Attend Weddings But Don’t Go into Debt

bridal couple on beachWedding season is upon us!  I love marriage and I love attending weddings to spend time with and support our friends and family.  That’s why I initially felt sympathy for Christopher Sledzik, the face that CNN put on its recent article on the rising cost of wedding attendance and the pressure friends and family feel to attend.  Like Sledzik, we are also 27 and in the last three years have devoted all our vacation time and money to weddings and other obligation travel.  But unlike Sledzik, we haven’t gone into debt to do it.

 

Sledzik doesn’t report what his salary and living expenses are or how much of the attending-weddings expenses he paid for in cash vs. put on his credit card so we can’t judge his money management skills.  But I know that we have simply never considered buying flights or gifts or clothes without money in the bank to pay for them.  Regrettably, we have turned down a few out-of-town wedding invitations because we couldn’t afford to attend.  But in general, we are willing to sacrifice a lot in other areas of our budget to be able to attend weddings.  Sledzik uses some of our same strategies of driving instead of flying and crashing with friends to minimize the cost of attending weddings, but he obviously does not have the same zero-tolerance policy toward consumer debt.

 

However, perhaps we have come off easy on the pressure to spend on weddings.  Though we have attended ten out-of-town weddings in the last three years, none of them have been destination weddings, as apparently 25% of weddings now are.  We have never even been invited to a destination wedding!  The two invitations that came closest to being destination we had to decline, but in both cases the locations were chosen to minimize the cost of guest attendance (just not us in particular).  Several of the out-of-town weddings have also been in the hometown of one or the other of us, which means that we are able to stay with our parents to eliminate lodging costs.  We certainly don’t spend $539 per wedding as the article states is this year’s average – in fact, I doubt we’ve ever cracked spending $1,078 on even one wedding.

 

Another way we’ve gotten lucky with our wedding-related travel in comparison with Sledzik’s is that he has attended four out-of-town bachelor parties and we have attended no such events.  In fact, I don’t believe we have ever been invited to an out-of-town pre-wedding event (with one inexpensive exception).  When we planned our wedding we had no expectation of our attendants or other friends traveling to attend anything other than the wedding itselfwe didn’t presume they had the time or money to do that!  While I’m sure that destination bachelor(ette) parties can be a wonderful time, I think they are even less worthy than weddings of stretching a budget or going into debt for.

 

All in all I’m relieved my friends have pretty low-key expectations regarding their weddings and related events!  I’m glad I didn’t put the weddings we weren’t able to attend on a credit card because I know we truly couldn’t afford them.  We choose to spread out the burden of paying to attend weddings by saving up for them in advance in our Travel and Personal Gifts targeted savings account instead paying for it after the fact, plus interest.  I’m not sure why Sledzik doesn’t do the same!  Knowing we have to pay for everything up front has led us to some pretty creative solutions to make the trips on a tiny budget, whereas putting the cost on a credit card would have let us feel that we could spend normally and the overall cost would have been higher.

 

I’m glad Sledzik holds attending weddings in such high esteem.  I do, too.  But I encourage him and all wedding attendees to commit to cutting back in other areas of their budgets so they can pay for the experiences up front.  That is truly prioritizing these important events.

 

Would you go into credit card debt to attend a wedding?  Have you been invited to many destination weddings or destination pre-wedding festivities?  How do you budget for busy wedding seasons?

 

photo from Free Digital Photos

 

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31 Responses to "Attend Weddings But Don’t Go into Debt"

  1. CashRebel says:

    I’ve never understood all the pre wedding events
    Its so ridiculous to expect all the groomsmen to attend if they are across the country. I feel like the bachelor party should just be the night before the wedding. That way everyone would be in the same place.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s what we did – I had a lunch with my bridesmaids the day before our wedding and Kyle had a party with his groomsmen and out-of-town guests the night before. We have also attended bachelor(ette) events a day or two in advance if we have already traveled there, or further in advance if they are in our same city. But I kind of think the whole idea behind these parties is silly!

  2. There are ways to keep it simple if you are on a tight budget. No need to get extravagant over a wedding if oyu can’t afford it. We all have to be practical now.

    1. Emily says:

      It seems that the person in the article, despite being “practical” in terms of his expenditures, is still carrying credit card debt for these events. To him it seems to be a choice between putting the expenses on a card and not attending.

  3. Leslie and I have only been invited to a handful of weddings over the last few years, and only went if we could afford the cost up front. So far we only have one wedding to plan for this year, things will probably get busier as we get a little older, and it’s fairly close by (couple hour drive). We’ll probably pull an all-nighter and drive home after the wedding instead of paying to stay at the hotel.
    Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries recently posted..The “Official” Spilling of the Beans

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, you guys haven’t hit peak marrying age yet! For us it was one really bad year out of nowhere (the year we got married) and it’s tapered some since then. It’s definitely a sacrifice to drive all night after a wedding (no drinking, for one!) but I’m sure you’re more satisfied with that choice than putting a hotel on a credit card, and you get to attend all the same! I applaud your commitment to paying cash for these events.

  4. Pauline says:

    I wouldn’t go into debt to attend a wedding. A couple of friends recently invited me to a destination wedding that would have cost over $1,000 for 4 days, considering I only knew them and didn’t want to make them feel like they had to care for me in any way, I didn’t go. I would spend that for close family or best friends, but even then sometimes it is better to go shortly after or before and spend quality time with the couple.
    Pauline recently posted..Defining my dream, little guest house in Guatemala

    1. Emily says:

      Very good point that the money spent would depend on the closeness of the relationship. I would really sacrifice to attend a destination wedding for an immediate family member but attending one for a less close relationship would depend more on how flush our travel savings account is a the time of the event.

  5. I’ve been/going to be invited to 3 weddings this year but will only be able to attend one because of scheduling conflicts. But I won’t lie – I do think about money and my closeness to the bride/groom when I decide on attending or not. Weddings are fun, but they are rarely worth going into debt for (I’d make an exception for truly best friends or siblings that you are very close to).
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..How I got engaged / (or what if one person is ready but the other is less so)

    1. Emily says:

      For nearly all weddings, though, you have considerable lead time to prepare to travel to/participate in them. I suppose there isn’t much of a difference between going into new debt for a want vs. staying in debt longer for a want and I don’t think all travel should be suspended on account of student loans or whatever. But anyway I think there is time to consider the closeness of the relationship and how much you want to sacrifice to attend the weddings in the months leading up.

  6. I’m not a fan of weddings and thankfully have dodged a lot of the ones I wasn’t interested in going to, or they were in my hometown so I just combined it with a visit home. I would never break the bank to go to a wedding. I haven’t been to many weddings in the last five years but this year I have two, but will be relatively cheap since I used points for flights and have places to stay at both pretty much.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Gratitude

    1. Emily says:

      That’s great that you were able to reduce the costs of attending this year’s weddings. We usually try to make trips with multiple purposes, too – attending a wedding plus seeing family or friends or visiting a new place.

  7. The wedding this fall will be the only one I’ve ever traveled for, well at least travelled more than a 2 hour car trip. My friend even told me several times that he would understand if I couldn’t make it, but the marriage of the person who has been my best friend for 2/3 of my life is something I WOULD go into debt for. Luckily, I won’t have to. I wouldn’t for pretty much anyone else, but for him, I would move heaven and earth.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Trials in Freelancing

    1. Emily says:

      That is so sweet! But I’m still glad you can attend with cash. Of course you would travel for your best friend.

  8. SarahN says:

    I’ve been to a few and will have a few more destination (or at least out of town for me) weddings to go for – but again, it’s their ‘home’ town nowdays.

    I think the out of town bachelor parties are a different section of society than you and Kyle perhaps? People who marry in their late 20s/30s, with a professional income and money to burn are the people I know who go to Hong Kong or Las Vegas (from Australia) for these events. And many of these people already have mortgages. I think lower student debt here helps perhaps? But it’s definitely a different mindset!
    SarahN recently posted..Sickly

    1. Emily says:

      I’ve only been invited to one wedding in a location that the bride and groom had never lived in, but most of our wedding invitations are out-of-town for us. Certainly most of our wedding invitations come from peers who do not (yet) have money to burn! Even if a lot of money is spent on weddings at our age I suspect it comes from the parents and you are right that they are unlikely to have a large budget for the pre-wedding parties. I have NEVER heard of anyone having an intercontinental bachelor(ette) party! But I have seen around the PF blogosphere people in my age group (though at higher income) having or attending destination bachelorette parties, and the guy in the article is the same age as me (and clearly doesn’t make enough money/handle his money well enough to stay out of credit card debt).

      1. SarahN says:

        In Australia it seems less and less common for parents to make a large contribution to weddings, though the custom still exists.

        My friend who did go to Hong Kong for said party seems pretty money savy – I’m actually a little in awe of how they manage all the great things they do in life, knowing they aren’t in debt (other than their mortgage).
        SarahN recently posted..Waste Wednesday update

        1. Emily says:

          That is amazing that she was able to make that trip and stay debt-free. But I would think it would be odd to have a whole group of people who are similarly positioned/determined. Maybe you should interview your friend for your site on how she handles her money so well?

  9. I feel lucky that none of my friends had outrageous expectations. I was a bridesmaid in a few weddings, and both times the brides were completely reasonable with what they expected me to spend.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..The Perils of Working From Home

    1. Emily says:

      That is such a relief! I’ve never been a bridesmaid but if I were asked I would be upfront about what I could afford. It’s obvious Kyle and I don’t make much money and I think our friends would be sensitive to that.

  10. You know, I feel sort of bad now for having people travel and spend good money to attend. Having said that, the mindset of someone going through a wedding is often “it’s the big day, the world stops for us”. I’m not saying I was ever like that exactly, but one gets a bit out of touch with reality during such times. Some people truly do get out of hand, as evidenced by some of the the “bridezillas” out there (are there “groomzillas”?).

    I think it’s fair to decline based on financial needs. If people are offended, they’ll be more sympathetic later (if not at that moment). If they don’t understand, and want you to go into debt to attend a wedding, it tells you something about them.
    Tie the Money Knot recently posted..Wedding Loans: Financing The Big Day

    1. Emily says:

      Kyle and I did as much as we could to minimize travel for our friends and family by having two wedding receptions, one on each coast – so I don’t feel bad at all that some of our guests chose to travel! Of course some people declined for scheduling or money reasons, which we were sad about but understood. It’s an invitation, you know – it’s nice to receive it and they can accept or decline.

  11. My wife and I have always followed a simple rule: we only attend local weddings. Our friends and family know that, and they’ve seen us never break the rule, so they’re not bent out of shape if we don’t attend.

    I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the cost of a wedding and long term happiness of the marriage are inversely related. Most of our acquaintances who had relatively simple weddings are still married after 20 years. The most lavish (and memorable) weddings have almost all ended up on the rocks. (Our observation or experience may not be representative, of course…)
    William Cowie recently posted..Retirement: Do You Know This?

    1. Emily says:

      Do you only attend local weddings because you don’t travel at all or because you don’t think weddings are worth it?

      My sneaking suspicion would not have anything to do with the cost of the wedding but rather the amount of effort put into the marriage and when the effort was expended (the earlier the better). Premarital counseling is demonstratively protective against divorce (after accounting for selection) but post-marital effort, before it becomes last-ditch, also pays off. So maybe we could make some predictions off of the ratio of time spent on wedding planning vs. marriage preparation. 🙂

  12. Attending weddings can get really out of hand really quickly. My good friend from college just got married and had a week’s worth of festivities. Her (now) hubby is Indian and there are a lot of traditional events that we thought it would be fun to attend. Fortunately we were able to drive (it was only about 3 hours away), but we did have to pay for 2 nights of hotels and parking, which wasn’t cheap. I’d never go into debt for a wedding.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Sometimes I Don’t Play Nice: Killing My Debt

    1. Emily says:

      I’ve heard of the extensive Indian weddings! My friend had a combo Indian-Vietnamese wedding and it was four different events all on one day (and AWESOME). I’m glad they didn’t stretch it over multiple days. I hope you had a great time, though, and I’m glad you didn’t let it ride on your cc!

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  16. I’m not sure why it took me so long to find this, but I totally love your article, Emily. You’ve given solid advice and drew a hard line on spending where wedding festivities are concerned — something I certainly did not do!

    Between the sheer number of invites and my inability to pick/play favorites, I made the decision to say “yes” to almost every invite. Adding to the unbalance was the fact that I was trying to keep up with collegiate buddies who had established careers and larger incomes while I attended grad school. Was I unrealistic about expectations? Possibly. But looking back, I don’t regret taking on some debt to build lifelong memories. I also made myriad friendships more solid because of all the extra trips. Not to mention a big red reason to tighten my own budget and learn smarter spending habits after all the weddings were over!

    Thanks for sharing and agreeing that weddings are an important event.
    Best,
    Chris

    1. Emily says:

      Hi Chris,

      I don’t remember the grad student detail from the original article! We are more alike than I thought! Thankfully a lot of our college friends, who were the ones getting married mostly, had also become graduate students, so we didn’t experience as much spending pressure as you did.

      There is one wedding I regret turning down the most. It was for a person who grew to be an even closer friend over the next few years, and now I really wish I could look back on celebrating that event with him. It was in another country, and we would have made it a week’s vacation to justify the cost of the flights. We had the cash to pay for it, but we were trying to prepare for another big wedding season coming up, and that money would have paid for us to attend several other out-of-town weddings in the US. It turned out that the next couple years did not have as heavy wedding seasons as we had experienced previously, so we really could have used the money for the wedding/vacation. You just can’t predict the future, though!

      I’m glad your experience with wedding spending was a wake-up call wrt personal finance. Have you finished paying off the credit card debt yet? Looking back to our first big wedding season, I can clearly see now that prioritizing spending on those events totally reshaped our money management system for the better.

      Emily

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