Friday, January 30, 2009

Weddings, money, and family: Advice to parents

There is no shortage of books, magazines, and websites aimed at brides. There are even a few aimed at grooms. But what about the parents of the happy couple -- also known as "the people likely to be footing at least part of the bill"?

After composing my last post, I realized there was an unexplored flip side: advice to parents who may or may not be paying for the wedding. So here is my attempt to address that group, with Bride in Exile's Tips for Parents on (Relatively) Stress-Free Wedding Planning. (Note: I've written this largely as if it's directed to the mother of the bride and the couple is heterosexual, but I think the advice could apply to all parents and step-parents of any couple getting married.)

If you are helping to pay, make your expectations -- and your intended contribution -- clear at the beginning.

Think about the aspects of the wedding that are important to you, the things you consider “non-negotiable” given that you are paying for this shindig, and make sure the bride and groom know about them. Do you want to be able to invite your entire extended family, including third cousins the couple has never met? Tell the bride and groom up front, before they fall in love with a reception site that has a 50-person maximum. Do you hate buffet receptions and want a plated, seated dinner instead? Don’t spring it on the couple after they’ve signed a catering contract. When you offer financial support, tell them “We would love to contribute $x to the wedding fund, with the understanding that you will invite these people/hold the ceremony at our church/rent nice chairs for the reception [hi, Mom!].”

Small digression here: if you are not going to do much of the planning yourself, it is much better to tell the couple a dollar amount that you're comfortable with contributing than to say something vague like "just let us know what you need." What you think the wedding should cost may not line up perfectly with what the couple thinks the wedding will cost. Never be vague about money, it only leads to misunderstandings.

OK. You've decided on your contribution, and you've told the couple what you expect from them if you are going to pay. Now, here comes the hard part: if the couple doesn’t like your requirements, they may decline your financial help. That will probably sting, and you may feel rejected and cut out of the planning. That’s understandable. But try to focus on the good: this means your son or daughter is mature enough to be honest about what they want, and also mature enough to assume the cost of doing what they want. Which means you've done something right in the parenting department!

Even if you are paying, you should still be willing to compromise.
You may think you've covered all your bases up front, but other issues will almost certainly come up during the planning. For example, it may not occur to you to mention that you think hydrangeas are ugly and you don’t want to serve fish for dinner – until your daughter tells you all of the flowers will be hydrangeas and suggests menu choices of salmon and tuna.

When these little clashes of taste or style do arise, your first thought may be, “No way. It’s my money, and I don't want my friends and family sitting in a room full of hydrangeas and eating fish!” And honestly, that’s not entirely crazy. It is your money and you want some say in how it’s spent.

But wedding planning will be much smoother and more harmonious if you listen to what the couple wants too. It may be your money and you may be the hostess, but it's their wedding and they are the guests of honor at the reception. If you veto everything the couple suggests without a second thought, you will be resented, and rightfully so. Pick your battles (e.g., say "OK" to the hydrangeas but push for a different menu) and don't use your money as a weapon, unless you want the couple to call from Vegas with the announcement that they couldn't deal anymore and eloped.

Be realistic about costs.
$5,000 will pay for an absolutely lovely wedding. But in 2009, it will not get you a plated, seated dinner for 200 people at the local country club. Some of the most stressful wedding planning experiences I’ve seen involved parents turning over the planning to the couple, and then complaining that the couple’s choices were “cheap” or “not very nice” and pushing for more expensive options that simply were not in reach of the budget. If having fancier, more formal touches at your child’s wedding is incredibly important to you, be prepared to cover the additional expense.

The same goes for the guest list. It's a basic equation of wedding planning: more guests = more food, more chairs, more alcohol, more cake, more rentals = more money. Please do not get on the phone with the bride and tell her you're sure she can squeeze in 50 extra people if she "just budgets a little bit better," unless your intention is to drive her insane and/or goad her into attacking you with a grapefruit spoon.

If you are convinced the couple is spending their budget foolishly, ask to see their catering bids, facility contracts, and other relevant research – you may be surprised to find that food, facilities, and flowers really are that expensive, and that your son or daughter has made smart, cost-conscious choices. Or, if it turns out the couple is spending a lot of cash in areas where you think they could cut back, looking at their budget information will help you come up with constructive and specific suggestions for how you'd like to change things up, e.g., “Tina, Frank, I noticed that you chose surf and turf as the entrée. That sounds delicious, but it’s also the most expensive option on the menu. If we went with a different entree, we could afford to invite more people.”

If you are not helping to pay, do not make demands.
This applies whether your financial help was declined or you simply couldn’t afford to contribute. You can certainly ask if your cousin Mary and her children could be added to the guest list, or if the couple would be willing to add a beef option to the menu. But if the couple says “we’re sorry, we can’t afford any more guests” or “having a vegetarian reception is very important to us, we don’t want to serve beef,” thank them for considering your request and leave it at that. Do not start screaming about how you will be "humiliated" by their "ridiculous hippie reception," because that will get you nowhere. And if the couple says "we can't afford that," don't belittle them for being "cheap" or try to guilt them into spending beyond their means -- no, not even if you're doing so in the name of scoring invitations for 30 family members who "have" to be on the guest list. It's a wedding, not the last chopper off that scary island on "Lost." Your cousin's children will get over their emotional trauma if they are not invited.

What other advice should we give the parental half of the planning equation?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

But it's MY DAY!

Lately I've run across more than a few posts on various forums that read something like this.
"My parents are paying for the wedding. Now they are making all kinds of demands about the food and the guest list!! Don't they know it's MY WEDDING?!"
I'm always torn when I read things like this. On the one hand, I know one friend whose mother planned her entire wedding and regarded it as the mother of the bride's party, even to the point of cutting the couple's friends off the guest list so she could invite her bridge club. I think that's an unfortunate approach, in part because the couple ends up remembering their wedding day as "oh yeah, that thing my mom planned that none of our friends got invited to, somehow." (Note: my friends were able to weasel their buds back onto the guest list.) I really feel that weddings are best and most memorable when they reflect the couple that's getting married.

But on the other hand, if your parents are paying for the wedding, expecting them to have no input and bow to all of your wishes seems unrealistic, even spoiled.

Here are my own thoughts on parents, money, and compromise, filtered through my own experience and those of my friends.

If your parents are paying, be prepared to let them have some input.
I’m sure there are parents out there who simply say, “here’s a giant check for your wedding. Do whatever you want.” I just haven’t met any. All of the parents I’ve known have at least one or two things they really want or really care about on their list of wedding expectations. My dad wants live ceremony music and a choice of entrees for dinner; my mom wants attractive chairs and the chance to invite her beloved cousins. A friend’s mom had only one request of the bride: “The invitations have to be from Crane’s!”

If your parents are paying for most or all of the wedding, be prepared to give way to their wishes on occasion. It is not realistic to expect that you will get to make 100% of the wedding decisions unless you are providing 100% of the wedding budget.

If you can’t compromise, be prepared to say “thanks but we’ll pay for it ourselves.”
It’s pretty easy to maintain family harmony if your parents’ requests are minor. But what if they’re demanding things that you and your fiancé are absolutely unwilling to consider – say, if you have always dreamed of getting married outside and they’re insisting they will be "humiliated" if it's not in a church?

In cases where you and your parents just don’t see eye to eye, and the thought of giving way makes you physically sick, don't lose it and start screaming "It's MY SPECIAL DAY!!" Lay out the case for what you want calmly and honestly. Tell them this is important to you, and ask if there’s any room for compromise.

If not, if they still insist on their church for the ceremony and their country club for the reception even after hearing your arguments in favor of an outdoor wedding at the park, you have a choice to make. You can either reject their money and do it your way, or take their money and do it their way. It sucks to reach this point, and in an ideal world parents would be supportive of the couple’s wishes, but the truth is that the only way you will have total control over your own wedding is to pay for it all yourselves.

Even if they’re not paying, it’s nice (and very stress-reducing) to take your family’s wishes into consideration.
One of my best friends was not terribly excited about getting married in her husband’s family’s church – it was not the prettiest building in town. But she knew it would mean the world to her future mother-in-law. She could have decided “no, my family is paying, we’ll have it at a prettier church.” Instead, she decided to go with what her fiance’s mother really wanted. This was a gracious and classy gesture that did a lot of good for their relationship (and helped take the sting out of saying “no” to FMIL’s idea of inviting the entire church congregation).

So if non-paying family members have requests that you feel you can accommodate without compromising what you really want, why not say yes? The key there is “without compromising what you really want.” If you are planning a chic 1920s theme wedding, and your parents hate it and want something more traditional, I am certainly not suggesting that you throw away your dream wedding and bow to your parents’ wishes! But if your parents ask for a traditional wedding cake at your wedding, and you weren’t going to have one but don’t loathe the idea, it would be a lovely gesture to say “yes.”

What's your take on it? What kind of input did your family have, and what compromises did you make? Do you regret those compromises, or see them as a contribution to family harmony?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This week in affordable shoes, Part b

I just saw the Bandolino Endall sandal on the Macy's website, for $44.98, and couldn't resist posting them as a late addition to my last post. One of my bridesmaids swears by Bandolino, and I think these are adorable!

Friday, January 23, 2009

This week in affordable shoes

Yikes. I bought the dress. We picked the invitations. Now how am I going to procrastinate online?!

Oh, I know. Wedding shoes! And to make it exciting, why not look at ones I can actually afford? And with the 2-inch heels that my custom hem was measured for?

After some preliminary searching, I have a few observations. First, the world needs *way* more blue evening shoes. I bet tons of brides would love to have their shoes be their "something blue," but the options I've seen are less than inspiring. I do like these cute Lola heels from Annie, though, selling at for a mere $44.95:
Second, make with the sturdy heels, shoe designers. I can't wear stilettos on grass. Let's see more like the Vaneli Walberte (perhaps without the slightly steep price tag of $82.95*):
Third, I've never owned a t-strap sandal before, but I've seen several pretty ones and now I'm intrigued -- they look comfortable and dancing-friendly. Perhaps the David Tate Infinity ($70) might be worth a try?

All images from

* $82.95 is not a crazy price for shoes, I realize. But remember: poor student here!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wine Wednesday: the proper care and feeding of Bordeaux

Real wine lovers, I've heard, will go to any lengths to track down a special bottle -- call dozens of wine stores in search of their quarry, cultivate relationships with wine merchants so they can have first dibs, drive out of state or even travel out of the country to get their hands on the object of their desire.

I've only done something like that once, and it was over an $11 Bordeaux I had at a restaurant in Denver: the Chateau Saint Sulpice 2003 Bordeaux.

Image from
The 2005 label was the only one I could find.

When I returned to the East Coast, I started asking every wine store in town if they carried this wine. They all said no. At this point I was determined to find it, so I started looking online at the inventories of large wine stores in New York City. I found two that carried it, and the next time we went into the city, Econo Boy and I bought two bottles.

A week later, we opened one ... and it was awful. Sharp, too alcoholic, no hint of fruit or the lovely soft finish I'd enjoyed at the restaurant. Baffled, we corked the bottle halfway through. What went wrong?

The next night, I poured myself a glass from the half-drunk bottle (I wasn't about to pour it out, not after all the work I'd done to find it), and was stunned to find that it was now delicious. A bit of Internet searching revealed my mistake: Bordeaux needs to breathe for at least an hour, preferably two. Oops. (I should note that anyone who knows anything about wine is probably laughing at me and my total ignorance right now. Oh well. The best way to learn is by screwing up, right?)

Does popping the cork two hours early sound like a drag? Buy a decanter.
Image from

I always thought these were just pretentious, goofy pieces of glassware, but now I understand what they're for!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Weddings and self-doubt

On my last post, Ruthie made a comment that kind of hit home for me: "it's easy to get down on yourself, wedding or no wedding."

It hit home for me because I've been doubting myself in a major way of late. It's not entirely about the wedding; in fact, it's mostly about my career prospects post-grad school. Long story short, I'm trying to make peace with the fact that given the awful job market, the chances of finding a job in my chosen field are ... not great. Actually, close to zero. Coping with that reality has been hard, and isn't exactly a recipe for high self-esteem.

Mostly the wedding has been a fun escape, and a source of minor victories (we finalized the invitation wording! hooray!). But sometimes it makes me feel like the biggest, most incompetent idiot in the world. Today I almost curled into a ball because we have a pretty substantial surplus in our budget (I know, the horror) and I couldn't decide if we wanted to spend the money to upgrade our menu from just chicken to chicken and beef. Sometimes I wonder if I should have picked a different dress, or whether the brightly colored flowers I planned will look weird in a historic mansion, or if we chose the wrong caterer. I know that none of this is important, that as long as we get the marriage license and our officiant shows up our wedding will be a success in the only way that really matters. But I've never been a stylish or terribly creative person and it's so easy to second-guess myself about fashion choices and color schemes.

Ruthie's comment made me realize that I was giving in to the same kind of pressure that I'd sneered at in the post about wedding diets: the pressure to Make Things Perfect. That realization caught me by surprise, and I hope now I can take a deep breath and remind myself that no matter what I do, it won't be perfect. Which means I can stop second-guessing myself, do the best I can, and know that it's good enough -- and "good enough" will probably still be pretty special, at least to the two of us.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bulging brides?

By now, unless you're not a frequent reader of the wedding blogosphere, you've almost certainly seen Sarah Haskins's brilliant skewering of various crappy wedding shows like "Bridezillas." (Full disclosure: I do not get cable, and thus cannot vouch for the crappiness of all of these shows, but just based on the clips, I'm willing to go out on a limb and guess that the shows do in fact suck.)

See, aren't you annoyed already? Image from

My favorite bit in the video is when Sarah shows us clips from a show called "Bulging Brides." The show opens on a charming note, as a trainer enters the bridal salon and says, "Jennifer is looking like a chubster in that wedding dress!" while his nutritionist sidekick emphatically nods her head in agreement. Poor Jennifer is then dragged off to have someone show her all of the places where her dress doesn't fit right, and is then forced to confront all of her bad food choices in the "Aisle of Shame" and is shown an image of what she could look like in 3 years if she doesn't change her ways.

The best part? Jennifer looks like she wears a size 4. And her horrible future? Size 8 at the biggest. Also, no one seems to consider the option of ordering a dress in the correct size, which is the real problem with our "bulging bride."

Ick. What is it with "wedding diets?" Ever since I made our engagement "Facebook official,"'s targeted advertising has shown me hundreds of "skinny bride" ads that promise to make me slim by my wedding day. Like the diet industry doesn't make enough money, now they have to sell engaged women on the idea that only women who starve and exercise themselves to two sizes below their normal weight are allowed to get married in public?

And, as Jennifer the size 4 "chubster" proves, already being slim is no guarantee you'll escape the pressure. Remember, you can never be too skinny! If you're a size 6, you should be trying to get down to a size 4. Size 4 already? Why not try for the 2? And if you're a size 0, well, that's great and all, but you still need the diet industry's help, because your arms have no muscle tone and your butt *could* be perkier.

Well, bite me, "Bulging Brides," Facebook, and any other wedding-related diet ads. I don't plan to lose a single pound for my wedding day.

Look, if brides use the wedding as motivation to make a lifestyle change they've wanted to make for a while, that's awesome. But the pressure to crash-diet and do 3 hours of cardio per day every day until the wedding in order to look like a "hot bride" is ridiculous and should be ignored. Jennifer would have been a hot bride even without the "intervention" of that obnoxious trainer. As women, we're already faced with almost constant pressure to lose weight, no matter what size we are. Do we really need to scoop on an extra helping for brides-to be? No.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Di Majo Norante Sangiovese

A few months ago, Bon Appetit magazine listed their 10 favorite whites and 10 favorite reds under $10, and Econo Boy and I were excited to see that one of our own favorites made the list: the Di Majo Norante Sangiovese.

Image from

This was the first wine we ever bought by the case -- at $8 a bottle for a wine this good, we couldn't pass it up, and we've since gone back for another full case!

Sangiovese is a light Italian red and, in our opinion, is best with food. It's fine when you sip it by itself, but something about the combination of Sangiovese and chicken parmesan, or Sangiovese and pork tenderloin, or heck, Sangiovese with mac and cheese, that really makes this wine special. This is a perfect pick for a dinner party where your guests enjoy wine but won't want it to overpower the food.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rethinking the invitations

First, an update on the dress: It fits. Almost perfectly. It needs to be taken in up top (no surprises there) but otherwise it's amazing! I'm so relieved :-)

Like I said in an earlier post, I've always loved paper and stationery, and with the possible exception of the dress, the invitations may be the wedding item I've spent the most time thinking about. I've poured over invitation websites, ordered lots of samples, and eventually I thought I'd made a decision: go with a pretty, colorful, flat-printed invitation.

But I couldn't quite shake a certain disappointment at the idea of using flat printing. I love the feeling of raised print, and I extra-love the old-fashioned texture of letterpress. I also couldn't shake a skeptical voice in the back of my head. "Digital printing?" the voice whispered. "You *could* print something like that yourselves, you know. Why not just buy some nice card stock or a pretty DIY kit and put the extra money into the food?"

When I asked Econo Boy for his opinion, he admitted that he'd been thinking the same thing about flat printing but hadn't wanted to say anything. Together, we decided that we'd go with one of two options: one, print them ourselves and save money, or two, beef up the invitations budget and choose a more exotic printing method.

Mmm, pretty paper! Image from Dauphine Press, one of
many wonderful letterpress printers who's way out of our budget.

Inspired by Sweet T, I began considering a combination of flat and letterpress printing -- letterpress (preferably 2-color) for the invitations, and flat printing for the RSVP cards and envelopes. Unfortunately, few of the major invitations websites offer matched sets of mismatched printing. Hello!Lucky was the exception -- they now offer all of their letterpress invitations and RSVP cards in less expensive, digital print versions, so we could have ordered a letterpress invitation and a matching flat print RSVP card. But none of their invites seemed to fit quite what we were going for, and even their one-color options were slightly out of our price range.

So I decided to take a chance. I posted an ad on Etsy explaining what we wanted, what our budget was, and decided to see if there were any takers. I half expected to get a bunch of responses saying "that's not a realistic price for letterpress, but I can do it for $X more."

Instead, a printer with her own letterpress contacted me and said she could do exactly what we wanted, at exactly our price point! She even designed the perfect two-columbines motif for the top of our invitation. I'll hold off on an official endorsement until we have the invites in hand, but so far, so good.

For any other couples on a budget who are interested in letterpress, I absolutely recommend Etsy's Alchemy advertising board. I got lots of responses from printers -- some weren't quite what we wanted, but they were all professional and quick to respond. Even if you think no one could possibly work with your budget, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out you were wrong!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mmmm, cake

I love being able to use vendors recommended by friends. At the engagement party I mentioned in my last post, recently-married friends "Jane" and "Janet" overheard me talking about an upcoming tasting at a local bakery. Both immediately pounced. "You *have* to try Mulberries!" they exclaimed enthusiastically.

I was pretty sure we were going with the bakery where we'd already scheduled a tasting, but what the heck, free cake is free cake. Econo Boy called Mulberries and got us an appointment.

I'm so glad we took their advice! The other bakery was great, but more expensive than we'd anticipated, and a bit more into the giant Martha Stewart Weddings cakes and not so excited about the simple picture I showed them. On the other hand, Mulberries was pretty much our dream bakery. They don't even use the hated fondant -- their cakes wear buttercream and only buttercream. The cakes were moist and delicious. And they had my absolute favorite cake combination in the entire world: marble cake with chocolate pudding filling.

To save money, and to enable our caterers to serve cake almost immediately after the cake-cutting ceremony, we're going with a small 50-person decorated cake with a large sheet cake in the back. We're doing two flavors: marble/chocolate pudding and lemon/fresh raspberries. The outside of the fancy cake will look pretty much like this, only with summer berries instead of fall fruits.

Image from

Only one question remains ... should we add something to the sides of the cake? My mom suggested that we add a bit of pattern to the icing, like this photo.

Image from

What do you think? Clean and classic (i.e. leave it plain), or a bit fancier and more romantic (i.e. add some decoration)?

Falling behind but still drinking wine!

Over the holidays, a family friend threw an engagement party for Econo Boy and me, with a unique twist: all attendees had to bring a bottle of wine that cost $12 or less to help fuel our search for fabulous but affordable wedding wines! After much discussion, Econo Boy and I are looking for 4 wines: a light red (Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or similar), a fuller-bodied red (Cabernet, Zinfandel, or Shiraz), a crisp white (probably Pinot Grigrio or Sauvignon Blanc) and a rich white (Viognier or a Spanish white).

Several good finds may make their way into Wine Wednesdays in the future, but for now I'll list my favorite white and favorite red of the evening. My favorite white was provided by my very own mother: the 2007 Gimenez Riili Torrontes, a citrusy wine that was crisp and clean without being too thin or too sharp. We didn't even open this one the night of the party, but when the family popped the cork several nights later, this wine met with rave reviews. Score another one for South America!

Image from Vines of Mendoza.

The only drawback seems to be that my mom found an amazing deal on this wine! Most websites list its price at $13-$15 a bottle, but Mom swears she paid only $10.49. If we can find another deal, this could be our "crisp white" winner!

We also loved an Australian blend called Shoofly Aussie Salute (although certain family members questioned whether we really wanted to serve a wine called "Shoofly" at our wedding! To which I say, "if it's a good wine, sure, why not?"). Shoofly is a blend of Shiraz and Grenache with a bit of Viognier, and it's spicy and full-bodied, distinctive and great with food. Anyone who's still harboring anti-screw-top snobbery needs to try this one.

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On a more serious note: over the break I've felt very grateful for all of the wonderful people Econo Boy and I have in our lives. The way people have been offering help left and right is astonishing, and that someone would be willing to host such an amazing engagement party for us is very special.

When we met with our officiant a few days ago, she asked if we wanted to do a "congregational affirmation" -- basically, she asks the assembled guests if they will support our marriage and our new family, and the guests answer "we will." This hadn't occurred to me, but when she suggested it, it seemed to make a lot of sense -- a way to include everyone who has been so supportive and wonderful to us as a couple. But is that too cheesy? What say you?