Leza Dabit spent more than $2,000 recently to attend a friend's wedding in Jamaica with her boyfriend. The weekend before, she was in Columbus, Georgia, celebrating nuptials, and the weekend after was spent feting another couple's marriage on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
And Dabit is just getting started. She's got four more weddings to go before mid-December. Dabit, a business development manager for an IT staffing company in Atlanta, receives only 10 days of vacation.
Weddings are lovely, one of the few occasions when people still get dressed up, tuck their gadgets away and observe longstanding traditions. But my, can traveling to a wedding get expensive. And the preceding engagement, bachelor and bachelorette parties and showers will slash into your savings too, should you choose to run that gantlet. The ensuing baby showers and family reunions may lump on another travel expense for our increasingly mobile society.
These obligations are eating up vacation days and discretionary (and not-so discretionary) income, but it's often nearly impossible to say no. And there are very good, fabric-of-our-society reasons for that. Still, what is a mere mortal to do in the face of seven weddings?
"All my extra money goes to this," said Dabit, 30. "Every weekend is a blast, don't get me wrong."
She's already hit a bachelorette weekend in Nashville and plans on a beach getaway for another bride in Florida, but she ran out of vacation days and can't go on a cruise with another close friend and bride-to-be.
Next year doesn't look nearly as busy for Dabit on the event front, and she won't be taking her weekends for granted. "I think I'm going to take a trip for me next year."
Her situation is not unusual. Forty-one percent of U.S. adults use the majority of their vacation budgets on obligation trips such as weddings, holiday gatherings and reunions, according to a July Hotwire survey.
The average cost to attend a wedding as a guest is $339 this year, down from $490 a year ago, according to the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker. If you're in the wedding, the average cost this year is $377, down from $539 in 2011. A far-flung destination wedding can easily set you back double that amount.
Dabit has politely declined invitations before, just sending a gift, but all seven of this year's events are weddings she wouldn't want to miss.
Sociologist Jeffrey Alexander sees spending freely to celebrate big milestones as evidence of what people value.
"On the one hand, doing these rituals is a way of showing that you're not a materialistic person and that you value your close friendships," said Alexander, a sociology professor and founder and co-director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. "At the same time, we do live in the economic world."
Weighing finances is prudent, but so is weighing your relationships. Turning someone down for a life-changing event can be damaging.
"I think that is a kind of test," Alexander said. "If you invite somebody and they don't come, then they're not willing to put their money where their mouth is. They're not showing that they actually care about you."
But caring for a friend to the tune of $1,000 can be a tall order.
Brittany Winfeld, 27, was faced with a choice: spend nearly $1,000 on a close friend's bachelorette weekend in Miami or pay for her medical board exams.
"For me, my career is more important than a weekend getaway," said the medical resident who lives in New York. "The most important thing for me is to attend the main event: the wedding."
And attend, she will. She's going to five in the next year: one in the Caribbean, one in Florida, one in Massachusetts and two close to home in the New York area.
She estimates that she and her husband will spend $4,000 on the Caribbean getaway alone, which they plan to turn into a vacation since they will already have traveled more than a thousand miles from home.
Winfeld has a few weeks left in her residency before starting a fellowship. Her husband is also a resident, and the couple is shouldering hefty student loans.
"It's a definite financial burden to me and to him," she said. But she feels like she can't say no to these events, and the stretch is worth it for their really good friends.
"These people were there for me for my wedding, and I would feel terrible saying no, because they were there for me," Winfeld said.
And the budget? "We kind of threw that out the window."
There are right ways to say no, says Anna Post, co-author of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette" and great-great granddaughter of the grande dame of gracious behavior.
"If you know right now, in the middle of June, that you are not going to go ... however you come to your choice, once you make it, make it early and tell people right away," Post advised. "It doesn't count when it comes to etiquette if you didn't tell anybody."