The hidden costs of attending a wedding


I am secretly obsessed with reading bridezilla stories about greedy and demanding brides. In all fairness to the antiheroes, society places too much pressure on brides, and stress can get to all of us.

But while many of us appreciate how expensive it can be to organise a wedding, we often overlook the financial pressure it can place on wedding guests.

With the spring wedding season about to descend, it's time to get ready - not just with fridge magnets to hold the invitations, but to save for the joyous occasion. In my case, my stepdaughter's wedding.

how much cash to give as a wedding present

The cost of being a wedding guest

It costs a fortune to be a wedding guest. The outfit, transport and accommodation (even more if it's a destination wedding), time off work, babysitting, the bridal party and/or shower (sometimes multiple), the (dreaded) bucks' night, a rehearsal dinner, catching up with family and friends around the event, and often an engagement party.

In China, an invitation is often called a 'red bomb' - 'red' because anything to do with a wedding is always the auspicious colour of red and 'bomb' because it costs a bomb to stuff a red envelope full of cash.

Twenty years ago, at my first wedding, we asked for red envelopes instead of presents. I worried it would be viewed as transactional and uncouth, with several guests still gifting presents. I received a lot of vases, which we then transported in stages from Queensland back to Canberra.

Wishing wells and cash gifts

It's now socially acceptable to contribute through a wedding registry or provide another form of cash.

Registries are not new: major department stores continue to offer these services. But there is now an increasing variety of online wedding registries that cover everything from homewares to honeymoons or just plain old cash. It also makes it easier for the couple to choose something they want.

Now that I enjoy a stable financial position (and having received red envelopes in the past), I like being able to give generously (but not extravagantly) for important occasions. But with the high cost of living, not everyone is able to show such largesse.

That doesn't mean you should exclude yourself from festivities. Unless the bride truly is a bridezilla, there may be other ways to contribute.

For our second-time-lucky wedding, we asked guests to bring a plate of food or help set up the hall, draw caricatures on blackboards, make paella and wontons, perform town crier duties, sing karaoke and chauffeur us in a vintage 1950s car.

These gifts were meaningful to us and helped our guests connect. No special talents Perhaps offer to do errands pre-wedding or be the go-to person for problems on the day.

Wear something you own

I also want to bust a myth: you do not have to buy a new outfit for a wedding. Certainly, do so if it makes you feel happy or buy vintage (aka secondhand). But do not feel pressured to do so.

All eyes will be on the happy couple, and while you might end up in group or family photos, you will not be the centre of attention.

It's also okay to say no to expensive wedding-related activities, such as trips away, if they don't fit your budget.

You can also say no to destination weddings: they chose to elope, not you. But if you know a wedding (or two or three) is coming up, make sure to budget for it, enjoy the event and boogie the night away.

How much cash should you splash? 

Couples now rarely have weddings paid for by their parents; increasingly, they are paying the cost of the event at the same time as saving for - or paying off - a mortgage.

They have usually put a lot of thought, effort and money into staging a special event.

If you are asked to contribute cash, as a rule of thumb, you should contribute at least what you would pay for a three-course meal. I suggest a minimum of $100 and usually around $150 to $200 per person - more if you are close to the couple or wish to be generous.

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed more than a million dollars through frugal living. She is the author of several books including The Joyful Frugalista and The Joyful Startup Guide. Serina blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. She is also the founder of The Joyful Business Club. Her new book, How To Pay Your Mortgage Off in 10 Years is out now!