Wallet tips for guests during wedding season

Chicago TribuneMay 11, 2014 

Wedding season is kicking into high gear, and if you're going to be a guest, get ready to open your wallet.

According to an annual report by American Express, guests plan to spend an average of $592 per wedding this year for gifts, attire and travel, up 10 percent from 2013 and 75 percent from 2012. If you're invited to more than one wedding — not uncommon for 20- and 30-somethings — the costs can quickly add up.

To help you save, consider these tips:

Plan ahead: Travel expenses account for more than half of a wedding guest's costs.

"People are spread out all over the country now," said Yolanda Crous, features and travel director at Brides magazine. "Even if you get married at home, it's likely many of your friends no longer live there."

If you have to travel, Crous suggests making the most of any discounts that the bride and groom secure for guests, from air travel to hotel rooms.

Several airlines offer discounts if 10 or more guests book their travel using a special code or login arranged by the bride and groom. On Hawaiian Airlines, for example, guests get 5 percent off fares (the wedding couple can snag a 10 percent discount).

For accommodations, there's often a block of hotel rooms reserved at a special rate. To take advantage of the deal, book early.

"There's usually a deadline to get the discounted rate," Crous said. "But even with that deadline, rooms can disappear quickly."

If you're going solo, ask friends if they'd be willing to share a hotel room. Or, if there's a group of you traveling, consider booking a vacation home or apartment through websites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

Per person, "it may work out to be cheaper than a hotel room, especially if you go in on a rental car together or split other costs," Crous said.

Set priorities: In some cases, witnessing a couple exchange vows is just one of the wedding-related events to which you'll be invited. Engagement parties, bachelor and bachelorette soirees, and bridal showers are added costs. If your budget is tight, don't feel obligated to go to each one, says Jamie Miles, an editor at TheKnot.com, a wedding-planning website.

"If you can't make a bachelor party that will cost a few hundred dollars in addition to what you're putting out for the wedding day, the couple will understand," she said. "Just be upfront and honest with them so they're not planning you into the events."

And although it might be nice to attend every wedding to which you're invited, Miles says it's OK to decline an invitation.

"When you get an invitation or save-the-date, look at your schedule and prioritize which weddings you want to attend," she said. "If you start early, you can really plan in advance not only how you're getting there and where you're staying, but what to budget."

Buy gifts early: As for wedding presents, guests plan to spend an average of $109 per gift this year for a friend's nuptials, and $200 for close family members. If that's too much, consider going in on a gift with another guest; the cost per person often works out to be lower than if you shopped individually.

Otherwise, don't wait until just before the wedding to buy a gift.

"Oftentimes, the lower-ticket items (on a registry) get snatched up early," Miles said.

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