Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: We can't afford to pay for our daughter's wedding

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dear Virginia,

My daughter has suddenly announced she's getting married. As she's an only child we're particularly overjoyed, and we like our future son-in-law very much. The problem is that it turns out she expects us to pay for what looks like being a very expensive wedding – about £15,000! Firstly there is no way we can afford this except by cashing in a pension, and, secondly, even if we could, it seems very extravagant to spend all that on one day. Have you any advice?

Yours sincerely, Eloise

This seems like a very "big ask", as they say. And I'm surprised that you, who clearly regard a huge wedding as a gross waste of money, and are, yourself, quite sensible about financial matters – you have a pension – should have produced a child with such extravagant ideas. I personally think it is quite immoral to spend such a sum of money on a wedding – in the same way as I think it's wrong to spend hundreds of pounds on a bottle of wine or supper at El Bulli.

Your daughter might regard us as rather a frugal generation of make-do-and-menders, but there are thousands of young people who would see this request, in an age when around us there are so many people who have absolutely nothing, as little short of obscene. Most of our generation got married on a shoe-string, with a cheapish ring and a few people round for some plonk afterwards. It didn't make the day less memorable or ensure we stuck together any more or less.

Anyway, enough of the po-faced rant. First of all, is this couple so incredibly well-off that they can afford to ask for this kind of money simply to splurge on a one-day bash? Wouldn't they prefer, if the money were available, to be given it so that they could spend a small part of it on a wedding and keep the rest to put down on a flat or a house?

Then, surely your daughter and her partner know that these days young working people are expected to contribute to their own weddings – as are the groom's parents. The idea that the bride's dad is the sole one to cough up is incredibly old-fashioned. Have you talked all this over with your future son-in-law's parents? How would you all feel if you cut down the price to, say, £9,000 – an eye-watering amount of money to binge in a day as it is? And then each – his parents, you and the couple themselves – could contribute £3,000 to the wedding fund.

Have you outlined to both of them how, exactly, you could raise this money? Why not tell them (using your quaveriest voices, holding on to sticks and furniture to keep your balance and wincing every time you sit down), that to rustle up a sum like this would entail you cashing in a pension. This would be fine, you could say, but then of course the only people you could turn to when things got harder for you both – and at this point you rub your knees with a pained expression and gasp a bit – would be your daughter and her husband. And you don't want to be a burden to them ...

A DIY wedding can be vastly more fun for everyone – though of course more work – than one ordered out of a brochure, with fancy West End flowers, over-priced caterers and specially-designed dresses. A pig on a spit with loads of salads would do for the food, your daughter could find a cheap, retro wedding dress that would be far smarter than anything new, and flowers could be provided from friends' gardens. I don't suggest home-made beer, but good cavas are pretty much as nice as some champagnes.

To be honest, it doesn't sound as though either of these two young people has much clue about budgeting as an essential skill for future married life. It doesn't bode very well for their future if they think that their parents will provide for any whim they wish. I'd get them in training right now. And don't give up your nest-egg to fund their childish ideas.

Readers say...

You should all chip in

I have three daughters (all married) and I have felt that weddings are not worth big money. Luckily, the elder two thought the same. To meet the wishes of the third, who wanted a grand bash, I agreed with her mother (my ex-wife) and the widowed mother of the groom that we should give in equal proportions a specified sum to the happy couple, offering them the freedom to spend as much or as little of it as they wished on the wedding. Whatever was left over, they could keep as a present from the three of us. The projected scale of the celebrations changed rather suddenly. Lovely wedding; everyone happy; money saved. What more can one ask for?

William Salaman, By email


Let her pay for it

Why would you and your daughter assume that the wedding she wants will be paid for in its entirety by you and your husband? There is no good reason why any grown-up should expect their parents to pick up the bill – it's a ridiculous hangover from an era when women were passed from one family to another. If your daughter and her partner want a particular style of wedding, they should expect to pay for it themselves – or at least to sit down with both their families and discuss who will pay for what.

You are right, of course, to question whether it makes any sense to spend so much money on a single day. It's entirely possible to get married and mark the occasion without spending anything like £15,000. But if this is what your daughter wants, then she needs to work out how it will be paid for. And you are under no obligation to foot the entire bill, even if she is your only child.

Name and address supplied


She's behind the times

Your daughter is being very old-fashioned – the idea that the bride's parents should foot the entire bill is so last century. Can her fiancé's parents not chip in? Even if not, I think you should sit the happy couple down and offer a fixed sum that you can afford, and tell them they can pay the balance. That's what my parents did with us 15 years ago and it was a perfect arrangement. Every little extra extravagance we wanted we could have, without feeling guilty. There were no arguments about any of the arrangements, and my parents were free from the anxiety that costs would escalate and they would be stumping up more and more – which, believe me, will happen. Are there any practical ways in which you could help out instead, such as making the cake or arranging flowers?

On no account should you cash in your pension. You're unlikely to get a good deal for it (I should know, I work in pensions), and in any case it's for your future, not your daughter's present. Surely she's not so selfish that she'd have a big party at the expense of your comfort in retirement? As a newly-married woman your daughter will need to go out into the world as a mature and responsible adult and with this arrangement you'll be giving her the best-possible start.

Elaine Pickering,

Aylesbury, Bucks