Being a Wedding Guest on a Budget

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I’ve reached that sweet spot of my mid-20s where everyone around me is getting engaged. I participated in my first wedding ever last October, and it was a total blast. However, it was also pricey! With invites from both my friends and Ian’s friends, I’ve had to set up a savings account so I won’t be blindsided by gift and travel expenses.

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For my ladies out there: My closet doesn’t have a huge variety of dresses, nor am I willing to buy a new dress that will only be worn once. I am a huge fan of Rent the Runway, which has a section dedicated to wedding guest dresses. I’ve rented from the site for office parties as well and bought dresses when they (occasionally) go on sale. Personally, I don’t think the accessories are worth it, but the dresses? Absolutely. I only wish that RTR had been around when I was in high school; my prom dress would’ve been cheaper than what I actually ended up paying, and much better looking. If you’ve never used RTR before, you can also get $25 off your first order of $75 or more with the code FIRSTRTR25P. What makes this totally worth it: RTR gives you a backup size, for free. The first time I ordered from them, I ended up wearing the backup size because the one I ordered was a little too big. Without it, my RTR experience would have been completely different. The value proposition is a whole lot of style at a huge discount, which I find to be a steal. The bonus is that you won’t have a dress sitting around in your closet afterward taking up space (yeah, minimalism!).

For the gents: If you don’t own a suit, buy one. As a female, my POV is that guys are incredibly lucky to be able to get away with wearing the same formal outfit, regardless of the occasion. For something you can wear again and again, it’s definitely worth putting down the money to buy it. Invest in some kooky socks and some nice ties (I’m kidding please don’t show up to a wedding wearing that, pick something like this instead), and boom, your outfit is diversified.


Avoid hotels like the plague; that’s where the money suck is. If you don’t have friends in the area that you can crash with, the next best option is to look for availability on AirBnB. If you know other wedding guests who will be attending, great. Team up and split the cost. For the last wedding I was in, 12 of us ended up booking a large waterfront house for the weekend. My lodging cost for the whole long weekend was the same price as one night in an area hotel. For a wedding, where you stay should enhance the experience, not take away from it, so making a lodging plan with friends is ideal.


This is tough. For weddings that require significant travel, it’s worth thinking about whether you should even attend; for example, a destination wedding somewhere abroad might be wayyyy out of budget. My personal cutoff for when flying becomes an option is for any place that is more than a five-hour drive away.

When flying is the only option, that’s when I put credit card points on the table. Google flights is a great price comparison tool and will help you get a sense of the cheapest possible timing for travel. Flights under $250 I’ll pay for; anything above that goes under “should I use points” consideration.  A roundtrip domestic flight costs me 50K airline miles. Flights over $500 will use miles, and flights below $500 that I’m unwilling to pay cash for will use credit card points.

Gifts & Registry

I don’t know how this works for men, but I’m pretty sure there are more gift-giving opportunities in the female experience of a wedding than in a male’s. This is still a part of weddings that I’ll admit I’m not fully comfortable with, in terms of what’s appropriate financially. As someone who doesn’t like spending money, I also recognize that my friends are often paying a lot of money to make sure I have a good time on their special day. There are lots of guides out there to tell you what’s most appropriate when it comes to giving gifts. Generally, I like gifting presents off of the registry that I know my friends will use. A cheap gift that sits on the shelf gathering dust is worse than a more expensive gift that is used daily.

Update: The blogger behind EpicQuiver (who did a great Two Cents Q&A) made a great suggestion in the comments that I just had to include – he gifts two copies of The 5 Love Languages to his friends. I think this is such a thoughtful and personal gift! It’s also extremely cost effective. However, I’ll reemphasize that gifts are completely up to how comfortable you feel about it.

Other than not going, there clearly ways to participate in someone’s special day and not completely break the bank. I’m curious to know if anyone gets more frugal for these events (and what the line is between frugal and just outright cheap).


  1. I went to 3 weddings last year. My cousin’s wedding was in California, and plane tickets were $1,000 in addition to $200 for an AirBnB and $300 for a gift. My fiancee’s cousin got married and I didn’t have to pay for anything (yes!). Finally, my college friend got married and 2 flights + hotel were about $700, with another $300 gift. Gifts were expensive because its from 2 people, and so were the flights. Luckily I wore the same suit to all 3. But seriously, weddings can be very expensive.

  2. Great suggestions! We recently had to attend a wedding out of state that we turned into a mini vacation, we split a cabin with friends for the first 3 days and used points for a hotel the last 2. We made sure both places had kitchens so we could cook most of our meals.

    For gifts, I found a great new low cost option. I give my friends two copies of the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

    1. Author

      That book is such a great idea for a gift! And using points is always a good way to save money.

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