How To

Tips for Wedding Guests on a Budget

photo: kiddharma

There’s no doubt that weddings are expensive for everyone involved.

But while there’s plenty of advice on planning a wedding on a shoestring budget, those the happy couple has invited to share in the memory are often overlooked. The guests, bridesmaids and groomsmen are expected to shell out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on travel, hotel stays and fancy dresses and tuxedoes — not to mention the wedding gifts and parties for the bride and groom.

Fortunately, the recession has made many couples more conscious about expenses to their guests and wedding party. Chicago-based wedding consultant Ali Phillips says she’s seeing fewer black tie invites and fewer requests for bridesmaids to buy matching or dyeable shoes. “I encourage all my brides to let bridesmaids to wear their own shoes,” she says.

Here are six other ways to cut costs.

Shop around for hotel deals.
Just because the wedding couple blocks off rooms at the Ritz doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Nor does it mean you’ll get the best deal by booking as part of the wedding – AAA discounts or online promotions might offer bigger savings. (For more advice on shopping around, read our story Where to Find the Best Travel Deals Online.)

Phillips says she encourages couples to block off several hotels in the area to give guests options at different price points. She also sees bridesmaids or other guests doubling on hotel rooms or driving together if they aren’t bringing a significant other. Don’t be shy to ask for shelter at close friends or family if they live nearby the wedding venue, too. Last year, I was invited to a wedding in the city where my brother happens to live — so I saved a few hundred bucks by staying with him instead of paying for a hotel.

Wear the same outfit.
Men can easily get away with wearing the same suit to multiple weddings by changing the necktie. Though black tie events are becoming less common, if you anticipate several invitations, it’s often more economical to buy a lightly worn tux than to rent one each time. (Ditto on the tuxedo shoes.)

As for women, there’s more pressure to dress differently for each wedding, but that rarely requires a whole new outfit. Janelle Tracy, who blogs for BudgetFab, has two weddings to attend this year and says she plans on “getting one neutral colored dress and going the route of accessorizing the same dress differently instead of buying multiple dresses.” Most of the guests will be focused on the bride and groom anyway.

Score a bridesmaid dress on a budget.
Just as many tuxedo rental shops offer group discounts, so do some bridal shops. But those aren’t your only options. “When the bride gives you the information about the dress, look on eBay and pre-owned dress sites,” says Ashley Clark, the blogger behind Bride on a Budget and a newlywed who recently tied the knot for $7,000. “People often sell once-used bridesmaids dresses for about half the price.”

Once you’re done with the dress, you can resell it on eBay or at a local consignment shop to recoup some of the money you spent. Also, unless alterations are included in the price of the dress, you’ll often save money by doing them with an independent seamstress than the one who works for the bridal shop. Jennifer Ortiz, a former bridesmaid, suggests “[asking] the seamstresses in the shop if they do non-bridal alterations on the side (wink, wink!) and then grab their personal contact information.”

Do your own hair and makeup.
Hair and makeup can be a huge expense for cash-strapped bridesmaids, often running upwards of $85 or $100 in major cities. If the bride is bringing a hair and makeup person to the wedding venue, bridesmaids can still feel like a part of the getting ready rituals by doing their own hair or or enlisting the help of a another bridesmaid.

“I definitely think it’s appropriate for a wedding party member to opt out of hair and make-up appointments,” says Clark. “Personally, I think unless the bride is paying for them, she shouldn’t be requiring her wedding party to get that kind of stuff done.” If you must pay for a hair appointment, keep in mind that updos are usually pricier than other styles.

Plan the shower or bachelorette party carefully.
Often the job of planning the bridal shower or bachelorette party falls to the bridesmaids or maid of honor. If that’s you, then be sure to agree who’s paying for what well in advance. Ortiz learned this the hard way. “For the bachelorette party, another bridesmaid and I ended up spending an extra $200 out of pocket because the maid of honor agreed to pay us and then pretended that she had been confused about the agreement later on,” she says.

Collect money in advance if you can. Or choose a venue where you can easily split the bill based on what people eat or drink.

Still can’t afford it? Just say no.
There’s no point in going into debt over someone else’s wedding, so sometimes it makes sense to decline. “Rather than filling out the card, write a nice note saying ‘we’ll be there in spirit’ rather than marking ‘no, we cannot attend,’” says Phillips. “Never put the reason why, because you don’t want the bride to feel bad.”

Then, right before the big day, you can send a card or email to let the couple know you’re thinking of them and would love to see photos.

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.