The Wedding Series – Plan a Budget-Friendly Wedding…For Your Guests

Average Cost of a Wedding (for the Guest): $673
~ American Express 2015 Spending & Saving Tracker

One of the hottest news items about weddings this season is the average cost of a wedding — for the wedding guest. According to the American Express 2015 Spending & Saving Tracker, that bill comes to $673 per guest; a member of the wedding party can expect to pay $701. But, the real shocker might be that this type of spending has been trending for years; last year the average cost for a guest was $592 and for a member of the wedding party it was $618.  And, these costs are per wedding! For students, new grads and young professionals who are beginning to receive multiple wedding invitations this can be a real financial threat, especially on top of staggering college loans and other expenses combined with a still-recovering economy and employment issues. Even for those who have good paying jobs, this type of expense can upset the budgetary apple cart.

The Price of a Wedding Invitation

Costs to attendants and guests will vary according to region and type of wedding, and the burden to the attendant or guest will vary according to individual income and circumstances. But, overall, each wedding invitation comes with an invisible invoice to the guest that can grow as time goes by.

Following are breakdowns of potential expenses that participants and guests can expect to pay:

Wedding Party

  • Purchase of bridesmaid/maid of honor dress, new outfit (mothers of the bride and groom), suit/tuxedo rental for fathers of the bride and groom and attendants, along with accessories and any alterations
  • Outfits and accessories for various associated parties (engagement, shower, bachelorette/bachelor, etc.)
  • Travel expenses to and from a destination wedding and other parties, events, get-togethers
  • Gifts (engagement, wedding, showers, bachelor/bachelorette events)
  • Hair, makeup, manicure
  • Cost of hosting, co-hosting, or participating in the planning of parties, such as engagement, shower, bachelor/bachelorette affairs)
  • Contribution of time and expertise in various areas to plan parties and events, create invitations and favors, run errands, attend to bride and groom, etc.


  • Outfit for wedding (depending on one’s current wardrobe, wedding venue, time of year, etc.), as well as outfits for various associated parties
  • Travel expenses (which can range from a short car or train ride to a round trip plane ticket to a far-away destination; local car trips or transportation expenses, hotel room, meals, tips, etc.
  • Gifts (engagement, wedding, shower)

Easing the Pain

The bride and groom, while planning the budget for their wedding should keep the budgets of their attendants and guests in mind, as well. There are several ways to do this:

  • Offer to pick up the travel costs and/or accommodations of attendants when hosting a destination wedding, especially if it’s an expensive, exotic destination. Limiting your attendants to one or two each might make this doable and prevent your attendants from having to declare bankruptcy.
  • Select a local venue that is easy and affordable with regard to travel, parking and any necessary overnight accommodations
  • Emphasize presence over presents. Generally, the same people who are invited to the wedding are the same ones who would be invited to an engagement party and shower, and possibly to a bachelorette/bachelor party and rehearsal dinner. Make it clear to potential hosts, family and friends that gifts are neither expected nor desired for engagement, bachelor/bachelorette parties, etc.
  • Limit the number and type of celebrations. If family or friends wish to throw you an engagement or bachelor/bachelorette party, thank them graciously but convey your desire to keep things simple and easy for everyone.
  • Select attire for the wedding party that is affordable and, very important, that they can wear after the wedding for other occasions. It’s one thing to lay out money for a dress or suit; but I think it’s presumptuous and wasteful to ask people to spend hard-earned money on ensembles they can wear only once.

While no one is ever obligated to accept invitations to engagement, showers or other pre-wedding parties, or give a gift, it’s a shame to prevent good friends from attending such celebrations because it has become a strain on their finances. And, no one wants to show up without a gift or be unable to contribute to a group gift, but emphasizing presence over presents and making it easy to attend a celebration or eliminating extraneous celebrations altogether will make the entire wedding enjoyable for those who mean the most to you.

Plan Budget-Friendly Parties

Wedding-related parties, like gifts, are never obligatory; they are all optional, right down to the rehearsal dinner. The wedding couple should never ever request that someone host a party for them; this should all be voluntary on the part of anyone who might wish to host an affair to honor the couple. A host should confer with the bridal couple, unless it’s to be a surprise and then the host should confer with the bride’s or groom’s parents, or the maid/matron of honor or best man. Everything concerned with a wedding should be coordinated and well planned to keep everyone informed and happy.

That said, aside from the wedding ceremony and reception, two traditions to which most wedding couples, their families, attendants and guests are accustomed are the shower and rehearsal dinner. Other pre-wedding parties are less common unless it’s to be a formal wedding and a healthy budget is involved. For now, sticking with the budget-conscious theme, following are some ideas for simpler affairs:

Bridal Showers

Going easy on everyone’s budget might involve hosting a theme shower in someone’s home rather than a restaurant, with everyone contributing a dish, serving a sparkling wine, such as Prosecco, instead of Champagne, being creative (read, shop smart, make your own) with decorations and devising some highly entertaining games and quizzes.

Regarding gifts — for brides and grooms who are cooks and bakers, for example — guests could be asked to bring gourmet kitchen tools, which can range from a good cast iron skillet, stone mortar and pestal set or good hard maple cutting board to less expensive but useful items such as a wok brush, garlic press or set of dishwasher safe bamboo spoons.

For couples who already have well-equipped kitchens and either are accomplished cooks or just learning, a vintage recipe shower can be fun. Coordinate with guests to have them each contribute a recipe, preferably their own original or family recipe — and handwrite them neatly on regular recipe cards. Martha Stewart has some pretty recipe cards that can be enclosed with the invitation, and Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette suggests packaging the collected recipe cards in a box or album to present to the wedding couple. Instead of opening gifts, the bride and groom can go through their new recipe box or album and read off the title of each recipe and the name of the guest who contributed it.

And, of course, if the bride and groom already have much of what they need they might opt to discourage a shower altogether, graciously acknowledging that a wedding gift from each guest is already quite sufficient.

Rehearsal Dinner 

Modern rehearsal dinners need not be formal or costly. Trending are barbecues, clambakes, picnics, campfires, luncheon buffets or any other creative idea that the wedding couple and/or hosts can dream up. Because today there are so many options for this occasion, perhaps this affair should be more aptly called the rehearsal party. If participants in the wedding rehearsal are traveling to the wedding venue and arriving the day before the wedding, then holding the rehearsal the day or night before the wedding, which is traditional, makes the most sense. However, if everyone in the wedding party lives locally, you might consider holding the rehearsal party two nights before the wedding to allow a day of rest and time to attend to last-minute details before the big day. I’ve always thought that holding the rehearsal and dinner so close to the wedding to be risky; rather than staying up late and drinking (all those toasts!), the wedding party should be relaxing, attending to last minute details and getting to bed early.

With our wedding, which was held in the evening at the Bronx Zoo, my husband, Ted, and I hosted our rehearsal the weekend prior with a luncheon immediately following in the same room where our reception was held one week later. It was festive, light-hearted and fulfilled all its purposes. That left the evening before the wedding free to unwind after a hectic work week, allowing space and time for the wedding party to be well rested for the next day. And, to the budgetary point, a more casual rehearsal party will require less of a monetary outlay for both hosts and guests.

Engagement Party 

This is one of those occasions when the invitation can specify, “No presents, just your presence.” Celebrating a couple’s engagement can be informal while also being festive and capturing the meaning. Again, a backyard barbecue or a fish boil on the beach often can be more fun and romantic than a cocktail reception, and less expensive and fussy for guests. Those who wish to give a gift may do so privately and discreetly.

Bachelor / Bachelorette Party

If ever there was a pre-wedding party-on-steroids, this is it — for men since the 19th Century and for women since the mid-20th Century. Intended originally to mourn the end of a man’s single life, assumed — or pretended — to be one of debauchery, the infamous bachelor party usually consisted of too much alcohol and scantily clad women. One of the more sugar-coated portrayals of a bachelor party is Stanley Holloway’s delightful musical number, Get Me to the Church on Time, from the 1964 movie, My Fair Lady.

Bachelorette parties, as well, have spun out of control, often rivaling the wedding for frills, spending and venue. The destination bachelorette weekend is becoming routine.

The premise behind bachelor/bachelorette parties is to provide the bride and groom a last time to spend time with their closest friends as single people. Rather than limiting such occasions to getting toasted, watching ladies jump out of cakes or catch a Chippendales show, think of things to do that will allow you to have fun, enjoy your friends’ company and not break the bank. For the bride this could mean a champagne pajama party with takeout sushi from a high-quality restaurant, card games, movie rentals and, of course, lots of laughs and good conversation. For the groom, taking him to watch his favorite team play and then a enjoying a backyard barbecue with his buddies could be the best bachelor get-together.

Because attendants sometimes do not live in close proximity to each other, it can be difficult to get everyone together repeatedly for multiple wedding events; for this reason bachelor and bachelorette parties are often omitted.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the bride and groom should never place pressure on members of their wedding party or guests to provide gifts or host parties; it’s best that the wedding couple concentrate on planning the wedding and honeymoon, and possibly the rehearsal party, and not try to micro-manage associated activities, leaving those to their loved ones’ good judgment, abilities and pocketbooks.

I’ll be addressing pre-wedding parties in more detail in future entries, as my PROWESS Workshops Wedding Series continues. Please join me next week to look at ways to plan a green, i.e., environmentally mindful wedding!

Until next time



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