Give son monetary wedding gift to spend, save or use for nuptials
Q: Our 30-something son recently became engaged to a young lady he has known for about six months. We thought/hoped he would find someone more like him, a college grad, etc.
He recently bought her an engagement ring that appears to have cost far more than he can afford. Next, they came to us and asked us to help finance their wedding. Her family is not in a position to help them. We asked them how much financial support are they looking for and they said to just tell them what we can give them. He owns several small rental properties, now all probably worth less than he paid, and a new, but not extravagant, car.
We're retired, and although we are reasonably "upper-middle-class," our idea of going out to dinner is spending less than $35 for the two of us, my car is nearly 5 years old, and my wife does not have an engagement ring because I could not afford one 25 years ago when we agreed to marry.
We don't want to antagonize them, but resent being asked to pay for a significant part of a wedding. His unmarried sister might appreciate financial assistance with her wedding in the not-too-distant future. Your thoughts?
A: I think you make several points, and need to figure out which one matters most:
(1) You don't like the fiancee.
(2) You don't think your son has been financially responsible (new car, real estate, big ring — possibly fake, by the way).
(3) You have been responsible with your money, so you aren't sympathetic to his financial plight. In fact, it bugs you that he even asked for money, at his age and station in life, instead of having a wedding he could afford.
(4) You don't have money to throw around, so you have to prioritize — and while you could prioritize his wedding and give him money, you have reasons 1-3 holding you back.
(5) While all of these point to saying "no," you fear your son's recent, comprehensive display of immaturity points to his punishing you emotionally if you decline to finance his wedding.
Unfortunately, these are problems that neither giving nor withholding money will solve. Pay for the wedding or don't, you have to expect they'll go through with it. Pay or don't, your son will have a sense of entitlement you don't respect. Pay or don't, you'll know your relationship with your son will never be about affection and trust as long as the threat of emotional blackmail persists.
So here's what I'd suggest. Forget who the bride is, forget your son asked you for money, and think only this: You have two children and anticipate two weddings, so you'll give them each cash gifts of equal amounts (really — helping your daughter with her wedding but not your son isn't at all fair, tradition notwithstanding). What amount of money best fits your budget, your sense of justice, your paternal impulses? There's a number in there somewhere, and that's what you give your son.
Make it clear, though, that it's not wedding money, but instead your entire wedding gift to them, which they can spend, invest or (ahem) choose to stash in the bank.
Once it's theirs, though, it's theirs; no chirping about how they use it.