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Bridesmaids fall around a bride Paige Vickers for Vox

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Going to weddings can be expensive. Here’s how to protect your budget — and energy.

Do you have to go to a bachelor party? Who pays for a bridesmaid dress? Your wedding guest questions, answered.

On the first weekend of October, I attended my eighth wedding of the year. Of these eight weddings, one involved an international flight, two took place in-state, and the rest — bar one — required an overnight stay in another city. As my own Instagram became flooded with confetti-drenched couples, bouquets, and champagne flutes, I soon noticed I wasn’t the only person who seemed to be spending every other weekend at a wedding.

According to The Knot, the US is in the middle of a big wedding boom, with data indicating that around 2.6 million weddings were planned for 2022, up from the 2.2 million average of pre-pandemic years. This research also found that 75 percent of couples who got engaged in 2021 set a wedding date for 2022. “What’s happening right now is the impact of Covid,” says therapist Landis Bejar, founder and director of wedding counseling service AisleTalk in New York City. “Guests have been inundated with all these invitations for weddings that have been postponed, events that were already on the calendar, and for new engagements that happened during the pandemic. We’re really getting bombarded.”

What’s tricky about this year in particular is that this boom of weddings and the events that surround them — bridal showers, bachelor and bachelorette weekends, welcome drinks, post-wedding brunches — is that they’re also coming at a point when our time, energy, and money are more precious than ever. “Between inflation and the impact Covid had on our bank accounts, a lot of people are suffering financially,” says Bejar. “It’s not personal and it’s not a secret. There’s a systemic phenomenon happening right now where we can’t say yes to as many things as we want to, either from a financial perspective or because of the logistics of traveling and being in a large group.” Beyond the potential health risks of socializing, many people are finding they don’t have the physical or emotional energy they once did, which means spending multiple days celebrating can be taxing in a number of ways.

But what’s a guest to do? Even without the implications of the pandemic and economy, weddings come with their own set of complex emotions and expectations. According to Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol, you’re entitled to more autonomy than you likely assumed. “I don’t feel anyone should be obligated to attend something that they just don’t want to go to,” says Swann. “Any time you don’t want to attend something, don’t. That’s it.”

Thankfully, it’s possible to protect your time and money during a packed wedding season without fracturing any friendships in the process — you just need to tread carefully.

Have some empathy, and put yourself in the couple’s shoes

With the multibillion-dollar wedding industry showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, it’s easy to label many weddings and related events as unnecessarily fussy, over the top, and, in some cases, a little inconsiderate of guests’ time and money. However, when it comes to deciding what you’re comfortable sacrificing to attend an event, Bejar believes it’s important to pause and think about the wedding from the couples’ point of view, before you find yourself feeling resentful over needing to make a hard decision. Weddings, at their heart, are a celebration, a coming together of community, and, for many, a cultural tradition. Doughnut walls, expensive venues, and signature cocktails aside, there are many reasons that these events mean a lot to people, especially in 2022.

Bejar suggests considering the time period when the couple may not have been able to celebrate as they’d hoped, as these years of frustration and disappointment can influence the weddings people are planning right now. “Couples are focused on making up for their own lost time,” says Bejar. “People don’t know how many other wedding invitations you’ve gotten this year or even in the span of a few months. No couple who has invited you to their wedding has a sense of that or would factor it in when trying to celebrate their love.”

While empathy is an important first step to understanding why today’s weddings are the way they are, Bejar says it doesn’t necessarily need to inform your final decision. Rather, it’s a helpful exercise to understand why people might be asking so much of their guests right now.

Work out what you can mentally and financially afford

When it comes to your personal resources — emotional, physical, and financial — only you can determine what you have to spare. Most of us aren’t in the habit of ranking our friendships by importance, but when deciding whether you can afford to attend a wedding, you will need to assess the value of everything and everyone involved.

“Like friendship, time and money don’t exist on the same axis,” says Bejar. “When making decisions around weddings it can be helpful to start with the thing that has the least emotion involved, which is usually your budget.” Bejar suggests doing a cost-benefit analysis, wherein you ask yourself about the financial cost of attending the event, followed by the emotional cost of attending or not attending.

“It’s important to look at all these factors and ask yourself: Is there any part of this that I can participate in?” she says. “The conversation about not being able to attend a wedding is very different to a conversation about being able to attend a bachelor party.” If you’ve decided that your attendance at an event is non-negotiable, you can then proceed to do things like research budget-friendly accommodations, search for flight sales, and see if you can borrow or rent an outfit instead of buying something new.

Give bridal party invitations the thought and care they deserve

While being invited to any wedding, destination or otherwise, can be an expensive affair, being asked to be part of someone’s bridal party comes with a whole new set of costs and expectations. According to Swann, it’s important to find out exactly what the bride and groom expect of their bridal party before accepting. “Oftentimes we get really excited and emotionally involved, and we say yes, even though we don’t know what it entails — and then you find out that you have to take a $5,000 trip to Mexico for a bachelorette party,” she says.

It’s also helpful to understand what’s traditionally expected of those in a bridal party. For example, according to Swann, bridesmaids can expect to pay for their own dress and shoes, but should have the option to do their own hair and makeup, unless it’s being paid for by the bride. Taking time to think about what you can afford before giving an answer means you won’t end up letting down a close friend by having to opt out of certain obligations in a few months’ time.

If you’re not in the bridal party but find yourself invited to bachelor and bachelorette events that feel out of your budget, it’s best to bring it up with whoever is organizing the event, rather than the person getting married. Even if you’re not the only person who feels like a plan is getting a little too expensive, Swann warns of speaking up for others, as it can come across as having a mob mentality. Instead, she suggests speaking on behalf of yourself — and your financial situation — and offering concrete solutions that could make the event more affordable, like cooking brunch in your Airbnb instead of going out to eat, or making a dress code more flexible so people feel less obliged to buy something new.

Turn down invitations the right way. Here’s how to RSVP.

The way you RSVP to events can make a big difference to how your decision is received. According to Bejar, the most important thing is giving as much notice as soon as possible. “There are few more irritating things to brides and grooms than having to chase someone down,” she says. “These people are trying to round up head counts so they can get back to vendors, and now it not only feels emotionally difficult that you can’t be there, but you’re also making it a logistical problem.”

So, you know you don’t want to go and the time to share the news has arrived. Now what? The best way to RSVP, according to Swann, is to follow the lead of whoever sent the invite. If you’ve been invited to RSVP by mail, do so. Similarly, if you’ve been sent an invitation through a couple’s wedding website, update your attendance there. Bejar also recommends having an in-person conversation with the couple, if you’re close, as tone can easily be misconstrued in text.

As for how many details you need to share, that’s going to vary from situation to situation. If you’re passing up the invitation of a casual acquaintance or colleague, both Bejar and Swann believe it’s fine to politely RSVP “no” without an explanation. When it comes to turning down invites because of your budget, Swann suggests considering the situation carefully, as it can place pressure on couples to find a way to make the event more affordable for you, either by covering some of your costs themselves or pulling in favors, like carpool arrangements or accommodation discounts. “If you’re truly just tired or burnt out — or you just don’t want to go — don’t give them a reason to try to fix it. Just simply decline and send well wishes,” says Swann.

On the other hand, Bejar believes it can be helpful to be upfront about your finances if you’re speaking to a close friend or family member. “If you keep the fact that your RSVP has to do with finances to yourself, people are left to their own devices to interpret why you’re not coming,” she says. “Vulnerability almost always connects people. It actually often prevents what everyone fears in these conversations: that someone will be mad with you.” The pandemic has also left many couples much more empathetic to people’s unique circumstances. In the same way that friends and family might have once been upset that a couple eloped or had a tiny guest list, most people are now more understanding about declined invitations than they may have been in the past.

When navigating the minefield that weddings can be, it’s helpful to keep returning to what they mean to couples. “Remember that the most important thing your attendance represents is your support for their union and your recognition that this is a special moment for them,” says Bejar. “When you’re having important conversations like these ones, it’s important to bring it back to the heart of the matter which is: Even if I can’t come to your wedding, I want you to know that it’s a big deal and I’m happy for you.”

Gyan Yankovich is a Sydney-based journalist focusing on lifestyle, culture, and friendship.

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