Wed­ding sea­son isn’t an in­vi­ta­tion to go into debt

The Washington Post Sunday - - TAKING STOCK - BY LISA BONOS lisa.bonos@wash­post.com

I ac­cept more out-of-town wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions than I turn down. If I can make it work with my sched­ule and my bank ac­count, I like to celebrate my friends. I’ll tack va­ca­tions or fam­ily vis­its on to the main event; I’m happy to split ho­tel rooms with friends or guests I’ve just met. And I have no shame about wear­ing the same dress again and again.

But some­times it’s just too much. Whenan in­vi­ta­tion ar­rived for a Novem­ber wed­ding in Turks and Caicos, I had to say no. I would have loved to be there, but I can’t af­ford it. I told the bride, she un­der­stood, and I’ll hap­pily at­tend her wed­ding shower in Bal­ti­more with­out be­ing stressed about fi­nances.

Fi­nan­cial plan­ners see peo­ple go into debt to at­tend wed­dings. It’s what you might call an “ir­reg­u­lar ex­pense,” says Dayana Yochim, a con­sumer fi­nance colum­nist for the Mot­ley Fool. “Most of us don’t bud­get for friends’ wed­dings.”

But we should. A re­cent study from Amer­i­can Ex­press found that 79 mil­lion Amer­i­cans will at­tend a wed­ding in 2015, and they plan to spend an av­er­age of $673 on each one. That in­cludes $225 for air­fare, $170 for a ho­tel room, $116 for din­ing out and $95 for dress­ing up. Once you fac­tor in a gift or mul­ti­ple gifts — and a bach­e­lor or bach­e­lorette party — the cost can sky­rocket.

A 33-year-old Wash­ing­to­nian I spoke to has found an ef­fec­tive way to cut down on the costs: She says no to nearly all out-of-town wed­dings. “If you don’t live in D.C. and I never see you, I’ll go to your wed­ding,” she says. But if the cou­ple live in D.C. and they’re hav­ing a wed­ding else­where, she’s not go­ing.

She spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity so as not to of­fend the cou­ples whose wed­dings she has missed. Her pol­icy hasn’t ru­ined any friend­ships, she adds. “I al­ways take them out to din­ner to find out all about the wed­ding,” she says. She’ll even buy a gift. But she won’t travel.

She made her out-of-town pol­icy in her late 20s, when she was in­vited to seven wed­dings within four months that would re­quire travel. She went to two of the seven— one was a cousin and one was a child­hood friend who lives out­side Washington.

For the rest? “I didn’t want to of­fend any­one,” she says. “I thought the best way, rather than have a mis­er­able spring,” was to say no to all the lo­cal cou­ples with des­ti­na­tion wed­dings. “Then I made that rule and it stuck.”

Yochim is a fan of this rule. “Ev­ery ex­pense should be dic­tated by your fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, not the bride and groom’s bud­get,” Yochim says.

If you want to celebrate with the cou­ple when your fi­nances are stronger, Jason Hamil­ton, a prin­ci­pal at KIS Fee-Only Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning, sug­gests sav­ing for a trip to visit the new­ly­weds in nine or 12 months. “Then you can ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing there and not sit there think­ing about how you’re go­ing to pay for it,” Hamil­ton says.

Both Yochim and Hamil­ton stressed think­ing about the fu­ture. Don’t travel out of town for a wed­ding if you have credit card debt, they said. That $673 — in­vested and earn­ing you com­pounded in­ter­est — might be worth a lot more in the bank than a lost week­end at an ac­quain­tance’s wed­ding.

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