Finding Out If Your Mom Plans To Pay For Your Wedding

by Kimberly Lew

Much like Nicole, I’ve never been one to think or fantasize about weddings. At least not in a way more realistically than my friend and me joking that we want a club remix of Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last” as one of the songs in our reception playlists.

Up until two years ago, I had never even been to a wedding, and I’ve only attended one more since then. Both have been rather big, traditional weddings with a church ceremony and large dinner reception. For the first times there, I navigated the awkward social graces of meeting distant relatives at the kids’ table and dodging the wedding bouquet. After all, I’m pretty ill-prepared to catch it.

It seems like almost every time I talk to my mom now, there’s another announcement of someone we know getting married. While I’ve never felt the pressure to rush down the aisle, talking about other people’s weddings with my mom made me realize that I’ve never really talked to her about the possibility of my own wedding. I think a part of me assumed my mom had designated me as the family spinster. But I also have 2 younger sisters, and when I heard that one of them asked my mom if she and my father had anything saved for our weddings, I realized how little I knew about what it would take financially to plan a wedding and how prepared I was for if/when that time came.

I decided that maybe it was time to have the talk — the one where I found out if my mom had any money set aside for our weddings and what implications that might have on planning a wedding in the future. So, I did what any 20-something would do: I sent my mom a questionnaire, asking her about how she planned her wedding and what role she would play financially in mine.

Her response is probably best captured in the closing line of her email: “Better start saving now!”

My parents have not set aside any money for my sisters’ weddings or for mine. This didn’t come as a particular surprise, but it was strange to suddenly realize the expense of the average wedding and how hard it is for me to save for a vacation, much less a wedding ceremony. My parents have always been willing to help us financially where they can, but I also know that they’ve never been able to freely give us money. They helped us each with college, but since graduating, asking my parents for money has always been more of a no-interest loan than a gift. Then again, this makes sense, as my parents are also managing their own finances. As my mom said, “Being older parents, we have to plan for our retirement, as we don’t foresee any of you helping to take care of us.”

As harsh as it is to read that in print, it’s not unfounded: I’ve certainly struggled since entering the workforce and am not currently in a financial situation where I can plan to take care of my parents. I would like to be able to someday, but I don’t know if I will be able to get there. My mom thinks of it as a generational thing. “Unfortunately, in this day and age and your careers, it is difficult to fund a wedding (which could equal the down payment on a house) and buy a condo or house,” she said. “I would encourage you to invest more in where you’re going to live than in your wedding.”

My parents had a large traditional Chinese wedding in Hawaii, with receptions both in Honolulu and San Francisco, my mother’s hometown. Both sets of grandparents split the costs of the receptions, while my parents paid for the wedding ceremony — the church, tuxes, bridesmaids’ dresses, gifts for the wedding party, photographer — while flowers and wine were gifts from family friends. My mom was working at the time and had about a year to slowly pay for everything. The traditional Chinese weddings that were customary for my mom and her friends were usually pretty big affairs with 300–600 guests.

My mom admits that this is a lot less likely of an option for my sisters and me. “Unless your grooms have big families, I think your weddings will be much smaller. I imagine your weddings will be more intimate and possibly more casual,” she said. “Also, given that we live in Georgia and you live in New York, I don’t know where your wedding would take place. I have not discussed this with Dad, but I have thought about throwing a reception in San Francisco and/or Hawaii, at some point, to introduce family to your spouse(s), especially if you get married around the same time.”

My mom also kept bringing up that she sees us having destination weddings, but I couldn’t tell if that was an actually recommendation or if she was trying to get us to help encourage a vacation.

Being that we would be on our own to finance our own weddings, I asked my mom if she felt she had any say in our weddings. Would she mind if we, say, eloped?

“My expectation for you is that family is invited,” she said. “I don’t want to be told about it afterward.”

In general, it was interesting having such a transparent conversation with my mother about this ambiguous expense. She had never had this conversation with her mother, and even though she hopes to contribute some amount financially to our weddings, she admits that she and my father don’t know what that amount would be (or haven’t really discussed it). I can’t say that I come out of this conversation with any new insight into what I want in my own wedding or what my own wedding will look like, but I feel a little more informed about what my responsibility will be.

For the most part, though, I’m relieved that this isn’t something I’m terribly concerned with yet. As my sister said, when I asked her about what she thought of all of this: “Compared to other expenses, it’s not even close to the top of my list.”

This story is part of our Wedding Month series.

Kimberly Lew is the proud writer of plays, blogs, and the monthly check when the rent is due. Check her out at www.kimberlylew.com.