New data says 20 percent of Americans have gone into debt attending a wedding. Don’t let that happen to you (these financial tips will help).

By Kelsey Ogletree
June 09, 2021
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Between all the new engagements and all the celebrations postponed from 2020, weddings are back in full swing for summer 2021 (and beyond). While this is amazing news for happy couples everywhere, it spells trouble for the wallets of their wedding guests-particularly if you're a guest with numerous friends or relatives getting married in the same season (we see you, wedding marathoners). A recent survey from Credit Karma showed that about one in five Americans have gone into debt to attend someone's wedding (and 38 percent go into debt more than $500). The top debt-driving purchases include the wedding gift, lodging, and outfits. 

But anyone who's attended someone's nuptials-or been a member of the wedding party-knows the list of wedding guest expenses doesn't stop there. "The events surrounding weddings today don't really seem to be slowing down in either cost or quantity," says Colleen McCreary, chief people officer and financial advocate at Credit Karma. "From the engagement parties to the wedding showers and the bachelorette parties, there seem to be more events leading up to the big day, each with a cost associated." 

How to Budget as a 2021 Wedding Guest, money-saving tips: Bride and Groom Chair at Wedding Reception
Credit: Getty Images

Between the pre-wedding showers, registry gifts, and airfare, it can all add up quickly. But supporting your loved ones getting married doesn't have to break the bank, if you play it smart and plan ahead. Read on for tips from savvy financial pros on how to stay on budget while celebrating this summer-when you likely have more weddings in the books than ever before. (Because you should be celebrating, not stressing!)

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1 Plan ahead.

From the moment you receive and accept a wedding invitation, proactively plan for what you anticipate spending to attend, says Elisabeth Kozack, managing director at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. If you have a lot of weddings in the near future, you may want to consider building a wedding guest fund in a high-yield, no-penalty CD (Certificate of Deposit, which allows you to earn at a competitive rate while having the flexibility to withdraw your full balance if needed, Kozack adds.

2 Create a budget spreadsheet.

A plain-old Excel sheet works great, but there are also many free tools and apps out there to help you track spending, if that's more your style. Create a budget for attending each wedding and be diligent about tracking everything you're buying leading up to the dates (don't forget about expenses like engagement gifts, attending a shower, hair and makeup the day of, etc.) so you don't go overboard.

3 Repurpose your outfit.

If you're set on buying something new, choose an item you can wear again and again without it being noticeable, if that's something you care about, says McCreary. The same wedding outfit can be easily switched up with a different pair of shoes or a different accessory. Plus, "every store at any price point should have a solid-color dress that you can wear for back-to-back weddings and only spend once," McCreary adds.

4 Or rent it.

It also might be worth crunching some numbers to see whether a clothing rental subscription service is the best money-saving route to take. It's not for everyone, but in some cases you could end up saving big time on event attire in the long run. For example, you could pay $99 for a month-long Rent the Runway subscription and rent up to eight pieces a month (four at a time). If you have a jam-packed month on the wedding circuit, that's either multiple dress options at a time or a full outfit (clothes, shoes, jewelry, purse) for less than the cost of one dress (or outfit) you'd buy for one wedding! (Plus, rental services often cover all the dry-cleaning and shipping costs.)

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5 Raid your friends' closets.

When you combine the closets of your friends and family members, and if you're about the same size, you can triple the options you have for an outfit to wear to a wedding. "Be resourceful and remember that shopping in a friend's closet won't cost you," says McCreary, "so you can put that money [you would have spent on a dress] toward any other wedding expenses."

6 Make the most of your credit card.

If you'll be traveling to attend a wedding, and travel often in general, consider getting a travel rewards credit card, says McCreary. "Look into what your points can get you when you travel to a particular location-you may be able to get certain things discounted or even for free," she adds.

7 Go halfsies on accommodations.

Wedding guest costs can be cut down tremendously if you share with other guests. For example, most hotel rooms with one king bed cost about the same as a room with two queen beds. "If you and a friend or two can stay in the same room, you could end up cutting the cost in half, or more," says McCreary. Having your own room may be a luxury you're willing to pay for, but if you're OK sacrificing a little space for a night or two (especially with close pals), this tip is a game changer.

8 Consider a home rental.

Booking an Airbnb or VRBO with other guests not only will enable you to save on hotel costs, but often food costs, too. Many homestays come with access to a kitchen, so you can cook a meal every day-breakfast is the easiest-and save even more money this way, says Lauren Bringle, an accredited financial counselor at Self Financial, a fintech company that helps people build credit and savings.

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9 Make it a vacation.

Double the value of your trip to a wedding location by tacking on a getaway for you and your family or friends (if the wedding is in a desirable destination, or near one, that is). "Not only does this save you paying for an extra set of plane tickets, but you may be able to get better room or Airbnb rates for longer stays," says Bringle. You also get to explore the destination, which isn't always possible during an event-packed wedding weekend.

10 Buy a gift early.

Waiting until the last minute for anything wedding-related (flights, accommodations, outfits) limits your options and could result in you paying more out of necessity. Similarly, waiting until the last minute to buy a registry gift could mean you're stuck with choosing from the most expensive items, says Bringle. If you buy early, you can find a nice gift for the happy couple without blowing your budget. 

RELATED: 13 of the Most Popular Wedding Gifts of 2021, According to the Knot

11 Give a joint gift.

Going in on a bigger gift with several other guests, with everyone contributing what they can to purchase a larger splurge item, is a smart way to save money while still ensuring the couple receives something they love, says Kozack.

12 Ship to the couple's home.

This practice has become the norm over the last five years or so. With online registries allowing the option to ship directly to the couple's home, actual gift tables at weddings have become less common (if not obsolete). And that's good news for your budget: Shipping gifts directly from the retailer to the recipient's home means you save money on having to wrap and ship the gift yourself, says Bringle. If you're flying, you can save space (and precious weight) in your suitcase. Plus, buying online enables you to tap into any retailer discounts offered when you purchase the gift.

13 Contribute to the honeymoon fund.

"These days, contributing to an experience instead of a physical gift is super trendy," says Bringle. Even better? You can pick an amount that meets your budget. "Even if it's just enough to cover a couple rounds of margaritas on the beach during the honeymoon," Bringle adds, "you know your gift will contribute to an experience they'll never forget."

14 Know it's OK to say no.

According to the same Credit Karma survey, one-third of respondents said they wouldn't feel comfortable saying no to a friend's wedding even if they couldn't afford to attend. But that stigma needs to change; you shouldn't feel bad if you have to skip. "Sometimes it's just not financially feasible to attend a wedding, and that's OK," says Bringle. If you can't make it to the wedding, plan a budget-friendly celebration with the couple, such as hosting a small dinner party or attending a summer concert together, she suggests. Or, ask if they have plans to live-stream the ceremony and watch from your home. (That said, even if you can't attend, it's still a thoughtful gesture to send at least a small gift, if you can swing it.)

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