Having a wedding is expensive. But so is attending one. The average wedding guest is spending close to $900, according to the 2016 American Express Spending and Saving Tracker. That includes things like gifts of cheese plates to hotels for the big day. If it’s a destination wedding, the costs could rise so high that guests may as well go on vacation.
There are ways for guests to save, experts say, without ruffling etiquette feathers or looking cheap. The trick is to be honest with how much you want to spend from the start. If you’re attending several weddings in a year, gauge how close you are to each couple and set up a budget for the big three expenses: travel, clothing and gifts. (And, it’s perfectly acceptable to decline the invitation.)
“If you can RSVP way ahead of time, you can begin the process of planning to attend and making travel plans,” said Julian Leaver, the creative director at the Dapper Diplomat, an etiquette company in Dallas. “That’s where you’re going to save. Use the resources given to you by the couple, like the website, hotel room blocks and concierge.”
Travel is by far the most a guest will spend on a wedding. Today’s to-be-weds often have a global guest list, and the festivities may not take place where the couple lives. Many opt for their favorite resort or host the celebration in their hometown.
“Travel and accommodations are the two most expensive aspects,” said Michelle Rago, a destination wedding planner based in New York. “So we’re seeing guests make a vacation out of it. People love an opportunity to travel with a wedding as the instigator.”
Since many weddings take place in beautiful locations, turn witnessing “I dos” into a relaxing getaway. Ms. Rago recommends that guests include weddings in their overall travel budgets. Ask the hotel to extend the room block rate to your days beyond the celebration to make additional nights on the property more affordable. If you’re attending with friends, look into reserving a villa or private home. Many resorts offer rental properties, and online sites such as Airbnb.com, OneFineStay.com and VRBO.com have listings at a variety of prices.
If a flight is involved, Ms. Rago suggests shopping early, but not necessarily booking right way. “Educate yourself as to how many airlines and flights” serve a particular destination, she said. “If you play the game, you can find a flight for so much less.” She also says to book with points, frequent flier miles or, if numerous weddings are on the calendar, consider an airline credit card where you often receive points for signing up. To save on ground transportation, organize similar landing times with other attendees so vehicles can be shared to the hotel.
Attire can be a hang-up for guests. Men have it easier, Mr. Leaver said, since they can buy a suit or tuxedo and wear it to numerous events with different accessories. Purchase a few bow ties, pocket squares, socks and cuff links from affordable brands such as the Tie Bar and SuitSupply to keep the look fresh.
For women, the idea of wearing the same dress with another pair of shoes and bag doesn’t go over so well. Instead, renting clothes can be a huge savings. Maureen Sullivan of Rent the Runway in New York said that nearly one million guests came to the clothing rental site last year looking for an outfit for a wedding.
“Guests can rent the perfect look, save money by not investing in something they will push to the back of their closet and not wear again,” she said. The company also offers accessories, like jewelry and clutches, as well as a wedding concierge to help guests find an appropriate outfit for any dress code.
Gifts also add up, especially since the average guest spends about $100 for each item from the registry, according to Zola.com, a wedding planning and registry company in New York. Jennifer Spector, the director of brand at Zola.com, said couples typically add items with low, medium and high prices to their registry. Guests should set a budget, she said, and look for personalized items in that range.
Guests should also consider going in on larger, more substantial gifts with other guests. Some registries offer group gifting options for big-ticket items like honeymoons, furniture, expensive kitchen appliances and down payments for homes. This is possible even with the simplest registry, too. It’s perfectly O.K. to split the cost of an item with another guest or two.
How about not giving a gift off the registry? Ms. Spector and Mr. Leaver agree something small and personal is another way to go, especially if you’re shelling out the dough to attend. “Guests need to realize that gifting is not about the money,” Ms. Spector said. “Writing a nice note and sending them a picture frame — that’s a really personal gift.”
The same goes for guests who check “no” on the RSVP card. “Still send a gift,” Mr. Leaver said. “It is the way to express your gratitude for being invited. It’s not about the value. It’s about the thought and the meaning.”