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Surviving Wedding Season as a Guest Without Overspending

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Wedding season is upon us, and you know what that means: Time to choose between new tires for your car or a plane ticket home to go to your cousin’s wedding. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.

When it comes to wedding spending etiquette, there’s more flexibility than you might think. It’s possible to survive the wedding season without draining your wallet.

How to be a model wedding guest without going into debt

Know that it’s OK to turn down a wedding invite due to finances

It’s an honor to receive a wedding invitation. It shows how much you mean to the couple if they want your presence for one of the most significant days of their lives. Because of this powerful emotional element, turning down a wedding invite is easier said than done.

When finances are holding you back from attending a wedding, it’s best to be honest, said Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute, which helps teach etiquette and manners, and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast.

It’s OK to say ‘no’ if you really and truly can’t find a way to make it work for yourself financially,” Post said. “No one should feel like they have to go into debt over social events. Feel confident respecting your own budget.”

Here are a few tips for politely turning down a wedding invite:

  • RSVP as quickly as possible. Tell the couple early that you can’t attend their wedding, which means they have plenty of time to make room for other guests.
  • Send a handwritten card of appreciation. Seize the opportunity to show your heartfelt emotions.
  • Give a gift around the wedding date, if you can. A wedding invite is one of the only times that merits sending a gift in your stead.

Shop around for a good deal on a gift

You don’t have to buy the $400 Le Creuset dutch oven or the $500 KitchenAid stand mixer that are on practically every wedding registry. Many spouses-to-be will offer a range of gifts at various price points, and it’s not out of the realm of proper etiquette to give a gift in the $30 to $50 price range if that’s what you can afford.

Plus, couples typically make their registry live months in advance of the wedding, giving you time to plan and budget. Utilize price-tracking tools, like Honey and SlickDeals, to get the best deal on the potential gift.

Many retailers like Amazon and Walmart offer point-of-sale financing where you can potentially split up the item’s cost across months without paying interest. Keep in mind though that if you miss payments while under these financing contracts, you could be on the hook for deferred interest from the purchase date, plus penalties.

Split costs with your date or a friend

When it comes to weddings, there’s safety in numbers: You won’t get stuck talking politics with the bride’s grandparents or wiping the tears of an aunt who’s had too much to drink. But there’s also a financial benefit to bringing a date to your wedding. Coupling up can reduce costs such:

  • Hotel or Airbnb
  • Gas and related transportation expenses
  • Gift-giving

Don’t have a plus one? Think about sharing a hotel or carpooling with mutual friends or family. If you can’t think of anyone off the top of your head, ask the couple if they know of anyone looking to split costs, so you aren’t stuck paying hundreds on lodging alone.

Don’t buy new clothes for the wedding

In the modern world, where you can safely wear pajamas to the grocery store, it can feel fun to dress up for a formal event every once in a while. Weddings can feel like a great opportunity to break out your credit card and buy a new gown or tux. But the reality is that nobody cares how you look if you’re not standing at the altar.

Dust off that old bridesmaid dress. Rewear your prom dress (really, no one will know you did). If you don’t have anything formal to wear, then try a thrift store. Places like Goodwill have plenty of formal dress options for around $10 if you’re dedicated to shopping around for a good fit. You can also borrow something from a friend.

Skip the hairstylist and makeup artist

If you’re not in the wedding party, you shouldn’t feel pressured to pay to get your hair and makeup done. People who aren’t confident in their beauty skills could ask another wedding guest to help out with their look.

If you’re part of the bridal party and you don’t have the money to spend on glamour, politely ask the bride if you can skip the professional hair and makeup services. While some brides want their bridal party to look a specific way for pictures, other brides may be willing to work with you and let you do your own pampering for the wedding.

Asked to be in the wedding party? Here’s how to handle it

It’s an honor to be invited to a wedding at all, let alone be asked to help the couple coordinate their big day. Today’s couples have an average of 10 people in their wedding party, according to a 2019 Newlywed Report from WeddingWire. To be considered as one of the 10 closest people to the engaged couple is a beautiful thing.

Because of the significance of being asked to be in a wedding party, it’s hard to say no — even if you can’t afford to commit.

Before you say ‘yes,’ get an idea of the budget

Getting asked to be in a wedding party has become something of a proposal itself. Brides are inventing new ways to ask their closest friends and family members to be part of their big day. Gestures like screen-printed T-shirts, champagne bottles with customized labels and punny gifts have become a common sight on social media.

That puts even more pressure on potential bridesmaids-to-be. With the idea of surprise bridesmaid proposals, friends can be caught off-guard and answer “yes” out of excitement (or obligation) without first thinking of the logistics. The Emily Post Institute recommends that couples first discuss the wedding party budget with potential members of the wedding party before asking them to be in the wedding.

Here are some costs to consider:

  • Travel and lodging. Members of the wedding party will have to account for another night of travel and lodging, since they may have to attend the rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding.
  • Buying or renting a tux or dress. Often, bridesmaids will have to wear the same design dress, giving them less autonomy with their budget. But it’s becoming more common for bridesmaids to wear different dresses.
  • Bachelor or bachelorette party expenses. Couples underestimate their wedding spending by nearly 45%, so don’t be surprised if the bachelor or bachelorette party budget ends up going over.
  • Professional hair and makeup. Fifty-five percent of bridesmaids get their hair and/or makeup done for the wedding.
  • Miscellaneous expenses. About one in four wedding parties participate in a pre-wedding activity, such as golf.

Can’t afford to be a bridesmaid? Offer to help in another way

If anyone understands how much a wedding can cost, it’s the couple. When finances are holding you back from being in the wedding party, try to find a way to pitch in to the wedding in a meaningful way and doesn’t cost anything.

“If you have to say ‘no’ to something like being in the wedding party, then offer to do something else like manage a guestbook or handle a reading,” Post said. You can still be part of the wedding without sacrificing your budget.

Follow basic wedding etiquette, and you’ll be fine

A few wedding traditions seem ingrained in our culture. For instance, rain on your wedding day can be good or bad luck, depending on your cultural background. But even white bridal gowns haven’t been around forever: Queen Victoria pioneered the white wedding dress just a few generations ago in 1840.

Weddings have become less traditional, but there’s still a general code to follow as a wedding guest:

  • Be present and pleasant
  • Bring a gift, even if it’s small
  • Don’t overshadow the bride

If you can do all of these things within your means, then get ready to share in a day of love between two people you hold dear. But if it doesn’t make sense for your financial situation, it’s OK to turn down a wedding invite.


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