Texas college student Elizabeth Moreno has four weddings to attend between May and September, and she has a lot of decisions to make: what to wear, what gifts to bring and how to travel to the one in another state.
But the 21-year-old knows one thing for sure: “I’m definitely budgeting for this,” she said.
Experts say a budget is a necessary move for wedding guests who are likely to have huge demands on their time and travel dollars this year. The Wedding Report, a research company, is forecasting 2.47 million weddings in the United States this year — the busiest since 1984 — after the pandemic forced ceremonies to be postponed or rescheduled in 2020 and 2021.
Krisjana Turner, owner of Atlanta wedding-planning business Kris Lavender, said in an email that the number of inquiries for weddings is “incredible” this year and that venues, planners and vendors might be fully booked.
“This also means that the chances of you being invited to a wedding or 5 have increased!” she said.
As a result, industry insiders say, the typical wedding season of late spring to early fall is stretching throughout the year, and some couples are choosing off-peak days. That means some attendees might need to travel for a Wednesday wedding instead of a weekend event.
Here are 10 tips from wedding, travel and financial experts on how to save during this year’s nuptial boom.
Set a budget — and stick to it
Rachel Cruze, a financial expert and a best-selling author, said attendees need to list every detail they need to buy for the wedding, determine what they can spend and then follow their plan.
“When you’re not purposeful with every dollar you’re spending, you’re going to spend so much,” she said. “You’re going to go out after the wedding, you’re going to stay at a hotel that you can’t afford because that’s where everyone is staying.”
She said the budget should determine the details, not the whims of the weekend.
Buying the cheapest airline ticket or flying on the cheapest carrier often means extra fees for carry-on or checked bags. But a “personal item” that can fit under the seat in front is always free — and strategic packing can save money, said Jessica Bishop, founder of the Budget Savvy Bride.
“I definitely went on Amazon.com and I was like, ‘I want a bag that is compliant with Spirit Airlines’ personal-item size,’” she said. She acknowledged that it could be tricky to fit everything, but she added that travelers could pick up travel-size toiletries when they arrive if needed.
“If you are truly trying to save money and trying to keep yourself from going into debt to attend these weddings, you can make it work,” she said.
Bishop, who has written a book on budget-savvy wedding planning, uses travel rewards credit cards, signs up for new cards to earn bonuses and puts as many expenses as possible on the cards to earn points that can be redeemed for travel.
“Obviously you have to be disciplined and responsible and only put what you can realistically pay off on a card so you don’t accrue interest,” she said.
Think outside the hotel block
Couples will often reserve blocks of rooms at one or more hotels for guests at some kind of discount. But that doesn’t mean travelers necessarily need to stay there.
Turner said sharing an Airbnb with other guests might end up being a cheaper option.
Anna Coats, editor of the online wedding publication Marry Me Tampa Bay, said the venue that a couple chooses often may be on the higher end and not as friendly to budgets, even with a discount. That is especially true as more people are returning to travel after staying home during the pandemic. She suggests looking for nearby hotels that are less costly — but she also warns to factor in any transportation costs and to make reservations as soon as possible.
“As those hotels tend to fill up, their room rates are going to go higher too,” she said.
Get creative with ground transportation
Coats said guests will probably default to using Uber or Lyft to get around, but if the wedding is in a touristy area or city, public transportation could be another good option. For example, she said, many Florida beach towns have inexpensive or free trolley systems.
“If it is a tourist area, it may have fun local transportation you can take without having to rack up those ride-share fees,” she said.
Another option: Share the car with fellow guests, and split the cost. Moreno, the University of North Texas student with four weddings to attend this year, plans to catch rides from family members at her cousin’s wedding in Kansas in September.
Reuse and recycle clothes
All eyes will be on the couple, so what a guest wears is not all that important — even if they repeat an outfit for multiple events.
“The reselling economy and the number of apps that make it easy to buy gently used, pre-worn items is incredible,” Bishop said, naming Poshmark and Mercari as two options. Rent the Runway provides short-term access to outfits. Sometimes these sites have a discount for first-time users, she added.
Coats said she likes to take advantage of the online designer section of discount retailers such as T.J. Maxx.
For the gift, let the thought count
If you can’t swing a $300 knife set or $200 linen sheets, look for gifts that allow a contribution to something bigger. Bishop says many couples will make group gifting possible, allowing several people to pitch in for big-ticket items. Honeymoon registries in which guests can fund part of a plane ticket or experience on a trip are also popular.
Bishop says it’s also possible to buy a registry item from a different store if you have a coupon or discount code for the retailer. And if gift cards would be appropriate, they can be purchased at a discount on sites such as Raise.com.
“A lot of people feel pressure to get outlandish,” said Cruze, the financial expert. She recommends pitching in with friends on a present or finding something personalized and inexpensive on Etsy.
This is not technically a money saver for the event itself. But in the context of vacation plans for the entire year, it could make sense to turn a two-night trip into a longer stay.
“If you are already going to spend the money on airfare and lodging, you might as well stay a couple of days and check out the surrounding area,” Turner said.
Coats said some airline tickets might cost more on the day when someone planned to fly in, so choosing a cheaper ticket to travel on different dates could save money — which could then roll into the cost of a pre- or post-wedding vacation.
Nicole “Coco” Gessler, a travel adviser who specializes in destination weddings and the founder of Wanderlust Travel Co., said couples will typically prearrange details including hotels, airport transportation and activities.
She said in an email that in these cases, guests should book within the rooms secured by the couple to make sure to be included in the negotiated rate, have their rooms guaranteed and be able to access any on-site events.
Gessler advised booking airfare early to get the best rates and to use apps such as Hopper to watch for the best deals.
Given the current situation — two years into a pandemic, record gas prices and inflation at a 40-year high — “everyone’s budget is tight,” Cruze said. Especially if the people getting married are not close friends or family, she said, it’s okay to decline an invitation.
“Don’t put pressure on yourself to attend every single thing right now,” she said, adding that people can still send a nice gift and thoughtful note. “Give yourself the permission to say no if it’s best for you and your budget.”