“So now we have to buy an engagement gift? Next they’ll get married and that requires a gift. Then they will have a baby and that requires a gift. Then the kid will have birthdays! IT NEVER ENDS!!!!” – George Costanza
It never ends. Give an inch, take a mile. You already have a bridal shower, the wedding, the reception, the rehearsal dinner, maybe a post-wedding brunch—and now you need an engagement party too? Costanza was right.
You have questions. We have answers.
[You]: Who pays?
That’s a little blunt. Damn. Before we get to the money-talk, aren’t you curious about how an engagement party will make your families comfortable with each other, amplify the wedding, and fill your fiancée with pride at snaring such a good catch?
I said who pays?
Okay, okay. Traditionally, the bride’s family. Sometimes the groom’s. And in today’s more fungible, less predictable rulebook, it can even be split by both sets of parents. Or maybe you’ll pay. Or perhaps a wealthy good friend. (Note: if you have a wealthy good friend, don’t waste a good favor by asking them to pay for your engagement party—they have to volunteer.)
You gotta be kidding me. That was the most wishy-washy, unhelpful answer I’ve ever heard.
Hang on. It gets simpler.
Here’s the deal. Unlike the Blue Chip events like the reception or rehearsal dinner, this one’s optional. So the whole topic of “who pays for an engagement party” would only come up, really, if someone wants to throw you a party. If the bride’s parents ask if they can host a party? Great, let them. If no one steps forward? No sweat, you don’t need one. Since the event isn’t required, per se, it comes with less financial awkwardness.
Back up. You said this was “optional.” Really? So I don’t need this dog-and-pony show?
Nope. That being said, if your fiancée wants one or if your parents insist, there’s no real reason to fight the battle.
Okay, so assuming we have one…when does it happen?
Anytime between one week and three months after the proposal. Better yet—wait at least a month. Enjoy the calm before the storm; take some time for yourselves and do nothing. Except, you know, that.
What’s the point of this charade?
To bleed every last nickel from you and your families.
Right. Besides that?
Think of this as a “preseason game” to see how your family and the bride’s family play together. The wedding planning is the regular season, the wedding itself is the Super Bowl. The more interaction they have now, the more relaxed they’ll feel later.
Who gets invited?
The big hitters: family, close friends, people who will likely be in the wedding party. Some wedding books say that it’s okay to invite people who won’t be coming to the wedding…as a kind of “consolation prize.” We say that’s horseshit. Think about it. If you invite someone to an engagement party but not the wedding itself, don’t you think that’s a little awkward? You’re being like a girl who’s “hot and cold”—she wants to make out, then she won’t return your calls, then she hooks up with you, then she cancels your date. No one likes a tease.
Wait. But what if we’re having a small, tiny ceremony that only includes a few friends, and we want to use the Engagement Party as a “substitute” of sorts?
Good point. That’s a fair exception. In that case, obviously, invite people who won’t be coming to the wedding. Just be crystal clear you’re not having a large wedding—this is it.
Do we get gifts?
This one’s tricky. Historically, no, guests aren’t expected to bring presents. But that, like everything, has changed over time. Our advice? Don’t ask for any gifts. (You’ll soon be getting plenty.) Go ahead and register, though, since some people will inevitably ask. Just don’t broadcast it. If on the invitation you say you’re registered at Pottery Barn, that amounts to saying, “In addition to getting us a gift for the wedding, we expect a generous token from Pottery Barn, too. Please don’t come empty-handed.”) You can avoid most of the stickiness by registering at a store that lists their events with WeddingChannel. That way, if the guest is motivated to buy you a gift they can find your gift registry themselves.
What else is my role in this?
“Nothing” or “Nothing, really”? There’s a difference.
For the planning itself: nothing. At the engagement party itself, however, you have the miserable obligation opportunity to charm the in-laws. Be polite. Dazzle them with your poise and generous spirit. And the most important rule of thumb: you may only out-drink them by 20%. It doesn’t matter if you can handle your liquor. That just confirms their suspicion that you’re an alcoholic.
Next up: something you’ll need to do early on–choose the gift registry.