Wedding guests: You can end up paying royally. Photo: Chris Jackson
We know weddings are ridiculously expensive affairs these days.
Brides and grooms in Australia are spending more and more on lavish ceremonies, with the average ‘big day’ now ringing up at $30,000.
Even the formerly humble business of running off together has become something for big spenders – the New York Times last year profiled the rise of the ‘extravagant elopement’.
An apparent contradiction in terms, this new take on an old tradition sees nearly newlyweds splashing cash on everything but the guests.
It’s a strange, slightly sad indictment of the 'me world' of now, in my humble view.
I mean, aren’t weddings supposed to be about sharing your love with the people you love most? Those who’ll be there through thick and thin? The people who’ll vow to help you through the ups and downs, including the morning after the big night before?
Guests are a vital part of a wedding ceremony, so it’s nice to have a least a couple in attendance.
So you make room in the budget, do-up jolly seating plans, send out invitations and cater to their dietary requirements.
But here’s the interesting thing – though a guest will, ideally, be flattered upon receiving your kind invitation to help celebrate the grand occasion, even your very bestest of mates will pause to consider something.
How much will I spend on gifts? How much will it take to get there? How much can I afford to spend on a new outfit? And so on, and so forth.
The answer, according to the latest survey from American Express, is $539.
Most of that goes towards travel ($167), then new clothes ($161), with the rest on a gift ($108) – and apparently that’s up 59 per cent on last year. Surprised?
I’m not. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not more. Not because I think it’s good to spend a lot of money on weddings – spending for the sake of looking impressive is in poor taste – rather I think that a lot of people are spending a lot more on the whole wedding shebang. A shebang that begins with an engagement party, continues with a bridal shower, careers through a bucks or hens night and somehow arrives at the wedding day itself.
“I’ve actually been to hens nights that cost me more than the wedding itself,” a girlfriend said as I raised the subject of this blog. “And that was a wedding I had to travel for – we flew to Adelaide and back.
“I didn’t buy her a present for that reason.”
Fair point, I thought, and it brings us to an interesting juncture. For while spirit of communitas informs the ideal reason people invite people to share their wedding day, the reality is often quite different. Some people just want people around so they get stuff. Lots of stuff. Lots of stuff and attention carefully packaged up under the mantle of ‘special moments’.
Somehow, ‘special moments’ now come with a price tag.
Used to be that memories would suffice, but now it’s an extraordinarily expensive candelabra listed on a long gift registry that represents the ‘special moments’ shared between the guest and newlyweds forever.
Same goes for the wallet-busting bucks night. A few brews at the pub one night and some embarrassing moments with strippers may have done once but now “special moments” are only made via full days out paintballing and fishing and cruising and drinking, and only if takes place in a far-flung locale.
“It’s not about the gifts – I don’t expect my guests to buy a lot of things or even bring us a present at all really,” emailed another friend who’s soon to walk down the aisle.
“But I guess – I mean, we’re putting a lot of effort into making the day nice for everyone, and we could use some help with setting up the house... and I think it’s nice that we have big occasions these days. You only want to do it once, so you may as well make a go of it, right?”
Another fair point. Giving and receiving is a core component of the whole wedding business. Some people genuinely want to show their support through presents and their presence. Some people genuinely want to host their guests in lavish comfort to thank them for coming.
But I can’t escape this idea that, for the most part, we’re conned into thinking more is more. We can’t help but feel obligated to spend more on a gift than we should, or more on going to the wedding than we can afford, and certainly more on throwing the damn thing than is sensible. Is there a way to stop this insanity?
You tell me.