I’ve been invited to five weddings this year, some of them in other countries, as my boyfriend’s plus-one. I’m excited to go (a lot of these people I now consider my friends too, and of course, destination weddings are always fun), but I’m not really sure how to pay for all of this. Between buying a new dress (or shoes, bag, whatever) and paying for airfare or a rental car and a hotel, that’s several hundred dollars a pop at minimum.
I feel like my boyfriend expects me to shell out to go to all of these events with him. I don’t want to miss out or let him down, but I feel like my annual financial plan completely revolves around his weddings (last year was the same thing). By comparison, I haven’t taken him to any weddings yet, but we do visit my family twice a year. However, those trips don’t come out to nearly as much money, both because my parents often chip in for his ticket and because we don’t need to pay for a hotel once we’re there.
Is it unfair of me to ask that he pay for some of my expenses or that we come up with some other kind of system? Or should I suck it up and be grateful that I get to go have fun at a wedding in Portugal?
It sounds like you’ve got a couple of separate problems muddled together. The first is that your boyfriend has assumed you’re willing to pay to attend all his friends’ weddings without asking you first or discussing how you’ll split costs. Second, you need to think about your financial priorities more broadly and where these weddings fit into them, not the other way around.
I know firsthand that paying for weddings (and deciding who should pay for them) can be complicated. The year I turned 30, I went to 14 weddings including my own. It was a horrendously expensive period of my life, and it took me a while to recover from it financially. But looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. It was a giddy, dancy, champagne-and-filet-mignon-filled year.
That said, I did a few things to prevent myself from total bankruptcy, some of which could be helpful to you. One was to ban all other social plans — at least ones that involved paying for things. (Which wasn’t actually that hard, because I was always at weddings.) I also established a rule with my husband — who was then my boyfriend — that whoever was the primary friend of the couple getting married would cover both of our travel expenses (and make the reservations). This worked well, because all of our invitations were roughly split between the two of us. But it sounds like this is not the case for you and your boyfriend, so you’ll have to come up with some other ideas. More on that in a minute.
Another piece of advice: You do not need to buy multiple new dresses (and certainly not new shoes or a bag) for these weddings. I promise that no one will care — or probably even notice — if you wear the same thing to most or even all of them. Yes, yes, I know, the pictures! But seriously, just find (or better yet, borrow) one outfit that you feel great in and wear it shamelessly until it falls apart or suffers a wine-stained death. (See more tips on saving money as a wedding guest here.)
Now for the part about your personal priorities. When you look at the year ahead, imagine that you didn’t have to go to any weddings at all. What would you spend your money on? More specifically, what does it mean to “suck it up” and have fun in Portugal from a financial standpoint? If it will put you into stressful credit-card debt, you might need to rethink your plans.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go. But you will need to make some careful decisions about what it will cost and where the funds will come from. The point is that every time you put money toward something, you are choosing not to put it toward something else. Your boyfriend needs to understand this too.
Another way to clarify what’s “worth it” to spend money on is to consider your “values” more broadly. I know it sounds abstract, but it’s a good thought exercise, especially when you’re gearing up for a big money talk with your partner. You don’t need to devote hours of your time to this. Psychology Today has a useful guide to determining your values that takes about 20 minutes. You could ask your boyfriend to do it too.
After some reflection, you may realize that you value friendships and experiences more than financial security (of course, most people do value all of those things, which is the tricky part). Or maybe you’re in a place where financial security is becoming more important to you. There’s no right answer here, but it’s wise to understand your motives, especially as you make decisions — with your boyfriend and on your own — for the year ahead.
Next, ask your boyfriend if you could talk more about your plans for attending weddings. All of the normal rules about initiating a money conversation with your partner apply here: Give him some advance notice so that he can prepare. Acknowledge the inherent awkwardness of the topic. Be kind. Follow a structure. Don’t try to solve everything right away. Then take some space and return to the topic again once you’ve both had time to think.
It sounds trite, but remember to start and end with positive statements: “I’m really excited to go to all these weddings with you, but I’m a little concerned that you RSVP’d without consulting me about how they would affect my budget. I’d love for us to be on the same page about how our decisions affect each other financially. Can we talk more about how to split these costs and how to communicate about these decisions in the future? All of these trips sound really fun, and I want to enjoy them without being stressed about money.”
You could also suggest some potential solutions. One is that you don’t attend all of these weddings with him (assuming there are a few you don’t mind skipping). If he makes more money than you do, you could split the costs based on your respective incomes (maybe you split them 60-40). Or you could simply explain how much money you’ve budgeted to spend on weddings this year and ask him to make up the difference.
This will probably be a tricky talk, and you won’t come away with simple answers, especially when you first bring it up. But be patient. The best thing about this process is that it teaches you how to talk about money with your boyfriend more generally. Allow it to be helpful for both of you.
The Cut’s financial advice columnist Charlotte Cowles answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.