The real cost of a big, fat, chic

ELLE (Canada) - - Story Board - BY SARAH TRE­LEAVEN

Other people’s big days could be mak­ing you broke. By Sarah Tre­leaven

the gold-leafed, hand-de­liv­ered wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions for Kim Kar­dashian and Kanye West’s May 24 nup­tials re­port­edly cost $1,000 a piece. By some in­sider es­ti­mates, the over-the-top cou­ple is ex­pected to spend $125,000 on each of the 200 VIP in­vi­tees to their su­per-lav­ish ex­trav­a­ganza in France. It will cer­tainly be quite the party—but one that will likely cre­ate a big dilemma for even their wealth­i­est guests: For such a blowout af­fair, is it re­motely pos­si­ble to live up to the “cover your plate” ap­proach to gift-giv­ing? With wed­ding costs and ex­pec­ta­tions (for celebs and mere mor­tals alike) sky­rock­et­ing, could it be time to re­think some of the wed­ding spend­ing—for the fi­nan­cial well-be­ing of the guests as well as the bride and groom?

I’m cer­tainly not on Kimye’s in­vite list, but when a good friend of mine got mar­ried last year, I was put through my own pricey paces: cham­pagne for the en­gage­ment party; rounds of man­hat­tans, a flight and beach­side ac­com­mo­da­tion at the “des­ti­na­tion bach­e­lorette” in sunny Mi­ami; and an outof-town wed­ding at a charm­ing coun­try inn. By the time the bride walked down the aisle, I was eas­ily $1,000 in the hole and think­ing about send­ing a fruit bas­ket to all of my friends com­mit­ted to liv­ing in sin.

My ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t so un­usual. A 2013 sur­vey from Amer­i­can Ex­press de­ter­mined that the aver­age guest spends US$539 per wed­ding—in­clud­ing gifts, new cloth­ing and travel. Krista Olynyk, a wed­ding plan­ner at KJ & Co in Burling­ton, Ont., says that in the past few years she has seen ex­pec­ta­tions of guests in­crease, with more des­ti­na­tion bach­e­lorette par­ties to Las Ve­gas or spa re­treats and even lo­cal par­ties that in­clude guest-funded events, like a pole-dancing class. Add the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar “des­ti­na­tion wed­ding” trend into the mix—The­ says that al­most a quar­ter of brides went abroad in 2012—and you end up with a pretty steep bill for cel­e­brat­ing some­one’s spe­cial day(s). “It’s re­ally hard for people to say no,” says Olynyk.

The aver­age price of a wed­ding in Canada is now over $32,000—up 20 per­cent from 2008, ac­cord­ing to Wed­ding­bells mag­a­zine. One re­cent study found that the aver­age Cana­dian cou­ple starts out with over $20,000 of debt, and an­other found that 38 per­cent of Cana­di­ans are com­fort­able tak­ing on debt to fi­nance a wed­ding and hon­ey­moon. RBC is just one of the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions pro­mot­ing a line of credit to “pay for ma­jor pur­chases, like a wed­ding.”

Even armed with all of that knowl­edge, it’s easy to suc­cumb to the splurge. “A lot of people for­get to think about the money be­cause they’re so fo­cused on the wed­ding,” says Ali­son Grif­fiths, a money ex­pert and host of the W Net­work’s Maxed Out, who ad­mits she has “been called a hum­bug about wed­dings.” “But,” she says, “I’ve al­waysh

had se­vere doubts about us­ing a huge chunk of cash—or bor­row­ing—for a sin­gle day.”

For some cou­ples, money be­comes al­most ab­stract—like it’s vul­gar to con­sider dol­lars and cents when you’re talk­ing about the join­ing of two souls. “Once you’re com­mit­ted to spend some money, it’s not hard to up the stakes: In­stead of two en­trees, let’s of­fer a third, and in­stead of $15 bot­tles of wine, let’s do $17,” says Grif­fiths.

That $32,000 can add up pretty quickly. “Ev­ery­thing needs to be cus­tom now,” says Danielle An­drews Sunkel, pres­i­dent of the Wed­ding Plan­ners In­sti­tute of Canada. “In­stead of a sim­ple back­yard tent, cou­ples want a dance floor mono­grammed with their ini­tials. In­stead of a sweets ta­ble at mid­night, people are bring­ing in food trucks.”

For Toronto- based Joanna Grif­fiths (no re­la­tion to Ali­son), the splurge was a New Year’s wed­ding to ring in 2014 for 175 guests at the Na­tional Bal­let School in Toronto. The Knix Wear un­der­wear com­pany founder spent over $ 30,000 on, among other things, soft-pink roses, cham­pagne and vin­tage fur stoles. “It’s an overwhelming time, and I did feel a fi­nan­cial strain—es­pe­cially since I’m an en­tre­pre­neur,” she says.

Ali­son Grif­fiths urges en­gaged cou­ples to ask them­selves ques­tions like “What do I want to spend my money on—not just for one day but for the next five years?” and “What could $50,000 mean in our life to­gether?” And there’s also the cost bur­den that’s be­ing placed on guests. Grif­fiths sug­gests that cou­ples make it clear to guests that pricey out-oftown ac­tiv­i­ties aren’t manda­tory. And, if you’re plan­ning a des­ti­na­tion wed­ding (or some­thing sim­i­larly ex­pen­sive), con­sider a lo­cal op­tion, like a post-wed­ding bar­be­cue, for people un­able to at­tend. “It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does say to those who couldn’t at­tend ‘You are im­por­tant and we want to cel­e­brate with you.’”

For com­par­i­son pur­poses, here’s an in­ter­est­ing cal­cu­la­tion: If you were to put $32,000 in an RRSP at the age of 30—and add no other funds for 35 years—you’d likely have over $ 126,000 saved at 65. Di­vert­ing wed­ding funds “could mean a larger down pay­ment on a house, pay­ing off debt, fund­ing a dream, seed­ing a small busi­ness, go­ing back to school, be­ing able to stay home with a kid,” says Grif­fiths. (An­other rea­son for keep­ing it small and sim­ple? Not alien­at­ing your friends.)

Joanna, in the end, was glad she spent the money, say­ing it was “truly the best day of my life.” When else, she asks, do you have an op­por­tu­nity to gather ev­ery­one you love in one room?

Which is great news for the bride, but it doesn’t make things af­ford­able for the in­vi­tees. In my case, I kept my mouth shut for the sake of a good friend­ship, but in the fu­ture I won’t feel shy about po­litely de­clin­ing some of the pricier ac­tiv­i­ties—es­pe­cially if “des­ti­na­tion bach­e­lorettes” be­come a reg­u­lar thing.

Ot­tawa-based eti­quette ex­pert Julie Blais Comeau rec­om­mends that good friends sit down to­gether and fig­ure it out. “You should be able to say ‘ I can’t af­ford to be your brides­maid,’” she says. But she also be­lieves that brides should be rea­son­able about fi­nan­cial im­po­si­tions. “If I put my­self in the shoes of the bride, I wouldn’t want my close friend to go into debt so we can have pedi­cures in Las Ve­gas.”

With more and more wed­din­gre­lated de­mands on both time and money, we just might have to get bet­ter at say­ing no. How­ever, if that $1,000 Kimye in­vite were to ap­pear at my door, I might have to make an ex­cep­tion and fork out for the flight to Paris. But the wed­ding gift would be an­other dilemma al­to­gether. n

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