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What it realistically costs to attend a wedding

It's not just the father of the bride who'll be shelling out big bucks: everyone in the wedding party and guests are spending hundreds to attend someone's big day.

When it comes to tying the knot, everyone knows that nuptials run up a hefty tab. In Canada, depending on which province you live in, the actual cost of a wedding can come in as low as a meager $300, since all you need is a basic license and someone to marry you. Everything else is technically extra. But oh, those extras… By the time you factor in extravagant venues, music, flowers, dresses, a honeymoon and the like, the average Canadian couple now spends just over $30,000 on their big day.

That doesn’t take into account, however, the out-of-pocket costs for those attending such luxurious affairs. As a guest you’re expected to spend a certain amount of money on watching a friend or family member on the happiest day of his or her life — not to mention the engagement parties, bridal showers and bachelor/bachelorette weekends that have become increasingly part of the equation. If recent numbers are any indication it’s all beginning to take a massive toll on the old savings account.

A recent American study revealed that regular guests (as in those who are not a part of the wedding party) are now forking over an average of $703 per wedding—an increase of five per cent from the estimated $673 spent on attending an American wedding last year. That may seem like an absurd number, but as it turns out, Canadians are in a similar position.

“The trend is definitely similar,” says Alison McGill, Editor-in-Chief of Canadian publication Weddingbells. “Weddings are an event that can add up. If you are invited to the wedding only and don’t have to travel and stay over for the event, you can expect to invest upwards of $500 just to attend.”

What guests are spending on

McGill comes to that number by factoring in the gift itself, along with extras such as clothing, accessories and basic transportation that is sometimes necessary to attend these functions. She adds that having to stay overnight in a hotel obviously increases that base price. And when it comes to the increasingly popular destination wedding (a 2015 survey pits one in every four weddings from November to April abroad), it’s a whole other matter.

“If you are attending a destination wedding that is a cost category all on its own,” she adds. “Think of it as the cost of a vacation, with the cost of a gift factored in.”

As it turns out, Canadians may actually be even more generous than our neighbours down south when it comes to the cost of gift-giving. According to a 2015 study by Canadian retailer RetailMeNot.ca, the average amount Canadians spent last year on wedding-related gifts surpassed the number found in the American study. This questionnaire, which polled 1,507 Canadians last May, showed that the average wedding-goer spent roughly $776 on each celebration he or she attended throughout the wedding season. Makes you wonder how Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson could afford to do it every weekend in the 2005 flick “Wedding Crashers,” eh?

In a follow-up survey conducted last month the company looked at the average amount Canadians spent on weddings gifts alone to get a better idea of the whole picture. It found that the average cost to attend a wedding solo was $252.94. However that number jumped to $336.53 when adding in an additional guest. Both numbers are still a far cry from what respondents said they actually wanted to give, which was an average of $162.43.

It’s no wonder then that of the 1,502 Canadians polled for the survey, nearly half of them (44 per cent) reported they disliked going to a wedding at all thanks to the skyrocketing costs. Unsurprisingly, roughly the same number of participants (49 per cent) revealed they had either considered skipping out on the big day all together or had sent in their regrets because they just couldn’t afford it.

What to do when you can’t attend

Unfortunately that’s where etiquette comes in. Even if you don’t attend the actual wedding, McGill says it’s kosher to send a gift anyhow—one that should be roughly the same value of what you would spend on the couple if you did attend. The good news is that the old, “cover the cost of the dinner plate” rule of thumb no longer necessarily applies to the modern day wedding guest.

“A gift is something you give because you want to and whatever you are comfortable giving,” McGill says. “In this day and economy everyone has different financial circumstances. Many couples do register so there is the option to chose a gift from the registry or give cash.”

Depending on the couple’s culture and type of wedding, sometime cash is still the only option. It’s why some brides and grooms spend a small fortune on beautiful birdcage cash boxes that are closely guarded by grinning bridesmaids and groomsmen at the reception. Meanwhile other couples—especially those getting hitched for the second or third time or those who plan a destination wedding—specifically request no gifts at all.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what your wallet can handle and what you feel is right. In the words of McGill, “Gifting is a sensitive issue and there really is no right or wrong answer.”