It’s wedding season! When all the crazy comes out to play and those of us fortunate enough to NOT be planning a wedding get out the popcorn and watch. Today, Slate’s advice columnist Dear Prudence got this question from a woman whose mother wants to use her daughter’s wedding to relive her glory days at a bride, now that she can afford to do it in style. If only the groom were on board …
Q. My Sister’s Wedding or My Mother’s?: My sister and the love of her life are going to get married this winter. Our whole family is very happy about it, especially my mom. When my parents got married more than 20 years ago there was not much money. Everything was nice and happy, but nowhere near the dream wedding my mom always wanted. The family’s financial situation has improved significantly since then and it seems my mother finally wants the wedding of her dreams—even if it’s not actually hers. My parents are paying for everything, but my mom wants everything her way. My sister, who has a soft heart, is willing to let her have it her way. The future son-in-law is another story. He wants no part of what he calls “a Ken and Barbie nightmare” and thinks a wedding should first of all reflect bride and groom. He even went so far as to offer to pay all the bills out of his own pocket. Mom is furious, but he won’t back down. My poor sister is so upset about all of this, she’s considering canceling the whole wedding. I would be grateful for any suggestions to solve this mess and give my sister a wedding that doesn’t give her nightmares for years to come.
A. Your sister may be soft-hearted, but she’s going to seem soft-headed if she can’t grow up enough to separate from her mother to be in charge of her own wedding.
As Jafar says in Aladdin, “You’ve heard of the golden rule, haven’t you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” This goes double for weddings. If you want to be in charge, you better be ready to empty your piggy bank. (And if you can’t stand up to either your husband or your mother, maybe you should reconsider whether you’re ready to get married?) But the broader questions of Who Pays? and Who Decides? these days are fascinating.
It is so hard to say no! It is especially hard to say no to our friends, who we love, or who we like well enough but think for whatever reason that it is imperative that they love us. And it especially hard when the “no” is because of money. Or is it easier, money being an inarguable reality like the weather? “It’s raining / I’m broke.” No, it’s harder, because it is hard to acknowledge to our friends that we might be coming up short, that the thought of spending is making us hyperventilate, and that even though we love them maybe we don’t have or can’t afford to part with the $1,000+ their wedding will cost us.
Q. HOW TO DECLINE WEDDING INVITATIONS I’m getting many wedding invitations these days and unfortunately I just can’t afford to go to all of them. Some friends understand, but how do you explain that to the brides who just don’t seem to get it and keep pushing you on it?
A. CAROLYN HAX You don’t. You’re under no obligation to explain at all, though with a good friend you’ll want to say something, of course: “I would love to go but I can’t afford it.” Done. If pressed, you ask them please to respect you enough to accept that you’d go if you could. Beyond that, the couples’ behavior makes for a good sorting tool. Remember who was gracious and who was pushy, and then, as you continue to be called upon to invest more money and energy in your friends than you have to give, choose to give to the gracious ones.
Samantha at Bitches Gotta Eat decided to answer every wedding etiquette question you can imagine, and she does it with aplomb, if by “aplomb” you mean “caustic honesty, jokes, and lots of cuss words.” For example, if you are invited to someone’s destination wedding, do you still bring/send a present and, if so, a present that represents the same amount of money you would spend on the couple if you weren’t also shelling out for airfare, hotel, etc? Samantha’s answer:
if i were you i would: 1 buy a first class ticket, for sure; 2 invest in a good quality jersey dress because ironing in a hotel is the lamest, you should be drunk; 3 fuck every dude you make eye contact with over that cocktail you’re sipping out of a coconut, and 4 get those assholes a giftcard in the checkout line at the grocer. congratulations, guys! please enjoy your dinner at ruby tuesday!
My (deep down secret) thoughts exactly. She also answers the even pricklier question of Plus Ones.
should we put “and guest” on the invitations addressed to our single friends?
man, fuck you and fuck this. YOU CHEAP BASTARDS. of course you should. the only thing worse than being a smug single person at some asshole’s stupid wedding is being a smug single person at some asshole’s stupid wedding with no one awesome to talk shit about it to. as much as i don’t want to burden you with that extra $75 lukewarm chicken breast spent on some dude i found on craigslist, just think of it as an insurance policy that i won’t fuck your reception all the way up with my drunk crying and vomit-flavored hiccups.
Do yourself a favor and scroll through the full list. Can’t guarantee agreement; can guarantee catharsis.
Wedding cakes are BACK, y’all, and better than ever, by which we mean, of course, fancier and more expensive.
Indeed, about 90 percent of couples offer cake, in some form, at America’s two million weddings a year. That’s a yearly expenditure of $2 billion, according to Mr. Markel, so cakes are still a vibrant segment of the $86 billion bridal industry.
After the 2008 recession, supermarket cakes for under $200 gained in popularity. But nationally, the average cost of wedding cakes has doubled over the last decade, and now “the average price per slice is about $7,” Mr. Markel said, citing a low of $2.50 a slice in smaller areas to $15 and more in San Francisco and New York. “A few years ago, it was just, well, you get a wedding cake,” said Mary Giuliani, a high-end caterer in Manhattan. “These days, it’s like, what cake are you wearing? It’s so much more stylish, tied in with couture.”
$7 a slice! Who knew wedding cake was the most expensive cake you could buy? Okay, fine, maybe you did, but it’s still shocking, isn’t it? So how does the Wedding Industrial Complex manipulate its victims into paying such an exorbitant price? How else? TRADITION.
Laura Pietropinto, a Broadway assistant director who is to marry her fiancé, Justin Restivo, next month at the Metropolitan Club, said her five-tier cake (being made by Mr. Ben-Israel) will incorporate their white-and-pink wedding colors. Each tier will display textures from her gown. “It’s the symbol of your union and your future together,” she said. “We never considered not having a cake,” she added, talking about their $3,000 cake. “It was about tradition.”
The article goes on to detail more than you ever wanted to know about bare cakes; ombré cakes; rustic cakes; cakes that are taller than the average Billfold writer; and gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and organic cakes, which, um, why bother? Serve a block of cold tofu on a cake plate instead and save yourself a thousand dollars. But the best detail of all the piece saves for last.
I’ve gotten a lot of your “the year I saved $10K” stories—we are quite a financially savvy community, as it turns out.
Here are two stories to start off. They share the theme of, as Sara notes below, “building savings that are actually spendings.” Lauren and her husband saved up for a down payment on a house, and Sara and her fiancé are saving up for a wedding.
Lauren: My husband and I spent the last year putting away $2,000/month in order to save up for a down payment on a house. We were able to do this mostly by having awesome jobs—our combined take-home pay is ~75k, plus my husband gets some stock grants. We also wouldn’t have been able to do this without living together and combining finances. It took a little while to adjust to the saving schedule, but I think it helped that we started right after we got married so there wasn’t much time to lifestyle inflate and adjust to having two salaries and only one apartment.
Mike: So Ester, it officially feels like summer! Maybe because it was 90 degrees the other day (but I still haven’t put in my air conditioner, perhaps to Josh Michtom’s delight). But I will! I did it in July last year.
Ester: We haven’t either! I always hold out ’til the last possible moment, til I feel like a wax person whose own skin is melting off my body. For environmental reasons.
Mike: I guess for me it’s part environmental reasons, but also because I don’t think it’s so terribly hot yet? I’m also not home very much, so that may be one reason. I’m at the office right now, and it’s usually on, but it’s quiet here today so I have turned off the a/c and opened the windows. It’s below 80! Who needs it? Okay, so, the thing I wanted to ask you is whether you have summer travel plans and if you planned for it financially in advance.
Ester: Last summer, as you may recall, my husband Ben, babygirl and I decamped for seven weeks — we stayed in Vilnius, Lithuania, in an AirB&B that thankfully did not burn down (the Lithuanian rain would have taken care of that right away anyway I guess), in a couple different places in England, and then in a family friend’s house in Spain. That was pretty amazing — and kind of ate up our travel budget for two years. So we don’t have anything planned for this summer, really, except to figure out how to have, entertain, and enjoy time with a kid in the heat without leaving NYC. How about you?
Mike: I have a savings account through Ally that is specifically for vacations. I just checked and there is $400 in it.
Ester: Hello! Could you introduce yourself in a general way?
Rebecca: Um, I am a radical leftist extrovert nerd feminist Jew. I work as a fundraiser and communicator for a racial and economic justice community organization. I have lived all over the world and the East Coast.
Ester: And you are getting married this weekend!
Rebecca: That too! I am a “bride” and a “fiancee” (though I don’t identify as the latter). I am a partner to my partner as I have been for a while and a housemate and householder-homeowner-homemaker with three other people including said partner.
Ester: Your housing situation is unusual and — I think — fascinating. Can you describe it a little before we get into the details of the upcoming nuptials? Billfolders love real estate.
Rebecca: My partner and I were living in an awesome co-op house with four other folks, and our dear friends MB and JB also lived in an awesome co-op house. We all wanted to keep living the big-house-with-lots-of-people lifestyle and in several cases had done that from during college. So 10+ years into grownup co-op life I didn’t want to get married and disappear from my friends and really from myself into some partnered love/torture cave of nuclear family loneliness.
We talked with MB/JB a lot about living together and then there was this crazy confluence/opportunity: 3 sets of mutual friends own houses on the same block and we sort of happened on an open house on said block. The house was in some ways just another rowhouse but in others really ideal for a 2-family shared situation — like, there’s sort of 2 suites of bedroom/office/bathroom on the second floor, and a big 2-car garage, which is unusual in our city… so all of a sudden we were like OK let’s buy this thing. A week later (and a lot of fevered financial dealings, honestly) we had an offer accepted.
Ester: This, I should tell you, was always my childhood dream. To live with and among friends. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. But did you envision something like this when you were young, or younger?
Rebecca: This has been my dream as well, since let’s say college. It was always a little vague because it seemed sort of impossible: how do you find the right people who are also ready and willing at the time, etc.? I sometimes imagined myself in a bigger commune-y kind of thing but I like living in the city. I seriously feel very lucky and blessed to have these friends who were down for the whole idea and all of us are just having the best time. Lots of people’s response is like yours — they want this kind of thing too. It’s shocking to me that more people don’t try for it, but it is pretty unusual.
Ester: My best friend lived in an anarchist co-op once and she hated it; no one washed their dishes. And I lived on kibbutz once. It was less than ideal. But I think the reason a lot of people don’t try it is that it’s hard enough to mingle finances with one individual, a romantic partner — the idea of getting your money tied up with that of another couple can be pretty daunting. Money can kill relationships faster than anything, after all, except sex.