When you're an invited guest to a wedding, how do you keep the costs of attending, such as travel, fancy outfits and gifts, under control? These items can really add up, especially when you're invited to numerous events in a short period of time. Here are some tips for minimizing your expenses.
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
With family and friends spread out across the country and even the world, what may seem like a hometown wedding for the bride and groom can seem like a destination wedding for invitees. Normally, a trip to visit a distant friend might not be expensive because you could crash with them, but with a wedding days away, you'll have to pay for your lodging and transportation unless you have another generous friend or relative at your destination.
As much as you might feel obligated to attend every out of town wedding you're invited to, and as much as you might actually want to attend when it's the wedding of someone you're close to, sometimes you have to put yourself first. The option that will save you the most money is, of course, to stay home. You can use some of the money you saved to buy an extra special gift that expresses how much you wish you could have attended.
If you do choose to attend, see if you can turn the wedding trip into your annual vacation. If you have enough advance notice and good credit, signing up for a credit card promotion that awards you with oodles of frequent flyer miles could get you to the destination for free. A different credit card might get you a free night or two in a hotel. Don't feel guilty about not giving a gift or giving a smaller gift if it's a struggle for you to make the trip. The effort you make to attend is meaningful. (To help you create a budget that includes attending a wedding, see The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
Even local weddings can be expensive, especially for families and couples with combined finances. Formal weddings require formal attire (don't be that girl who wears her nightclub attire to the country club wedding). If you don't already have the requisite suit, tie, shirt, dress shoes, dress, accessories and so on, just getting dressed for the wedding can take a chunk out of your wallet. Instead of handing over your credit card at a high end department store, start shopping for attire as soon as you receive a wedding invitation and you'll have plenty of time to shop sales and visit discount stores. You can get a $200 dress for $40 if you're diligent (and yes, it will still have the tags on it).
As for the gift, if you know any other invitees, ask them about joining forces to purchase a more expensive registry item. Couples often don't receive any of the pricier items on their list, so they'll be thrilled to get one, even if it means you spent less money per person.
If you have friends or family with unrealistic expectations about what you can afford, whether on travel, attire or gifts, don't let their notions pressure you into spending beyond your means. Don't be a cheapskate, but only spend what you're comfortable with. If it bothers them, it's their problem, not yours. (For related reading, see Have A Princess Wedding On A Pauper Budget.)
Some people see engagement parties as a form of present grubbing, but some people just like any excuse to throw a party. Don't feel obligated to go if you are not particularly close to the bride or groom. If you are, offer to help plan, decorate or prepare for the party and complement the gift of your time with a smaller gift. You could also contribute something noteworthy for the party in lieu of a gift.
If you're the maid of honor, you might be expected to organize and pay for the bridal shower. Putting together a party for 10 to 50 people isn't cheap or easy, though. You'll need to purchase invitations and postage, provide food, decorate and possibly rent tables and chairs to accommodate all the guests.
If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it. It's perfectly acceptable to ask the bride's mother-in-law to be, the bride's mother and the other women in the bridal party to help you with both the expenses and the planning. In fact, many of these people will probably be happy to help you and thrilled to be included.
If you're merely a guest at a bridal shower and you've already provided an engagement gift and a wedding gift, you don't need to spend a lot of money on a bridal shower gift. If you're attending the shower of someone who attended yours, take that into consideration and try to reciprocate with the level of gift they gave you. A true friend, however, will not expect you to go into credit card debt to shower her with gifts.
Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties
A night on the town can be expensive enough when you're paying your own way, but you'll also be expected to pitch in for the guest of honor. Gag gifts, entertainment and alcohol can get expensive fast - especially in group situations where you're often expected to split the tab and you're faced with the diner's dilemma.
The best way to make this event affordable is to get yourself on the planning committee and steer the night's events toward something reasonable while keeping your almost-married friend's idea of a good time foremost. If that's not an option, rather than fretting about money the whole night and having a lousy time, it might be best to just go with the crowd, spend your money, have a great time and cut back somewhere else in your budget to make up for it. If the party is for someone you aren't very close to, though, don't feel bad about skipping it.
TUTORIAL: Setting Up A Budget
The Bottom Line
At certain times in your life, it may feel like you're invited to another wedding every week. Put yourself in the invitee's shoes when formulating your response, but don't feel obligated to attend every event you receive an RSVP card for. Prioritize the special occasions of the people who are most important to you and use these tips to make attending those events affordable. (For related reading, see Have A Charming (And Cheap) Wedding.)