Saved by the bell: Boomers no longer expected to pay for kids' weddings

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2002

You've seen the kids through braces, through college, and now it's finally time to think of your retirement.

But wait, there could be one more big bill to come: your child's wedding.

Talk about bad timing for those parents of the bride or groom who also are baby boomers. These people have spent their adult lives dealing with bigger, more pressing financial responsibilities than receptions, flowers and limos.

That collision of expenses, coming as their careers wind down, is exactly why many boomers -- those 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- are not planning to pay for their children's weddings.

Brian R. Korb, 41, of Dayton, Ohio, said between paying his mother's nursing home bills and saving to send his three children to college, he won't have money left over for weddings.

By the time the kids are out of college, ''I will be looking for them to be on their own,'' Korb said.

Whatever desire parents might have to finance a child's trip down the aisle is often counterbalanced by the fact that weddings are a lot more expensive than they used to be. The average wedding, according to those in the business, runs $20,000.

Korb, a certified financial planner, said he's not the only boomer who doesn't intend to sacrifice retirement dollars to buy lillies and canapes. Many of his clients share his feelings.

''What we are hearing is, 'Hey, I put them through college, and I need to start thinking about myself now, and my retirement. I am 50 or 55, and I know I don't have what I need for my retirement yet,'' Korb said. ''They look at their savings as this hallowed money that they won't touch until retirement.''

Wedding experts say engaged couples are increasingly paying for their weddings because they are older and more established in their careers than their parents were at the time they were married.

''The majority of baby boomers no longer finance their children's weddings. Fully 70 percent of today's couples pay for their own nuptials,'' said Deborah McCoy, author of five wedding reference books and a wedding planner and shop owner in Boca Raton, Fla.

''They are close to 30, and no longer are tied to their parents' purse strings. (Also) couples who are engaged have a combined income that is greater than their parents and can better afford the tab,'' McCoy added.

McCoy said it's common for parents to pay for parts of the wedding, rather than the whole thing. Perhaps the groom's parents will pay the bar tab while the bride's parents rent the reception hall.

Still, there are boomer parents who plan to do it all, even if they don't have a wedding fund set aside.

''I'm old-fashioned that way,'' said Randy Smith, of Abingdon, Va., although he confessed to being shocked by the cost.

''Weddings were not on my radar,'' Smith said. ''I was naive. It all adds up.''

But Smith and his wife Mary Sue, both 50 and high school teachers, are being careful as they plan daughter Sarah's April nuptials. The Smiths are budgeting $8,000 to $10,000.

When Sarah Smith, 25 of Winston-Salem, N.C., wanted an out-of-town wedding photographer who would have charged $4,000, her parents told her to find someone cheaper in her rural hometown.

''Knowing they could get a photographer for $300 and my coming to them with a guy who was charging $4,000, there was just no way,'' said Sarah Smith, who works for university relations at Wake Forest University.

The Smiths say they are able to pay for the 150-person affair by juggling some finances, and Randy Smith will still be on track to retire in two years.

And while their own wedding 30 years ago was a lot more modest -- a girlfriend sewed Mary Sue's dress and Randy wore a suit he already owned -- they wouldn't dream of not doing their daughter's wedding.

''We're giving our daughter a nice wedding,'' Randy Smith said.

''I wouldn't change it for anything,'' Mary Sue Smith said. ''I think it is going to be so much fun.''

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