spending

Get Financially Ready for Wedding Season

Follow gift-giving etiquette and be a gracious guest without going bankrupt.

How's your summer looking? Chock-full of weddings … again? I haven't had a wedding-free summer in years. In fact, a few summers ago I attended three, and I was a bridesmaid in two of them. All of the travel costs and gift giving can make attending weddings seem as expensive as throwing one — especially if you're asked to be a part of a bridal party. But you don't have to break the bank in order to join in the celebration.

Remember, most friends and family members don't want you to go broke as a result of their weddings. "At the end of the day, this isn't about giving until it hurts," says Anna Post, of the Emily Post Institute. "It's about celebrating a wedding."

You'll usually have plenty of notice for the most important nuptial events in your life (Save the Dates aren't just nice refrigerator décor), so plan ahead and keep weddings and other special events in mind when working out your annual budget. (What? You don't have an annual budget? You should.) Figure out how much you'll need for travel, lodging, clothes and gifts for all the parties, and start working toward that goal as soon as possible. Putting aside just $100 each month for an entire year could give you more than a grand to draw from for wedding celebrations.

Can't afford it all? Consider skipping the bridal shower or the Las Vegas bachelorette party — or even the wedding, in some cases. Spend your time and money on what's most important to you.

To help you figure out how much you'll need to budget for wedding season, below are answers to three common money questions about being a gracious wedding guest:

How much should I spend on my gift?

There is no set amount for the appropriate value of a wedding gift, says Post. How much you spend depends on two things. First, and most important, is your budget. The second is your relationship to the bride and groom. If you're close to one or both of them, consider boosting the cost by $50 or $100 compared with what you'd spend on a gift for a more casual acquaintance.

Be sure to hit the wedding registry promptly so that you'll have the best chance of finding an item in your price range. (Note to brides- and grooms-to-be: Try to fill your registry with a wide range of gifts that can fit any budget.) If you can't find an item in your price range, you can always write a check or get a gift card for the store where the couple are registered.

If I don't attend the wedding, should I still give a gift?

Yes. You should always send at least a little something, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas.

One caveat: If the invitation comes totally out of left field — for example, from someone you haven't seen in years or the daughter of a client — then skipping the present is understandable (unless you really want to impress that client).

What if I can't afford to be in the wedding party?

Although the cost varies for each wedding, Weddingchannel.com estimates that being a bridesmaid adds up to almost $1,700 — right about what I spent recently for a wedding that required two roundtrip flights, two nights in a hotel, a new dress (which I will never shorten and wear again), professional hair and makeup, gifts, bachelorette party expenses, and more. It was an honor to assist my best friend on her special day, but I couldn't have done it without some serious planning.

If you can't squeeze those costs into your budget, now's not the time to turn into Kristen Wiig's character in Bridesmaids — broke, sulking on your mother's couch and unable, either emotionally or monetarily, to perform your bridal-party duties. It is perfectly polite to decline a place in the wedding party. If you're comfortable with doing so, let the bride and groom know that the reason is financial. They might surprise you by chipping in for some of the expenses to have you be a part of their big day.

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