can eat Twizzlers for dinner and no one can tell you no. It’s a mixed bag.
In the end, you can’t keep your family from wanting to help, or from letting their pride write checks that their butt can’t cash. You can try to re-emphasize the need for their support, rather than their money, but that may not work. In the end, the best thing you can do is protect yourself, financially and emotionally. Plan your wedding as if you didn’t have their financial support, and then anything they give you will be a nice windfall. Appreciate that you’re learning from their mistakes and that you’ve got your fiance’s family to help some financially.
You are a seriously smart cookie and you already know what to expect, just keep listening to your rational side. Hopefully, your parents will surprise all of us and you’ll have a great wedding grad story to tell. And if not, you’ll have an even better one about how two poor New York graduate students put on a creative, kick-as*tastic wedding in small town in Florida with help from only one side of the family. Either one will be an amazing story because it ends the same way, with you married! WOO!
So, Team Practical, how did you deal with disproportionate family contributions? Did it cause problems in your planning, or in your relationship with your partner?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). Seriously. We love sign-offs. Make your editors happy.