Welcome to Taking Stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the COVID-19 economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult, emotionally charged questions about money. This last two years have forced many of us to reprioritise our finances, and there’s no clear road map for getting through the pandemic yet — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
Last time, we talked to a bridesmaid about how to budget for a friend's wedding without feeling guilty. This week, we heard from Refinery29 readers on their experiences spending thousands for their friends' weddings and how it's impacted their finances.
Elizabeth, 30 — Georgia
Elizabeth has spent over $3,000 (£2,400) for a wedding that was drastically changed due to the pandemic. Originally, there was only going to be one ceremony. But due to COVID, Elizabeth says that the bride and groom decided to have one small ceremony with close family and friends in Georgia, and then host three large receptions in different cities across the country — the furthest being all the way in California.
"The bride and groom expected the wedding party to travel to each of these three cities. This resulted in not only a monetary expense, but several days of PTO," she says. "I did not attend the [California] reception — I had to draw the line somewhere. On top of the expense of travelling, the bride had us wear separate bridesmaid dresses (that we had to pay for) for each reception. We also travelled out-of-state to find her wedding dress and travelled for her bachelorette party. Hair and makeup was not provided at any of the events, so that was an additional expense if we wanted to go and get that done on our own."
Elizabeth ended up getting into around $2,000 (£1,600) worth of debt for the occasion(s). "Thankfully, my parents help paid for a bit of it," she says. "I am still paying it off."
"My girlfriends and I talk about how ridiculous wedding spending has gone all the time. I am very single (and 30 years old), so the notion of 'it all comes back around' may not apply to me," she says. "I value my friendships so, so much, but I shouldn't have to prove that by spending thousands of dollars on showers, bachelorette parties, and the wedding itself. After reflecting on how she handled the circus of wedding events, I realised that I needed to take some space from her. I wish I had held my ground in our conversations."
Kate, 32 — Morocco
One of the most expensive weddings Kate has been a part of cost her almost $4,000 (£3,200) — and she ended up getting into massive credit card debt for it. "That friend and I don't even talk anymore," she says. "The whole process spiralled out of control financially and taught me that another person's big day is not an obligation for me to destroy my finances to celebrate their happiness.
"There's a ton of pressure to make the bride feel special on her day, particularly for those in the bridal party," she adds. "You don't want to say no, because you want your friend to be happy, but I've definitely had to learn to set boundaries on what I will and won't spend for weddings."
"I think that the majority of [married couples] are so focused on their own spending, that they forget how much those around them will have to spend for them as well," Kate continues. "The more expensive your wedding is, the more pressure you put on your loved ones, especially when you factor in travel, dresses, suits, specific accessory requests, gifts, parties… It's endless. I think a lot of brides and grooms would help their bridal party out a lot if they are considerate of the impact it has on those who just want to celebrate their day."
Mindi, 30 — New York
Mindi also spent a little over $4,000 (£3,200) at her most expensive wedding back in September 2019. "I was in the wedding [party], so I had to spend money on the following: bridesmaid dress, bachelorette party in Las Vegas, bridal shower gift and flights for the bridal shower to Michigan, wedding gift, flights for the wedding to Michigan," she says. "Luckily I didn't have to pay for lodging because I'm originally from Michigan and stayed with family, but I had to pay for Ubers to and from the wedding."
While she didn't go into debt, Mindi says that she had to set a very strict budget for herself and say no to a lot of plans with other friends and family to save money. "Anytime I've been a bridesmaid I feel immense pressure to attend all the events involved, even if it means spending an elaborate amount of money on things that I'm not even that excited for," she says. "The stigma around being a bridesmaid and 'giving your all' for the bride is quite exhausting for me."
Mindi got married earlier this year and kept the festivities relatively inexpensive due to her past experiences. "I did not do a bachelorette party or have bridesmaids so people didn't feel pressured to spend extra money on my wedding festivities," she says. "I personally think bachelorette parties have gotten so out of hand. It should not be a measure of how good of a friend you are if you can't afford or don't feel comfortable with spending this amount of money for a bachelorette."
Carolyn, 29 — California
While Carolyn hasn't gone into debt over wedding spending, she says it has drastically hurt her savings. While she's talked about the draining costs among friends, she says she's never felt comfortable directly talking to the bride.
"I went to my first bachelorette in Vegas in 2016 and spent a little over $1,000 (£800)," she says. "The last wedding I was in this past year had two bridal showers and a bachelorette in Napa for $1,500 (£1,200), and then the wedding gift was an additional $100 (£80). It's really the over-the-top bachelorette parties and all the gifts that have been draining my wallet."
"After being involved in three weddings this year and two more next year, it makes me not want to get married, or at least not make it a big thing," she says. "I would hate to put people in a position where they feel uncomfortable, and money is such a sensitive topic."
Allison, 30 — Washington, D.C.
So far, Allison has spent around $1,700 (£1,360) on a wedding that hasn't happened yet — and she still has a "couple of more things to do," so that number will inevitably rise. While she hasn't gone into debt, being part of multiple weddings has caused a significant financial strain.
"I had previous credit card debt from a toxic and abusive relationship," she says. "When I was asked to be a bridesmaid in two different weddings in an 11-month time period, a lot of available credit went to wedding expenses. I’m still working to pay it off and am considering a second job or side hustle."
Even with this burden, Allison has not brought up how she feels to her friends or family. "I’ve joked with newly engaged friends about needing to sell organs to afford their wedding expenses, but I’ve never actually told them my anxieties around it," she says. "Financial conversations in general make me nervous. I wish I could tell them that I will move heaven and hell to support them, but it will be financially difficult."
Taylor, 35 — North Carolina
Taylor says she has been in 17 weddings and has lost track at the amount of money she has spent. "I always joke and tell people that I would probably have a sizable down payment on a house had I not said yes," she tells Refinery29. "Most of the friends whose weddings I've stood in all own their own homes now. I still rent. I have probably spent an average of $2,000 (£1,600) per wedding, give or take, when each wedding is all said and done.
"Even though I can say no after being asked to be in a wedding or decline going on a bachelorette weekend, it's hard because it's almost expected that you go," she says. "That being said, I feel I put pressure on myself in order to not lose a friendship or hurt that person's feelings.
"I have vented about wedding spending, but have never had a conversation with friends about spending on their wedding," she says. "A conversation about wedding spending is almost as sensitive as talking about finances with your spouse or asking for a raise. Am I the only one who feels that way?"
Taylor thinks that we ask a lot of people when it comes to weddings and bridesmaid expectations. "I thought about making a 35th birthday registry or birthday fund to pay for trips that I had to forego in the past in order to pay my wedding dues," she says. "If I ever marry, I will either have people contribute to the party instead of buying dresses or going on a bachelorette party. I may not even do that, as I feel very uncomfortable asking people to pay for something that they see zero return on."