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?

Dear Margo: A recent letter you printed was from a stressed young woman who felt she was disorganized and stretched thin because of school, work, single-motherhood and chemo. To her and others who might need help, there is a cleaning service that provides free housecleaning once a month for four months during cancer treatments. All that’s required is that the patient sign up and have their doctor fax a note confirming the treatment. “Cleaning for a Reason” will have a participating maid service in her zip code area arrange for the service.

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

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

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&