Dear Mrs. Riches,
My fiancee and I have been engaged a few short weeks, but already I can see where our wedding is headed. She is bringing up all sorts of expenses -- ice sculptures, plantation rentals, and rented lovebirds (seriously!) -- that I think are just a waste. I am trying to convince her that we'd be much better off having a modest wedding and saving the money for some worthy expense like buying our first home or saving for retirement. She says that her parents will pick up most of the tab for the wedding, I should realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that it would be criminal to rob her of her one true desire. The sensible girl I fell in love with has morphed into a full-blown bride already, complete with an extravagant price tag. Please help me to introduce some sense into this mess.
-- Freaked-Out Fiance
Dear Freaked-Out Fiance,
Rented lovebirds, huh? Wow. If she starts suggesting stunt grooms, run for your life. In the meantime, take a very deep breath. The wacky world of wedding planning awaits.
Coming between a girl and her perfect wedding is tough work, especially with mom and dad around to pay the bills and an entire industry urging a blatant disregard for price tags. With the cost of the average American wedding at close to a staggering $30,000, though, I think you're right to question the expense of a one-day celebration. So much other good could be accomplished with such a sizable amount.
I'm very, very, very tempted (did I say very?) to say that you should give some thought to delaying your nuptials until you have this disagreement resolved. But if I were being totally up front, I'd also say that I recall coming of age with a feminine fantasy or two of my own about "the perfect wedding."
The difference is that when we looked at the price tag (that my groom and I were largely responsible for paying), I immediately became an uber-sensible bride. Who knows, though, what would have happened had our parents offered to completely foot the bill? Your bride and I could have been tussling over the same plantation.
So before you make any rash decisions to get out of Dodge (the gussied-up, sequin-encrusted version), do a little fact-finding. Find out how much her parents are actually willing to contribute to the wedding expenses (after all, they may be ready for a barbecue budget, not filet mignon) so you know the budget constraints. Your intended may have to scale down her expectations from there without your having to say much at all. The two of you will then need to have a heart-to-heart in which she once again is able to share her dreams, and you're able to share how much it scares you to see her changing already. A wise groom would be right to wonder: Could big-bottomed undies be next?
While her parents are willing to foot the bill, it's important to take their financial well-being into account, too. Do your in-laws have sufficient retirement savings? Do they have an emergency fund? Do they have long-term care insurance? If they don't, you may be footing the bill for them down the road, and all because of that dratted ice sculpture. Your older self will rue the day you made such a foolish wager.
You can also look for ways to scale down expenses while honoring this special occasion. The Fool is chock-full of good advice for saving on your wedding, including an article penned by my groom, Robert Brokamp, about our fabulous $5,000 nuptial celebration. I can honestly say I've never been to a wedding I enjoyed more.
I feel hopeful that the two of you will arrive at a mutually rewarding solution, too. Good luck to you both!
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .