How to Attend Weddings on a Budget

Wedding season is around the corner if it hasn’t already started for you. A few years ago, four of my family members got married in one summer. Three of those required plane rides home and one was a destination wedding in Hawaii. Then in 2015, I seemed to attend wedding after wedding throughout the summer and fall. A best friend even planned a destination wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I love weddings, but I don’t love breaking the bank to attend them. With bridal showers, bachelorette parties, bridesmaid dresses, wedding gifts, travel, and more, the cost of being in a wedding and/or attending one add up. In fact, according to research by American Express, most people expected to spend over $700 to attend a wedding in 2016. And while most people budget for things like food and housing each month, it’s easy to overlook budgeting for other people’s weddings and their associated expenses until they happen upon us.

If you’ve been invited to a number of weddings and you’re trying to figure out how to attend them, here are a few tips to help.

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1)  Set your budget

I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s true. Start your planning by determining how much you can spend on attending weddings and events this year. And then stick to it!


2)  Prioritize weddings and events

You may have to prioritize some weddings and events above others. Make a list of all the weddings and events to which you’ve been invited. When you check them against your calendar, you might find that some are not even possible to attend due to having a conflicting engagement. Then take the weddings and events that you have left and rank them in order of which ones you must attend to those you could pass on.

If you want to attend at least one event per couple, consider attending the wedding but not the events leading up to it. The couple will most likely be happy that you can celebrate their big day with them instead of the bridal shower or bachelorette party. Even if you’re in the bridal party, it’s okay to decline events that are beyond your budget. The most important duty for someone in the wedding party is to assist and stand by the bride or groom on the wedding day.


3)  Save on travel

One of the biggest expenses of attending a wedding is getting there. If you have the time, carpooling with others for a road trip can save on gas and time spent driving.

Sometimes there’s no getting around flying to a destination. One way to save is to accept some inconvenience in exchange for a cheaper flight. That’s usually a redeye, an early morning flight, or one that has connections. It may be worth flying into an airport that’s further away but has cheaper flights and then driving the rest of the way.


4)  Be flexible about lodging

Lodging is often the other big expense when it comes to attending weddings. Some options for saving including staying with friends or family, sharing a room with other attendees, or renting a place through Airbnb. Airbnb allows you the option of renting a shared room, a private room, or an entire place. When you rent a place versus staying it a hotel, you usually get kitchen access to cook or heat up meals if needed. That can be great for saving on meals and when you just don’t want to leave the house to eat.

When I attending a wedding Hawaii, the wedding was held at a fancy hotel on Waikiki beach. Instead of staying at that hotel for the nights I was there, I stayed at another nearby hotel that was cheaper but still within walking distance. It may be a better value to skip staying that the wedding hotel and see what’s available for less in the area.


5)  Wear an outfit you already have

Many women I know love to dress up to the nines for weddings. That means buying a new dress for each wedding they are attending. I can understand not wanting to be photographed in the same dress at every wedding. Also, one dress may not fit a variety of settings. A short floral dress for a spring garden wedding may not work for a formal evening affair.

In order to work around the need for different outfits, try shopping your closet, borrowing a dress, renting one, or shopping second-hand stores. You don’t need to spend anything to wear a dress from your own closet or borrow one from a sister or friend. Accessories and shoes can also go a long way to making a dress into a complete outfit.

For renting, there are online sites such as Rent the Runway and shops such as The Stylist LA here in San Francisco. One thing to consider is how many times you’re going to wear the item. If you’re going to wear a dress once, your best route may be to rent it. If you’re going to wear the dress a few times, it may be more cost effective to buy the dress and then sell it when you’re done wearing it.


6)  Give a gift within your budget

When it comes to gift giving, everyone has an opinion on what to give and how much to spend. More and more often, I read about guests who feel they have to give equivalent of the cost of their meal and brides and grooms who expect that. At a high-end wedding, that can be more than $100 per person, which is pennies to some people and extravagant for others. My take is that you should give what you can within your budget.

Remember, there’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to give a gift of a certain amount. If you like shopping from a couple’s registry, try buying something early on when there are more options at a variety of prices on the list. As the wedding date gets closer, you may find that only pricier items are left.

Another option is to contribute to a group gift. Or you can buy something meaningful but less expensive like a picture frame engraved with the couple’s names and wedding date. You can also send a gift later (supposedly up to a year later) if you know you’ll be in a better position to buy a gift later on.


7)  Make it a vacation

If you like the wedding destination and visit there even if there weren’t a wedding, why not make it a vacation? You can be more flexible with your budget as well by using some of your vacation funds to attend the wedding. When I went to Hawaii for a wedding a few years ago, I was sure to spend a few extra days there enjoying the scene. That became my summer vacation.

On the topic of vacations, I want to touch on destination weddings and events. By destination weddings, I mean traveling to Italy or the Caribbean for the event although the couple is not from there and no friends or family live there. Destination weddings can be exciting but they usually require more time off from work and more expense for travel. Not fun if you’re short on paid-time off or funds. Some tips:

  • Ask if the resort or hotel has a package deal and what’s included in it (e.g., rooms, meals, transportation).

  • If you’re traveling solo, ask if there is another wedding guest you could share a room with while there

  • Don’t forget to add in the extras like activities planned while there. That could mean spa treatments or dinners out each night.

  • Don’t be afraid to gently ask the couple what’s included and what you’re expected to cover. If you’re a bridesmaid or groomsman, the couple may plan to cover some of the hotel, wedding outfits, activities, etc. for the wedding party.


Wedding season should be exciting for you and your friends and family who are getting married. I hope that with these tips, you can put aside any worries about how you’re going to attend and make it happen when and where it matters most.

What are some tips you have for attending weddings while on a budget? If you were the bride or groom, was there anything you did to make attending easier for your guests?

how to attend weddings on a budget