My wife wants us to spend $5,000 to attend her cousin’s destination wedding. I don’t want to go. Am I being selfish?

Dear Quentin,

My wife and I are fighting over money — actually, a wedding, to be exact. She wants us and our daughter to fly across the country to attend her cousin’s destination wedding. I can take time off work, but I do not want to spend $5,000 on this trip. 

I make a very good living compared to her, and just bought a very expensive new car. I also spend a good amount of disposable income on my activities. I do pay a lot more than my wife toward our living expenses. 

I told her she can use her savings to fund this trip, and I will happily attend. She says I am rubbing it in her face that I make more money than her and $5,000 is no big deal to me. But, hey, $5,000 is $5,000.

This cousin didn’t fly in to attend our wedding and only sent a modest gift. I’ve met him maybe three times during our five-year marriage. Am I being selfish?

Unsure In New York

Dear Unsure,

I have some questions for you.

You write about the relationship between yourself and your wife’s cousin — and that you have only met him three times in five years — but what is the relationship between your wife and her cousin? If she is close to this cousin, and you would normally spend several thousands of dollars on a vacation together, would it hurt to roll this destination wedding into a broader vacation for your family? If this cousin is not engaged in your life, do you have to be engaged in his?

What is this standoff really about? From your letter, it seems that you can afford to take such an expensive vacation, and spend money on your own leisure activities, but you have a problem with a) being cajoled into a destination wedding and b) the fact that it is for a person you don’t know very well. It’s one or two days, and then you could take advantage of the trip to have private family time. It does not have to be an all-or-nothing prospect.

Destination weddings are fun for those who can afford them, and people who can’t afford them can usually (but not always) send their regrets. This poll by the personal-finance platform LendingTree found that destination-wedding guests spend about $1,400 on average, including on travel, gifts and personal items, and they spend upwards of $2,500 for such weddings outside of the U.S. That’s close to a monthly rent or mortgage repayment for many people.

‘Every dollar you spend on an expensive car or lavish leisure activities is money you won’t have if an emergency strikes, and it’s also money you won’t have for your and your wife’s retirement.’

Let’s talk about your spending for a minute. Your money, your choice, right? Yes, and no. Every dollar you spend on an expensive car or lavish leisure activities is money you won’t have if an emergency strikes — you lose your job or there’s a surprise medical event — and it’s also money you won’t have for your and your wife’s retirement. It’s no surprise that you are having trouble making this decision together if you already act unilaterally on major financial decisions.

So to answer your question: No, you are not being selfish — but neither is your wife. You both sound like strong-willed people. This wedding has become a flashpoint for other issues in your marriage: the difference in your salaries, your willingness to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new car but not on your wife’s cousin’s destination wedding. The wedding reception has become a battleground: Do you care about your stuff, or your wife’s wishes?

That’s an impossible question to answer. Step back. This is an opportunity to have a bigger and healthier conversation about how you both spend money, and how much you should put into a joint account so you can have less-contentious discussions without falling back on the “I earn more money than you and it’s coming out of my pocket” conversation. I know you earn more than your wife, but do you want a lifetime of having that conversation?

The time has come to end that once and for all.

“This wedding has become a flashpoint for other issues in your marriage.”

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