Lwaxana Troi arrives on the Enterprise, declaring that she is to hold her arranged wedding there. She is to marry a man with whom she shared many interests, according to a matchmaking computer system which declared them perfect mates. Picard initially refuses, but when he is told she wants him to give away the bride he promptly changes his mind, saying that "Nothing would please him more than to give away Mrs. Troi."
Later, while talking in private, Deanna is shocked when she is told that Lwaxana will not follow the Betazoid tradition of a naked bride at weddings. Lwaxana replies that it is offensive to her future husband's people. But Deanna still doesn't think someone with such a position as her mother should be willing to just go and throw away Betazoid tradition, whom she cherished so vividly before.
Worf and his son Alexander have problems with fulfilling obligations, such as Alexander not doing assigned chores. Deanna Troi suggests that they make a contract including matters such as Alexander only playing after he has performed his chores. But Lwaxana ruins this by saying "A contract is something you make with someone you distrust." She several times takes Alexander to a holodeck simulation called the Parallax colony; "a place for free spirits." It's a fantasy land involving such fantastical characters as a smiling, multi-colored humanoid head inside a "floating" sphere; a juggler who eats one of the balls he's juggling; a rotund humanoid noted for making such comments such as "every moment requires a purpose. Every purpose requires a plan" and "the higher, the fewer;" and two twins, each with large hairdos and a habit of constantly arguing. Mrs. Troi teaches Alexander to do what he feels like and "be a free spirit." Deanna, feeling her being shoved aside and prevented from doing her job, complains that her mother is giving the little Klingon conflicting messages.
Lwaxana's husband-to-be arrives, proving himself to be less suitable than the test indicated, not to mention quite strict and uptight. After talking to Alexander, who asks why she seems so sad, Mrs. Troi arrives to the wedding naked according to Betazoid tradition, ignoring any potential offense.(the wedding participants are shown discreetly from the shoulders up) Her husband-to-have-been leaves, upset. Lwaxana thanks Alexander for teaching her to be a free spirit. The episode ends with Deanna, Lwaxana, Alexander and Worf mudbathing in the free thinkers' colony, Worf asking "You're just supposed to sit here?", but finding it nonetheless quite relaxing.
The material nitrium, used in the construction of Federation starships, is referenced in this episode. Parasites are found feeding on Enterprise components made of this substance, jeopardising the ship's integrity.
^Lutz, A.J., personal communication, December 11, 2003
^Fields, Peter Allan (Writer), & Kolbe, Winrich (Director). (1992). Cost of Living [Television series episode]. In Rick Berman (Producer), Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hollywood: Paramount Pictures.