How to Attend a Wedding on a Budget

There are thousands of articles out there about how to have a wedding on a budget, but what about those of us who are in attendance? Going to weddings, especially several in a row, can really add up. Between the gift, the attire, the transportation and the lodging, you could easily spend hundreds of dollars, and that’s if you’re not a member of the bridal party.

This is a topic that’s close and personal to me at the moment. I’ve attended 2 weddings in the last three months and I have 3 more coming up within the next year. While weddings can really be a blast, there’s just no getting around this simple fact: receiving a wedding invitation in the mail can bring about feelings of anxiety just as much as, if not more, than feelings of excitement.

Let’s start at the beginning, from the moment that the save the date arrives in your mailbox, and go through the point where the bride’s family is dragging “that guy” off the dance floor at the end of the wedding, to when it’s time to head home from the festivities. Here are some ways you can save when you’re set to be a guest at someone’s wedding.

Pre-Wedding Stuff

  • First and Foremost, Determine a Budget: Weddings can be expensive, there’s no doubt about it. Before you get overwhelmed thinking about the money that will go into the weddings you need to attend, sit down and create a reasonable budget for each wedding. What is the total amount that you can afford to spend? Once you have a general number you can break down individual costs of things like gifts and attire from there.
  • 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. Head here to read about 5 ways that you can save on airfare with just a bit of planning.

Transportation and Lodging (Plan Ahead!)

  • Carpool: If the wedding is drivable, share a ride with fellow guests who live close and have everyone pitch in for gas.
  • 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.
  • Share a Room: Just as with 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.

Wedding Gifts

  • Be Early to the Registry: 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. Recently, I save 20% on a wedding gift from a Macy’s registry because I found an applicable promo code!
  • 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.
  • 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. Here are just a few ideas for homemade gifts:
    • Scrapbooks with pictures of the couple throughout their relationship (and even before if you’ve known them for a long time or have access to old pictures)
    • Take a leaf out of Penniless Parenting’s book and create a homemade cookbook with all of your favorite recipes. You can also call up family members and add recipes utilizing the couple’s favorite foods.
    • Crochet a quilt or blanket for the couple. My best friend had a registry for her wedding and one of her favorite wedding gifts was a crocheted blanket that was handmade by the groom’s aunt. It was extremely beautiful and perfect for the new couple to cuddle under!
    • Gift baskets are easy to personalize and easy to make. You could fill a picnic basket with all the fixings for a picnic or make a movie night basket for when the couple just wants to have a night in. Head here for some great gift basket ideas.
  • 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. Recently, when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, a few of the other bridesmaids and I pitched in for a wedding shower gift. Combined, we were able to get the bride a present she may not have received otherwise and we each spent less than we would have if we had bought separate gifts.
  • Everyone Loves Money: 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.

Wedding Attire

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dressing Children: Facing the task of dressing kids in formal attire? Check out some tips from this Wise Bread article.

Party Time!

  • 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.

    So take a lesson from my friend (who was pretty darned angry). Don’t allow yourself to be surprised by unexpected charges. Be sure to ask your bartender if what you’d like to order is included in the open bar before you order.

  • 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.
  • Avoid Spills: Whether you’re wearing the one formal dress or suit you own, you’ve rented your formal wear, or you’re planning to sell or donate it later, be especially careful of spills. It might even help to pack an emergency stain-removal kit just in case.

    Also, speaking of spills, avoid taking them on the dance floor once you’ve had a couple of drinks. A trip to the emergency room might put a damper on the special day, and it won’t be cheap either!

What’s Really Important

Remember: what’s really important is that you’re there to share in your loved ones’ special day. Your presence, encouragement and support are what truly matter on a couple’s wedding day. Just remember to be a respectful guest, enjoy yourself, and give the couple plenty of love!

What are some of your best tips for attending weddings on a budget?


National Endowment for Financial Education
Money Crashers

Photo credit: jarrodlombardo, Duet Photography, fredsoo, Wedding Paraphernalia, party cloz