According to an American Express survey of 1,518 people, guests will spend an average of $539 per wedding this year—and that's just to attend the event, not to be a member of the wedding party. The wallet-busting figure is up $200 from 2012, when guests reported shelling out an average of $329 on clothes, hotel rooms, and gifts.
The real cost is probably even higher given the estimates for some of the costs. The credit card company says that guests will budget just $57 for new clothes, $27 for a babysitter or pet sitter, and $95 for a hotel room—all of which seems astoundingly low, even for a local event. Members of the bridal party can count on spending a little bit more, thanks to slightly higher clothing costs: about $577 per wedding, according to American Express.
Wedding-industry experts say that's definitely on the cheap side. With destination weddings, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and multiple gifts, the average bridesmaid ends up paying $1,600 or more per wedding.
"From the moment they announce the engagement, to the day your friend walks down the aisle, if that's a year and a half, you don't realize that you've spent $1,600," Amy Eisinger, associate editor of WeddingChannel.com, told CNN. "We saw the cost go down during the recession because brides were incredibly cost conscious in what they were asking their friends to do."
But not any more.
"Financial optimism is on the rise," said David Rabkin, senior vice president of consumer lending at American Express. People "are a little less hesitant to go to their wallets."
American Express's survey shows that 30 percent of adults in the U.S. (about 69 million people) are planning to attend at least one wedding this year; six percent of them will go three or more. Just dressing up for the big day costs about $57 for guests and $95 for members of the wedding party (and anyone who has ever been a bridesmaid knows that the off-the-shoulder ruffled fuchsia gown alone usually costs way more than that).
Guests who are well-off admitted that they're happy to spend more than the $529 average. Respondents with incomes above $100,000 count on spending about $960 per wedding this year—$251 of it on a gift— which is way up from the $545 they spent per wedding in 2012. Those off us in the lower income brackets still spend about $144 on a gift for a relative, and $66 for coworkers we we aren't particularly close to, American Express reports. And, again, that price is pretty low.
"Generally speaking, the closer you are to the couple, the more you should gift," writes Amy Keith at TheKnot.com. "If you’re traveling great distances to attend the celebration (and are thus spending a lot of money in transit) then you may be expected to gift a little less." Her spending example is $50 for a shower gift, $50 for a bachelorette gift, and then $150 for the wedding present itself.
But what if your budget can't handle the expense? We did a little digging, and came up with a few tips on cutting costs without offending the bride and groom.
Skip the pre-wedding festivities. You don't really have to attend the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, and the wedding. Save your money for the main event, and RSVP with a "no, thank you" to the rest.
Send a gift instead of attending a distant wedding yourself. Even if you splurge on a big-ticket item, it'll probably cost less than airfare and a hotel room.
Check the registry, then buy your gift elsewhere. You can save a bundle ordering the exact same item online or from a discount store instead of clicking and buying from the registry itself.
Give cash instead of a tchotchke. American Express reports that just 18 percent of brides really wanted something from their wedding registry; 52 percent of them preferred cash. Fifty dollars tucked into an envelope may be a welcome gift, while $50 worth of wedding china (what is that, half a place setting?) isn't as appealing. "Couples just starting out might prefer monetary gifts that they can put toward a down payment on a house or to help pay for their honeymoon," the experts at TheKnot.com point out. "More established couples might appreciate gifts to help round out their home."
Split the costs with friends. Whether you divide the cost of the gift, split a hotel room, or share a ride, chipping in with other guests can help keep costs down. Driving with a group of friends or family is usually far less than airfare.
Attend the wedding, but don't be in the wedding party. No matter how you slice it, $529 is less than $1,600.
Wear something you already own. Or something your best friend already owns. You don't have to buy an entire new outfit; spruce up an older dress with new accessories instead.
Stay elsewhere. Just because the wedding is being held at the fanciest hotel in town doesn't mean you have to sleep there. Shop around and find a less-expensive option within an easy drive of the venue.
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