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How to Attend a Wedding Without Going Broke

From pooling resources to recycling something old — ways guests can save on summer nuptials​

spinner image wedding guests throwing confetti over bride and groom on church steps
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Attending a wedding is never cheap, but add high inflation and rising interest rates to the mix, and being a guest has gotten downright expensive.

That’s even if you aren’t the best man, maid of honor or in the bridal party.  The average overall cost per person to attend a wedding is $611 this year, according to a recent Bankrate survey. Wedding guests intend to spend $456 on travel and lodging, $321 on gifts and $274 on attire and sprucing up for the event.

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“The costs of weddings are still at an all-time high, while inflation has softened vendors prices are normally planned and published a year out and vendors are still seeing increases in the costs of food and flowers,” says Tonya Hoopes, owner of Hoopes Events. “Everything from gifts to outfits to travel has seen a dramatic increase in cost over the past couple of years. Be it a local or destination wedding, guests are finding the all-time fuel costs are causing it to be more expensive to attend.”

When it comes to attending a wedding, you are on the hook for several outlays. The gift is a big one. According to Bankrate, guests typically spend about $321 on that alone. Then there are the travel costs. Even if the wedding is local, with gas prices high, that can be a budget buster. If you need a new suit, dress and/or shoes, it can set you back further, particularly with clothing prices up year over year. The good news is, short of saying no, there are ways to save on all the trappings associated with celebrating marital bliss.

1. Go in on the wedding gift

One way to save, courtesy of Sarah Hanlon, associate editor of The Knot, is to consider going in on a gift with a group of other guests. Check out the couple’s wedding registry online, select a high-ticket item and then split the cost with several people. “This is a great way to contribute to an awesome gift for the newlyweds while staying comfortably within your budget,” says Hanlon.

Another way to reduce your outlays: shop the sales. If you spot an item on the couple’s registry that you want to give, watch for the item to go on sale or for a store coupon or discount code. “If you are looking at an item from an online site and they have a 20 percent-off discount if you sign up for [their] text, this is a great way to get a present that would normally cost more while saving on the gift,” says Hoopes. “And the best part is the couple will never know you saved on the cost, believing you paid more than you did.”

2. Pool travel and transportation costs

If you are attending a destination wedding, Hanlon says to check the couple’s wedding website for travel and lodging arrangements. Often they want to help guests offset the costs of attending and will provide for discounted hotel room blocks or free transportation to the venue.

Book your flight or hotel room early. The longer you wait, the more you’ll end up paying. Finding travel buddies can also be a way to reduce some of the expenses. “Planning ahead is key to staying within your budget. If you know other guests who will be attending, consider pooling your funds for gas, rental cars or even an Airbnb, if necessary,” says Hanlon. “The sooner you start making travel plans, the easier it’ll be to set — and stick with — a budget.”

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If you don’t know anyone you can travel with and the event is in an expensive location, consider staying a little farther away to save, says Hoopes. Flying out a day or two early can also be a way to reduce the cost of airfare, assuming the extra hotel stay doesn’t make it a wash. Turning a destination wedding into a vacation is yet another way to make it worthwhile. You already have the airline ticket and the hotel, so why not take advantage of it? “If the wedding is in southern Utah, you could take a week and visit the national parks such as Zion and Bryce Canyon, and perhaps hop over to the Grand Canyon. This way you are not only spending the money to attend the wedding but on your vacation,” says Hoopes.

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3. Accessorize an existing outfit 

Purchasing a new suit or dress can be pricey, especially in the current high-inflation environment and particularly if you are only going to wear it once. That’s why money-saving experts say to work with what you have in your closet, and spruce it up by adding a new necklace, tie or accessory.

“While it’s important for guests to pick an outfit within the couple’s requested dress code, it’s not always feasible to buy something new for every wedding,” says Hanlon. “Start by evaluating what you already own, and consider how you can upcycle it. Accessories like jewelry, shoes and jackets can easily transition clothes across seasons. For example, consider pairing your favorite cocktail dress with strappy sandals and sunglasses for summer or a cozy wrap and closed-toe shoes for winter.” If you have nothing in your closet, try to shop the sales, discount websites and secondhand shops. Even borrowing from a friend or family member is acceptable.

4. Just say no

Celebrating love and marriage is important, but sometimes attending a wedding is simply not worth it. If it breaks the budget and harms your ability to pay your own bills, saying no is OK. But before you do that, consider who the couple is and what impact saying no will have on your relationship. If it’s a close relative or friend, they may very well be offended if you decline. But if it’s a college friend you speak to once a year, turning down the invite may not be a big deal. "If going to a wedding will cause financial stress, it’s acceptable to graciously decline an invite,” says Hanlon. “Regardless of your personal relationship, proper etiquette indicates you should still send a card and a gift to express your gratitude for being invited.”

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