Well, it’s officially wedding season. And while I happen to love weddings (much to my boyfriend’s dismay), I’ve got to admit – they can be pricey…and not just for the happy couple or wedding party. The average guest plans to spend $673 to attend a wedding this year according to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, and that’s not even including a destination weddings. Being a budget wedding guest gets a little trickier when the expectation is to spend almost $700.
Weddings are expensive for a lot of reasons. They tend to take up whole weekends of your life (especially if you’re traveling), which also means hotel and transportation costs. There’s a gift involved – and unless you’re crafty, it’s likely going to cost at least $50 minimum. Not to mention the fact that everyone seems to get married all at once. Going to weddings, especially several in a row, can really add up.
All that being said, I really do love weddings, and because I’m poor, I tend to think of my wedding trips as vacations since I’m not taking a real one any time soon. I’ve attended every wedding I’ve been invited too, and I’m always glad I’ve gone. That being said, I also watch my budget and try to keep expenses to a reasonable amount.
Here’s my advice on how to attend a wedding without breaking the bank:
- Plan Early for Destination Weddings: If you’re going to fly somewhere for the wedding, book your flight as early as possible. The earlier you book, the more money you’ll save.
- Carpool: If the wedding is drive-able, share a ride with fellow guests who live close and have everyone pitch in for gas. This also works for getting to/from the actual wedding. I know, I know…you want to live it up at the reception, just remember that you’re going to need to get back to your hotel at some point during the night too. Since I know I can’t afford an expensive cab ride from that rural farmhouse back to my urban hotel, I tend to volunteer to drive. That way I save money, and I know my friends are safe (a win-win in my book – even if I sacrifice some free booze).
- Book One of the Rooms Reserved for Wedding Guests: Hotels will often negotiate rates with the bridal party and reserve a block of rooms at a lower price. Check with your bride or groom to see if they’ve taken advantage of these discounts and if you can book one of the discounted rooms (they are often listed on the wedding website nowadays).
- Share a Room: Like carpooling, you’ll save more if you share. A hotel room with 2 beds can easily fit 4 guests who are comfortable with each other, and you’ll pay a fourth of the cost of the room. Even sharing a room with one other person helps, so get cozy!
- Price Match: If you’re looking at the suggested wedding hotels & think ouch, remember, you can always book a different hotel. If you’re willing to drive a little further to the reception or don’t mind not having any other wedding guests near you, check out other hotels in the area and see if they are cheaper…or just book a lower-rated hotel entirely. You run the risk of being stuck somewhere crappy, but if it’s significantly cheaper, it might be worth it.
- Register Early: If a couple has a registry, you don’t want the most reasonably priced items to be taken by the time you get there. Head to your couple’s registry as soon as you can. Also, look for printable coupons, online coupons or promo codes when shopping the couple’s registry.
- Utilize Free Shipping: Buying your gift online can be extremely helpful if you’re flying to a wedding. You don’t want to be charged extra baggage fees for traveling with your gift. Utilize free shipping opportunities early and have your gift shipped to the couple’s home. That way, you also won’t have to worry about lugging a gift around with you – this also helps the couple out since they won’t have to worry about getting your gift home too.
- Make Your Own Gift: If the couple doesn’t have a registry or the price of the items there make you want to crawl under a bed and hide, you can try your hand at homemade gifts. These can be extremely personal and meaningful, not to mention that they have the potential to save you serious cash. Be forewarned though: this only works if you’re actually good at being crafty and/or you think the couple will like it.
- Split the Cost of a Gift: This is an especially great option if you have other friends or family members attending the wedding. Pitch in with a few others to purchase one of the more expensive items on the couple’s registry. This is also a great idea if you’re in the wedding party – talk to the other bridesmaids/groomsmen to see if y’all can get your friend something really cool together.
- Cold Hard Cash: If all else fails, give the couple the amount that you deemed reasonable for spending on the gift in the form of a check or cash. No one will complain about receiving money. Trust me.
- Just a Card: If none of the above work (or you casually forgot you were supposed to bring a gift), then go out & purchase a nice wedding card, write a heartfelt message inside, and bring the card plus yourself to the wedding. The couple invited you to the wedding, not the gift they were expecting you to buy. If money’s too tight after booking your hotel and transportation, then bringing the gift of your company is perfectly fine. Just don’t forget a nice card to show your appreciation for being invited and wishing the couple a long and happy marriage!
- Use What You’ve Got: It can get expensive buying new dresses for weddings, especially if you’re like me and have multiple weddings to go to where many of the same guests will be in attendance. You certainly don’t want to be accused of wearing the same thing to multiple weddings (gasp!), but there are sneaky methods for avoiding a run in with the fashion police. Opt for a simple dress that you can accessorize.
- Gentlemen, you don’t have much to worry about here. No one is going to accuse you of wearing the same suit to multiple weddings so just change up your collared shirt each time and you’re good to go!
- Shop Secondhand: If you have absolutely nothing to wear, try checking out secondhand or thrift shops. You might have to do a little more searching and digging, but with a bit of effort, you could find the perfect vintage-style dress on the cheap. TJ Maxx and Marshall’s are also good options here.
- Rent the Runway: If you’re a bit of a fashionista and need a fabulous dress but you know you’ll only wear it once, you could consider renting the runway at 90% off of the retail price of this season’s hottest fashions. I’d really only recommend this if it’s a black tie or black tie optional wedding.
- DIY Hair and Makeup: Poke around online for formal styles that you can do yourself. Practice you’re designated hair style when you have a free hour or so to make sure you can complete the task on the big day. Or you can be like me and just blow-dry your hair straight for weddings since this is fancier than my usual air-dry “style.” Don’t forget to paint those nails too if you’re wearing open-toed shoes!
Food & Drinks
- Know What “Open Bar” Really Means: At the last wedding I was at, open bar was offered for beer and wine only for the entire evening. A friend and I went up to get a couple of glasses of wine. I got a glass of red and she asked for a glass of champagne. The bartender opened a small bottle of champagne, poured her a glass and charged her $8. Apparently, champagne was not part of the open bar.
- Take Advantage of Free: If soft drinks, coffee and tea are free, then you could consider sticking to these beverages and avoiding the bar if you’re serious about saving.
- BYOB: No, I’m not suggesting you bring a flask to a wedding. What I am suggesting, though, is that you bring your own alcohol for all the non-actual-wedding drinking that tends to happen. Drinking in your hotel room with your friends is not only more comfortable, it can be way cheaper than drinking at the hotel bar. At the last wedding I was at, friends got together to drink the Friday night before the wedding, during the day of the wedding, and that night, after the wedding – that can put a serious dent in your savings if you are purchasing $10 hotel drinks the whole time.
- BYO Snacks: While you’re bringing your own personal party booze, bring your own snacks/food too. Eating out is expensive and adds up quickly – especially if you’re staying at a hotel and need to eat out for every meal. Instead, check to see whether your room has a fridge/microwave (or request one) and bring your own food to eat. You probably won’t be able to avoid all meals out, but at least you can avoid that post-wedding pizza or spending money on breakfast. Lastly, those snacks will definitely come in handy while you’re traveling to/from the wedding so you can avoid costly airport or roadside pit stops.
- Meal Vouchers: Be sure to take advantage of any meal vouchers that come with having booked your room in the wedding block, whether that be a fancy breakfast or simply the continental one offered at the hotel.
Remember: what’s really important is that you’re there to share in your loved ones’ special day. Your presence during their “I Do’s” is what truly matters on a couple’s wedding day. Just remember to be a respectful guest, enjoy yourself, and give the couple plenty of love! <3
What are some of your best tips for attending weddings on a budget?