Can You Afford to Let Your Family Pay for Your Wedding?

Can you afford not to?

When you graduated from college, you probably did everything you could to become self-sufficient. You put an end to gifts and short-term loans that made you still seem like a dependent child. You survived dating while broke, but now you want to get married. What do you do?

So many things have to be paid for to meet the cultural requirements of a wedding, and unless neither person has more than fifty people to invite, it will be expensive. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $25,000 and even half of that is not chump change. You know you can’t afford it, and your retirement can’t afford for you to spend that kind of money in one place either. You have two options: wait and save money or ask for help.

To Beg or Not To Beg

Personally I don’t like waiting, and don’t recommend it. The idea of postponing important life decisions because of money is a dangerous one because other things matter much more. If you are a working adult and have a hard time raising $10,000 or $20,000, then it will probably take years to afford your own wedding. Unless you can save more than $500 consistently each month, waiting for someone else (the economy, your employer) can be brutal psychologically—especially on men. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have a shot at raising children by the age of fifty-five?

At first, asking for money doesn’t appear like a good idea. It might imply that you are incapable of taking care of yourself. Your older relatives might be in the position to help, but that might seem a slippery slope. Will you call them when you want a house and can’t afford the down payment? Will you call them when you get pregnant? Will these people think their gifts give them the right to influence how you live your lives? When will it end and you become a real adult?

I think your marriage partnership should be founded solely on your own finances … but it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

Go Ahead. Jump.

I think if the time is right for you to get married, then you should do so with whatever you have. You should be prepared to marry, have kids, live in an apartment, or whatever—with your own money. If you dated with the same level of wealth, and are self-supporting adults, then why not? Some people will have a wedding where only ten people are present—it is what it is.

It is crucial that an adult stand on his or her own two feet, however wobbly. On the financial end, you have to learn how to live on your income, and commit to doing it. If two young adults make $50,000 a year, they should be prepared to live in the neighborhood that people who make that much can afford.

On the other hand, independence can be toxic. Maybe you’re like me and don’t like to beg. You want desperately to assert your manhood by being able to take care of yourself (and your new spouse) on your own. If so, then you like the previous paragraph. I believe this mindset is fundamental, but it is not enough. Many successful adult children of wealthy people have had college paid for, weddings paid for, and even home down payments given them. Who pays for your wedding doesn’t matter as much as a broke person might think. Regardless of who writes the checks, weddings are opportunities for friends and families to get together and celebrate their bonds. Memories made at weddings last a lifetime.

You Can’t Afford Not To Ask

After you are committed to making it work on your own income, you should call every person your age or older and ask them for help. Why? Because that’s how relationships work. Your uncle needs the good feeling of giving a few hundred dollars toward your wedding. So does your super-successful brother, your aunt, and your grandfather. Crazy as it sounds, you would be denying the people who care about you if you had a smaller wedding than they can collectively afford. Again, if 99% of the time you never ask for money, they will be honored that you asked them.

One of the greatest weaknesses of our modern capitalistic society is that people stop relying on each other. Being able to go and borrow money from the bank for college or weddings gives autonomy, but kills relationships at the same time. You don’t want to get to the point where nobody wants favors from you because they don’t think they have a right to ask you for anything.

Think of it as part of your retirement fund. Some of these people (or their children) will be the ones to take care of you when you age—the seniors who have regular visits at the nursing home are the ones nurses and doctors take the best care of. Vulnerability is an important part of relationship building and in your youth, financial vulnerability is the only kind you have. While you must always have a plan for making do on your own resources, you should use a major life event like your wedding as an opportunity to get closer to the people who already care about you. Some of them will offer money, others will offer time. Your rich uncle might give you his timeshare points for your honeymoon.

So it turns out that you can’t afford NOT to ask for help in paying for your wedding. When you start budgeting for your wedding, remember that money is probably the least important part of the picture. The future of your relationships depends on this.

 

Later this week: Albert Okagbue answers the question of “How to Ask for Money for Your Wedding” in Weddings on The Good Life.

 Image credit: BIZZITONE.COM/Flickr

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About Albert Okagbue

Albert has devoted his life to understanding money and wealth, especially how they mix with culture. He writes Studentloancpa.com and is the author of Stop Budgeting Start Living: How to Sync Your Money and Your Life. He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant and has a Tax & Financial Planning practice in Houston.

Comments

  1. Martin Nash says:

    As somebody who has opted not to get married for reasons of my own I really cannot understand why one feels they must pay these sums. A good party for many people can be hosted for a lot less. That is essentially all that is needed.

    As someone who wants people to get richer faster shouldn’t your advice be to simply not buy into the hype and just have a good day with good friends? That money is a deposit on a house, not to be wasted on overpriced unnecessary services aimed to fleece young people of their money.

    • @Martin Nash. Your view of weddings is obviously biased by the fact that you don’t value them enough to have one. You even admit that your reasons are non-financial, but can’t see how it affects your ability to be fair with regards to this topic.

      While I appreciate your readership, I have to admit that this article will disappoint anyone with no interest in marriage.

  2. We eloped to the Bahamas where we had a great vacation/honeymoon and ceremony ourselves first! When we came back home to NYC, we had small parties for family (my parents paid for this one) and for friends/co-workers (we paid for this one)…

    When my parents got married they did not spend a lot of money….there are so many ways you can do this!

    • You’ll have to tell a bit more about yourself for this to be believable. Culture is a funny thing; what makes perfect sense as an option to one person is taboo to another. This article is not about what a person CAN do. It’s about what I think a person in a certain position SHOULD do. I’m sure you have thoughts on this, but please also share what cultural perspective it is coming from.

      • My parents are ethnically Chinese….they married in Hong Kong….my father came from a wealthy family, my mother did not…they met at an engineering college in HK where my mother tutored my father in math…she had something else that was valuable: passage to America (since her parents were already here and could sponsor her and her new family)…their wedding and banquet was simple and practical (something that many young couples did at the time)…

        My fiance (now husband) and I were together for about a decade (spanning grad school, post-grad training, first jobs, and illness/debilitation of both his elderly parents)….His father had just passed several months before and his mother was suffering from Parkinson’s when my mother suggested that we just get married already and get on with our lives (i.e., I was approaching 30 and my biological clock was ticking)…My mom was being modern and practical….

        • Thanks Leia. Sounds like your mom had quite a bit of buy-in. What if she wasn’t “practical”? What if she wanted a big wedding? This is other peoples’ reality, and I think it calls into question the definition of “practical”. If the “practical” function of a wedding includes 300 other people, then eloping will not meet that standard….

          • Both of my cousins had big, traditional, expensive Chinese banquet weddings (financed by all the parents involved)…but the younger cousin is on really bad terms with his dad right now and they are not even speaking! Spending all this money on weddings does not guarantee a happy marriage or happy relations with your parents!

            • That’s true Leia. But eloping and saving money doesn’t guarantee it either. Nothing does.

              Some would argue that your elopement excluded family and friends, whose mentorship or help you might need as a married couple. But those people would be wrong, because you DID include your parents. In fact, you did what your mother was comfortable with – just like your cousin did.

              Does this mean that you’re more comfortable disagreeing with your parents if they don’t fund your life in any way? Personally, I like the autonomy that comes with paying for my own stuff – sometimes people use money to try and control you. Is this what you’re thinking about?

  3. Hunter @Green Detective says:

    Considering 55% divorce rate, KISS theory makes sense, no matter what culture. Do not suggest putting eggs in this basket.

    • Hunter @Green Detective
      How do you know you’re not in the 45%? You might argue that everyone “thinks” they’ll succeed – but someone eventually does. In writing this article, I cannot possibly assume that readers will fail. If you think you’ll fail, then of course you won’t bother…but those that want to succeed will have to manage it from before the wedding day — that is what this article is about.

  4. Martin Nash says:

    You are really fixed on the idea that wedding should cost a lot of money, despite all other comments saying that it is not necessary.

    As your own profile specifies that you are all about the money, maybe you are blinded from the truth of these things. I am wondering as this site is about modern perceptions of manhood we are seeing that the old “accumulate all you can and screw everyone else” approach is not gaining much currency here.

    Driving family into poverty (or trying to find money from already impoverished family members) just so we can show off our private lives is not really a great idea.

    • Can you elaborate on the financial aspects of a wedding? Although you don’t want one, it seems you have priced it.

      How much do you think a wedding costs – how much do you think it should cost? Please provide a minimum number and a maximum number. Also please state an estimate of what a 28-30 year old earns on average and how long that wedding amount would take them to save.

      Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

      • Martin Nash says:

        Sure, though I can only vouch for the UK.

        Registry office = £100
        Rental of venue with room for around 50 = £250
        Buffet aroubnd £5 per head. @50 = £250
        Nice clothes for bride and groom = £500
        Rings = £500 roughly#
        Flowers = dunno, but can buy a nice bouquet for £30 so say 5 or 6 for decoration = £150
        Photographers = Everyone owns a camera.
        Bridesmaids = Why?
        Drinks = People can buy what they drink.
        Cars = Again most people have some access to these
        Borrowed Laptop + one month spotify account for music = £5.00
        Yup, that is about it. so under two thousand pounds, with a uk average salary of 26k, that is around one month pay.
        Admittedly can save money if anyone has a nice back garden, or even a local park where you can hold events.

      • Martin Nash says:

        And as for having priced it, I have many friends who have got married, it really isnt rocket science. Some have spent over 30,00 others under 2,000. my favourite was my sisters, came in at 4,000 with posh cars pro photographer, professional caterer and big flouncy wedding dress

        • I’m also curious how you would describe your culture. I know that the wedding you describe is impossible for many people I know…while some of the expensive aspects are not caused by what you think.

          For many people a wedding is not a wedding if hundreds of people cannot attend. Family, friends, family’s friends, etc – these people don’t have to have anything “fancy”, but their family are as important as the Priest. My article is based on the idea that these same people can help make the wedding possible and give cash in lieu of wedding gifts which the couple can most likely do without.

          I do not mean to imply that a person has to spend “average”, but spending is only one piece of the equation. You can only save as much money as you earn – and most people just don’t earn enough in my opinion – but we will never reach that conclusion if we keep talking about how people can choose to do things cheaper. http://www.studentloancpa.com/2012/04/30/why-saving-wont-save-you-money/

          We could all live in our cars and save money – but that’s extreme…just like a small wedding is to people of many (primarily non-western) cultures.

          • Martin Nash says:

            With the new premise of “Your wedding will be expensive, you will refuse to compromise, you must have 300 guests.”

            Then yes, I agree that borrowing from family is the only way to go.

            • Now, my financial leaning comes in: I would say that you should ask for gifts – not loans. Even gifts amounting to 10% of 20% of wedding costs matter financially – but they will mean a lot in other ways too for all concerned. Please keep an eye out for my next article on this topic.

  5. As someone who got married as a student, 24 years ago, and is still married to the same woman, all I can say is – 25k US$? That’s just silly. I don’t need to show off for my marriage to be real, and I certainly do not believe that spending money you do not have is a good start for anything. Spending all that money sure wouldn’t have bought me a better marriage.

    Not that I’d have a problem paying for my children’s marriage; I can afford it. But I honestly believe getting married is far too important, far too big a decision for something as insignificant as the size and form of the party to be a factor. Maybe divorce rates would be lower if people thought more of marriage as a life-long process and less of it as an event.

    Save the big, expensive event for the 25 year anniversary. By then you can probably afford it, and you will have an achievement to celebrate.

    • I see nobody commented on this… But I’ll co-sign that, brother!
      And if I had a TV show, I’d put you on it. And Congratulations on approaching 25 years! That’s great! Thanks for speaking up.

    • Albert Okagbue says:

      Are you implying that people shouldn’t go to college until they save up enough money to pay for it? If not, what makes an education more important than a spouse IN ALL CASES? Surely each person will make his/her own decision about this – in which case $25K for a wedding could be money well spent? Even if we assume that debt would pay for the $25K wedding, your comments will need to address these realities before you project your preferences as a standard for everyone else.

Trackbacks

  1. […] another article I pointed out that you can’t afford NOT to ask for help with your wedding. In this one I want to share some ideas on HOW to do it. The assumptions here is […]

  2. […] See my articles “Can You Afford To Let Your Family Pay For Your Wedding?” and How To Ask For Money For Your Wedding (both at The Good Men […]

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