Four Weddings and A Funeral

June 1, 2014 by staff 

Four Weddings and A Funeral, FSarah Zaharia, a 30-year-old whose friends all seem to be getting married, a situation that costing her hundreds of dollars annually. Photo Store

It’s good to be in demand. As an owner of a local marketing firm, no one understands this better than Sarah Zaharia.

But there can be a downside to being popular: You might get invited to a lot of weddings. While that’s not a bad thing — what could be better than celebrating new love? — the cost of attending other people’s matrimonial moments can start to add up.

“I dos and don’ts”… tips to keep your budget intact this wedding season:

Worried saying ‘yes’ to being a guest may put you in bad stead with your creditors? Here are a few ideas to keep the costs down.

1. Discretionary cost cutting: The best way to manage the potential costs is to save ahead. That’s easier said than done, but Shawnnette Fraser of TD Canada Trust says you can always start a savings plan before the invitations pile up in the mailbox. Of course, the trouble is often finding the additional cash. Fraser says the best way to find extra money is to look at cutting discretionary expenses — such as the daily latte. “Just start working backward to put together a savings plan,” she says. “If the wedding is taking place in six months, setting aside $16 a week can be easier to come up with than $400 overnight.”

2. You may have a point… or several: Most people have credit cards that collect loyalty points of some kind, and these can be a good source of wealth in a pinch to fund the cost of a destination wedding without racking up a big bill on the credit card itself. Many banks also offer savings programs that set aside a small sum into your savings account from chequing every time you use your debit card. This can help build an auxiliary fund for any number of reasons — weddings included, Fraser says.

3. Check the registry: Most invitations won’t tell you where a couple is registered — at least they shouldn’t, says Louise Fox, etiquette expert. “That kind of information has to be done by word of mouth,” she says. “So phone and find out.” Generally, most brides and grooms will include a number of less-costly options for guests with fewer financial resources to spend. Those tend to go fast so as an alternative, you might consider getting together with other guests to chip in for a bigger-ticket item.

4. Cash or gift? These days, it’s acceptable to provide cash as a gift. Let’s face it: Many couples prefer money over, for example, a fish plate or toaster. In some cultures, cash as a gift is tradition. “Know that in different cultures there are different expectations, and if you’re not of that culture, you should find out what the expectations are,” Fox says. “If you’re going to be pinning cash on the bride’s dress you better have some in your pocket.”

5. Re-gifting — the gift that keeps on giving: Giving a gift you recently received to someone else is indeed taboo, but only if you get caught, Fox says. “It’s the way you do it that’s important, so we don’t say it’s totally unacceptable, because it can be the ultimate in recycling,” she says. “Preserve the feelings of whom you’re giving it to, so do it discreetly and outside of the immediate circle so they never find out.”

6. What about the DIY gift? Making your own gift for the couple or giving them a family heirloom is suitable in most cases, Fox says. Do put some thought and effort into, though, because nothing says “I mailed this one in” than a stick-man portrait of the happy couple. At the very least, Fox says: “Write some really heartfelt sentiments on the card.”

“I’ve been to a lot of weddings over the last few seasons,” says the 30-year-old owner of the social-media marketing firm Zaharia Group.

“The most expensive part is not the gift. It’s the combination of the showers, the stagettes, the dress and then having to get your hair done.”

Zaharia estimates she spends about $350 on the average wedding, and then there are those when she’s a member of the wedding party.

“That can easily be $500-plus.”

While an invitation to a wedding is surely more of a source of excitement than stress for most people, many Canadians likely get a spike in their blood pressure when they receive an invitation in the mailbox.

A recent TD survey found about one in five Canadians attending a wedding this coming year expect the associated cost to be a drain on their household budget and, consequently, a source of stress.

Even a bank manager can relate.

“I’ve been a bridesmaid 12 times, so I fully understand where the survey results are coming from,” says Shawnnette Fraser, regional manager for TD Canada Trust. “It can add up.”

But then she puts on her banker cap and encourages clients to use the power that comes from prudent financial management to dodge the potential money hazards that can arise from being on a wedding guest list.

“From a banker’s perspective, with some advanced planning and smart strategies, it’s very possible to navigate through the pressures of the wedding season without blowing your budget,” Fraser says.

“One of the things we tell people is that weddings are one of life’s biggest milestones, so it’s definitely great to celebrate them with your family and friends, but that does not mean that the good financial habits you have built up must fly out the window.”

In most cases, people have time to prepare. Invitations usually arrive months in advance, so it’s always best to assess the cash situation ASAP to determine whether you can afford to attend.

“As soon as you get that invitation, start reviewing your budget and think about how much it will cost to attend, especially if the wedding involves travelling to a destination,” Fraser says. “Once you have identified the potential cost, make sure that it doesn’t take a precedent over other things you’re saving for, so if you’re saving for a home or a big vacation, this doesn’t mean you have to take money from those goals.”

Destination weddings are the most likely culprits to knock your budget out of whack, she adds. But they’re also the easiest invitation to decline because most reasonable brides, and grooms, understand their destination wedding will be poorly attended.

But the decision to attend a wedding here in town is a much more socially delicate matter — even if your reason to decline is because you’re cash-strapped.

In an ideal world, money shouldn’t get in the way of attending a wedding, especially if the people getting hitched are close to you, says a wedding etiquette expert.

“You’re invited to a wedding to celebrate that rite of passage between two people,” says Fox, founder of Toronto-based Etiquette Ladies.

“So the focus shouldn’t be on the cost. It should be celebrating the two people getting together.”

Although local weddings don’t involve the same cost as destination events, people still feel the pinch on the pocketbook. Sure, you can put on that trusty little black dress (or suit) and do your own hair, but one cash outlay is hard to avoid: the gift.

“There are always lots of questions about how much should you spend on a wedding gift, and people come up with lots of guidelines, but usually they’re not correct,” Fox says.

One popular rule of thumb you shouldn’t worry over is ensuring the gift — usually cash in this instance — will at least cover the costs of your and your guest’s drinks and dinner.

“People have come up with that formula — probably some clever bride — but that’s not actually the case,” Fox says. “If you feel that you can afford to do that, by all means do.”

This notion puts pressure on guests, she adds, and people may not want to attend because they’re worried about appearing cheap if they can’t spend $100 or more — a seemingly unwritten minimum these days.

“When there is this emphasis on the gift — and people get a number of invitations throughout the year — they feel they can’t afford to go to every wedding so they start saying ‘no,’ ” Fox says.

Instead, the formula for determining what’s really appropriate involves less-complicated social calculus. Give what you can afford. That said, temper this advice with common sense.

“It’s also dependent on the relationship that you have with the bride and groom,” Fox says.

So, giving more isn’t always better.

“The gift should reflect the level of the relationship, so you can make people really uncomfortable when you buy them an expensive gift and the relationship doesn’t reflect that.”

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