A Real Simple Way to Court Disaster

A few days ago I found myself at the local mall over lunchtime entirely sans reading material or a companion. I have no problem eating alone, but if that’s what I’m going to do, I prefer to have a book or a magazine in my hand. Going home where all my books live wasn’t an option since I had more shopping to do (it takes fortitude and visits to several stores to find lightweight summer pants, sometimes), so I headed for the lovely brand-spanking-new Borders that had just replaced the anemic little Waldenbooks we used to have. Same corporate masters, much bigger store.

I marched in and what to my wondering eyes did appear? Dozens of bridal magazines smack dab in my face almost as soon as I was through the door. The one that really caught my eye, however, was a Real Simple special wedding publication. I rather liked the clean, fuss-free imagery on the cover of a bride (well, most of her, since we see her pretty much only from about mid-torso to toes) sitting holding a simple bouquet composed of several large, plump, purple hydrangeas and a few glossy green leaves tied with pale blue ribbon. Her shoes are ballet flats. The gown is unadorned. In short, it looked all about the simple, the stripped down, and yet the elegantly lovely.

Even the tag line at the bottom of the magazine cover looked like the sort of philosophy I have always liked best: ‘Your personalized plan for a stress-free, beautiful celebration.’ Who wouldn’t want that? I snapped up the magazine and proceeded to read it with growing gawk over lunch.

Most of what was in there was pretty much what you’d find in the pages of any glossy magazine filled with wedding porn: your twelve-month countdown to planning, ads for companies that want you to register for your gifts with them, an article about all the accessories you can buy to go with your gown, advice on choosing the right gown for your figure, etc. I think Crate & Barrel had an ad every three pages. Interestingly enough, there weren’t a lot of wedding gown ads, and this is clearly going for a more upscale market since there wasn’t a peep out of anyplace like, say, Target that caters specifically to people on tight budgets.

Did I say budget? Oh yes, I did. Most of the advice ranged from the bland (wedding gowns take months to get to the customer, so ordering early is a good idea) to actually thoughtful (advice on how to choose whether to write your own vows or use the standard form for your denomination), to the aspirational (here’s what Muffy and Chip did, and isn’t it quaintly charming?). Then I started reading the article entitled 10 Common Budget Questions. It was numbers 2 and 4 that really struck me as seriously bad advice. But let’s take a look at what the magazine said and what’s wrong with it:

Our relatives haven’t offered to help us pay for the wedding. Is it okay to ask them for money?
Certainly. Here’s how:
*Gather photos you’re using for inspiration and any vendor estimates you’ve received.
*With your fiance, sit down with your families separately and show them the type of wedding you are hoping to have.
*Broach the subject of finances: Explain how much you and your fiance can afford and the amount your dream wedding will cost. Then, in a gracious and non-threatening tone, ask whether your families would consider paying for a specific aspect of the wedding – such as the flowers or the cake – instead of purchasing a gift for the two of you.
*If they still don’t bite, consider showing them the average wedding costs in your area. Go to www.costofwedding.com and enter your ZIP code for a breakdown of expenses in all major categories.

So…if your parents don’t react to your good news with promises to lavish cold, hard cash for the event on you, you should show them pretty pictures and ask them – in a gracious, non-threatening way, of course – what they’re going to pony up for? It seems to me that if parents expect or want to pay for all or part of the wedding, they’ll find a way to volunteer that information without being informed that your dreams cannot come true if they don’t make with the checkbook.

Plus there’s that assumption that there’s a gracious and non-threatening way to share that message. Somehow all I could think of was Marlon Brando making an offer Mom and Dad can’t refuse.

If you really can’t cover what you want on what you have, I suggest looking into what can be scaled back. After all, even if you try to coax money out of your parents, you might not succeed…and considering the next question is what to do if the ‘rents promise money but then fail to come through with it, I’m guessing the author of the article got that, too.

For my money, though, it was question 4 that really looked like a can of worms waiting to be opened.

My in-laws can’t afford to contribute as much as my parents. How do we handle this situation?
Arrange a dinner with all of the parents together. Beforehand, speak with your families individually about whether they might underwrite parts of the wedding and the financial constraints, if any, of the other couple. At dinner, talk through who will contribute what. (Note that contributions don’t necessarily have to involve a price tag.)

Well, that certainly won’t be the most awkward dinner party anyone at the table has ever attended.

These people are actually suggesting discussing your in-law’s finances with your parents, and vice versa and then holding a party to make sure everyone knows who has more money to spend on the wedding. Trust me, even if price tags are never brought up at this dinner of the damned, everyone will know how the money played out. After all, if Mimsey’s parents are footing the bill for the open bar, the ice luges, the catering, Mimsey’s wedding gown and accessories, and all the flowers…everyone will know that there’s no way Brad’s parents are spending anything like the same amount of money on their generous offer of the wedding cake and a backyard barbeque after the rehearsal.

Do your parents, your in-laws, your fiance and yourself a favor: graciously accept offers of budgetary help from any family members (providing the strings attached are ones you can live with), but don’t wheedle for money with pretty princess fantasy pictures and don’t embarrass your parents or his by sharing their financial situation with people they may hardly know.

If you want money from your parents, ask up front and be prepared for the answer to be no. It’s what grown ups do.

20 Responses to “A Real Simple Way to Court Disaster”

  1. Melissa B. says:

    “My in-laws can’t afford to contribute as much as my parents. How do we handle this situation?”

    This … is not actually a “situation” that needs to be “handled.” The couple should just say “thank you” to both sets of parents for contributing. Unless one set of parents is confused or complaining because the other isn’t contributing more, I really don’t get why this would be a problem!

  2. Twistie says:

    I’m with you, Melissa B. It’s hardly a situation. The concept of taking something that isn’t a big deal and turning it into a dinner party where it gets made into a big deal just made me cringe.

  3. Meg says:


    We did not ask either of our parents for money. Because we figured we could do it ourselves. (And my father would not have offered — he still won’t speak to my hubby when he answers the phone.)

    My ILs did pay for the rehearsal dinner, but that was a pleasant surprise — it was all family and we’d warned them ahead of time that it was no-host.

    I cannot imagine having gone to them and said “can you pay for x?” That’s just wrong.

  4. Twistie says:

    Yeah, it never would have occured to me, either, Meg. My father did do a lot of the cooking for the reception – including our fruit tarts – and managed to sneak paying for some of the ingredients behind my back, and my mother in law provided a large tray of her homemade sushi, but I didn’t ask either one for a dime.

    The thing of getting everyone together to explain who’s paying for what…it just reeks of manipulating people into offering more money than they can comfortably afford to give just so they won’t lose face in front of the in-laws.

  5. LadySun says:

    We never asked any of our parents for money. (His parents are divorced, so I count it as three sets.) My FIL’s gift to us was the hotel for our honeymoon, and my MIL also gifted to us a large chunk of the honeymoon fund AND surprised us by paying for the rehearsal dinner, so we did save a huge chunk of money that way. On the other hand, I was speaking with my mother one day, and I was talking to her about some of the costs, and she said “that sounds lovely, I hope you don’t mind that we have no money to give toward that”, to which I responded that I had no intention of asking for or accepting money from them for our wedding. (And she still wound up paying for my dress and some of the parts of the centerpieces.)

    But all in all, I think the best way to handle is to plan as though you’re paying for it yourself. That way, if you get money from family members, you can splurge, either on the wedding or the honeymoon! 🙂

  6. Twistie says:

    I absolutely agree, LadySun. Plan according to your own means, and then enjoy the bounty if someone volunteers to help out. And I’m glad you and your mother were able to be so frank with one another about both your plans and her financial situation.

    The thing that bothers me most about the bits of the article I quoted was the manipulation factor involved.

  7. Excellent post. I’ve been lurking for a while but had to stick my head out to tell you I’m absolutely with you on that one, that’s some terrible advice. The idea of showing them costofwedding.com is horrible – what is it supposed to do, make them feel guilty? Or inadequate? And yes, that sounds like the dinner party from hell for all involved.

  8. Anusha says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. I read this Real Simple wedding guide before our wedding, and realized that it was just like RS magazine — a whole lot of ads just strung together. According to RS mag, what you need to do to “simplify” your life (and, I’m also assuming, make it “Real”) is buy a whole lot of new stuff. Ever notice how almost every advice article in that mag involves some gadget that you’re going to have to go out and buy?

    Since RS seems to be all about the spending, it also seems natural that their wedding guide is all about that too, except, of course, this time you have an “excuse” to finagle your family members to spend all their money for you!

    What’s scary is the fact that there are enough people out there buying this magazine to keep it in circulation.

  9. Blake says:

    Not to offend anyone who’s fond of it, but “Real Simple” has always struck me as a ridiculous magazine. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to discover even the thinly-laid editorial content is almost purely advertorial.

    I think people give it a little more credit than it deserves because the covers are lovely. And they really do sing to that part of your heart that wishes a magazine like what Real Simple pretends to be existed. Sort of like a Scandinavian Martha Stewart with an insane knack for the practical.

  10. Twistie says:

    GuiltySecret, welcome! Yes, I think that’s precisely what the idea was behind showing parents costofwedding.com: shame them into ponying up to pay for what you want, regardless of their means to do so.

    Anusha and Blake, I’d often drooled over the covers of Real Simple before this, but I have to say I’m with both of you about what I’ve seen so far. It’s not that it’s so different from other magazines – bridal or otherwise – in being mostly advertising content, but the fact that it’s pretending to sell a simpler, less cluttered life by selling so much stuff at you is frankly incredibly annoying.

    On the other hand, there were a few good tips for saving cash and cutting down on stress. I just don’t think they were such amazing tips that they were worth the thirteen bucks I paid for the magazine…and I can’t help feeling following that advice about getting parental financial help could cost some bride a family.

  11. Annalucia says:

    The alarm bells, they went off in the Annalucia’s head as soon as she saw the phrase “your twelve-month countdown to planning.” And what followed upon that was so horrifying that she had to drink a soothing Black Russian and lie down with the cold compress upon the forehead.

  12. Twistie says:

    Annalucia, there is not a wedding magazine in circulation that doesn’t have the twelve-month (or eitghteen-month, or six-month) countdown to wedding planning. It’s an article that can run every single issue and only needs to be updated when the wedding industry comes up with a new ‘must-have/do’ for the bride to keep track of. I was expecting some version of it. The money advice, though, was so headed for disaster that I just had to say something about it.

    (passes the Annalucia another Black Russian and a cold compress)

    I do hope you feel better soon.

  13. Abby says:

    I confess I love Real Simple, because the photographs of clean, uncluttered living spaces make me feel peaceful. I never actually _do_ any of the things they suggest, but their calming voice makes me imagine that someday I could. (This is probably the “someday” that includes a ridiculously expensive beach “cottage” with an invisible staff for keeping the coffee table uncovered by stupidly aspirational magazines.)

  14. Fillyjonk says:

    This … is not actually a “situation” that needs to be “handled.”

    It can be, actually. My FMIL can’t afford to contribute nor do we need or expect her to, but she feels bad about it. There’s definitely been some “handling,” mostly to the tune of my boyfriend writing her soothing emails about how her love and support are really all we need. But try really making someone believe that, when they think they should be contributing money.

    Not that I expect Real Simple Weddings to have particularly sound, compassionate advice on that sort of handling. In fact when I first saw the title of this post, I assumed it referred to reading wedding magazines in the first place.

  15. Leah says:

    I have never been good at asking for anything, much less money, so this whole concept has me a bit befuddled. If you are grown-up enough to get married, you are grown-up enough to pay for it, or at least enough to recognize that your wedding is not “My Super Sweet 16” with more tulle. If you are not prepared to be financially independent from your parents you are not prepared to be married. Plan the wedding you can afford, and if others would like to help, accept their gift graciously.

  16. Twistie says:

    Fillyjonk, your situation with your FMIL is definitely not the sort that this article would have helped with. And how rude is it of them to basically try to get couples to get their parents into a pitched battle to make sure to top each other? I think you and your guy have definitely taken the right tack with taking care of the situation you find yourselves in. It might not hurt for you to send your FMIL an email of your own assuring her from your end that all you need from her is her love and support, too. Such a message coming directly from the bride might help her understand that’s really all you need from her…that is, if you haven’t sent such a message yourself already.

    Some parents need more reassurance than others when they don’t have money to contribute. That, indeed, is a situation, as opposed to the artificial one the artcle sought to create.

    Leah, I think I love you for that description of a wedding as “My Super Sweet 16 with more tulle”. There seem to be far too many people who think that’s precisely what a wedding is. It can be, certainly, but I usually prefer the ones that take a more adult approach.

  17. Eires32 says:

    Thank you for speaking up about that horrible article. I was recently stuck in the airport and picked up that issue as well. And I had the exact same reaction to the exact same bits! Truly appalling!
    However, I am a subscriber to and fan of Real Simple, as much as I sorta kinda agree with the criticisms above. Mainly for the recipes. I have a three ring binder stuffed with all kinds of recipes from the past 5 years, and I use it all the time. My subscription price has been more than paid for with successful dinner parties and happy friends and family! 🙂
    I’ve never commented before either – really enjoy your postings Twistie.

  18. La BellaDonna says:

    Holy Mary, Mother of God. I married at twenty and *I* paid for my wedding. (No, not “we,” but that, as it turned out, was another can of worms.) I didn’t hit my parents or grandparents up for money, I didn’t hit his family up for money, hell, I didn’t hit him up for money.

    I am just speechless at the behaviour some people seem to find perfectly acceptable.

  19. Evie says:

    It’s always so refreshing to read the posts and comments on this blog!! I’m young (23) and getting married in about three months. Our parents have happily and graciously offered us a reasonable (meaning, something they can actually afford) amount of money for the event because they view it as an important tradition. My very sentimental dad, in particular, looks at it as the last big gift you give your children before you completely set them free, and would throw me a big princess wedding if I let him 🙂

    Mind you, I’ve been financially independent since I started college and generally refuse money from my folks, but I certainly don’t mind saving some cash in this case. Still, I can’t help but bristle when it seems like every other young bride on the planet is involved in this massive conspiracy to get mommy and daddy to foot the mile long bill for some childhood princess fairytale. I’ve actually had women suggest means far worse than a dinner party to con my parents into paying more!!

  20. Nariya says:

    When I got married a short while ago, my parents offered to pay for everything. Strings were attached, of course, but we lived wtih them. His parents could easily have afforded to pay for half the wedding, but they didn’t. This resulted in a couple of awkward conversations with my fiance and my mother, but as the wedding was to be exactly how my side of the family wanted it, things worked out just fine.

    I mean, awkward moments are bound to happen in wedding planning no matter what. Why hasten their arrival by setting up dinner parties around them?