The real cost of a big, fat, chic
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—TheKnot.com 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