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The Vine: April 20, 2016

Submitted by on April 20, 2016 – 12:24 PM26 Comments

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I'm getting married this summer. I'm thrilled to be marrying my favorite person after eight years together and if I were the sole decision-maker in the relationship, we would simply go to the clerk of courts and get the paperwork filed and it would be a done deal.

However, Fiancé would like to at least have our close friends and family present, so we have opted to have a small ceremony and reception with a guest list totaling about 50 people. We need to keep things on the cheap as we are both broke at the moment and really cannot justify spending more than a grand or so on a wedding…and even that is pushing it.

Unfortunately, it is not looking like this is really a feasible possibility unless we forgo a reception altogether. Fiancé thinks we should ask my dad to help us cover some of the costs. My dad and his wife are fairly wealthy, and frankly, I am surprised that they haven't offered to help us out. But I just don't think it's our place to actually ASK them for a handout. Fiancé and I are both adults over the age of 30, and it's our decision to get married and no one is obligated to help us out with the financial aspect of it. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of not having a reception after the ceremony, but it looks like just the cost of food and beverages alone will put us over our extremely tight budget.

Fiancé's parents have offered to pay for a rehearsal dinner, and they are also gifting us our wedding rings. My mom (who isn't nearly as well off as my dad) has also offered to help as much as she can, and will probably be supplying the cake and some decor. Dad has given every indication that he is happy for us and approves of the marriage and whatnot, but he just hasn't offered to help us with the event in any way. As I said, we're Voting Adults, and I don't feel that Dad is under any actual obligation to give us money, but I am having a hard time not feeling some resentment toward him as a case or two of wine and a couple kegs of beer are easily affordable for him and would go a long way toward making our special day happy and memorable. I'm also his only daughter, this is my first (and hopefully only) marriage, and other than a small portion of my grad school tuition and some emergency automobile trouble several years ago I have not received a dime from my dad in my adult life. So, what do you and your readers think? Any ideas for pulling off a wedding reception on the cheap?

Thinking of picking Daddy Warbucks' pockets

Dear Pick,

Congrats! [throws handful of bee-friendly seeds]

Well, but: you do feel he's obligated, or this wouldn't bug you like it does. Right? You think he should offer to help without being asked, and you think it's the least he can do having not helped reliably over the years — and you think he should know these things.

Fine! Totally fine. This is how you feel and there isn't anything wrong with it. But he's not reading your mind, or if he is, he's reading the part that would rather just go down to the courthouse and get the important bit done for fifty bucks or whatever. Could be he thinks, based on guessing that that's your preference, that you'd rather not make a big to-do or you want to do it yourself. Could be he considered offering and the wife was like "…[frown]." Doesn't really matter why, because now you have to decide what you want more: the proper reception Dad's money would allow; or the empty "satisfaction" of knowing that, because you shouldn't have had to ask, you didn't.

You don't want the second thing. Call him up and explain that, in order to have any reception at all, you'll need a loan from him. Have a line-item budget prepared, and a time frame for repaying him. I have a feeling he'll cut you off all "absolutely not, it's my pleasure," or at least I hope he does, though you should prepare yourself for the eventuality that he might say no, or take you at your word re: paying him back, but you want two things here that are working against each other. You want your father to be — and to have been, not for nothing — more forthcoming with financial help without your having to ask; and you want the actual help. The first thing is not happening, so if you want the second thing, you will have to try to put the first thing aside and get what you need.

At the end of that day, as you of course know, you are married and everything else is secondary. There is always bullshit like this, people not catching their snaps, other people starting conversations that are really monologues with "I hesitate to say anything BUT [torrent of judging]" — you just have to remind yourself that you'll laugh about it later with your SPOUSE, YAY and move on to the next thing. But if you really want a reception, go get it. Ask Dad for the money. Ask Fiancé to ask Dad, even, since Fiancé is the one who's more focused on a traditional "do."

If that doesn't work? Start moving resources. My "rehearsal dinner" was Chinese food with Bean and Gen while we made sparkler kits; I know out-of-town family "expects" this, but it's your wedding, and if it's that or no booze at the reception, maybe you want to reassign those troops. Maybe the proper cake you had in mind is four times the price of a rack of cupcakes. Maybe you don't tell venders it's for a wedding and you get a lower bid (in fact: always do this; I saved probably a grand telling people it was a weekend-of-the-Fourth party). We can advise you on specifics in the comments if you'd like, but generally, there's a lot of wedding shit people just…do, without questioning it, that you might be able to cut out.

But if you've already done all that and you still need a bridge? Ask Dad. It will be awkward; it sucks that you have to form the words, and I'm sorry about that and I'm on your side. It's worth it, I think. Go. Get. Tell us what happens.

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26 Comments »

  • heatherkay says:

    I agree with Sarah about not assuming mind reading. If you think he would be otherwise willing and able to help, then ask him to help. This is also a good lesson for marriage (although, with 8 years under your belt, you probably know that already).

    But if he doesn't chip in, things are still doable. I remember a Miss Manners from ages ago. Someone wrote in asking how to decide which guests to invite based on the per-plate cost and the total budget. Manners shut that down with a quickness. You figure out who to invite, she said. Then, based on your total budget, you figure out the hospitality per person that you can afford.

    You can't do a sit-down dinner for 50 people for $1,000, but you should be able to something simple. My parents only had cake and punch in the church basement, and they've been married for 50 years. Assuming a very cheap venue (for example, the nicest picnic shelter in your town's nicest park) and a cake from your mother, you have $20 per person. You won't be able to get everyone drunk for that, but you should be able to do SOMETHING.

  • Laura says:

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

    We had our wedding reception in the basement of a local church and the church women provided the food, very affordably. Maybe it's more of a small town thing and harder to come by elsewhere, but 25+ years later, I don't even remember what we ate, I just remember that all the people we loved were there celebrating with us. You could have a potluck reception — have the best man or maid of honor set up a Google document (or something similar) where people can sign up to bring things. We didn't have alcohol (which can obviously save some serious money), but if that was important to the type of party you want to hold, maybe have it be a BYOB. (A lot of this depends on who you and Fiance are as a couple, what's important to you, etc. If you're foodies, a potluck might sound horrifying — ha, ha.)

  • B says:

    I think Sars' idea to make the request as a loan is a brilliant way to reduce the awkwardness here.

    However, another option, since Sars' suggested having your fiancé do the asking: is there anyone else who would make a good go-between? You mention being the only daughter, but do you have a brother? When my sister and I were getting married (years apart), our parents were both quick to offer assistance, but not details about amounts. Not wanting to deal with the awkwardness of saying "so how much money will you be giving me?", we each deputized the other to have the conversation for us. Maybe not our most "adult" behavior, but worked like a charm.

  • Jennie says:

    I think Sars is right – you have to decide whether it's more important to you to have the help, or to have your dad offer the help unprompted – and then live with that decision. I realize there's a cost to the first thing because there's a chance even if you ask you won't get the help, and that sucks, but at least then you know where you are. I also second Miss Manners as a guide for all things wedding – her book on the subject (Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, if I remember correctly) is excellent, and she is a big advocate for not making a big effing three-day deal out of a wedding, and also of not getting caught up in the rampant materialism that wedding websites try to sell you on. Cake-and-punch is a totally valid choice; I'd advise making that clear on the invite somehow so you don't wind up with a bunch of hangry sober people on your hands, but your family may be very different from mine.

    If you haven't already seen them, Google has a set of spreadsheets specifically for wedding planning that are super-useful. We got a ton of mileage out of them for budgeting, managing the guest list, packing, keeping track of options, blah blah… that might be useful to you as you look at what the costs you can't skip are vs. what the things you'd like to spend money on are. If you give it a total number it'll also rough out for you a sort of standard budget for various items, and you can play around with the way it allocates the dollars to suit your particular situation.

    Congrats and good luck!

  • Belle says:

    I love the ask-for-a-loan idea because it gives him an obvious time to offer to help you out.

    How about a backyard bbq wedding reception? You can easily throw one with beer for under 1k. Most likely you don't have a house to do it in but do you know anybody with a nice backyard? If any of my friends asked me, I would be delighted. You could probably just go to a nearby park and do the same thing.

  • Alison says:

    So this obviously totally depends on what kind of relationship your divorced parents have, but I would have just had my mom call or email my dad and say, "So how do you want to handle dividing costs for the wedding?" Any chance that's an option?

  • Jennifer Snook-Tracy says:

    Definitely advocate both asking your dad and a Champagne and cake afternoon reception!

    With the caveat that said ceremony/reception take place late enough in the day so people can have lunch without rushing. Having your day punctuated by grumbling tummies during the vows or people getting way more wasted they they thought they would due to empty stomachs+alcohol+sugar may make for funny stories down the road, but during? Not so much.

  • Jenny says:

    I'd ask your Dad. Assuming there are no prior hard feelings or issues with him, it might just be a case of him not realizing that he could/should offer to pay. If he is anything like my Dad, he just might be clueless.

  • Brigid says:

    One of my oldest friends got married in NYC where it is ridiculously expensive. The guest list was small (about 50 people), and the wedding and reception were held at a small place that allowed food and alcohol from outside to be served. Renting the space was their main expense. He asked his closest friends to coordinate food, decorations, booze, and no one minded! It was a blast to coordinate. We had loads of food and liquor, and everyone had an amazing time. They didn't want wedding gifts since they were moving across the country shortly after the wedding, but they had so much leftover food and liquor that they had a week of parties to get rid of it all. Could you guys do something like that? It was seriously one of the best weddings I've ever been to and completely focused on the people they loved rather than the trappings of the event.

  • Karen says:

    What is more important to you: having your people watch you get married, or having a party? Husband and I disagreed on this fundamental issue, so we had the ceremony he wanted- officiated by his besty (see if your state allows such things), and then we had the party I wanted, but on different days wearing jeans and in my backyard with beer and BBQ.

  • I wish we had eloped. I wanted to, but fiance's parents said they wanted to see us get married. (That was before they told their son not to marry me and that they were boycotting the wedding.)

    We had a very small – immediate family only – wedding. I paid $39 plus tax for my dress – a sleeveless red and white dress from Macy's that I have worn many times since. We had a nice meal at a restaurant after the wedding but cooked at the house the rest of the time. (I do not recommend this part – you do not need to be hosting people the week of your wedding.)

    There is nothing wrong with small and understated. There is nothing wrong with asking your friends to help! I cut roses from my garden to decorate the hall for a friend's wedding. Another friend had a potluck in her in-laws' back yard. It's your wedding and if you don't want to spend money – you don't have to have booze – people can go a few hours without booze, then don't. I would do what I could afford rather than ask for money. It's OK to entertain modestly.

  • MizShrew says:

    I'd ask your Dad, if only to get the simmering resentment of it all out of the way. That way you'll either have the cash you need or you'll know that it's not forthcoming. You'll also know whether Dad is just kinda clueless or willfully avoiding helping out.

    Also, Sars is absolutely right about not telling food vendors that it's a wedding. We served cheesecake at ours, and there was a huge cost difference between "wedding cheesecake" and "cheesecake for a party." And buffet style food is less expensive than a served dinner. A heavy appetizer deal is an option to explore, too. Not sure if that's cheaper, but might be?

    Sars is also spot on about avoiding some of the usual wedding trappings. Table decorations? Eh, no one cares, get bunch of cheap votives and have lots of nice candlelight. Flowers? Lots of cash for not much return. Even the location can make a big difference — traditional wedding venues are expensive and often require you to use their catering.

    It's all about the kind of party you want. I think a wine-beer-snacks-cake thing would be awesome, personally.

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Don't let the details drag you down — seriously, that's not the stuff people remember.

  • lizgwiz says:

    One of the most memorable weddings I've ever been to involved a "dessert reception" in a church fellowship hall. Some number of friends of the bride brought desserts as their gift to her, and it was glorious. There were simple cookies, brownies, cakes, pies…some homemade, some bakery-bought, spread all over the place, and it was DELIGHTFUL. I can't even remember if there was liquor. Both parties had been married before– they were, let's say, on the "mature" side–their recessional was "When I'm 64" and the best part of it all was how demonstrably, visibly, adorably happy they were to be getting married.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    What about asking a few close friends for some basic help … cooking? Baking? I mean, maybe that's too "homey" (I'm not good at this sort of thing), but if my friends had this issue and asked for my help, I'd be more than willing.

    Again, though, this is not really my department. I'm the person who plans the guest list, rents the venue, and then hands my mother and sister money and they do the decorating/food, then I help clean up.

  • Maple Donut says:

    If you do ask Dad and the answer is NO (either to direct help or a loan), you're going to need Plan B. Think of who you want to invite and then figure out what you can afford for X number of people. If all you can afford is a cake and punch reception but you *want* something grander, hold off on the wedding until you can afford that something grander.

  • Maureen says:

    I agree with so many of these comments! My husband and I were married at the courthouse, and then we had a party the next night-basically catered by Costco's frozen food section. This was 22 yrs ago, and we were broke, but everyone seemed to have a good time.

    I also agree with everyone about asking your dad about the possibility of a contribution-for your own peace of mind, really. I personally love the idea of a potluck, I know that isn't everyone's idea of a good time, but I am from the Midwest. As a guest, I would love to be able to contribute to a party with some food and wine, for a couple that is getting married.

    Sometimes I think that the wedding industry has really skewed people's ideas of what is a good time. I don't care about fancy napkins, centerpieces-any of that. I truly am just happy seeing my friends get married, and am more than willing to bring a hot dish!

    Congratulations and good luck!

  • Lisa M. says:

    Many congrats on your upcoming wedding!

    I was 43 when I got married, and didn't ask anyone for money (but no judgement here if you want to approach your dad).

    I would definitely ask that the money for the rehearsal dinner be re-allocated toward venue-rental, and search for a non-traditional venue (esp. since you have a smallish group). I had my wedding at an observatory, and while that didn't allow for dancing, the observatory staff got out the telescopes and showed everybody Jupiter, and did tours of the historic building. It was fantastic, and they threw in use of tables (for dinner), sound system, giant tubs for chilling wine and beer for free. It was fantastic, and $900. For me, it was perfect.

    And I picked up dessert plates from a really nice place, and the group that was catering the dinner arranged these desserts on their servingware for us. The caterers were super helpful, and not at all bothered/scornful by the budget aspect of the wedding.

    My best friend and I bought all kinds of flowers from a huge big-box grocery, and we made our own arrangements for the dinner tables, and put them in small pottery vases that we found at the local antique mall. Mismatched, but lovely.

    My dad and his wife took photos, and thank goodness they did, because we had decided early on that there was no way we could afford a photographer. You might deputize someone to do this for you. :)

    I think people had a good time. I'm sure they will at yours too :)

  • Amy says:

    My all time favorite wedding was held on the sly in a park, and the reception was a spaghetti dinner hosted by the officiant at her house, followed by Cards Against Humanity and a showing of "The Princess Bride". The bride and the officiant made all of the flower arrangements, and everybody pitched in on the cooking. Total cost: around $150 for about 10 people.

    For my wedding, we had the actual wedding in a park (free!), and made reservations for all 25 of us at a restaurant, and everyone ordered off the menu, including a drink and dessert. I think we spent an average of about $25/person. Best part: absolutely no cleanup.

  • DriverB says:

    Absolutely agreeing with those above stating that you CAN have a wonderful, magical day within a budget that works FOR YOU. The key is to have a serious, honest talk with your partner about what is important.

    I got married about a month ago (and had a bit more budget than you do at the moment), but I remember feeling so overwhelmed when we started planning with the gazillion pricey options that are out there. We turned things around though once we figured out that the most important elements for us were 1) being with people who were truly rooting for us and 2) the content of the ceremony. Once we were on that page together, it became really easy to say no to extras – extra people, extra expense, extra foofaraw. Two of my sisters have had very low budget weddings – one was in an apple orchard with cake and punch, another in a chapel with veggie and cheese platters in the vestibule afterwards. And they were both wonderful!

    It's true that a wayward aunt or someone might whine under her breath about not getting a full meal, but she'll forget about it soon enough! The people who love you are gonna be so psyched to see you happy, and those who want to keep the party going will round up the troops and order pizza or ease on down the road to a restaurant and take care of their own needs. At some point, your guests are adults. They don't NEED a pre-wedding dinner, a reception, an after party, a hangover gift bag, a brunch, or a chaperone. They just need you, tying the knot with your rocking spouse, happily ever after.

    p. s. My inlaws did end up offering to pay for a photographer, and I might recommend that as something your dad could spring for. Professional pictures make a surprisingly big difference, in my opinion; fancy food and decor, not so much.

  • Jo says:

    The best wedding I ever went to (Other than my own) was in the backyard of the bride's grandma's home. The ceremony and reception were both there and her mom made all the food (wraps, veggie trays, etc). I bet the budget was less than $500. Now, this was along a beautiful river and there was a zipline set up to swing out over the river and you can't really beat a river zipline, but the point is, outdoors with homemade food can be just as awesome as some fancy reception hall with overpriced catering.

    Other than that, I say take Sars' advice to ask your dad for a loan. At least you'd know for sure whether he's going to offer and can either be happy to have the money or he'll say no and you can get mad about it and figure out how to move on instead of simmering about IF he'll offer.

  • Candace says:

    My husband and I do wedding photography, so we have seen more weddings than most. One of the best ones was Hannah and Tug – two recent college graduates with no money. (We were the only paid professionals there.) It was a backyard wedding (they lived next to Chester County horse farm so there were lots of beautiful photo ops). Many of their friends had food service experience so the friends catered the wedding, and the food was terrific. I second the votes for pot-luck/BYOB. I even pitched in to pour the champagne and pass the cake. What made this wedding memorable was that everyone there was celebrating the union of Hannah and Tug,not whether it was a sit-down dinner or open bar or top-end venue.

  • Jo says:

    Adding to my comment a note about alcohol: Don't feel pressured into an open bar, or any booze at all. People are supposed to be there to celebrate your awesome day, not get wasted at your expense. As small as your guest list is, maybe get champagne if you want a toast, but don't feel like you have to provide unlimited booze. It's ridiculous that people have come to expect that at weddings.

  • MeUnplugged says:

    I have to respectfully disagree here.

    One, I don't think you should ask your dad for a loan. Introducing a lender/borrower relationship to a familial relationship is not a good idea. I know you have every intention of paying dad back, but what if you can't? The car breaks down, so you ask dad to let you off the hook making a payment this month. A job loss, sorry dad, no loan checks for the next 3 months. Have a baby, there's just not enough money to pay on this loan for the next 18 years. It's been 18 years, why are you still asking for loan payments, dad?! Your dad should only be willing to GIFT you money that he can afford to give you. If you pay it back, great, but if it's a gift, and you never do, he should be fine with that, because gifts don't have to be repaid. And, honestly, I get that you think he can afford it (and you're probably right), but what if he can't? Sure he's got a fancy house, and fancy cars, and his wife is decked out in jewels, but that's where all his money is going. He may not be able to loan or gift you money for your reception.

    Which leads me to my next point of argument. You don't need to have your reception on the same day as your wedding. Postpone it for 6 months or a year while you and your fiance save to pay for the whole thing yourself. Then have a belated reception or a 1 year anniversary party. Or hell, postpone the wedding entirely so you can have the wedding and reception on the same day when you can afford it yourself.

    It may not be ideal, but it's better than going in to debt, or asking your dad to be a bank for your wedding instead of asking him to be your father.

    It really doesn't matter if your dad hasn't had to help you out financially earlier in your adult life, the point is, he hasn't offered to give you money now for this event, and asking for it is tacky and rude.

    As with all anonymous internet advice, you are the one that knows your dad better than any of us. Maybe he just didn't think about it, and you taking Sars advice would just turn on the light for him, and OF COURSE he wants to help you out; that's what father's DO. But maybe he has other things going on, and he's hoping you don't mention it, because saying no would be hurtful and saying yes would we detrimental to his finances.

    After all that, I sincerely mean congratulations on your upcoming nuptials and whatever you decide, I hope all works out perfectly and you and your fiance have a great day, and a great life together!

  • Robin Barbour says:

    Best weddings I ever went to were of the less-is-more variety. My sis and her 2nd hubby sprang a surprise wedding at our annual family reunion. They did it as a surprise because they didn't want to have all the relatives feel obligated to give lavish gifts, just wanted everyone to enjoy it. Family was already gathered anyway, just had to wedge in groom's Mom &+1, the best man, and one or two other friends on the day. Officiant was the mayor, hosts were my uncle & aunt because we go to their house every year. 5-minute ceremony in a beautiful gazebo overlooking the house, then everybody into the swimming pool. Easy peasy. Several years later, same family reunion, but Cousin married his sweetheart. Beautiful bride, another cousin as officiant, terrific catered backyard meal with all of Cousin's family (ours and his mother's) and many friends. Others: church wedding, followed by meal potlucked in to a YMCA hall by the bride's friends. Music by groom's friends in a drum circle. Another church wedding, followed by church hall reception, with all food and decorations done by the bride and some of her girlfriends. The meal was very simple, like lasagna and salad and bread, the only "fancy" part was the cake, and I think even that was done by one of Bride's family. Been to many other more traditional weddings, but these were the ones I liked the best.

  • Sabby says:

    Ask your dad. You will always resent him if you don't ask. Hopefully he will say he was hoping you wanted help.

    If you still need cheap advice. . .

    Try donuts, cookies, cupcakes, cheesecakes, or some other non-traditional cake. Do a cash bar. Don't put it in the invitation (or any mention of gifts/money). Just spread the word through family, etc. Appetizers and other finger foods are cheaper than a full meal. Do you have family or friends who are good cooks? You could ask them to help. That's what a lot of ethnic groups do. All the 'aunts' get together and cook enough food for a small army. It is possible to throw a party for 50 under a $1000. Just stop thinking reception and start thinking party.

  • Ashley says:

    Excellent advice, Sars. Just spot on as per usual.