Are your friends' weddings costing you a fortune?

Published by Sarah Coles on 05 July 2010.
Last updated on 24 August 2011

wedding preparation

Amy Davies, a 32-year-old mum from Crouch End in north London, is going to four weddings this summer and one in November. She's being as careful as she can with her money, but already the bills are mounting.

"Although I'm really looking forward to the weddings, I feel totally overwhelmed by the cost. Even with saving and budgeting it's going to be a push," she says.

It's no surprise Amy's finding the costs difficult to manage – she could easily end up spending over £1,000 celebrating other people's weddings this year.

However, according to CreditExpert, she's actually managing the finances far better than most of us: 1.6 million people have gone into debt in order to fund the expense of being a wedding guest.

Amy's efforts to keep the costs down means she's also spending less than most guests. A survey by Direct Line claims the average person spends more than £290 on each wedding they attend. Santander puts the figure even higher, at £380.

Ease the financial burden

It doesn't have to be so horribly expensive, though, because there are ways you can cut the costs. According to Santander, we spend an average of £114 attending the hen or stag do.

Amy has been invited to all the hen nights, and will go to all but one. When the hen night was in Croatia, she declined the invitation.

She says: "Most of the hen nights are local, and the brides are very understanding, so they don't try to do anything too expensive. For most of them, I'll spend about £95."

However, Amy makes an effort to keep the costs down further by getting the last bus or train home, sharing cabs where necessary, and looking for restaurants and bars with special offers.

Travel and accommodation

As for the big day itself, Santander found the biggest expense to be travel and accommodation, at £210 – but there are a number of ways to bring the cost down.

Amy, for example, books well in advance: "One of the weddings is in the South of France. I found out when the flights were being released and made sure I was first in the queue on the day.

"I got them for £50 return from Ryanair. And I'm not taking hold luggage, because it adds more cost."

There are other ways to cut travel costs. Helen Frame, a 35-year-old scientist from north London, travelled up to Edinburgh for a wedding last year.

"My boyfriend and I left it a bit late to book the tickets and discovered it was going to cost a fortune, so I rang the bride and asked her who else would be travelling from London.

"She gave me a few numbers and we were able to share a lift. It only cost us £40 in petrol money – and we made some great friends to enjoy the wedding with," she says.

Amy has taken sharing to even further lengths. "One wedding is in Oxfordshire," she says. "so I'm getting a lift with three friends.

"We're sharing a Travelodge hotel room too for a night, which will cost us £27 each. Two will be sharing a bed and one will be on the sofa-bed."

She warns that it's best to do your own research when it comes to accommodation. The wedding invitation suggested a number of hotels and arranged a special deal with one for the wedding party, but her arrangement still proved cheapest.

The wedding gift

The next biggest expense you could face is the wedding present – with people spending an average of £131 each.

Amy has reduced this by clubbing together with friends to buy something striking from the wedding list – this also means their present will be more memorable than just buying a couple of plates from the dinner service.

If you have a useful skill like taking photos, making cakes or arranging flowers, you can offer your services in place of a present. And even if you don't possess such skills, you can still do useful jobs, such as making sure elderly relatives get a car to the reception.

It's worth asking the bride and groom: they're likely to have a list of little jobs as long as your arm and would value your help far more than an overpriced toaster.

What to wear?

Next in the list of expensive outlays is the outfit and accessories, which the Direct Line survey found cost £123, plus £37 for styling.

All the wedding attendees said they wouldn't necessarily buy something new for each wedding and may wear the same outfit if the guests don't cross over.

But even where people from the same group are getting married, there are different things that can be done with the same outfit, to save you buying another. This is easier for men, who can get away with the same suit with a different shirt and tie.

But women can also buy a plainer outfit and dress it up with a different jacket, shawl or bag. If you buy a striking print, on the other hand, you're restricted to one wedding, unless you want to be known as 'the woman in the flowery dress'.

The added extras

Another major area to take seriously when making plans is the unnecessary extras, which can really add up.

Santander's research found people spend £68 on meals before and after the wedding, £70 on drinks at the wedding, and £78 on childcare for the day. There's no reason why you need to spend a great deal before and after the wedding.

You don't have to stay all weekend, and there's no need to eat out if you can stay with friends or pack picnics.

Meanwhile, you can save on childcare by roping in family and friends. Amy, for example, asks her ex-partner to look after her two-year-old daughter when she goes to a wedding.

In addition to bringing down each individual cost, it's also important to address where the money is going to come from.

Santander found 27% of people use savings, while 14% use a credit card – which is asking for trouble unless it has a 0% period on purchases. Others borrow in other ways, such as from family and friends (3%).

However, 65% take the most sensible approach and use their salary. Amy is on a tight budget, but points out that you get plenty of notice before a wedding, so there's ample opportunity to save up.

"I've had to make a lot of sacrifices," she says. "I have to say no to nights out, so I can afford the hen nights and weddings. But I'm not complaining: it's going to be a lovely summer, and all the weddings are going to be good fun."

For some people, budgeting is a parsimonious way to address a celebration. But for the one-in-seven of us who have turned down a wedding because of the cost it's a way to ensure you can celebrate without breaking the bank.

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