When money is tight, it’s okay to RSVP ‘I don’t’ to a wedding

Part of being in a friend or family group is the expectation that you will show up for special events.

Even if you’re asked to pitch in to cover the cost of the meal, venue or both — though guests really shouldn’t be asked to pay — you faithfully attend the birthday parties, anniversary dinners and retirement celebrations.

But there’s something about weddings that can test your loyalty. Begging off can be seen as a rejection of the relationship.

Never mind that your presence might bust your budget.

The typical guest planned to spend an average of $611 per wedding in 2023, according to a survey by Bankrate. Gifts: $180. Clothing and grooming: $144. Toss in $287 for travel and accommodations.

If you’re asked to be part of the wedding party, the expense can get exorbitant. There’s the expectation to attend a bridal shower, bachelorette/bachelor party (sometimes stretched to weekend retreats) and rehearsal dinner.

When did weddings become akin to a royal coronation?

Two words can elicit a budget panic in potential attendees: Destination wedding.

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Many weddings have become spectacles with no regard to the cost and inconvenience of guests. It’s all about the pageantry — the more Instagram- and TikTok-worthy, the better.

Here’s my concern. Younger adults, those who may be the least able to afford the festivities, are shelling out the most money compared with older guests.

Gen Zers plan to spend $1,211 on weddings this year, followed by millennials at $1,191 and Gen Xers at $974, according to Bankrate. By comparison, baby boomers, who’ve had more time to save, estimate they will spend $667.

The disparity makes sense. Younger groups are seeing their friends getting married. The estimated median age for first-time marriages in 2022 was 30.1 for men and 28.2 for women, according to the Census Bureau.

The pressure to spend more for a wedding is higher for younger adults. Twenty-six percent of Gen Zers and 24 percent of millennials planning to attend a wedding this year said they will feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable with, compared with 16 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of baby boomers, according to Bankrate.

5 pillars of post-grad financial planning

Here’s where being grown means living within your means, even if it means declining a wedding invite.

It’s okay to say “I don’t” to a wedding RSVP.

You aren’t being selfish if you can’t go because the cost is too high. You’re being responsible.

If you want more personal finance advice that’s timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones.

My grandmother Big Mama taught me many things about money management, but one of the lessons that has served me well centers on living with financial integrity, which she defined as doing what you can afford with no regrets — or guilt.

Big Mama accepted the fact that she was limited in the things she could do because she didn’t earn much money. And she didn’t apologize for her absence at certain events. Her no was a complete sentence.

Financial adulthood is hard, and it often involves making difficult decisions.

I understand you want to be there for your family members or friends. But a wedding invite is not a subpoena.

Ask Amy: I can’t go to the wedding. Why am I invited to the shower?

Here are a few tips if you want to attend but your funds are tight:

  • Check your budget before responding to the invitation. You have to live your financial truth. If you don’t have the means, you may be unable to attend. Although no justification is needed, if you want to provide an explanation, blame your budget. Here’s a line you can use, “My budget is whipping my behind and won’t let me do anything.”
  • Don’t deepen your debt. If you are already struggling to pay down your credit card, don’t add to your burden.
  • Start saving for the event as soon as you know you’re going. Okay — you’re strapped but feel you can’t miss this celebration. Do what you can to reduce credit card charges. If going is a nonstarter, something else has to give. This may mean cutting out nonessentials, such as eating out or regularly hanging out at happy hour.
  • Don’t agree to be part of the wedding party if you can’t afford it. Be honest about your financial situation.
  • Pick and choose your participation. Maybe attend the bridal shower but skip the wedding. Or bow out of the bachelorette or bachelor party.
  • Fight the guilt. To prospective wedding attendants and guests fretting about the financial strain, don’t let anyone shame you. Good friends don’t bully. As one reader said, “Marriages should unite, not divide.”

To those planning a wedding, can I share what your friends or family members may be too timid to say?

Your “big” day is costing too much money and time.

You may not know the details of other people’s finances, but you can still figure out who might have to stretch themselves to attend your wedding. Why would you put them in the position of missing out or risking your wrath if they put their financial well-being over your Caribbean wedding?

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You have a right to plan the wedding you want. Perhaps logistics dictate that certain folks will have to decline your invitation. Respect and expect that some people you really want to be there won’t be able to attend.

This special day is not just about you. If it were, you wouldn’t desire a lot of spectators.

Do what you can to curtail costs so the people you love can celebrate with you.

B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

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