Expert Q&A

Rich bride, poor groom and mom can’t pay country club reception tab


Mom should be honest with herself and her wealthy in-laws about her financial limits, and their kids should discuss money expectations before the ceremony

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Question for the expert

Dear New Frugal You,
My son is getting married and I’ve got a problem. His fiancee and her family are lovely people. but they have a higher standard of living than I do. I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. Here’s the problem: I think that they expect me to pick up the bar tab for the country club reception. I’m guessing it could be as much as $5,000. Her family hasn’t said anything, but my son has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his future in-laws.

What am I to do? I don’t have the money and really can’t see borrowing it so that the liquor can flow freely. I want my son and his bride to be happy, but somehow the whole thing feels wrong. — Concerned Mom

Answer for the expert

Dear Concerned,
As a former president used to say, I feel your pain. It’s a parent’s dream that their children find a good spouse when they decide to get married. So facing this challenge must be especially hard.

If I were you, the first thing I’d do is check the facts. It’s possible that the bride’s family doesn’t expect you to pay for an open alcohol bar at the reception. You’ll never know until you speak with them. Doing it sooner will minimize the chance for misunderstanding and allow more time to find a solution.

Before you get with them, you’ll want to talk with your son. Let him know exactly what you can afford and how you feel. Right now it may be hard for him to see that some things are more important than impressing the in-laws. So your job could be tough.

Next, it’s important to be honest about who you are — with yourself, your son and his future in-laws. You’re not part of the country club set. That doesn’t mean that you haven’t been a good parent and raised a son who will be an excellent husband.

Maybe you couldn’t provide expensive toys and education. Instead, you taught him self-reliance and how to use limited resources to achieve his goals. Your lifestyle is not inferior to the country clubbers. It’s just different. That may be the most important lesson for everyone.

Your son naturally wants to fit in with his in-laws. Part of that includes aspiring to their standard of living. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s admirable. But borrowing the money to do it is not. In fact, you’d be demonstrating the wrong way to achieve a higher standard of living. When you borrow money to pay for a purchase, you agree to add interest to the cost of that purchase. So it will cost more than if you paid cash for it.

You have an excellent opportunity to show that he shouldn’t borrow to pay for nonessentials. If Junior learns this lesson, it will go a long way to helping his marriage be successful. He and his bride cannot spend their way to happiness, especially on borrowed money. Failure to recognize that early could put their marriage in jeopardy. After all, money is a top cause of divorce.

You might also want to encourage him to sit down with his bride to create a budget plan for after their marriage. The goal is not just to create a workable budget, but also to surface any differences they may have about money. Remember that each one of us has a unique relationship with money — especially if we come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Working out the differences is essential to a successful marriage.

It may be that the reception question causes an argument. While no one likes a disagreement, it’s better to have it now. Hiding the problem only postpones the inevitable. Sooner or later the young couple will need to decide to live on their income or to depend on her parents for help.

It’s better to have that discussion now. Ideally, they’ll work out any differences and both know exactly where they’re headed. Or, at worst, they can break up now before divorce lawyers are necessary and there are kids caught in the crossfire.

You’re in a high risk, high reward situation. Your son might not want you to raise the issue. But, if your goal was to teach him how to be a self-sufficient adult, then you have little choice in this matter.

See related: How to hold a frugal wedding shower, Mine, yours and ours: Marriage and your money

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