When I moved into my first studio apartment in Brooklyn in the fall of 2009, my dad tried to prepare me for my new adventure.
After helping me set up furniture, he handed me some yellow envelopes with string ties he’d bought at Staples. He told me that when he first learned to budget, he used the envelope system.
Even after four years working as a publishing assistant and living with roommates in New York City, I wasn’t the best saver, so my dad was trying to give me a fresh start -- into each envelope went what should be budgeted for that expense each month. The trick was not to steal or borrow from each envelope to help another.
Together, we took a Sharpie and labeled them. Rent. Utilities. Leisure. Incidentals. He’d witnessed the flurry of weddings I’d been invited to over the past few years—along with the mild meltdowns that accompanied them as I scrambled to come up with the cash for yet another bachelorette—so for our final envelope, we wrote in all caps: WEDDINGS.
Unfortunately, when I’d run out of money for food or leisure within a few weeks, I’d end up dipping into that envelope earmarked for friends’ weddings (summer wedding season seemed so far away in winter!), which is why the system ultimately didn’t work for me. I’ve since tried documenting my expenses with a spreadsheet to get better at budgeting … and I’m still working on that.
Three years later, I’m trying to accept my fate: While I love participating in and attending my best friends’ weddings, I just can’t afford it.
I’ve attended nine weddings in the past three years, which may or may not sound like a lot, but all told, I’ve spent a total of about $5,000 on gifts, bridesmaid dresses, travel, hotel stays and other incidentals since I’ve been in my 20s.
How I Pay for It All
I just turned 29, work in publishing and live alone, so I don’t have a lot of extra money to begin with. When wedding season nears, I try to pack lunch, limit dinners out, babysit most Friday nights and swear off cabs. As a wedding guest, I rewear dresses all the time and alter past bridesmaid gowns to wear to other people’s weddings. (Though when pictures are plastered all over Facebook, this can be tricky!).
A snapshot of my current financial situation: My rent eats up about 50% of my paycheck. I’m not managing to save right now. (I do, however, have about $25,000 saved for retirement.) I’m hoping to pay off a little over $4,000 of credit card debt by the end of this year. I don’t even use the card: It’s tied to my overdraft, so if I run out of money at the end of the month, it dips into that, which is where those problems are coming from.
When I’ve been really strapped, my parents have loaned me money to cover my portion of a bachelorette party or assisted with travel expenses (and let’s not forget Mom loaning me her dresses!).
For instance, they recently paid about $80 for an Amtrak ticket to Boston for a wedding. I’m lucky in that my parents offer when they see how strapped I am, and are supportive. They wish I had a better plan to afford these things, but realize how much it all adds up and are happy to help when they can.
Spending $5,000 on weddings isn’t that terrible over the course of a decade, but I could have used that money to pay off the credit card debt I’ve accumulated in the same time frame.
I Skipped My Friend’s Wedding Because of Money
A close friend and I joke that we are calling this the summer of going into debt for our friends’ weddings. Another friend has decided to only attend the shower or the bachelorette party leading up to a friend’s nuptials, but not both.
If I’m close with the bride or groom, I will usually spend $50 on an engagement gift, about the same for the shower gift, and anywhere from $125-$150 for the wedding gift. Hotels usually cost around $150 a night.
This summer, I finally reached a tipping point. A plane ticket to Indiana for my friend’s wedding cost $400 and I really couldn’t afford it. This happened once before when a good friend got married in Minnesota on Memorial Day Weekend, and I had to say no -- the trip would have cost upwards of $600.
I agonized over this latest one for weeks, wondering if I could take a few more babysitting jobs to make it happen. But finally I realized it would be too much. I let her know I wouldn’t be attending. Lucky for me, she completely understood, as did my friend several years ago.
The Brides Have Been Respectful, But …
I’m lucky that, like the Indiana bride, most of my friends try to be sensitive to their guests’ budgets when planning their weddings.
For instance, a Boston friend had her shower and bachelorette party all in the same weekend, making it much easier for out-of-towners to attend. Another friend chose fashionable bridesmaid dresses from discount site The Outnet, and they were on sale for $98.
Because my friends have been so considerate, it’s not like one super-expensive wedding has busted my budget or made me resentful. Rather, it’s the onslaught of invites all at the same time.
What I’ve Gotten Out of All These Weddings
In a strange way, I never really felt like I had a choice in terms of spending. I tried to cut corners where I could in terms of doing my own hair or borrowing a dress, but it seems like such an important part of someone’s life that I rarely thought about not participating.