Weddings are a blow to your wallet, whether you’re the bride or, apparently, a mere guest. Attending a wedding will set you back an average of $673 when you add up the costs of the gift, travel, the hotel, food, and whatever the heck you’re going to wear, according to recent data from the annual American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. (That’s a 14-percent jump from last year’s figure!) Ever the thrifty types, we decided to ask two wedding industry vets for their advice on how to cut costs.
How to Save on Airfare
For occasions that require air travel, look into flying into bigger airports, recommends Jeanenne La Bella, co-owner of La Bella Planners. Attending a Lake Tahoe wedding? Consider landing in San Francisco instead of Reno and then drive the three or so hours to the destination. You might just save a bundle. When buying airline tickets online, check on Tuesdays or Wednesdays for the best deals. And use free services like Airfarewatchdog.com to send you alerts about flights you want to watch.
Jessica Bishop, editor of The Budget Savvy Bride, says you can get the best airfare prices by booking between 50 and 100 days out from your trip. She also suggests using Google.com/flights to compare prices. “This tool allows you to compare multiple carriers at the same time and choose the dates that cost the least for your trip,” she says.
If you’re part of a big group, it might be worth it to contact a travel agent and ask about group rates. And look into options for public transportation to and from the airport.
How to Save on Accommodations
First, check to see if the bride and groom have reserved a room block at any hotels that offer a cheaper rate for wedding guests. If it’s still beyond your budget, there are always sites like Expedia and Priceline—and Bishop also likes HotelTonight for last-minute bookings at bargain-basement prices. You’ll even get $25 off the first time you use the app. Just be sure to use this approach only in big cities with tons of hotel options. Otherwise, you risk being homeless after the reception.
La Bella urges wedding attendees to take advantage of relatively low-cost housing options like Airbnb or HomeAway. This is especially useful if you’re part of a big group and all want to chip in and share space.
How to Save on Food
Renting a house or condo during the wedding like La Bella suggests will allow you to cook meals. “[It] is always a money saver and [lets you] spend quality time with your friends,” she says. Scope out a grocery store ahead of time, and plan to stock up on breakfast and lunch foods.
If you’re jonesing for a hotel experience, Bishop says to focus on ones that offer a continental breakfast. “It never hurts to pack some protein bars or other snacks in your carry-on bag to avoid the need to eat out for every meal,” she says. If you do decide to have a go at restaurants, the Groupon app highlights deals in your area.
How to Save on Your Dress
Retail sites like RentTheRunway.com are great places to snag high-end designer outfits for reasonable prices, says La Bella. For as little as $30, you can borrow a beautiful dress for the weekend and then return it as soon as your hangover subsides—no dry cleaning required.
Bishop loves affordable online retailers like Asos, Lulu’s, and ModCloth if you’re in the buying market. “All three have a fabulous selection of wedding-appropriate dresses and often run killer sales,” she says.
For something totally one-of-a-kind, start hunting around on eBay and at your local thrift stores. You might be surprised with what you come across.
How to Save on the Gift
If you’re embarrassed by the amount of cash you would give, it’s better to buy an item, says La Bella. One Women’s Health editor-approved trick? Split a pricier gift between several friends so you can buy your pal something nice without paying a ton per person.
When it comes to the registry, make sure you buy early, before the lower-priced items are snapped up. Bishop says to keep an eye out for sales at the stores the couple has chosen and to check for coupon codes on sites like RetailMeNot.com. You can also save a little cash by having the gift shipped to the couple, rather than risking extra baggage fees to transport the goods yourself. If you have it shipped directly, feel free to skip the gift-wrap option and save a few bucks.