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A woman wears a veil with the words "Just Married" on the back after participating in a wedding vow renewal ceremony for nearly 300 couples in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sept. 3.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This summer, I declined a wedding invitation for the first time. The invite wasn’t from a one-time colleague or a distant cousin, but a good friend. It took a handful of rough drafts before finally hitting send on the text. But the second it was delivered, I instantly breathed a sigh of relief. And, yes, we’re still friends, if you’re wondering.

As wedding season comes to a close, Canadians can breathe a collective sigh of financial relief. It’s a costly time for all wedding guests but in particular, those aged 25-34. This group is making their way through what the Washington Post called the “engagement avalanche,” a life stage marked by an endless string of weddings and wedding-adjacent events.

Saying no to a wedding invite isn’t exactly a groundbreaking strategy, but it’s becoming more normalized at a time when inflation, hellish housing prices and rising interest rates have melded into a financial nightmare for young people. According to recent internal data from Zola, an online wedding-planning agency, almost 50 per cent of guests say that inflation has affected their ability to attend weddings this year. Twenty-four per cent are saying no altogether.

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When my social media began to flood with engagement announcements, I reached out to my well-seasoned wedding guest friends – the kind with colour-coded spreadsheets dedicated to attending these occasions. The dollar figures they gave me were staggering. And, considering the so-called “avalanche” lasts about nine years, completely unsustainable. That’s when I discovered a simple, so-crazy-it-just-might-work savings strategy – just saying no.

Sylvia Mezzano, who’s in her mid 30s, has embraced this approach. “This year, I’m going to two weddings and turned down four,” says Ms. Mezzano.

“If I had gone to every wedding I’ve been invited to and spent the standard amount, would probably have spent $20,000 already,” she says. “By declining some invitations and looking for affordable gifting options, I’ve probably spent $3,000.”

In her experience, expectations have become outrageous. “Sometimes I just get a link to a registry before even getting the invite – I don’t know when it became normal to ask for wedding gifts this way,” she says. “Everyone says, ‘it’s not about the gift, it’s you being there,’ but they expect the gift.”

The biggest wedding expenses often don’t pertain to the main event at all. “It’s the bridal showers, the stag, the bachelorette, booking time off work, staying in a hotel,” says Tracey Manailescu, vice president of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada in Toronto. And while some of these events are to be expected, many people are noticing what’s known as “wedding sprawl,” or the upsurge in pre- and post-wedding events.

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According to Caval Olson-Lepage, a certified financial planner and marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan, the cost of attending a wedding will largely depend on whether you’re involved in those events. “If you’re not, you’re looking at Uber cost and wedding gift, so maybe $300.”

But often the costs can be higher. “A gift for the couple, a new dress, new shoes, hair and makeup – those are so expensive – bridal shower, engagement party, bachelorette; if you have a couple of weddings, it can be $2,000 for all that,” says Ms. Manailescu. “There’s also finding someone for child care if there’s no kids allowed or pet care for pets – people overlook those expenses.”

“If you’re in that age demographic where a lot of friends and family are getting married, you might be going through five to six weddings a year, that’s a lot of money,” says Ms. Olson Lepage. “The closer you are to the bride and groom, the more you pay.”

Add in destination weddings – which are more common since COVID-19 travel restrictions have lifted – and you’re in an even higher ballpark.

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If saying no to a wedding invite is best for your budget, do it with class. “Let them know you’re busy, or, if you’re close, explain your situation, but don’t ghost them,” says Ms. Manailescu.

And for those celebrations you genuinely want to attend – not simply out of courtesy or a fear of saying no – start budgeting early and budgeting smart.

One hack is opting for the most expensive gift on the registry (you read that right). “Eye the couple’s registry and choose a high-price gift, then get six to eight people to chip in and split it between your friends,” says Ms. Manailescu. Since many will dodge the pricey items individually, the couple will be surprised to see the fancy gift.

If splitting is logistically challenging, “use credit card points instead of cash to buy them an experience, like a weekend in Niagara, or a wine tasting,” says Ms. Manailescu.

And remember: “If you can say no to some weddings, you’re able to save more for your best friend’s wedding versus a friend you only talk to on Facebook,” says Ms. Olson-Lepage.

Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.

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