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How to cut costs of attending summer weddings

In today’s culture of consumerism, wedding guests feel they're representing the depth of their support for the married couple by buying flights, hotels, new clothes, and a gift. But there are less expensive ways to support the couple in memorable ways. 

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    Wedding cake toppers collected by Sue Wilson in Norfolk, Va.
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In today’s culture of consumerism, wedding guests often believe they're representing the depth of their support for the married couple by paying for flights, hotels, perhaps new clothes and, of course, a gift. In this piece of ValuePenguin research, we’ll look at less expensive ways to support the couple in memorable ways. 

Start With a Strict Budget

The average consumer pays $703 to attend a wedding, according to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. Travel costs account for the largest portion of this total, coming in at $205. Other big components include $166 for clothing, $99 for a gift and $69 for child care expenses. Drive this total down by setting a budget early in the process. If your attendance requires a sum greater than your budget, consider declining your invitation; this is sometimes the case for destination weddings, when travel can cost a fortune. Given that 53% of couples fund their own wedding, the bride and groom will understand the importance of you sticking to a budget.

Leverage Credit Card Rewards 

Many of us have accrued reward points that go unnoticed. Take stock of what points you may have on your credit cards. You might be surprised to discover that a free espresso machine or sandwich press is within reach. Colloquy and Swift Exchange conducted a study on unused credit card rewards and determined that, “...of the $48 billion in perceived value issued every year, nearly one-third (or $16 billion) will go unredeemed.” Additionally, most credit cards have points that can be used to defray the cost of travel and hotels. While the point structure varies from card to card, you'll find that any reward program applies to the various costs of attending a wedding.

Strength in Numbers

When it comes to a gift, consider something that represents uniqueness rather than the expense. The bride and groom are sure to receive plenty of items for around the house. Your gift can truly stand out when you prioritize for something that's personal rather than strictly practical.

Consider pooling money to buy one larger piece that speaks to the longevity of your relationship with the bride or groom. With $50 from each person in a group of four (or two couples), you can purchase a lasting piece they’ll enjoy. A gift like a large, professionally framed picture of the city where they first met is both a valuable and personal choice. 

The power of a group effort also works well when planning travel. Go for the car rental option with others. The cost of getting to and from the airport, hotel, reception and wedding can add up fast. You'll find this expense drops when splitting the total between four (a comfortable fit for most vehicle options). If you opt for a taxi, you'll save even more with some group planning.

If you’re traveling alone, remember to pack light and avoid extra baggage fees. Also, consider packing a few light snacks to keep you full without the temptation of stopping for pricey options. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that food and beverage expenses for travelers, on average, rack up to $329, making it the third-largest cost, after airfare and lodging. 

Tighten the Timeline

In many cases, attending the wedding will be an out-of-town affair. Consider tightening your timeline to save. Instead of staying two nights, consider limiting yourself to a one-night stay. If the destination isn't too far, try to aim for a trip that's in and out within 24 hours, thereby eliminating the need for a hotel. This plan will shrink other costs including transportation on the ground and all the other spending that comes with a longer stay, such as restaurants and even parking fees at the airport. Each added day of travel increases the ultimate hidden fee: taxes. As Forbes has reported, “Travel-related taxes can boost your travel cost by more than 50%.”

Start Planning Now

Don’t wait until the last minute. The best deals take ample time to find. Specials last for less than a day in some instances. You need to have a chance to match one offer against another. With a comfortable time horizon, you'll be better prepared to jump on the short-term deals that come and go in just minutes. When you have ample time to set airfare alerts, you give yourself a bigger target to hit and increase the chances of a stellar deal. An early start to the planning process also allows you to prioritize for cheaper travel days. Friday and Sunday are the most expensive days to fly. The cheapest days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Use these days to save.

Data shows that Tuesday at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time is the absolute cheapest window in which to book airfare, according to FareCompare. If you start early, you'll be able to use this narrow window to save. This same data indicates that booking all tickets between three months and 30 days before departure yields the lowest airfare.

The Power of Airbnb

Technology can be an excellent means of saving. After reviewing all hotel options, see what you can find within the Airbnb network. In most cases, this will yield significant savings. Go for the small room or even a location that is away from the main cities to save even more. Research from Priceonomics shows that the price for a room in Philadelphia runs $149 in a conventional hotel. The cost for similar accommodations was just $79 using Airbnb. The same data concludes that booking with Airbnb will save you 49.5% compared to a hotel.

Choose Your Level of Participation

A wedding is not an all-or-nothing affair. If you want to join the fun and show your support but have a budget, then consider just attending the ceremony and reception. If you opt out of the extras like the bridal showers and morning-after-wedding brunch, you'll cut your spending in half. You can also save early by opting out of the bachelor or bachelorette party. While this means missing out on some fun, you’ll save hundreds. A 2015 survey from Priceline shows that nearly a third of those attending a bachelor or bachelorette party will shell out $850 on travel costs alone, making it more expensive than the cost of attending the wedding.

This story originally appeared on ValuePenguin.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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