Dear Margo: A Different Kind of Surprise Party

My parents aren’t contributing as much as I’d hoped for my wedding: Margo Howard’s advice

A Different Kind of Surprise Party

Dear Margo: I’m a middle-aged woman who’s getting married for the first time in the fall. My parents like my fiance, “Jack,” and are very pleased that we’re getting married. Jack and I don’t have much money, so we’re planning a small, informal wedding — but the expenses are piling up. Jack’s parents are deceased. We expected my parents (who are well off) to help us financially. This hasn’t happened. They are, however, going to host a party for us at a fancy restaurant the night before the wedding. It’s a nice gesture, but not something Jack and I wanted or requested.

When my sister (who is financially comfortable) got married ten years ago, my parents gave her a substantial check to help cover wedding expenses. I’m starting to feel very angry, resentful and stressed about the situation. However, discussing it openly with my parents would most likely make things worse. They probably feel that the party is their contribution and might resent me for expecting more. Any suggestions? –Bride-to-Be

Dear Bride: I do have a suggestion, as a matter of fact. Although it sounds somewhat dramatic, I hope you will consider it. I actually did something very similar to what I’m going to propose, though for different reasons. (At that time, my husband-to-be and I had each previously been married, and I was pretty sure my parents had wedding fatigue at that point. I know I did … along with rice marks.)

Anyway, we threw what everyone thought was an engagement party. We took over a French restaurant, and the gathering was tres gay. At some point in the evening, my new husband, in the form of a toast, announced that we had been married by a judge that afternoon. There were great whoops of surprise and joy. In your case, there will not only be the element of surprise, but you will save a nice chunk of change; you won’t have the stress and commotion of even a small wedding; and you will have the fun of a bridal celebration — courtesy of your parents.

Regarding your sister’s gala 10 years ago, perhaps your parents had more money then. (I suspect many people did.) Put that out of your mind. P.S.: Let your parents be surprised along with everyone else. –Margo, tactically

Who Knew?

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This organization serves the entire U.S. and currently has 547 partners to help. Click here for more information. I wish I had known of this service when I was in treatment. –Cancer Survivor in Navasota, Texas

Dear Can: These people sound like saints to me. The service they provide is perfectly wonderful and worthwhile, and something I have never heard of. To whoever dreamt it up, bravo! Even taken to another level — without the illness factor — being overrun with messy surroundings can (for most of us) inhibit working and thinking and feed the feeling of being overwhelmed. Without considering myself a neatnik, I do believe that a messy desk signifies a messy mind. Getting organized is what we, in our family, call “clearing the decks.” I hope a lot of people see this and pass the link on to a friend undergoing chemo. Many thanks. –Margo, gratefully

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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73 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jim Martin says:

    I love Margo’s wedding suggestion! I very much doubt that Bride-to-Be will take her advice, but it cuts brilliantly through all the crap (can I use that word here?) to a perfectly sensible and surprising solution to a chronically overblown problem. I have never understood why weddings have to be extravaganzas anyway. If I ever loved anybody enough to commit to a lifetime with him, the last thing I would want would be a manic, bank-breaking social leviathan, planned months or even years in advance, to kick it off. Simplicity and spontaneity are so much more romantic.

  2. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    I am sorry but letter #1 reads as a spoiled little middle aged brat and is jealous of the first wedding that it is obvious the parents can no longer afford, perhaps when the sibling got married 10 years ago finances were not a problem.  LW1 needs to have a talk with her parents and be honest about expectations. Also since she waited so long, perhaps the family thought she would be a spinster for life  – lol

    As for letter writer 2 – If this cleaning service does not pan out…

    • avatar mayma says:

      Also since she waited so long, perhaps the family thought she would be a spinster for life  – lol

      While I think that couples should pay for their own weddings, and while I also think LW1 would be wise to drop the anger, I also think that this is not a nice comment.  Spinster!?!  Probably this is my own bias, but it can be difficult to find the right person and “waiting” until middle age is no picnic.  It doesn’t warrant a “spinster – lol!”

      That may even be LW’s point — her sister gets generous funding from parents that she describes as well-off, but she does not?  Is it because of her age?  A first wedding is no less exciting for a middle-aged bride/groom.  Personally, I do not believe it has to be expensive, and I think “we expected them to….” is never a good approach, but I do understand LW1’s point. 

      Still, it’s best to drop the anger and try (though it doesn’t sound like they have this kind of relationship) to talk openly with the parents.  Diplomatic openers are:  “I’m confused about what to expect here, so can we talk about this openly?”  OR “How would you feel if we applied that dinner expense to the wedding itself?” OR “I confess I had a different expectation, but let’s talk together about what you were thinking so I can understand.”  Or even more open-ended and intimacy-building:  “How did you guys envision wedding stuff with your kids?”  None of that works unless LW1 is open-hearted and training herself to focus on the new life she’s starting with her groom.

      Oh, and great tip from LW2.

    • avatar Karen Lauer says:

      I respectfully disagree with the statement that she sounds like a spoiled brat.  I am one of four children, and the only one that is not married / engaged.  I have watched every one of my siblings receive engagement gifts, wedding gifts, parties in their honor and financial assistance while I have thrown on the bridesmaid dresses and a big smile at every single event.  I am extremely happy for my sibs, yet a little sad that my parents will never bestow on me the same gifts and financial assistance that was bestowed on them.  It’s not acting like a brat to be a little hurt.  Especially when she has (so far) kept these feelings to herself.

  3. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    OH and just so all know – I had two weddings that were low money, the wedding party brought dishes to pass as did the guests (without request) we used a music box for music for al the dances and the bridal party helped to decorate the night before.  Each wedding cost me less than $500.00 – that does not include the dresses and suits – dresses were from JC Penney and suits the guys alreadt had – Both weddings were great and shows that you do not need to spend mega bucks for a great wedding – hugs, Kate

    • avatar John Lee says:

      That’s really awesome to hear.  My wedding is coming up in a few months and while my fiance *thinks* she is being frugal because she tends to compare herself with her friends’ who have millionaire parents helping.  Now the costs is up to around $25,000 including the honeymoon.

      Yes, I have the money, but we want to buy a house and start a family instead of living in a tiny 2 bedroom condo that I bought through my hard-earned saving habits.

      To be fair, outside of the wedding splurges, my fiance is very good at saving as well, though had bad luck with finances like many Americans these past few years.

      But I wish my wedding would only be $500!  Actually, I would be estastic if my rehearsal dinner would be only $500!

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “Yes, I have the money, but we want to buy a house and start a family instead of living in a tiny 2 bedroom condo that I bought through my hard-earned saving habits.”

        No, what you have is a down payment towards your divorce. Dude, anyone who would let their fiance spend $25K on a “Princess For A Day” Kit needs to step back and make a serious reassessment.

        • avatar Jen41 says:

          Hey David, I’ll tell you what, I would have said the same thing a few months ago. I mean, $25,000?! Then I was told that a cousin and her fiance were spending about $30,000 on their wedding. I was speechless. I’m 30 (not married) and have many friends that have gotten hitched over the last 5 years or so. I started expressing my astonishment to several of them over the $30,000 price tag and came so find out that most of them had spent AT LEAST $20,000 or more on their own “special days”. Apparently this is something of a norm these days!! And none of these people are rich.  They are generally middle-lower middle class.  I think when then time comes for me I will invite parents and siblings to the courthouse and then spend a few bucks on the most awesome honeymoon ever, for a fraction of what others are spending on a ceremony and reception.

          • avatar moonrevenge says:

            I think that part of the problem is that there is a whole industry suckering people into what they “need” for a wedding: save the date cards (once reserved for the guests who would be traveling a long distance and therefore need more of a notice than the typical eight weeks given by an invitation), wedding favors (because food and entertainment are not enough; we need goody bags like at a children’s party!), wedding consultant (once reserved for the well to do and people planning a destination wedding), those little pieces of tissue paper for the invitations (necessary only when the invitations are actually engraved), special wardrobe for the honeymoon, a lavish honeymoon – and those are just the things that immediately come to mind.

            So much of that is completely unnecessary, but people buy into it anyhow.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            In the space of about 50 years, we’ve gone from having sweet, simple ceremonies where there’s a bride, groom and one attendant each in someone’s living room to some obscene display of color-coordinated dreck. Diamonds weren’t even popular until DeBeers decided they were. And now, everything is marketable.

          • avatar Lunita says:

            @ David- I agree with the comments about weddings and what they’ve turned into, but even decades ago there were people putting on extravagant shows. My parents were in a wedding in the 60s or early 70s (can’t remember which) where the bridal party’s outfits resembled those described in Gone With the Wind. My mom’s dress actually had the hoop, and the dresses were red! The bridal party was so large that apparently they couldn’t even all line up in the reception hall together. Hahaha. I think my mom said she gave that dress to a niece for a costume.

        • avatar JCF4612 says:

          David — You are oh-so-correct. Anyone dropping 25K on a wedding and honeymoon better be wealthy to justify such extravagance. I foresee trouble for John Lee and his Faux Frugal Princess Poo.

      • avatar Lila says:

        John Lee, $25K is a big chunk of change to blow on one day. Yeah, weddings are supposed to be special, but “special” should not have to be synonymous with “expensive.” Our own wedding was less than $2000, and the largest expense was the food and drinks for the reception. Next biggest expenses were for the church organist and the photographer. Hubby and the Best Man wore their dress blues and I found a regular white dress that I could use again (why spend hundreds on a fancy dress that can only be worn once, then becomes a storage problem?). I had one Matron of Honor who wore a regular dress that she already owned.

        We have never regretted going the cheap and simple route. That $25K is much better invested… and consider how handy that money will be if / when kids come along.

      • avatar amw says:

        To all that have responded to John Lee, you aren’t considering the whole picture here.

        First, the $25,000 includes the honeymoon. You can assume at minimum that’s $5,000 to $10,000 if they’re traveling by plane to a resort out of the country.

        I don’t think any of you realize how expensive common wedding items are these days. My fiance and I each have one attendant. Our venues alone are costing us $1,500. And that was the cheapest we could find!

        Some people really do go over the top, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we spent $10,000 including the honeymoon, and that’s going the cheapest route we can on everything!

        Lighten up…she’s planning for her one big day…one of the most important of her life. This doesn’t spell out disaster…especially considering he made the point that this wedding is the one and only thing she has splurged on.

        Congratulations John.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          If you’re getting married, I think it’s important to plan within your means. Period. If the LW doesn’t have the money to do her “dream wedding” now—then scale back, have a smaller ceremony, and save for another event later on. The same goes for John’s fiance. Not to pick on you amw—but the wedding should be looked at as more than “her day.” It should be “their day.” Especially when $25K would pay for other things that John mentioned—like a nicer, larger home, or starting a family. Or five cruises at $5K each. Or $2K in rent for over a year. Or a car. Or a college education.

          Weddings are no different than funerals—it’s a one shot event, and you’ve got someone breathing down your neck to spend as much money as humanly possible. If $25K isn’t that much, maybe John should spend $50K. After all, wouldn’t that make his fiance twice as happy and “her day” twice as special?

          • avatar amw says:

            I think it is important to plan within your means too. We are certainly not paying for anything we can’t afford and would never dream of putting something on credit.

            I didn’t mean by saying “her day” to take away from the fact that it was “their” day. Because I completely agree with you. It is about the couple.

            In my opinion, if John feels that $25,000 is well beyond their means, he should communicate that to his fiance. But I didn’t get that from his comment at all. It seemed to me he was just surprised by the cost of it all.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Yes, but you have to know that your mode of thinking is in the minority when it comes to weddings. And we’ve been trained as a culture by those oh-so-smart folks in marketing to think of the wedding day as “her day” and to give the bride a pass (i.e., whatever she wants), because that’s what little girls are taught to plan for—being a princess, a bride, or both.

            “But I wish my wedding would only be $500! Actually, I would be estastic if my rehearsal dinner would be only $500!” Surprised or not—I guess he’s the one going along with it, and like he said—it’s his money to spend as he wishes. Personally, I’d take the cruise and save the rest for a house or a kid.

        • avatar CanGal says:

          Weddings should not be about “her day”, it should be about the next day and every day after that, committing yourselves to each other til death do you part. If you do not understand that, your marriage will not last and any money spent on the wedding will be wasted.

          • avatar amw says:

            I really didn’t intend to convey the message that the wedding was all about the bride having a day in the spotlight. I was simply trying to describe her excitement.

            Trust me, I agree with you wholeheartedly! In no way is the wedding the most significant part of the day. It is the union of the couple, the beauty of their love and sharing it with the people they care about most. Committing to spend the rest of their lives together no matter what.

            It has always been a great source of aggravation to witness extravagant weddings that probably maxed out four or five credit cards. It is utterly ridiculous, not to mention careless. At the same time, our simple, small wedding still has costs associated with it. As I mentioned to David, we will having nothing we can’t pay for with cash. But it is very expensive. To describe my naivety when I first started planning, I figured I could do everything (not including the honeymoon of course) for no more than $2,000. When I found out that wouldn’t be the case, I scaled down my plans immediately. My fiance didn’t care to wait a year to get married…I did so that we could have what we wanted and pay for things as we got the money. While still saving and paying for the usual expenses. See, we are not rich, but a trip to the courthouse is out of the question. There are things we both want for our wedding.

            I want to apologize to anyone that misread my message…I wish I’d thought that through a little more. Thanks for calling me out.

          • avatar CanGal says:

            yes as soon as you say the word “wedding” the price seems to quadruple. You can rent a hall for a generic event and it will be one price, but if you say “wedding” the price seems to skyrocket.

      • avatar bright eyes says:

        I’m cheap (totally admit it!) so my idea of the perfect wedding (should I ever have one! 🙂 ) would be going to the beach somewhere (even just driving there!) and getting married on the beach with my relatives there. Of course I only have about 20-30 relatives that would come, so I don’t have the whole 250 people wedding thing going on, but something simple and easy. I would much rather put any money towards my house than I would to pay for a party for everyone else! Or even save the money for the honeymoon!
        It seems that everyone is focused on the wedding – people forget about the marriage.

  4. avatar Lisa Cornell says:

    I was a middle-aged bride five years ago. It was my second trip down the aisle but even if it hadn’t been, my feelings would have been the same. My husband and I had a lovely wedding ceremony at a luxury hotel in the city we live with just the two of us, followed by a romantic dinner and a couple of nights stay at the hotel. It was very special, very intimate and my parents and everyone were pleasantly surprised. Later, my parents gave us a very generous check which we used for a wonderful vacation.
    I didn’t expect or want anything other than best wishes from friends and family. By the time one reaches middle age, one shouldn’t be looking to others to subsidize a wedding or anything else for that matter.

  5. avatar RL says:

    Another “spinster” comment: “By the time one reaches middle age, one shouldn’t be looking to others to subsidize a wedding or anything else for that matter.” I don’t know what planet you’re on, but most people are struggling these days and will be for quite a while, so I don’t care how young or how old when you marry or have kids, I’m not subsidizing any of it. I didn’t in the past during the roaring ’90s and I’m not going to if and when the economy improves. Getting married and having kids are lifestyle choices.

    • avatar mayma says:

      Okay. But we’re talking about the LW’s parents, whom she describes as well off and who have given her sister a generous wedding check. I think it is understandable for her to wonder what’s up, though (as I said) it’d be best if she could drop the anger before approaching them.

    • avatar Paula says:

      “By the time one reaches middle age, one shouldn’t be looking to others to subsidize a wedding or anything else for that matter.”

      I don’t see this as a “spinster” comment at all! I think it’s about maturity! True, people of all ages have differing financial capabilities, but I believe as an individual matures, he or she is supposed to become more and more responsible. I see this comment from Lisa to mean that, by the time a person reaches middle age, he or she should be personally responsible for his or her choices, which includes paying for them!

      • avatar mayma says:

        Yes, at any age they should pay for their own wedding, but I am also saying that I see LW’s point. Her sister received generous funding for her wedding, but she won’t receive an equal amount. Whatever one’s views on weddings are (and LW is saying that they don’t want the expensive party the night before), I do understand how this would cause her some consternation and upset.

        In other words, take the wedding part out of it — why does one daughter get more funding than the other. There could be a valid reason, but the LW is asking how to be diplomatic about it. A fair question, I think.

      • avatar RL says:

        Even so, all kinds of people are experiencing financial hardships these days. Just b/c you’re 40, 45, or 50, doesn’t mean you’re “on the path to righteousness” financially speaking, you never know when the rug will be pulled out unexpectedly (e.g. job loss, major health problems, etc.), so it’s not only about responsibility, which, frankly, is in the eye of the beholder. For example, some people think it is responsible to take out student loans to pay for a degree whereas others don’t. I think the parents should be fair and just b/c a woman marries young, doesn’t mean you get to have your parents pay for a big, white wedding — there just seems to me something sexist or double standard about it for an older woman. I agree, though, people tend to spend too much on weddings in proportion to their income, bills, etc. It’s just 1 day of your life.

  6. avatar etienne westwind says:

    LW1, the problem with expecting other people to help out is that they have no obligation to do so. You’re coming across as feeling greedy and entitled, though maybe the real issue is that you think they favor your sister. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If it’s the former, all whining will do is give validation to that favoritism. i.e., You’re the “ungrateful one”. If they don’t, it will just cause hurt feelings damage your relationship further.

    Your parents may see you as being better off than your sister was. If you’re truly middle-aged, your parents are looking at retirement in a few years. All too many couples at that stage have found that they failed to adequately save–even when the government wasn’t threatening to go broke, if you’re in the USA.

    Re: LW2, there are a lot of great services out there, but it’s always nice to hear about another.

  7. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re LW#1:  Margo’s suggestion is practical but I can understand why a first time bride would want her walk down the aisle.  I can also understand some resentment if the parents provided more funding for the sister’s wedding than they are for hers.  Unless her parents are truly odd and unloving towards her, however, I suspect the different treatment is motivated by changed circumstances in her parent’s finances which she may not be aware of.  I doubt if her parents share all of their financial information with LW#! and they may have suffered losses of which she knows nothing and need to preserve what they have left as they get closer to retirement (or perhaps they are retired and income is far less than it was 10 years ago).  And, there may be *more to the story* than we see here whch accounts for the disparate treatment.  My sister and her husband, with three daughters and a son, decided when the first child married, how much they could afford to contribute to each wedding.  That sounded great until one of their children (unmarried) needed substantial financial help for other reasons (which was provided by them willingly).  However, as my sister says:  *x has gone through the wedding fund at least twice by now*.  Perhaps LW#1’s parents have provided funding for her education or other expenses they did not provide for her sister and feel they have been even-handed in their financial support of their adult children. 

    I don’t see why LW#1 cannot discuss it with her parents  (asking if the money spent on the dinner could be applied to the wedding doesn’t s eem so out of line to me) but if she cannot, then she probably should just accept the situation and look ahead to her future.

    • avatar moonrevenge says:

      “I doubt if her parents share all of their financial information with LW#! and they may have suffered losses of which she knows nothing ”

      I agree, Katharine. I know so many people who don’t broadcast their financial situations to their children because they don’t want the kids to worry. Everything might *seem* fine on the surface, but the bank accounts might look drastically different.

      I am wondering what kind of “small” and “informal” wedding the LW is planning. If the expenses are piling up to the point that they’re needing help, I really wonder at the informality.

  8. avatar cleanslate says:

    I’m 41 and getting married for the first time, too. I have long dreamed of having a nice (not over the top) wedding, but it just took a while to find the right guy. I have 3 sisters who all got married in their mid-20s, all with very nice weddings compliments of my (fairly wealthy) father. One of those sisters is now divorced. I also have a brother who was given a very large check for BOTH of his two marriages, and he is now twice divorced.

    So I was conflicted about approaching my father for money. On the one hand, he paid tens of thousands of dollars for weddings for my siblings, and part of me wants to claim some kind of “fairness doctrine.” On the other hand, I’m older and much more independent than any of my siblings were at the time of their weddings. But it still feels less than fair that I would be treated different than my siblings.

    I am more fortunately than LW1 – my fiancee has done well for himself over the years, and money really isn’t an issue for us. AND, my father recently and unexpectedly volunteered some money. So I’m not in the same boat. But I totally understand her feelings – I’ve been there. I hope things work out for her as well as they’ve worked out for me. As a first time bride, she should have her chance to walk down the aisle.

  9. avatar K Coldiron says:

    I can understand how you feel, LW1, but if you’re actually middle-aged – i.e. not 30 – I have to tell you that you look a little ridiculous here. The tradition of the bride’s parents paying for the wedding derives from women going from father’s house to husband’s house, and I cannot believe that’s what you’re doing.

    I agree with Margo’s note that your parents might have had more money 10 years ago, and also, if your sister is younger and it was 10 years ago, it might have been more realistic in terms of her age for them to help subsidize her wedding. Maybe you are truly being slighted, but maybe you are just seeing similarities between your sister’s situation and your own that are not there.

    If you can’t pay for your own small, informal wedding, how are you going to pay for other expenses down the road?

    • avatar moonrevenge says:

      “The tradition of the bride’s parents paying for the wedding derives from women going from father’s house to husband’s house,”

      Not only this, but too many people want to be ignorant of the fact that when the bride’s family “paid for everything,” they also PLANNED everything.

      • avatar Sweet Dream says:

        Good point, Moonrevenge. When my husband and I had our wedding, we didn’t ask for anything from anybody for the same reason. We wanted to plan the wedding our way and we knew that money meant control and we didin’t want to give up control of planning our wedding.

        • avatar moonrevenge says:

          Good on you, Sweet Dream 🙂 It always makes me happy to see people who take responsibility for their weddings. Back when I was planning mine, I saw way too many brides complaining about parents who were paying for everything and had the nerve to want to invite people other than just the bridal couple’s friends and partying buddies.

          • avatar GabbyM says:

            I know what you mean moonrevenge..When my brother got married, he and his fiancee expected her parents to pay for everything and then became aggravated when her parents picked the venue and invited their entire church.

          • avatar moonrevenge says:

            I think that’s entirely fair, too.

            My mom used to say that a person is never really free while they are financially dependent on somebody else. I’ve found this to be true. It might be *nice* if people offered assistance without strings attached, but I think people have a right to speak up when their finances are involved.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      “If you can’t pay for your own small, informal wedding, how are you going to pay for other expenses down the road?”

      Excellent point.

  10. avatar Dani Smith says:

    For letter #1 I think Margo’s correct in that the parents probably had a lot more money 10 years ago.   Does she not realize that we’re in a recession, and that so many people lost their entire retirement funds in one swoop?  It sounds to me like her life so far has not been touched by the recession, so it never even crossed her mind to consider this possibility.   I myself have a similar situation going on, involving my much younger half sister from my dad’s second marriage.  Back when I was still in contact with my dad in the 90s he’d be openly (and obliviously) bragging to me on the phone about how her college fund was already paid for (she was still a baby) her car that she’d be getting at 16 was already paid for, etc. etc.  as well as bragging about how much money he had saved up in his retirement plan.  Talk about resentment.  He was obliviously rubbing it in about all the stuff she’d get that I never did.   But now, all these years on, she’s in her teens and she was telling me about how my dad keeps telling her how she’s going to need to get herself some scholarship money when she goes to college.   So she’s got that stress on her.  Shocked the hell out of me, since he used to be Mr. Money Bags.  It’s like, what happened between then and now??    The recession happened, that’s what.  I imagine he lost a large chunk of his money.   Which sucks, because I know he worked his ass off and earned every penny of it.  But this is something that’s happened to so many older folks recently and letter #1 needs to realize that.  Just because her parents haven’t sat her down and explicitly laid out their personal financial situation for her (it’s none of her business anyway) doesn’t mean something didn’t happen.

  11. avatar Barbara says:

    Weddings seem to bring out the worst in everyone. Let’s make a rule: pay for yourself. Then you can throw whatever kind of party you want and can afford, with no one else weighing in with their own issues/suggestions/biases. Quit going for the “wedding of your dreams” but rather make your wedding the happy day you will dream about for the rest of your life because of the commitment you made to the person you love.

    • avatar GabbyM says:

      I did both. I had the wedding of my dreams and paid for it myself. But then, my dream wedding only cost $1000 (It was a Star Trek wedding in Las Vegas). I’m of the firm mind that if your wedding is going to put you in debt for the next 5, 10 or 15 years, IT’S NOT WORTH IT, especially considering the divorce rates these days. Who wants to still be paying off a first wedding when you’re planning a second one? 🙂

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        One important thing missing from LW1’s letter is a statement to the effect that she’s never borrowed or received any major financial assistance or monetary gifts from her parents prior to this point. Thus, I have a sneaking suspicion that things are more equal in the parents’ minds than in hers. Whether or not that’s actually true—I think Margo’s suggestion, as well as Gabby’s are both excellent.

      • avatar Mandy McNalis says:

        May you and your spouse live long and prosper 🙂

        We paid for most of our wedding. However, we had been together so long we told people we didn’t need gifts, so, many of them gifted toward the wedding itself. My parents were kind enough to gift a tent rental, tables, and chairs for us, my brother-in-law bought and cooked a pig for us, my mom and I made all of the other food the night before, my dress was $30 (I love me a sale rack!), and my two bridesmaids were told to pick their own dresses out as long as they were close to my colours and if they were under $50 we’d pay for them, my husband and his brothers wore Hawaiian shirts and shorts that didn’t cost much, I pre-programmed my song selections and made it a simple “point and click” for my niece to “DJ” for me (she was 9), a good friend of mine gifted her services as a photographer, my husband’s grandfather was a baker and asked if he could make our cake as a gift, and my mother-in-law is a florist and insisted on doing the flowers as our gift. All in all, with people being kind enough to gift services we paid less than $1,500 for the whole affair. Including clothing, rings, food, booze, decorations, fans for cooling (wedding was in July) the tent, etc. We were also lucky enough to have a nice big backyard to hold the ceremony and reception.

        I realize that small isn’t for everyone, but to me $25+K doesn’t say “wedding” it says “down payment on a house,” or “student loan payment.”

  12. avatar Cleopurrtra says:

    Ltr #1 – if it truly is a small, informal affair, as you have stated, then there shouldn’t be anything that would require assistance from your parents. For my first wedding (I’m remarried now) I did the ‘walk down the aisle’ thing, although it wasn’t in a church setting, it was outdoors. I spent about a year making plans, calling around to find the cheapest rentals for chairs, reception area, etc. Set aside a little bit each paycheck for each of these expenses. I made my own centerpieces (various sized wine glasses/goblets with glitter in our wedding colors and tealight candles inside). I went to a discount store which had a monthly email coupon for 20% off on a single item. Bought one box at a time ($9.99 with 20% off). I made all the flower bouquets and boutonnieres myself with silk flowers (craft stores with coupons). My mother did help me pay for my wedding dress, simply because it was more than I had been planning on spending and she even haggled with the dress designer so that I was able to get the ‘floor model’ for $700 (more than half off). Reception was buffet style with a DJ providing music (way cheaper than a band). My cake was made by a local woman who specialized in wedding cakes and was actually much cheaper than getting one from a bakery. All total, I probably spent about $3000-5000 on everything, but bought a little here and there when I could and did a lot of the stuff myself. 2nd time around, hubby and I just went to the courthouse and had my parents as our witnesses, my husband’s mom, my grandma and my sister were able to come. The rest of our family was invited to our home afterward for a reception, which was very ‘picnic-like’. I never once asked my parents for money (for either wedding), nor did I expect it. I figured if I couldn’t afford to do it myself, then I didn’t need it.

  13. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Letter 1 – Things average out over a lifetime with most siblings. There is no mention of getting previous financial help or an education paid for. If this letter writer is middle aged her parents may have figured that other help from time to time equaled what the sister received. The writer does not take into consideration the recent devaluation of property or the past stock market slump and plunging interest rates. Her parents may feel the need to keep their cash for a safety net.

  14. avatar Miss Lee says:

    Margo’s wedding suggestion was excellent.  I think the current obsession with spending money large amounts of money on weddings is in very poor taste. Expecting others folks, especially parents who are most likey well past retirement age, to help pay for it is expecting too much.  That money can be better spent or saved for retirement.  To turn your nose up at a nice dinner to celebrate the event is just plain tacky. 

  15. avatar P S says:

    LW1 – Seriously? Sorry to be blunt, but you are being SUCH the brat.

    I’m going to guess if you’re middle-aged, then your parents are probably retired or close to it, and they need to start thinking about preserving their nest egg if they’re not already living off it. What makes you think you’re entitled to siphon off of that? Even if on the surface they appear well-to-do, as Margo pointed out times are REALLY tough. I know very few people who haven’t had to tighten the ol’ purse strings these days.

    Start thinking of things you can substitute, exchange, or plain do without on your big day. It’s time to roll with the punches. Trust me there are lots of corners you can cut and still have a beautiful wedding.

    When I married DH ten years ago, we wanted something small and simple and we planned to pay for everything ourselves. My parents did spring for the reception (dinner at our favorite restaurant), and gave us a check, but they offered, we didn’t solicit.

    We kept our wedding party small – SIL was matron of honor, DH’s best friend best man, our friend’s daughter and my daughter were flower girls. SIL picked and paid for her own dress (she dresses to kill when called for, so I knew I could trust her). I did our decorations and flowers. My brother was the photographer, his offer and gift, and we got additional photos at the reception by placing disposable cameras at each table and letting everyone else go snap happy.

    Our ceremony was in a small chapel off to the side of our parish’s main church. The priest told us about it when we told him we wanted to keep things small and it was perfect. It also meant not having to deal with a wedding coordinator, rehearsals, etc.

    We used a bakery I’d known and loved since I was a kid for our cake. I found my dress, brand new from a little bridal shop in New Mexico and a design I’d dreamed of wearing, off eBay for $80. We didn’t structure anything at the reception except the cake cutting – no need for a DJ. Everyone just sat around, ate, drank, laughed, chatted, and gee, we all had fun.

    I don’t think we spent more than $1,000 on everything. Given 9-11 and a recession followed not too long after we married I am SO glad we didn’t plunk down five figures. We didn’t include anything in our wedding that we couldn’t pay for up front.

    Granted things are more expensive than they were ten years ago but I’m still willing to bet we wouldn’t exceed what we spent back then by much if we did it over again. There are ways to make a wedding special without having to drop massive $$$.

    The only barrier to Margo’s suggestion I could see is if LW1 and her fiance are planning a religious ceremony, which means they’ve got a date locked down that could be hard to re-schedule, plus there are certain rituals and what-not that some faith traditions cannot do outside of a church/chapel/temple that are considered necessary to bless the couple. Even then, as I learned when I remarried in a Catholic ceremony, some spiritual leaders are willing to work out something flexible. They recognize it’s your wedding and they want to do what they’re able to make you happy.

    LW2 – Thank you for sharing about this service/charity. I agree with Margo, they sound like saints!

  16. avatar Stacey Binder-Berro says:

    LW 1- I had the same situation.  Except that I was younger and had just put myself through college.  We had to pay for the wedding, so what my husband and I did was simply par it down. We did what we could afford (what a novel idea!) without going into debt.  When the in-laws (both sides with more than enough money) complained about not inviting more of their friends or family we simply told them the checkbook was closed.  I have to say the benefit to us paying for our own wedding was we got to do what we wanted without anyone else forcing opinions on us.  It’s been 9 great years and friends and family still tell us ours was the best wedding they’ve ever been to.

  17. avatar michelelaura says:

    Margo, your suggestion of tricking the parents into paying for what would become the wedding reception is reprehensible! Are you seriously advocating such a swindle? You must be off your rocker.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      What “swindle” are you talking about? It’s a great idea. There’s no need to make the wedding itself a huge spectacle. Announcing that it’s all over at the dinner is a terrific idea that saves money all the way around.

      I know a whole lot of parents that would be thrilled if their kids did that. It’s a whole lot more fun than spending a year planning and spending a fortune just so you can stress out all of your friends and family. I think that there would be a collective sigh of relief for all concerned.

  18. avatar anderson44 says:

    I’m not sure why adult children “expect” their parents to pay for their weddings these days at all. Once you are an adult, and even more so a middle-aged adult, you shouldn’t have any expectations that your parents will pay for anything for you. In fact, your parents probably have perfectly reasonable expectations of their own – that as an adult you will be financially responsible for yourself. They certainly wouldn’t expect you to get hip deep in plans you cannot afford based on expectations that your parents owe you something because of what your siblings may have received at some point in the past. They may want to contribute and if they can afford to, great. But if you are really a grown-up you would have that discussion with them prior to planning your wedding. Something like “We are planning our wedding, and didn’t know to what extent you wanted to participate or contribute. What were your thoughts?” Then you would know how much you could (reasonably this time) expect from them, and could make suggestions as to what would be most helpful.

    At this point, if the letter writer doesn’t think she can have a discussion with her parents on an adult level and redirect their (rather generous) offer for a party at the restaurant, then she needs to downsize her plans and pay for the wedding herself. Because her parents really don’t owe her anything.

    And yes, I do speak from experience. I was 39 when I got married. We planned the event we wanted (small wedding, family only, about 20 people), fully intending to pay for it all ourselves. When our parents asked if they could contribute, we gave them the option to cover some of the less expensive items. They were pleased to be part of the planning, and we didn’t have to feel guilty about asking them to pay a large portion of the costs as they moved into retirement.

  19. avatar amw says:

    I have not expected or requested money from my parents or future in-laws for the very reason that many commenters have already pointed out: I don’t want to relinquish control!

    My fiance’ and I want a beautiful, romantic wedding but we are fully in charge and aware of our budget and have kept our guest list small to avoid outrageous expenses.

    That isn’t to say that my family or his would try to take over if they did contribute…but I don’t think that’s much of a way to start a relationship with your new family…just in case!

    However, I can understand the confusion and hurt feelings LW1 would experience having witnessed her parents’ generosity toward her sister’s wedding. That’s a tough spot to be in…but in the long run, you’re marrying the man of your dreams. Focus on that…harboring resentment is no way to live your life.

  20. avatar JCF4612 says:

    I’d be curious to know how LW#1 defines middle age. Mid-thirties? Late ’40s? If you and your groom are over 40 and his parents are deceased, it seems like you should be able to swing paying for your wedding shindig, or else just quietly go to the courthouse. Your parents are paying for a rehearsal dinner party (something the groom’s
    parents traditionally do) … isn’t that enough? Be smart, and follow Margo’s lead and turn the dinner party into a reception. Arrange for a cake to be delivered along with a case of champagne … and by all means pay for it yourself.

    P.S. While you’re at it, being so mature and all, why not start making plans to throw your parents a milestone anniversary party?

  21. avatar D C says:

    I recently bought my daughter some items for her apartment now that she’s graduated college, roommates are moving on with formerly shared furniture and kitchen supplies, and there’s no wedding on the horizon from which she might obtain these kind of items in a shower.  I bought her a kitchen table so she wouldn’t have to eat on the card table that’s about to fall apart.  I bought her a new cookware set and a blender. 

    At one point she said, “Mom, if you want to spend money on me, why don’t you give me money for X?”  X is something I don’t approve of, for several reasons.  It’s not bad for her — it’s just something that I, personally, feel is something she should pay for if it’s what she really wants.  And that’s what I told her. 

    I’m thinking in LW1’s situation, there has to be some reason the parents aren’t wanting to put money toward the wedding, and would rather spend it on the party they want to give.  LW1 and her parents need to sit down and talk about it.  Open lines of communication make it so much easier to breathe.  They should try it. 

    • avatar moonrevenge says:

      D C, there were a lot of times when my mom told me that [X] was something that I would buy for myself. Looking back, I think that she did me a favor. I never went without necessities, and my mom taught me that there are things that I should make happen for myself if they’re my own dreams. Good for you for setting similar boundaries with your daughter!

  22. avatar Dana2011 says:

    I have compasson for Letter Writer #1 and she is NOT a brat.  The real issue here is about parents treating their children equally.  All of these ageist comments about “middle-age brides” not deserving the same support as their younger counterparts are crap.

    This woman is getting married for the first time and if she wants a nice wedding, that’s her choice. She deserves it.  Just because you’re a little older doesn’t mean you don’t deserve something nice.  Personally, I got married in my early 30 and was celebrated by my family and friends as though I was in my early 20s.

    My parents had paid for my younger sister’s wedding and there was always the expectation they would pay for most of mine – that’s how my family does things. On the other hand, I had to pay every penny of my own post-secondary education including law school.

    Each family is different but as parents, we should treat our children equally. I doubt the parents are suffering financially and they should give the same to this woman as they did to her sister. That’s how I intend to treat my daughters.  It breeds resentment between siblings and it’s not right to treat your children differently.

    Everyone is different – some people don’t care about weddings so if they want City Hall, that’s fine. But for those of us who want something special, why not? It was the happiest day of my life and would not have been the same at City Hall.  If you don’t agree, that’s your problem.  Then don’t have a nice wedding for yourself. But you have no right to judge people who do.   

    The bottom line is that parents should not give financial support to one child and not to another. Would you really give money to one of your children and not to another for the same occasion and think it’s OK? Letter Writer #1 should just ask her parents for the same assistance they gave to her sister and contribute that towards the wedding instead of having this party the night before.  

    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      We don’t know that the parents didn’t give support in other ways over the years because she was single. There is also no mention of how large or what kind of wedding the first daughter had. The writer stated her parents gave her sister a check to help cover expenses it didn’t say they paid for the entire shebang. The fact that her sister is financially comfortable seems to bother her too. Again people work hard to achieve that kind of financial security it didn’t happen without effort.

      As a parent of one married and two single sons I can say that we render a lot of help that is invisible to the singletons. We routinely pay for meals out gas up their cars if they run errands for us. We have also helped with home and auto repairs and have paid for plane tickets so they can visit their brother without dipping into their savings. We have never brought this to their attention nor intend to we do it because we love them. This girls just seems to have the eye on the check her sister received to pay for her wedding. There is no mention that her parents may have paid for her education or given her equal help while single.

  23. avatar BeanCounter says:

    Margo (or anyone else who can answer) – how do you accomplish your suggestion without everyone knowing?   Surely the parents will be expecting to head to a church the next day and have an address for the next night at another reception?   If you don’t send out those addresses and times (because you’re not having them), won’t that raise suspicion?  how does one logistically pull that off without raising questions????

    • avatar D C says:

      That would only work if you were inviting everyone to the night before party that you planned to invite to the wedding.  In that case, you could always send an invitation with fake information — just have to cross all appendiges and hope nobody blows off the party and shows up to an empty church the next day. 

  24. avatar Lilibet says:

    I know someone who had an engagement party, but in the middle of it they had a surprise wedding. The bride’s mother was ill, and the bride didn’t want her Mom to have the stress of helping her plan a wedding. The only ones who knew about it ahead of time were the minister (a friend), best man and maid of honor (siblings).

    In the LW’s case, though, the party is probably smaller than the wedding, and doesn’t include some who are invited to the wedding. So it might be hard to pull this off. I also think her parents might feel a little strange about the subterfuge, since they are paying.

  25. avatar Jon T says:

    I rarely disagree with Margo, (this might be the first time) but I’m iffy on her advice to Bride-to-Be. I do like the idea of surprising everyone at the engagement party, but I have to wonder how the parents will feel when they realize at a party they’re paying for that they weren’t given a chance to attend the actual ceremony. If the LW goes ahead with this plan, I’m thinking she should bring her parents with her and surprise them when they arrive at the courthouse. This way they still get the benefit of a surprise, but won’t miss the nuptials.
    PS: I loved Margo’s comment about suffering from wedding fatigue and rice marks. 🙂

  26. avatar Nikki Sunset says:

    I agree with the above post from Jon T.
    I loved Margo’s suggestion at first glance, but have some trouble imagining how it can work in this case.
    First of all, I doubt all the wedding guests will be invited to the party the night before. What happens to the other guests?
    And everyone will probably be dissappointed that the party they expect the next day is not happening. At the least, many of the guests will have bought special clothes for a wedding that is not to be.

    I have two ideas. One- say to your parents that you would like to use that party as the wedding.
    Or indicate on the invitation that the wedding will be rather casual, a picnic perhaps or backyard BBQ with hired help to make it a little ore special. Then the night before party becomes the big party.

  27. avatar Mrs. Williams says:

    LW 1 – Abby’s advice is great!  Rather than coveting what your sister got, you should try some gratitude that you received anything.  Do not waste your time resenting your parents for not coming with the cash.   If you are old enough to get married, you should be mature enough to have a wedding within your means, whatever that may be. 

    People spend so much time fixating on the wedding and going crazy with plans and spending and family politics – do yourself a favor and focus on the marriage.  The wedding is just a stepping stone to get to the rest of  your life. 

    • avatar Mrs. Williams says:

      My bad… I totally meant MARGO!  I blame the pregnancy brain.  Margo, please forgive me!

  28. avatar Ruth Rosenfield says:

    The nicest wedding I ever attended was at the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park.  The ceremony was performed by the bride’s father who was a minister, the guests all wore jeans and shirts (or sundresses for some of the women), the caterer was Colonel Sanders, and the happy couple are still married nearly 40 years later.

  29. avatar CanGal says:

    LW1 grow up and learn what is really important. Weddings are not about the wedding day, they are about the next day and every day after that, committing yourselves to each other til death do you part. If you do not understand that, your marriage will not last and any money spent on the wedding will be wasted – maybe your parents are trying to tell you something.

  30. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I understand it’s the principle of the matter, and maybe as Margo points out your parents don’t have the $$$ now that they did when your sibling married. Frankly, I’m 46 years old…and I wouldn’t expect my parents to pay for my wedding. Maybe they figure you and fiancee are old enough to do that yourselves … and should? I know that’s not fair, and you might want to stick to the principle of the matter. But even if my father were still alive, and I were marrying for the first time? I wouldn’t expect them to pay for my wedding.

  31. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: It is possible her parents spent the money they had saved for her wedding. Parents paying for a wedding is a gift. My parents told me (at 28 & with a decent job & savings) that they were giving me x amount of money. They then said I could spend it on the wedding– or not. Whatever I liked. Also, they said that anything over that amount would be footed by me (by being super thrifty it covered it mostly). They also gave us a generous gift. I expected them to pay for the whole thing, but was also realistic. I was happy they gave anything at that age when I was making/saving my own money.
    On another note, Margo’s idea is neat how it played out for her, but this won’t work for a pre-wedding dinner. People are going to feel cheated if they came for a wedding/event & get bamboozled by a pre-wedding event. Plus, many ppl may not make the dinner in anticipation of the wedding-especially if they are traveling. I realize it is all about celebrating the couple & vows, but it just seems a little underhanded given the scenario as it is. Margo’s was totally different. Now if LW1 wants to have this dinner like Margo did a few months prior to the event then it might work, but I’m not sure how she can get her parents to foot it. Plus, there is the whole bride dream stuff that LW1 might not want to forego. I wonder what happened to the days not so long ago where the wedding was followed by a simple reception with cake & mints in the church “hall”…

  32. avatar David Bolton says:

    One thing I think it’s important for LW1 to remember before she decides to bring this topic up (or not) with her parents is what sort of memories she’d like to have regarding the wedding in general and her parents’ involvement—and whether she’d like to look at this as her own personal achievement, or something she had to fight to obtain.

    The latter scenario just seems like it would cast a pall over the whole process both now, and later. I certainly wouldn’t want to look back on my wedding and think: “They tried to screw me, so I had to call the manager until I finally got what I wanted.”

  33. avatar FireyLady says:

    I am very proud to be able to say that my husband and I did our wedding, with a little help, for less than $5000, including clothing. I managed to find my wedding dress for $20 at a boutique that was going out of business, and my veil for $8 at Goodwill. We had a potluck reception, with a few people bringing some dishes that everyone enjoyed-including me! But we still managed to have a rather elegant day. No dancing, but my husband can’t dance due to disability, and nobody seemed to miss the pageantry.

    I hope you don’t mind terribly Margo, but I loved the idea of the cleaning service so much, I found the website and posted it on a Facebook I started as a group to support folks in their day-to-day and bigger difficulties. Hope this helps them to get the word even further out about the wonderful works they do!

  34. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    Many good suggestions have been offered here, and I’ve none to add, really. My wife and I were pushing 30 when we married many years ago and we did not feel either of our families owed us a thing. We did it all ourselves, rather frugally but nicely, and good friends gave us two receptions (one at the church and one at a private home). It was a great day. The only mistake we made – and it was a serious one – was to allow a friend to “do” the wedding pictures. He was an amateur and it showed. No digital photography then, however.

  35. avatar Michelles11 says:

    While I can understand everyone’s opinions, I still feel for LW1, it’s her “big day” too and I’m sure she wants everyone to be as excited as she is.  It does hurt when it doesn’t seem everyone is as excited about your life as you are.  I know the older I get, the less appealing 2nd weddings and even 1st weddings are…but I try make sure the couple knows I am very happy for them.  I’m sure it’s not JUST about the money, like she states, but perhaps the feeling that her parents are not as engaged or as enthusiastic about her wedding as they were for her sister’s.  Yes, a lot of time has gone by and I’m sure a lot of things have changed (finances, health, etc) but I’m not going to judge her as being spoiled and entitled.  I’m would try to empathize and see what can be done to alleviate this anxiety.  Maybe a carefully worded conversation with her parents would help and keep the negative emotions at bay.