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Are We On the Hook for a Lavish Wedding?

Offer the couple a significant financial gift to start them off in their lives together -- and let them decide how to spend it.

Q: My husband and I are quite well off (some would say rich), but we've always lived simply and given generously to charity. Our daughter is marrying a young man from a family of similar means but apparently different values.

Everyone involved in planning the nuptials (our daughter, her fiance and his parents) seems intent on a lavish wedding and honeymoon -- except us, who by tradition are expected to pay for all this. We believe the money could be spent better -- say, by investing for the couple's future or donating to charity. Any suggestions for our dilemma?

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First, talk with your daughter and her future husband and raise your ethical concerns in as caring a way as you can. And consider this alternative to paying for a wedding that strikes you as excessive: Offer to give the couple a significant financial gift to start them off in their lives together. Tell them that they may spend the money in any way they wish -- including using some or all of it to pay for their wedding and honeymoon. But make it clear that the money is all that they will receive from you in the foreseeable future.

I hope that they will be struck by your generosity, and even more by the reality that whatever portion of your gift that they don't spend on the wedding will be available for such things as a down payment on a home, furnishings, the start of savings accounts for their future children or donations to their college alma maters. This might give them an incentive to economize on the wedding. But if it doesn't, don't grouse about the choices they make.

You could also talk with the groom's parents about doing something similar, rather than giving the engaged couple carte blanche on the wedding budget. It would be useful for both families to present a united front. But hold to your resolve even if the other folks balk at your idea.

Have a money-and-ethics question you'd like answered in this column? Write to Editor in Chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

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