Wedding guest woes

Weddings have significant financial implications for guests. Here’s a formula for wedding gifts and tips on how to graciously decline invitations.

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Weddings have significant financial implications for guests. Just ask anyone in their 20s or 30s and they’ll tell you, it’s not just the wedding. It’s the all the preamble: there’s the engagement party, the Jack’n’Jill soiree, the bridal shower, the stag, the bachelorette party…it never ends. Each of these events holds the expectation of gift and then there’s the money you’ll spend on outfits, transportation and in some cases accommodations.

I get a warm and fuzzy feeling every time a wedding invite is delivered to my doorstep. It means someone close to me is preparing to celebrate a truly joyous occasion.

But that feeling fades just as quickly as it came and is inevitably replaced with another: dread. It hits me at precise moment I realize how much the couple’s union will cost me.

I’ve easily spent $1,000 on couples in the past. (Now you can appreciate the pain I feel after receiving a half-dozen invites in one season, in case you didn’t before.)

I may be a romantic at heart but the reality is I can’t afford to attend every wedding-related event I’m invited to. The good news is I don’t have to.

Lew Bayer is the president and CEO of Civility Experts Worldwide teaching etiquette in 12 countries.

She says invitees are free to decline any or all nuptial-related events, including showers.

The old-fashion etiquette used to be that if you were invited, you were expected to send a gift regardless of whether you could attend. These days, attitudes have shifted.

“There is an expectation in response to being invited, which is in theory recognition of a valued relationship, that you would do something. At least respond in a timely fashion that you can’t go,” Bayer said.

“And then, if you have the means, give some gift, maybe it’s even flowers that you send the day of the bridal shower as a token of esteem.”

Don’t try and explain why you’ve declined an invite either, especially if money is the reason. “Sometimes it turns out to be more offensive,” Bayer said.

It’s better just to decline graciously and say, “Thank you so much for the invitation, but unfortunately I can’t come.” A polite couple will not demand to know why.

If you’re like me, you enjoy weddings and do in fact hope to attend. But deciding how much to give can be tricky.

Luckily, Bayer has a formula for that. She recommends giving a sufficient amount to cover the cost of each person attending, plus one. That means a swanky wedding at the Four Seasons requires a more substantial gift than a simple backyard celebration, keeping in mind the average Canadian couple spends roughly $23,000 on their big day.

For a typical wedding, give $100 per attendee and an extra $100 (as if there were one more person in your group). Using this formula, each couple would give $300 worth in cash or gifts.

Shower gifts can be less.

Technically, you don’t ever have to “match” a gift given to you, Bayer said, however, there is sometimes the unspoken expectation of reciprocity in families.

“The primary guideline for gift giving no matter what the occasson or circumstance is that you should give what you can afford and sincerely give, and do so in a thoughtful way, with no expectation of return,” Bayer said.

“And the gift receiver should graciously accept each gift with gratitude and show appreciation.”

These days, more brides are requesting “presentation,” or monetary, gifts only.

“Soliciting cash is really quite rude,” Bayer said. “Presentation graciously accepted,” is a slightly more polite way of saying, “We prefer cash.”

Some brides have even gone as far as to recommend a specific dollar amount or “donations” to their registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs).

“They actually dictate how much money you’ll be giving, which is very, very rude,” Bayer said.

Fortunately, I’ve never received an invite like this. Until I do, I will continue to assume that each pearlescent envelope that finds its way into my mailbox is a sincere gesture and not just a callous way to collect. This approach has worked well for me. It keeps finances from getting in the way of a good party.

20 comments on “Wedding guest woes

  1. It is very expensive to attend a baby shower and then what do u do when u see the baby for the first time after it is born (end up giving another gift!). This is further compounded when the couple is trying to celebrate western style baby shower and then a more ethnic, traditional ceremony from the country of origin. All of this expense incurred for couples that have received gifts at their engagement, wedding and then baby..not to mention the birthdays and anniversaries….too much expense for a friend that is single, childless, single income earner. People bemoan the costs of a family, baby etc but sometimes the brunt of expenses borne by singles is tough and neglected.

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  2. $300 for each couple for each wedding?? Are you kidding me? And i should give more to the person who went into debt to have their princess wedding instead of the person who planned within their means? I give my gifts based on relationship and perception of how the wedding is going down (bridezillas get less and multiple demand for cash gets you a physical gift)

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    • I totally agree with you!!!

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      • I also agree. By following your formula for gift giving, wealthier couples (those less likely to need help starting their new life in the first place) would receive the most expensive gifts, and those with less money/frugal weddings, would receive smaller gifts! I’d also like to know how many people can afford a $300 wedding gift. I don’t want to offend you, but I believe you are living in a completely different reality than most people…

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      • $300 DOLLARS?! ARE YOU OFF YOUR ROCKER! IN THIS DAY AND AGE WHEN ALOT OF PEOPLE ARE BARELY ABLE TO FEED AND HOUSE THEMSELVES, SOME OF US ARE LUCKY TO BE ABLE TO GIVE $3 NEVER MIND $300!! I TOTALLY DISAGREE WITH THIS! FOLLOWING THIS FORMULA THERE WOULD BE AN AWFUL LOT OF DISAPPOINTED FRIENDS AND FAMILY BECAUSE IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD THIS AMOUNT THEN YOU MAY AS WELL NOT ATTEND! MOST FOLKS THAT I KNOW JUST WANT YOU TO BE THERE AND IF YOU CAN BRING SOME FOOD FOR THE BUFFET THAT’S GOOD ENOUGH!!

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        • european weddigns are 150$ minimum each! You need to cover your plate and if you can provide a gift. Not sure which weddings you go to but at halls plates are not less than 120$ per person on average! If you cannot afford i would recommend letting the bride know your not able to give her a s much as youd like but would still like to attend. that way when they open your gift theyre not surprised.Its quite embarassing to go to a wedding bring your husband 3 kids and leave 100$. you just cost the cople over 400$ for attending. I would stay home! just decline to attend!

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        • That is why invitations come with a Regrets check off box. From the other perspective you cannot expect a couple to subsidize your lack of funds, or have a wedding that is less than they want because of your finances. You do realise couples get stiffed on envelopes don’t you? Guests show with children in tow and give nothing. I am guessing you are not from a major metropolitan area, which is fine, but plates hereabouts run two hundred a person. Just say No if you are not financially flush! : ) A letter of explanation that is sincerely written and explanatory should do the trick.

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  3. I tend to be symbolic with my gifts for the wedding couple. It is always a pair of elegant wine glasses. In these tough economic times, weddings need not be extravagant. So in turn, even trivial things like flower girl shoes should be not expensive.

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  4. Wedding are very expensive nowadays and this , with the current financial climate has meant that less and less people are getting married.

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  5. I would recommend for couples to plan initially the budget for the head count alongside the other expenditures. They must also adjust two weeks before if there are additional guests to be expected. That way you can adjust the amount of catering and fixtures in the reception.

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  6. Wedding are very expensive nowadays and this , with the current financial climate has meant that less and less people are getting married.

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  7. My wife and I ran off to Vegas to get married, if you don't spend too much at the casinos it really is an affordable wedding.

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  8. Excellent advice, weddings are sooo expensive nowadays every tip helps.

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  9. Weddings are so expensive these days. Thanks for sharing the tips!

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  10. Thank you for sharing all these tips. Weddings are definitely more costly these days.

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  11. Cost effective weddings are almost impossible these days, but having a wishing well can help!

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  12. . Then you end up spending more money than you would have with a photographer who appeared to have been more expensive…

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  13. “I’ve easily spent $1,000 on couples in the past.” You are a fool.

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  14. I am shocked about how naïve some people are, if you can’t afford to cover your plate and give some more for a gift, just decline, and send 50.00 bucks in the mail, everyone is happy. Always give a minimum of $300.00 for 2 adults if its in a banquet hall.

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