Do Parents Get to Make Wedding Decisions If They Give You Money?

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Q: Our parents have generously offered to contribute to the costs of the wedding, and they are not specifying rules as to exactly what the money must be spent on. We both have large families, as it turns out, and there are a lot of guests to be invited, pretty much equally from both sides. We’re looking at around 175 guests we think are likely to attend, and holyeff that seems like a lot of mouths to feed. My fiancé and I don’t particularly care either way about several guests on the list our parents gave us. It would be fine if they were there, but we would also be fine with having a small celebration with them after the wedding in our hometowns where they live (extended family, etc.) instead. Most of these guests are extended family or friends that our parents feel close to, but we don’t. I feel like if our parents are paying for it, they can invite the people they’re close to. Fine. But again: money, scary; wedding, expensive. I don’t want to not be able to invite friends because family we don’t care that much about (ouch, how can I say that in a nicer way?) is taking up so many numbers.

One set of parents is able to contribute twice the amount of the other set, which makes me feel a little awkward about the whole thing in general, but especially as it relates to our currently-balanced guest list. In no way do we want to imply that the parents who can’t afford to should give more, but it also feels unbalanced that the family who can pay more is essentially paying for guests not from their side. (Even though blah blah we’ll all be one family now…still.) That sounds silly when I say it out loud, but basically the imbalance of parental contribution combined with pressure to invite people we could take or leave is all adding up to a bit of anxiety (on my part at least).

Jeez. Help. I am freaking out over here. I realize I sound a little scatterbrained and more than a little nuts. But, hi, wedding anxiety. I thought you wouldn’t show up, and we’ve only been engaged for a few weeks.


A: Dear Anonymous,

Jeez is right! Guest lists are stressful enough, but then you add in other things like “parents” and “money” and yeesh, headache.

The first thing to wrap your head around is that your parents don’t buy their way into making wedding decisions. The parents who give more money don’t get more votes, or guests, or candy prizes, or top billing on your invites. If your parents impact your decisions, it’s only because you love them and choose to respect their requests. They raised you, and that’s plenty good enough here. So let yourself off the hook and stop feeling awkward. They each contributed a well-raised kid to the proceedings, right? Let’s figure that’s equal and call it a day.

Otherwise, there’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it into steps. (Side note: Meg also happens to cover all of this in detail in her book, so you may even want to start there.)

1. Take another look over those numbers and see if there’s room for some extra guests. Because of your situation, you’ll want to do the rough math twice—once with the giant guest list (including your parents’ friends), and once without them. Chances are, the price gap might not be drastic enough to make a difference.  Once you hit a certain number of guests, the price hike for adding six or eight more isn’t as large. If the jump in price is substantial and is going to put a major dent in your wedding budget, it still doesn’t need to be a Sophie’s Choice of whose guests we need to cut. The gut response to budget woes may be to chop that guest list down, but that’s not always the best plan of action. See where else you can skimp while keeping important friends the priority that they are. Of course there’ll be occasions where the only option is to cut the guest list by a few, but there are often other places to make those cuts (flowers, music, fancy hair do-dads).

2. If they can’t bring all, maybe they can bring some. If all else fails and it doesn’t seem possible to have everyone bring every single friend they’d like, you may be able to throw your families a bone and let them bring at least a few. Give each set of parents a number of guests they’re allowed to invite above and beyond your original guest list (hint: both sets of parents should be allowed the same number).  Often, parents have very good reasons for wanting to invite friends (usually it’s because they’re really stinkin’ proud of you) and it’s great to give them the opportunity to share a day that’s special to them with people they care about, too. What you allow your parents to decide about your wedding is largely dependent on what kind of wedding you’re having and what ideals you have at the foundation of it all. If you were having a small, intimate wedding for just your twenty closest friends, it might be asking a little much to add five random family friends that haven’t seen you since your third birthday. But since you’re fine with your already big guest list growing a little bigger, then awesome. Bring on the guests!

3. Chop up the budget a bit differently. To help you and both sets of parents wrap your heads around the idea that their cash isn’t covering extra guests, you may want to attack the budget from a different angle. Get out your calculators and your spreadsheets (or your fingers and some pencil and paper, for you vintage-obsessed) and make a running list of the big-ticket wedding expenses. Give a good educated guess about how much a photographer, a dress of the sort you’d like, and the other big stuff will cost. Of course if you haven’t hammered out the specifics just yet, these numbers won’t be exact, but you can figure out a ballpark number for how much a live jazz band will cost instead of a DJ or an iPod. Lucky for you, you already have an idea of how much money will be coming from different directions, and you can use that as a rough guide for your budget (and nix the monogrammed matchbooks if they push you over limit).

4. Bring your parents in on the fun. Once your big picture is laid out and a general idea of your budget is broken down, you can ask parents which specific pieces of the wedding they want to pay for. This way, there’s an understanding of what decisions are already made (“We’re planning to have a jazz band instead of a DJ or an iPod”) and therefore will not be impacted by who is paying for them. Also, parents get to have a certain sense of ownership (the good kind) over pieces of the wedding (my mom still fondly remembers that she paid for that wedding dress I loved so much).  Put another way, this allows them to choose which of your wedding decisions they’d like to support financially. And in your specific case, it removes the feeling that one side of parents is paying for their half of the guests.

5. No, seriously. It should be FUN. That conversation might sound like it’ll be awkward, but you can make it enjoyable. This is a wedding we’re talking about, after all. Take your parents out for a celebration dinner. You can have some good food and wine, and generally chat about all of the excitement before whipping out a calculator. This isn’t a plea for cash; folks who haven’t yet discussed finances with their families will want to be sure that there isn’t any pressure to contribute financially. It’s just an invitation for parents to feel included in the planning in any way they choose, from baking the cake to addressing envelopes to visiting venues to paying for canapés. You get to explain your “vision” and they get to voice their expectations. I think we sometimes forget that parents have some dearly held hopes for our weddings, and even if we can’t fulfill them all, it helps to at least hear about them. (Sidenote: be discreet. When it comes to cash, there’s no need to let one side of parents know what the other side is giving and vice versa.)

The really big point here is that the amount of input your parents have in your wedding planning is not dependent on how much they financially contribute. It’s dependent on that whole “they raised you and love you and this day is partly for them, too,” thing.


Team Practical, how have you navigated family contributions? Did they impact the guest list? Was there any tension created by unequal contributions from both sides, and if so, how’d you handle it?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • A disagree a little in that I think if you’re accepting money from parents they should have quite a say in things. It’s not that they’re ‘buying’ their way in, but, if you’re footing the bill for a party, you should be able to invite the people that you want to invite (provided there is still room on the guest list for friends of the couple etc).

    Also – and this one has only really hit home for me in the last few years – when my good friends have babies I am so involved. I can’t imagine NOT being a part of their weddings one day, and yet, of course, by then, I’ll just be their mom’s old doddery friend. I’ll be the first person cut from the list.

    Your parents are probably inviting people who played more of a role in your life than you think – by supporting them while you were little, bringing round a casserole the day you came home from the hospital, and holding you for ten minutes so they could take a shower. You’re honoring that community by inviting them, even if now, you only see them occasionally. Their memories of you will be much treasured, I’m sure.

    • Zoe

      I totally agree. My parents were generous enough to give us some money for our wedding. This meant that our wedding ended up with a slightly longer guest list than I’d envisioned. And yes, I probably took their requests (food, music) as, well, “less optional” than I would have had we paid ourselves. That’s not a bad thing! I valued their judgement and felt like their generosity wasn’t a way of buying their way in, but of supporting me, as they’ve done my entire life, so I owed it to them to give any/all of their concerns at least a very strong consideration.

    • The first incarnation of my wedding involved exactly 20 people, and my fiance and I had made a decision to include both of our parents best friends, who had been very involved in our lives, in that small list. If we’d had the second incarnation of the wedding (a big party) the number of family friends was going up. In the end we eloped so kind of a moot point, but we were very conscious that we wanted the people who’d actively been a loving part of our lives there.

      And I think that, as much as it fits within the overall vision of the wedding a couple is planning on having, people want to include the people who have loved and supported them for their whole lives in the process. So the type of family friend who helped change your diapers and picked you up from school when you were sick and shows up for the good times and the bad? That’s family too.

    • Yes, I totally agree with My Honest Answer and the other commenters in this thread. When we were planning I probably didn’t fully get why my parents insisted so much on having x, y, z friends from their university years that I did not even recall meeting cause they were living in different (ocean separated) countries all the time.
      However I was so thrilled to meet them, and I realized, in the way that has been said by the other comments that these friends are important to my parents, in a family kind of way, and also that your wedding is a huge event that they also would like to share with their closest. And like Liz mentions in the post, if this was a super intimate wedding or elopement, well maybe it would be different, but given the financial contribution (not implying that they are buying guests, but still) that each family is doing, and the fact that the wedding is rather big… I would say go for it. And you will be maybe surprised and happy to have them, to share with them, to talk with them, cause even if you don’t remember, perhaps they remember you from back then…

    • Kara

      I absolutely totally love your last paragraph here.

      Even if those friends of your parents are “newer” friends, because they support and encourage our parents, by extension, they support us. My mom asked whether she could invite a few of her friends that I had never met–but I KNOW that they supported my mom through her feelings associated with the wedding, our (mom and my) interpersonal dynamics, her insecurity about being a “hostess,” and all those many things. While I initially wasn’t comfortable with it, we let it go.

      We were able to invite them to the wedding and then had a reception in my home state where my mom and dad could invite ALL of those people. And you know? Those friends were FAR more generous with my husband and me than my [extended] family was. When we opened gifts and cards later, I sat and cried because of their generosity, both in their gifts, and in the loving and encouraging messages they sent. How humbling. I also feel like, in some intangible way, these friends of my parents blessed the start of our marriage by showing us paths of generosity and hospitality. I hope that we are similarly able to live that.

      • Martha

        Kara – this is such a great way to address this. I have been struggling with my mom’s crazy amount of friends. Part of the trouble is that she moved about 2 hours from all of her friends I once felt close to (and would have loved to invite) at the same time that I left home. So over the past several years, she has accumulated new friends in her new home who I have never met! And it drives me crazy that she wants to invite them (and her old friends!).

        Looking at it the way you suggested, that these women and friends have been supporting my mother during all of the engagement craziness is refreshing, and perhaps makes me better understand why she wants them all to be invited.

        • Kara

          Best of luck. I was so humbled and blessed by what saying “yes” to my parents turned in to. I hope things turn out the same for you, no matter how it all works out/turns out.

    • I completely agree with this! This is where it gets hard, because, yes, it IS your wedding, but you need to remember that while you’re going about your life, your parents are most likely bragging about you to this extended family that you “don’t care about”. They want to be able to share this day with those people. If they put them on the list, they want them to be there. Remember that some of these people won’t come — if you don’t see or talk to them, they might not want to make the trip and buy a gift, but the fact that they were invited is enough.

      • Exactly! As hard as it was for me to remember this, there is a significant drop-off from who you invite to who actually comes. The other alternative is to create that “B’ list of people to invite once you get some RSVP’s from people that cannot attend.
        Our wedding was this past weekend as I know that the guest list was the one thing that drove me crazy at times. In retrospect, it seems silly, but I understand that it was important for me to feel comfortable with a smaller group of people at the wedding. But we made sure to talk to our parents about the cost constraints when it came to someone wanting to add “just one more” – and because we were honest about our budget from the get-go, it was an easier conversation to have as it came up during the planning.

    • Diane

      Agree, and would add that your parents may have been invited to the weddings of these friends’ children and feel that it is important to reciprocate if at all possible. While that may seem like a frustrating reason to feel like you’re stretching your budget, it may be very important in your parents’ circle of friends.

    • Carolyn

      I second-third-fourth-fifth-sixth-seventh-eighth this response too – with our wedding, our families were very involved, from a financial standpoint. We were very lucky that each side wanted to contribute, and without that, we wouldn’t have had the wedding they wanted. And by “wedding they wanted” I mean, for example, they paid for things that otherwise we would not have made a priority. My parents-in-law were insistent that we provide a Dinner With Real Food for everyone … and when my in-laws decided that they wanted to take care of that part of the budget, that’s what we did. Of course my husband and I chose the caterer, chose the menu, but their input — that we have a dinner at all — was their “big” decision; we simply made the smaller tactical decisions. My parents were also involved in contributing financially to the other big ticket items, and we again made the smaller “tactical” decisions based off of their priorities.

      I will agree that discretion is key – I’m very lucky that my parents and my husband’s parents get along scarily well. It was important that my husband and I mitigate any sort of awkward-oversharing-financial conversations that could have arisen had they decided to bust out checkbooks over dinner, for instance. We made sure that each side knew that what they were contributing what was fair (keeping in mind that fair doesn’t always mean equal). At a few different points we had to ask both sets of parents to please, step back, you’ve given us enough already, and we can handle it from here, thanks.

      I recently did a breakdown of all of our wedding expenses, and the contributions from all sides ended up being about a 40/40/20 split – my parents/my husband’s parents/my husband and me. Like I said, we were very lucky in that we had parents that wanted to contribute financially.

      To the letter writer, I’d say you’re on the right track. Set the guest list first, and include your parents’ guest lists. Your guest list is much more important than the cost of your reception hall, I promise you. It’s the people at your wedding who matter, not the chairs or the chicken or the DJ.

    • p.

      I’ll go out on a limb here and share a different opinion: I don’t think you need to invite your parents friends or give your parents a say in your wedding just because they give you money for it. If your parents paid for your college education, did you sit down with them and ask them what courses they thought you should take? Probably not. My guess is that most people felt comfortable taking that money and using it as they saw fit for their education. I think the same goes with a wedding — or a house. My parents contributed to the down payment on our first home but they didn’t go to open houses with us. It was our decision and they were happy to help us get what we wanted, not what they wanted. I do think there are familial expectations that should be addressed when it comes to money and guests and a say in the wedding, but I don’t think there is an obligation.

      • Another Meg

        I really think it depends on the parents. I had a friend who received a call from her parents during sophomore year informing her she was switching her major and they’d discuss it when she came home that weekend. She hadn’t been planning to make a trip home. Her parents had strong beliefs about how she spent their money, and they wanted to discuss it with her.

        I think the same can happen with weddings- some parents are very hands-off, but others want to be involved and will have certain requests. It really depends on the parents.

        My parents didn’t pay for my college education, and they are not contributing to my wedding (they are unable to). However, they do have opinions and I’m going to listen to them. If it’s something we can handle, we’ll do it. But out of respect, not obligation. I think it’s the same situation here. It’s not an actual obligation, but if it’s doable and makes your parents happy, why not?

        • Newtie

          Agreed. My parents didn’t care about my major, but you can sure bet that if my grades hadn’t been what they believed I was capable of there would not have been making financial contributions to my education. They also wouldn’t have been interested in giving me “college money” do to something else with (like travel, or start a business). It was a gift, but with expectations.

          In my family, education and weddings ARE family decisions. They’re not exclusively the decision of who’s paying, but they’re certainly not exclusively about the individual(s) involved, either. My parents gave me money for my wedding – but I could not have said, “Gee, I’d rather use that on a house, or add to my savings.” It was a gift for a very specific purpose.

          • p.

            This is fascinating. My parents never asked once about my college grades or my major. (Perhaps because they were in and out of college and eventually graduated in their 30s, they figured that as long as I was still in college, I must be doing OK). And when it came to my wedding, my parents literally gave me a check and said “Do what you want with it”. My dad, who is very frugal and believes weddings are outrageously expensive, urged us to elope and travel rather than spend the money on a wedding.

      • I’m going to have to disagree. A wedding is a VERY different animal from an education or house. (Now, your marriage—that you can lump in with education or house. But not wedding.) I’m a definite believer in the APW tenet that “Your wedding day is not just your day. It’s the day of everyone who loves you. That said, it is your wedding, so plan accordingly.”
        You don’t have to listen to anyone about who to invite to your wedding, but you should because you love them. And if you don’t want to listen or let them have input, that’s cool too—just don’t take their money for it unless that’s the spirit in which it was given. For instance, if you have children, it sounds like you’d be willing to give money and then not have your best friend (or other friends) at your daughter/son’s wedding if they choose not to have them.
        But you’re a bigger person than I because *I*, on the other hand, will throw a damn hissy if my son decides that he’ll take my money but isn’t willing to try to include his Uncle Michael. (Note, I said try.)
        I don’t plan on giving him money with strings attached and wouldn’t take it back because I gave the money out of love, not obligation. But if he didn’t allow me any guests on the guest list, there most definitely would be terse conversations on the car ride home with his father…

      • p.

        One thing I realized after I posted — and I think this is ultimately what Another Meg and Alyssa helped clarify — is that it depends on what weddings signify in your family. I know of some families where it would be considered a slap in the face if the couple didn’t invite the parents friends — even if the parents weren’t contributing to the cost of the wedding at all. And I know of other families where it really wouldn’t be a big deal if the parents friends were invited to the wedding or not, even though the parents were footing the bill for the whole wedding.

    • It seems like what Liz said was not that parents should give money and not get much of a say, but that the level of money given shouldn’t determine how MUCH of a say they get.
      What I got from the “buying into” statement is that contributing to a wedding isn’t like giving to a telethon where you get a reward for your donation level. (“You can give $1000 for catering, but for only FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS MORE, you can raise your contribution level and get the EXCLUSIVE offer of determining whether we add a fish option to the meat and vegetarian plates…”) Both sets of parents should get equal amount of say, or whatever level of input that you would like to give them based on your relationship, and the amount of money given shouldn’t give that parent more weight than another. Allowing that to happen is just asking for your wedding to be controlled by the parent with the bigger pocketbook…

      BUT, if you’re not willing to listen to suggestions or honor requests from your parents, then you probably shouldn’t take their money anyway. That’s bratty.

      • Jashshea

        LOL – Kickstarter wedding contributions!

        • DUDE. GENIUS.

          Pledge $10 or more – A bag of Jordan almonds.
          Pledge $20 or more – Almonds AND a coozie with our name on it.
          Pledge $500 or more – You get to do a speech, two additional drink tickets for the bar and we’ll sneak you extra pieces of the groom’s cake which tastes better than the wedding cake anyway.

      • Liz

        What Alyssa said, exactly.

        And adding that I think when you approach wedding finances differently- you start out by saying, “This is what we’re doing,” rather than, “How much are you contributing?” it makes it easier to make your own decisions without weird feelings of financial obligation.

        • Audrey

          That’s almost exactly what we did (although mostly through happenstance). We knew what we were doing and told both sets of parents, and then after that they chipped in what they wanted to / what they could.

          Since it didn’t happen before the guest list or even before we picked our vendors (as we could have scraped the money together ourselves if necessary) they were more of gifts than anything else.

          That said, this way would be hard if you can’t plan a wedding of N size that you want without contributions.

      • Exactly. It’s ridiculous to try to monetize opinions–“Sorry, Mom, you’re only contributing 20 guests worth. Future Mother in Law gets 100 guests because of her contributions.” But it’s also important to remember that you don’t get married in a vacuum, and it’s a big day for your parents as well. The guest list can cause major issues, but hopefully every side (you, your parents, your partner’s parents) should be respectful of each other.

        My husband and I split the guest list evenly between my parents’ side, his parents’ side, and our friends. Even though all of us could have added lots more people to our lists, it was the easiest way to split things up without anyone else feeling resentful.

    • Anon-sies for this

      I’m not sure I 100% agree with either stance (Pay = get who you want included; Don’t pay = Don’t get your friends) and I’m sort of going through both right now.

      My parents have been extremely generous for my wedding and we ended up including many of their friends that I don’t know at all. For the most part these aren’t the people who were there when I came home from the hospital or my godparents – these are people they’ve met or re-friended in the last 5-10 years since all the kids graduated from college and moved out. Some of them mean quite a bit to me – to the point where I included them on my “family member” tab of my guest list spreadsheet – and others are people I’ve met maybe once. It’s more than a table of people, just for reference.

      My brother is getting married a few months after me and while I don’t actually know the exact financial situation, I’m pretty sure my parents are not contributing. And they’ve asked for that same set of friends to be included. I think it’s appropriate that they ask, but I think they need to be realistic that they could be denied that request. They disagree (and I’m the one who gets to hear about it).

      Add to that: I’m having a larger wedding on the same coast as these guests and my brother is trying for a smaller gala on the opposite coast. It’s not just about who is paying – it’s also about the type of wedding being thrown (and when and where) – that should determine the Friend of Parent (FOP herein) numbers.

    • Maddie

      I think it’s a delicate balance. I’ve been on the receiving end of gifts that turned out not to be gifts, but instead were leverage for something else and it sucks. Which I think is what Liz was talking about. Contributions, if intended as gifts (and it should be explicit if that’s not the intention) should not be expected to buy influence.

      That said, I think the general consensus over here is that parents should be afforded some leeway with wedding decisions (as appropriate to the kind of wedding) because they are your parents and you love them. Which I actually think is a kinder approach anyway. Because if your friends kids DID get married in however many years, you’d probably hate to get bought out and not be able to come because the other family paid more for their lifelong friends to be there.

      But again, it’s all a delicate balance. And I think it requires that everyone be coming from a place of generosity.

      • Kara

        I’ve been on the receiving end of gifts that turned out not to be gifts, but instead were leverage for something else and it sucks

        Yes. Good reminder (for me) to never give gifts with strings attached.

  • Meg

    We are currently going through this, and I just re-read this section of Meg’s book. It has seriously been a life saver for my sanity. These conversations are never easy, and since my parents can’t afford to contribute while my fiánce’s can (and who’s mother is NOT shy about sharing her opinion) we have decided as a couple, to let them know that they will contribute to X. I think this way they have an “ownership” over one aspect, while not having “control” over others. We have been very upfront that while we appreciate their opinions and contribution, it is our wedding. We’re not getting married until 2014 but we’ve really had to set up some boundaries early, but this works for us!

  • Heidi

    We had our parents build an A list and a B list of guests. The A list was the essentials (aunts/uncles, life-long family friends etc.) and the B list was the more distant. The key was they were in charge of making the distinction. My husband and I did the same with more distant friends on our B list. As our budget finalized we were able to add back in part of the B list, and then as the RSVPs came in with regrets we were able to even add in most of the people on the B list and still came in significantly under the original head count. (We invited about 250 and had ~170 attend).

    • Yup, this. You might be surprised by who can and can’t attend; life happens to some people, and they have other plans already. We invited 220 or so, and we ended up with 120 at our wedding (and that includes the quartet that we invited to stay for dinner).

      The key is prioritizing what is most important for you. We actually ditched the dance and went with a venue that provided a lot of the decor (in the reasonable venue rental fee) to save money so we could have the guests we wanted with a sit-down dinner, keg, and open bar. Ditching the dance saved us the DJ/band costs, not needing a security guard, and being able to have a smaller, one-room venue.

      For you, maybe the dancing is not negotiable, but you can have your guys wear suits instead of renting tuxes or do a buffet instead of seated dinner to make sure you can afford the guest list. Or if the other things won’t budge, it’s time to have those tough guest list talks.

  • Diane

    Miss Manners’ book on weddings (Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding — totally awesome!) has a lot to say about this topic. I was thinking, though, about ways that people might be able to whittle down a budget to allow for some extra guests and thought I’d toss out some ideas. For music, if you live near a college or university, find out if any of their music students have a small group (for fancy/ceremonial music) or if there’s a good campus band or a student who’s a DJ. They often charge a fraction of what professionals might charge, have great energy, play very well, and you get to help budding musicians get started (and survive financially). For food, a friend of mine had “heavy hors d’ouvres” at his wedding and it was more than enough to have for dinner. And it was delicious. The price is often a fraction of the cost of a seated dinner or buffet/stations. Also, new chefs or culinary students looking to build a resume and reputation can often give you wonderful, creative food at a lower price. For alcohol, keep your eyes open for venues that will let you bring your own and consider a membership to Costco or Sams. Saves a TON of money. I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on this one, too.

  • Amy March

    The sense I got from this letter is that the OP is anxious, but the parents are fine with it. Which makes sense to me. They are each contributing what they can afford, and inviting who they would like to invite, and correctly not viewing it as a total quid pro quo. And you’ve only been engaged a few weeks, so I’m thinking this might be a bit premature. Guest lusts can be completely overwhelming, especially when they’re not concrete. It sounds like you’ve established a general nbdr range, so I think I’d table any more specific discussion until after you’ve found a venue, decided on a style etc. And then sit down with your fiancé and wine, and think about the specifics together. Maybe I’m mis-reading this, but if the parents seem ok with it, it’s completely fine to take that at face value and run with it.

  • Amanda L.

    For the first time, I disagree with some of the advice given to the OP. I think if your parents give you money for your wedding, they DO deserve some kind of say in how its used. They might not ask for that power, but the polite thing to do is to work with them.

    One big red flag in your letter, OP, is the part about the parents giving different sums of money. Please, if you haven’t already, do NOT tell each set of parents what the other gave. That is what will set them up to feel unequal. It is none of their business what the other side gave, and they should both be treated equally.

    I like Heidi’s idea above of having both sets of parents separate their lists into A and B. However, PLEASE do not invite one set first and then invite others as you get no’s. It can be really offensive to those who are invited second-hand. However, knowing who your parents ‘must-haves’ are can help you whittle the list down, if need be. I was able to cut about 20 people from my parents initial list just by talking to them about the size and scope of the wedding and our rationale for who was invited. There were no hurt feelings on either side.

    Finally, OP, keep in mind that this is a celebration. While it’s normal to have some anxiety, it sounds like you are putting this on yourself, so just take a deep breath, have a couple of (maybe difficult) conversations and then trust that you’ve made the right decisions. Good luck :)

  • My fiance and I are very fortunate to have moms who have always planned to contribute. It turned out to be the same number, but since my family portion of the guest list is larger my mom felt she should contribute her portion first and then Matt’s mom would cover whatever was ever over that point.

    In regards to the guest list supplied by both of our moms, we’re fortunate again here and for the most part really like our moms and their friends. That will probably be the roughest part of the wedding day, meeting so many of my new mother-in-laws friends but I recently met one and the joy she expressed at the happiness Matt and I have found was truly appreciated and lovely and so these new friends will only add more joy to the day.

    Back to the uneven split of contribution in your questions, are you receiving push back from the set of parents who are able to contribute more? That would be my only concern in your situation, because you don’t want to create any animosity between the two sets of parents.

    When it came time to make our second big financial commitment of planning I couldn’t do it until after we had a meeting with both the moms and laid the numbers on table. They are both so excited to celebrate us and they want to share that with their loved ones.

    So, the main point of all this was to ask, are you receiving push back from the set of parents who are able to contribute more? And see answer point 4 above!

  • Allieoop

    Wow, this post really hit home for me. With 6 weeks to go before my wedding, I can only wish that I had tried harder to follow this advice back in the beginning of the planning process.

    To some extent, I think you can separate out the idea of ‘parents paying = inviting guests of their choosing’ from the very good advice to make sure everyone clearly understands the budget and who is paying for what aspect of the wedding. To be honest, we are facing both of those problems, but I think that the huge guest list would be less difficult to deal with (at least emotionally, if not physically talking to all. those. people. on the day of the wedding) if we didn’t have to worry about who was paying for them.

    My parents are giving us a generous amount of money, but the amount has never been clearly defined. I’ve heard everything from “we’ll pay for the reception,” to “we can give you X amount of dollars” (whether or not that covers all the guests on the invite list), plus “your florist is so nice, since I like her, I’ll pay for flowers” while sitting at the shop reviewing the contract. It is SO hard to make decisions and plans with this kind of uncertainty. So I think that whether you agree or disagree about the level of involvement paying parents should have, the advice to lay out everyone’s financial responsibilities is really good advice. I wish I thought of my parent’s contribution as a great gift and not an endless source of confusion.

    • Jashshea

      Yikes – I actually had a sit down with about 10 months to go (pre-caterer selection) and told my parents they had to give me a number and what they felt should be included in that number (ex. they’re traveling for the wedding and buying new outfits – are they including those costs in the overall number?). I kept creative control over my outfit and our photog by paying for it and explaining why I was paying for it (ex. We’re not going to spend an hour getting posed family shots/I’m a grown woman and I want to spend what I want to spend on my gown/shoes/hair*).

      They hemmed and hawed for a good bit before finally telling me a number. We got a great deal on a caterer who is totally, totally awesome and we’re coming in well under budget – Our other caterer option would have also been super, I’m sure, but their quote was 60% of what my parents wanted to contribute and would have strained our capabilities in other places (ex. it was important to me to provide transportation to our guests so there would be no drinking/driving).

      *it’s not like I SYTTD’d here – I’m just saying I didn’t want to feel weird/guilty if I fell in love with something super expensive (most likely shoes in my case) and had to ask my parents for the money to cover it.

      Anyhow, my family is the type to be totally passive about a number and then complain when someone eclipses that number, so I knew I had to be pushy. :)

  • Anon for this

    I have seen in many places this advice to keep who’s contributing how much on the DL, but what do you do when the setup of the contribution makes that impossible? Backstory is that my fiance’s father is significantly more well-off than my parents (read: spends multiple thousands of dollars a month on art while my parents are still paying off loans taken out to put me through high school and are planning on using insurance money they got when their hot water heater died last year as their contribution to the wedding) and my fiance’s mother (divorced from wealthy dad and her alimony is running out). When we broached the “Hey, are you planning to contribute and if so how much” discussion with both sides, his dad basically said, “Well, I feel comfortable matching whatever Anon’s parents are giving.” My fiance went to the next step and said, “I know you have certain expectations about what this is going to be like [read: swanky for all your fancy buddies] and who you’d like to invite, especially after we had that [hellish] conversation about [all] the people you [know and we don’t and nevertheless] want to invite [to prove something to your society buddies]. If that means Anon’s parents can only contribute $5000, you want to contribute $5000 too?” The answer was affirmative. And I subsequently freaked out. I felt squicky about taking money from our parents anyway (we’re grownups, throwing a party, why would our parents pay?), but I had talked myself into feeling comfortable accepting what would be freely, easily, and happily given. This still made me uncomfortable with taking my parents’ water-heater money (see “easily”), and then this gave me like the most bourgeois Marxist rage possible (“From each according to his abilities!” Why would you tie it to what my poor parents can give when you have more money than Croesus?!) and then made me think that this isn’t being given so freely or happily, SO F*** IT KEEP YOUR MONEY and also WTF are you TRYING to make me feel like the poor relation? Because this is already something that’s come up many a time and is a known sore spot.

    Anyway, it was horrible. Advice? Thoughts?

    • Liz

      I probably would’ve said, “I don’t feel comfortable sharing what they’re giving us,” and if he chose not to give as a result, that’s just as well.

      Anyone else find themselves in this awkward spot?

    • Lucy

      Sorry i dont have any advice, but i got mad just reading your post! The father in law sounds like an unpleasant person to put it mildly. I hope you work through the issues to find a solution you can live with. Keep your head up.

    • p.

      To me, this is a version of what I think of as the classic APW lesson: even though it’s your wedding, people don’t necessarily show up for you the way you’d hoped or expected them to. And it sounds like your father-in-law is going to be the first person to let you down.

      Given that (and given that he will be part of your family in the future regardless of whether he funds your wedding or not), what can you do? I think Liz’s advice to the OP would also work in this case: try to figure out what kind of wedding you want (and not what the father wants and that you can afford (not what your father-in-law can afford) and then communicate this to your families. This way if the father-in-law pushes for something swanky or extra guests, you have a simple and clear response: I’m sorry, but we can’t afford that. or I’m sorry, but that’s not the kind of wedding we’re having.

    • Em

      Ugh. I am so sorry — what a frustrating situation! My advice would be to just let things lie for a little while.

      One of the things that made me the most bonkers for the first couple months was how E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G needed to be constantly renegotiated. Constantly. It made me crazy! I was trying to Done Manifesto the wedding planning — solicit input from everyone, optimize the plan to maximize everyone’s wants and needs, and start checking things off my list. I’m a busy woman. But what I learned is that there’s just no way to get around the fact that wedding planning is an iterative process. It takes time. And I think, in your case, this might end up working to your advantage.

      At this point, my fiance and I have planned about three different weddings — none of which was what I initially was picturing in my head, but all of which have been lovely and have felt like “us” (in one way or another).The renegotiation has been TOTALLY FRUSTRATING at times, but it has also helped us to all feel really good about the plan we’ve finally settled on. Things have changed, for all of us.

      I’ve been surprised to discover, for example, that a historic mansion can feel like “us,” just as much as the picnic shelter I was initially imagining (and as a corollary, no matter how gorgeous the park is, getting married in a flood plain in spring is decidedly NOT “us”). I’ve also gotten more comfortable with the sticker shock and with the fact that although both my fiance and I have large families, our concentric circles of loved ones are distributed differently. Numbers aren’t going to be exactly equal.

      Similarly, my parents have decided to increase their financial contribution to make it possible to have a slightly larger guest list in a location they can feel good about — but they’ve also come to terms with the fact that we are going to need to make some really painful cuts in our gigantic gigantic list. They are reasonable people who deal with reality in their everyday lives, although it did not always feel that way initially.

      This extremely long response is mostly to say that I really empathize and that you might consider letting things marinate a bit. For now, I think your approach should just be “what can we reasonably do with the constraints that we have?” and once you and your FH have come up with a plan that feels like *you,* take it back to your parents and be prepared to start iterating.

      • Edelweiss

        I just want to hugely echo that wedding planning is an iterative process. That’s a great way to explain it and was my biggest shock in the beginning. I too thought weighing everyone’s needs and wishes and coming up with a compromise would be enough. Finding out I was wrong, especially when we were trying so hard to come from a considerate place in the beginning, was at the heart of the unexpected angst and anxiety we faced.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          The guest list was especially this way for us.

      • Jashshea

        Love everything about this – I started tracking key decisions, even though it felt like work. I couldn’t stand to have “decided” something and then have people (mom/dad, future spouse, inlaws) ask “what are we/you doing for X?” weeks after the decision is made.

        And I’ve had to be super honest about my shortcomings – if you tell me “i took care of X” in passing, I WILL NOT REMEMBER. If me remembering is important, please write it down or email me.

    • Maybe I’m misinterpreting your fiance’s father’s response weirdly, but it felt kind of considerate to me.

      Can I explain how I read it?

      By saying that he wanted to match what other people gave, he’d prevent your parents (or ‘your side’) from feeling inadequate or inferior. He’d prevent you from having to pay more attention to him than to your own parents because he’d given you more money. He perhaps wanted your parents to not feel pressured to match _his_ contribution, knowing (or guessing) that that would be very hard for them.

      Maybe that’s an overly positive interpretation of what was an unfriendly action, but its kind of how we do things in our extended family: we pick the option that’s affordable to the least wealthy of the uncles and aunts and cousins, so that no one feels they have to pay more than they can or feel pressured to accept charity from others..

      • I see this point too, though Anon may know her father-in-law better than we do through her comment. At my wedding, both sets of parents were very much like this; wanting to contribute but definitely NOT wanting to make the other feel like they were giving more. (I cannot TELL you how many times I had the, “No, Dad, Jethro’s Dad doesn’t feel like you’re doing too much/not doing enough…” conversation. But both parents knew how it can be with in-law’s and wanted to make sure my husband and I weren’t put in a bad place or starting off with hurt feelings.
        So maybe the father in law is being considerate without coming out and saying, “Look, I don’t want to make your parents feel like shit, nor do I want to pay for everything because I can, so let’s make it even-stevens.”
        Or he could suck.

        But a good way to maybe circumvent this (for anyone else with the issue) might be to not discuss numbers, but what they’d like to help with. Because parents’ time is also worth something and yeah, Mom may have only spent $150 for the DJ but she also called in favors, rounded up the equipment, recruited people to set up and break it down and spent hours arranging your playlist. That may not fly with everyone, but it makes things seem more fair…

    • KE

      This is really horrible, and I feel for you. I’d recommend pricing out a wedding that could be paid for by you, your fiance, and your parents. It might be smaller and simpler than you’d like, but you’ll feel good knowing that you have a plan in case your fiance’s dad’s money doesn’t come through. Then you can present your plan to both families, in a happy, here’s-what-we’re-thinking way. There will likely be specific items missing that your future FIL wants – a full meal, an open bar, live music, etc. And that’s when you say, “I agree, a band would be awesome, but that would cost X dollars. Since live music isn’t a priority for us, we’re planning on a DJ. If it’s really important to you, perhaps you could cover that cost.” Basically, you plan a wedding you can afford, and he can choose to upgrade areas he cares about.

      I know this sounds a hair manipulative, but I’m mostly concerned about prioritizing your sanity so that you don’t feel boxed in by parents’ contributions or lack thereof. Have your parameters set — eg, We don’t want more than X guests — but be flexible if he decides something is so important to him that he’s willing to cover more than “his share.”

      • ElisabethJoanne

        If, in a better world where money wasn’t the issue, the future-father-in-law’s large, fancy, expensive wedding is also what the couple would want, or at least be very happy to have, it might also be worth pricing out that wedding to the future-father-in-law. Then he can see that what he wants is just impossible with the resources available.

        I did this with size issues. After everyone had agreed on a venue with a seated capacity of 150, the guest list got longer and parents started insisting on dancing. I said, “Look, right now, with 210 people invited, we can’t even have the full dinner we’ve planned, let alone a dance floor. When and if the declines come in, we’ll figure out dancing.” Having numbers that weren’t abstract and weren’t just my estimates made people back off. You can’t nag the fire codes or the WIC.

  • Esther

    When I got engaged, my fiance and I faced the situation where his parents were in a position (and offered) to take on a pretty significant part of the finances, while my parents couldn’t, even if they wanted to. Before we ever discussed money with either set of parents, I expressed to my fiance that it was important to me that my mom feel and be treated as an equal participant and contributor (even if she couldn’t be financially). So, my fiance and I sat down and came up with a list of other meaningful ways my mom and her partner could contribute to our wedding, and asked her if she would be willing to take them on. In the end, she is making our cake-topper, and possibly our huppah, and, most importantly, my wedding dress. I know she’s so excited to be doing this for me, and honestly, it means more to me than money, and most importantly I think (I hope) it’s reduced any feelings of self-consciousness about the relative income differences between our families.

  • Nicole

    I completely agree with the advice given. If your parents are contributing money, they need to realize that they are contributing to your wedding and not a family/friend reunion. A wedding is so much more than a party; it’s a celebration of your marriage! The focus often gets shifted, especially when you have to make difficult decisions, but you need to remember that as you’re planning. I definitely think it’s possible to respect your parents in the planning process and still have the wedding that the two of you want. Be prepared that it can take some time and honest conversations with your parents. It’s so worth it!

  • Anna

    I’ve never commented here before, although APW helped me through this complicated and emotional time that was getting married.So, firstly, thank you APW.

    Money and talking money has always been difficult for me and it is something that my now husband has helped me with tremendously. (and we are continuing to work on this) We were very clear and open about our budget and finances throughout this process, not only with each other, but our families. It was tough at times to negotiate, but I recommend taking the drivers seat on the matter of finances and budgeting, as all of the awkwardness and uncomfortableness is part of the process and will certainly lead you to a better place. I know financial matters are so specific to individuals, so I am just going to offer a few small takeaways from what we did and learned:

    -We set a budget for the wedding that was realistic for us to pay for ourselves. We wanted to have a wedding that if, at the end of the day, no one else was contributing to, was feasible for our financial situation. When parents (and both sets did) wanted to contribute, it would lower our personal contribution amount, not increase the budget of the wedding. This was an important distinction as to how we handled contributions and allowed us to communicate our priorities on spending better with our family.

    -We did not share contribution amounts between families. $1000=$1000, yes, but $1000 to MomA may have more VALUE to MomA than $1000 to MomB. We had totally different conversations about money and finances with each set of parents because those people each have different relationships with money and finances and we recognized that.

    -We understood from the beginning that these were gifts, not obligations, and communicated with our parents that we would treat the money as a gift. Because we communicated early on that if they wanted to gift us money, we would be flattered, but that there really was no obligation to give a gift, this helped alleviate the notion that contributing to the wedding made you a share holder in a company.

    • Absolutely agree with everything you said.

  • Jessie

    I have to disagree with some of the comments about how having parents paying means they should be able to invite whoever they want. When we got married, we were both graduate students. We couldn’t have paid for a wedding ourselves at all. I wanted to go to a courthouse and was very uncomfortable with the spotlight and the expense of a large party, but my husband and both families all wanted the party. We did end up having the party, and the parents amazingly and generously paid for all of it. Despite that, we pushed hard on both sides to keep the guest list down (ie please don’t invite cousins you haven’t seen in fifteen years or people who don’t know us) … and it still ended up being about 100 people (which was about 80-90 more than I originally wanted). I know both sets of parents were disappointed that they didn’t get to invite more people, as both sides would have happily doubled their guest lists, but I felt strongly that we had to draw the line at it being OUR wedding and not theirs somewhere. The guest list ended up being one of the most difficult issues, even though our parents were very generous with their money. In the end, though, we did invite all of the most important people from both sides, and I don’t think anyone was upset afterwards with the way it turned out.

    • Newtie

      Great point. I agree that sometimes what the couple can afford is not what the family wants, and it’s ok to accommodate that. I was also in grad school when we got married, and we could afford to elope. We were fine with that, and that’s what we were planning on, but neither of our families were fine with that AT ALL. In our case, it actually was the kinder thing to accept financial help in order to let our families participate in the way they wanted to.

      That didn’t mean they got to dictate the whole thing, but it did mean they were a PART of the process. I’m sure they would have been a part of the process anyway, even if we’d been paying for it all ourselves.

    • Edelweiss

      Yes! It’s important to respect your families if they’ve earned that respect – regardless of financial contributions. If they’re funding a wedding, maybe some either/or situations go their way instead of yours. But just because they are funding a wedding does not mean that the day you commit your life to your spouse has to include such a large number of people and acquaintances to make you feel uncomfortable or prevent you from being in the moment. It is ok for you to draw the line when necessary.

    • For me an important distinction would be fitting what the parents want within your vision of the wedding. If you want a small wedding that doesn’t give a lot of leeway for “extra” people, but then it’s a matter of communicating that it’s not that you don’t respect their friends and their desire to have them there, but that you would not be happy with a larger wedding. Even with a small wedding though it’s sometimes possible to say “Ok, Mom/Dad, I know you want X, Y & Z friends there. Our wedding size simply isn’t going to allow for that, not because of financial reasons but because it’s important to us to keep things small. We’re happy letting you invite X number of friends and it’s up to you who you decide there.”

  • Brefiks

    Unless something was cut, it sounded to me like neither set of parents involved here were upset about their contribution, and that it just didn’t feel “fair” to the OP. Which is totally normal and understandable–there’s nothing to make you overthink the emotionality of EVERYTHING like a wedding. But unless parents are the ones nitpicking and saying “why are we paying for their side?” do yourself a favor and don’t borrow trouble. My parents paid for most of our wedding with my husband’s parents covering the rehearsal dinner (and we ourselves covering a few things) so they essentially paid for all “his side” guests, and were completely fine with it. Likely your parents won’t notice the small difference in the guest list unless you point it out to them. And, it could all end up sorting out when you get the RSVPs back, don’t forget . . .

    Also, I agree that if you’re in the 175-guests range six or eight either way isn’t going to make a big difference price wise–certainly not enough of a difference to, say, pay for another budget line item.

  • Erin

    Our parents all contributed in different ways. My mother, his father, and his stepmother each picked something in their price range that they could afford to pay for (the cake, the flowers, etc).

    My father handed me a chunk of money and said “Do whatever you want with it.”

    My mother-in-law, on the other hand, didn’t offer us any money or ask us how much we needed. Instead she talked each part of the wedding through with us and when I said “We’re thinking of renting a sound system and using an iPod playlist” she said “Our family usually has this band play, how about that?” And I said “That’s not in our budget, but if you want to pay for it that’s fine.” We had the same discussion about the caterers, some of the rentals, etc. I told her our budget option, and if she cared enough she took charge of that aspect of the wedding and paid for it. Because of that, we allowed her pretty much free reign with the guest list, which included a lot of her cousins that I had never met. I’m not sure that most couples could handle that situation well (most couples care about the caterers. As long as there was food, we didn’t care, though we did help pick the menu in the end). However, it worked well for us.

  • I absolutely do not believe in letting parents dictate the guest list — contributing or not. It is your wedding and you decide who comes — the guest list is the number one contributing factor to overall budget and it makes no sense to me to say “I’m having a ten thousand dollar wedding but my parents are contributing 5 thousand so now I need to have a fifteen thousand dollar wedding”.

    I am planning on inviting one or two sets of family friends I myself have been close with so that my parents have some good friends to hang out with at the wedding, but I refuse to invite a set of family friends my parents would like to invite but that I never bonded with. It doesn’t make any sense to me for people you don’t care about to be at your wedding.

  • Anon for this

    I have mixed feelings about some of the advice given above. I think it comes down to knowing yourself, and knowing your parents. For our wedding, we told both sets of parents we didn’t expect them to contribute anything financially, but they both insisted (actually, his parents thought we shouldn’t pay anything at all, but we weren’t comfortable with that).

    It turned into a total nightmare. My parents originally said that the money was a gift, but then decided halfway through that a certain portion of the money was contingent on us making specific wedding choices (not on the guest list, but on things like altar flowers and table linens!). We ended up sending a portion of the money back because my mom got so worked up about it and demanded it back (thinking that we were trying to profit or something by not making certain decisions….it sounds totally crazypants and it was). Meanwhile, my husband’s parents started calling distant friends and relatives to invite them, even though we had discussed the total number of guests we could have, given our limited venue space.

    And don’t worry, the money drama still continues months after our June wedding! My mom has asked for an itemized spreadsheet of what we spent the money on. I’m frankly sick of talking about it, but my fiance is uncomfortable divulging the details of our budget, given that two-thirds of it was our money or his parents’. I totally agree with him on this. However, it makes my mom even more suspicious that we tried to come under budget and pocket the rest. Or something? I don’t even know at this point. And of course any sensible APW advice would be lovely :)

    Which is all a very, very long-winded way of saying: only YOU know your parents’ feelings about finances!! If they are very money-conscious and have a history of judging you for your decisions, think very carefully about accepting a “gift” of money, because they might have different ideas about it.

    • Hmm. I don’t know how you divided the contributions (you, mom, mil) but I would send her just the sections she paid for, if she is so adamant about knowing what she paid for. For example, linens, the dj, your dress, etc. But I don’t think you need to share the whole budget if you’re not comfortable with that.

      • Liz

        Yeah, exactly. Try to ascribe specific portions of the money to sections of the wedding. But I say that being still not totally sure I understand what she’s trying to prove? Moms, man!

    • p.

      Just wanted to give you a virtual hug because this situation sounds so awful. I don’t know if it’s appropriate, but perhaps you could talk to your mom about the difference between the person you are (someone who sticks to a budget) and the person she seems to think you are (a person who would swindle her mother out of money)?

  • Newtie

    So much good advice already! This is definitely a tough thing, and depends so much on individual family dynamics.

    At my wedding, my family essentially offered to pay for most of it and my partner’s family offered nothing. I was really, really hurt by this, because I know his family could have afforded to help, and my family has been through major financial difficulty which his family was fully aware of. It felt like a total lack of symbolic support for our marriage. I really had to let go of the idea that the amount of money each family gave (or didn’t give) MEANT anything — it didn’t mean my family loved us more, or cared about the wedding more, or supported our union more. It also didn’t mean my family got more of a say or got to invite more guests. I had to learn – and it was hard, because I was really hurt – to keep the focus on what the we wanted the wedding to be about: a chance for two families to come together and celebrate our new family.

    My family did originally have a lot of people they wanted to invite that made my head spin, and I did feel like I wanted to accommodate everything they wanted, mostly out of gratitude since I knew what a financial sacrifice it was for them to offer what they were offering. But in my family’s case, they gave me such a long guest list because a) they were excited and they hadn’t moved out of the “daydreaming” phase of wedding planning yet and b) they really had no idea how much weddings cost.

    We didn’t say anything about the guest list at first, and told them we’d make decisions about it in a few months. During that time, my partner and I crunched all the numbers so we could show them — even without a band or a DJ, even without any flowers, and even with a seriously low-budget dress, we wouldn’t be able to FEED the people they wanted to invite. We explained that we could do a drinks/appetizers reception instead, and we explained a few other options. When my parents saw we were giving up stuff we would have loved to have in order to accommodate guests, they were very willing to cut down on their guest list. It was really important to them to have a regular dinner (which was not as important to us, but they’re more traditional), and they were willing to work with the guest list in order to make that happen. Naturally, the people they felt comfortable not inviting were the people who really didn’t need to be there in the first place (part of the daydreaming I’m-so-proud group of people).

    There were still four or five people invited that I knew were good friends of my parents but whom I didn’t know at all, and I had a little twinge of resentment about that, but I sent them invitations anyway. And you know what? They were among our most generous and fun and happy-for-us guests. They danced the night away and stayed till we shut down and wrote us the most beautiful cards about how much our parents loved us and how honored they felt to be a part of our celebration. It made me realize that my parents really did know that these people needed to be there, even if I didn’t know it beforehand. I was glad, in the end, I didn’t put my foot down about this group of people.

  • I guess the whole ‘who pays for what’ part of wedding things was neatly taken care of by having a wedding in three parts (spread out over seven months and two continents, but who gives :P).

    We, bride and groom, planned the ceremony, some fun activities at the location and dinner for which we invited our parents and siblings and paid everything. We also paid some of the travel cost if needed, hired the photographer and made all the decisions.

    My parents gave us an amount of money as a wedding present, but requested that we spent some of it on a reception for extended family and friends. We ended up doing so, even though we were doubtful about if we wanted to (no regrets, though).

    Before the wedding, his parents requested our permission to organize and pay for a reception in our honor for their extended family (and a few friends) after the wedding was over.

    At first, my parents (I guess?) kind of expected to pay for the ceremony and dinner. I explained to them that, while I realized it broke tradition to do so, it was very important for Beloved and I that we paid for this ourselves. In the end, my parents could not resist paying for a few smaller items that were used during the ceremony (boutonnieres, my hat and the make-up artist who did my mom’s, my sis-in-law’s and my make up), but oh well :) We felt like we really were the hosts and our parents really were the guests, which is what we were going for. The ceremony and dinner were what we wanted to control and arrange and that’s what happened.

  • LMN

    I’m really glad that I read the section in Meg’s book before we started having the money conversations with our parents. We started out with the plan that we were going to pay for everything ourselves, and we are saving accordingly, which made the contributions from both sets of parents an unexpected and lovely gift. Our families each talk about money differently, so my partner and I have each taken lead in talking with our respective parents about it in order to make sure we’re understanding things clearly. My partner’s parents are more focused on paying for specific parts of the event, but they have also given us a dollar amount (so helpful!) and are sending the money ahead in installments. My parents also told us a dollar amount (so helpful…) and want us to use their contribution wherever needed. They asked me what would be the most helpful way to receive it–installments or lump sum. After each conversation, my partner and I come back together to make sure we are on the same page we thought we were. We are still eight months out from our event, but having the budget figured out in advance has been huge for reducing my anxiety and allowing us to make realistic plans. I feel really lucky to have APW advice to guide me through this process!

  • Caitlyn

    I did some reading up on this before our wedding because I knew that our parents likely wouldn’t be contributing the same amount of money to our wedding, as my husband’s parents are much wealthier than my own. To be blunt, my mom and stepdad gave us 2K; my husband’s parents footed the bill for our venue, which included food, cake, drinks, etc. and totaled about 15K. My husband paid for our honeymoon, and I (plus my the money from my mom) paid for everything else like my dress, his suit, flowers, invitations, etc. Because of what I read, neither set of parents knows how much the other set of parents contributed or how much we paid. Although I will say originally my husband’s parents were planning to go the traditional route of paying for the rehearsal dinner and alcohol until my husband let them know that there was no way that my parents would be able to pay for the rest of the wedding, so they know they contributed a lot.

    I did feel a bit annoyed that Kris’ parents wanted us to invite their relatives who they are basically estranged from. Because why should we invite people who they know won’t come, and really who they don’t even talk to? But we did, and it was fine. I don’t think anyone should be worried about their parents “paying for guests.” The family members who I am closest to are actually those of my biological father, and he didn’t contribute a cent to the wedding or even come. I have often feel guilty when I shouldn’t, but I didn’t feel bad that people that I love were coming to the wedding and no one had “paid their way”…except for my husband’s parents who had never met most of these relatives of mine. Seriously, I would go crazy if I even tried to worry about this.

    The one thing that did stress me out though, was that our venue cost was not per head, we were renting out a restaurant. We planned on about 100 (we invited 126) people, maybe a few more, in the end, there were 80 people including the wedding party and our photographer because of some inconsiderate relatives on my mom’s side, some friends who we really counted on coming but just couldn’t make it, and that none of our single friends brought dates though they were offered a +1. I was really distraught that my future in-laws were paying so much for so few people and that they would feel that they weren’t getting their money’s worth, but in the end it was fine, they weren’t concerned and I don’t know how more than 80 people would have fit into the venue. While statistics say you can expect 15% of your guest list to not come, my wedding taught me that you never know what will happen.

  • Laurel

    Money has so many feelings attached to it. We had a lot of stress about it, but things worked out pretty well in the end.

    — We asked about parental expectations up front and decided that we could handle them. It didn’t hurt that our families run to courthouse weddings and our parents mostly wanted to specify that we would invite them, their siblings, and our siblings. If they’d had expectations we weren’t prepared to meet, we would have turned down the money at that point. Like it or not, people will have expectations when they contribute financially. Figure out what those are before you take the money.

    — The parents who put in more dollars specified a dollar limit to their contribution. After they spent a couple of phone conversations stressing about whether we’d go over it, we offered to guarantee that they wouldn’t have to spend more than that: if there were costs beyond that amount, we’d cover them. That sounded ok to them, so we stopped talking about the budget. In the end, they were in charge of selecting the wine and went over the budget we gave them, but that was their decision.

    — We asked both sets of parents if there were any people they wanted to invite. This got sliiiiightly tricky because (of course) everyone kept thinking of more people it would be nice to invite. We ended up with about 85 people, maybe 10 of whom we wouldn’t have invited left to our own devices, and it was totally fine. I recommend being generous on this to whatever extent you can. It makes the parents feel happy and included, and the extra few people don’t make that big a difference.

    — On the other hand, I would strongly recommend that you not view this as a direct monetary transaction. Our sets of parents contributed very different amounts of money, but they got to invite similar numbers of people because the wedding, like the marriage, is a joint family endeavor instead of an investment/purchase situation. You want to honor both families, which includes inviting the people who are important to them approximately equally.

  • LC

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been stressing about the guest list for our wedding, and it was great to read this advice and other suggestions. Also, thank you to APW and its readers for making this one of the few websites where I read all the comments – they’re so thoughtful!

  • I’m also dealing with guest list issues – although we’re in a slightly different conundrum. My fiance’s family has a very large family, and they feel strongly about inviting everyone. They are not close with their family, however, and when I got the first list it included things like “Aunt Nancy with husband and two children” because they didn’t even know the husband’s and children’s names! They also keep telling me that “nobody will actually come” and that I should just invite them to be polite and include everyone.

    We want a small and intimate wedding, and our venue would be ideal with 75-100 people. I don’t love the idea of having people whose names my fiance’s family didn’t even know showing up at the wedding (that sounds pretty terrible to say out loud because they’re family, but it is true). I have a few good college friends I would love to invite that I’ve had to kick off the list because it is just getting too big with the huge extended families. And while I keep telling myself that many of the extended family members probably won’t come, I’m worried that if they all actually do decide to come we’ll be well over the 75-100 ideal number for our venue. Not to mention the higher costs of feeding all those people on a very tight budget.

    Anyway, there is no real point to this comment except to say: guest lists are tricky!

    • Anon-sies for this

      Same thing happened to me – I was calling my FMIL every 3-4 minutes when I was writing out the save the date envelopes – What is “Larry’s wife”‘s name? Who is “Sarah” and why doesn’t she have a last name?

      I originally had 4 coworkers on my GL – once I got the parental expectation lists and realized that we didn’t have a prayer of staying under 150 people, I started adding in everyone that I wanted there. If the parent’s neighbor that moved out of the house next door in 1986 is getting invited, the guy that I sit next to daily is also getting invited. I had 1 conversation w/my Dad where he said “you’re killing me with this list” and I shut it down quickly by reminding him that 20+ of his closest friends would be there.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I was there 8 weeks ago, as we were sending out our invitations. I don’t have any advice, though. I invited my whole church, which was about 20 families or 40 people. With church, I had similar issues of not knowing if the children listed in the old directory were grown, etc. So I told myself that I wasn’t much different from my parents or my future-in-laws in terms of inviting sort-of-strangers.

      We only have about 25% of our Rsvps, and I’ve been surprised (like so many other brides) as to who’s coming and who’s not. More of “his side” that “wouldn’t come” ARE coming. More from “my side” that would “of course be there” WON’T. Children were invited, but locals are getting sitters, it appears.

  • Laura

    Oh the guest list note–just wanted to say that, from my experience, what sometimes seemed like a HUGE DEAL ended up being…well, fine.

    We had some guest-list drama that came up. My parents (father specifically) wanted to invite a TON of his close friends to our small ceremony. And it was apparently a “non-negotiable.”

    Well, of course, we’d heard this all second-hand from my mom. And after being incredibly anxious about it for a week, I finally had a conversation with my dad about it–and yeah. A LOT OF THINGS had gotten lost in translation. What came across as a “non-negotiable” was, in fact, not. It ended up being a super-easy situation to resolve.

    Moral of the story? Be frank and open with people and have the hard discussions. It’ll save you some heartache.

    (Oh, and side note–we did end up inviting most of those friends. Some couldn’t attend, but the ones who did, we were SO glad they were there in the end.)

    • Danielle

      Yes, this!

      We found ourselves in a similar situation, and for months leading up to the wedding I had a bad taste in my mouth about inviting people I’d never met (mostly from my in-laws’ side — good friends of theirs, including a few that even my now-husband had never met) and, from both sides, people I/he hadn’t seen or spoken to since childhood.

      Of this group of, shall we say, reluctantly invited individuals, about 15-20 attended. We had about 180 people total, and once the wedding weekend arrived, it really didn’t matter. Either they proved to be fun, loving, grateful guests, or they blended into the background and we totally did not notice them. But it meant a lot to one of our parents that they be there, and that ultimately was more important than us having a perfectly curated guest list (which is impossible anyway, since there will always be at least a few people you REALLY want to attend who won’t be able to!).

      From both a budgetary and space-occupying perspective, when you’re dealing with 150+ people, your guest list can probably handle some compromises. I wound up being glad that we didn’t fight with our parents by, as Newtie said above, putting our foot down on this issue. It just wasn’t worth it.

  • Hix

    Wow, I only skimmed all the comments, but I am surprised to see how many people feel your parents should be able to say who they want at your wedding. My mom (fortunately!) gave solid advice, but never told me whom to invite (although she did contribute to the wedding.) Finalizing the guest list was by far the worst part of our wedding planning. It was bad enough as it was and I would really not want any other person or other complicating factor in the process. That said, I was really, really grateful that my parents’ friends came to the church and stayed for a glass of champagne afterwards. (Oh, and also: After our troubles, I will never ever blame anyone for not inviting me to their wedding. Least of all if it’s my friends’ children in twenty or thirty years…)

  • KE

    One lighthearted guest list story to share–

    I was opposed to my dad’s work colleagues attending, especially those I’d never met. (5 colleagues + 5 spouses = an extra table of strangers.) Then my mom said, “We really need to invite them – they’re the founders of the feast, so to speak, and it would make things awkward for your father at work.” The phrase “founders of the feast” (borrowed from A Christmas Carol) cracked me up, and I realized she had a point. Now, whenever work people are referenced on the guest list, one of us goes, “To the founder of the feast, indeed!”

    • Emilie

      love this

  • travelingliz

    I was lucky enough to have parents who wanted to contribute 100% to our wedding. This was hard to accept, at first, but they had been planning on giving us this generous gift my entire life. (they did the same for my sister, as well). Because they were so kind, we WANTED to give them a good say in the major decisions… venue, guest list, dress etc. because, well, they were paying. It was so nice of them, we wanted them to feel like it was their party, too, which it was, because they were hosting it! It also didn’t hurt that they have great taste, knew what our overall vision was, and wanted to help us make it happen. The in laws offered to pay for a rehearsal lunch, which was awesome, but because they were pretty awful leading up to the wedding, we really didn’t give them the opportunity to have input in any major wedding decisions. We felt that if you’re not going to be nice to us, why bother? Our guest list was definitely heavier on my side, as I have a huge family that actually gets along and sees each other often. My husbands family is smaller than small, and he wanted lots of his friends there, not extended family he hasn’t seen in decades and who have no interest in knowing us. I guess I feel like if you’re going to take someone’s generous assistance then you should want to let them have input, but then again, even if my parents hadn’t paid for pretty much every last detail, I would have still let them have as much input, because I love them and respect them.

  • Our parents were very reasonable about adding people to the guest list. The few friends on it were people we knew and had already put on our own lists. The wrench in our guest list came when my grandparents, with whom I’m very close, wanted to invite family members I’ve never met. For the record, my grandparents’ (sweet & generous & in line with their abilities) contribution to the wedding was offering to pay for my dress, which I then found for $400.

    I had asked for the addresses of my grandparents’ siblings; instead my grandmother gave me a list that included her brother’s children (who are my mom’s cousins, but she can’t stand them), and his grandchildren & great-grandchildren, whom I’ve never met in my life. It was a surprise to me that she included these people, because she is not particularly close with them, either; she attends a party or gathering with them on average of once a year despite living only an hour apart.

    I told her that it wasn’t in our budget to include people we’ve never met, especially because my husband’s family is very large and we were planning to pay for everything ourselves. Knowing how invested they were in my childhood (I was raised my single mom with lots of help from them, and I was their only grandchild for 16 years), I asked if they wanted to invite a couple of their close friends instead, whom I’ve met on several occasions. Nope.

    [Insert my facepalm here.]

    It took a bit of coaxing, but I finally figured out my grandmother wanted me to invite these great-nieces and great-nephews of hers solely because she’d had to go to all their events and give them gifts, and thought it was my turn to get crap from them.

    It’s a good thing we were having the conversation on the phone, because my grandmother would not have approved being on the receiving end of that Slow Blink of Death.

    She eventually realized, after trying to present this gift-grab to me about four different ways, that this was Not Happening. (I had no idea my lovely grandmother could be so tacky. Nuptials bring out the crazy in so many unexpected ways.)

    We compromised; I said that we’d be fine with my grandparents ordering and sending an announcement (from them!) after the fact to members of their very extended family, and that I’d even help design it if she wanted. That way, they could send a gift if they wished, but they wouldn’t feel obligated, and my husband and I wouldn’t have to pay for guests we’d never met. And, importantly, we wouldn’t look like greedy moochers. Ultimately, when they had to go to the trouble of doing and paying for it themselves, my grandparents didn’t bother to send announcements, but that’s their problem and not mine, so it’s a win-win.

    TL;DR: You know your family better than anyone. Do your parents want to invite people you’re not close to and/or have never met because those people are good friends of theirs and it would mean a lot to your parents to have them there? Or are they doing it because they feel obligated/want to show off/had to go to these people’s kids’ events? The first group gets to come, especially if your parents are being reasonable and considerate about it, because those people are your extended community, even if you don’t know them yet. The second group does not have a valid reason for being invited, regardless of how much money your parents are giving you. If they don’t agree with you up front that a gift is a gift to be spent any way the couple chooses, don’t accept the money and have the celebration you and your partner want and can afford on your own.

  • The guest list can be such a tough issue, even without the stress of who’s paying for what. My parents could have invited about 500 people (they’re very social and my dad’s side of the family is huge). It helped that our space was limited to about 200 total and I divided that up to my parents, my husband’s parents, and our own friends. When my mom called me stressing about how she needed to have more people, I said, “It’s not just a list of people we like or people we enjoy spending time with. It’s a list of people we want to share the day with–a very special, intimate day.” That ended up being my phrase throughout the planning process, and I think it helped her remember that she didn’t NEED to invite the second cousin we only see at funerals. I think planning can be a lot easier if you break things up equally (or at least, equally between families) and remind parents that this is a very special, very intimate day.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Our wedding finances are “traditional” – bride’s parents pay for most; groom’s parents pay for flowers and rehearsal dinner. This means my parents are paying for all “his side’s” guests, so to speak. But they’ve always expected to do that. In my family dynamics, this is no big deal.

    My future husband and I are also just fine inviting people out of obligation – whether at parents’ request or for other reasons. For example, I’m inviting people from my church I don’t really like, because picking and choosing can only lead to hurt feelings.

    With my parents, we’ve been happily left free when it comes to allocating the actual dollars they’re contributing. I was worried they’d get sticker shock and refuse to pay $X000 for a venue or $X000 for catering, even though they’re fine spending $XX000 on the wedding in general, but in only one small area has anything like this come up. They trust us to look for good deals and spend according to our own priorities.

    Just this week, a wrinkle came up with my future in-laws and the flowers. After saying for 2 years they’d pay for the flowers, after approving the florist proposal, after the original deadline for final payment to the florist passed*, they want to make paying for the flowers contingent upon a rabbi officiating brief, second, Jewish ceremony at the reception. We’re fine with this in theory, but haven’t found a rabbi willing after many phone calls and a year-long search. [We’re both Jewish converts to catholicism, having a catholic ceremony.] My future husband was surprised and angry at this last-minute manipulation and ultimatum from his father. I told him the wedding forums were full of such stories, and I had always considered it a possibility. (My future in-laws did not contribute a well-raised kid to our wedding. He’s wonderful in spite of them.)

    *No one gave us a discount for getting married on a Monday in November, but we have gotten tons of flexibility to delay decisions, deposits, and now, even final payments.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous OP (that means I asked the question that got answered in this post, right?) here :)

    I had actually asked this question back in early September of last year, right after we got engaged — thought I’d share some “from the other side” wisdom(?) now that we’re 8-months married. It’s long. Sorry.

    #1: I REALLY REALLY WISH we had firmly refused to tell each side of parents what the other was contributing. We told them, because they asked, and for some reason, we didn’t realize we had the option to say “we’d rather not say”? I don’t know. They knew, and it made things awkward. What a brilliant idea, APW! I strongly advise this to y’all brides-and-grooms-to-be, whenever possible.

    #2: We cut back on a LOT of things (our choice; we didn’t want tuxedoes or matchbooks etc etc etc), were clear about our plans/preferences, and still got pressure from the in-laws (MIL had to be convinced 3 times that the groomsmen were not wearing tuxes. And gave us grief for saying “together with their parents” on the invite instead of “Parents 1 and Parents 2 invite you to the wedding of their children”. Sigh.). MIL also wanted to provide input on type of food served (with hilariously bizarre reasons for not wanting things like red sauce — because I might spill it on my dress.), and was generally veeeeery hands on. Insert my stubbornness and fierce independence (and slight control freakishness) and “I’m an event planner; I know what I’m doing; Please stop giving me asinine suggestions; Why don’t you think I am capable of planning a wedding” attitude, and I was about to blow. This whole thing drove me nuts until my fiance/husband and I decided that he would “deal with” his parents and I with mine. Luckily for me, my mom had recently entered a new “zen” mindset, and wanted to “help wherever needed, but otherwise not be a control freak”. I did overhear a lot of one-sided conversations where my fiance was saying “Yes, we will consider that”, knowing full well we wouldn’t consider that. Bless him for having those conversations. Winner=my sanity.

    #3: My parents had some friends they wanted to invite, and offered to pay extra (they had us figure out cost per head, seriously) on a per-person basis for people who went over their amount/percentage of guests. (This was my mom’s one burst of craycray during the planning). This was a little bananas, if you ask me. HOWEVER, many of my parents’ folks couldn’t come, so I just added those few “bonus” people in and called it even. My mom also bought my dress, on top of the money they were giving us, and threw us a potluck engagement party for all the out of towners we knew couldn’t afford to come. His parents paid for the rehearsal dinner/BBQ party (that we fought for, big time). It was a little tricky financially, because my parents just sent cash installments when they could afford to, while his parents insisted on using their credit card to pay for things until it totaled the amount they were willing to give. We footed the bill for whatever was left (and it ended up being about the same as what my parents gave…so my parents + us = his parents). And then his parents decided to foot the bill for a LARGE part of our honeymoon…not taking no for an answer…which made me extremely uncomfortable until I learned it was part of a family tradition that was meaningful to his father, and I was able to contextualize a little and accept the sweetness of it. Even if initially it felt just like throwing money around to show off/buy input into where we went and when (because don’t you worry, MIL definitely tried that. I think that’s just what she does. Let’s not talk about how nervous I am if we have kids. Thank goodness we don’t live in the same state.)

    #4: Our guest list ended up being about evenly balanced with the contributions made…which meant his family’s side was represented moreso than mine. Especially when weddin’ time came ’round and a lot of “my” side couldn’t make it, but his could. We had two full tables (out of 12) that were just his family’s friends and their kids. They were great, raucous fun, but looking at the pictures, and remembering the night, I do feel a bit like his family’s guests had much more of a presence than my (quieter) side of the family. Not that this is wrong…just different.

    That said, it hurt me a little that my family expressed a little sadness after the fact, that they felt his family and their friends overshadowed the event, that they were too loud and showy and took over, and that they felt less important. Which may be a little true, but I didn’t notice during the event…because I was being self-centered (in a good way), because it was our wedding, and if my husband and I (and the majority of our guests, if memory and pictures serve me correctly) had a great time, that’s all that matters. Or all that mostly matters. My family is quieter/more introverted/less boozy and dancey, and his is louder/more extroverted/more boozey and dancey. And that’s ok.

    AND BONUS PSYCHOLOGY TREAT: In writing this response, I’ve uncovered what might be the most important nugget of all…as long as you are doing your best to treat people with kindness and fairness, their response is not a reflection of you. As my wonderful therapist always says, “You cannot control the way other people act. You can only control your response to the actions of others.” It’s true, y’all. My parents’ feelings of inadequacy or of being overshadowed come from their long, complicated psychological pasts. His parents’ need to believe they’re providing valuable input at every step of the game comes from their long, complicated psychological pasts. As long as you and your partner plan the wedding you want, and respect your parents/friends/guests throughout the process, you’re a winner.

  • Well first things first. This is your wedding day and you should decide on the wedding that you prefer. So if you wish to have a small and intimate wedding go for it. Secondly do not distribute the guest list based on the finincial aid privided by the parents. Thirdly involve both partnets n the wedding preparation process all the way. Make them understand how you are planning to allocate the budget for your wedding, take in consideration any suggestion that they give you, but keep in mind that you have to ultimately decide.