Summer time means wedding season and while it’s an honor to partake in a couple’s special day, it doesn’t come cheap.
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According to American Express, guests spend an average $592 to attend a wedding, which includes travel and accommodations, special attire and accessories, and a wedding gift.
“You have to come up with a budget and think about what you can afford from start to finish — from the engagement party to throwing the rice — because you might have more than one friend getting married,” says Susan Bruno, certified public accountant in Stamford, Conn. “Remember, this is their future and you’re celebrating it for them.”
Once you’ve decided how much you can spend on weddings, experts suggest downsizing your invite list. After all, a wedding is often not a singular event and is preceded with an engagement party, showers and a bachelorette party.
Experts say not to be afraid to say no to some events, especially those that become too expensive because of airfare and hotel. “Nobody, including your friends, wants you to go into debt to attend a wedding,” says Bruno.
If you’re asked to be part of the wedding party, Mackey McNeill, founder and CEO of Mackey Advisors, suggests looking at your financial resources before accepting the honor, which can easily cost a few thousand dollars between parties, clothing and lodging. If you’re going to go into credit card debt to participate, consider declining the invitation, she warns. “It’s great to be a friend and be there, but if you’re already paycheck to paycheck, you don’t want this to put you over the edge.”
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Members of the wedding party have additional expenses to attend the wedding, and a gift on top of these can break the budget. “If you’re a really good friend…your friend will understand if you can’t give a gift,” says Bruno. “It’s an honor that you’re going out of your way and spending money on a dress and an evening in a hotel, they’ll understand if you can’t give a gift on top of that.”
To help make wedding season more affordable so you don’t start to fall in the red, experts provide these budget-saving tips:
“The first thing you should carve off the top is what you want to give them as a gift,” says Bruno. If you can’t afford to attend all the events since gifts can add up, politely decline.
When you’re trying to decide how much to spend, “you should give the gift of the value that you would spend on a good dinner,” says Kelley Long, certified public accountant in Chicago. Couples who are throwing a very extravagant wedding don’t expect guests to match what they spent, so give an amount that fits your budget, she adds.
Being creative with your gift giving can help cut back on expenses. For example, giving a special photo of the couple may be more meaningful than an item off their registry. Framing the invitation with pressed flowers and a nice mat is a special and inexpensive gift as well.
“If you have a close friend or family member planning a wedding, you may consider offering to play a supporting role in their big day rather than writing a large check or purchasing a big-ticket item from their registry,” adds Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise. Using your own talents and resources like addressing invitations, offering a classic car for transportation or designing menu cards can be a very special way of acknowledging the couple without creating a financial strain.
Nowadays, you don’t have to spend a fortune finding the perfect attire. You can rent, borrow and browse online and in-store sales racks to find a good deal.
“If you’re just a guest, go to the high-end consignment shop and you’ll find that designer dress for 20% of what it was when it was sold new,” says Bruno. These stores also have shoes and accessories that you can purchase for a bargain. “If you’re on a budget anyway, you’re not going to get that dress at a department store but you might find it at a consignment shop,” she adds.
Although men will likely be able to wear their suit more than once, ask when the item goes on sale. Buying your clothes a few days later may help you save a bundle. “Plan ahead,” says Bruno.
When budgeting for an out-of-town wedding, experts recommend including transportation, lodging and food.
Oftentimes, a couple will reserve a block of rooms at a discounted price. “Don’t stay at the hotel that they tell you to stay at unless there’s a really good deal and you can afford it,” says Bruno. If you know other people making the trip, consider renting a house as a cheaper alternative.
To lower the transportation costs, experts recommend carpooling or using miles to pay for the airline ticket. Fares are generally lower if you plan ahead or book tickets in advance — sometimes you can get a package deal by booking an airplane ticket and hotel together.
“Ask the bride and groom if there’s anyone in town who can help with your lodging and transportation,” says Long. Another local guest may be willing to let you stay in their home or can offer transportation to and from the wedding to help lower your costs.