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Wedding Donations, Smart or Tacky?

This article was written by in Family and Life. 40 comments.


The recession has forced almost everyone to make a change in one way or another. For one Atlanta couple, their wedding has turned into more than they had anticipated.

Vanessa Caldwell and Cole Parker are getting married on November 11, and needed a way to cover their expenses. They decided to turn to their friends and family for help.

Caldwell started a website, soliciting donations to help pay for the event. The couple’s wedding announcement even has a Paypal link to allow guests to donate directly. So far, the couple has received enough donations to cover $750 of their $2,000 budget.

The couple also has deals with the florist and the photographer, allowing them to advertise at the wedding, in exchange for no charge for the pictures and flowers.

The idea was born out of necessity. As business owners, the couple puts every spare penny they have into growing their small business, leaving them without much in the way of spending money. The recession forced them to cut back, and they needed help paying for everything.

Some who visit the couple’s website or are aware of their plan aren’t sure how to react. Some view the request for donations as an ‘admission’ price charged to guests, or as just plain tacky. Others see no problem with lending a helping hand.

Part of me sees this as an interesting idea, but I would feel obligated to pay if I was planning on attending. I wouldn’t want to show up and eat the food and listen to the music if they’d asked for help and I hadn’t paid. I understand wanting to give some ‘direction’ to those who might give you a gift, but isn’t that what a wedding registry is for?

Is asking guests for financial help a one-time thing, or will we see more of this in the future? How would you feel if a friend or family asked for a donation instead of a gift?

Source: PayPal Wedding Invite Irks Some Guests

Updated January 26, 2011 and originally published September 10, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Jeff is an aspiring advertising professional with goals to start his own business. He is a reformed saver who blogs regularly at Stretchy Dollar in addition to his weekly column at Consumerism Commentary. View all articles by .

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Curtis

I think it’s a great idea! It’s a clear statement by the couple about what they need (money!), which in is really no different than creating a registry.

A lot of people give money as gifts anyway, so I would consider this as an early gift rather than a “payment” or “donation.”

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avatar jason

Good point. A lot of people give money anyway. They might as well just give it up front, so it helps for the wedding.

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avatar Juggler314

I have a friend who just did this, not quite a straight donation thing, more fun. They used http://www.honeyfund.com which lets you set up specific things to “buy” the couple. So my friends did one for each night of the honeymoon, the dinners, drinks, etc. So it somewhat looks like a normal registry. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with collecting cash.

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avatar Ray @ Financial Highway

I don’t see anything wrong with it, small donations from people can quickly add up to pay for most of their costs.

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avatar Julie

I vote tacky. “Contribute to the blessing” by “investing in the celebration”? Nothing about a wedding is in any way a necessity, and if you can’t afford to pay for it without soliciting donations, then you don’t buy it. 75 guests isn’t a “small, intimate wedding” and since they’ve gotten people to donate their services (most of them smelled the promotion this was going to get in the news), the money they’re asking for is going to pay for things like a limo ride and an outfit for the ring bearer. Really?!?

On the other hand – anyone want to chip in for our mortgage? We’d really like a bigger house. Or how about our car payment? There are some nice clothes we’d like to buy – anyone up for footing the bill?

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avatar Brendi

Your post made me laugh! I absolutely agree. If you can’t pay for it, find a JOP and a nice dress and have a few family members out to dinner. I know plenty of people (including myself) who have had nice weddings on a seriously small budget without soliciting (yes, soliciting!) to have the wedding paid for by guests. TACKY!

I also would like some extra for the mortgage. Takers?…..

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avatar Abby

Tacky! Tacky, tacky, tacky.

If I’m at a wedding, it is because I care about the couple. I don’t care about the flowers or the food or the favors or whether there’s a band or a DJ. We overspent on our wedding, and if I had it do over again? We’d have a far smaller celebration.

That said, I’m not opposed to giving cash as a gift – especially now that we’re in our 30s, it is my gift of choice for my 20-something cousins. And if it happens to go towards paying off wedding-related debt? So be it. But I’d hope that it is going for something in the future – and whether that’s a champagne brunch on the honeymoon or a down payment for a house, I don’t care.

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avatar Juggler314

I don’t get it, even the traditional view (I mean this as what my severely cosmopolitan grandmother says) is that your gift should roughly equal the cost of your seat at the wedding (IE the per person cost of the wedding). Obviously that’s just a rule of thumb, but if the rule of thumb basically equals – pay for the wedding in the form of gifts, what exactly is wrong with asking for straight cash.

I know plenty of people who have thought asking for cash was either too tacky, or too offensive to their families, so what happens is they just return absolutely everything. Which wastes a whole lot of money (and carbon if you are into saving the earth) on shipping and handling fees – also it sucks for the stores involved. Don’t you think if that’s what’s going to happen to your gifts you might as well just do cash first.

Of course that could merely be the view of a lifelong NYC resident (as my family and I are)…

One thing that’s occurred in discussions of this sort among my friends is that nowadays with the average age people marry getting higher, many people already own pretty much all the home essentials…

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avatar thisisbeth

I agree with Julie. This is begging to get something you can’t afford yourself. The idea of a wedding is to invite your family/friends to celebrate your joy with you. They bring a gift to commemorate the moment, you provide food and entertainment that fits your budget. Save up more money, or pare down your guest list or expectations.

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avatar Anna

Completely tacky. If you can’t afford a wedding, save up and do it later or just keep it simple. Do what you can afford. Ask for favors from friends and do it in the backyard or your living room, or invite your friends and family to come along to the courthouse. No one is entitled to a big wedding. It’s about getting married, not having a wedding. I would not be able to support anyone who did this.

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avatar I Do Take Two

I agree with you, Anna. And, I’m happy to hear that there are more and more people who aren’t drinking the kool aid! None of us are entitled to a wedding…

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avatar Juggler314

although SmartMoney.com (http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/deals/the-wedding-gift-etiquette-guide-23264/) specifically says not to view it as paying for your spot in the wedding. The article does not address directly asking for cash…

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avatar Juggler314

although the monetary suggestions for gifts as far as that article are concerned will outstrip the per person costs at a wedding not held in a metro area (my gf’s cousins who all get married upstate only spend 5-8K on a wedding, my friends from nyc think it’s a bargain if the wedding costs under 30K – both for the same sized 150 guest wedding).

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avatar Ron

Tacky…and that’s from a guy’s perspective.
The per person cost could be HUGE if the bride was a spendthrift.

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avatar Beth

I think its ridiculous. This is a second wedding for both of them, they should go to a jp. Its just another case of entitlement.

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avatar I Do Take Two

A second wedding is a new wedding for both of them, so a celebration is in order, as long as they can afford to host it. Guests invited to a second wedding aren’t obligated to send a gft, but most do. But, none of this should be done to make a financial gain.

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avatar David@DINKS Finance

I plan on getting married in the next couple/few years. I have wanted to wait until my income has increased, but with this economy I plan on getting more experience at a lower salary and wait it out in a way. So I need to make due.

A couple of friend of mine got married last weekend. It was a great wedding, and they paid for it all themselves (themselves being the couple plus help both monetary and non-monetary of the parents). I could write a long, long post about all they did, but it was honestly the most fun, most “beautiful” wedding I have attended.

Instead of asking for “donations” I want people to not feel obligated to “donate” to my wedding. Instead I want them to bring gifts (fair exchange i.m.o.). I will probably work a little more and save more, as well as cut as many deals as possible to make the wedding cheap.

So my opinion is, no, don’t do the donations. It won’t be the same.

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avatar MoneyMateKate

I think it would be tacky if they were trying to raise $20K rather than $2K — as much as I want to give a couple something they really want, I don’t like the idea that my $100 or whatever is going to cover, oh, the rental of 100 forks. But then, you won’t find me spending $100 on 4 patterned side plates listed on their registry (that china/crystal thing is plain old outdated). Totally love that honeyfund idea though – it’s what I’m doing for my sister in a few weeks anyway. Travel is a huge part of my life, so it makes sense that I’d want to buy a piece of their honeymoon.

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avatar dogatemyfinances

Wait, this is a SECOND WEDDING?

I was with them, assuming they disclosed that they are poor and struggling. But a second wedding? Just buy a keg and $200 in BBQ. Done.

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avatar Juggler314

Also, I can’t imagine anyone asking for just money. My friends that are using the honeyfund.com site also have two standard registries so you can choose to buy them a toaster, or:
“Monday at the hotel
Oh my god, my head hurts so bad. Stupid frozen drinks. I’ll get up for lunch.”

you know, whatever you think is appropriate.

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avatar Craig

I think we are going to start seeing this more often for a lot of events. Not just weddings, but education, cars, trips, etc. Money is tight and expenses always grow but people are accustomed to a certain lifestyle that may be unrealistic in the future.

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avatar Jim

I think asking for and giving wedding gifts in the form of cash is a good idea. Most couples can use $100 more than a gravy boat, knife set or crystal candelsticks. If someone told me that they’d prefer cash for gifts then I’d be just fine with that and I’d encourage it it even.

On the other hand I do think having a charity drive type website complete with corporate sponsors to raise money is a bit tacky.

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avatar Honey

I can see this both ways. There are a lot of people that I can imagine putting a lot of pressure on a bride/groom (whether they’re friends or family) to be invited, and be very insulted to be told that “we’re trying to keep it small” or “we’re trying to save money.” You know, the “so I’m not important enough to be invited?!” or the “I’m not worth the cost of my presence?!” Types.

If your friends/family/social circle’s like that, then I can see asking for cash in lieu of gifts to help pay for the wedding. Especially if it’s a second wedding like these folks, who probably already got a bunch of Crate & Barrel crap from their first weddings that they don’t even need.

It’s easy to say either wait till you can afford it or do something smaller, and that’s good advice for a lot of folks. But it’s not always the couple that creates the unrealistic expectations about what a wedding is and then can’t/won’t pony up the cash to live up to that.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,490 (Platinum)

This is tacky. If you can’t afford a big wedding, don’t have a big wedding. Don’t ask for donations from guests. You could ask for cash in lieu of gifts, but even that is bordering on tacky. I *do* think it’s a good idea to make deals with the typical vendors. Offer them advertising space in return for their work. I’d even rather see corporate sponsors rather than hosts asking for contributions from guests. And yes, the fact that this is a second wedding makes it worse. Even if you believe every bride deserves a glorious wedding day… the limit on glorious if it’s a financial stretch is one.

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avatar Brian Caldwell

Asking for straight dollars is so not cool. We just gave a gift of kayaking around St. Thomas to some friends for their honeymoon. Cash is boring. At least contribute toward some type of experience the couple will enjoy after they are married. I believe the honeymoon registry was called Traveler’s Joy and its site was located at: http://www.travelersjoy.com

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avatar financia at FinancialFreakShow.com

My vote is for tacky! I say they just charge addmission at the door. Hire a good DJ and a doorman maybe have hand stamps or bracelets for the patrons of the wedding. Sell some drinks maybe even sell some t-shirts! If the business model works they could refine the plan and make a killing on their second & third weddings!

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avatar Lisa Barnes

Normally I would say requesting donations is tacky… but in this case I think they’ve managed to take the “tacky” out by making it a one dollar proposition. After all, isn’t this just kind of the online version of the “Dollar Dance” at a reception?

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avatar Etiquette Lady

As an etiquette professional, this sort of behavior causes me to grab for the Tums. While I do see the larger issue–lack of money caused by the recession–I am completely able to look beyond it, as we all should. Whenever we invite guests to an event for which we are hosting, we are a host. Simple. A host should never request guests to bring any of the party or expect them to pay an admittance fee, which is what host are doing when they expect cash. It is very simple, if a person cannot afford a certain type of party, even if they really, really (more reallys in there) want it, they should host the party they can afford to host. This even applies to weddings. And, there never has been a “rule of thumb” about giving a gift equal to the amount the couple spends on a dish at the reception. If you consider this logically, it is impolite and impossible. How would we know the cost of the dish, why should we know, and why would we have to pay for our meal when we have been invited? Also, the dollar dance is now considered very tacky–pay for a dance??

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avatar velvet jones

Cosign EVERYTHING Etiquette Lady said above. If this couple can’t afford a $2000 wedding, they could get married at the justice of the peace for $30 or whatever, then have a party/ceremony the following year when they will probably be better off financially or could save up for it themselves. If I got this as a guest, I’d be offended.

Be it a wedding or any other gathering, it irritates me to no end when I’m invited to a party, but then requested to bring the party with me (food, booze, etc.). If you can’t afford it, don’t host it.

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avatar H Lee D

Tacky. If you can’t afford a party, don’t throw a party. Or if you can just afford a cake and punch, then just do cake and punch. Don’t ask me to be a guest, then ask me to pay to host it.

“The idea was born out of necessity.” No it wasn’t. There is nothing that is required for a wedding that costs $2K.

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avatar LinearChaos

I think this is great!

It’s very not in your face as apposed to the money dance that I witnessed at a recent wedding. Guests form a line to the dance floor and “pay” to dance with the bride and groom, placing donations in a tip jar. Now that was tacky!

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avatar Kelley

Now heres my question say it wasnt from the guests. Say it was from doing odd jobs around peoples homes locally. Say mowing a lawn or gutters leaves ect. Would that be just as tacky as someone just giving money or would it be diffrent because it was technicly worked for ?

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avatar david

If someone was willing to go out and do the jobs you say for to save for their wedding or whatever they are saving for is not tacky , its work no matter how big or small the job is.

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avatar J B

I just set up a website doing the same thing! I am keeping our identities private (because when you’re an adult, it is embarrassing to admit you need financial help) so I’m not asking our guests directly for help. Hey, if people just chip in even a dollar, that’s great. I found another bride-to-be’s website through google that’s doing the same thing, and somehow was given over $5,000 in donations! I doubt that will happen to me, but it’s worth a try!! If you’re getting married and need help too, you can take a look at my website for some ideas if you’d like! Take care ya’ll!

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avatar J B

and just so ya’ll know before the mean comments roll in…I do not expect a “platinum wedding” or anything! Me and my fiance both have full time jobs with a LOT of medical bills! My goal is to have maybe 20 guests, nothing fancy, just a celebration that our guests will enjoy as much as us! If someone stumbles on my page and decides donating a buck or two won’t hurt them, then thats awesome! Asking guests directly to pay for the wedding doesn’t seem right though. Hypocrite? No, like I said if someone wants to donate a dollar, then great!!!

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avatar Lola

A wedding is not about any personal gain. In fact, quite the opposite. Indeed anyone can go to the court house to get married. However, when ALL your friends and family WANT to be there to celebrate the event then the expense comes into play. I see nothing wrong with someone giving money in leu of a gift, so what’s the difference if it’s before the wedding or the day of. The gift is for the couple and starting their new life together. So why not just forget the gift, gift the cash, which by the way saves you time and fuel, (how expensive is fuel now days?) and share in the celebration of the most important day; be joyous for the new couple. After all they are your friends or family and if not you wouldn’t be invited anyway. It is a contribution to share with all your friends and family for special moment with someone you obviously care enough about to even attend their wedding.

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avatar LC

A couple can certainly turn to a friend or a family member and ask to borrow money and the day after they get married repay the money with all the money they received at the wedding. Which, whomever gave money essentially paid for the wedding. They could also return all those gifts to get money back and use that to repay for the cost of the wedding. So really what’s the difference. Either way the wedding is being paid for by people being invited.
By the way, it is ETIQUETTE to bring something when invited to any party, whether it be a dish, a meat, a beverage, a alcohol. a gift or a card. You should ALWAYS brings something.

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avatar Anonymous

No, the proper etiquette for giving wedding gifts is to send a gift to the home of the bride before the wedding. The gifts aren’t to be used until after the wedding.

The couple shouldn’t count on receiving any cash to pay back a loan. The wedding guests don’t pay for the wedding. and the gifts aren’t a ticket for admission. Please let’s get a hold of what the purpose of a wedding is, what it means to the couple and the meaning of a gift. The point is that a guest can CHOOSE to give a monetary gift, but a couple shouldn’t expect a guest to cover the cost of their wedding.

Yes, it is proper to bring something when invited to someone’s home party, but not for a wedding. The reason gifts are sent to the home is so that the gift arrives safely, so the couple doesn’t have to worry about the card getting separated from the package or it being lost, misplaced or even stolen from a wedding venue.

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avatar Ivor Tetteh-Lartey Photography

It will certainly look tacky if the photographer and the florist display banner advertising at the reception, or will they pause for a word from their sponsors during the ceremony. The cash”donations” may also attract complications such as taxation.

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avatar CCE

I completely agree with Etiquette Lady. It is beyond the pale to ask your wedding guests to not only pay for themselves to “share” in your special day (2nd marriage and all that) but to ask for any monetary donation towards the party is clearly, not even a shade of grey, out of the question. By the way, the comment by one person is right on. You need to look at the tax implications as well. You are by law required to report cash gifts as income to the IRS.

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