Here’s a mantra to live by: Do what you can afford.
Of course, that's easier said than done -- especially where your children are concerned and particularly when it comes to weddings.
There are so many emotions wrapped up in wedding planning that affordability can get tossed aside like a garter at the reception.
Such was the issue for a father who wrote me with concerns about paying for his daughter's wedding.
"As a father, I want to do all I can for my three daughters, who will one day get married," wrote Chris from South Carolina. "One of my daughters is a big fan of the television shows 'Four Weddings' and 'Say Yes to the Dress.' Although her dreams are 'big,' her budget (and ours) is not."
His daughter's boyfriend recently asked for her hand in marriage. The boyfriend is planning to propose in December. Now this father dreads the coming conversation about he and his wife's contribution to the cost of the nuptials.
"I realize that the marriage is so much more than the wedding day, but many young people (and older folks for that matter) mortgage their future for temporary events," he said. "My main goal is to save for our retirement, which is about eight to 10 years away. We are willing to provide some funds -- with a goal of giving them possibly $3,000 to $5,000 -- but have no plans to take money from our [retirement] accounts or go into credit debt. How can we help them financially?"
The timing of this question coincides with a survey by WeddingWire about proposal season. The survey found that December is the preferred month for proposals. Christmas Day is the most popular day of the year for couples to get engaged, followed by Valentine's Day and Christmas Eve.
Once engaged, many couples often have certain expectations for financial assistance from parents. Tradition says the bride's family is responsible for covering the majority of the wedding costs. The groom's parents traditionally pay for a rehearsal dinner.
The Knot does an annual wedding-cost survey that causes a lot of hearts to palpitate. Last year, the average cost of a wedding was $33,391 -- not including the honeymoon. That's steep, and most likely not what many couples are paying.
The median cost is more like $15,000, which still makes for a pricey wedding. And parents are paying most of the expenses.
On average, millennials (who account for about 80 percent of marrying couples) are paying for roughly 40 percent of their wedding, according to WeddingWire. Parents and other family members are contributing the remaining 60 percent.
The WeddingWire survey, based on responses from nearly 18,000 newlyweds married in 2017, found that the majority of parents use savings to help pay for their children's weddings. But 20 percent put the expenses on a credit card, 9 percent dipped into their retirement funds, and 7 percent took out loans. Three percent of parents refinanced their mortgage or got a home-equity loan.
It's a big mistake to rob your retirement or accumulate debt for a one-day event.
"As a dad, I would hate to disappoint my little girl on her special day, yet as a husband and father to other children, I've learned to live by faith and not fantasies, trying to live within our means, with the occasional splurges after our monthly bills/expenses have been paid," Chris wrote. "Hopefully we've done a good-enough job for our daughter not to express disappointment with the amount we offer to help with, but I'm sure she would try to negotiate a higher 'allowance' if she thought the amount we were offering was not quite enough."
As I told Chris, I always follow the principle of TTT, which stands for "tell the truth."
Once the engagement is official, say something like, “Honey we are excited that you’re getting married. We would like to help, but this is all we can afford.”
Be unashamedly clear and specific about how much you can contribute to your child’s wedding, if anything at all. In 2017, 10 percent of couples paid for the wedding entirely by themselves, according to the Knot.
As the planning gets underway, be careful about conversations that start with "I can't believe how much [fill in the blank] costs."
In response to such statements, say something like, "That's so unfortunate. Would you like help in finding places to trim the wedding budget?"
Couples underestimate how much they'll spend on their wedding by about 40 percent, according WeddingWire.
Manage expectations with your head, not your heart. Stick to what you can afford. A wedding is a big deal, but the party associated with it shouldn’t break your bank.