U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 43 mins

I’m Living Paycheck to Paycheck Because I’ve Had To Go To So Many Weddings

Gabrielle Olya

I love weddings. But I don’t love the hole they’ve burned in my savings. I crunched the numbers recently and realized I’ve spent thousands celebrating other couples’ special days between bridal showers, bachelorette parties, bridesmaid dresses, gifts, flights, hotels and other related expenses.

As of today, I’ve attended nine out-of-state weddings, seven bachelorette parties, co-hosted a bridal shower and purchased five bridesmaid dresses (four of which are the same color).

If you’re dealing with wedding guest costs in the future, see how much I’ve spent attending weddings (note that these are estimates because many of these were years ago, and I don’t have detailed financial records) — as well as the tips I’ve picked up along the way for how to save on all the expenses.

Last updated: Sept. 30, 2019  

Wedding 1: Grad School Friend in Orange County, California

The first wedding I attended didn’t require any flight costs, so I saved big there. It was a far drive from home — I live in Los Angeles and the wedding was in Orange County — so I split a hotel room for the night. I was also in the wedding, so my expenses included a bridal shower gift, a bridesmaid dress, alterations, hair for the day and a wedding gift.

The bachelorette party for this wedding was in Las Vegas. I drove to save money on flights but did have to pay for part of the hotel room. We also saw a show there.

How Much It Cost: $695

Here’s the estimated cost breakdown:

  • Bridal shower gift: $50
  • Vegas hotel room for two nights: $150
  • Vegas show ticket: $100
  • Bachelorette party gift: $20
  • Bridesmaid dress: $150
  • Alterations: $50
  • Hair: $50
  • Orange County hotel room (shared): $75
  • Wedding gift: $50

Total cost: $695

Money-Saving Tip: Get Your Hair Done Off-Site

This bride was on a tight budget so she didn’t provide hair and makeup for the bridesmaids. To save money, I went to Drybar to get a blowout rather than having it done by the on-site hair and makeup person. I did my makeup myself.

Wedding 2: High School Friend in Jersey City, New Jersey

I am from the East Coast and went to college there as well. So naturally, many of the weddings I’m invited to end up being on the other side of the country. When my high school friend got married in New Jersey, I had to pay for flights but spent the nights at home to save on hotels. I was in this wedding, so I had to pay for a bridesmaid dress, which miraculously fit without alterations.

I paid to have my hair done on-site but did my own makeup. The bachelorette party was in New Orleans, which was tons of fun but wasn’t cheap to get to.

How Much It Cost: $1,460

Here’s an estimated breakdown of the costs:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New Orleans: $436
  • New Orleans Airbnb (shared): $250
  • Bachelorette party gift: $20
  • Bridesmaid dress: $150
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New York: $429
  • Hair: $75
  • Wedding gift: $100

Total cost: $1,460

Money-Saving Tip: DIY Makeup

I consider myself pretty good at doing makeup. But even if you’re not naturally great at it, there are tons of YouTube tutorials you can watch to recreate wedding-ready makeup looks. Makeup applications typically cost around $75, plus tip, so you can save by just doing it yourself.

Wedding 3: High School Friend in Virginia Beach, Virginia

One of my high school friends relocated to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where her now-husband is from, and they decided to get married there. Because my friend realized that many of her guests would have to travel to attend the wedding, she did not have a bachelorette party. Instead, she had an extended wedding weekend that included a country concert, rehearsal dinner and the actual wedding.

For this wedding, my expenses included flights to Virginia Beach, a shared VRBO, a bridesmaid dress and alterations, plus a wedding gift. I wasn’t able to attend the bridal shower but did send a gift. The bride covered hair and makeup.

How Much It Cost: $1,082

Here’s an estimated breakdown of the costs:

  • Bridal shower gift: $50
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Virginia Beach: $523
  • Virginia Beach VRBO (shared): $149
  • Concert ticket: $60
  • Bridesmaid dress: $150
  • Alterations: $75
  • Wedding gift: $75

Total cost: $1,082

Money-Saving Tip: Choose VRBOs and Airbnbs Over Hotel Blocks

This wedding took place at a hotel, but it was significantly cheaper to stay at a VRBO. Our house slept 10, which meant we could split the cost of a three-night stay 10 ways, which amounted to $149 each. For comparison, the hotel cost $144 per night.

Wedding 4: High School Friend in Staten Island, New York

For this wedding, I was one of the hosts of the bridal shower — which meant covering a large portion of the catering costs.

The bachelorette party was in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Kentucky Derby, so flights were prohibitively expensive. To save money, we flew into Chicago and drove down from there. We also bought tickets to two of the Derby races happening that weekend.

The wedding itself demanded a cross-country flight. But the groom’s family generously paid for hotel rooms for the wedding party, so I didn’t have to pay accommodation costs. I bought a bridesmaid dress but didn’t need alterations, and the bride covered hair and makeup costs.

How Much It Cost: $1,508

Here’s an estimated breakdown of the costs:

  • Bridal party catering and gift: $200
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Chicago: $294
  • Rental car plus gas (shared): $40
  • Louisville Airbnb (shared): $150
  • Kentucky Derby tickets: $95
  • Bridesmaid dress: $200
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New York: $429
  • Wedding gift: $100

Total cost: $1,508

Money-Saving Tip: Consider Alternative Modes of Transportation

It definitely took more time to fly into Chicago and drive part of the way rather than going directly to Louisville. But we crunched the numbers and found that it would be significantly cheaper to rent a car and pay for gas for that leg of the trip. Fortunately, one of the girls had a relative in Chicago that we stayed with for free the night we were there.

We also made the most of our short time in Chicago by dining out at a trendy restaurant. We ended up getting a free round of champagne when we said we were there for a bachelorette!

Wedding 5: College Friend in Morristown, New Jersey

This bride did not have a traditional bridal party, which means I saved roughly $400 by not having to pay for a dress, alterations, and hair and makeup. I also was able to stay at home and get rides from my parents to and from the venue (thanks, Mom and Dad!), though I did have to pay for flight costs. I wasn’t able to attend the bridal shower — it was across the country and I couldn’t pay for multiple cross-country flights just a month apart — but I did buy a gift.

The bachelorette party was the largest expense. It was in Savannah, Georgia, and flights were pricey.

How Much It Cost: $1,461

Here’s an estimated breakdown of the costs:

  • Bridal party gift: $50
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Savannah: $520
  • Savannah VRBO (shared): $312
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New York: $429
  • Wedding gift: $150

Total cost: $1,461

Money-Saving Tip: Don't Feel Bad About Not Attending Every Wedding Event

Full disclosure: This wedding was for my best friend, and I still missed the bridal shower because there was no way I could reasonably budget for cross-country flights for a bachelorette party, bridal shower and wedding. And my friend completely understood! You should not go into credit card debt to attend wedding festivities, period.

Wedding 6: College Friend in Girdwood, Alaska

One of my close college friends is from Alaska, and I was honestly very excited when she decided to get married there. Yes, getting there and staying there would be an expense, but it was a great reason to travel to a place I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

She and her fiance knew many of their guests would be traveling far to attend their wedding, so she didn’t have a bachelorette party. I also wasn’t in this wedding, so my only real expenses were flights and lodging.

How Much It Cost: $799

Here’s an estimate of how much I spent on the wedding:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Anchorage: $500
  • Transportation to Girdwood: $50
  • Hotel room for two nights (shared): $149
  • Wedding gift: $100

Total cost: $799

Money-Saving Tip: Plan Vacations Around Out-of-State Weddings

Since I had already paid for flights to Alaska (and spent the time getting there) I planned a whole vacation around this wedding with a few other friends. While we were there, we took a glacier cruise, went ATVing through the wilderness, explored the small town of Talkeetna and overall made the most of our time in the state. Of course, this added expenses to the trip but it made the expensive flights totally worth it.

Wedding 7: High School Friend in Montauk, New York

Like the Alaska wedding, I made this trip into a mini-vacation. How could I not when the venue was in the Hamptons? I was also not in this wedding so I didn’t have to buy a dress or worry about hair and makeup. And I managed to get a ride with friends from NYC to the Hamptons, so I saved on transportation costs.

This wedding did have an accompanying bachelorette party in Austin, Texas, which meant additional flight and accommodation costs.

How Much It Cost: $1,510

Here’s an estimate on what I spent, between the wedding and bachelorette party:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Austin: $391
  • Austin Airbnb (shared): $275
  • Bachelorette party gift: $30
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New York: $429
  • Montauk hotel (shared): $285
  • Wedding gift: $100

Total cost: $1,510

Money-Saving Tip: Share Hotel Rooms

This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s always best to split hotel rooms with as many people as possible. I was riding solo to this wedding but shared a hotel room with my friend and her husband to save on accommodations.

Wedding 8: Colleague in Palm Springs, California

I am always thrilled when I’m invited to a wedding that doesn’t require a plane ticket, and this was one of them. A former co-worker of mine invited me to his wedding in Palm Springs, and I was able to share an Airbnb with three other people to keep costs down. One of the women in our group actually knew the Airbnb owner, so we were able to secure a good rate for the house. For this wedding, the only expenses were the house and a wedding gift.

How Much It Cost: $275

This was probably the most affordable wedding I attended. Here’s about how much it cost:

  • Palm Springs Airbnb (shared): $200
  • Wedding gift: $75

Total cost: $275

Money-Saving Tip: Don't Go Overboard With Gift-Giving

There’s a lot of debate on how much you should give for a wedding, but my personal rule of thumb is $75 for close friends, $100 to $150 for very close friends and $150 if I bring a date. When I first started going to weddings, giving that much wasn’t economically feasible for me based on my salary and living expenses, so I stuck to around $50 for gifts. Give what you can — the real gift is you being there to celebrate your friend’s big day!

Wedding 9: Close Friend in Hamburg, New Jersey

A friend of mine got married at a venue about 90 minutes away from my mom’s house, so I decided I would just drive there and back to save on hotel expenses. By this point I had spent thousands on weddings, so opting out of paying for a hotel room seemed like a smart economical choice.

When I got there, my friend/fellow guest graciously said I could crash in her room if I decided I didn’t want to stay sober at the wedding — I would never drink and drive — and I ended up taking her up on her offer. My only cost to attend the actual wedding was the flight and a wedding gift.

I was also invited to the bachelorette party, which was in Montreal, Canada. This meant paying for flights and splitting costs for an Airbnb.

How Much It Cost: $1,528

This wedding required two sets of flights. Fortunately, I only paid for accommodations at the bachelorette party:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Montreal: $749
  • Montreal Airbnb (shared): $275
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New York: $429
  • Hamburg hotel (shared): $0
  • Wedding gift: $75

Total cost: $1,528

Money-Saving Tip: Shop at Fast-Fashion Stores for Wedding Attire

This was a black-tie wedding, so I needed to wear a gown. A lot of my friends use Rent the Runway, but it ends up costing about $100 to wear a dress that you don’t even get to keep. I was able to find a gown that I loved at Forever 21 — and it was only $49.

Wedding 10: College Friend in Philadelphia

I went to college in Philadelphia, and one of my best friends from undergrad moved back there after we graduated and eventually got married there. She didn’t have a traditional wedding — it was at a distillery during the day — and didn’t have a bridal party. She did have an (unofficial) bachelorette in Miami before the wedding, so this wedding required two sets of round-trip flights and multiple hotel stays.

How Much It Cost: $1,376

Miami is one of the most expensive places to stay, while Philly is one of the cheapest, so it kind of evened out. Here’s an approximate breakdown of my spending:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Miami: $415
  • Miami hotel (shared): $350
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Philadelphia: $391
  • Philadelphia hotel: $70
  • Wedding gift: $150

Total cost: $1,376

Money-Saving Tip: Look For Ways To Save Money on Hotels

I was able to score heavily discounted rates on both hotel stays. I found a deal on a luxury hotel in Miami on Gilt City that included a daily hotel credit. For my Philadelphia booking, I selected one of Hotwire’s “Hot Rate Hotels.” With this option, you can see the hotel’s general area and star-rating, but not what the actual hotel is. However, I did some sleuthing and was able to figure out what the hotel was and booked it at an amazing rate.

Wedding 11: Close Friends in Savannah, Georgia

I was partially responsible for bringing this couple together — they met at my birthday party. So there was no way I was going to miss this wedding, even though it meant another (pricey) wedding-related trip to Savannah. I wasn’t in this wedding, so my cost to attend was the flights, hotel and wedding gift.

I also attended the bachelorette party in Nashville, Tennessee, so that was another set of flights and accommodation costs.

How Much It Cost: $1,585

Here’s a breakdown of the wedding costs:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Nashville: $575
  • Nashville Airbnb (shared): $250
  • Bachelorette party gift: $10
  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to Savannah: $520
  • Savannah hotel (shared): $130
  • Wedding gift: $100

Total cost: $1,585

Money-Saving Tip: Be Selective About the Weddings You Attend

Believe it or not, I have been selective with my RSVPs. All of the weddings I have attended have been of very close friends — people I would be comfortable sending a random text to or hanging out with one-on-one. I would honestly love to be able to attend every wedding I am invited to, but it’s just not economically feasible for me.

Upcoming Wedding Costs: $637

Weddings 12 and 13 are on the horizon! One is in NYC and the other is local, with a bachelorette in Las Vegas. So far, this is how much I have spent:

  • Round-trip flight from L.A. to New York for wedding 12: $337
  • Bridesmaid dress for wedding 13: $200
  • Alterations for bridesmaid dress for wedding 13: $100

Total cost (so far): $637

Money-Saving Tip: Use Skyscanner To Find Cheap Flights

When I have a wedding or bachelorette coming up, I sign up for Skyscanner price alerts so I can see as soon as flight prices drop. I usually spend between $400 and $500 to fly home to New York, but I was able to find a round-trip flight for this wedding for just $337.

How Much I've Spent On Weddings: $13,916

Between all of the wedding festivities I’ve been a part of, I’ve spent over $13,900 — not including food, drink and many activities during the bachelorette parties and wedding weekends. If I had invested that in a 401(k), that would have grown to nearly $53,000 by the time I was 66 based on a 4% return rate. Or I could have purchased two Chanel bags, my ultimate dream splurge.

Was it worth it? My answer might surprise you, but to me, it has all been worth the money. Sharing special moments with close friends is something you can’t put a price tag on, as cheesy as that sounds. Along the way, I’ve visited so many amazing places that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I have not let these weddings put me into credit card debt at any point in time. I try to live frugally and cut corners where I can on wedding-related costs. Although it would be nice to put more of my income in savings, for now, I’m happy that I’ve been able to enjoy so many memorable weddings and bachelorette parties with people who are dear to me.

More From GOBankingRates

Photo Disclaimer: Please note some photos are for representational purposes only. As a result, some of the photos might not reflect the actual weddings listed in this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: I’m Living Paycheck to Paycheck Because I’ve Had To Go To So Many Weddings