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Weddings call for celebration, but they can be costly — and not just for the happy couple.
It’s no surprise that many guests are facing sticker shock when planning to attend their loved ones’ nuptials amid the challenging economic environment. lnflation and higher interest rates are making 2023 an exceptionally expensive year for wedding guests.
Roughly 6 in 10 (62 percent) of this year’s wedding attendees have at least one financial concern, according to a new Bankrate survey. Nearly 4 in 10 (36 percent) say they’ll be more conservative with their spending due to the state of the economy, while around 1 in 5 (21 percent) believe that wedding attendance costs will strain their budgets. Almost 1 in 5 (18 percent) will take on credit card debt to be able to attend. Millennials and Gen Zers — who are more likely to attend and spend at weddings — are feeling those concerns at higher rates than their older counterparts.
“People talk a lot about how expensive it is to organize a wedding — and it is — but sometimes the cost of attending is understated,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate. “It can really add up, especially if you’re invited to multiple weddings in a given year.”
Key insights on the cost of wedding season
- Roughly a quarter of Americans plan to attend a wedding this year. 27 percent of U.S. adults plan to attend, or have already attended, at least one wedding in 2023 — including 38 percent of millennials and 37 percent of Gen Zers. Twenty-three percent of Gen Zers and 22 percent of millennials say they will attend more than one wedding, compared to 8 percent of Gen Xers and 4 percent of baby boomers.
- Wedding attendance costs are adding up.Weddings guest plan to spend an average of $611 per wedding this year, including an average of $287 on travel and accommodations, $180 on gifts and $144 on attire and grooming.
- Most wedding attendees have at least one financial concern. 36 percent will be more conservative with their spending due to the state of the economy. Additionally, 21 percent say they’ll feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable with, 21 percent believe that wedding attendance costs will strain their budgets and 18 percent will take on credit card debt to be able to attend.
- Younger generations plan to spend more as wedding guests than older generations. Gen Zers plan to spend the most overall this year on attending weddings ($1,211), followed by millennials ($1,191), Gen X ($974) and baby boomers ($667). Gen Zers plan to spend the most per wedding on average, at $646 per wedding, compared to $542 per wedding for baby boomers.
The true cost of being a wedding guest in 2023
The year 2022 was a boom year for weddings. Market research firm The Wedding Report found as many as 2.5 million weddings were planned last year, the most since 1984, as COVID-19 restrictions eased and more people became comfortable attending large gatherings.
This year, wedding guests can expect fewer wedding invitations, as the number of weddings in 2023 will likely dip back closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to Jessica Bishop, founder of The Budget Savvy Bride, a website that helps couples budget for their wedding. There were about 2.1 million weddings in 2018 and 2019, according to the Wedding Report.
Even if there are fewer weddings this year, mailboxes are filling up with invitations — and the cost to attend those once-in-a-lifetime events can add up quickly. According to new Bankrate data, the average wedding guest plans to spend an average of $611 per wedding this year. Wedding guests plan to spend an average of $287 per event on travel and accommodations, $180 on gifts and $144 on attire and grooming.
Gender, geographic area and income also affect wedding guests’ spending.
Men are much bigger spenders as wedding guests, on average, than women, at $694 compared to $530. Here’s how men compare to women within common spending categories as wedding guests, per event:
- $321 for men and $253 for women on travel/accommodations
- $209 for men vs. $152 for women on gifts
- $164 for men and $125 for women on attire/grooming
Additionally, Northeasterners ($774) splurge significantly more on wedding guest expenses than residents of other geographic areas. The average spending among Midwesterners is $605, compared to $569 among Southerners and $531 among Westerners.
Wedding attendees with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more plan to spend an average of $912 per wedding this year, considerably more than other income brackets. Those earning between $80,000 and $99,999 are expected to spend $529 per wedding, on average. Those with annual household incomes between $50,000 and $79,999 came in at $527, and the average is $463 among people who bring in less than $50,000 annually.
Wedding guests feel financial pressure amid economic concerns
With the U.S. economy in an uncertain state, wedding guests are feeling pressure to reel back their spending and plan ahead.
“Like just about everything else, inflation and higher interest rates are taking a toll on wedding attendees,” Rossman says.
Though nearly 4 in 10 (38 percent) have money specifically set aside for weddings this year, 36 percent of wedding attendees say they’ll be more conservative with their spending — such as gifts, travel and attire — due to the state of the economy. Also, 21 percent will feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable with and 21 percent believe that wedding attendance costs will strain their budgets. Nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent) will take on credit card debt to be able to attend.
Rossman says that while it’s great to celebrate with friends and family, he’d “caution against taking on credit card debt in the process” as the average credit card charges nearly 20 percent. The only exception to that rule is if you’re using a credit card to earn rewards and can pay down your credit card immediately, according to Bishop.
“I’m a huge fan of credit card rewards to get free travel,” Bishop says. “But that being said, it does take the discipline of knowing what you can afford each month.”
Younger wedding guests are facing even bigger sticker shock
Younger generations are getting hit with more wedding invites, and spending more as wedding guests. Thirty-eight percent of millennials and 37 percent of Gen Zers plan to attend at least one wedding this year, with 23 percent of Gen Zers and 22 percent of millennials slated to attend more than one wedding. That’s compared to 8 percent of Gen X and 4 percent of baby boomers.
Gen Zers plan to spend the most overall this year on attending weddings ($1,211), followed by millennials ($1,191), Gen X ($974) and baby boomers ($667). And inflation isn’t helping — consumer prices increased 6 percent from a year earlier in February.
With prices still high, millennials plan to give the most expensive gifts this year: an average of $201 per wedding, compared to $157 for Gen Zers, $180 for Gen X and $160 for baby boomers. Gen Zers plan to spend the most on attire and grooming: an average of $214 per wedding, compared to $151 for millennials, $103 among Gen Xers and $100 among baby boomers.
Among those attending weddings this year, Gen Zers and millennials (both at 68 percent, respectively) are significantly more likely than their older Gen X and baby boomer counterparts (at 56 percent and 48 percent, respectively) to feel at least one financial concern.
Over 1 in 4 (26 percent) of Gen Zers and 24 percent of millennials who anticipate attending a wedding this year will feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable with, compared to 16 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of baby boomers.
Wedding guest budgeting tips
Need help navigating the cost of attending a wedding? Experts offered some helpful guidance for those looking to bring down the costs of being a wedding guest.
1. Include wedding guest costs in your budget for the year
From outfits and gifts to travel and lodgings, there’s a lot to consider — and there’s no downside to preparing early. Budgeting and being intentional about setting money aside for wedding guest expenses are key.
“A budget is essentially a reflection of your values,” Bishop said. “If you’re budgeting according to what matters to you, then you’re saving every month to be able to afford to participate in these big life events for the people that you really care about.”
Guests can expect to spend hundreds of dollars to attend a wedding, so the earlier you start saving, the better. Consider putting your funds in a high-yield savings account to capitalize on the higher interest rates and earn more on your savings. It may seem presumptuous to start saving before you’ve been invited or asked to be in a wedding, but there’s no real downside. If you don’t need those funds for wedding season, you can use that extra cash to invest or accomplish another financial goal.
2. Lower your cost by splitting wedding gifts or renting your outfit
Being a wedding guest is expensive, but there are savvy ways to cut down the costs.
“There are ways to lower the cost of attendance, such as going in on a group gift or giving something homemade,” Rossman said. “You could also rent your wedding attire or acquire something secondhand.”
Ask your family or friends who’ve been invited if they’re willing to split the price of a nicer gift on the couple’s registry. If you’re on a tight budget, consider purchasing something affordable yet meaningful because it’s the thought that counts.
“Pooling resources with other friends towards a bigger item can be a great way to be careful about how much you’re contributing but still be a part of giving something meaningful to the couple,” Bishop said.
3. Know that it’s okay to decline some invitations
Saying no is always an option, too. That might mean skipping pre-wedding events or not attending the wedding altogether. Give yourself grace and remind yourself it’s okay to decline an invite, especially if attending the wedding will put you in debt or negatively affect your finances. Be honest about why you’re declining, and consider sending a card or a small gift to celebrate.
Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Pl to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Pic. Total sample size was 3,606 U.S. adults, including 960 who are attending at least one wedding in 2023. Fieldwork was undertaken Feb. 28-March 3, 2023. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.