Invited to Lots of Weddings This Year? How to Attend Them All Without Breaking the Bank

how to budget as a wedding guest
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I. Love. Weddings. From the flowers to the vows to the dancing, they are some of my favorite days of the year.

The only thing I don’t love about them? The cost.

As a 29-year-old woman, I’m in the thick of the wedding years. Though sometimes I complain about how expensive they are, I never regret going.

I can count the weddings I’ve missed on one hand, and looking back, I wish I’d just sucked it up and gone.

Why? Because there’s nothing better than sharing a special day with people you love.

Still, the costs can be overwhelming.

How can you afford to attend so many weddings without going broke? How can you save money before and on the big day?

To answer these questions, I asked seven friends for their best wedding budgeting advice; combined, we’ve attended more than 100 weddings in the past several years.

In other words, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves.

If you put our strategies into place, you can stop worrying about money, and instead focus on what matters this wedding season: drinking signature cocktails and perfecting your Electric Slide.

Before the Wedding

Start preparing before you head to the ceremony for the biggest savings.

Create a Special Bank Account

If you don’t want weddings to empty your coffers, start saving money ahead of time.

Create a separate wedding bank account that’s funded by automatic withdrawals from your main checking account. Start putting away $25 a week now, and you’ll have around $1,000 by the time next year’s wedding season rolls around.

If you open this checking account with Chase, you’ll even start off with an extra $150!

Sarah Scheinman, a librarian at Summit County Libraries in Breckenridge, Colorado, has eight weddings this year. She makes regular contributions to a special wedding account, saying, “I just couldn’t afford them if I didn’t.”

Skip the Pre-Wedding Parties

In recent years, the wedding has expanded beyond the ceremony and reception: Now there are engagement parties, bridal showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties to attend. If you don’t live near the couple, these costs can get out of hand.

An easy solution? Don’t go. We’re betting the couple would rather have you at their wedding than their shower.

“I tend to skip destination bachelorettes and bridal showers, except for very close friends,” says Scheinman. “The destination bachelorettes can end up being more expensive than the wedding weekend itself.”

Getting to the Wedding

Heading out of town? Cut down on travel costs.

Use Frequent Flyer Miles

Many people focus on saving money at the wedding, but cutting costs on transportation is just as important. I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the past few years by cashing in frequent flyer miles for flights.

I’ve written about how to get started travel hacking before, but in short: Never forget to add your frequent flyer number to paid flights, and if you have good credit, use travel rewards credit cards to quickly rack up miles.

Set Up Flight Alerts

If you don’t have frequent flyer miles (yet!), set up a fare alert on Airfare Watchdog or Hopper with your route and chosen dates. When the price goes down, don’t hesitate!

Also research flying in or out of alternate airports, which could save you a bundle.

Never Check a Bag

As a wildland firefighter, Elisabeth Steward’s busiest time of the year falls smack dab in the middle of wedding season. So, she often can only fly in for a few days — and if an airline lost her bag, she’d be in serious trouble.

Never check a bag,” she says. “It’ll save you time, money and headaches.”

Bring Snacks

Airport food is not only unhealthy, it’s really expensive. Burgers in the terminal aren’t worth the cost or the calories — especially when you have to fit into a dress the next day.

Never leave for the airport (or a road trip) without a bag full of snacks. Some great options include baby carrots, nuts, hard boiled eggs, celery with natural peanut butter and apples.

At the Wedding

You made it! But you’re still facing extra expenses. Here’s how to avoid them.

Share Everything

You’re attending a wedding to spend time with your friends and family, right? So start the bonding process by splitting your expenses.

Maggie Mayer, a Master’s of Social Work student who lives in Ketchikan, Alaska, finds this essential: “Sharing rental car and hotel costs makes things more manageable and definitely more fun!”

If you don’t have friends attending the wedding, ask the bride or groom for suggestions; they probably know someone who’d love to split costs with you.

Get App-Happy

Sure, we may be expected to attend more weddings than ever before, but we also have an array of technology to help us cut costs. Some wedding favorites:

  • Groupon and LivingSocial: Even though you’re in a different city, you can still snag a discount on these sites. Use them to find deals at restaurants or salons near your accommodation. (And if you buy your Groupon through a site called MyPoints, you’ll even earn cash back!)
  • Uber and Lyft: These ridesharing services are often cheaper than taxis. If a friend doesn’t already have one of the apps, share your referral code so you both can get a free ride.
  • Ridescout: Want to know the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B? This new app compares bus, bike, taxi, car share, rideshare, parking and walking directions in one view.
  • GasBuddy: Find the cheapest gas near you. Perfect for right before you return that rental car. (Or try one of these other great apps to find cheap gas.)
  • Yelp: Scout out the best places on your budget, and don’t forget you can often get discounts by “checking in” with the app.

Rent a House

Besides your plane ticket, lodging is probably going to be the most expensive part of your trip.

One of my favorite solutions is to book an Airbnb house with a bunch of friends. Not only will you have a kitchen, allowing you to save on food costs — you’ll also have the perfect spot to hang out and pre-game, so you won’t waste a bunch of money at the bar.

Stay with Friends of Friends

Even if you don’t know anybody who lives locally, chances are the bride or groom does. Ask if they have any friends with whom you could crash. Remember, you’ll be so busy with the wedding, you likely won’t spend much time there anyway.

Scheinman, the Colorado librarian, has done this, staying “on the couch of friends of the bride who I didn’t know.” Given that she spends an estimated 10-15% of her income on weddings, this is a smart move!

Go Camping

Since most weddings are in the summer, the weather is usually warm enough to spend the night under the stars. If your friends don’t have any room in their house, ask if you can pitch a tent in their backyard and use their bathroom to get ready.

Naomi Marshall, an art teacher in Colorado, enjoyed her experience: “I once camped in a cornfield so I didn’t have to pay for a hotel… It was kind of awesome!”

Looking Your Best at the Wedding

Of course we have to talk about what you’ll wear.

Rent Your Dresses

This is one of my favorite tips on the list. Since I travel frequently — and hate shopping — the last thing I want to do is drag a dress around in a suitcase.

I started using Rent the Runway a year ago and am absolutely obsessed. (If you use the code FIRSTRTR25X75X, you’ll get $25 off your first rental of $75 or more.)

You can rent a designer dress (with a backup size) for the weekend for as little as $30, and their excellent customer service team is quick to help with fashion emergencies.

For $29.95 a year, you can become a Pro member (like me!), which gives you free shipping and insurance on every dress, plus a $50 credit during your birthday month. It’s worth it if you plan to rent more than two dresses in a year.

Re-Style Your Dresses

Already have a bunch of dresses? Don’t be afraid to wear them again. The key to not looking like you did at previous weddings is to style them differently.

Pilar Barba, a microbiologist from San Jose, Costa Rica, offers good advice. “I try to wear my hair differently every time,” she says. “And I try to wear a different necklace or earrings… So at least you look a little bit different every time!”

Sell Your Dresses

Once you’re really sick of your dress, it’s time to say goodbye. But don’t just throw it out; try selling it online.

Jackie Reilly, a school psychologist in Hoboken, N.J., who’s been to 25 weddings in the past few years, says: “You can resell those beauties on sites like Poshmark and use credits to buy others’ used items!”

Swap or Borrow Dresses

Have a friend who’s the same size as you? Swap your dress collections halfway through the wedding season. You’ll have a whole new set of dresses to last you the rest of the summer!

Or, with the help of technology, you can expand beyond your friend circle to buy and sell dresses on the cheap: Lauren Corrigan started a dress swap Facebook group that now has 230 members from all over upstate New York, with most dresses selling for $10-25 each. It’s free to participate.

“I love dresses and love a deal, so I thought, here is our chance to find new dresses for less,” she says. “I figured I wasn’t the only woman who felt this way and wanted to see what was in everyone else’s closet.”

“It was very easy to start up on Facebook. I just snapped a photo of my most colorful dress in my closet and posted a few dresses to sell and off it went!”

Turn to Pinterest and YouTube

Getting your hair and makeup done professionally can cost an arm and a leg. With a little bit of patience, you can probably learn to do it yourself — thanks to sites like Pinterest and YouTube.

Both platforms offer inspiration and step-by-step tutorials. Once you learn a few techniques, you can reuse them at every wedding!

Schedule Your Appointments Wisely

If you regularly get haircuts or manicures, simply schedule your appointments around weddings you’re attending.

Though Barba, the Costa Rican microbiologist, often turns to Pinterest for hair and makeup tips, she also finds it helpful to plan ahead. “If I know I have a wedding in a month, I wait to get my regular cut until the day of the wedding… Same goes for manicures and pedicures,” she says.

Giving Wedding Gifts

If you’re not careful, these costs can skyrocket.

Make Your Own Gifts

Though wedding registries are the best solution for couples you don’t know well, handmade gifts for your close friends can mean much more — and be much cheaper — than a set of dishes.

Steward, the firefighter, used her “chainsaw to cut wood centerpieces for an upcoming wedding.” Though most of us probably can’t wield a Stihl like she can, the sentiment rings true for anyone: Use your special talents to create something meaningful.

Emily Collins, an elementary school teacher in Stamford, Connecticut, says all it takes is a little bit of thought. “I think about who they are, what they like and what the theme of their wedding is,” she explains.

For the wedding of a fellow teacher, she framed a handmade cross-stitch that looked like a piece of notebook paper with their wedding date and initials on it. “It cost about $10 and they loved it,” she says. For a recent nautical-themed wedding, she made initialed napkin rings that looked like nautical knots.

Find Personalized Gifts Online

Alternatively, you can look for personalized gifts. Etsy and Personal Creations both have a wide selection of cute and affordable gifts that can carry meaning.

Reilly, the school psychologist, likes Etsy because “they have great, heartfelt ideas that tend to come out cheaper (financially) than just writing an impersonal check!”

Are Weddings Worth It?

Since weddings are so expensive, it’s worth asking: Are they even worth attending?

I say heck yes. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret attending these fun and love-filled celebrations — even if it means you have to scrimp and save a little bit.

“I would say every single one I have gone to has been 100% worth it,” says Scheinman. “I was so glad I was able to attend and celebrate their special day.”

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.