How to budget and save for a hectic wedding season without 'keeping up with the Joneses'

Experts say avoiding overspending during a busy wedding season is good personal finance and good etiquette.


Last year, as the pandemic raged, about half of couples postponed or canceled their weddings, or opted to go through with the ceremony and hold the reception at a later date, according to wedding website The Knot. As a result, this wedding season is shaping up to be one of the busiest on record for the wedding industry. About a third of venues are already reporting that they're either booked or overbooked for 2021, according to data from wedding site Zola.  

If you're invited to a slew of weddings in the coming months, you may feel pressure to attend all of them. "We struggle as millennials to be everything to everyone," says Stephanie Trexler, a certified financial planner and CEO of Golden Goose Wealth Planning in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "It's easy to get caught up in trying to keep up with the Joneses."

The cost of attending multiple weddings, including flights, hotel stays, and gifts, along with costs associated with other pre-wedding events, can add up in a major way. Read on to find out how to prepare your finances and save money during wedding season.

Budget and prioritize

Your very first step ahead of your slate of weddings is to list out all of the events you've been invited to, says David Totah, a CFP and senior wealth advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors in Frisco, Texas. "The next step is to list them in priority order — what's most important, second-most important, and on down the line," he says.

"When you prioritize, you can begin to think, 'Where do I put most of my dollars, and how important is it that I attend?'"

Sit down and crunch the numbers to determine how much each event is going to cost, factoring in expenses such as flights, hotel stays, and gifts. From there, determine how much of your summer budget you can dedicate to each event. "You definitely want this money to come from your discretionary income bucket," she says. "You don't want to touch your emergency fund, because you still want to be covered for unforeseen circumstances that could happen."

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If you don't have the money you need lying around, think about ways you can cut back now to stash a little extra money away for later. "Maybe you make it to all of your weddings, but you agree to not exchange birthday or Christmas gifts this year," she says. "Or take a look at your monthly budget. If you skip getting your nails done or make your lunches at home, that might be an extra $100 here and there. Weddings are expensive, but we live expensive lives."

If you determine you're going to have to save up some money to attend your high-priority events, Trexler recommends opening a separate online bank account to house the money. "If you need $500 by Labor Day, go to payroll and tell them you need $50 of each paycheck deposited into this account," she says. Or set up automatic contributions that sweep money into savings each payday.

"Having a separate account gives you that extra layer of difficulty. If it's not in your account, you are less likely to spend it."

Be honest about what you can afford

If some of the lower-priority events on your list are going to hurt your finances, there's no shame in telling the hosts that you can't make it. "One of the ground rules of good etiquette is that it's OK to say no," says Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute. "You shouldn't say yes to anything that you're not going to feel good about."

That can be easier said than done. Say a good friend has invited you to be part of their wedding party. That can be a huge, and hugely costly, honor. In 2019, wedding site The Spruce pegged the average cost of being a bridesmaid at more than $1,000. That included not only traveling to and attending the wedding, but also attendance at pre-wedding events plus extras such as the cost of the dress, hair, and makeup.

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"Before accepting that role, you have to know about the things that come along with it and budget your time and finances accordingly," says Senning. "It's perfectly legitimate and valid to say to say that it's not practical for you to be traveling to multiple pre-wedding events."

That doesn't mean you have to reject any invitation to be part of the party out of hand, he adds. But you can be upfront and honest with the host about your limitations.

"You don't want to give ultimatums, but it might be reasonable to say you'd love to do it but you can't afford all of it," he says. "Be ready to hear 'That's not gonna work,' which is fine. Or maybe they'll say, 'Oh, we were thinking about doing this and that to make it easier for people.'"

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Yes, you're supposed to give a gift; no, it doesn't have to be extravagant

Whether you're attending a wedding or not, traditional etiquette dictates that you send a gift, says Senning. "The idea is that you respond to the invitation with a gift, whether you plan to attend or not."

You can dispense with the old rule that your present should be worth what the hosts paid for your plate, he adds. "It's a common misconception that you would use the cost of hosting the guest as a sort of balancing factor in the equation. I'd advise people to take a more personal approach."

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That means you needn't overspend on the artisanal bread-maker your friends put on their registry. "A great gift is one you feel good about giving and that they feel good about receiving," says Senning. "Part of that is spending what you can afford and working within your budget."

To keep costs low, Trexler recommends going in a joint gift with a group of friends. You also shouldn't be afraid to use store discounts or credit card perks to help you fund your wedding expenses.

"Make sure you're taking advantage your points and rewards," Trexler says. "If you're booking flights and Airbnb stays this summer, you should be maximizing your cash back or rewards points. Maybe you have some points saved up. Think about how you can use them."

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