A tear-jerking ceremony between two of your friends or family members. A cocktail hour where the coconut shrimp and champagne are freely flowing. And capping off the night with a dance party and midnight snack. Weddings are an excuse to let loose and indulge in the name of love.
But all that revelry comes at a price.
The average wedding guest spends $888 per wedding, according to a survey by The Knot. And if you’re in the wedding party that price tag is a bit heftier: Bridesmaids spend about $1,200 per wedding, according to a survey by WeddingWire — and that can quickly jump to almost two grand after alterations, travel expenses and gifts. And, according to a Bankrate survey, 21 percent of invited guests say they have declined weddings invites because they couldn’t afford to go.
The financial burden isn’t the only concern. From figuring out what to do with your kids, to harboring guilt over the size of your gift, to filling that precious plus-one slot, there tends to be a good amount of emotional stress that comes with being a wedding guest.
With wedding season upon us, those who have a handful on their calendar over the next few months may experience some anxiety around the financial cost and mental burden of attending. So NBC News BETTER consulted the wedding guru, Jen Glantz, for some much-needed advice. As the founder of the viral business, Bridesmaid for Hire and author of Always a Bridesmaid for Hire, Glantz has served as a professional bridesmaid for 100 weddings in the past three years, gaining some serious experience when it comes to enjoying wedding season — and coming out the other side with her savings account and sanity intact. Here are some of her suggestions for cutting costs and staying calm.
10 ways to save Money as a Wedding Guest
Use travel alerts to get the cheapest flights. Destination weddings have become increasingly popular. Even if it isn’t international, many couples are getting married somewhere other than their hometown, which requires guest to travel out of state. “Travel expenses can be close to $1000 if you’re going to multiple events for a wedding,” says Glantz. “What I love to do is put an alert on Google flights; if I know that I have to be at a wedding or bachelorette party, no matter when I get the date, I immediately set up an alert that will tell me when the price drops, when it changes; sometimes it also tells you if it is or isn't the right time to buy."
Get some roomies for the weekend. “Hotels can be expensive so the first thing to do is look for deals on your own by going to a website that aggregates deals from all over the internet — my personal favorite is Hotels.com, I find that it has the most competitive prices over anybody else,” says Glantz. “Then see if you can spend the night with other people as well. Maybe that means getting an Airbnb nearby that has a couple bedrooms that you can split with other guests or other bridal party members. Or maybe it’s having two or three people share a hotel room with you for the night to save costs.”
Book a room — then look for a better deal. “The cool thing with hotel rates is that you can reserve a room without having to pay for it right then and there,” says Glantz. “So oftentimes what I’ll do is find a really good deal and put my credit card down, but you can cancel up until 48 hours in advance. So I book that as my first option, and I’ll check monthly leading up to the wedding to see if I can find a better deal; sometimes I do and I’ll cancel it. It’s always good to start looking as soon as you know the date because a lot of these places will fill up, especially if it’s a very popular wedding weekend and there are multiple weddings in the area.”
Get your outfit on the cheap. “Wedding attire can really break the bank, especially if you have multiple weddings the same year. You might not feel comfortable wearing the same outfit to all of those weddings and that’s fine,” says Glantz. “There are rental sites you can go on, but I find those can be too expensive. You can rent a dress for $70, but that’s still a lot. What I do is I go to discount stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshall’s … they have gems that you can get for $20 or $30 that you can wear and look like a million bucks.”
Consider doing a clothing swap. “Ask friends who are the same size as you if they have dresses that you can swap,” says Glantz. “A lot of people love items in their closet, but are sick of them and perhaps there are other people in your area that might want to trade with you. There are also some cool Facebook groups out there you can join, local ones, where people want to trade clothes, or you can rent it from them.”
There are websites, like Tradesy and Poshmark, where you can sell your bridesmaid dress and make back 50-75 percent of the cost.
Give bridesmaids dresses another life. The wedding day has come and gone, and now you have that $250 baby pink chiffon gown crowding your closet. Glantz says you have two options: sell it or donate it. “There are websites, like Tradesy and Poshmark, where you can sell your bridesmaid dress and make back 50-75 percent of the cost,” says Glantz. “There are also Facebook groups you can join where people are posting ‘Hey, I need this brand of dress, in this color and size,’ and you can easily make some money back that way.” Or you can go the donation route, and at least feel the satisfaction of knowing that your purchase will keep on giving. “There are also websites where you can donate your dress if you’re looking to help out organizations,” says Glantz. “There’s a wonderful one for military wives where you can donate your dress to them because they have all of these balls throughout the year. There are also places you can donate them to be used for prom dresses for girls who need them.”
Search for coupons before buying that china: “If you're buying off the registry, search for coupons online for the stores they are registered at,” says Glantz. “The couple won't care that you didn't pay full price for the item that they desire.”
If you can’t afford to give cash, consider going the gift route. “Couples should be understanding that not everybody can afford to give hundreds of dollars,” says Glantz. “Either a) give what you can or b) go the route of getting them a gift. Maybe it’s a picture frame, something they can use around their house or something they haven’t gotten from their registry yet that’s more in your budget; even if it’s less than $100 it’s a gift that will make you feel good because you’re at least giving the couple something.”
Know that IOU's are OK: If you can't afford the gift you would like to give on the day of the wedding, it’s okay to give a card and then give a gift at a later date, says Glantz. Wedding etiquette grants you up to a year after the wedding to send a gift.
Get creative with your present: “I always say keep it as personal as possible. So instead of writing a check for an amount that you don’t feel comfortable with because it’s too little, think about a personal experience you can gift the couple,” suggests Glantz. “You can get a gift card for their honeymoon or to the spot of their first date. Maybe it’s something that has to do with your skill set: you’re an incredible chef and you can give them cooking lessons for a couple of months, or you’re an amazing planner so you donate hours of your time to plan their honeymoon because you know it’s stressful.” You can also make the couple something memorable. “Take their wedding photos and frame them or blow them up in a portrait. Whatever it is, think about how you can combine your talents and skills with a potential gift that they’ll enjoy,” says Glantz. “Those gifts are usually more meaningful than a check because it’s coming from you and it’s also something that’s going to be unique in their pile of gifts.”
How to save your sanity during a hectic wedding season
The cost is just one source of stress that comes with a wedding-filled summer. Many circumstances pop up throughout the process of attending that test our sanity. Luckily, Glantz has seen them all, and shares her tips for navigating the roadblocks without losing it. She talks us through some common situations you may find yourself in this season:
Travelling to a destination wedding. Maybe it isn’t the cost, but the hassle, of travelling that has your stress levels skyrocketing. “Travelling makes people monsters. There are so many external things that happen that make it headache-inducing and stressful,” says Glantz. “I recommend trying to pack light: Try to pack just a carry on if possible. A big stressor is that you check a bag and it doesn’t arrive and there goes the gift and clothes you were going to wear to the wedding. When it’s time to board the plane try to get there early so that you can board when it’s your turn because overhead space can be rather competitive.” If waiting in long security lines at the airport raises your blood pressure, Glantz says TSA Pre-check is a game changer. But her best advice? Just as when you’re travelling for any other reason: Go early and plan ahead. “Go as early as you can. You can always hang out in the airport: They have Wi-Fi and coffee shops. Download movies on your laptop or plan to do work. A lot of airplanes now have Wi-Fi either for free — or you can pay a small amount — so during the flight if you have anxiety, you can have different things in place to keep yourself busy and get through the hours.”
You’re invited to a ton of weddings, and can’t make them all. You get a save-the-date in the mail and instinctively pop it up on the fridge (next to the other five). But find solace in this: You don’t have to RSVP yes to every invite. “There are times in our lives we’re invited to so many weddings that if we said yes to all of them we would lose all of our vacation days and all of our savings account would be gone; it’s not practical,” says Glantz. “What we want to do is take action fast. Lay out all of the weddings you have for the year and figure out how much money you are willing to spend on them, giving each one a budget, and then seeing which ones you can’t afford to go to.” That may mean your college roommates vineyard wedding in Italy gets the ax, or the colleague who graciously invited the whole team doesn’t get as much priority in your budget. “Definitely prioritize by the ones that are more affordable and the ones that are for people who you know will be in your life forever; you really want to make sure that you go to the [weddings of those your closest to] because you don’t want to look back and regret it.”
The reception is adults-only. “There are families out there who want to bring kids but can’t,” says Glantz. “Contact the couple to see if there are other families in similar situations and if you can all get together to hire a babysitter to watch the kids. That way the kids can still travel with them. Sometimes the wedding may be child-free, but the couple provides a babysitter at the hotel to watch the kids so that you can come yourselves. There is a way to make it work and also respect that what the bride and groom want.”
Your plus-one should be a person who works well with you as an accessory; not someone who detracts from the wedding experience itself.
You’re given a plus 1 — but aren’t seriously dating anyone. “You may think it’s great to bring along a plus one, but if you’re not seeing anyone seriously remember that you don’t want to bring along somebody that you’re going to have to babysit throughout the wedding,” advises Glantz. “Weddings are not an extension of your dating process, instead they are a chance for you to celebrate the couple, so you want to bring somebody that potentially knows them or other friends, so that it’s not awkward. It should be a person who works well with you as an accessory and doesn’t detract from the wedding experience itself.” Plus, going solo actually has benefits, Glantz says: “The first one is, you have freedom. You can come and go as you please. You don’t have to watch over anybody. And you also can save money because you don’t have to give double the gift.”
About that … does a plus one mean you have to give double the gift? “If bringing a plus one is giving you anxiety because it means you now have to give double the gift, don't fret. You can give the same gift you'd normally give, plus something smaller, like an item off the couple's registry,” says Glantz. “You definitely want to bring a gift on that persons behalf, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be doubling it. Whether it’s a monetary value that you think is appropriate, or something else off of their registry, you do want to show thanks on behalf of that person in any capacity that you or that person can.”
You’re not where you want to be in your own life. “Weddings can be wonderful celebrations, but if you’re not in a good place it can make you very upset,” says Glantz. “If you’re in that situation it’s always good to take a step back and remember it’s not about you comparing and contrasting where you are in life, it’s about celebrating where these people are. Use it as an experience that gives you a chance to do something differently in your life. Maybe it’s a chance to get back in the dating world, or a chance to do some self-exploration to get you in a good place, too.”
The chaotic environment of the wedding day stresses you out. “Remember and focus on what’s important and why you’re there. Stay present; it’s easy to get wrapped up in the chaos and drama but remember, it’s just one day and it’s a day for celebration so anything else should just be pushed aside.”
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