This Wedding Season Is Going to Cost You

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Getty

Earlier this month, I didn’t go to a bachelorette party. I couldn’t afford it. A flight across the country? A five-star resort? Tables at clubs? Drunk late-night room service? I couldn’t swing it. And, worst of all, when I finally told the maid of honor that I couldn’t make it, promising I’d be at the wedding, it was brought to my attention that I had also misread the save-the-date. The wedding was not, as I thought, a five-hour drive from my home in Los Angeles but, in fact, an international flight away.

Dollar signs swirled around my panicked skull. My heart stopped beating. Sweat — so much sweat. Was I being dramatic? Maybe. But this was just the first of this season’s weddings.

What’s on the docket for me this absolutely insane wedding season, you ask? Three weddings, three bachelorette parties, three engagement parties, three bridal showers, three wedding gifts. And apparently this isn’t even that bad! That poor maid of honor who bore witness to my panic sweat has NINE (9!) weddings this year — so many that her boyfriend is peddling his wares on Grailed to afford all the miscellaneous wedding costs. Another friend has enough destination weddings in Europe this summer it’s actually cheaper for her to house-swap and post up in Paris for a month, burning the midnight oil work-from-Europe-ing, instead of flying back and forth from New York a trillion times.

Wedding culture, by the way, doesn’t come naturally to me. My parents, who met in a vegetarian commune in Brooklyn, decided to forgo a classic proposal, instead discussing the pros and cons of marriage before agreeing it just made logistical sense. There was no engagement ring, no engagement party, and absolutely no bachelorette. So now, as a 28-year-old lesbian from Park Slope, I didn’t expect the whole everyone-is-getting-married thing would happen so suddenly. (I was in a sorority in college, but still.) And I certainly did not see this whole “post-pandemic” “nuptial boom” coming.

But even I couldn’t escape the inevitable. According to a report by the Knot, an estimated 2.6 million weddings are planned for 2022, up from 2.2 million in 2019. And the reason for the massive uptick in “I do”s is pretty straightforward: COVID. Couples are less afraid of last-minute cancellations due to spikes in the virus, and they are less worried about the health risks of hosting large events. (And, according to that report, we’re not just seeing more weddings — we’re seeing bigger ones, on the same scale as pre-pandemic sizes.)

All this begs the question, How the fuck am I going to pay to go to all these weddings?! Because I am personally of the belief that transparency will help us all rise up and maybe one day be able to afford, I don’t know, an L.A.–to–New York flight (or maybe a studio apartment, if I’m really open!) — I offer myself up as tribute for wedding-budget analysis. And to answer said question — and perhaps help you answer the same — I did what any responsible, panicked, overgrown child would do: I called my financial adviser and begged for help.

As money is a “sensi subject,” as I’ll affectionately call it, let me preface it with this: I do actually have a financial adviser. This isn’t a bit. As a mid-level marketing writer and an editorial freelancer, you’re right — a financial adviser is a bit extra. But after my mom died in my early 20s, I collected a portion of her life-insurance policy and was afraid to manage it alone. Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick, a financial adviser at O’Keeffe Financial Partners, helps women make smarter financial choices, develop financial literacy, and, most important, find financial empowerment. Plus, Kristin has been to a lot of weddings.

My first question was more of a cry for help: Please, I begged Kristin, tell me I’m not the only one calling you mid–wedding-season panic attack. Thankfully, I am not alone. Not only is the wedding boom real, she confirmed, but she brought something to my attention that I hadn’t even thought about: inflation, a.k.a. everything costs more. And it probably costs more than you thought it would when you first got that save-the-date in December.

Flights cost more. Food costs more. Everything costs more, Kristin explains. “In this world of inflation, you have to be more diligent about planning and thoughtful about these things because you’ll just lose your mind.”

According to Kristin’s calculations, I make about $60,000 a year after taxes. If I allocate 10 percent of my take-home salary a year to travel — which is an important expense for me, as my family lives in New York and I live in L.A. — that means I have $6,000 I can spend this year. For the sake of this exercise, my wedding budget will come entirely from my travel budget (because Lord knows I will not be canceling my gym membership to go to anyone’s nuptials). This means that if I wanted to skip out on trips to see my family, my girlfriend’s family, and any personal “no reason” travel, I’d have $6,000 to spend on weddings. And since I have three weddings, I can, thus, spend $2,000 per wedding without going totally broke.

Thing is, there is no way I am consciously spending six THOUSAND dollars to attend weddings this year. Sorry, brides — I love you, and the world may be falling apart before my very eyes, but I’m not yet giving up my retirement funds to take my top off at the Mango Deck in Cabo.

So, once again sweating, Kristin gives it to me straight: “Emma, you can’t go.
You can’t go to three weddings, three bachelorette parties, and then go on a fancy trip this year. That’s just a sacrifice you have to make.”

So let’s say I pick two weddings and two bachelorette parties. How do I budget? Kristin reminds me that, just like a regular budget, there are fixed costs and variable costs.

“Fixed costs are things like your car, your insurance, your food, your cable bill — things like that. And there’s your variable costs, which are things like buying new jeans or getting your nails done or going to that extra workout class,” she explains. Weddings are the same.

“There are certain things that are baked in,” Kristin says. “You have to fly there, right? That’s a fixed cost. You obviously want to do your best to find the cheapest flight. But there’s really no way to circumvent an airplane. Your lodging is a fixed cost, but you can be thoughtful about that. There’s always going to be cheaper options.” Can I share a hotel room? Can I hitch a ride? Can I offer to help pay for gas? Being thoughtful about fixed costs is an important way to stay in control of your budget.

But when it comes to variable costs for weddings, this is where you can be really smart. Wear dresses (why not rent or borrow from a friend?) twice! Bring snacks on your flight! Take the subway from the airport.

Bachelorette parties can be a bit more challenging: “Because somebody else is essentially planning and telling you where you’re going to stay, where you need to be … then there’s dinners and there’s going out and there’s transportation … You don’t think about the margarita at the pool and then the $42 salad and then Ubers. It’s so expensive.” Which is why, when it came down to it, Kristin and I agreed, for me, I was better off saying no to the aforementioned bachelorette party.

But to some extent, no matter how comfortable you are RSVP’ing “no,” no one wants to hurt their bride’s feelings by declining a once-in-a-lifetime invitation to their only bachelorette party! How am I supposed to balance my own financial needs with the possibility my friend will never speak to me again if I can’t afford a table at E11even in Miami, let alone the flight?

While Kristin is an excellent financial adviser who has guided me in making smarter financial decisions for years, some of the smartest advice she gave me during our wedding talk had less to do with money and more to do with being a good friend: Just be honest.

“You can really get caught up in what everybody else is doing,” she says. “And this is where you really have to be thoughtful.” Her advice: Have a conversation with your bride of the moment. Tell her you need to know where your presence is going to be most felt.

“Be honest with your friends and family about your situation,” Kristin says. “Say, ‘Hey, my goal is to save money,’ or ‘My goal is to stay within my budget. Because of that, I have to be thoughtful about my trips. Would you rather me fly to Palm Springs for the bachelorette party, or would you rather me fly to New York for the wedding?’”

You’re going to have to set boundaries. It may feel impossible to make everyone happy, but being honest about your financial goals and your budget, while also understanding which events are most important to the bride, is the best way to stay out of debt without setting your friendships on fire.

All in all, this sucks. Shouldn’t we be “celebrating eternal love” instead of hashing out some sort of internalized quid-pro-quo balancing act? I spoke with Jade, a bride-to-be, who isn’t having a bachelorette party at all because the mere thought of the financial politics is so off-putting she’d rather just skip the whole thing.

“My friends all keep trying to convince me to have one anyway, but I can sense a relief in their voice when I say I want to skip it,” she says. Some of her bridesmaids, though, are still pushing for a change of heart, Jade says, “because they want to go on a trip.” “Those friends are the same friends who have stable, semi-high-paying jobs, which I don’t think is a coincidence,” she continues. “I sometimes think, when I’m 50, Will I regret not having a bachelorette? … But I think the trauma of figuring out the financial aspect of it is a good-enough reason to skip it altogether.”

Is it possible that our wedding celebrations have gotten so big, spanning so many days with showers and brunches and weekend getaways, that scaling back will be the new all-in? Will there be a day when we’re so wedding’d out — so drained of money, dance moves, and the strength to stand in the world’s most uncomfortable shoes for an entire cocktail hour — that we’ll all let out a collective groan every time a new wedding invitation comes in the mail?

That sucks too! I want to celebrate my friends and family finding life partners who make them happier than I could ever dream for them. But alas, we live in a world in which breathing — let alone attending “The pandemic is over; let’s drain our bank accounts on ice sculptures for our 300 closest friends”–size parties — is really fucking expensive. Couples are going all out, but, unfortunately, not all of us can go all out with them.

So as I plow through this insane wedding season, I’ll be taking Kristin’s suggestions as gospel. Being honest about what I can pay for, and what I can’t, is the best way to make it through without cashing out my 401(k). At the end of the day, these aren’t just brides; they are my friends, and I love them — and I’ll be letting them know I simply cannot drop $2,000 a pop to celebrate their forever love. And so far, as all my brides are reasonable, wonderful people, they have understood. They know firsthand how expensive these shindigs are and have been both appreciative and understanding of my financial limits. And while maybe they are a little bummed I won’t be there to tear up the dance floor on their big night, I make sure to remind them that they are welcome to wear white and buy me a three-course dinner to celebrate their everlasting love some other time.

This Wedding Season Is Going to Cost You