It feels great to get invited to a wedding. Being asked by a relative or friend to share in one of life’s biggest milestones can be an honor. But it can also be costly—and not just for the marrying couple. According to The Knot 2018 Wedding Guest Study, the average guest spends $289 on gifts and costs associated with wedding day. The average spend climbs to more than $900 for guests attending out-of-town weddings, which includes the cost of travel, accommodations, gifts, attire and accessories.
To add to the expense, wedding invitations tend to cluster around certain times of your life—mid-20s, early 30s, for instance. Multiply these costs three or four times in a given year, and you’re talking about a major wipeout of your funds. And, it’s all happening at a time when you should be getting a strong financial footing.
According to a Bankrate study, the expense of attending a wedding can be so overwhelming that nearly one-in-five respondents have declined an invitation because they couldn’t afford to go. Rather than bail, the question to ask yourself is, “How can I save money as a wedding guest?”
“If you have a busy wedding season ahead of you, I recommend making a budget ASAP,” says Janessa White, co-founder of Simply Eloped, a wedding planning service specializing in elopement packages.
While the happy couples are busy planning their events, it seems you’ve got some planning to do of your own: namely, figuring out how to save money as a wedding guest. In between dusting off your dancing shoes and checking out gift registries, try these tips for saving money as a wedding guest:
1. Proactively budget
Once you accept a wedding invitation, try to be mindful of every wedding-related dollar you spend to save money as a wedding guest. This could include costs for pre-parties (think engagement parties, showers and bachelor/bachelorette gatherings), gifts and travel expenses. Tracking your expenses as a wedding guest will provide insight into how much you’re spending (is the hair appointment before the wedding a must-have?) and will help you prioritize the festivities and expenses most important to you.
If multiple weddings are on your calendar, you may want to consider devoting a portion of your entertainment or discretionary budget to attending. You could even carve out a budget goal for each wedding if it’s a jam-packed year. From there, Jennifer Spector, director of brand at wedding planning and registry site Zola, says to allocate most of your spend to the main event. “Spend about 40 percent on pre-wedding events like the bridal shower or engagement party and 60 percent on the wedding gift,” Spector says. You’ll start saving money as a wedding guest faster than you think.
The average guest spends $289 on gifts and costs associated with wedding day. The average spend climbs to more than $900 for guests attending out-of-town weddings.
When it comes to gifts and ways to save as a wedding guest, “You don’t need to go into debt ensuring that your friends have a luxurious present,” says Kylie Carlson, director of the International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning. To keep the cost in line with your budget, “opt for practical travel gifts if they’re going on a honeymoon, or simply donate to their honeymoon fund.”
If you’re attending a destination wedding, you may be able to forgo a gift altogether. “While there are no strict rules on this, it’s often assumed that if you’re traveling far to attend a wedding, you don’t necessarily need to bring a gift,” Carlson says.
2. Pick your go-to wedding attire
Buying new clothes for each wedding you attend may seem fun, but if you’re focused on how to save money as a wedding guest, consider some creative ways to scale back or reuse.
“Buy a nice wedding staple for the wedding season and switch it up with accessories or shoes,” Carlson says. “The beauty of being a wedding guest is that it’s okay to recycle an outfit from one wedding to the next.”
Product and travel review blogger Alexandra Tran—for whom it’s not unusual to attend four-to-six weddings in a year—has one main recommendation for how to save money as a wedding guest: Skip the stores and shop in your own closet. You may find something you haven’t worn in ages that will be perfect for the occasion.
Another way to save as a wedding guest is to consider attire from a site that rents designer threads for a fraction of what it would cost to buy the apparel.
If you do decide to dish out for a new outfit for an upcoming wedding, remember to factor that in to your overall wedding guest budget.
3. Be the early bird
Planning ahead could help when it comes to ways to save as a wedding guest. If you put off wedding purchases, it could end up costing you more by missing out on sales, having to make an expensive last-minute buy or having to do rush deliveries.
“Registry gifts will go fast the closer the wedding gets, so purchase your gift early to have the widest selection,” says Spector, Zola’s brand director. Hitting the registry early means you’ll have a better chance of picking something that fits your budget.
If you’re traveling, planning early comes even more into play if you’re considering how to save money as a wedding guest. “Booking last-minute is the worst mistake you can make,” Tran says. She recommends signing up for travel alerts through search engines or travel sites to snag the best deals on flights and accommodations. Otherwise, “you could end up spending more than triple what you would if you’d been alerted to deals,” Tran adds.
“You don’t need to go into debt ensuring that your friends have a luxurious present. Opt for practical travel gifts if they’re going on a honeymoon, or simply donate to their honeymoon fund.”
4. Split costs with other invitees
Saving money as a wedding guest gets easier when you share some of the expenses with friends or family members who are also attending.
“Gifts for the couple can be expensive on your own, so consider going in on a gift with friends,” says White of Simply Eloped. “This way, you can stay within your budget and still give a meaningful gift, since a gift budget can range from $20 to $50 with this method.”
If the event involves travel, splitting the cost of a vacation rental and divvying up cab fare are other ways to save as a wedding guest. “The best part about attending lots of weddings is the chance to build memories,” White says. Sharing a house with friends may offer more opportunities to create them.
5. Be comfortable saying no
If you’ve crunched the numbers, tried the tips above and the event is still putting too much strain on your budget, the wedding may just not be in the cards, especially if you’re working toward other financial goals and priorities. In this case, saving money as a wedding guest could mean gracefully declining an invitation. And that’s totally OK.
Most couples will understand, Spector says, especially in the case of a destination wedding that requires expensive travel. As you decide which events to attend to save money as a wedding guest, “consider the people you’re especially close with,” Spector adds, “and make a priority list of celebrations you couldn’t imagine missing.”
Respond to your RVSP promptly to let the couple know you won’t be able to make it. Even if you can’t be there, marking the occasion with a handmade or sentimental gift can take the sting out of potential disappointment.