The price of saying ‘I don’t’ to a friend’s wedding

With a record number of couples getting married this year, there is certainly lots to celebrate this wedding season. However, the cost of doing so may be tying your finances in knots.

Having been delayed by pandemic restrictions, couples have had longer to plan ever more elaborate ceremonies. You only have to glance at Instagram to see what’s propelling the cost of the UK wedding, now costing a record average of £24,000. From a dinosaur-loving couple who shared their first dance with an animatronic velociraptor to a bride who floated down the aisle suspended by helium balloons, your nuptials can now be watched by tens of thousands of people, courtesy of social media. Something borrowed and something blue is no longer going to cut it.

“Every detail now matters and will be captured,” says Hamish Shephard, founder of the Bridebook app, which has been used to plan nearly 50,000 weddings in the UK this summer.

In the quest for digital perfection, 91 per cent of couples are shelling out for a professional photographer. “Our data also shows that physical photo albums have declined in recent years, while demand for video and drone footage has risen,” he says, adding that nearly half of couples have a “no phone” policy for guests at their ceremony as they want to “control the narrative”. This is good news for the economy, with 139,000 wedding businesses in Britain now employing over half a million people. But wedding guests could be forgiven for feeling like an extra on a film set.

Getting married in a French château, rural idyll or lighthouse may generate plenty of likes online, but the cost of attending weddings in far-flung places takes a financial toll on your friends. On the FT’s Money Clinic podcast this week, I spoke to 27-year-old Rob, who has been invited to nine weddings this summer, and reckons he will spend more than £3,000 on travel, accommodation and gifts (even though he intends to wear the same suit to all of them).

That’s going to put a dent in Rob’s house deposit. But for others, weddings are a luxury they simply cannot afford. Half of people surveyed by Monzo bank said they had refused an invitation to a wedding, stag or hen party this year due to the expense. For the first time, more than half of UK weddings are happening on a day other than Saturday, according to Bridebook data for this year. A trend driven by the capacity crunch, having a midweek wedding could halve the cost of venue hire compared with a weekend — although your guests will have to spend precious days from their annual leave entitlement.

The one wedding invitation I received this year made a nod to the financial pressures guests could be facing, stating: “We would prefer your presence than your presents.” Even so, 16 times as many couples this summer have asked for cash rather than having a traditional gift list, with donations towards a honeymoon being the most popular request.

Not inviting children to wedding ceremonies also adds to costs for guests who need childcare. One friend was invited to a ceremony overseas where children were allowed for some parts of the proceedings, but not others. In the end, he paid to fly his mother out to help — which particularly rankled, as the groom’s stag do had also involved an expensive overseas trip.

More than one in three stag and hen dos now happen abroad, according to Bridebook, tallying with this summer’s foreign travel boom. Once expensive meals and activities are added in, costs can quickly spiral — another way that social media breeds desire by inviting us to compare ourselves with others and question whether we are doing “enough”. A friend recently pulled out of a hen do in Marbella when the WhatsApp group set up by the maid of honour shared links for chartering a yacht. She lost her £500 deposit, but considered that better than getting into debt.

“There is a sense of obligation that you have to spend money on someone’s wedding or hen do, stag do, and that if you don’t, there are sometimes consequences,” says Alice Tapper, who publishes anonymous financial confessions on her Instagram account Go Fund Yourself. She has featured stories of wedding guests who have run up huge credit card bills and one who ghosted her best friend rather than face the shame of admitting she could not afford to take part.

By all means, plan your post-pandemic wedding with abandon, but be sensitive to your guests’ financial constraints. As your married life unfolds, you will come to realise just how valuable your friendships really are. In many cases, they may well outlast the marriage you have invited them to.

Claer Barrett is the FT’s consumer editor and the author of ‘What They Don’t Teach You About Money’. Instagram @Claerb

Articles You May Like

British exporters face hefty EU carbon tax bill after Sunak weakens climate policies
Democracies need to work quicker and smarter. Here’s what that might look like 
A power grab against private equity threatens the US economy
Developer halts onshore wind farm due to rising costs and windfall tax
Tory MPs pile the pressure on Sunak over taxes ahead of party conference