Sure, you want to feel joy and love upon receiving a wedding invitation. But one little postcard or email can also pack loads of pricey pressure.
Perhaps you must secure travel and lodging, buy gifts and attire, or call off work. Or maybe you have the honor — and extra expense — of being in the wedding party.
This may be your reality soon, as wedding season looms and events that were postponed or rescheduled because of COVID-19 reappear on the calendar.
Before stressing about these upcoming weddings, take comfort from Crystal L. Bailey, director of The Etiquette Institute of Washington, in D.C.: “Your loved one would not want you to spend in a way that would make you financially struggle.”
For less struggling and more celebrating, here’s how to handle the financial load of attending weddings.
Check your finances — and feelings
As you learn about upcoming weddings, “map out your year,” Bailey says.
This planning is useful if you’re invited to multiple weddings, or bridal showers, bachelor or bachelorette parties and rehearsal dinners. If you’re inclined to say yes to everything, this mapping could show how much time (and money) “everything” will cost.
Also check your bank account balance or your budget to understand what’s available to spend after accounting for needs. Ideally, this financial reality check helps you prioritize expenses, says Landis Bejar, a New York City-based licensed mental health counselor and founder of AisleTalk, which provides therapy to individuals getting married.
For example, maybe you realize you can’t swing the out-of-state bachelorette party but can attend the wedding.
If you still feel compelled to overspend, “take inventory of where that expectation is coming from,” Bejar says. “That can usually help you navigate what’s important in your decision making.”
For example, perhaps this reflection shows that you simply yearn to get out of the house and celebrate after so much quarantining. So you prioritize attending the wedding and feel less pressure to buy a new outfit for it.
Find ways to cut costs
Prioritizing your values may help you save money. So, if being present at the wedding is most important, you may be able to trim expenses in these categories:
Lodging and travel: If possible, choose a cheaper accommodation than what the couple suggested, or crash with a local connection. Split costs with other guests by sharing a vacation rental or driving together. Pay for fewer nights by skipping the night-before dinner and arriving the day of the wedding.
Bachelor and bachelorette parties, showers and other related events: It’s OK to politely pass on these events if you give plenty of heads-up.
Gifts: Matt J. Goren, a Chicago-based certified financial planner, suggests simply giving what you can, which will be easier to determine after checking your finances. “If someone is going to think you’re a bad friend because you only gave them what you could afford, then they’re not that good of a friend,” says Goren, who’s the CFP program director at The American College of Financial Services.
The most effective way to cut wedding costs? Decline the invitation. That’s fine, particularly if you’re more of an acquaintance than a close friend or family member, or if you don’t want to go.
If you must pass up the wedding of someone you’re close with, Bailey recommends calling or writing a note. Thank them for the invitation and consider sending a gift.
Bejar suggests seeing if you can participate in other ways. For example, if you can’t make the destination wedding or shower, maybe you can have champagne delivered to the couple.
Remember: If you can’t afford the event, “it doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend or a bad person,” Goren says.
If you wanted to go but couldn’t come up with a relatively small amount of money — say, for a local event — aim to see the situation as a “wake-up call,” he says. After all, how would you handle an urgent expense, like an emergency room visit? Use this experience as motivation to build financial security, Goren says, so you can afford emergencies and weddings alike.
You could also track your money so you know where it goes, and explore ways to spend less and make more.
Talk with the engaged couple
Say you’re close with the betrothed and can’t afford the wedding or a related obligation, like being in the bridal party. “The worst thing you can do is have the money fears override the friendship,” Goren says.
So discuss your money concern with the bride or groom — soon, ideally months before the event.
“Good friends will understand if you’re honest and transparent,” Bejar says. Avoid complaining or making the conversation about you. Instead, ask what’s most important to your loved one, then brainstorm and possibly compromise.
For example, maybe your friend most values your presence at the wedding and is OK with you passing on bridesmaid duty (and the hair, makeup and outfit expenses that may come with it).
Whether you find solutions or not, Bejar suggests acknowledging the importance of this milestone. “Brides and grooms want to feel special,” she says.
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Laura McMullen writes for NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.