By MELANIE LOCKERT
After sorting through your mail, you see an envelope that looks different from the others -- it's not a bill! You excitedly open it and see that your close friends are getting married ... and guess what? You're invited.
You feel all warm and fuzzy inside for a second until you realize how much it's going to cost to attend their wedding. You'll need to travel, get a tux or a dress, buy a gift and partake in wedding activities. Suddenly, your wallet hurts.
According to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, guests anticipate spending an average of $703 per wedding in 2016 -- an increase of 5 percent from 2015. Fortunately, while being a wedding guest can be costly, there are ways you may be able to save money.
1. Book travel and accommodations in advance.
One way to save money as a wedding guest is to book travel and accommodations in advance. If you know you're going to attend the wedding, don't wait until the last minute to book things, or you may find yourself paying a pretty penny.
"The key to saving money on airfare these days is to book early," says Kendal Perez, savings expert at CouponSherpa.com. "The minute you mail the RSVP, start comparing airfare prices. Sign up for sale alerts through sites like Yapta.com, and decide how much more you're willing to pay for a direct flight versus a route with layovers."
2. Use rewards and discounts to make travel more affordable.
If you have a travel-rewards credit card, you may be able to redeem points for free travel or hotel stays, or receive a discount through your card's travel-booking portal. Just be sure to check whether you have enough miles or points to cover your travel.
In addition, if you're a member of certain organizations like AAA or an alumni association, you may be eligible for exclusive deals and discounts on flights or hotels. Be sure to check with any memberships you have about potential discounts before booking any travel.
3. Buy something from the registry ASAP.
Wedding registries typically have a wide range of gift options available at various price levels. The problem? Many of the more affordable options are often scooped up quickly, and if you don't get something fast, you may be stuck with the more expensive gifts. To remedy this issue, be one of the first to buy a gift off of the registry. This way, you'll have a larger variety of options to choose from.
4. Take an alternative approach to gifts.
Are all the affordable gifts on the registry taken? Instead of automatically opting for something out of your budget, consider going off the registry.
Relationship expert April Masini suggests opting for something a little more creative. "You may be able to save money by giving something unique and less expensive than a normal wedding gift. Support a local opera or orchestra by giving a subscription or even just a set of tickets to a romantic ballet," she says.
Experiences can be more memorable than things, so this could be a great way to go. Just be sure to keep the couple's interests and passions in mind if you decide to give something not listed on their registry.
Another option is to "DIY" the gift, says event planner Hope Brookins. "With Pinterest, wedding guests have a free guide to DIY presents that newlyweds actually want. The key to making sure your DIY gift doesn't end up costing more than something off the registry is setting a project budget and sticking to it," she says.
5. Explore other options for wedding attire.
Attending a wedding often means getting a dress, suit or tux. In some cases, the wedding party may have specific colors to follow or clothing to purchase. However, there are ways you might be able to lower costs.
- Ask a friend first. Before I shell out money on a one-time event, I ask my friends if they have clothes I can borrow. Many of my friends have more extensive wardrobes than I do, and it doesn't hurt to ask. If they have something available that fits me, they're usually happy to oblige.
- Look online. A friend of mine was recently invited to a wedding and needed a tux. He looked into renting one, but found out it was actually cheaper to buy one on Amazon. If you're looking for something to wear, check online for the best deals first, and consider using a site like Ebates to get cash back on your purchase. The one downside to using this method is that you can't try it on beforehand, so be sure to know your exact size and look up any return policies before you purchase anything.
- Consider renting. If you don't really want to own a dress or tux that you may not wear for a while or ever again, consider renting. You can look at places such as Rent the Runway and Men's Wearhouse.
6. Find affordable accommodations.
Hotel costs at weddings can add up quickly if you're getting a room just for yourself. In order to cut costs, consider rooming with a few people if you have other friends who are attending the wedding.
You can also look at local hostels or Airbnb options. While staying at the hotel may be convenient, there could be a cheaper option nearby that isn't too much trouble.
Just because you got a wedding invitation doesn't mean you have to panic and make an excuse to not go. Using these tips, you might be able to lower your costs on everything from lodging to travel, gifts and attire. That way, you can enjoy your friend's happily ever after without hurting your wallet.
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