Budgeting a Wedding as a Guest

When you're a wedding guest, the money can add up--dresses, shower gifts, and more. Here's how to keep your costs under control.

By: Mary Clare Glover

A friend of mine recently went to a weekendlong bachelorette party in Miami. With the flight, hotel, limo, meals, Champagne toast at the Four Seasons, and gag gifts, she spent nearly $1,000. That was before the wedding.

In the past year, I have attended half a dozen weddings—and have four more on my calendar. Although there’s nothing I love more than seeing a friend happy, I can’t say I love what weddings are doing to my bank account.

I’m about to be a bridesmaid for the first time. After the excitement wore off, I started worrying: $150 to $200 for a dress; $200 on wedding and shower gifts; $400 on the flight and hotel; a few hundred to help throw a bridal shower; a few hundred more for a bachelorette party. I may add a line to my budget: food, rent, clothes, utilities, weddings.

Then there’s vacation time. Destination weddings are on the rise; if you have only ten vacation days a year, are you obligated to spend more than half of them attending weddings?

Here are tips for enjoying friends’ nuptials without sacrificing financial security.

Share a room. If you’re going solo to an out-of-town wedding, check with friends to see who is getting a hotel room. I shared a room in Jacksonville with college friends, and we spent the weekend laughing and catching up.

Stray from the registry. Personalized gifts, such as a scrapbook, can be a thoughtful and less-expensive alternative to buying from a registry.

Play cohost. If there are several brides­maids, try to host showers or engagement parties together.

One shower gift is plenty. Marilyn Oliveira, senior editor at Weddingchannel.com, says bridesmaids should never feel obligated to buy more than one gift even if they attend several showers. If you feel awkward showing up empty-handed, bring a card or trinket.

Recycle your dress. I attended three weddings last summer—for a family friend, cousin, and college friend—and wore the same black dress to all of them. Only my boyfriend saw me at all three, and he’s not allowed to say anything.

Speak up. If something seems extravagant, it probably is. If a friend wants to host a bachelorette party in Las Vegas, suggest someplace closer, like Atlantic City. Other members of the bridal party are probably thinking the same thing.

Don’t be afraid to say no. If a Caribbean wedding is out of your budget, it’s okay to send a regret. And if being in the wedding party seems too daunting a financial commitment, ask if there’s another way to take part, maybe by doing a reading in the ceremony. As long as you are gracious and honest, the bride and groom should understand.