Is It a Wedding Gift or a Charitable Donation?

Brides call it one thing; guests might view it differently

Is It a Wedding Gift or a Charitable Donation?

A couple about to be married were so moved by the Syrian refugee crisis that they scrapped their plans for a big wedding, married at City Hall and used their wedding funds to donate to an organization that helps refugees settle in Canada.

They asked their guests to donate to the cause instead of giving them gifts. 

Good idea or bad idea?

LifeZette wanted Ric’s advice. Here’s the conversation:

LifeZette: What do you think of couples who deny themselves wedding funds over contributions to temporary political causes? Are they denying themselves opportunities to invest in their future together?

Ric: Weddings aren’t supposed to be fundraisers. Brides and grooms shouldn’t be designing events to maximize the amount of money or gifts they will receive. Asking for money is tacky; it is not the responsibility or obligation of invited guests to help a couple buy a house or pay off debts.

Therefore, knowing that guests are likely to buy gifts for the couple, it is a wonderful gesture for the bride and groom to suggest that guests instead make a donation to the couple’s charity of choice.

Your question suggests that you disapprove of the charity this couple selected. But it’s not your choice. Guests routinely buy housewares via a gift registry selected by the couple; a charity designation is no different. Furthermore, refusing to donate to a cause merely because it is “temporary” is illogical. By that notion, we should disband firefighters; after all, a burning house is only a temporary situation and will soon extinguish itself.

If a guest has a political, moral or ethical objection to the charity named by the couple, the guest can choose not to give or to make a different gift. Weddings are not concerts; you’re not stuck listening to the music selected by the performer. Likewise, wedding invitees are not obligated to do anything but express happiness for the couple’s future. So they should refrain from commenting on choices the couple makes — from the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses to the religion in which they will raise their children, and everything in between.

LifeZette: If you could advise a newlywed couple what to do with the money they receive from family and friends at their wedding, what would you tell them to do with the money?

Ric: They should obtain a financial plan and incorporate these funds into that plan, just as they would all the rest of their financial assets. A proper financial plan would have them do this:

  1. Save for retirement by participating fully in a retirement plan at work.
  2. Pay off credit card and personal debts. Continue to make normal payments for school, auto and mortgage debts.
  3. Build cash reserves — 24 months of spending is a typically recommended amount. Include here additional money that will be spent within three years (for buying a home or car, for example).
  4. Place excess amounts into a globally diversified, long-term portfolio.

LifeZette: What financial pitfalls often happen to couples who do not save and invest over time?

Ric: Money is a leading cause of divorce — the lack of it, the imprudent use of it, or the emotional control one tries to inflict over the other with it.

LifeZette: Have you ever been asked to give wedding money to a charity or cause rather than to the couple? Are there ever worthy causes to invest in more than a couple’s marriage?

Ric: Yes, many times. It is common for families, upon a relative’s death, to request that people donate to charity instead of sending flowers — and specific charities are typically cited (sometimes organizations related to the cause of the deceased’s death, and other times a favored charity or alma mater of the deceased).

Donating money to those who need it can be of far more emotional value than gifts the recipient doesn’t need, doesn’t want or won’t use.

The only people who should be “investing” in a couple’s marriage are the bride and groom themselves. Everyone else should merely provide emotional support.

Originally published in Inside Personal Finance June 2016

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