Wedding reception decor, Mr. and Mrs. signs.

Are those wedding bells you hear, or cash registers ringing? Could be both as we head into wedding season. We’ve all heard about the crazy amounts that weddings cost these days – an average of nearly $30,000. And while it can be expensive to be the bride, being a guest isn’t exactly cheap either. Yes that “free” meal at the reception comes with a significant list of costs attached.

In fact, one study found that wedding guests spent an average of $628 on the wedding and surrounding festivities. And that could explain why another survey found that 20% of people have declined a wedding invitation due to cost. Here are six ways that you can enjoy upcoming weddings without breaking the bank.

Determine Your Gift Budget

Etiquette and protocol consultant, Rachel Wagner, says the key is to determine your total gift budget for the entire series of events – showers and the wedding.“Is it $100, $200 or $300? You shouldn’t spend more than what you’re comfortable with, and the amount will likely depend on the closeness of the relationship you have with the couple,” she says.

Once you know the total amount you intend to spend, you can figure out how to portion it out if you’re invited to several parties as well as the wedding. “Choose something smaller from their registry for each party, leaving a larger chunk for the wedding gift,” she says, adding that proper etiquette dictates that shower and party gifts don’t replace a wedding gift.

You also can consider rounding up a group to chip in for one of the more expensive items on the registry. By doing this, you might both end up spending less than you would have if you bought a set of sheets, and the bridal couple will appreciate receiving that high-end mixer that everyone is scrolling past.

And finally remember that many showers have themes, such as “recipes” or “advice for the newlyweds” so go all in on participating in those free and fun activities to show your support. Or choose a sentimental gift, such as a framed photo of you and your buddy, or something practical, like a guidebook to the Italian city where the couple is honeymooning.         

Save on Hotel Costs

Did you receive an invite for a destination wedding? Even if your friends aren’t expecting you to trek off to a Caribbean resort for their special day, many weddings still involve travel if your group has split up geographically over the years. Ask the bridal couple if they have reserved a block of rooms at a hotel–they often offer a great group rate –or rent a nearby house with friends to save money on lodging and food, since you’ll have a kitchen and won’t need to eat out!

Be Selective About Which Events You Attend

Most weddings have a packed itinerary of associated events, from engagement parties to showers. If you are invited to multiple events, pick the ones that make the most sense financially –maybe say yes to the backyard BBQ but no to the fancy tea with the bride’s sorority sisters. If you know you probably can only attend one event and are unsure which one to make it to, ask your pal. She might prefer you join her on the bachelorette evening than at a stuffy shower at her mom’s, friend’s, aunt’s house.

Something “Borrowed” Works For Guests, Too

In today’s age of social media, it’s more challenging to wear the same outfit to multiple weddings, even if there are different groups of friends in attendance. But that doesn’t mean you should drop three figures on a new special occasion outfit for each event. See if a friend or co-worker has a dress that would fit and therefore would be “new” to you –and your Instagram. You also could buy secondhand at a local store or a specialty website like TheDressList.com,or you could rent a drop-dead number from a service like RentTheRunway.com, a website that provides designer dress and accessory rentals. If you’re a guy, invest in one staple suit and then switch it up with different shirts and ties.

Decline if You Must

Finally, realize that there are times that attending a wedding just won’t fit into your budget…and it’s OK to say, “Thank you so much for the beautiful invitation to your wedding. We’d love to be there to celebrate with you, but it just doesn’t work for us to attend.”

Wagner adds that no explanation is needed. “The couple will expect a certain amount of regrets and won’t be offended,” she points out. “They realize that weddings, whether within the United States or in a foreign location, come with an expensive price tag for guests.”

If it’s a close friend or family member and you feel comfortable, you can be honest about the fact that you’re saving for a down payment or trying to make a dent in your student loans, rather than making up a story or feigning a conflict.

Wagner suggests saying something heartfelt to assure the couple of your support, and if possible, communicating your regrets by phone or in person if you live nearby, since it’s more personal than texting.

She suggests something like,“Beth and John, even though we aren’t able to attend, we want you to know we are so very happy for you both and wish you only the best as you celebrate your marriage in (name of destination city) on (date of event). We’ll look forward to seeing pictures you post online or when you return.”

You can also write this message in the response card if one came with the invitation.

Another option to show your support is to help in some tangible way before the wedding, especially if you live locally. “For example, maybe they need help filling out place cards for the reception tables or taking items to the post office or UPS that they’re shipping to the venue,” she suggests. “Even though they may not have any pre-wedding preparation tasks you can help with, they will appreciate the thoughtful and sincere offer to help.”

And then finally make a point of setting a date to get together when everyone is back in town and give your undivided attention so they can relive their special day all over again…with you.

What are some ways you’ve saved as a wedding guest?

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