If you’re in your 20s or 30s, wedding season tends to hit like a ton of bricks — a ton of bricks where every brick is made out of money. That’s true if you’ve budgeted to be a wedding guest at one or two, maybe even three of them. So what happens when all of the soon-to-be-weds in your life get their ceremonies on the cal during the same season? Gulp. For wedding guests, it means a whole lot of expenses — all at once.
If you’re panicking about how you’re gonna afford this wedding season, you’re definitely not alone. Here’s a quick guide on how to budget as a guest for wedding season and get through this in one piece.
Make a wedding season plan
Before you do anything, consider copping a copy of our Vacation Budget Planner worksheet — it’s free for Ellevest clients. Weddings don’t need to count as vacations, but you can consider how to budget for wedding season like you’d budget for a vacation. Whatever approach works best for you — our planner, your own spreadsheet, a journal — be sure to keep it all in one place.
1. Do all the research.
How much will each wedding set you back? Do the math (sorry). Include flights, transportation, accommodations, clothing, gifts, and meals outside of the event itself. Also include some wiggle room in the budget if (when) unexpected costs pop up. Now pause — feel free to decline the invites where that tally is already starting to give you stress hives. You’re not made of money! Besides, the pricier a wedding destination is, the more likely the couple will expect a lot of “no’s.”
What about bachelorette (or bachelor) parties / trips? Bridal showers? Factor in those costs, too. Don’t forget to consider exchange rates if the event is out of the country. (Trying to decide which of these to keep and which to skip? We’ll go over those decisions in a minute.)
Once you have your total, divide that by the number of pay periods (or, if you’re a freelancer, the number of weeks/months/checks/whatever) you have between now and the wedding. Can you afford to save that amount out of each check? If not, it’s time to start narrowing things down.
2. Review your current short-term goals.
Check in on the short-term goals you’re already saving toward. Can you pause your progress — aka divert some or all of whatever amount you’ve been putting toward those goals every month/week/paycheck — until this wedding season is over? (If you feel like you could be saving more but would need to make some temporary adjustments to your budget to do it, our guide to intentional spending can help you make those tradeoffs more easily.)
Note, because we know you weren’t gonna do it, you were just thinking about it: Wedding expenses aren’t typically a job for your emergency fund. We recommend avoiding using that account if at all possible. That said, everyone’s situation is different. If things are really, really tight, try to only use those emergency fund dollars for the weddings you absolutely have to go to — and make a concrete plan (with a timeline!) for how you’ll replenish it afterward, like using this sinking fund budgeting hack.
3. Adjust your budget.
This is a great time to double-check that yours is working for you. If not, consider making some changes to get yourself back on track and improve your financial wellness.
You need to pay for housing — you don’t need to attend every wedding. But fun’s important. Here’s how to have fun and stay on track with your savings using the 50/30/20 rule.
Do your wedding season costs fit into your “one-number” budget? Using this straightforward method, the answer is simple as “yes” or “no” — zero math involved. Calculate yours now and see how easy it can be to determine if flexible costs like this are covered.
Remember: your friends wouldn’t want you to make a money move that prevents you from freeing yourself of debt or building wealth. Refreshing your financial foundation could help you see your wedding season budget more clearly.
If you really-really must attend, you’ll really-really need to adopt an essentials-only budget — for now.
4. Look for tradeoffs.
Attending weddings was expensive before, but with everyone eager to get back out there after the pandemic, inflation has hit travel and hospitality particularly hard. Now more than ever, it’s time to downsize where you can, especially if your wedding season is stacked. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how to attend a wedding on a budget, including the expenses you have to cover and where you might be able to cut back a little.
Travel: Obvi this is where the best cost-cutting strategies will come in. Check out coupon sites (browser extensions like Honey are your friend), flight deals sites (the Mondo app comes highly recommended), etc. Beware of bargain airlines and nonrefundable tickets, though — sometimes it’s worth spending the extra money for peace of mind (not to mention avoiding hours on the phone to customer service if your flight gets canceled). Look into train fares, too — taking an Amtrak could cost less and be more convenient.
(Note: Credit card points and rewards can help, but we don’t recommend relying too much on credit — not only could you be sinking yourself into a debt hole, but it turns out points and rewards systems have some serious downsides if you’re trying to spend according to your values and use your financial power for good. If you use a credit card to cover these costs, we suggest only charging as much as you can afford to pay off right now.)
Accommodations: Could you go in on a rental house with a few pals instead of paying $300/night for that fancy hotel room? Or maybe even crash with a pal who lives nearby?
Transportation: Rental cars get real pricey, real quick. Could you and a few other guests carpool instead? (Don’t know anyone else going? Ask the couple — it could be a great way to meet the other guests!) What about ridesharing?
Attire: Do you really need to buy a brand-new outfit for the wedding, or can you wear that amazing sequined jumpsuit again? Or maybe overhaul your go-to dress with some new accessories and a cool thrifted coat? Or investigate clothing rental? (We know this doesn’t usually apply to the wedding party — unless it’s the chillest wedding of all time — but asking the couple about alternatives to that $200 bridesmaid dress you’ll literally never wear again is always a great option.)
Gifts: If you RSVP “no” to a wedding, could you splurge on a nicer registry gift? If you RSVP “yes,” could you opt for one on the cheaper side? Sometimes couples are happy to just have you present to help them celebrate, no gifts required. Just don’t feel obligated to spend more than you can afford — especially if you’re already traveling to attend.
5. Make some hard choices.
There are only so many weekends in a year. After a certain number of invitations, you’re simply not going to be able to attend them all — and you might have to start making some cuts. Do you really need to go to the wedding of that roommate you lived with one summer whom you haven’t spoken to in years? Is the wedding in another country with no plus-ones (aka no travel buddy)? Consider your priorities.
Let’s say you’re on a really tight budget. Which friends would understand if you couldn’t make it out? Attending your friend’s wedding can be a meaningful moment for your friendship, cementing its place in both your lives for a long time, but it also doesn’t need to be make-or-break. Friendships survive this kind of thing all the time, we promise. If you’re still unsure how to proceed, consider these scripts:
“I really want to be there for your big day, but I’ve been taking stock of my finances, and unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. I’m so sorry! Can I make it up to you by taking you two to dinner the next time I see you?”
“I’m so excited to come celebrate with you, finally! Looking at my budget, though, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make both the wedding and the bachelorette, so I think I need to skip the bach’ weekend. Can I take a raincheck and then maybe next year we do a fun weekend trip to make up for it?”
Commit to your wedding season plan
Congrats, you have your final set of “yes” RSVPs — one big thing down! Now it’s time to factor your final savings plan into your budget. Since you’ve already looked at your existing short-term goals, you should know where your “wedding season fund” deposits are going to come from. We recommend saving that money in a separate account.
Two more notes before you embark on how to save money for a wedding:
We know that your savings goal success often depends on what we call your money mindset — aka the way you think about money (how you were raised, society’s toxic messaging, etc), and how it’s influenced your spending/saving habits. Here are our best tips on how to improve your money mindset.
If you have to forgo some of your little pleasures to get you to your goal, OK. But don’t forgo all of them! Saving to attend someone else’s wedding shouldn’t make you miserable. That’s a recipe for resentment, and anyway, it’ll defeat the purpose of going to the wedding: celebration!
The pandemic changed everything — including your bandwidth
It’s still a stressful time in general, and everyone knows it, whether they want to admit it or not. If you end up having to say no to a few weddings, forgive yourself. It’s likely the soon-to-be-weds will understand. (And if they’re jerks about it, that’ll tell you something about that relationship. With a whole bunch of “new normals” to contend with, a little social clarity might even be a relief right now.)
If and when you successfully pay for all the weddings you do attend — celebrate the financial witchcraft you just pulled off! If you want some help, you can book a 1:1 budgeting session with one of our financial planners — either for planning before or for bouncing back after.
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