Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Q & A: Wedding Planning Family Tension

Reader Question: I got engaged about two months ago and have been scouting around my area for venues. The other day I got a call from my mom saying that she thinks having the wedding where I live is going to be unaffordable for her family. I should tell you that I live in Wisconsin, and my mom's family lives in New York. Everyone is going to have to travel no matter what because we are so spread out around the country. My fiance has family in Georgia and Missouri. I am suddenly majorly stressing about this. We are so excited about getting married in Madison and showing people what our life is like. It would also be much cheaper to get married here than in New York, so much so that I think a New York wedding would be cost prohibitive. I was wondering if you faced any objections about having your wedding in Colorado since your family had to travel, and how you handled it. I'd like to do what you did and rent out a cabin so people can stay on the cheap and be together and/or request no presents if it's a choice between coming to the wedding and staying home. I am close to my family and want them all there, but I don't want to feel forced to distance myself from the planning aspect, budget-friendliness, and fun of having it in my current city. Some of your inspiration and advice would be very much appreciated.

Yes, venue stress. I've been there, done that! I erupted into tears at the airport over venue stress.

Keep in mind that different people will give you different advice related to this dilemma. It's so close to our situation that I can't help but share what worked for us.
  1. We considered multiple locations. I lived half my life in California and half in Florida. Matt's family is in Indiana. Our friends are scattered. We lived in Denver at the time. We considered each location as a potential option. We even considered random "in-between" locations like Tennessee.
  2. We didn't want the wedding to be dominated by one side. We ultimately realized that if we had the wedding in Matt's hometown or mine, then the attendance would be skewed. If we had had it in Indiana, for example, more of Matt's family and friends would have been able to come. That situation didn't seem fair to either of us or our families.
  3. We chose to plan the wedding near where we lived. We also realized that trying to plan a wedding from afar might be a nightmare. We needed to visit our venue a couple times to get everything planned. If those venue visits had involved plane rides, our budget would have been blown very quickly.
  4. We lamented the impact our choice would have on our friends'/families' budgets and the environment. We acknowledged that forcing everyone to travel would increase the overall costs associated with our wedding (when we factored how much people would have to spend on airfare, car rental, etc.), but we realized that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks.
Our choices helped us achieve the ideal wedding (for us!) for the following reasons:
  • We weeded out the people who weren't really close to us. The people who were willing to make the financial sacrifice to attend our wedding did it because they really, really wanted to celebrate with us.
  • We made our planning much, much easier.
  • As you say, we got to share our city with our friends and family.
  • It created a vacation-like atmosphere and a friends and family reunion.
Here's what I would say to your mom:

"I hear what you're saying about how attending our wedding will be potentially unaffordable for some of your family members. I know these are truly difficult times for people financially, and I want to respect that. However, it really only makes sense for us to have our wedding in Madison. It's more fair to both families, it will be easier and less expensive for us to plan, and it will give us a chance to share our lives with our friends and family. I know it will be difficult for people, which is why we will do everything we can to lessen the financial burden. We will tell people how to set up airline tracking alerts, so they can be on the lookout for cheap tickets. We will provide a very inexpensive place to stay and help people set up carpooling to and from the airport. We will assure people that their "presence" at our wedding is "presents" enough. We will give people enough advance notice so they can start saving.

This decision was truly difficult for us to make because we want your family to celebrate with us, and we don't want to inconvenience anyone. I love you very much and want you to be happy. I hope you can understand how hard this is for us and that we ultimately have to make the decision that makes the most sense for everyone involved."

Or something like that. You get the gist.

I personally wouldn't use the argument that it will be more expensive to host a wedding in New York because I think your mom could counter with, "Don't worry; I'll help you find an inexpensive venue, bakery, etc." Although I understand the concept of differences in regional pricing, I also believe that you can have a wallet-friendly wedding in any city if you trek off the beaten wedding path.

I hope those thoughts help!

Now I'll open it up to others to share their two cents:

So, 2000dollarwedding kindred spirits: How would you approach this dilemma?

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miss fancy pants (the bride) said...

I think Sara's advice pretty much fits the bill. At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for the two of you because no one will ever be able to accommodate every member of the families. If planning and having the wedding in Wisconsin is best for you, then stick with that regardless of what people think.
Hopefully once you clearly explain the situation to your mom, she'll come around to the idea.
Oh, and I definitely second Sara's advice not to bring up the fact that New York weddings are more expensive to plan... every time we say no to something we don't want based on money, my future parents in law always offer to pay for the things. And while it's nice sometimes to know we have the financial support, there's a lot of things that we don't want for reasons which include, but go far beyond, the financial issues.

Kelsey said...

I echo Sara's advice! I attended a lovely Madison wedding a few summers ago - sounds like you might consider cabins but my friends were UW alum and were able to rent out the Union very cheaply (so I hear) and it was lovely! I think we also got discounted rooms at the Union so I would suggest checking into that. It was great b/c everything was downtown so people didn't have to rent cars. Have fun!

AZ said...

I don't have specific comments about the question at hand, but I did just plan a Madison wedding this past summer (and live here now!), and would love to share ideas with this reader about how to find a great venue and how to do things inexpensively! Madison is an amazing to place to get married, and all of our guests who traveled here were so happy to see where we lived, and felt like they were not only coming to see us, but to get to know a wonderful city.

shelby said...

Good advice Sara,
I am also recently engaged and from Madison, WI! Choosing a venue was very difficult for us as well. I have family in Nebraska, Florida, New York, Illinois and Minnesota (My closest family is an hour away in Rockford, IL) while my fiance's entire family is in Missouri. I wanted so badly to show my family beautiful Madison, but it just wasn't practical for everyone on my fiance's side to have to travel.

Missouri ended up being a great (and cheap!) option because of all the family ties. As a result of being near to my fiance's network of family and friends, we've scored a free venue, free tables, free chairs and a lot of free hospitality for guests! I think the compromise will be to throw a big party here in Madison for our friends.

Shelby Falk
P.S. I am starting a blog as a resource for Midwestern brides... please check it out and submit resources that you have found in your planning!

BridalHood said...

I feel you 100% on this one - I am from Illinois, my fiance is from Indiana, we live in FL and neither of us have lived in the Midwest for 12 or so years and have friends spread out all over the country. So at the end of the day we decided to get married somewhere that has special meaning to us and that we would someday like to live and potentially raise our family so we decided on Hood River, OR. It has been met with many comments from friends and family (which I've also blogged about) but I agree with Sara - the friends and family that really want to celebrate with you will make the financial commitment to come. We are designing a full weekend of events and hoping to make it a great destination getaway for everyone and to share this special part of the country with the folks we love.

kahlia said...

I think Sara nailed it, really. You said it all, and in a way that was perfectly crafted to take the mom's feelings into consideration and to not leave any room for negotiation. Brava!

We're doing something similar, but with a very different outcome. My partner and I currently live in Florence, Italy, his family is all within 2 hours of Barcelona, Spain, and my immediate family and closest cousins/aunts/uncles are in Michigan, with the rest of my extended family all over the US. So we're getting married and having a reception at my parents' house, with out-of-towners staying mostly at local families' homes... and only about four people are coming over from Spain! But then 2 months later his parents are throwing a reception for us in Barcelona... on their dime and in their style (we're paying for most of the Michigan wedding and planning/working it all between my parents and us).
I think this is a good way to do it since we're from places that are SO far away (and $1000 airplane tickets really are prohibitive even for the most enthusiastic amongst our friends!). So sometimes having 2 parties actually makes sense!

Nela M said...

I know how extremely difficult it is being in this situation. My part of the family lives in Europe, and my fiance and I, as well as his family, live in the US. We chose to have a wedding in the US because the majority of our attendees are from here, but we are planning to take a trip to Europe after the wedding and do a honeymoon somewhere near my family, so that we can celebrate afterwards with all of those who cannot come. It's also possible that money is not the only issue, and perhaps your mom would just like to be more involved in planning. In that case, you could compromise by maybe having a bridal shower/bachelorette party in NY and your wedding in Madison so that she'll feel more involved. Just an idea.

Nightfall said...

I'm in Madison too and planning for this Spring! I was wondering where all the Madison brides were...

Sound advice. Obviously if your very close family can't afford it you can offer to subsidize hotel/airfare but I would only offer that for people you *really* want to be there. Tickets to MKE and O'Hare are often cheaper (which I'm sure you know) and Van Galder can drive them up here.

My guest list qualification was "if I would feel too embarrassed to fall down in front of them, they aren't invited."

Friends of mine did a wedding CA and then his parents threw them a small reception later in CT for his extended family that couldn't make it due to finances and age. So if mom is only thinking of the people *she* cares about not being able to attend, perhaps she can have a small reception in NY at a later date complete with slideshow/video.

kalli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kalli said...

I more or less agree with Sara on most counts. Very wise advice as usual, the only thing I'm not so on board with is the idea that having a wedding that's far away for some people (and therefore too expensive for some people to get to) is not necessarily simply going to "weed out" the people who "aren't really close" to you. It will also weed out people who are really close to you and who just can't budget in a trip across country. I think it is important to understand that some far flung friends just won't be able to make it....for financial reasons, job or family commitment reasons...etc. This doesn't mean they don't care about you.

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we checked with some of our closest friends and family ahead of time about whether the location and date we were thinking of was possible for them. In the end, about 90% of the people we invited found a way to be there. So, on that note, don't ASSUME that because you have friends and family scattered among 7 countries and 4 continents that they won't all show up (i.e. This may not result in a smaller wedding).

As for Sara's other points, I agree that having a wedding close to home makes the planning way easier.

good luck!

Jaime said...

Sara gives great advice on this!

Two things that we did that turned out to make our own-of-town guests really happy was (1) telling people we didn't want presents and (2) having a semi-casual wedding - turns out lots of people who had to travel far used the dress code as one of the deciding factors, which we didn't expect at all. They loved that they didn't have to fly with suits and gowns and no one had to buy little tiny suits for our tiny cousins who are growing like weeds. People dressed up but no one felt compelled to buy new outfits.

Also, we tried to give people more "bang for their travel buck" by hosting a series of inexpensive, informal gatherings for three days in a row, so people didn't feel like they were spending a ton of money to go to a quick wedding where the bride and groom were too busy to hang out. We basically had a 3-day family reunion for almost 100 people (with a wedding in the middle) for less than $3K, and everyone loved it.

Paige said...

I agree with Kalli on the "weeding out" idea. Most of our friends and family live close by and were able to make our wedding, but we did invite quite a few out-of-town relatives. We found that it wasn't the relatives that we were especially close to that were able to make it, but the ones who could afford it. Of course we still wanted them there, but keep in mind that having a wedding far away from friends and family might not ensure that only the people nearest and dearest to you are the ones that come. You might get the most flexible or wealthy friends and family.

nina@mount pleasant wedding said...

Yep--I'd agree with Sara. You have to look at what's right for you and try to even out the fairness. Everyone is having to travel a little for our wedding, some more than others, so to alleviate those costs a little, like Jaime, we're saying we'd rather have you there than have a present, we're feeding everyone for the weekend (starting with dinner on Friday and ending with breakfast on Sunday) and we're keeping it casual.

Tamar said...

agree wholeheartedly with sarah.

i'm planning our wedding from across the country in my fiance's hometown because his family felt very strongly about having it in their neck of the woods. we live on the west coast, but went to college on the east coast and both of our families live there (albeit a 10 hr drive from one another). picking his place over mine kind of slighted my family even though they don't have to take a cross-country flight. and although we have scouted all of our vendors, we can't meet them in person (cross-country trips are not in the cards for us now) and so my fiance's family has to meet them all... they enjoy it but it also means getting the parental seal of approval with every decision we make, regardless of who's paying.

do yourself a favor and have the wedding in madison! my stress level would be in much better shape had i just planned the wedding near where i live.

Safronia B said...

Reading this post and then the comments makes me feel a little bad. We were faced with the same situation and I didn't agonize about it at all. We were always having the wedding here, where we live. Where our lives are.
We are both originally from Ohio and have close friends and relatives strewn all over Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Connecticut and more. Everyone had their opinion on where we should do it (and how and yada and yada). And I guess we just didn't put that much stock in it. This where we are, where we met, where our lives are, where we are able to do the planning and put in the time to pull this all together. Sure, it would probably be a heck of a lot cheaper to have have our wedding in rural Indiana or Georgia or any number of other places. But only if you don't count the trips down there for planning and the stress it would cause us both to plan a wedding from afar.
As for people not coming: it's your wedding. You are only going to do this once. If it is important to someone, they will come. If they really, truly cannot come (and you have done everything you can to facilitate), you will be able to include them with photos and videos and visits later. And if they are thoughtless enough to continue to pester you about where your wedding is being held, seriously, at some point you are going to have to tell them to STFU. It's supposed to be about joining together, not one family or person getting their way and certainly not about nit-picking relatives to death. If our dear dear friend who is recently out of work can commit to coming from Brisbane, Australia, people who are related to us will just have to get it together. Or at least refrain from guilt tripping us.
I hope the conversation with the questioners mom goes well, and that other family members get excited about the wedding and mini-vacation instead of harping.

Jessica D. said...

I would tell her mom that she understands her concern but that she wants to have the wedding in Wisconsin so it is fair for all friends and family that might have to travel. I agree with Sara that she should tell her mom that they will do what they can to help with the financial burden of those that have to travel and that you will tell them no present is needed, just their presence. I however do not agree that she should not tell her mom about the financial burden of having the wedding in New York. I think she should tell her mom that if it is a concern. If her mom does come back with, “well I will help you pay or find venders.” She should just say, “I appreciate the help mom but I think that Wisconsin has more reasonable prices on venders, if you wanted to help financially maybe you could help those on your side of the family that want to come to our wedding.”

Marina said...

Sound advice all around! My family's in CA, his family's in PA, and we got married in OR--and some people couldn't make it, but we got married anyway, and those who were there had a great time.

I agree with Jaime about having multiple inexpensive events, and making it a weekend-long party rather than just a single event. My parents and aunts and uncles rented a house for a week, which was actually cheaper than staying in a hotel, and they hosted one evening there. We had a no-host evening at a restaurant. We had a picnic with just snacks the day before the wedding. And we all went to a pick-your-own blueberry farm and picked 82 pounds of blueberries, which when combined with ice cream made our wedding dessert, and it was so much fun!!!

Our wedding weekend "theme" was basically showing off the life we had and planned to continue to build together, and the city we're in is a huge part of that. The things we encouraged our guests to do that were unique to our city was one of the things that made the wedding exciting for them. Think about some of the things you love about Madison, the things you want everyone to know about and appreciate the way you do, and arrange events around that.

Kristy D said...

Lovely advice!

Also, yay for all the Madison brides. We were in debate about Madison (where we lived for a long time) or Chicago (where we live now).

We ultimately chose Chicago because it is our home now, and I had no interested in packing up every possible thing I could posisbly need. I wanted to get ready in my own bathroom, and I wanted to share our city with everyone. (and also apparently was NOT considering budget!)

Do what makes the most sense for you, and realy, it will all work out. Those who want to be there will find a way. Good luck.

Madison Love!

Becky said...

Thank you so much for all your advice. I talked to my mom and everything went smoothly. No hurt feelings. And for all the Madison area brides, check out my blog at http://wisconsinwed.blogspot.com

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