Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am the mother of the groom. I see a problem coming and don't know how to avoid it. The parents of the bride are lovely people and I don't want to do anything to create trouble. It appears to be a "local custom" for the parents of the groom to pick up the bar bill at the reception. We are a blue collar, one income family and my husband has been out of work for the last 4 months for a medical problem. Even if we had the funds, a $5,000 bar bill at a country club is not the way I want to spend my money. Any talk of being frugal upsets my son as he wants to join the golf club set.
No one has mentioned it yet. Do I shut up and just go along? Should I bring it up? I have only talked to the bride's mother twice. When I have voiced some opinions toward things like the shower costs, my concerns were not addressed. I have gone-a-long-to-get-along but I am not prepared to bring our checkbook to the reception and I do not believe in going in debt.
Cheryl has asked a very tough question. Obviously it's important to her family. And there's no simple guidelines to follow. Is there a way to try to decide what's really important here? Let's try breaking it down into smaller questions.
The first is whether Cheryl should just quietly go along. I'm certainly not an expert on wedding etiquette, but that seems foolish to me. The problem is unlikely to disappear. And there's no shame in not having money to spend for a large bar bill. Especially if the family breadwinner has been ill. Raising a son who can be a good husband is more important that writing a check for liquor.
It would be a good idea for Cheryl to consider the cost to her family budget if she agrees to pay. Will it mean monthly payments for years? Could it deplete their savings? Perhaps consume money needed for medical treatment for her husband? Hopefully not. But she should know before making the decision.
I wouldn't be too concerned with breaking a 'custom'. Obviously this custom doesn't work well for this couple.
If Cheryl does want to raise the issue, who should she talk with? Her son should be the first to know. Her primary responsibility is to him. Once they've spoken he should play a role in deciding how his parents approach the bride's family.
Someone will also need to decide how elaborate the bar will be. And whoever pays for it should have the final say in how expensive it is. If Cheryl is paying and someone thinks it should be fancier, they can contribute to the bill to pay for any additions.
There may be ways to reduce the cost of refreshments. Having a friend act as unpaid bartender could help. Consider non-premium liquors. Perhaps offer punches instead of mixed drinks. And offering only non-alcoholic beverages could be wise choice.
Obviously this isn't an easy decision. But there are some general guidelines that can help.
Sometimes parents have to be the 'bad guy' to do what's best for our children. This is a good opportunity for Cheryl to teach her son about money and marriage. He might not appreciate the lesson now. Just like he cried when she slapped his baby hand reaching for the stove. But it's possible that this expense is another 'stove' in his life.
A young married couple can't spend their way to happiness. Money problems are the number one reason for divorce. The bride and groom need to talk about money before the wedding. They should set up a joint budget before they say "I do". If different money backgrounds are going to be a problem, they need to discover that now. Finding out later could lead to divorce.
Some will debate the point, but a husband and wife shouldn't keep secrets from each other. You can't build a strong marriage by hiding things. This is a good opportunity for open communications.
How the young couple handles this issue could be a real benefit for their future happiness. If the topic brings tears and fighting you can bet that there will be more fights after the wedding. They'll face other more important challenges later.
If, however, they can discuss this issue and come to a sound decision together they will have learned how to handle other touchy issues when they arise. And you can bet that they'll face other tough money questions in the future.
Hopefully Cheryl's son and his bride-to-be will have a wonderful life together. And a good financial footing is a wonderful foundation to build on.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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