So you're getting married.
Congratulations! Welcome to the world of wedded bliss. Oh, and to a marketing blitz so intense it makes Christmas, Valentine's Day, and your (future) mother-in-law's birthday look like unimportant excuses to buy small trinkets.
From the first day you decide to merge your life with someone else's, it begins. Where will you be holding the most important event of your entire life? What kind of flowers will you have as the most important flowers of your entire life? How about the food? The cake? Think hard. After all, it's the most important cake of your entire life, ever. Are you sure the balloons tied to the pews will coordinate perfectly with the ribbons around the vases at the reception? Because if they don't, you've potentially ruined the most important event of your entire life, ever.
And don't even get me started on the bridesmaids' dresses.
Even for people who are having relatively small and simple ceremonies, wedding planning can be a nightmare. Everybody wants to sell you something, and everybody wants to convince you that if you don't buy the perfect thing they're selling, your wedding won't be perfect. In the whirlwind of decisions, compromises, necessities, and arrangements, you and your intended can lose sight of the whole point of the ceremony in the first place: bringing two lives together to create something bigger than the sum of their parts.
But there's a way to keep that goal in mind. I mean besides eloping in Vegas, although my husband and I seriously considered that. Think about being part of a growing trend: charitable weddings.
Coming together to give back
If you're like the average American bride or groom, you're in your late 20s and have been on your own for a while already. Or perhaps you're planning a second wedding. Either way, you may already have all the toasters, coffeepots, and bath towels you need. Even if you don't, maybe you think it's a better idea to buy those things along the way. If you and your spouse-to-be foresee another few years of apartment living, for example, it might not be practical to ask your wedding guests for enough household goods to furnish, well, a house.
So if you don't need household items, what should you ask guests to give instead? Consider having your guests give to others, or to causes that you consider important.
There are almost as many ways to incorporate charity into your wedding arrangements as there are choices of elaborate floral decorations. A virtual clearinghouse for such ideas is the I Do Foundation -- a nonprofit that helps couples make charity a part of their wedding day. One of the simplest options the foundation offers is "gift registries that give back." Register with one of their partner stores, and a certain portion of your guests' gift purchases will be donated to a charity of your choosing. Partner stores include Cooking.com, which donates 8%; Target
If you want a tangible reminder of your efforts, another option available through the I Do Foundation is wedding favors for charity. You pick your favorite charity, pick the amount you want to donate per guest, select the style of place card you want to commemorate your gift, and make your tax-deductible donation online. When guests arrive at your ceremony, they'll see a card at each place setting telling them which organization you've donated to in their name in honor of the occasion. Hey, now there's a gift that'll keep on giving longer than a personalized noisemaker!
If you'd rather your guests have the chance to donate for themselves, a charity registry is another choice. You can register your wedding with the I Do Foundation, select the organization or fund you want to benefit, and set up the charity registry online. Your guests access the registry like a traditional gift registry. The difference is that, instead of picking out fondue pots, they give tax-deductible donations. Don't worry -- if you love the idea of giving back but don't want to give up a chance at that new toaster, you can always have both a charity registry and a gift registry and let guests choose which route they want to take (perhaps both!).
The possibilities are endless
A CBS News story in 2005 highlighted some couples who chose to go the charity route for their weddings. One couple from Washington, D.C., decided to forgo traditional gifts in favor of asking guests to help them start a scholarship fund at the groom's high school. By the time the story was published, the fund was at $8,000 and counting. And there are charitable ways to pass along nearly everything your wedding will use. You can donate the leftover food to a local food bank or give the bridesmaids' dresses to a group like the Glass Slipper Project or Fairy Godmothers Inc. (which should be excellent incentive to stay away from the peach taffeta monstrosities). You can even donate your wedding gown. Wedding-planning website The Knot
With this ring .
In the end, a wedding isn't about the flowers or the caterers or the DJ or the decor. It's not even about watching your grandma get down to the Electric Slide. It's about honoring the fact that two people have chosen to become one unit, to grow and change and learn together over whatever unexpected adventures lie ahead. For all the talk of bridezillas, disasters, and controlling mother-in-laws, the occasion at its heart is a benevolent event. You're becoming part of something greater, and your guests are there to celebrate that fact. In the mad whirl of marketing and planning and pressure and stress, it can be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Planting one -- or otherwise honoring your union by making it part of some larger good -- can be the antidote to that.
Doing our part
Here at The Motley Fool, we have our own way of working toward the larger good. We call it Foolanthropy -- our annual interactive charity drive. Check out our five reader-nominated charities here and consider making Foolanthropy a part of your annual (or bridal) giving. You can also check out www.foolanthropy.com for information on philanthropy in general, or the Foolanthropy discussion board for dialogue on all topics related to charitable giving.
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The charity at Ellen Bowman's wedding included an open bar with only top-shelf potables. Ellen owns no stock in any company mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy is always getting proposed to.