Five money-saving tips if you're attending a wedding

Going to a friend's wedding can be expensive, especially if you need to travel across the country or overseas. Here are several ways to cut your costs.

China Daily/Reuters/File
A Chinese couple rides a bike in Beijing. When attending a wedding, you can save on air travel, accommodations, attire, and a wedding gift.

Ah, the sweet smell of spring! The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and oh, what's that? I have three weddings to attend this year? Cue the sweet sound of my savings account drying up faster than a California puddle.  

Everyone between the ages of 25-35 can probably feel my pain. As happy as I am to see so many of my friends find true love, attending multiple weddings every year is a serious drain on my finances. Between the plane tickets, the hotel reservations, the gifts and the wedding-appropriate outfits, the cost of watching my friends say "I do" can really add up. In fact, a 2013 survey from American Express found that guests spent an average of $539 per wedding--not exactly chump change.

So how can I, and other cash-strapped wedding guests, afford to attend all the weddings we're invited to this year? Here are 5 helpful hacks for avoiding unnecessary expenses as a wedding guest:

1. Three words: Credit. Card. Rewards.

All three of the weddings I'm attending this year are out of state, and two out of three require a plane ticket. Plane tickets are not cheap, which means I'm either going to have to scrounge up a few hundred extra dollars playing ukulele on the streets of Chicago, or try and pay for my plane tickets with credit card reward points. As I've never played a ukulele in my life, it looks like credit card rewards are the way to go.

If I pay for wedding expenses like gifts, outfits, and hotel costs on a credit card that rewards me for every dollar spent, I can cash in those points for airline miles and make out like a bandit. Wondering which credit cards give you the best travel rewards? Well that's something we've covered extensively here at the Brad's Deals Blog:

2. Expensive gifts are NOT mandatory

Yes, it's still poor form not to give a gift at all, but don't think you have to go all out on a new KitchenAid mixer just to be polite. Most couples aren't going to be offended if you split the cost of their gift with a few other friends, go with something cheap off their registry, or make them something thoughtful and handmade. It's also important to note that giving a gift up to six months after a wedding is totally appropriate, so if you can't afford a present right away, don't sweat it. Give 'em a nice card and make sure to send something along as soon as you can.

Side note: if your soon-to-be hitched friends won't be happy without a gift that costs more than your monthly student loan payments, you should probably consider skipping their wedding altogether and getting some new friends. #JustSaying

3. Dress to impress...for less

One of my favorite parts of going to a wedding (you know, apart from witnessing a celebration of love) is the pre-wedding shopping trip. I love dressing up, and any excuse to buy a new outfit, but I know it's not practical to buy brand-new dress for all three of my upcoming weddings.

I could tell you to buy one dress and recycle it for every subsequent event, but I will absolutely not be doing that because I'm a diva who hates being photographed in the same outfit twice (like I said: diva). What I am not above, however, is borrowing things from my friends, pulling once-worn frocks out of the back of my closet, shopping at discount retailers like T.J.Maxx and Nordstrom Rack, and browsing the selection of gorgeous designer dresses for rent at Rent the Runway (see my post on this subject here!).

My goal is to spend less than $100 total on ALL my summer wedding outfits combined--and this includes the bridesmaid dress I'll be wearing in my cousin's wedding next fall. Is this a sad thought for a confirmed shopaholic like myself? Yes. Will I still look amazing without having spent all that extra money? Also yes. I'd say that's a win.

4. Stay with friends or buddy up to split hotel costs

More than one person can fit in this hotel room.

While I may be able to cover the bulk of my plane tickets with credit card rewards points, I probably won't be so lucky when it comes to hotel and resort fees. Luckily, whatever I lack in money I more than make up for in cross-country friendships, so whenever I can, I'm planning on staying with local friends and family or sharing a hotel room with multiple people.

For my boyfriend's brother's wedding in May, we'll be staying with his family in Michigan. For a grad school friend's wedding, we'll be cramming 8 people into one (cheap) hotel room in Lincoln, Nebraska, and while my cousin's October nuptials are taking place in Berkeley, California, I happen to have several friends who live in the Bay area, so the trip will double as a high school reunion of sorts.

If you know anyone (even an old college roommate you haven't spoken to in a few years or someone who doesn't know the bride or groom) who lives in the area, why not ask if you can stay with them for a couple of days? The worst they can say is no, and best case scenario: you get to enjoy one friend's wedding and catch up with another. Just make sure you return the favor the next time your gracious host is in town.

5. Know when to say no

It can be hard to opt out of a friend's big day, but if you're in serious financial straits, or just don't have the energy to haul yourself across the country (or the world) more than once this year, it's perfectly OK to decline a wedding invitation. Just make sure you respond to the formal invitation, and remember that it's polite to send a little token of your love--a handmade card, a gift certificate, or a bottle of wine--in your place.

It's a little trickier if you're being asked to be a member of the wedding party, but it's always best to be open and honest about your situation with the bride and groom. If you're being asked to be a bridesmaid or groomsman in a wedding you know you can't afford, it's a million times better to be straight with them than to accept the position and either drive yourself into debt or drop out at the last minute. There is no sense in going broke trying to pay for a wedding that's not even yours!

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