On December 11, 2016, 15 days after getting engaged, we received an email from my fiancé’s parents with the subject line “Looking ahead.” In it, they described how happy they were that I was officially joining the family and said that they would like to contribute up to $10k toward our wedding. With that, the weight of, well, $10k, was lifted off our chests.
I never thought we’d receive any financial help for our wedding. Both of our families are doing fine, but neither are wealthy by any stretch, especially mine. I had never planned to have an extravagant wedding, and I’ve been working full-time as an engineer for the last 12 years (and part-time as a vow writer for seven!). My spouse is also an engineer. While we’re not wealthy either, we were able to afford a modest wedding ourselves, which is what I always imagined we’d do.
However, weddings are expensive no matter which way you slice it.
I think everyone knows this on some level, but it’s not until you actually try to plan one yourself that you realize the actual magnitude of the cost and how quickly things add up to a small fortune.
Our original $10k wedding budget was quickly found to be at odds with the idea of having a local wedding (in/around San Francisco) with food and drinks for approximately 70 people. Here are some of the things we could have done to actually stick to a total of $10k for our wedding:
Reduce the guest list to about 30 people.
Omit any pre- or post-wedding activities/gatherings.
Have the reception at a park or public facility.
Have a potluck lunch or dinner.
We toyed with the first idea, but decided we’d rather part with more money than cut our guest list in half. We also considered the second idea, but if you’re already gathering everyone together, it seems like you may as well see them for more than just one night, right? Option three was reviewed, but created a variety of logistical issues that I had no desire to deal with, mostly regarding coordinating vendors. And I personally dislike potlucks, so we never even said that one out loud once. :)
But, now that we had a head start from my to-be in-laws, we felt like it would be possible to figure out everything else, keep the event along the lines of what we were looking for, and stick to spending under $10k of our own money. Yay!
But, were there strings attached to this generous offer?
One of the things that often accompanies a financial gift for a wedding is a sense of ownership over whatever part of the wedding that money pays for. Gifts like this are often a sort of ransom payment—I’ll give you this money, and in exchange I get to pick out all the things for some part your wedding (cue evil laughter here).
OK, I'm fairly certain that this arrangement is never actually met with evil laughter, and that it's more often a loving way for family members to contribute to the special event. And heck, sometimes help is wanted or even needed from family and friends during wedding planning. But, sometimes people do expect to be bestowed a certain amount of power in the wedding planning process in exchange for financial support, whether or not that jives with the needs of the couple. So, did my in-laws seek some input into our wedding planning in exchange for their generous contribution?
In our case, they did not. Which worked out well for us, because we felt (mostly) equipped to be doing the planning and decision-making ourselves. While they did kindly and lovingly offer any help we may have wanted (research, advice, day-of logistical assistance), they let us do things at our own pace and come to them when we wanted assistance. While I’m most grateful that they offered us this money for our wedding, I’m just as grateful that they allowed us to accept it (and spend it) in whatever way we saw fit.