How much do Israelis give at weddings?

wedding; photo: Reuters

Many Israelis write checks for thousands of shekels for gifts, even when it's money they cannot necessarily afford.

Mazal tov! The wedding season has officially begun. But with it, returns the dilemma of what number to write on the check. For many, being invited to weddings and other celebrations is an economic burden that totals thousands of shekels each year.

According to a survey conducted by Dr. Arie Rotem's TRI Strategic Market Research on behalf of "Globes," more than a third of Israelis (35%), in a representative sample of 500 people over 18 surveyed, spent between NIS 1,000 and NIS 3,000 on weddings to which they were invited in the past year.

"The percentage is higher among older people, and is the lowest among haredim," says Dr. Rotem.

And we don't just spend large sums on weddings. Israelis also like to celebrate births, bar and bat mitzvahs, and birthdays, which also carry a significant annual expense. According to Dun & Bradstreet data, there are 140,000 celebratory events held in Israel each year, 33% weddings, 20% births, and 25% bar or bat mitzvahs.

"Almost everyone who receives a wedding invitation worries about the present," says financial coach and advisor Gil Orly. "Today's events take place at standards that are for the most part detached from the financial situation of the middle class, and they require those invited to give checks that adhere to the standard."

According to Dun & Bradstreet, an average wedding costs between NIS 100,000 and NIS 140,000, with just the event hall costing an average of NIS 85,000. Newlyweds manage to partially cover the expense, generally between 70% and 80% with the checks they receive from the guests.

"The standard has become an economic stumbling block for both the inviters and the invited," says Orly. Furthermore, he says, most of the people regard this as an unexpected expense, and do not budget for it.

Orly claims that he has encountered extreme cases of people who have had to increase their income in order to finance checks for events. "We encountered a few people for whom a family member or close friend's celebration caused them to create additional income, such as teaching private lessons. They jumped through hoops for this, and I also know some who didn’t go on their annual family vacation in order to be able to give a respectable amount at a friend or relative's wedding."

Financial planning organization Paamonim Director of Group Activities Sharon Levin adds that in certain ethnic groups, and in the Arab sector, it is even harder to escape this. "There are cultures in which it is customary to give back what was received or more, or else be faced with being cut off from the family. We have seen quite a few cases of people who have had to take out loans to finance this sort of thing, and we are not talking about small sums, we're talking about thousands of shekels."

Stop at the bank on the way to the wedding

The degree of relation to the celebrating party is an important factor in determining the size of the gift. There are circles of relation: The first circle is family members and close friends; the second circle is extended family and work friends and acquaintances.

According to the TRI survey, 6% of Israelis write checks for more than NIS 1,000 for the wedding of a first degree relative, or a very close friend when they attend solo. Most family members attend with their entire families, including spouses and children. Close friends also generally attend with their husband/wife/significant other.

Some 12% part with sums between NIS 800 and NIS 1,000; 15% give between NIS 550 and NIS 800; 16% give between NIS 450 and NIS 550; 21% give the newlyweds between NIS 350 and NIS 400; and just 25% give NIS 350 or less per attendee, or a little less than NIS 700 per couple.

And how much do second circle guests give? According to the survey, 43% come to the event with checks for between NIS 200 and NIS 300; 21% part with NIS 300 NIS 400; 18% make do with a check of up to NIS 200; and about 3% give more than NIS 500.

Only 4% of those surveyed responded that they do not give cash gifts to people who are not first-degree relatives.

At least cover the cost

Covering the cost of a plate at a wedding is one of the more stressful parts of planning an event. "The cost-per-plate is the most significant wedding expense. The average cost-per-plate in central Israel in the summer is between NIS 200 and NIS 450," says Revital Slonim Arie, manager of Zap Weddings. Slonim Arie says that prices-per-plate rise each year - both because of the increase in the cost of ingredients, and because of the rising standards in the sector.

According to the survey, 44% of Israelis give a gift that covers the estimated cost of the meal, and a similar percentage of Israelis give whatever amount they deem appropriate, regardless of the cost of the meal. 12% claim that they give just enough to cover the cost, and less than one percent, 0.8%, said they give less that they believe will cover the cost of the meal at the event to which they were invited.

According to Gil Orly, who dealt with this matter for his company Yevulim, "One of the surprising statistics we saw in the survey was that 72% of invitees do not factor in the price of the meal as a major consideration when writing a check. Guests balance between the desire to give a gift of the expected amount, and their budgetary constraints. They consult other, review lists of how much they received for their weddings, and other considerations, in order to try and find the balancing point."

Sharon Levin from Paamonim adds that a wedding is not a restaurant, and the check really does not need to cover the meal. "Decide what amount you want to give based on the degree of closeness and your personal ability, not based on the location of the event and the cost-per-plate. There are various online calculators available that can be used, such as the KamaKesef calculator on the Zap Weddings website, for choosing the most appropriate amount for a gift. The calculator uses an algorithm that takes into account the cost of the venue, the season, day of week, degree of closeness to the couple, and how many are attending."

Is it possible to plan ahead?

"People don't plan ahead, and they are therefore fairly surprised when they receive an invitation. The way to manage this issue correctly is by saving," says Orly. "The idea is to set aside a certain amount of money each month, each person according to his or her ability and preferences. Most of the middle class will have to give something up in order to save for this. It's hard for us to save for something that seems unnecessary to us, and therefore many people have a hard time saving specifically for weddings, and then arrive at the wedding with an expense that stretches the overdraft in their checking account."

It's important to put aside the "discomfort" that causes the overdraft to balloon, and give a gift that you can afford. Orly suggests resolving to: "Take my financial situation seriously and decide upon a gift accordingly. Forget about 'uncomfortable,' and not live my life according to other people's expectations of me.”

Levin, like Orly, believes that those who plan ahead and save money for this expense will not find themselves in a desperate situation later.

Paamonim also recommends that people attend events alone, or without their kids, which makes it acceptable to give less. If one's financial situations makes it impossible to participate, then skip any events that are not of first circle friends and relatives.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 3, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

wedding; photo: Reuters
wedding; photo: Reuters
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