Experts vs. Everyday Americans

Navigating The Cost Of Wedding Season

The Exclusive Survey
A group of friends sitting down to celebrate their friends wedding.
Author Kelly Anne Smith Headshot

By Kelly Anne Smith

Personal finance writer @KEYWORDKELLY

Some might say marriage is one of the most important milestones in life. So while a wedding is a day for family and friends to gather and celebrate the happy couple, it’s also an opportunity for invited guests to drain their wallets.

Bankrate asked Americans how big of a role their budgets play when it comes to the cost of weddings. Our findings were surprising: While most Americans haven’t turned down a wedding invite due to the cost of attendance, nearly one in three of those who did say it damaged their relationship with the newlyweds. Additionally, there are notable differences across generations on what an appropriate amount to spend on the couple’s big day is.

Not sure how to navigate the etiquette of wedding attendance? We asked a number of experts to sound off on the dos and don’ts of being a wedding invitee, and they also offered some helpful guidance for those who can’t afford to accept every invite.

Question 1

Would you say that it's appropriate for someone to decline a wedding invite because they feel they can’t afford to go?

Wedding gifts with bar chart

Do experts say that it's appropriate for someone to decline a wedding invite because they feel they can't afford to go?

Wedding gifts with bar chart
1

It's completely acceptable to decline a wedding invitation if you can't afford it. You should take a close look at your bank account and budget to decide whether or not attending a wedding is feasible. Costs associated with attending a wedding vary vastly depending on whether or not travel is associated and whether or not you will need to stay the night following the ceremony and reception. . . Once you take a look at the detailed factors at play for attending the wedding related to your budget, it's up to you to decide if you can afford to go or not.

Jeffra Trumpower,
Creative Director, WeddingWire
1

Just as you would regretfully decline if you have a scheduling conflict, it's perfectly appropriate to decline if the wedding does not work for your budget. Attending a wedding can be expensive, especially if travel is involved. If this is the case, don't delay — let the couple know as soon as possible. And then make every effort to attend any local pre-wedding celebrations (like the bridal shower), send a prompt wedding gift, and plan to celebrate with the couple when they return.

Mariam Naficy,
Founder and CEO of Minted
Question 2

Did not attending a wedding because you couldn't afford to go ever negatively impact your relationship with a couple in any way?

Group of bridesmades with the bride.
Are weddings negatively impacting your relationships?

30 percent of those who declined a wedding invite because they couldn't afford to go said their relationship with the couple was negatively impacted.

We asked the experts:

Do you have any advice/tips on avoiding a negative reaction when declining a wedding invite? What is the proper way to decline a wedding invite?

1

If it's a really close friend, don't just send back the RSVP note in the mail with the decline box checked. Pick up the phone and call them to let them know that unfortunately, you can't make it, but you'll be thinking of them. If it's somebody you’re really not that close with, don't worry about it, they probably over-invited anyway!

Jennifer Spector,
Zola Director of Brand
1

For guests who are asked to attend a wedding but are concerned about the cost, be honest and upfront with the to-be-weds. They are, after all, people who love, trust, and want you with them on their special day to celebrate their union. If you're saying no to a family member or close friend, communicate the ways you're trying to make your presence happen before declining the invite — this will go a long way in preserving your relationship. If you need to decline an invitation, do it as soon as possible via your RSVP. There's nothing worse than a couple having to track down their guests in the week before their wedding only to get a "no." Even though you're not attending, it's a nice gesture to send a card with your well-wishes for the couple. This too can go a long way in maintaining your relationship. A stat worth noting: According to The Knot's 2018 Weddings Guest Study, 71 percent of guests considering whether or not to accept an invitation to a wedding is their personal relationship to the couple.

Lauren Kay,
Executive Editor, The Knot
1

First and foremost, it's completely OK to decline a wedding invitation if the event doesn’t work with your schedule, or you can't afford to go. Chances are, there will be a time in your life when you have to decline an invitation to a wedding or a wedding-related event, like a bachelorette party or bridal shower. If you've decided you won't be able to attend a wedding, the first thing you should do is call the couple. I don't recommend relying on a text or email for this. Since this is the couple’s wedding day, it's important to show respect and send well wishes their way. A timely phone call is a great way to avoid hurt feelings and a negative reaction from the couple. If the couple is still upset, show empathy and simply let them know you will be toasting and celebrating them from afar. At the end of the day, there’s not much guests can do to completely change a couple's reaction, however if you're respectful and timely about turning down the invitation, you give them less room to be upset with you.

Jeffra Trumpower,
Creative Director, WeddingWire
Question 3

Should someone send a gift if they are invited to a wedding, but choose not to attend?

Chart showing the percentage of Americans saying they would give a gift if they chose not to attend a wedding.
Chart showing the percentage of Experts saying they would give a gift if they chose not to attend a wedding.
1

If a guest can't attend the wedding they may still want to send a congratulatory note and gift, however, the cost of the gift doesn't have to be as expensive as if they were attended the wedding. For example, a guest can send a bottle of champagne as a wedding gift instead of shopping off the wedding registry.

Anne Chertoff,
Beaumont Etiquette
1

It's not required, but if you can afford it and you care about the relationship, it's a nice gesture to send a gift if you can't attend the wedding. If they are close friends or family members, it's a good idea to give them what you would have gifted if you had attended the wedding. If you're not especially close with the couple, it's still a nice idea to send something, but it's ok if it's not super extravagant.

Kate Donovan,
Style Director of BRIDES Magazine
Question 4

Which of the following factors are appropriate reasons to spend less on a wedding gift?

Chart showing the factors for spending less on a wedding gift.
1

A good rule of thumb for every wedding is to set a total budget and then split that budget between wedding events. I recommend spending about 40 percent on pre-wedding events and 60 percent on the wedding day, including any travel and a gift. Another good rule to follow is if you're a super close friend or a relative, you might want to spend a bit more on a gift than you would for your acquaintance.

Jennifer Spector,
Zola Director of Brand
1

When determining how much to spend on a wedding gift, the primary factors that matter are what can you easily afford and how close are you to the couple. A wedding is not a fundraiser, nor is it a quid pro quo, and contrary to common belief, spending an amount equivalent to the cost of your meal at the reception is not the measure to decide how much to give.

Mister Manners Thomas P. Farley,
America's Trusted Etiquette Expert
Question 5

Do you think it's appropriate to give cash or check for a wedding gift instead of a physical item?

Graph showing that 88% of Americans versus 100% of Experts think that it is appropriate to give cash as a wedding gift instead of a physical item.
1

Cash is highly acceptable for two reasons. First, it may be a cultural norm that the couple practices and so, of course, it would be welcomed. The second reason is that many couples today are either older or have already established living arrangements together and don't need specific gifts. Cash would help them in starting their new life together.

Elaine Swann,
Etiquette Expert & Founder of The Swann School of Protocol
Question 6

Do you think it's in poor taste for a couple to plan a destination wedding where all guests will incur travel expenses to attend?

Wedding gifts with bar chart
1

I think you throw expectation out the window when you plan a destination wedding. Even your close friends and family might not be able to swing the travel costs. To combat this, be sure to give your guests nine to 12 months of notice if you're having a destination wedding.

Carrie Schwab,
Editor-in-Chief and General Manager, Junebug Weddings
1

If a couple has a destination wedding, they have to be prepared that not everyone will be able to attend, due to financial constraints, scheduling issues, or even health concerns. It's a much bigger commitment than a more local wedding destination. That being said, many guests these days are using a friend or family member's destination wedding as an opportunity to travel to a new place and make it into a bigger trip. They may even add on a few extra days for personal travel.

Kate Donovan,
Style Director of BRIDES Magazine
Question 7

How much is too much to spend on someone's wedding as part of the bridal party?

Including, attire, travel, gifts and related festivities, i.e. shower, bachelor/bachelorette parties.

Chart explaining how much is too much to spend on a wedding bridal party.
1

Just like every wedding is unique, so is every wedding party. Some to-be-weds have friends and family with big budgets while others are more financially conscious. At The Knot, we recommend brides and grooms have an open and honest conversation with the members of their wedding party how to discuss expectations regarding financial commitments as well as involvement.

Lauren Kay,
Executive Editor, The Knot
1

No couple should have an expectation that their bridal party members spend at a certain level for the occasion. Being asked to serve as a bridesmaid or groomsman is an honor, and should not be looked at as a role that carries an initiation fee. Both members of the couple should seriously consider the financial burden that being in their wedding party will entail and not become a bridezilla or groomzilla and envision lavish bachelorette getaways to Rio or bespoke tuxedos that cost in the thousands. To be asked to serve as an attendant at a wedding should not require the services of a loan officer.

Mister Manners Thomas P. Farley,
America's Trusted Etiquette Expert

About this survey

Meet the Author

Author Kelly Anne Smith Headshot

Kelly Anne Smith

Personal finance writer @KEYWORDKELLY

Kelly Anne Smith is a personal finance writer for Bankrate. Smith has covered topics ranging from retirement and student loan debt to how millennials manage their money. Through her writing, she hopes to educate and empower consumers to make smart money decisions that work toward financial freedom.

Meet the Experts

  • Anne Chertoff is the COO of Beaumont Etiquette and co-founder of The Plaza Finishing Program, which educates children, teens and adults on various etiquette topics, including business protocol, dining etiquette, social graces, royal etiquette and weddings. For over 15 years Anne has been a wedding editor at various wedding media outlets including Brides, Martha Stewart Weddings and WeddingWire. Her wedding etiquette and wedding style content and quotes have appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Vogue and hundreds of broadcast, digital and print outlets from around the world.

    Anne Chertoff Instagram Beaumont Etiquette.com
  • Elaine Swann is one of the leading and most nationally known lifestyle and etiquette experts in the country. She is the founder of The Swann School of Protocol. Elaine has traveled the country sharing her advice with professional organizations, universities, and corporations. With 17 independently owned and operated Swann School across the United States, Elaine works diligently to empower her etiquette consultant partners to provide world-class etiquette and social training.

    Elaine has gained notoriety by appearing on numerous news and talk shows including the TODAY Show, CNN Headline News, the Dr Oz show, Megyn Kelly, Access Hollywood Live and many more. She’s been featured on radio and quoted in countless newspapers and national magazines, such as HGTV, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Modern Bride magazine and more.

    Elaine Swann Twitter Elaine Swann Instagram Elaine Swann Facebook Elaine Swann.com
  • Mariam Naficy, Founder and CEO of Minted, is a pioneer in e-commerce and crowdsourcing. Mariam founded Minted, a marketplace of independent designers, with the mission of bringing the best in independent design to consumers everywhere. Minted sells wall art, stationery, and home goods designed by independent designers and artists to consumers, and also serves as a platform for sourcing design for other retailers and brands. Mariam co-founded Eve.com, the first online cosmetics retailer, in 1998 and sold it successfully in 2000. She sits on the Boards of Yelp and Every Mother Counts and on the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council. Mariam was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company in 2014, and one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2009. Mariam is a graduate of Williams College and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

    Mariam Naficy Twitter Minted Weddings Twitter Minted Weddings Instagram Minted.com
  • As Executive Editor of The Knot, Lauren Kay scours the globe for of-the-minute wedding trends and design secrets. Lauren loves to share her wedding expertise with engaged couples and industry pros alike. She has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America and local news segments across the county. Lauren lives in New York City with her husband Adam and children George and Eleanor.

    Lauren Kay Twitter The Knot Twitter The Knot Instagram The Knot.com
  • Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is an etiquette expert, speaker and author who inspires audiences of all types to master essential practices for success in life.

    Mister Manners Twitter Mister Manners Instagram Mister Manners Facebook Mister-Manners.com.
  • Kate Donovan is the Style Director at Brides, the country’s foremost authority on engagement, weddings, and marriage. Kate is at the forefront of lifestyle and wedding trends, and is known for designing inspirational palettes and curating chic and fresh decor ideas. She covers tabletop, floral designs, wedding cakes, and food trends, as well as decor and registry, offering creative solutions for couples looking for a personalized wedding experience.

    Prior to joining Brides, Kate honed her skills at a range of fashion and shelter publications, including InStyle, Martha Stewart Living, and Domino.

    Kate received a BFA in Printmaking and Art History from the Rhode Island School of Design. Kate’s artistic curiosity is translated into a passion for travel, flowers, and all things food related (including pots, pans, and all the nuts and bolts of creating a gorgeous kitchen). Kate has lived in Rome, Edinburgh, Santa Fe, and, for the past 12 years, New York City.

    Kate Donovan Instagram BRIDES.com
  • Jeffra Trumpower is the Creative Director at WeddingWire and an avid wedding trend-spotter based in Washington, D.C. She leverages her keen eye for detail and visual aesthetic to constantly identify new wedding trends -- one of her newest favorites being interactive food stations!

    Jeffra Trumpower Instagram WeddingWire Twitter WeddingWire.com
  • Jennifer leads the brand marketing team at Zola, the wedding company that will do anything for love. Jennifer was married on New Year’s Eve 2015, and as a Zola bride she loved the brand so much she joined the company. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

    Zola Instagram Zola Twitter Zola Pinterest Zola.com
  • As Editor-in-Chief and General Manager at Junebug Weddings, Carrie works to bring the beauty and soul of weddings to couples all around the world. In her time at Junebug, Carrie has worked alongside her team as well as industry experts to curate some of the world's most beloved wedding photo collections, which have been shared by publications like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, and Daily Mail to name a few. Having planned her own wedding in 2015, Carrie feels uniquely tied to Junebug's mission to empower couples and even went as far as to document her journey as an engaged woman in the popular From Blogger to Bride series. Outside of weddings, Carrie loves to spend time with her husband, Phil, and two dogs, Miles and Dewey.

    Junebug Weddings Instagram Junebug Weddings Pinterest JunebugWeddings.com Carrie Schwab Instagram

Experts vs. Everyday Americans: Navigating The Cost Of Wedding Season

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