At the heart of wedding planning is a sweet, romantic old saying: “Money talks, bullshit walks.” Those who are paying—whether it’s her parents, your parents, or even you and your fiancée—will inevitably feel a sense of entitlement, and those who aren’t paying could feel insecure, overlooked, or marginalized. Welcome to your new life. This is the awfulness you’ve dreaded—power struggles, jealousies, and holy wars over guest lists.
Stock up on your favorite hard liquor. Drink deep. When you sober up, you’ll probably need to tackle one (or more) of these five uncomfortable money issues.
Uncomfortable Issue 1:
Your parents are paying for the wedding…and hers aren’t
Imagine if an old lady holds the door open for you. Or a homeless man buys you a cup of coffee. Emasculating, right? You feel powerless and even insulted. If your parents are paying for the wedding, this is exactly how her father will feel. Obvious but critical: if your fiancée’s parents are uncomfortable, then your fiancée is uncomfortable. And if your fiancée is uncomfortable, then your life is unbearable.
Be extra sensitive. Involve all parties. Even if she isn’t paying a nickel, include your new mother-in-law in the planning process. Solicit her input. Ask her advice. And from the very get-go, tell your parents that she needs to be involved. If they’re not cool with this—if they demand “final say” and refuse any input from the bride’s mom—think long and hard before making this Faustian deal.
Uncomfortable Issue 2:
Your parents aren’t paying…but they keep adding to the guest list
A common problem. The best solution is to employ the “rule of thirds” (for more on that and the guest list, click here). Whoever pays will naturally wield more influence, but your parents still deserve their allotment of seats. Once they go past their quota, it’s on you—not your fiancée—to tactfully remind them of your limited budget, and that there are only enough slots for 50 (or whatever) of their guests. If they demand more invites than what was initially brokered, fine, but they’ll need to help contribute.
Uncomfortable Issue 3:
You blew your wad and spent too much—and she wants to ask the parents for more money
You’re smarter than the US Congress. Act like it. Before you pledge a single dime to a single vendor, set a realistic budget and agree to stick to it, come hell or high water. But if, for whatever reason, you’ve ploughed through your budget and need more funds, here’s how you play it: take some time to calculate, coldly and objectively, why you really need more money, and why there isn’t a cheaper alternative. (There usually is. For more on trimming fat and saving money, click here)
On your spreadsheet, show your initial cost projections for each category, your new estimates, and then a comment on what, exactly, has changed in your assumptions. This way if you do have to belly up to the parents and ask for a bailout, the spreadsheet will help restore their confidence, illustrate accountability, and let them know that you’re not asking for a blank check.
Uncomfortable Issue 4:
Your parents insist on serving rabbit at the dinner (but they’re not paying)
Or maybe they feel strongly about African tribal music. Or they really, really want the reception to include a magician, like Gob from Arrested Development. Perhaps they demand an all-vegan-food reception. This goes back to money talking and bullshit walking. If your parents aren’t paying for anything, while they can make suggestions, they shouldn’t make ultimatums. Make this clear. Now it’s time to embrace your new role in life: Mr. Ambassador.
On the other hand, even though they don’t have any financial leverage, you should stand up for their preferences, within reason—maybe the caterer can include a vegan option. Get creative. But tell them that no one, ever, enjoys tribal drums at weddings.
Uncomfortable Issue 5:
You want a destination wedding, but your family can’t afford it
Let’s say you’re a lawyer. So’s your bride. You can both get married in the French Riviera without missing a beat. Your father, however, will have to work weekends at the steel factory to pay for his plane ticket. What to do?
To respect and include your parents, consider a small ceremony somewhere local, and then a spare-no-expense honeymoon that lets you splurge. Alternatively, maybe you can offer to buy his plane tickets “as an early birthday present” which will help soften the blow to the ego. (Or let them use frequent flyer miles—even if you have to buy them—this creates the illusion that the ticket is free.)
If they’re still uncomfortable? Here’s the thing about destination weddings. If everyone you care about can’t afford it…but you decide to screw it and force them to blow their savings…dude, we promised to talk straight, and no one else has the guts to tell you this, so we will. If you go this route, you’re being a douche. Drop $100k on the Riviera; just do it on your honeymoon.