Attending a wedding doesn't come cheap, and it's officially not getting any cheaper. According to an American Express survey released on Wednesday, guests are expected to spend an average of $592 per wedding this year -- and that doesn't even include the cost of a gift. That number is a 10 percent increase from last year and a 75 percent jump in the last two years.
If your refrigerator is covered in save the dates, you're probably bracing yourself for a major blow to the bank account. But before you start taking money from your 401(k) to get through wedding season, read our tips for saving money as a wedding guest.
1. Buy a versatile dress and wear it to every wedding for an entire season. Who cares if the same group of friends will be in attendance at each wedding? Re-wearing the same dress isn't unfashionable; it's just smart. Arm yourself with a simple maxi in a solid color, then dip into your accessories collection to dress it up with different jewels, bags, and shoes for each wedding.
2. Re-purpose an old bridesmaid dress as a guest dress. A wedding is actually one time when a vibrantly-colored taffeta dress doesn't look out of place, so make it work! Have a tailor turn a floor-length gown into a cute cocktail dress, or add a beaded belt, bolero, or fun shoes to breathe new life into it.
3. Skip the gift registry. If everything on the registry feels too expensive to you, get creative. You could give a handmade gift or pick up something made by a local artist. Our favorite option is to hit an antique store for something cool but inexpensive that the couple will really appreciate.
4. Hack the registry. If you know you can get a registry item for a better price than at the store where the couple is registered, go ahead and buy it elsewhere...all you have to do is call the original store and let them know to remove that item from the registry. It's the simplest way to take advantage of coupons and sales.
5. Go in on a gift with other people. Split the cost of a gift with a friend (or group of friends) who are also attending the wedding. A nice $100 item can become a totally budget-friendly gift if you split it with your pals.
6. Know that you don't have to give a pricey gift for every event...or at all. We've said it before, but we'll say it again: wedding gifts are optional, and you should never let the cost of a gift keep you from attending a wedding. While we always recommend giving a card at the wedding (and each event), don't give a gift if you aren't comfortable with it or simply can't afford it.
7. Take the lead on travel plans and hotel arrangements. As soon as you get the save the date, talk to mutual friends about sharing a room or driving together. (Both of these are great ways to save on costs!) If you don't really know anyone or will be attending alone, reach out to the couple and let them know you're looking for a buddy; they will likely know if other guests are in the same boat. It's quite possible other people are looking for travel companions too but aren't sure how to take the lead on making plans.
8. Look beyond the hotel block...and beyond hotels in general. While couples usually try to choose a couple of options for hotels (and will ideally choose one that's affordable), there is no rule that says you have to stay at the hotel they recommend. So do a hotel search of your own, ask your Facebook friends if anyone has a couch you can crash on, and check out websites like Airbnb for rentals at every price point.
9. Set a budget at the start of attending season. If you know there are a lot of weddings in your future, plan accordingly. Figure out what you may need to spend on (attire, travel, gifts) and how much you can afford over the course of the year, and then figure out what to allocate to each wedding. It may feel a little strange to approach it that way, but it's the responsible thing to do. Buying a gift here and a new dress there is how the costs add up without your realizing it, so go into wedding season thinking of the big picture.
10. Don't say yes to every wedding. While RSVP-ing "no" certainly isn't our first choice, don't stress yourself out about attending every wedding to which you're invited if you just can't afford it. Chances are, the couple isn't going to be as offended as you think they are if you don't plan to attend. And it's better to skip the weddings of people you don't know well or aren't close to so you have a little extra cash to spend on the people you really care about.