If you’re in your 20s or 30s, there’s a good chance your refrigerator is covered with Save the Date cards and every weekend from May to September is booked with wedding travel. But with surveys reporting that guests spend an average of $673 on each wedding they attend, those invites can be as daunting as they are exciting. Here are some simple ways to protect your wallet—and your state of mind—this wedding season.
1. JUST SAY NO.
The easiest way to save money as a wedding guest is to not attend. You may think it’s rude to decline an invitation, but the practice is more common than you might think: Wedding experts estimate that 20 to 25 percent of invited guests will RSVP “not attending” to a local wedding, and 30 to 35 percent of invitees will decline to attend destination weddings.
If you choose not to attend, it’s a nice gesture to send a handwritten note along with your RSVP card wishing the couple well and expressing your regrets. If the couple are close friends or family members, be honest about your reason for not attending. And while sending a gift in your place is not obligatory, it is a gracious thing to do (see below for ways to give a thoughtful gift without breaking the bank).
2. ATTEND THE PARTY, DON’T BE THE PARTY.
Between the required outfit, additional travel costs, and pre-wedding events like showers and bachelor or bachelorette parties, being a bridesmaid or groomsman can get very expensive very quickly. If you’re close enough to be asked to be a part of the wedding party, saying “no” to your wedding invite altogether probably isn’t an option. But if you’re strapped for cash, it is perfectly reasonable to explain to the bride or groom that you’re not in the position to be a bridesmaid or groomsman. You can also accept the gracious invitation but manage expectations from the beginning: Explain that while you love the couple and would be honored to stand by them at the altar, you don’t have the means to throw down for a bachelor or bachelorette party, for example.
3. GIFT EARLY…
So you’ve decided to attend the wedding, now it’s time to purchase a gift. (Sorry, folks, gifts are required for attending guests.) As soon as you get the invitation, log on to the couple’s registry. This way you’ll have first pick and a better chance of finding a nice gift in your price range.
4. … OR GIFT TOGETHER.
You can also save a bit of money by giving a gift as a couple or larger group. This way, you can combine forces to purchase a bigger ticket item (if five of you each pony up $50, you can afford that fancy kitchen mixer), rather than settling on the pillowcase set or measuring cups you’d be able to afford on your own.
5. COMPARISON SHOP.
If you begin your gift search early, you also have time to scope out better prices from other stores for the items on the gift registry. Once you make your purchase, just be sure to mark the item as “purchased” on the registry (even if you didn’t buy it from the recommended retailer) to avoid duplicate gifts from other guests.
6. MAKE USE OF YOUR TALENTS.
The registry—or even a physical item—is not the be-all-and-end-all of wedding gifts. If you have a unique talent, offer to help the couple with a wedding task as your gift. Know calligraphy? Offer to address the invitations. Handy with graphic design? Why not offer your services to create the wedding menu or program? If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, you could offer to bake a tasty treat for the dessert table (knowing full well that the couple may choose to leave the cake to a professional).
7. BOOK TRAVEL STRATEGICALLY.
Take advantage of all the tricks available to you for saving money on your travel expenses: Make use of your credit card reward miles, search for flights on a Tuesday, and clear your memory cache before doing so (airlines and discount websites have been known to track your visits to their sites and raise the prices on flights you’ve considered before).
8. CONSIDER ALL YOUR LODGING CHOICES.
Before booking your accommodations, consider all your options. Sometimes, the discounted rates the couple negotiated for their hotel room blocks really are the lowest available. And, since couples often use the hotel as the location for pre-wedding happy hours and post-wedding brunches (or, the hotel may itself be the wedding venue), staying there can save you money on cab fare traveling to and from a different hotel. But not always, so be sure to scope out other hotels in the area and also look into the cost of booking a house or apartment from a short-term renting website.
9. SHARE THE LOAD.
Join forces with other guests to cut costs whenever possible. Consider sharing a hotel room or rental with friends or family, and if the wedding is within driving distance from your home, carpool. You can also sometimes find group rates for airfare—usually through a third-party booking service—if you’re traveling with large groups.
10. DRESS SMART.
Buying a new outfit for each wedding you attend can be expensive. Instead, invest in a versatile dress or suit that you can spice up with different accessories for each event you attend and purchase a single pair of neutral shoes that work with a number of different looks. You can also rent designer suits and dresses for a fraction of the retail cost (this comes in especially handy for black tie weddings—why spend hundreds of dollars on a tux or evening gown you’ll likely only wear once?).
11. SAY GOODNIGHT EARLY.
Weddings often include free dinner and an open bar, but the hosts’ generosity rarely extends after the final dance. While you may be tempted to continue the party long into the night, this could lead to a substantial bar tab. To avoid unnecessary spending, bid the couple and fellow guests adieu after the main event, or make the decision not to eat or drink at the after party. (A choice both your wallet and your body will thank you for.)