Four Weddings and a Financial Funeral
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Over the last decade, my husband and I have spent more money attending other people’s weddings than we did buying a 2018 car in 2020 — $10,000 more.
We’re in the sweet spot of our early 30s, in which our friends and family members are caught in a constant cycle of having weddings and babies. Of course, these are joyous times, but they can also be stressful. The engagement party, bachelor(ette) parties, bridal showers, weddings, gender reveal parties and baby showers are starting to feel like a drain on our bank account.
It’s made me wonder why personal finance experts so often focus on skipping lattes and avocado toast as the best way for Millennials to save money. You know this “small leaks sink big ships” style of advice. But shouldn’t we really focus on the more significant financial ramifications that come with social pressure and friend and family obligations?
Sure, little expenses can add up. Let’s say I bought a latte, to the tune of $6.50 including tip, five days a week. That’s $1,690 annually. Alas, my husband and I have dropped more than that for just one of the eight weddings we’ve been invited to in 2021. Attending all of them would cost us easily $10,000. (We’ve sadly had to decline a few for both budget and scheduling reasons.)
This is not an outrageous number when you consider all the costs of attending, from flights or car rentals to hotel stays, a dog sitter (for us, childcare for some), food and gifts. And that’s assuming we’re not in the weddings or attending pre-ceremony events.
Of course, our example may seem extreme. We live in New York City and out of the dozens of wedding invites we’ve gotten in the last decade, only two have been local. Travel isn’t always the case for some people, but even if the wedding is in your hometown, it could easily cost $100 per person depending on your gift-giving etiquette and transportation. That’s 15 days of lattes.
And I doubt I’m alone here. We’re witnessing a post-Covid wedding surge. Bloomberg has previously reported that 2022 is set to host the most weddings since 1984. That means either our wallets are going to take a beating, or we have to learn how to have some tough conversations. Otherwise, we can end up delaying personal financial goals or, worse, go into debt for other people’s life events.
A 2019 CreditKarma survey found that 35% of millennials went into debt just to attend bachelor and bachelorette parties. One-fifth of respondents said they’d gone into debt to attend weddings. And 33% said they wouldn’t feel comfortable declining if they couldn’t afford to attend.
That last statistic is particularly troublesome.
Learning how to tactfully decline social invitations is a critical part of setting financial (and sometimes emotional) boundaries. Here’s what might help if you’re expecting an onslaught of obligations.
First, set a realistic budget for how much you can afford to spend on other people’s life events in a given year. Keep in mind your own financial goals when setting this number. Then create a savings account that’s specifically earmarked for “Other People’s Weddings/Big Events.” Put a dedicated amount in there per paycheck or supplement with side hustle money or unexpected bonuses. Once the invites start rolling in, you’ve already set a boundary for how much to spend on others without kneecapping your own goals.
The difficult part, however, is having the conviction to communicate your regrets when an occasion is outside of your budget.
To be fair, I wrote the book on the topic of how to navigate awkward money conversations, and even I struggle to raise concerns without sounding like, “You picked a bridesmaids dress that costs more than the flight?”
But it is important to allow yourself to be vulnerable with your friends and family about financial limitations and tradeoffs you have to make. You could be open about what you can (and can’t) afford to spend on their special day. It doesn’t hurt to add a reason:
I would be honored to be part of your bridal party, but I need to be honest that I’m paying off student loans and trying to save for a down payment on a house, so my budget would be about [insert number]. I don’t want you to feel restricted to my budget, so it’s completely okay if I come as a guest and support you in other ways.
It’s possible a friend may elect to not have you be in a bridal party or come to an event if you’re unable to financially keep pace with their vision — but that’s not always a bad thing. Better to bow out than resent them and have that put a strain on your relationship.
Weddings have been the dominant scapegoat here in terms of social obligation, but you can always swap in holiday travel to see family, group vacations, baby showers, divorce parties and whatever other trendy celebratory events will be created in the coming years.
Of course, cutting out little things like lattes or happy hours or avocado toasts is much easier than telling a friend, co-worker or cousin that you can’t be there for their Big Day. But if small daily purchases are little leaks sinking your ship, these social obligations are the glacier threatening to gouge out the bottom.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial,” “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” and “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Stories, Scripts and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.”
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