Getting hitched is an expensive affair, but spare a thought for the guests. Stag dos and hen parties in Las Vegas or Ibiza or Amsterdam, glitzy foreign and “multi-day” weddings, multiple outfits to avoid being photographed in the same dress or suit … some twenty- and thirtysomethings say they are wiping out their savings and building up debts as a result of attending costly events.
Take the case of Georgina Childs. In the space of just four years, the PR consultant attended 15 hen dos and 21 weddings, all of which set her back a staggering £10,000.
“When I first started going to weddings in 2014, I lived at home with my parents,” says Childs, who is 30. “So without having a bulky amount of London rent to pay, it was easier to pay out for weddings. I bought new outfits, stayed in nice B&Bs with my friends and was generous with my wedding gifts.
“At the time, I don’t think I realised quite how many weddings I would attend in the next four years and how much I would spend.”
One wedding in Lake Garda in northern Italy cost Childs more than £650 once she had shelled out for transport, accommodation and a dress, while a hen do in Granada in Spain set her back a similar amount.
“Retrospectively, I couldn’t really afford it and shouldn’t have gone,” she admits. By the end of 2017, she had racked up £2,000 on a credit card and was forced to move back in with her parents.
In hindsight she wishes she had been more frugal from the start. “I could perhaps have looked at using the money as a flat deposit or even for travelling the world. Having said that, I have many memories with many friends.”
According to two surveys this year, from planning website Bridebook and Brides magazine, the cost of the average “full” wedding has hit £30,000. However, the price is also spiralling out of control for guests, with those attending the nuptials splashing out an average of £1,015, according to a recent survey from loan provider Provident.
“New outfits, wedding presents, travel and often accommodation costs all mean that a busy wedding season can end up being extremely costly for guests,” says Jack Duckett, senior consumer lifestyles analyst at Mintel. “While in the past guests may have recycled wedding garments, the omnipresence of social media arguably adds pressure to create new looks for every wedding, for fear of being photographed in the same outfit at multiple events.”
When Gemma Robinson’s brother-in-law chose to get married in Cyprus last year, she had no idea it would end up costing an eye-watering £8,000 and “wipe out” their savings.
“We had to go for a week because of the way the flights worked out,” says Robinson, from Manchester. The costs piled up after her husband and son were asked to be groomsmen, and her daughter a flower girl.
“I assumed they would pay for their outfits, but they didn’t, so that meant my husband’s suit cost £200, and because she wanted the little boys to wear matching Hugo Boss shirts, that cost £70, and then we had to pay for Sarah’s flower girl dress, which cost £70, plus shoes which were £30.”
The couple had already splashed out on an expensive family trip to the US just the month before, which they had already paid for. “We had to use money we’d received for our own wedding to pay for it. We were absolutely skint from it.”
Jade Beer, editor of Condé Nast Brides magazine and author of The Almost Wife, also says that weddings today are becoming increasingly extravagant – and expensive. “In 2018, they can easily extend over more than two days and have an itinerary of activities that guests need to dress for, and which may require them to travel to different locations for different events. This is a huge personal investment before they’ve even thought about buying the couple a gift.”
Jenna Harrison has attended upwards of 30 weddings and 15 hen dos in locations such as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, New York and the Greek island of Mykonos over the past three years, costing her in the region of £30,000.
She says there are additional costs because of the pressure to wear new outfits, which might cost about £250 each.
“I mostly always buy something new to wear, partly because I work in fashion and partly because I don’t want to wear the same thing twice,” she says. “Often I will need two things because it’s become quite a trend to do something on the Friday night, too, like a drinks or welcome dinner, particularly for destination weddings.”
With plenty of disposable income, Harrison says she has no regrets when it comes to spending such a large sum. “It would be nice to have extra money in the bank to put towards our new home but, truthfully, my husband and I love weddings so much. It’s money well spent in my mind.”
But today, celebrating isn’t just tied to the nuptials themselves – many are encouraged to join extravagant hen and stag parties, which can cost guests an average of £164 each, according to Mintel.
“The rising cost of stag and hen parties can be largely attributed to the increasing breadth of activities that groups look to include in their celebration, ranging from afternoon tea and wine tasting experiences to spa weekends away in foreign countries,” says Duckett.
“This ties in with an overarching shift in consumer behaviour, which has seen people put greater emphasis on products and services that will offer unique experiences they will remember and that they can tell their friends about.”
However, for some, spiralling wedding costs are just too much to bear. Chloe Minette, 22, from Bedford, admits she was forced to bow out of being maid of honour at her friend’s wedding after the costs kept creeping up. “She wanted to get married in Spain, but the bridesmaids had to pay to go over and were expected to be in Spain for a week. I started to panic as I’d just bought a house and couldn’t afford to go away for a week to Spain.”
There was also talk of a hen do in Ibiza. “I texted her to explain calmly that financially I couldn’t do it … we’ve not spoken since.”
Like Minette, if you can’t afford the outlay, it’s best to be honest rather than getting yourself into debt. There are, of course, plenty of excuses you can use.
“If you have children, blame them,” says Beer. “If you have a demanding boss, they can be your excuse. Dwindling holiday allowance, or having to attend solo due to a partner’s clashing diary requirements, are all acceptable.”
If you aren’t going to attend, perhaps invite the couple to dinner post-honeymoon so they can tell you all about it, advises Beer.
If you do decide to attend but are on a budget, you could cut costs by checking out Airbnbs, just staying over on the night of the wedding, and travelling together in a group.
Kate Beavis, founder of the creative wedding blog Magpie Wedding, says guests can save money by creating their own gift or giving the gift of time – such as offering babysitting vouchers. “Some people may think this odd, but really, any good friend would understand and actually appreciate it. Don’t feel you have to buy a new outfit, either. Change the accessories or hat – or maybe you could borrow some.”
When that invite lands on the doormat, Beer advises recipients to “press pause on any dramatic reactions until you’ve had time to process it all and decide what you’re in for – and what you’re not”.
* Some names and places have been changed