Can you really afford to go to a wedding?

What I love about my mum is that, underneath her ability to make lifelong friends by saying hello in her big-but-warm singsong breeziness and successfully pull off the beige-on-beige look, she is a straight shooter.

Among the ugly arguments from my teenaged years – which stretched out to my 20s and remarkably, and rarely (thank the Lord), to my 30s – a handful have stuck out.

One in particular was saying no.

I don’t mean Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No to drugs or my high school’s Catholic mantra of Just Say No to sex. It was much more grassroots than that.

It would generally play out like this: I would agree with a friend that I would definitely come to the movies to see I Know What You Did Last Summer. Then, all pumped with my plans, I realised I perhaps needed to borrow an extra $10 off mum to make up the shortfall in my Maccas paypacket.

She always said no.

I would do some expert pouting and stampy walking, but once mum said no, there was zero wiggle room and she would end the conversation by saying, ‘If you can’t afford it, I guess you can’t go.’

Other variations included: No one is forcing you to do anything, you’re allowed to say no’ or ‘is it really worth getting into debt over?’, and the best one, ‘You always have the right to change your mind’.

Then, in my 20’s, I would agree to plans to head out with some girlfriends – mainly to the Stannie, Lookie and Club A in Scarborough, in that order. But then, as it got closer to Friday or Saturday night (who am I kidding, I was in my 20s, it was a Wednesday night) I perhaps didn’t budget so well that week – but I would still go, paying for it (quite literally) in my next credit card bill.

While I hated the truth of it at the time (I was a people pleaser! This meant disappointing people!) and it did take awhile to learn the lesson but, eventually, changed my life.

I remember being really tired and broke one weekend when I was about 25 and did the unthinkable: I flaked out for the first time. Saying ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t afford it’ felt like warm honey. I was liberated from my self-imposed feeling of obligation.

And while I remember my friend accusing me of ‘being no fun’ (a clear lie), I felt instantly at ease that I made the right decision.

Now, I’m an expert at saying no.

But there are ways of saying it that are less jolting that others.

‘I’m going to sit this one out’ or ‘Oh gee whiz, actually that’s not going to suit me this time’, are lines that don’t give away, or invite, any reasons or questions to why. They’re a no with a hug and a hint that next time I might very well be up for it.

Then I got home one day and there it was….

Nestled between my Ezibuy catalogue, an Indian restaurant flyer and a my usual late-notice from NAB, was a wedding invitation.

My eyes feasted on the gloriously overstuffed envelope and, after reading the who, when and where’s, my eyes were drawn back to the letter from the bank, which I could already tell had a slight tinge of red – never a good sign.

When The Mister came home from cricket training, I said ‘we have to talk’.

His relief that ‘the talk’ revolved around someone else’s marriage and not ours was palpable.

If you’ve had a wedding or preparing for one, you know how expensive they can be.

And if you’re asked to be a bridesmaid, the reality of what’s financially expected of you can be heart-rippingly daunting.

But what about being a run-of-the-mill, plain ol’ guest?

Yep, even you need to get ready to give that hole-in-the-wall a workout.

Firstly, you need to really look at the RSVP card with a bit of honesty.  This is your official opportunity to turn it down. And it’s not like a Facebook invite where you can just casually click ‘maybe’ and decide on the day.

Let’s break this down.

Usually you’ll have four to eight weeks until the wedding day.

Chances are you’ve already been to the engagement party – but this is where it starts to get real.

Between getting the official invite  and the big day, there may also be an expectation you’ll attend a Kitchen Tea or a  Hen’s Night or both.

Now a Kitchen Tea is pretty old-school but thanks to hipsters and lovers of how nanna used to do it, the trend of getting the ladies together (particularly grandmas and aunties and cousins and of course friends) to give presents typical for the kitchen is galloping its way back.

I’ve only been to two Kitchen Teas and I usually buy something cheap but useful, like a big length of light cotton gauze (great for a massive food cover for picnics), or a couple of packs of super-cute tea towels or a cool Moka pot. To me, it’s about the gesture, not giving a Thermomix.

Days after getting the official invite, you’ll get the Hen’s Night email from the Chief Bridesmaid which reminds me so much of that red-tinged letter from the bank. Cough up and no one gets hurt.

Hen Nights aren’t always ‘nights’ anymore, so be prepared to be invited to something that could be as basic as rocking up to Aunty Helen’s place for a glass of Yalumba and a cocktail frankfurt or as extravagant as a credit-rating-killer holiday to somewhere warm or snowy.

Remember, the bride doesn’t pay for a thing on her Hen’s Night – so understand you’ll be covering yourself and part of her too. This will also cover any kind of ‘entertainment’ for the night, which you’ll usually have no say in.

If you’re not asked for a cover for a Hen’s Night, well, that’s super unusual and I would think it be more of an oversight, call whoever’s organising it and double-check what’s financially expected of you.

I recently forgot all about a friend’s Hen Night (I’ve gotten so used to email reminders and I didn’t get one for this, oops, sorry Sammy) and you know what? The world didn’t explode. So I guess that unless the bride is someone like a sister, cousin, close friend, if you send your regrets, you’ll probably think it’s more of a big deal than they do.

If you’re a guy, you’ll probably get invited to the Buck’s Night and the same rules apply as a Hen’s – traditionally you’ll be asked to cover yourself as well as the groom. So if you’re a couple – that’s two separate nights could mean you’re not going to be able to afford a 4-pack of caramel rough nut Maxibons for awhile.

The hangover is two-fold: head and wallet. And it’s not over yet.

Now you have to think of a wedding present.

Etiquette experts are divided over whether an invitee who sends their wedding regrets still needs to give a gift. I reckon if you don’t know the bride and groom very well, you can probably get away with popping a nice card and even nicer  hand-writtern well-wishes into the post. 

Some brides won’t want a present and will say so on the invitation. So does that actually mean you’re off the hook?

Not really.

Like the person who should pop a card in the post, a card with a heartfelt message is the very, very, very least you should do. If the couple asks for no presents, you can’t just rock up to their with your drinking boots on – buy a card, write in it and bring it with you. It’s an acknowledgement and it’s good form.

If you helped them set up for the wedding and did all this other stuff in lieu of a gift – bring a card.

*all the excuses on the planet* – bring a card.

So the next thing you may be worried about as a guest is what to wear. Or not. I have worn the same dress heaps of time to different weddings, the only thing I have changed is that I might do my hair differently or wear a less of a high rotation accessory, such as my go-to fake diamond stud earrings and a chunky black bangle.

But I get it, half the fun of going to a wedding is getting dolled up yourself. It’s an occasion. It’s a special day. And the prospect of heading over to your local Westfield, online store or strip mall to check out what’s on offer can also have a sense of occasion (I just envisioned myself in my trackie pants and singlet surfing the net, which is what, every night? Yep, sense of occasion).

But shopping for a wedding can be more trouble than it’s worth. You’re all like ‘My only Saturday off work to get a new dress but I only have those faded cowboy boots, so I also need new shoes. My hair colour needs re-doing and won’t pass for just the ‘ombre’ look anymore… then I can’t take my backpack with me, I’ll need a new bag… lip gloss…’

You might have to do some serious shopping of your own wardrobe, and if you have a fashionable same-sized friend, maybe ask if you could shop their wardrobe too. Also, give a few op shops a call and inquire about their range of outfits (by size and by dress type, like dresses or formal or ’70s jumpsuits) and accessories. Sometimes all a much-worn outfit needs is a funky piece of costume jewellery to make you feel all shiny and new.

May I tell you something really important though? In my experience, halfway through my first champagne of a wedding, I couldn’t really care less if I’ve worn it 8 times already. The only time I’ve TOTALLY cared is at an out-of-town wedding I went to with a dress I bought from ASOS. I tried it on in haste before we left to Geraldton (a good 4ish hours away) and it seemed a bit roomy but when I threw it back on the day of the wedding, it was clear it was way too big. Basically, don’t wear something if you don’t fit it or it doesn’t fit you. I felt like a billowy blueberry the entire night, which in a notoriously windy place like Gerro…

But the cash continues to flow, even the day of the wedding.

How are you getting there and how are you getting home? Is there a cash bar?

So what are we up to here? At least $500? $700? $1000?

You’re not a bride or a bridesmaid and look at all the money you may have to lay out. Despite there being ways to make it cheaper, it’s never really ends up being a reasonably priced exercise.

And you know what?

You’ve got to work out what is best for you and your financial situation at the time – not to mention your relationship to the couple getting hitched.  Is feeling guilted into doing something you can’t really afford worth the red-tinged envelope from the bank? Is it? Maybe your answer is yes.

While it might go against everything you may wish to do, there is always that box on that RSVP that says ‘with regrets’.

You’re allowed to tick it.