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!