Counting the cost of your friends' love lives

A picture of a bride throwing her wedding bouquet in the air
At least catching the flowers would mean getting her money's worth, thought Sharon...
"I maxed out my credit card to attend a mate's stag do in Prague"
  • | by Rachel England

When a friend of mine got married a while ago, a bunch of us trundled up to glamorous Milton Keynes in our newly purchased wedding attire, delighting in the novelty that someone we knew – someone our age! – was tying the knot.

We proceeded to spend the weekend throwing cash around and having a lovely time indeed.

Fast forward three years and my pinboard is groaning under the weight of save-the-date cards, engagement party invitations and hen do schedules. And there's more to come, thanks to the apparently intoxicating romance of last Christmas sparking no less than seven new engagement announcements.

Suddenly the prospect of weekend after weekend spent blitzing my credit card – in the name of other people's love – seems less appealing.

Social headaches

I'm not alone in my anguish. According to a poll of 2,000 UK adults conducted by American Express in May 2014, 53% said they've been stressed out over the large amounts involved in attending a wedding, with more than a third (35%) saying they'd decline an invitation because of the expense involved – something which can cause a massive social headache.

"Two of my best friends got married within six months of each other," says Yvonne Huckstable (not her real name), a 28-year-old PR executive from Bristol.

"One of them went down the usual church and reception route, involving a dinner the night before, a couple of nights in a hotel, and so on. The other planned a massive week-long event in Spain, which I just couldn't afford. Telling her I couldn't make her wedding but was going to the other one was just horrendous, and we've not had the same relationship since."

Bearing in mind that we'll each attend on average 15 weddings in our lives, even the costs involved in 'the usual church and reception' affair can add up. American Express reckons the average cost of attending a wedding in 2014 was £470, while research from stag do organisers the Stag Company puts the figure at an eye-watering £1,850.

"Oh my God," exclaims my friend Sarah, a HR manager from London, when I ask her about this (she – like almost everyone in this article – has asked for her name to be changed, presumably for fear of being busted by the bride or groom).

The 31-year-old tells me: "When my best mate got engaged there was a cavalcade of events to attend before the actual wedding: the engagement party, a bridal shower, the 'meeting the other bridesmaids' dinner, the 'meeting the family' dinner, the combined stag and hen do, and then the hen do itself. I probably spent the best part of a grand before I'd even had my final dress fitting." (The dress, she notes, she also paid for).

Ah, yes. The ubiquitous hen and stag do. No longer, it seems, are a couple of pints down the pub followed by an evening of reasonably priced shots in the local nightclub enough. There's an increasing trend for two blow-outs, one at home and one abroad, with the average cost of the latter tipping £700, rivalling the cost of an annual holiday. Worryingly, 18% of stag and hen party guests have had to borrow money in order to join in.

"I maxed out my credit card to attend a mate's stag do in Prague," says Mark, 27, a software developer from Bournemouth (yep, name changed again). "We had a decent enough time, but when we got home he decided he didn't actually want to get married anymore, so it was all for naught, really."

'Only wedding in the world'

But can you put a price on true love? Or on the relationships you have with your friends and family that lead you to be invited to witness the happy union in the first place?

"It should feel like a genuine pleasure to attend a wedding, not an onerous duty," says Mike Tighe, 26, a PR officer from London whose best friend has had to commit to a year of reclusiveness to afford a pal's wedding in the summer.

Jane Beaton, a 36-year-old marketing manager from Oxford, says: "It sounds so miserly to say this, because of course I'm always honoured to be invited to a wedding, but I always tally up the cost against how much fun I think I'll have and how important the couple are to me.

"If it doesn't balance out, then I respectfully decline. And I don't feel too guilty, because I'm saving the bride and groom the cost of a meal!"

Speaking to one soon-to-be-married friend, she reminds me that weddings are generally expensive for all concerned. "I think couples are largely aware of how much it costs their guests to attend their big day," she says.

"But you have to remember, as far as they're concerned theirs is the only wedding in the world that matters, and it's easy for them to get caught up in the excitement of it all. It's only natural they want their loved ones to get swept away with them."

And then I remember that hers is one of the more reasonably priced weddings on my calendar, so I give in to her enthusiasm and we start discussing her hen do – which, thankfully, is not abroad.

How much have you spent on a friend's hen or stag do? Would you turn down a wedding invite because of money? Tell us on Facebook and Twitter