This is a guest post from my friend Suzanne Cramer, social media specialist with Care One Credit and blogger at A Straight Talk On Debt.
I have surpassed the threshold of having multiple friends I grew up with, or went to school with making us all about the same age getting married in what seemed like at the time—all at once. There was a span of about 3 years where I attended or was in fifteen weddings—the expenses killed my finances. I never calculated the actual amount I spent, the shock may have given me a heart attack, but I would venture to guess I spent an average of $750 for the 5 weddings I was in and roughly $200 for those I attended, making the total over $5,000. What I could have done with $5k…
With summer right around the corner, wedding season is upon us. According to The Knot, June, August, September and October are the most popular months for weddings.
So if you have a slew of weddings to attend this summer, proper planning can help you “be there” for your friends and family without going into debt. I’ll be sitting this season out as I don’t have a single wedding to attend.
In the Wedding
I always looked at being in someone’s wedding as an honor, after all they picked you to play a role in their special day. But the expense of being in a wedding (especially an out of town one) can be a real budget buster.
A breakdown of expenses to consider:
- Your bridesmaids dress / tux (for the guys)
- Accessories (shoes, jewelry)
- Hair and makeup
- Bridal shower / bachelorette party
- Wedding / shower gifts
- Travel expenses
1. Buy Early, Save Big
It’s tempting to put off dropping cash on the gift for as long as humanly possible — but don’t. Since people like to snatch up lower-priced options for the bridal shower, make sure to buy something in your range before that happens. Four or five months prior to the big day is a safe bet.
2. Score an Instant Discount
Visit plasticjungle.com to see if you can find a giftcard for any of the stores where the couple’s registered. Then buy it for yourself to put toward the present. The site sells giftcards for less than their value (for example, a $100 card might go for $91), so you can get yourself a sweet sale.
3. Make It Personal
The wedding gift is one thing, but when you add in the bridal shower, bachelorette, and engagement party, what you’re shelling out for presents seriously adds up. This is when being creative can pay off: If you’ve known the bride and groom for a while, give them a framed photo from their dating days (have it printed out in black and white, and find a classy frame). Don’t have a history with the fiancé? Ask your local wine shop to suggest a bottle in your price range that ages well, and gift it as a memento the couple can enjoy years from now.
4. Snag a Cheap Flight
Out-of-town ceremonies often hit your wallet hardest, but this move eases the sting: Yapta.com will track ticket prices on the flight you want to take and then shoot you an e-mail the second they drop.
5. Pay Less at the Pump
If you’re road-tripping it, check out gasbuddy.com. The Trip Cost Calculator feature lets you enter your start and end points, then tells you exactly where you should fill up en route to spend the least amount possible.
6. Rent Your Dress
Don’t want to get caught on Facebook wearing the same old dress to every wedding? Save yourself some dough and turn heads at the same time by taking advantage of RenttheRunway.com, a site that rents out designer dresses. Frocks start at just 50 bucks and they’ll even send you an additional size for free, in case your regular size doesn’t fit quite right. Genius!
7. Minimize Bridesmaid Dress Damage
In the wedding? It sucks to shell out for something that’ll probably never see the light of day again. But the good news is, you can still find a deal. First, it’s worth looking into whether the bridal shop will negotiate a group discount. Second, having the shop do the tailoring is usually a rip-off. Go to a mom-and-pop place instead; chances are they’ll charge less. (You can also ask them about shaving off dollars if several bridesmaids get alterations there.)
8. Slash Your Hotel Bill
Couples tend to negotiate block room rates for their wedding, but even though those prices may be lower than what’s listed on the hotel’s Website, don’t assume it’s the best you can do. Before booking, check rates online at sites like orbitz.com or hotels.com — they’re often even cheaper. Also, if you don’t know anyone you can split a room with, ask the bride or groom to set you up with another solo traveler. You’ll cut the rate in half, and meet someone new too.
Farnoosh Torabi was fulfilling her bridesmaid duties, planning a memorable bachelorette party, when she received a very welcome note.
“One of the other bridesmaids emailed me and said, ‘Look, we all love Kate and we want to have an awesome time, but let’s try to keep this reasonable,’” Torabi recalled.
God love her.
Torabi, whose day job is personal finance expert for Yahoo, launched into budget mode. “Every bridesmaid brought a bottle of wine from a different region of the world, and we did a wine tasting at my apartment.”
She talked a neighborhood restaurant owner into creating a prix-fixe menu for her party of eight and rounded out the evening at a bar with an ’80s cover band.
“We had so much fun,” she said. “And all it took was one person from the group bringing me down to earth and saying, ‘Let’s not have this become a financial burden for everyone involved.’”
Bridesmaids spend an average of $1,695 per wedding, according to a 2010 WeddingChannel (weddingchannel.com) survey, once the dress, travel, gifts and parties are all accounted for. Even attending a wedding as a guest can take a bite out of your finances, with a National Endowment for Financial Education survey finding that 42 percent of invitees anticipate spending $100-$500 per wedding, and 13 percent plan to spend more than $1,000.
And what about those dreaded 3- or 4- or 5-weddings-in-a-season seasons?
“If you can afford it, that’s one thing,” said Torabi, author of “Psych Yourself Rich: Get The Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life” (FT Press, 22.99). “But if money is tight, you really need to weigh the consequences of spending that kind of cash.”
There are ways, after all, to survive wedding season with your finances and friendships intact.
So with wedding season about to hit full bloom — it unofficially begins around Memorial Day — we offer these ideas:
Plan for it. “A lot of times you can see it coming,” said Anja Winikka, site editor for The Knot (theknot.com). “You’ve got a number of friends in committed relationships. These things definitely come in waves.” If you can set aside some money each week by making small changes (brown bagging your lunch, hopping the bus instead of a cab), you won’t feel such a hit when the big event(s) arrive.
Selectively gift. If you’re invited not only to the wedding but also the engagement party, shower(s) and bachelor/bachelorette party, you’re not required to bring an equal gift to every event. Torabi suggests giving yourself a spending limit at the outset and divvying it up accordingly. Maybe a bottle of wine for the engagement party, a small gift off the registry for one shower and the big kahuna for the wedding.
Group gift. Feel free to split that big kahuna among pals. “If you’re in the wedding party or you’ve got a group of friends from college who are all going to the wedding, get an email going with them and suggest that you each contribute $75 to go in on one big gift,” Torabi said. “Sometimes couples even have it set up where you can help fund their honeymoon.”
Keep it casual. If you’re hosting a pre-wedding event, you don’t have to dazzle with expensive details. “A barbecue at a park with lemonade and checkered tablecloths can be a really fun engagement party,” Winikka said. “It’s not about renting out a $1,000 venue with linens on the tables and catering it with lobster. It’s about making it personal. If their honeymoon is in Thailand, create really cute DIY stationery that matches the theme. If they got engaged in Paris, do a little Parisian theme.”
Split the bills. Sites like WePay (wepay.com) and SplitABill (splitabill.com) make it easy to divvy hosting costs among a group. No badgering for money six months down the road; no waiting for checks to arrive in the mail. Just log on, set up an account and wait for the money to start rolling in.
No pressure. The number of destination weddings has quadrupled in the past decade, according to Smart Money magazine, which is great news for folks looking to get out of attending an event or two. “If they made it a destination wedding, in a lot of ways they’ve made it easier for you to say no,” Torabi said. “If you’ve got the vacation time and can find a cheap flight, and it’s somewhere you really want to go, it’s a great opportunity. If not, you don’t have to go.”
Be brutally honest. With yourself and your pal who’s marrying. “If this is really going to hurt your financial situation, you need to say no,” Torabi said. Even if that means turning down being in the wedding party or missing the wedding altogether. “Just make sure you put it in the context of, ‘Listen, I’m going to grad school next year,’ or ‘I just lost my job’ or whatever your situation is. You don’t want to say, ‘I hope to buy a house someday, and this is going to hurt my chances.’ It should be a very real circumstance that’s happening now.”
Winikka said: “If the person is a good friend, they’re not going to drop you for not being able to afford everything. People still need friends after their wedding.”