Devin Hessing, 28, started planning for her cousin Emily Spece’s wedding as soon as the invitation landed in her mailbox.
The cousins are close – they grew up together in Sacramento. Hessing, who now lives 40 minutes away in Diamond Springs, California, even had Spece as a bridesmaid in her own wedding five years ago. She called it part of that “payback factor” that comes with family events and wedding season.
Hessing, and husband Chris, decided to make the most of the drive to Sacramento, turning what could’ve been a quick turnaround trip into a two-day “date-night weekend.” The clincher? Chris’ parents were visiting from South Carolina and available to babysit their 6-month-old son for free.
But without Chris’ parents to watch their bundle of joy, Hessing and her husband might not have attended – which is the case for another cousin’s wedding they’ve been invited to.
Making a choice between everyday essentials and a weekend wedding isn’t uncommon for millennials, as 41% have considered skipping a friend’s big day because they couldn’t afford the expenses, compared to 33% of all Americans according to a 2018 study by NerdWallet.
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Between showers, bachelorette and bachelor parties and the big day itself, wedding party members spend an average of about $730, according to a 2018 Bankrate study. Not in the wedding? Even guests not involved in the ceremony spend $630 per wedding by the time travel, outfits and hotels are thrown into the mix.
If you think millennials just need to accept hard financial choices, well, it could be more complicated than that. Many millennials may have more people expecting them to show up on the big day. Social media makes it easier to stay in close contact with friends after high school and college, says Eric Roberge, a financial planner for 30 and 40 year old professionals at Beyond Your Hammock. And, sometimes those friends now live far away.
“Millennials may by more likely to have lots of good friends in far-flung locations,” Roberge said. “Which, in turn, could make it more likely that when you’re invited to a wedding, you have to travel farther and spend more money.”
Higher student debt during the early working years may also contribute to tighter wallets during wedding season, says Byrke Sestok, the president of Rightirement Wealth Partners in Harrison, New York.
In 2018, 33% of millennials had student loan debt compared to 20% of Generation Xers at comparable ages in 2004, according to a recent Federal Reserve Board study, with the median millennial debt at $18,000
However, with the median marriage age set at about 29 men and 27 for women according to the 2013-2017 U.S. Census, millennials are more likely to have friends and family getting hitched – which means higher unexpected costs for the generation that’s least likely to afford them.
Despite a smaller cash flow, millennials are willing to spend more on wedding gifts, averaging $151 per wedding, compared to $124 for Generation X and $113 for baby boomers. Weston said this is most likely because older generations are attending second or third weddings, where guests may either spend less or be asked not to bring a gift at all.
For Alexandra Nitzschke, a 30-year-old frugal fashion influencer, reigning in spending during the wedding season is a priority. She’s a mother of two and the wife of a college campus pastor in Lafayette, Indiana, and their small family gets invited to a flurry of weddings each year, including four this summer.
Nitzschke said to save money, they typically spend $20-$40 on either a gift card for a local restaurant or a favorite book to send as a gift. They won’t travel more than an hour outside of Lafayette for a wedding, and she also tries to rewear summer outfits to cut clothing costs. She credits her Midwestern parents for teaching her how to shop the sales.
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Nitzschke has the right idea – weddings don’t have to break the bank, says Elaine Swann, a lifestyles expert and founder of the Swann’s School of Protocol.
“The wedding is not a fundraiser for the bride and groom to help pay for the wedding itself,” Swann says. “It’s a celebration of their union. So when giving a gift, it doesn’t have to equal the amount the bride and groom spend.”
Presence over presents
While the average wedding cost is over $33,000 – up about $5000 since 2013, according to The Knot, a wedding planning and registry site – there are still lots of options for guests to save some cash.
Build an emergency fund
Roberge tells his millennial clients to earmark a savings account specifically for wedding expenses, similar to an emergency fund. Since the frequency of weddings is higher for their age group, a fund can offset the uptick in expenses if some cash is allocated each month.
“Be aware and plan in advance,” Roberge says. “If you’re in your twenties and thirties and your friends are starting to get married, start saving now.”
Consider the relationship
Your relationship to the couple getting married should be the barometer for how much you spend, Lauren Kay, executive editor for The Knot said. If it’s a family member or close friend, you might spend a bit more than you would on a co-worker or college roommate.
Book travel and shop strategically
Other money saving options include booking in groups to score hotel and flight deals, opting for an AirBnb or night spent at a local friend or family’s house, Kay said. Guests should also attack the gift registry early for the best spending flexibility, consider going in on a group gift or even give something homemade.
She also suggested either rewearing outfits, swapping with friends or using clothing rental services like Rent the Runway to save on clothing.
Skip the parties to save for the big day
Kim Forrest, a writer for WeddingWire, said wedding attendants should be especially wary of early budgeting with pre-wedding events, and even consider skipping the bachelorette or bachelor parties if their budgets don’t have that wiggle room.
“If everyone’s jetting off to Miami and that’s not something you can afford right now, it’s better to go to the main event than spend your money,” Forrest said.
Go if you can, send a card if you can’t
According to the experts, however, the most important thing is to show support for the couple on their big day, even if it’s just with a simple card.
“Attending a wedding is expensive,” Forrest said. “And if there’s anyway for you to attend, I think you should definitely make the effort.’