Can I have my wedding money now?

I don't want an elaborate production like my sisters', but I sure could use that money for a down payment on a house.

By Cary Tennis

Published July 16, 2007 10:44AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 31-year-old female with a lengthy dating history and only one serious boyfriend to speak of. We thought we were going to get married, until I saw some pretty major issues arise that required more time and work than I felt invested enough to see through by that point. Time went into that decision; it wasn't as snap as I make it sound.

I am the youngest of three girls. The older two married right out of college at ages 21 and 22. My parents paid for both of their weddings with money set aside for that purpose. Now, I am not giving up hope that I will ever marry, but the older I get the more I do not want the big ceremony my sisters had. I don't want five attendants, a reception with 150 people in a banquet hall, or a big poufy white dress. I want simplicity and intimacy, and given that I am the family artist, I would design the invitations and flowers myself.

I have lived on my own for several years now and have decided to return to school in hopes of a new career path. Do I have -- for lack of better word -- a right to my wedding money? I know they gave my sisters a lump sum to work with, and I know they have some set aside for me. At this point, knowing I don't want a giant traditional wedding, is it OK to ask my mother (my father passed away a few years ago) for my wedding money? I'd like to use it to pay off debts and perhaps a down payment for a home. I think she might see it as me giving up hope to marry but that would not be my motive at all. Besides, should she still have to pay for the wedding of a woman in her, say, late 30s or mid-40s if that's when it happens? Should I ask her for a time limit on the offer?

Hopeful but Not Hurried

Dear Hopeful,

It sounds reasonable for you to ask your mother for financial help so you can realize your dreams and make this change you want to make. But asking for your wedding money per se may not be the best way to go about it.

It is apparent in how you ended the relationship with your boyfriend that you have a gift for thinking things through and making hard decisions. You probably have many gifts both creative and intellectual. But not everyone has those gifts. Not everyone can analyze the future consequences of their actions and separate their sentimental dreams from practical necessity.

So yes, do ask your mother for help. Yes, ask her for money. But do not tread on her dreams. Think of it this way. Say she has some gold. She has made the gold into a statue. The statue gleams in the sun. One day she plans to give it to you. It represents her hopes and dreams for you. It represents her ideal. So say you come to her and you say, I'd like a chunk of that statue for a down payment on a house. I'm not really into the statue, per se, but I could use a chunk of it for my own purposes. Or say you're thinking you'd like to just melt down the whole statue, convert it to dollars and invest it.

That might not go over so well. It might seem that you don't see what she sees, the beauty of the form of the statue. Sure, it's made of gold, but it's also a form, an idea, a dream.

On the other hand, say you come to her and tell her your dreams and ask for her help. Let her see your dreams. Tell her that you plan to get married but as fate seems to have it you may not be getting married as early in life as your sisters. Don't say you want that money she has put aside. But acknowledge that your life is not following the same pattern as your sisters' lives. Perhaps mention that since you are likely to marry later you want to have achieved more in your life and be better financially situated when you do get married. You might mention that you are not counting on an elaborate wedding, but be careful in that area. Even just saying that you don't want an elaborate wedding could sound like both a critique of your sisters and a play for that specific chunk of money. Don't make it about that money. Make it about her dreams for you and for your happiness. Make it about her ability to help you in any way she chooses, if she chooses.

She may very well, on her own, calculate to the penny the amount set aside for you, and mentally subtract any that is advanced to you from what has already been set aside. But it is not your role to count up how much she owes you. It may be money that has been set aside for you, but it is not your money.

And besides, your mother may not want to disturb that gleaming gold statue she has made. So tell her your situation, ask for her help, and give her time. She may have to think it over and find some way to help you without dismantling that gleaming statue made of gold. After a while, she may come up with a clever way to help you, without ever acknowledging where the money comes from. Thus families, like artists, create stories to keep their dreams alive -- and sometimes, also, they create stories in order to do the difficult thing while avoiding the difficult truth.

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