When a save-the-date arrives in your mailbox, you want to feel thrilled for your engaged friends. Instead, you feel a heavy knot forming at the bottom of your stomach. How much is this wedding going to set you back?
We all know weddings aren’t the most budget-friendly affair — for couples or guests. With the gift, travel, and your outfit, you can easily drop a few hundred dollars on someone else’s wedding. Some factors, like long travel distances and being a close friend of the betrothed, push the cost up.
Whether you’re going to a family member’s lavish nuptials, a destination wedding, or the casual ceremony of a friend, you don’t have to go into debt to do it.
How to Save Money as a Wedding Guest
Whether it’s a one-off wedding during the year or wedding season, don’t get caught unprepared. As the invitations start coming in, make a plan and budget. Know what you can spend, whose weddings you can attend, and how you can cut costs all-around.
How to Save Money Before the Wedding
Start making a plan to save money the minute you get the save-the-date. Decide what you want to spend money on and where it’s OK to cut back.
Careful planning makes you less likely to overspend.
1. Get the Details Upfront
The good news first: It’s a lot easier to attend someone else’s wedding than to plan your own. But you still have a lot to do as a wedding guest. Last-minute realizations can dash all your careful plans, especially if there’s more than one wedding to attend.
Make a game plan by finding out:
- Where (city and state and specific venue)
- When (date and time)
- The theme, style, and expectations of guests
- Your role in the wedding (being in the wedding party may be more expensive)
- If applicable, how many weddings you’re invited to
Getting as much information as soon as possible helps you set your budget and determine whether you can attend every wedding. It can also help you figure out ways to cut your expenses.
For example, perhaps your cousin and high school bestie are getting married in your hometown on two consecutive weekends. You may be able to make one trip, saving on transportation, instead of having to travel home twice.
Or perhaps a co-worker and your college roommate are planning their weddings for the same weekend. You can only attend one, which can help you save money.
2. Learn to Say No
Some weddings are modest affairs, while others turn into multiday, if not multi-month, programs with events ranging from engagement and pre-wedding parties to showers and post-wedding brunches.
As a wedding guest, you’re free to choose what events you attend as long as you’re invited. Your relationship with the person getting married might influence your decision, but don’t feel obligated to attend every gathering celebrating their big day, especially if they require a lot of travel and planning on your part.
You can also freely say no if someone asks you to be a bridesmaid or groomsman. If you’re going to say no to the wedding party, let the person know ASAP so they can move on to the next person on their list.
Go with your gut here — it’s fine to say no right away if you know bridesmaid or groomsman duty isn’t for you. You can also ask for a day or two to think about it, but don’t leave it longer than that.
Be honest when saying no and give the person a reason:
- You’ve got too much going on with work, school, or the kids.
- You’re planning your own wedding.
- You’re expecting a child.
- You’re on a tight budget.
- You’ll be traveling.
Be prepared for some pushback from your friend. For example, if you say you can’t afford bridesmaid duty, they might offer to pay. If that happens, ask what they’ll pay for. You need to be clear about expectations upfront to make an informed decision.
3. Make a Budget
You need to know how much you can afford to spend before shopping for things like gifts and outfits, especially if you have to travel to get there.
To figure that out, set a wedding budget. First, look at your personal budget to see where you can afford to cut back. Adjust your discretionary spending, such as eating out less or skipping your weekly movie, to make room for the wedding.
Next, decide what you’re going to spend and on what. Some categories to account for in your budget include:
- The gift
- Wedding clothes (including shoes and accessories)
- Travel (airfare, train tickets, gas)
- Food and snacks (on the road and during wedding downtime)
- Hair, makeup, and grooming
Review your finances to figure out what you can afford in each category. As you prep for the wedding, refer to your budget to stay on track and avoid spending too much.
4. Look for Deals
Armed with all the information you’ve collected about the wedding, you can start hunting for deals.
First, create a separate email account for wedding-related sales alerts to keep your regular inbox from getting inundated. You can close the account after the wedding.
Then, choose three to five places where you’re likely to shop for wedding apparel or gifts. Don’t forget beauty stores like Ulta and Sephora if you plan to wear makeup or need fragrance or hair care products.
Check the newsletter they send you frequently for sales and deals that apply to the outfit you plan to wear or a gift you’re considering. For example, if Macy’s runs a sale on the dress boots you want (or a similar pair), you know to snag it soon.
And sign up for all the stores’ loyalty programs. You’re unlikely to earn enough rewards points to get a discount before your wedding unless you were already a member. But many retailers, such as Nordstrom and William Sonoma, offer members-only discounts. And you might earn enough rewards buying the outfit to get yourself something nice later.
You can also buy discounted gift cards for retailers and services you anticipate using for the wedding. For example, snag a reduced-price gift card to the store where the couple is registered, then use it to buy their gift. You can find discounted gift cards on sites like Raise, Gift Card Granny, and CardCash.
For online shopping, install and use a browser extension like Honey or Rakuten. Shopping extensions work by either scouring the Internet for the best deals on any product you’re looking for or automatically applying coupon codes at checkout (or both).
None of these methods is likely to score you a huge discount. But together, they could easily pay for an Uber or Lyft home from the reception.
5. Sign Up for a Cash-Back Credit Card
As long as you don’t go over budget and charge more than you can pay back, you can use a rewards or cash-back credit card to pay for wedding expenses. That way, you earn a percentage of every purchase back.
Look for cards with attractive sign-up bonuses. For example, as of this writing, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card and Capital One Quicksilver card give you a $200 bonus if you spend $500 in the first three months.
That’s the cost of a new outfit or a cheap plane ticket sorted. You also get at least 1.5% cash back, which you can redeem as a statement credit, through the rewards portal, or as a gift card.
Redeem your cash back for gift cards or use it to cover a purchase you made with the card.
If you get the card early enough, you can rack up enough points to buy the wedding gift or cover the cost of your trip.
How to Save Money on Wedding Clothes and Accessories
You’re going to want to dress up, even for a relatively relaxed wedding. Fortunately, you can clean up nicely without breaking your wedding budget.
6. Wear Something You Already Own
Before you even look for clothes, shop your closet. There’s no need to spend on a new outfit when you have something that fits and looks good.
Even if you don’t have a complete outfit, you may have pieces you can use, like those killer shoes you love but have never worn or classic work bottoms that just need a little dressing up.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Outfits
In “Crazy Rich Asians,” Astrid is known for being fashionable and always having the best outfits. But she wears the same simple dress to each wedding. Doing so allows the attention to stay focused on the happy couple and saves time and money.
If a fashion plate like Astrid can repeat outfits, so can you. You can easily wear the same gray suit or little black dress to every wedding you go to. That’s especially true if the weddings are among different friend or family groups.
Add some variety to your wedding outfit by mixing up your accessories if you can afford it (another argument in favor of neutral colors). For example, wear a gold necklace to one wedding and silver hoops and a bracelet to the next. Or pick a blue tie for Wedding A and a green tie for Wedding B.
Adjust your accessories to make the same outfit appropriate for a daytime or evening affair. Flats can work for an afternoon wedding, while an evening reception calls for heels. Or wear an open collar in the daytime and a tie at night.
8. Rent Your Outfit
A basic suit or classic dress will serve you well for many weddings. But you might have that one friend who won’t settle for anything less than black- or white-tie.
In those cases, your best money-saving bet is to rent your wedding outfit. Rent the Runway lets you borrow designer gowns for a fraction of the retail price. Most rentals are for four days and include shipping and return mailing as well as dry cleaning.
9. DIY Grooming, Hair, and Makeup
Getting your hair done for a friend’s wedding is a treat until you see the price tag. Remember, everyone’s going to be looking at the couple anyway, so it makes sense to save money by styling your hair yourself.
If you’re going to remove hair pre-wedding (such as your beard or eyebrows), skip the pricey barbershop or waxing spa and do it yourself. Now’s not the time to go to extremes, though. Focus on a little cleanup, not a makeover.
The same is true for makeup if you wear it. And keep it simple. Your friend’s wedding isn’t the time to try a complicated YouTube beauty tutorial.
If you’re absolutely hopeless when it comes to hair and cosmetics, enlist the help of a talented friend or relative.
10. Hold a Pre-Wedding Swap With Friends
You’ve got weddings to go to, and so do your friends. One money-saving option for everyone is to exchange outfits and accessories before each event.
Try trading accessories like ties, jewelry, and shoes. You’ll expand the size of your wedding guest wardrobe without spending a cent.
How to Save Money on the Wedding Gift
You don’t want your gift to look cheap or thoughtless, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save money. Even if the couple’s registry gifts are a little outside your price range, there are still ways to save.
11. Buy the Wedding Gift ASAP
When it comes to the wedding registry, you have to get while the getting is good. That means picking a gift before all that’s left are a random salt-and-pepper shaker set and Dyson vacuum cleaner. The sooner you buy, the easier it is to find a gift that works with your budget.
12. Remember It’s the Thought That Counts
If you can’t afford anything from the registry, skip it. It really is the thought that counts when you give a gift. Think about what the couple needs or would really enjoy when choosing a gift.
Recall conversations you’ve had with them. Maybe they mentioned that they want to have dinner parties once they’re married. If so, a table linen set makes a thoughtful gift.
Or perhaps they’ve mentioned that doors in their new home stick or squeak. A can of WD-40, a door repair kit, and a note shows you listened to their concerns (especially if your note offers to repair the door yourself).
Fortunately, many couples register for multiple smaller gifts that cost $5 to $10 or less. And it’s not uncommon for them to find that none of those gifts are in their wedding gift boxes. Understandably, many guests want to opt for something flashier or more expensive. But you can use it to your advantage.
Buy several less expensive gifts and put them into a gift basket. That lets you spend up to your limit and ensures the happy couple gets all the little things they need to start their life together.
If possible, buy complete sets and opt for a theme. For example, you could buy all the tea towels, the spoon rest, and all the serving spoons to help outfit their kitchen. Amp up the thoughtfulness by adding a personal touch, such as a few easy recipes.
13. Shop Around
Just because a couple has put something on their registry at one store doesn’t mean you have to buy the gift from that particular retailer. You might find it cheaper somewhere else.
It pays to shop around for gifts. A tool like Capital One Shopping does the work for you, automatically finding lower prices or applying coupons.
But if you find a registered gift at another store, update the couple’s registry to prevent duplicates. Most registries let you mark a gift as purchased even if you didn’t buy directly from the retailer.
14. Go Halfsies With a Friend
You can also split the cost of a pricey wedding gift with your friends. Dividing the cost makes particular sense when the people getting married only want big-ticket items, like a high-end vacuum or stand mixer.
But it’s also perfect for couples who aren’t expecting most guests to spend much, especially if it’s something they’ll use every day. For example, if you split a $100 cookware set three ways, each of you only pays just over $30, and they get a fantastic wedding gift.
How to Save Money on Wedding Travel and Accommodations
Whether you get there by plane, train, or automobile, you have to shell out to transport yourself to the wedding. The costs also add up if you need to stay a few days for wedding-related events. Fortunately, there are ways to save on your travel and accommodations too.
If the wedding is within driving distance, carpooling with others can help you all save on gas and tolls. Carpooling is also a good option for open-bar weddings since it allows you to designate a driver.
Carpooling is especially cost-saving if you’re renting a car. If you split the cost with three or four friends, it doesn’t eat into your budgets as much.
16. Weigh Your Options
It’s not always obvious which method is cheapest. Depending on how far you’re going and the available travel options, costs can vary. And when it comes to events, price isn’t the only factor you have to consider. You also have to get there on time.
But you can use travel search engines like Rome2Rio to get all the info you need. It shows you the cost and travel time of various modes of transportation to help you make the best decision. It can also show you different combinations of travel options, such as taking a flight to a city on the way and finishing the journey by bus or train.
And you might be surprised when it comes to which travel methods are most affordable. For example, flying from Dallas to Nashville can actually be almost $20 cheaper and much faster than taking the bus. It’s even slightly cheaper than driving, depending on your gas mileage.
But it doesn’t end there. When it comes to airfare, the airports you choose to fly from or to can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
So Rome2Rio also shows you which airports are the cheapest. For instance, you can only get that inexpensive Dallas-to-Nashville fare if you fly out of Love Field instead of the considerably larger (and more convenient for many) Dallas-Fort Worth International.
17. Find Your Own Hotel
Even if the couple has blocked off some rooms at a local hotel, it can be worthwhile to search around for hotel deals to get a better rate. If you don’t mind staying at a different hotel than the other guests, you could save considerable money.
18. Share Accommodations
Splitting the cost of a hotel room with another guest can save you a bundle even if you decide to stay at the same hotel the couple booked. Or you can use the savings to stay in a nicer room than you typically would.
Even better, get a peer-to-peer rental, such as Vrbo or Airbnb, for several people. You can rent an entire house, which helps you save on food costs since you have access to a kitchen.
Depending on how much you want to save, you might have to sacrifice a bit of comfort. Share beds with friends or have someone sleep on a couch or air mattress.
If you’re traveling solo, you can still save money by booking a private room in a shared Airbnb residence.
But a peer-to-peer rental isn’t always cheaper than a hotel room, especially if you’re willing to double up and share rooms and beds. Always compare prices before booking to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
There are also free accommodation options.
Sites like Couchsurfing and TrustedHousesitters let you search for people in your destination area willing to put you up for the night or let you stay in their place while they’re gone in exchange for taking care of pets or just keeping an eye on things.
19. Book Travel in Advance
You typically get the best rate on transportation if you book as far in advance as possible. For example, Amtrak offers reduced prices on train tickets if you book at least 14 days before the trip. Airfare also tends to be cheaper the earlier you book.
When you buy tickets ahead, you also get the best selection in terms of schedule. Trains, buses, and planes can and do sell out.
If you’re going to fly to the wedding, use Google Flights to keep tabs on airfare for your preferred dates and locations. You can use the flight tracker to see the lowest prices for a window of dates, which can help you decide when to leave or come back from the trip.
But the book-in-advance rule doesn’t usually apply to hotels. You might get a deal if you wait until the last minute, especially if the hotel has a generous cancellation policy and lots of travelers cancel their bookings. But that can be risky if you don’t have a backup plan, and you may not save enough to make it worth it.
20. Combine Wedding Travel With Your Vacation
You’ve got vacation days in the bank, and your friend is getting married in a dream location. If you were going to take time off anyway, it can be cost-effective to extend your stay for a few days and combine attending a wedding with your vacation.
You can also stop at the wedding on the way to your vacation. For example, if you’re a New Yorker whose friend is getting married in Nebraska, you can make a pit stop in the Midwest on your way to your planned West Coast vacation.
21. Bring Your Own Food
Food is part of most wedding events, including the reception, rehearsal dinner, and any related parties. But if you’re traveling for the big to-do, you’re going to have to fend for yourself for a few meals.
Since eating at restaurants for every meal will do a number on your wallet, bring your own food or stop at a local supermarket to get ingredients to make simple, healthy meals.
Consider your accommodations when shopping. If you have a full kitchen, a few salad kits, cartons of ready-made soup, and yogurt can tide you over but don’t require extensive prep.
Going to a wedding shouldn’t cause you financial stress. So firm up your budget and crunch the numbers to ensure you know exactly what you have to work with.
Then, get ready to accept or politely decline the invitations that come your way. Knowing in advance what you can afford to spend on clothes, the gift, travel expenses, and any bridal party costs can help you avoid busting your budget.