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How to spend time together while spending less cash

Despite the economic crisis, you can still have a wedding, a housewarming or just a potluck.

March 29, 2009|Alana Semuels

Times are tough, and let's face it, lots of people are broke. That makes it hard to pay the bills and buy nice things like Amish space heaters, and it makes it more difficult than ever to handle social situations involving money.

We asked for your questions about the etiquette of being broke, and Ask Alana has some answers. This month: how divorced parents can pay for a wedding if one of them doesn't have much cash; whether to have a housewarming when you're basically broke; whether it is unethical to make your friends contribute to a potluck if they're out of luck financially.

Dear Alana: I am the groom in an upcoming wedding and my parents are divorced. During this tough economic climate, we are proceeding with a pretty nice wedding. I am the only child, so my mother is very excited about the wedding, especially the rehearsal dinner. Needless to say, she wants to make it a night we will never forget, and that will more than likely come with a high price tag. My father cannot afford to split the cost of what my mother is looking to spend. Having been married for 25 years before divorcing six years ago, my father should know how my mother will be about this. However, since my parents no longer speak to each other, I will be forced to be a mediator between the two of them in planning and paying for the rehearsal dinner. How should I approach this situation and what is the proper amount I should ask my father to contribute?

Justin from Georgia

Dear Justin: First of all, to save yourself time in the future, "I am getting married" is a much more succinct phrase than "I am a groom in an upcoming wedding." Just FYI. Ink is expensive these days, you know.

Anyway, this is one of the many perils of having divorced parents. There are many versions of this question, and all equally difficult: My parents are divorced and my father wants pickles at the wedding and my mother wants cucumbers. My parents are divorced and my father likes samba for our first dance and my mother insists on the robot boogie. My parents are divorced and my mother is in a heavy metal band with her new lover, and she wants to play the wedding. Gah!

Your situation is especially touchy because it's about money, and financial situations are difficult even without divorced parents, upcoming nuptials and the worst economy since the days of Little Orphan Annie. I don't know how much your mother wants to spend to make this rehearsal dinner the night of your life, but if your father can't afford it, it's no fair asking him to mortgage his second home so you can have the Jonas Brothers singing "We Got the Party" the night before your wedding.

"They should first figure out how much money each party is contributing, and then plan the party from there," said Robyn Goldberg, owner of Los Angeles wedding planning firm Robyn Goldberg Weddings & Special Events. She recommends sitting down with your father and figuring out how much he is able to spend, or whether he's able to spend anything at all. Go back to your mother with that figure and present it as nonnegotiable.

If that's awkward, you could suggest that your mother pay for the rehearsal dinner on her own and your father be responsible for something else entirely. If your bridal party is planning on getting tanked after the rehearsal dinner, maybe he can provide the booze, for instance.

It's got to be awkward and stressful to plan an event with the two of them if they're not speaking, so it might be a better strategy to divide and conquer. And although it is traditional for the groom's parents to pay for the rehearsal dinner, it's also traditional for people to save themselves for marriage, send correspondence by snail mail, and cook macaroni and cheese not in the microwave but on the stove(!).

Times change, Justin, and as the groom in an upcoming wedding, you're certainly allowed to change with them.

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Dear Alana: My husband and I are buying a new home. Seeing as how the economy is shot and we do live in Los Angeles, I'm wondering how long we have after we move in to host a housewarming party and how extravagant it needs to be. I want to show off the place and I don't want to offend any of our friends by not inviting them, but we are spending all our money on the house and don't expect to have extra spending money for a while. Any suggestions?

Amy from Los Angeles

Dear Amy: I don't know what kind of housewarming you go to, but in my experience, the winner at these events is generally the host. You provide some cheap wine and cake, and your guests bring you a medium-sized plant, bottle of wine or pepper grinder as a gift. A little while later, they leave green with jealousy, extolling your house on the drive back to their cockroach-infested apartments, where the upstairs neighbors specialize in dropping dumbbells on hardwood floors in the middle of the night.

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