Ask Team Practical: Family Financial Contributions

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.

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  • My mother couldn’t afford to contribute much to my wedding. She just … couldn’t. However, like when I was in college, though she couldn’t pay my tuition, she bought me groceries when I came home to visit, to take back to school; she gave me her old car when she bought a new one; she loaded up my munch money card; etc. Little things that she could manage, that still added up in a big way.

    So, she did the same for my wedding. She went dress shopping with me and paid for my wedding dress (she wanted to pay for my accessories, too, but independent me went and bought them before she had a chance …), and she paid for me and my bridesmaid to get our hair done the day of the wedding. She also threw me a shower (along with her two best friends, who are like aunts). These were the ways she could comfortably contribute to our day, and, just like in college, it added up in a big way. My husband and I paid for most of our wedding ourselves, but it was important to my mom to have a meaningful contribution.

    So, find ways that they can contribute in meaningful ways without busting their budgets and worrying about broken promises. It’s important to THEM to do something meaningful for you, so let them. But, like Alyssa said, have a backup plan.

    • this is exactly what my mom and i did, and it worked out so well. alyssa’s advice regarding sitting down and actually talking about finances with your parents applies even if your family is going to contribute in a different way. early in the planning process my mother and i were both so stressed about finances for independent reasons (she wanted to help but couldn’t, i knew i shouldn’t expect help, but still kind of did because i hadn’t figured out how to let go of the idea that the bride’s parents should contribute more to the wedding). once we made a list of concrete things we wanted my family to help with and his family to help with and then asked for the help, all parties involved were able to breathe easier and enjoy the process. and people were thrilled with the unique ways they were able to help us (his mom sent us her antique jar collection, my mom helped with my dress and alterations, the men in both families were tasked with finding bolo ties and cowboy boots, etc.).

  • Nicole

    My father and my to-be-life-partner’s family are both contribting to the wedding. My dad gave us a small set amount (which was awesome of him!) and the beau’s parents gave us a list of things they want to pay for (also, awesome). My mom cannot contribute financially. I know this. She knows this but it in denial. I have my excel spreadsheet and everything for the wedding is pretty much being done through us so neither side is really aware of what the others contributed. My main squeeze is going back to school next year so we are doing all we can to save our big chunk before then (are are doing surprisingly decent at this job). I am invited everyone to be a part of the decisions and give their advice and opinions but no one knows how much anyone else is contributing. This is kind of easy for me because I have always been really independent with decisions and procedures, etc. My mom’s main concern is the wording on the invitation but the other parents care not and we are really laid back so our wording is pretty much going to be “you’re invited!” instead of “Nicole & Tom, together with their parents, Mom, Dad, Mom & Dad…” Problem solved. For me. Also, I am going to have my mom help with my DIY projects and things of that nature so she can be sure to feel involved. I also remind her of little things like “you raised me so you really contributed a lot to this wedding by, you know, bringing me in the world, shaping me into a person who would love and be loved by a totally awesome dude.” I assume this will start sinking in around the 200th time :)
    Good luck! Who knew weddings were so political?

    • Emily

      I think its really lovely you can say to your Mom:

      “you raised me so you really contributed a lot to this wedding by, you know, bringing me in the world, shaping me into a person who would love and be loved by a totally awesome dude.”

      Because, really, what is more important than that? I really hope your Mom knows and believes it.

  • Cass

    This situation is all too familiar to me, too. It gives good practice in being flexible. Because no matter what else, I will be getting married. Everything else is just a special happy extra.

  • Anonymous Coward

    Going anonymous for this one.

    My FH and I aren’t in the set-in-stone, date set, kind of wedding planning mode, but we’ve been discussing it a lot lately. FH’s parents are still married (25+ years, happily), mine are not. FH’s parents are pretty stable financially, though they’ve seen better years. And as much as my parents may love me, both of them are in equally shitty financial situations. Difference being that my mom will be open & honest with me when she tells me she can’t afford something, and my dad is a people pleaser in the same sense that the OP’s question regards: “Oh sure, sweetheart, I want to do ________” but then never comes through.

    In a perfect world, my mom (and my dad) would love to pay for, if not at least contribute to, my future wedding. But I’ve already warned FH ahead of time that he and I are going to be doing this on our own, with no contributions from them ((and then, if for some reason they do contribute, happy surprise!)). I have no idea whether his family would want to contribute, but I don’t expect them to. I’d be thrilled if they did, but the other thing to keep in mind is that money almost always comes with strings attached.

    I’m okay with my situation, though. FH and I are creative mofos. We’ll figure it all out. :)

    • another cowardly lion

      Also going anon!
      Same situation. Husband’s parents are still very happily married and sensible with money, though by no means rich. My parents are bitterly divorced, with my mother broke and my father not good with money. From the start we knew we’d be paying for everything ourselves, including flights/accomodation for my mother if we wanted her to be there. My father kept offering to pay for some things, but not saying what amount he wanted to contribute. So we kept on planning as though we had no outside help, thinking if anything came it would be a bonus, and if not, we wouldn’t be upset. In the end, about a month from the wedding, he gave us a nice contribution which was unexpected and helpful. My husbands parents did the same at the wedding, which we are putting toward the honeymoon (not yet taken).
      As for wording on the invitations, though we were planning on paying for everything ourselves, we wanted to recognise the part our parents all made in getting us to this point, so we put:
      Together with their families, XXXX & XXXX . I thought it was a nice way of being inclusive without inferring anything.

      • Third Lion!

        I hear you! My parents are divorced (though fortunately not uber-bitterly) and although they are okay with money now I definitely remember times where something was promised and little was delivered. I know they mean well but it does hurt when you’re disappointed by a parent. A strong memory is my sister needing a computer for school & asking for a Mac. My dad happily promised and on Christmas my sister opened her gift to find a bright turquoise clamshell. This was 2008ish and the computer was easily from 1999. She couldn’t even get Internet. She would have gladly taken something else, if my dad had told her he couldn’t afford it but he’s a “people pleaser” too.

        My intended’s parents are even worse. They truly are extravagant and broke. They also have a problem making promises they can’t keep even without it directly involving money. When he graduated from Navy boot camp they promised they’d be there. Nothing. Similar performances make him strongly doubt they’ll be at our wedding. They promise, but have often had to cancel at the last second for seemingly important reasons. This time, his stepfather is really sick, so of course, they have a real reason for potentially not being able to come, it just also reminds him of all those other times he’s been disappointed and it hurts.

  • Jess

    For my wedding, we dealt with the potential problem of disproportionate family contributions by paying for the wedding ourselves. My family has money, and would have probably contributed if we asked, and his parents live paycheck to paycheck and could not have helped. I am so glad that we ended up having a small wedding that we could afford to pay for ourselves, and that our families were not financially involved at all. It saved a lot of potential hassle, and helped us draw a line of “look, this is an event that we are throwing, and we will do what we damn well please.”

    That said, it helped that our families are both super easygoing about weddings and were happy to let us take charge. I know that plenty of people might want to pay 100% for their own weddings to take control, and that their families then try to “buy their way in” so that they can invite more people for their side and whatnot. And I also know that paying for your own wedding is not a financial option for many people. But for us, it was SO SO SO the right choice that helped us avoid what could have been an awkward inter-family financial situation.

  • We also had an uneven family contribution to our wedding. My parents give each of us children the same amount for our wedding, and we can use it however we want (all on the dress, elope and spend the money on a down payment, etc.). This is great because I knew going in what the amount would be, we had the money upfront to spend along the way, and my parents didn’t tie their contribution to being able to weigh in on the decisions we made.

    My husband and his family never got around to talking about if there would be any financial contribution on their part. My husband has been totally independent for a number of years and didn’t want to rely on them. We didn’t factor their support into the budget at all. I felt it was his role to initiate that conversation. At the very last minute – the week of the wedding – they offered to cover the rehearsal dinner. It got awkward because I wasn’t sure at the end of the meal if anyone had taken care of the bill.

    Two different approaches, and I definitely prefer the upfront, sooner rather than later discussion with the family.

  • clampers

    What?! No post on the Royal Wedding?!

    • We’re waiting on Kate’s grad post.

      • clampers

        HA! Love it.

      • JEM

        HAHAHAHAHHA! Alyssa! <3

      • Hypothetical Sarah

        Something about when one side has a lot more money than the other side and has lots of demands to go along with it, perhaps? :)

      • m

        I’m sure there’s a lot of family dynamics there.

        • Emily

          Not to mention expectations of the whole NATION (nay, world?!)

          I can imagine the conversations now. “No you cannot have a barefoot beach/Vegas elopement/coloured dress/DIY/courthouse/social hall/woodlands inspired wedding. You simply MUST get married in the church and you may not DIY 1900 invitations.”

          • meredythbyrd

            I’d love to hear what you all thought about the wedding For my part, I thought they did a good job balancing the heavy weight of traditions, expectations and pomp and circumstance with their own intimate moments, and there were even traces of APW’s message about it. I also have always liked the C of E language and am a big Anglophile anyway.

  • e.

    my parents had a set amount for our wedding that they’d been saving for a while and his parents wanted to split the wedding costs 50/50. so we were very fortunate in that way – but the way each of our families handled their contribution was very different and it caused some (temporary but significant) issues with my parents. the amount my parents had was supposed to be ours to do whatever we wanted with but they were pretty sure we’d elope/have a really small ceremony and use the rest as a down payment on a house or something. (they weren’t crazy to think this, its what i had always thought!) when our wedding turned out to be larger and a bit more traditional, we had the funds to do it. our (well, my) mistake was not having my parents actually give us the money so we could spend it as we pleased. instead, they remained in control of the set amount. they also didn’t want to accept his parents contribution, only if we ‘used up’ their amount first. at the end of the day, both sets of parents did split the costs 50/50, which meant we didn’t use up the entire amount my parents had budgeted. in my opinion, that leftover amount was still ours (towards a down payment on house example above) but my mom disagreed and we never got the money.

    i realize we were super fortunate that both sets of parents were able to contribute in the ways they did. but whatever the situation, to echo comments above – set the rules and expectations first. had my parents actually gifted us the money like initially intended, we would have avoided a lot of problems.

  • Great post! I handled this situation by making sure all contributers knew that from the bottom of my heart, I did not want anything to happen that was not comfortable. My Dad actually offered to take out a loan to help pay for the wedding! No Dad, what you are able to pay is more than generous, and nobody is going into debt so that we can get married. Then my Aunt offered to pay for my dress (before she found out how much they cost). Instead I asked her to put down a deposit on the dress, and not a penny more than what she was comfortable contributing. These decisions have strengthened my relationships with all involved. Also, my advise is that it is easier to get a check from anyone contributing than to ask them to pay for something specific. That way you find the deals you want, not the deals that they want.

  • Ahhh, finances. BOO. I was in a very similar situation, only reversed (my parents being financially stable, his being less so).

    “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.”

    YES. YES YES YES. My husband has struggled with this his whole life. It isn’t the financial struggle itself, it’s the anticipation and disappointment that can be crushing. We spoke very carefully with his parents and made sure that we kept our expectations reasonable. We turned to them for emotional support, for their affection and help. His parents did pay for the rehearsal dinner, which we cleared with them– we discussed a specific budget, kept to it, and then they decided we needed more pie, which they arranged. More power to ’em. :)

    As for logistics for the wedding itself, my parents offered to pay for half the wedding (thanks, inheritance from my grandfather!) and my husband and I saved and paid for the other half. It worked out that my parents paid for most of the early payments while we saved every last penny for the final payments the week of the wedding. It hasn’t been easy, but being clear about the budget long in advance helped all of us stay on the same page.

  • Danielle

    OMFGoodness, Brittany, this sounds like my life. Problems started as soon as we got engaged. We had family members with lots of money who didn’t want to help, we had family members with temporary money who were willing to offer a loan, and we had family members with NO money, who wanted to HELP AND HELP to give us a wedding that was way bigger and fancier than we even wanted in the first place. We were pleased as punch with the smaller scale, lots of DIY, lots of prioritizing wedding we had in our heads, but eventually the pressure of trying to explain that to broke-@$$ people who just wanted to HELP give us the biggest and best and most perfectest day ever…well, it got to be too much. We caved. And I regretted it the whole way. Fiance and I called off our wedding a few months ago, for unrelated reasons, and a big silver lining was getting out of the spending spiral we were in. We’re just starting to talk in the abstract about a new wedding, on our terms, that we’re comfortable with that still lets our families help in reasonable ways. All this to say: solidarity! Stick to your guns! Follow your gut! Somehow it will work out.

  • Kate

    Ditto on keeping the contributions of each side private from the other. I made the mistake of telling my parents the amount my fiance’s mother was contributing (after they asked), and then they insisted on “doing their part” and giving the very same amount, even though I know it was not nearly as easy a check to write for them as it was for her. And we could have gotten by without it. But pride is a crazy thing. What I should have said was “please give whatever is comfortable and makes you feel joyful to give.” Bah. Money is so hard.

    • anon ma non (do dooo do do doooo)

      I’m a pretty regular commenter but I need to go anon for this one. I’m in a similar situation, except not with my parents vs. my partner’s, but rather with my mom vs. my dad. My parents are several years out from a pretty icky divorce that is still a big emotional process. And my dad has always been the type of parent to be present in my life in a financial way — he got me a camera, does upgrades for my computer, etc, rather than visiting often, showing up for events, etc. So it made sense that he wanted to contribute financially to our wedding.

      Well, I made the mistake of telling my mom how much he is giving, and then (big surprise) a few months later, she said, “Well, I’ve decided I want to give you the same amount as your dad is giving.” UGHHHHH! It’s so frustrating because she can’t really afford it and I don’t know how to convince her that we’ll be fine without it. So instead, we’re trying to not let her spend any other money on us in the meantime — we’ll see how it works…

  • Abby C.

    Yay! I’m back from vacay, which means I have a backlog of APW posts to read!

    That said, things are definitely disproportionate for us. Luckily, my family is traditionally expected to pay for more, and my parents are both able and willing to contribute generously. They offered us a sum that made our eyes goggle, but also have been very much allowing us the lead in planning how to spend it. Love yas, Mom and Dad.

    My fiance’s parents, however, are not at all in a good financial situation, and unfortunately are not in good health enough that logistical assistance is fair to ask from them either. They’re wonderfully loving people, though, and they definitely want to help. The problem we want to avoid is a) hurting their feelings, b) making them feel like we’re cutting them out entirely. We’ve got to find some small things that they can do, that will make them feel like they’re helping but also won’t tax or stress them out too much.

  • Caroline

    I’m also a big believer of the up front conversations. – and I think it was really helpful for us to have set amounts, rather than set budget items. That way we were only beholden to our own, couple-imposed budget, rather that our parent’s ideas of what things should cost.

    oh, and “Plan your wedding as if you didn’t have their financial support, and then anything they give you will be a nice windfall” – that part TOTALLY applied to in my Dad’s case. From the moment I told him about the wedding, and he kept trying to tell me he would give me “something” toward it, I just let the comments fall into white noise around me. Nothing materialised, but I didn’t need it for anything, and thus, no emotional turmoil (unlike all the other times in my life).

    Sometimes, just sometimes, growing up rocks.

  • Harriet

    There are so many ways your family can help you save money without actually giving you any. My best friend got married two years ago, and her family really came together to help out in non-monetary ways. One of her aunts–who is not a florist–did beautiful floral arrangements (vases for decoration, the bride’s bouquet, all the corsages and boutonnieres) using flowers the bride had ordered from Sam’s Club. It was a tremendous amount of work, and it saved my friend a ton of money (and of her own time!). If her family could have afforded to buy all the flowers, they would have, but this had basically the same affect on my friend’s budget–and she also got to see her family rallying on behalf of herself and her husband.

  • Courtney

    I’m a frequent lurker, but I seem to comment mostly on the posts that address struggling during the wedding planning process… thankfully APW talks about these issues!

    My fiance and I are paying for our wedding ourselves. We intended to do this, and had no intention of asking our parents for money because neither set is really in a position to make large contributions. His parents have offered to pay for the rehearsal dinner, which we are very thankful for, and my parents purchased my dress, which I am very grateful for.

    BUT – despite the fact that my fiance and I intend to pay for our wedding ourselves, had no intention of asking our parents for money, AND our parents have already given us very generous gifts that have saved us a lot of money, I find myself resentful that my parents haven’t offered to do more.

    For a really long time I was horrified that I even felt this way – this isn’t me at all! But I’ve had time to think about it for several months, and I think that I am resentful because I feel like them not offering to do more is reflective of deeper issues. My fiance and I don’t need their money, and they’re going through hard enough times that I know, objectively, that they can’t afford to do more. But I wish that they had offered. Because then I would have thanked them, but refused, and walked away feeling as if my parents wanted to do more.

    • i felt this way when i was engaged also, and felt really awful about it. i knew it was especially wrong because i had told my parents (stupidly, when i was younger) that i wouldn’t expect them to help with wedding costs (i knew they struggled financially and i knew that i was going to law school, but i guess it didn’t occur to me that weddings/law school are expensive and that it would still be hard for me to pay for a wedding by myself). i didn’t expect them to contribute, but i wanted them to offer more than they did during the early months. now i attribute it less to issues in our relationship than to neither party (me or my family) knowing how to respond to the social pressure to have a big, fancy wedding, paid for by the bride’s parents. i obviously don’t know anything about your family, but i do know that i found out later that the whole time i was feeling bad that my parents weren’t offering me a little bit of money, it was killing them that they couldn’t just pay for the whole thing. i mentioned this in my comment above, but the situation was GREATLY alleviated when i sucked up my pride and asked them to help with a few concrete things.

    • Just been there

      Wow, this describes how I felt, but I was less gracious about it than you were and actually told my mom at some point over the phone in a burst of tears, how awful it felt that they didn’t simply offer. My parents are incredibly generous people but when it came talking about wedding planning — which ultimately is tied to wedding costs — I might have as well said, I’m going to the dentist. Over time, I realized that it had more to do with cultural differences (we are Chinese and my mom thought their contribution would be multiple sets of jewelry. Pretty, yes, cold hard cash, no. Well, not without the help of a pawn shop.) and that they really feel, deep down in their bones, that a wedding is simply a party. It made me reflect a lot on what my parents value and as a result, understand what I value as well.

  • kristen

    someday, when i have children of my own and they are about to get married, i will take initiative and tell them how we can contribute. coming to my parents to have “the conversation” was so awkward! i procrastinated for three weeks. my mom gave what she could and i was thankful for it. my parents are divorced and remarried and my dad wanted to know how much my mom contributed before he would give any. somehow, my stepmom got involved and it became all-out drama. my mom handled it in the loveliest way, but my dad and stepmom thought she should pay more since they payed for college. my half-sister even ran into me and a friend and chewed me out in front of my friend for my mom not giving enough(did i mention she’s 17??). my fiance and i decided – after thinking, “what would meg do?” – that we would take the high road. we planned to let the whole thing go and pay for the wedding ourselves, plus the money from my mom, and if my dad and step-mom brought it up again, we would say, “thank you so much for offering, but we’re going to pay for the wedding. having peace in our family is so much more important than any amount of money. but we’d love for you to be involved in X and Y at the wedding.” we actually never had to say it to them, but continued to make plans ourselves, with me moving in with his parents to save money. three months later, my dad called, offering to pay for the venue and food. no strings attached. i chalk it up to our resolve as a couple to set boundaries – and to not have the attitude that “this drama will be over after the wedding’s over”, but rather, “this is just the beginning, and this is our first opportunity as a couple to stand up for our baby family and what really matters to us, still while honoring our parents and letting them be involved.”

    • I did something very similar! My dad tried to play games when I had that awful conversation — by saying he wanted to see a proposal for the wedding (venue, etc). I tried to explain to him that the budget would determine the venue, and that since my fiance and I were covering most of the costs, we just wanted to know if he was planning to pitch in.

      When he continued insisting, we decided our independence was worth more than his money, so we planned without it. He did end up giving us money, but not until a few months before the wedding — and it was a total surprise.

      But neither of our parents ultimately knew how much the other contributed, because both wrote checks to me, rather than having an “assignment.”

    • Charm City Vixen

      Whoa, drama! Glad it had a happy ending… good for you for sticking up for your family!

  • Hi Brittany – My parents (divorced) gave disproportionate amounts, and I handily avoided making an issue out of it by telling each that they could give what they’d like – and that I’d love to know within xx timeframe, so I could plan – but that my fiancé and I were planning to cover the costs. Anything they gave us was candy. They both gave the money they were comfortable with to me directly, and I never divulged to anyone how much each contributed. Would that work for you?

    I think you also have a way out of this mess. There is sooo much on the ground coordination that will need to happen. Why not frame it in such a way that makes your parents’ local contributions feel more meaningful? Tell them you’re worried about managing everything from a distance and really can’t afford to hire a local coordinator. Then ask if they would be willing to fill that function for you – running local errands you might need – as it’ll save you time, money and hassle.

    Good luck!

  • Sarah

    Oh man, I could have written that letter.

    In our situation, my mother INSISTED on paying for the “entire wedding”. Insisted. In the “this is not a discussion” and mom tears kind of way. Even though I KNEW they really couldn’t afford it.

    So, we asked them for a number. Any number. AND NEVER GOT ONE. It was always “don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”

    Which was infuriating. And extremely difficult to plan on … especially when you have no idea if your idea of “a good pr ice” is THEIR idea of “a good price”. (True story: after leaving the seamstress with a $200 quote for all my alterations (unheard of good for all the work I had done!), my mom looks at me and says “Is that a good price? It seems a little high.”) In their defense, the last wedding my family had was 17 years ago … things (like, um, the cost) have changed JUST A BIT.

    In the end, we began paying for what we could control (i.e. not on a contract across the country … we were long distance planning), ourselves. When talking to my dad about invitations he asked “When will you need a check from me to cover that?” and I told him we’d already taken care of it. And things like that. All in all, I’d say we ended up paying for about half the wedding ourselves, and that was fine. I just wish we hadn’t had to fight tooth and nail for them to allow us to do it.

    Like Alyssa says, try as much as you can to not count on them for a contribution, in this situation. Should they end up being able to help, wonderful! And if not, you’re not hung out to dry.

    The emotions around this can get so SO intense. Just remember, everyone is trying to help each other, even when you can’t see it. It doesn’t FIX the situation, but it may help to just remember that. =)

    • You just told my story, complete with mom tears and no number EVER given. We should have fought harder to pay for more ourselves, but we’re poor folks and I trusted my mom even though I should have known better- rather than paying for things upfront ourselves, we ended up picking up bills she couldn’t pay at the end. When you’re poor folks, this is pretty unpleasant- made moreso by the fact that I let her persuade me to do things we wouldn’t have otherwise. She probably could have afforded the wedding I wanted, but she couldn’t afford the one she wanted me to have.

  • We’ve resolved this by paying for it ourselves. My mom is divorced, dad out of the picture, and I have four sibs, all married. His parents own a struggling small business and there’s no way they could contribute everything. We just decided to cover it ourselves (if we can buy a house, we can do this). It’s going to be very, very inexpensive, but we’re doing it and our parents are offering what they can.

    His parents are providing the location (their ‘compound’), and my mom decided to make paper crafties and pay for the travel of some important family members. They’re doing only what they’re comfortable with and what we’re comfortable letting them do.

  • Chelsea

    I’d like to add one thing to Alyssa’s advice (from my own experience in a similar situation):

    If your parents are regularly getting in over their heads financially, chances are good that the appearance of being able to afford things is important to them. If you tell people that you’re on a budget because they can’t contribute, the tradition of the bride’s family paying is meaningless to you, etc, they’ll probably be MUCH more hurt because in addition to refusing their offer, you’re publically rubbing salt in what I’m sure it a tender area.

    You have to let your parents know that even if they’re not contributing financially, it doesn’t mean you’re going to embarass them. It can get frustrating – I can’t tell you how many times I ground my teeth when my MIL, who was unemployed at the time of our wedding and couldn’t financially contribute implied to people that she was helping pay. She even tried to say that she should get her way at the rehearsal dinner because “it’s the grooms family’s job to host” even though, um, SHE WASN’T HOSTING.

    Anyway, I got through it because I understood that appearances were important to her, especially when she was left feeling vulnerable by unemployment. If I was you, I’d find a way to (subtly) tell your parents that even if they’re not able to contribute anything, you’re not going to advertise their lack of financial support around town. And then, do what I did with my MIL: if they offer to pay for things, say thanks, and don’t add it to the budget and never again ask for the money. If it shows up, bonus, but if not, they get to save face by offering without digging themselves deeper into a financial hole.

  • Upstate bride

    One tactic we have used, and Alyssa’s post speaks to this, is to recognize the skills and gifts family members can contribute instead of the ever-touchy large wedding check. Both my mother and his mother are excellent bakers, and their gifts will be the basis for the dessert table we are doing instead of an expensive wedding cake. His father will grill for the rehearsal dinner, mine will construct the chuppah for the ceremony. My mother and her sisters recently took a class in flower arranging, and will arrange the flowers for the reception tables. These are all jobs that allow them a visible, tangible, traditional role in the wedding, while saving us the money that we may not have because they’re not able to contribute as much.

    While I agree that our weddings are not a show and not a competition, it is important to remember that my wedding for me may be a public declaration of my love and commitment to my fiance, and it may be a really fun party for my friends and family, but for our parents, it represents something very different. Whether they are conscious of it or not, the wedding in some ways is their last public expression of parenthood. It is a demonstration of the love and work they have put into raising me and guiding me to adulthood. It is a time for them to host a large number of people and to publicly demonstrate their hospitality and generosity. They don’t just want to contribute to our weddings because they love us. They want to contribute to our weddings because our weddings say something about them as parents and as adults too.

    • Jeannine

      This last sentence is very true. We always, from the outset, planned on paying for everything ourselves. What I didn’t realize was that, although that was clear *inside my head,* it would take a while for everyone else *not living inside my head* to get the memo. This led to some awkward exchanges with his mom–her m.o. is to find out that we’re opting out of some aspect of what is normally done at weddings and then offer to pay for it. I can’t figure out if this habit is driven by her pity for us, in thinking that we simply can’t afford it, or that this is her way of trying to exert control and make us have a wedding that conforms to her vision. It has also led to one extremely painful exchange with my own mom, who is in no position to help financially and thankfully is very upfront about it, but still wants to have input. So, as it turns out, wedding planning is an exercise in not only being a budget maven, a creative thinker, and master organizer, it is even moreso an exercise in grace and patience.

      • Rasheeda

        “So, as it turns out, wedding planning is an exercise in not only being a budget maven, a creative thinker, and master organizer, it is even moreso an exercise in grace and patience”

        THIS.IS.IT. Thank you for this!!

    • Meredith

      “They don’t just want to contribute to our weddings because they love us. They want to contribute to our weddings because our weddings say something about them as parents and as adults too.”

      YES! And whether or not others see it as a reflection of them as parents/ adults doesn’t matter, because that IS how my parents (my mom especially) thinks about my brother’s wedding. And I don’t think he gets that even though I’ve tried to explain it. It’s causing lots o’ mamadrama.

    • Ris

      “Whether they are conscious of it or not, the wedding in some ways is their last public expression of parenthood.”

      This gave me chills.

  • My mother told me that there would be a gift of money, and it never materialized. Asking about it was awkward, and not getting it was even more awkward. Luckily, we had planned on paying for basically the entire wedding ourselves, so there was no logistical fallout.

    One thing that did work very well for us was to have the parents take on a specific task and cost. His parents did the bulk of the work making desserts and purchasing meats/cheese/buns for the midnight buffet. My father had told me more than once that he would pay for an open bar as it was the easiest way to keep his family nice. (His siblings getting along far better if everyone’s well lubricated.) My mother honoured that gift and she paid for the massive Superstore liquor run. It worked out well for everyone – I just wish I hadn’t been told to expect a large cash gift that never happened. Because the waiting made me sadder than not getting money did. (As in, a little compared to zero, but still.)

  • Rymenhild

    I’m reading this post and its comments carefully and thinking hard. I am not engaged yet, but I can see the future. My parents are comfortably off and have been saving for their daughters’ as yet unscheduled weddings. They- especially my father- come home from theenormous, WIC- type weddings of their friends’ children and say, “When you get married, we’ll [have better food/use that kind of band/etc.]…”

    So that’s one side, promising plenty of money to pay for their idea of an appropriate wedding. On the other side… my girlfriend’s family is financially strapped after recent layoffs and long years of sending the children to religious schools they couldn’t afford. They would think it their responsibility to pay for their daughter’s wedding, if it were a *real* wedding, meaning, one where she married a man. For us, well, we’ll be lucky if they all show up and avoid homophobic comments.

    Now, the gf and I don’t need or want a no-expense-spared wedding. We’d rather have the kind of wedding with plenty of guests but with cheaper flowers and music and clothes and so forth. We will need parental help to invite the number of family and friends we’re talking about, and my parents are ready and willing to give it. (We actually couldn’t stop them.) I recognize that we’re lucky to know that the help is there for us.

    The problem is that my parents are likely to interpret her parents’ lack of financial support for our wedding as further evidence that they don’t like me, don’t support our relationship and aren’t treating me well. Sadly, there is already plenty of evidence for that. I wish money weren’t such a visible stand-in for love here, and I hope my parents don’t spend the entire wedding process pissed off at my partner’s family.

    • Wow, I’m sorry this seems like a total crap situation. But I would say, first, don’t pre-worry. Pre-worrying is and has always been my downfall, and I find that often, situations don’t get as bad as I imagine them to be.

      Second of all, it sounds like you’re worried about your parents jumping to conclusions about your in laws not paying meaning they don’t support your marriage, but it also sounds like that, may in fact be true. In which case you can’t really blame your parents for being upset. They love you and obviously it would hurt them to see you not being treated well. But in laws don’t have to be best buds with each other. As long as your parents continue to support your relationship and maintain a good relationship with your girlfriend, it’s okay for them to not like how your in laws treat you when you are being treated poorly.

      But seriously, don’t pre-worry. Your parents might be so excited about wedding, that they won’t do more than roll their eyes and make a few under-their-breath remarks about your in laws.

      • Rymenhild

        “Don’t pre-worry” is such wisdom. Thank you for it. I actually think I sort of have a habit of pre-worrying, especially when there are things I should be worrying about right now. It’s… more fun to anticipatorily angst about nonexistent wedding funding issues than it is to worry about how I’m going to finish my dissertation this summer.

        I hadn’t noticed that’s what I was doing until just now. Thanks for calling me on it. *grin*

    • bumblebee611


      I echo the “don’t pre-worry” advice, but wanted to add that I am in a similar place–my parents are very comfortable, as are my partner’s. My parents adore my partner and would like nothing better than to pay for a crazy lavish and formal wedding. I’m not letting them do it, though my mom is paying for my dress, and that is a nontrivial contribution. My partner’s parents really don’t like me and aren’t happy he’s getting married. Like you, we’ll be lucky if they attend and his mother can refrain from racist or generally snarky commentary about his choice of me as a partner. It’s no secret to my parents that his parents aren’t happy about the wedding, and have offered nothing–his mother didn’t even say congratulations or “I’m happy for you” when we told her about the engagement. But my parents don’t spend the process pissed off at his family — they are concerned and want to protect me from his mother’s ire, but their way of doing that is to step up and provide twice as much support. It sounds like you can expect much the same. So again, don’t worry about this–just be happy for the fact that you have one set of supportive parents and run with it. On a related note, I am already a parent. It brings tears to my eyes to think about what it would mean if one of my children chose a partner whose parents treated them this way (especially on the basis of their race). But I wouldn’t spend my energy being irritated with the partner’s parents–I’d spend it stepping up for my child because he or she needed me.

  • Rasheeda

    Good job Alyssa on handling the money madness! As an independent person, I never expected familial help for our wedding and therefore never discussed it (don’t do it my way). But my parents/siblings/grandparents could not fathom the idea of them not helping in someway and mostly in the form of checks sent directly to me to spend anyway I felt. But there were 2 major cry fits…One being me on the phone with my mother in tears over a florists quote that I felt was too high, and she felt was just fine. She assured me that it was her gift and she knew I was trying my best to keep costs reasonable and that she trusted me and my choices(I swear angels descended upon me). Parents can recognize when you are being financially responsible. The other cry fest happened about a month before the wedding when the Hubs parents insisted on inviting more people and adding people to the rehearsal dinner (we paid for) but not contributing anything and criticisizing everything…it ended badly with my husband screaming through the phone but it needed to be done, parents have to respect the boundaries and your money and wedding are HUGE boundaries. His parents eventually did write us checks to cover the rehearsal dinner, which was a bonus we just drank more on our honeymoon. So I say all that to say, while things don’t change because of a wedding, some people will surprise you and others won’t…be ready for both.

  • Beth C

    I think the key for you is when you say “They are the only ones living in the city where we are having the wedding” … perhaps you can ask your family to support you and your wedding day with non-monetary things. Can they host any out of town guests, or drive out of town guests to the ceremony? or picking up flowers? Ask them to take responsibility for important jobs that don’t cost anything extra but will really help you on your day.

  • Chris

    I’m learning about this too. FH’s little sister got married a year and 3 days before we will, so when we started planning, his family already had their guest list in a nice excel spread sheet, complete with addresses. In addition, future mother in law got to work out all of her wedding planning dreams with her daughter, so for this one, she called up FH and said we’ll give you $XX. (The same amount they spend on little sister, to be precisely fair between the two kids). Tell me when to write a check, when to show up, and what to wear.

    My parents, on the other hand, had a SUPER hippie wedding back in the 1970’s. They both wore jeans, and the invitation said “meet in the grocery store parking lot at 10:30 on Wednesday morning”. All 15 people invited carpooled up to the mountains, hiked somewhere until they got tired, and sat down and had a simple Quaker wedding. So- they never planned their own wedding (not in the WIC kind of way, at least). My older brother got married a few years ago, but his mother in law went a bit overboard on the planning department and so my folks didn’t do anything but show up. This is the first time they’ve had the option to be involved in a mostly typical wedding.

    Wedding planning isn’t really their thing, and I have asked a lot of them financially in the last two years. I’ve had serious health problems that have been expensive, and they’ve helped. In January (at my request) they took in a struggling teenage boy. After ten years of not having kids in the house, they’re parenting a teenager who needs a lot – of time, emotion and money. At the same time, my mom was diagnosed with a serious, expensive, and probably fatal health problem.

    So -I don’t want to ask for their time or money because they’re stretched pretty thin right now. Money isn’t really an issue- we’ve budgeted for what we can afford with what his folks are helping out. But- I don’t really know how to otherwise keep them involved. (it’s a destination wedding for everyone- no one but an aunt is local to do those types of things).

    • N

      I think you need to ask your parents to do a vintage wedding post.

    • Sorry to hear about your mom’s health… I totally understand where you’re coming from, having received financial contributions (not wedding ones) from parents and then not wanting to ask for anything more.

      Also, just wanted to echo N’s request — any chance your parents would do a wedding grad post?! They sound so cool!

  • Ariel

    Ugh. I am currently in the thick of dealing with planning issues of the “their pride writing checks that their butt can’t cash” variety. I don’t have any wise advice (yet) on the matter, I just wanted to say that I hear you sista.
    Thanks for this post. I love Ask Team Practical Fridays.

  • anon

    Brittany-Thanks for your question. This issue has been on the back of my mind for a while now. I too have parents who are as you call it “outrageously good at being terrible with money.” This has been an issue as we consider whether to even have a wedding. I’ve too struggled with how to not hurt my family’s feelings and not make my partner’s family feel like they are the only ones contributing, if we do have a wedding. And, as poor graduate student myself, we similarly don’t have many financial resources to pull off a wedding ourselves. Good luck to you with your planning. You sound wise! I think you will do great at overcoming this. And, thank you for making me not feel so alone with this issue.

  • S

    My dude’s parents are divorced, and his mom, who is financially comfortable but not very well off, is contributing about a third of our overall wedding budget. We are so, so grateful to her for that! My mother, though, has accumulated many medical bills and made a string of varyingly terrible financial decisions, and can’t afford to contribute anything. That is absolutely, positively fine with us, and we are just grateful that she will be healthy and able to join us at the wedding!

    However, my mom has this weird competitive streak within her, and she gets anxious over all of her children’s in-laws — that they are more involved in their lives, that they like their in-laws better, that their in-laws can help out more physically or financially (whether these fears are real or imagined is another issue). She is always making snide comments and asking inappropriate questions, despite my requests that she stop. I know that she is just feeling guilty that she isn’t in a position to help us out more, but it’s still a source of a lot of drama (for me, mostly; she hasn’t ever said anything to my dude’s mom that I know of). It’s just another way in which weddings are tough, and a way in which we learn to establish boundaries and try to bridge gaps between people.

  • KM

    Long-time lurker, first time commenter.

    This post really hits home for me. This year leading up to the wedding has truly been the hardest year of my life, and a lot of it is due to this issue. My fiance has a lot of inherited money, so from the beginning, we (and by we, I mean he) was able to pay for it all himself. My parents, however, live paycheck to paycheck and really can’t afford contribute much beyond the generous gift of my dress and the flowers. My fiance could not care less that my family can’t contribute – he’s really close with my family and is happy to pay for it all.

    My future MIL, however, has made this so, so difficult. She considers my fiance’s money “family money” (i.e., also hers — even though it’s not. She has plenty of her own money.), so she’s chosen to try to micromanage every. single. decision. We’re having quite a nice wedding, but we’re young professionals trying to make responsible financial decisions so we can retire super early, so splashing out seems so stupid to us. My MIL has tried to “upgrade” pretty much every element of the wedding — examples: she claims that non-chiavari chairs would embarrass her, that spending $12K on draping the tent ceiling is a totally reasonable expense, and that people will think we’re trashy if we don’t serve filet mignon. Our reasons for wanting to rein it in are all dismissed as insignificant because she’ll “take care of it.” It is just really upsetting to me that she thinks my choices will embarrass her, and has really ruined my relationship with her and cast a huge cloud over what is supposed to be a happy day.

    She even went so far as to call me “lower class” to my face during one of the venue tours I invited her on, because she thought my #1 favorite venue wasn’t good enough. She’s hired vendors completely behind my back (a string quartet). And of course, my parents are furious at the way she’s treated me, but I’ve convinced them to stay out of it.

    Basically, this all has made me extremely sad. It’s inspiring to read all the APW responses about people who have successfully dealt with these difficulties — I wish I had handled many things differently, but mostly I wish that my MIL would realize my wedding is actually not all about her and what she wants. My advice to anyone dealing with these issues is to present a totally united front with your fiance if problems arise and fight for your life for what feels right to you. I’ve spent the vast majority of my engagement feeling helpless and dismayed and it really sucks. My fiance has made huge strides re: his overbearing mother in the last few years, but when push comes to shove, he tends to cave to her to keep the peace. Because she makes it so goddamn difficult. It’s hard not to, when she’s threatening not to even ATTEND the wedding unless we do things her way.

    I actually feel better typing this all out. Thanks for listening to me vent!!

    • Fiorentina

      So sorry that your MIL is being so difficult. Weddings are tricky and emotional for everyone involved, but there’s really no excuse for your MIL insulting you to your face. That’s awful.

      It sounds like you and your fiance are dealing with it as best you can and I hope you are pleased with yourselves for taking the high road, however difficult it may be. Good on you.

    • Yikes. She really sounds like a piece of work. Kudos to you to search for patience and to communicate with your partner. Good luck with everything!

  • Class of 1980

    Since I’ll be 53 this August, my first impulse after reading the comments was to apologize on behalf of my generation. It’s sort of odd to me that so many of them waffle around so much with stating what they can spend, or even recognizing what is safe to spend.

    But then I had to stop and realize that they are caught between two worlds.

    When most of your parents got married, their parents were expected to foot nearly the whole bill. It was a time when merely putting money into a savings account or CD would get you a decent return. You didn’t have to study the ins and outs of investments. Pensions were the rule; not 401Ks.

    The divide between the haves and have nots was not so wide. Rich is richer and poor is poorer now.

    I think a lot of these parents are laboring under the idea that they should be able to contribute substantially, yet many of them have had their savings and/or retirement accounts drained or completely devastated in this economic downturn. And some of them were able to prosper during the last 20 years, while others’ earnings were stagnant.

    Brides today are dealing with greater inequalities from family to family than their own parents dealt with when they got married. And I see this so plainly in the comments.

  • Hallie

    Another long-time lurker, first time commenter! I wish I read this ten months ago! I thought I knew how much money I was getting from everyone but now my mom doesn’t think she’ll be able to come up with what she committed to in time and it’s a good 20% of the total budget, so I am really stressing about what I’m going to do now (because stress makes money magically appear you know). Everything contracted and the save-the-dates have gone out so it’s not like we can scale anything back or invite fewer people. It’s been frustrating, but I knew going in how she is with money and I shouldn’t have ever thought I would get support from her despite what she said.

    Honestly, I feel badly about how I’ve handled the money thing all around with not just her but my dad, my fiancé, and his parents. I think I’ve acted like a bit of an entitled brat thus far and I want to make things better from here on out. I’m having a very nice wedding and I think if I had a do-over I’d go more low-key and pay for most of it ourselves, but no point in regrets, it’s going to be a fantastic event and day, and that’s all that matters at this point. So I didn’t have the level head that some of these commenters did, but I can only look forward, not back.

  • Jo

    “Stupid adulthood. On the plus side, you can eat Twizzlers for dinner and no one can tell you no. It’s a mixed bag.”

    This might be my favorite Alyssa quote ever. Timely and appropriate in my life, and so hilarious and true.

    Also, if you are at all concerned about having “balanced contributions” or involvement from both sides of the family, think about non-monetary contributions that family can make on your wedding day. Toasts, readings, symbolic gestures at the ceremony like handing you a flower for your bouquet, picking out songs to dance madly to on the dance floor at the reception… whatever. If you want them to feel included, know that other people will notice way more that your parents are included in the day than that they paid for X portion of the wedding. As in, people will ONLY notice what they do on the day, and will never know what they paid for, or didn’t (because you don’t have to tell anybody!).

    Just a thought. As for us, we got sorta lucky and both sides chipped in what they could handle, which was the same amount, and we were pretty straightforward with them about “so, um, will you be paying for things on the day of or are you sending us a check, or…?” and they were willing to plan that part with us. And with some fun help from the US Postal Service, a $1000 money order got lost in the mail. For a few weeks, we thought that money was just gonzo into the atmosphere. When it showed up two months later, we were so relieved, and insanely pissed at the USPS. Money is so fun, ain’t it? And yes, I hold a grudge against the USPS for being randomly incompetent.

    So that’s my story. Good luck! You’ll figure it out. I think you already know not to rely on them for financial contributions. Like my husband says, just assume that you’ll be paying for it, and if they magically show up with a check, then more money for margaritas on the honeymoon!!

  • Sadie

    I’ve been struggling with family contributions a bit. Both my parents and my fiance’s parents have been very generous, and those contributions are covering the cost of our wedding, so we feel very lucky. When my parents offered to contribute, they said that the money they could give was ours to do what we would like with- wedding, save for a down payment, apply to grad school loans, whatever. His family also gave us a substantial amount of money, but they have more expectations of what a wedding should involve, and they have a large family. I have been having a hard time because I really would like to take some of that money my parents gave us and put it towards a down payment on a home for us, but because my fiance’s family contributed even more money, and has a lot of expectations related to our wedding, I am sure we will end up spending ALL the money to meet those expectations. And I don’t feel right scaling back, which will upset his family, and then spending all of his family’s money on the wedding while saving the money from my parents. It seems like a bit of a no-win situation. I am still working on coming to terms with how expensive our wedding is shaping up to be- it’s by no means exorbitant, but I wanted something simpler. And it’s hard to be gracious and thankful for these amazing gifts while also feeling like what we wanted for the wedding has kind of gotten taken away.

  • Thankfully, as finances are such a touchy subject, we didn’t experience any trouble. We knew we were funding most of the wedding ourselves. My hubs’ parents offered us the same amount of money as they gave his brother for his wedding. My Mom offered to pay for the engagement party, bridal shower, wedding dress & hair/make-up. Both sides were honest about what they could give us & they followed through on their offers. We never told our parents how much we spent, nor did we tell my Mom how much his parents gave us or vice versa. We were so thankful for their help & support & we tried our best to show our gratitude always!

  • ellobie

    Ooooooo! Same here, same here. My husband’s family is well-off. Not “rich” exactly but not hurting either. My mom is a financial roller coaster. When it’s good, it’s real good. When it’s bad, it’s wretched (2 bankruptcies). She was unemployed for the year prior to our wedding, so while she single-handedly paid for and produced my sister’s entire wedding (from making my sister’s gown, the flower girl dress, all the food, the cakes, hosting it in her backyard, making the linens, buying the groom’s suit, etc.) during a good period, I got zilch. My sister was the first to be married and my mom told my brother and I afterward that she paid $X for sis’s wedding and spent countless hours working and she would do the same for us.

    When my very successful brother married a year later, he declined the $ but said he & his bride would love for her to put that toward dining room furniture. She was happy with that. My SIL had no interest in there being anything DIY about her wedding and that kinda pissed my mom off. Whatever.

    So my wedding rolls around several years later and my mom’s in a financial nightmare. Like I said, unemployed the entire year prior, sold her house and moved in with an old friend which turned into its own special crazy. She promised me the moon in work but could not offer anything financially. Which I was fine with. I knew she was in a bad situation and the last thing I wanted was for her to tap into her house money to pay for my party. But I was expecting a lot of her talents in the way of making my dress, the flower girl dresses, some of the food, etc. Yeah. She backed out of pretty much everything. In the end she made the flower girl dresses (she lurrrrrves little girl dresses), my sister’s dress and the cake. She didn’t show up to help decorate the room, backed out of making the ring bearer’s outfit because she didn’t like the design I wanted, backed out of making my dress after I’d already bought all the (very pricy and unreturnable) fabric and let me down in many many more ways.

    In the end, I was the one who took most of the tasks she’d promised off her plate. I decided that I didn’t care about the cake or the flower girl dresses. Even if the day had arrived and there were no dresses for the girls and they had to wear their own favorite dress, I would have been fine. And my sister’s dress? That was her problem. If she stood up next to me in jeans and a tshirt, I would be fine. But my dress mattered and many of the other things she had promised to take care of mattered a great deal to me. So off her plate they went. I handled them myself.

    Long story short, if you won’t care whether those promised fans show up or not then go ahead and let your parents take responsibility for them. If it’s important to you, say thanks but no thanks and handle it yourself.

  • Laura

    Gotta say: I think this is really super perfect excellent advice! I totally relate to this situation and I think Alyssa is right on the money (ha!). Go Team Practical!

  • Kelsi

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time…I’m excited to share this with my fiance. I think he may feel like he’s the only one whose parents have this same struggle.
    His family echoes this bride’s family completely; amazing people but unrealistic about the money thing when it comes to our wedding. This can cause such an incredible amount of strain between the bride and groom.
    In our case, we’ve been encouraging them to take care of their own stuff first just so we know they’ll make it to the wedding: getting plane tickets, having a place to stay. It’s sort of fallen on deaf ears as they send us money here and there, and as we get closer and closer to our date, I honestly wonder if they and the 3 remaining kids at home will all be able to make it out to our wedding. This has caused occasional resentment from my fiance toward me…he wanted to elope based solely on the fact that he knew his parents wouldn’t be able to afford being a part of something like this, whether or not they contributed a dime. That is a hard burden to bear.

    • Amanda

      Can you save the monies they are sending you to buy their plane tickets if they cannot?

      • Kelsi

        I think we’re going to try,….we only have till mid-June to pull that part off, and we ourselves are on a VERY tight budget (living in one of the most expensive states in the union)….but this is part of the reality of this wedding, is managing our budget as well as theirs, if only temporarily. It’s deeply uncomfortable for my groom but it’s just how it has to be since we can’t get much a straight answer from my mother-in-law-to-be. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Dani B

    Oh me oh my, it’s like this post was written for/by me (enough to pull a ‘pre-engaged’ lurker out of the dark!)

    My partner’s family are comfortable – their house is paid off, his dad has made it possible for J to go back to a school a year earlier than planned by contributing significantly to the household budget – and my family are pay cheque to credit card to whichever creditor is phoning the most often kind of people. We all mean well, but a complete inability to plan ahead and organize generally leads to throwing cash at the problem until it’s resolved (which of course leads to more problems in the end, but being poor planners nobody really thinks about that until it’s too late…)

    We live in the UK, my parents in Canada, and their finances don’t stop them from trying to pay for everything when we visit, but it’s tinged with guilt on J’s and my part, because we know they could probably use the money to fix the car/carpet/kitchen etc. We deal with that stuff by being very modest in our travelling wishes (Let’s go camping/free festival/have a party at home so you’ll spend the money on landscaping instead of restaurant meals!) but there’s an implicit kind of judgement there – we think we know better than them what they should spend their money on. Rejecting it flat out would cause a world of hurt, so we do the careful dance of respect + compromise so nobody cries.

    J and I have had a lot of money to stuff to work through in 4 years of living together. I moved from Canada to the UK to be with him, so a yearly trip home takes up holiday time and a huge chunk of the ‘fun’ budget – tension there, sometimes, and him really trying hard not to be resentful but also missing the boys’ weekends in France and larking off to Iceland because he had a spare grand. I really didn’t wise up about money until my mid twenties – after university, where my profligate spending and reliance on student loans landed me with repayments that cost me about half my (quite decent) salary every month, even with the superior currency here. His mum has always bailed him out when he’s asked nicely, I think because she just can’t bear to see him do without, but it’s not really encouraged responsible spending in J. We’re working through that stuff slowly, learning to spend and save thoughtfully and stick to a budget, but it’s uphill a lot of the way (as money stuff usually is!).

    When my sister got married last year, she didn’t ask for anything, but my parents offered to pay for the flowers. No number, just “The flowers. We’ll cover the flowers.” My sister had her dreamed-of-since-she-met-her-HSsweetheart WIC wedding, complete with four course sit down meal, open bar, and gorgeous flowers everywhere you looked. I found out after the wedding that the invoice they gave my dad to pay was the *deposit* on those gorgeous flowers, and the rest of it came from the cash they’d been saving for nearly eight years, since they were 18 (yes! really!). I’m not advocating dishonesty AT ALL, but it definitely saved so many tears and so much hassle – my mom has a tendency to make promises she can’t keep (we’ve all suffered from “I want to pay your tuition/buy you a school ring/pay the deposit on your new apt” never coming through) and my dad, instead of being the ‘bad guy’ by pointing out that it’ll mean dipping into the homeowner’s loan that’s meant for fixing the roof (true story) just writes the cheque.

    So, the dilemma for us will be that although we’ve already decided we’ll be married back in Canada, because there’s no way most of my family could afford to travel, and his immediate family definitely can, we’ll be relying on my family members and circle of friends to help us with a lot of pre-wedding stuff, like thrifted vases and table cloths, finding a venue, and all the while praying my mom doesn’t get overexuberant and spend money they really, really, really don’t have. We only want a simple wedding with our dearest friends and select family, and we aren’t expecting money from anyone (but his parents have already indicated they’d like to help), but convincing my parents of that is going to be challenging.

    All of the advice in this thread has been spot-on and super sensible (really, should I expect anything else from APW?) and most of all, comforting…it’s really nice (in a sad kind of way) to know that we’re not the only ones wrestling with these issues. Having a safe place to vent and air these scary, and sometimes hurtful, thoughts, is also so valuable. <3 you all!

    • Kelsi

      It’s amazing how emotionally-charged the money issue can be…
      people want to look like they have it together and be generous while letting the roof cave in, rather than be honest and say, “We just can’t afford it. I’m sorry.” Parents just don’t want to let their kids down.

      I love my in-laws (to be) dearly but they follow the exact pattern of your parents. Mom makes the promises she can’t keep, Dad keeps quiet. It’s heartbreaking, sometimes, isn’t it? Especially when it’s impossible to have “straight talk” around money in situations like a wedding. And you NEED the straight facts so you can know what to expect and not be caught in a pickle at the very last moment!

      • Dani B

        Kelsi, YES! Heartbreaking is exactly it. The saving grace here is that my siblings and I are all on the same page about our expectations from our parents, both wedding related and generally. We don’t ask to go out for meals to celebrate events, we always go camping for family vacations (yep, still, even at 29/27/25/24 years old…), and we expect nothing and are grateful when (if) they do contribute. My brothers and I had a great talk just after my sister’s wedding (honesty fueled by an emotional few days and a celebratory whisky!) about how we all felt pretty disloyal basically writing off any promises that my mom had made, money-wise. What we concluded is that the low expectations mean any follow through is a nice suprise. So maybe plan on getting nothing, and then anything they do contribute is an added bonus, maybe for extras you’ve had to cut to make the budget? We figure we’ll add an extra night to the honeymoon or get a new camera if promised monies ever do turn up, but if they don’t, we weren’t planning on that stuff anyway.

  • m

    It was really awkward for us for a while because we expected both sets of parents to contribute what they wanted, to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, my fiance’s parents made a comment about how the bride’s parents should pay more. Even though they are ending up paying a similar amount as my parents and even a little more, I’m still upset about the view they took!

  • Our wedding was almost a year ago now and we are still dealing with the consequences of the in-laws trying to ‘equal’ my parents. When we got engaged my parents handed us a large check that said ‘for your future’ in the memo space. No demands or expectations. We decided to use a large chunk of it for the wedding and save the rest. We didn’t tell them what we decided and we didn’t tell his parents about the check at all. If fact, we try not to tell his parents much about our finances. It’s a long complicated tale, but they are an immigrant family and feel that everyone’s money (strike that, every sons’ money) is the family’s money when it suits them.
    After a year of negotiating, it transpired that we would get married in my hometown, but would then have to immediately fly to his hometown (half a world away) and have a reception there. Getting to teh relevance with this post, his parents said they would pay for the NZ reception. We knew they couldn’t afford this, they can barely afford day to day living. But pride wouldn’t let them, let us, pay for it. They assumed my parents had paid for our wedding and they weren’t going to be outdone. So we socked money away, anyway.
    and this is how it went down (as we knew it would)…We made all the decisions, they pretended to take care of the arragements (using my husband’s bank account to pay for it), they ignored our guest list of friends, created thier own, and then didn’t keep up with the RSVPs (which means we ended up paying to feed about 20 invisible people), when we arrived two days before the reception, fresh from our honeymoon, we ran around and finalized plans and bought all the alcohol, etc.
    So I guess it worked in the end. We knew the limitations (and expectations) of the family and when they met those, we were prepared enough to step in and they save face with the family overall. They will occasionally mention ‘their ‘reception as the reason they aren’t doing as well as they could be financially.
    I know that we like things to be all upfront and above board here on APW, but the reality is that families are always up front and above board and sometime you have to play thier game if you’re going to survive, ’till death to us part.’

  • Kat

    I’m late on this one but so, so glad I found it – my FH and I are paying for almost all of our wedding ourselves. FH’s father passed away long ago, and his mother is on a tight budget. My parents are divorced and, without going into too much detail, are in varying states of financial distress. My father kicked a large chunka change into my sister’s wedding four years ago, but I’ll probably have to buy his plane ticket to mine.

    The real issue, however, is my mom – who is a dear, loving woman and wants nothing more than for me to have all of the same things my sister had for her wedding. Mom lost her job over a year ago and, although she has been working, is not at the same level she was previously. And this is on top of some serious debt she accumulated in the wake of my parent’s divorce. I actually moved in with her several months ago to assist with the bills and to (hopefully) allow her to pay down the debt before FH and I get our own place. And yet she is insisting on things such as paying for my dress and cake and wanting to go to top tier bridal salons and bakers. When I protest, she gets weepy. I keep telling her that the best gift she could possibly give me would be to get her financial house in order, but even when I think she is hearing me, she comes back days later with a new plan of how she is going to pay for extra guests or cover something my sister offered to pay for so that my sister can pay for some other upgrade.

    I do not want to offend her or her lovely spirit – but FH and I came up with a budget that we can afford and are happy with, and I get very frustrated when my mom decides we need “extras” or that she is going to contribute items when she really is not in a financial position to do so. Glad to know I am not the only one who has struggled with this…