Q: DEAR AMY,
My partner’s daughter is way over budget for her upcoming wedding. She has had an engagement party that cost her parents $15,000 (the couple took home $17,000), and her bridal shower that cost $20,000 (she took home $13,000).
Her father is terrible at budgeting and saying no. Her mom had addiction issues in the past, and her daughter takes advantage of this, asking her mom to make up for it. My partner is struggling to pay monthly for the costs already incurred. The bride quit her job about three months ago, and the wedding is in October. We live an hour away from her. I have repeatedly invited her, her sister, and her fiancé over to visit us and get to know each other. It’s too far; they are too busy. Christmas, family birthdays, celebrations—I am never invited.
Yesterday she asked her father to ask me if I wanted to buy her wedding shoes as her gift—they cost $950. I am struggling to keep respecting my partner and his ex, who is a lovely lady. Anything I can do to help out in this situation? Or do I just keep quiet?
—COSTS ARE STAGGERINGLY HIGH
A: DEAR CASH,
Well, it certainly sounds like this wedding is going to be quite expensive. Though that in and of itself… who cares?
But beyond that, I have questions. You say Daughter is “way over budget” for the wedding: Whose budget is this? Your partner’s budget for how much he is willing to spend? You and your partner’s budget for how much of your joint finances you are willing to contribute? Her own personal “budget” she set and is now exceeding? Ultimately, does it actually matter if she is “over budget”? Not really, as far as I can tell—at least not to you. What matters is whether your partner is spending too much money on this.
The amounts involved are certainly eye popping. In a way though, the fact that she, apparently, received gifts totaling $17,000 for her engagement party and $13,000 for her bridal shower makes me wonder if this wedding actually isn’t shockingly over the top in the context of her culture? The numbers are staggering to me, but perhaps not her guests, since they are also giving really generously. Just something to ponder as you think about this. Your partner may have different cultural values about weddings that are influencing his spending decisions. (Side note: How do you know how much money they “made” on these parties? Is that something that you need to know?)
The real problem isn’t that her wedding is costing a lot of cash. It’s this right here:
“My partner is struggling to pay monthly for the costs already incurred,” and “Her father is terrible at budgeting and saying no.” Well that sucks for him. But it’s not actually his daughter’s fault that he is in this mess. It is his, because he is responsible for taking care of his own wallet. Do you two share finances? Your letter doesn’t specify whether you are married or not, but either way, if you are committed to each other, how you both spend your money impacts both of you. Obviously if you have shared finances you’re completely within bounds to demand more control over how those funds are spent. However, even if you have separate finances, you might have joint financial goals and joint long-term plans. Focus on that. Does he want to budget? Or does he want to give his daughter everything her heart desires? Those are all things worth speaking up about.
But there is a third option here. If you two have totally separate finances, at the end of the day it’s just not your business. That may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true. People can spend their money however they want, and that includes on lavish weddings for their daughter.
I can appreciate that it must be hard to see someone you love really struggling with saying no and potentially spending money he doesn’t have. This may be particularly hard since his daughter hasn’t been receptive to forming a relationship with you. At least one part of this question is easy. When someone invites you to gift her $950 shoes, “Absolutely not! That is bananas. If you want $950 shoes you can spend your own money on them,” is a completely reasonable response. Also, you can just say, “No, I think that’s not going to work for me,” and leave it there.
I think you need to get loud. Use your words. Say many, many things. And 100 percent of them should be privately to your partner.
Here is what you should say to your step-daughter: you should congratulate her, express excitement about the wedding, and politely decline opportunities to gift her expensive things without bringing all your judgment about the whole wedding to the table.
You say you’re struggling to respect your partner, and yeah. It can be hard to respect someone you’re in a relationship with whose financial values you fundamentally don’t respect. Money matters in partnerships. You’re looking at this as an issue with his relationship with his daughter, but she’s going to be married in October. What about the rest of your life with him?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE EVERYWHERE YOU TURN, MORE PEOPLE ARE GETTING MARRIED? LIKE ATTENDING WEDDINGS HAS SOMEHOW BECOME YOUR HOBBY? IS “EXPENSIVE CRAP FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S WEDDINGS” A BIGGER BUDGET CATEGORY THAN “MANICURES, BOOKS, AND CHEESE”? EMAIL ME: AMYMARCH [AT] APRACTICALWEDDING [DOT] COM.