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Four weddings and no funeral: Be a good guest without killing your finances

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FSarah Zaharia, a 30-year-old whose friends all seem to be getting married, a situation that costing her hundreds of dollars annually.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

FSarah Zaharia, a 30-year-old whose friends all seem to be getting married, a situation that costing her hundreds of dollars annually. Photo Store

It's good to be in demand. As an owner of a local marketing firm, no one understands this better than Sarah Zaharia.

But there can be a downside to being popular: You might get invited to a lot of weddings. While that's not a bad thing -- what could be better than celebrating new love? -- the cost of attending other people's matrimonial moments can start to add up.

"I've been to a lot of weddings over the last few seasons," says the 30-year-old owner of the social-media marketing firm Zaharia Group.

"The most expensive part is not the gift. It's the combination of the showers, the stagettes, the dress and then having to get your hair done."

Zaharia estimates she spends about $350 on the average wedding, and then there are those when she's a member of the wedding party.

"That can easily be $500-plus."

While an invitation to a wedding is surely more of a source of excitement than stress for most people, many Canadians likely get a spike in their blood pressure when they receive an invitation in the mailbox.

A recent TD survey found about one in five Canadians attending a wedding this coming year expect the associated cost to be a drain on their household budget and, consequently, a source of stress.

Even a bank manager can relate.

"I've been a bridesmaid 12 times, so I fully understand where the survey results are coming from," says Shawnnette Fraser, regional manager for TD Canada Trust. "It can add up."

But then she puts on her banker cap and encourages clients to use the power that comes from prudent financial management to dodge the potential money hazards that can arise from being on a wedding guest list.

"From a banker's perspective, with some advanced planning and smart strategies, it's very possible to navigate through the pressures of the wedding season without blowing your budget," Fraser says.

"One of the things we tell people is that weddings are one of life's biggest milestones, so it's definitely great to celebrate them with your family and friends, but that does not mean that the good financial habits you have built up must fly out the window."

In most cases, people have time to prepare. Invitations usually arrive months in advance, so it's always best to assess the cash situation ASAP to determine whether you can afford to attend.

"As soon as you get that invitation, start reviewing your budget and think about how much it will cost to attend, especially if the wedding involves travelling to a destination," Fraser says. "Once you have identified the potential cost, make sure that it doesn't take a precedent over other things you're saving for, so if you're saving for a home or a big vacation, this doesn't mean you have to take money from those goals."

Destination weddings are the most likely culprits to knock your budget out of whack, she adds. But they're also the easiest invitation to decline because most reasonable brides, and grooms, understand their destination wedding will be poorly attended.

But the decision to attend a wedding here in town is a much more socially delicate matter -- even if your reason to decline is because you're cash-strapped.

In an ideal world, money shouldn't get in the way of attending a wedding, especially if the people getting hitched are close to you, says a wedding etiquette expert.

"You're invited to a wedding to celebrate that rite of passage between two people," says Fox, founder of Toronto-based Etiquette Ladies.

"So the focus shouldn't be on the cost. It should be celebrating the two people getting together."

Although local weddings don't involve the same cost as destination events, people still feel the pinch on the pocketbook. Sure, you can put on that trusty little black dress (or suit) and do your own hair, but one cash outlay is hard to avoid: the gift.

"There are always lots of questions about how much should you spend on a wedding gift, and people come up with lots of guidelines, but usually they're not correct," Fox says.

One popular rule of thumb you shouldn't worry over is ensuring the gift -- usually cash in this instance -- will at least cover the costs of your and your guest's drinks and dinner.

"People have come up with that formula -- probably some clever bride -- but that's not actually the case," Fox says. "If you feel that you can afford to do that, by all means do."

This notion puts pressure on guests, she adds, and people may not want to attend because they're worried about appearing cheap if they can't spend $100 or more -- a seemingly unwritten minimum these days.

"When there is this emphasis on the gift -- and people get a number of invitations throughout the year -- they feel they can't afford to go to every wedding so they start saying 'no,' " Fox says.

Instead, the formula for determining what's really appropriate involves less-complicated social calculus. Give what you can afford. That said, temper this advice with common sense.

"It's also dependent on the relationship that you have with the bride and groom," Fox says.

So, giving more isn't always better.

"The gift should reflect the level of the relationship, so you can make people really uncomfortable when you buy them an expensive gift and the relationship doesn't reflect that."

giganticsmile@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 B10

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