My big, fat overgifted wedding

wedding guests cost
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy | Getty Images

Engaged couples aren't the only ones facing big wedding bills. Guests, especially millennials, are shelling out big bucks to watch friends tie the knot.

The average wedding guest expects to spend $703 per wedding this year, 5 percent more than last year, according to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. Millennial guests expect to pay even more, an average $893 per wedding.

(That's just to attend the wedding, mind you. If you're in the wedding party, spending jumps to an average $743 for the general population and $928 among millennials.)

"People will tell themselves, 'How can I not do this? It's my best friend, my college roommate [getting married],'" said Manisha Thakor, a certified financial planner and the director of wealth strategies for women at The BAM Alliance. "People are conflating friendship and personal finance, when they need to divide the two."

Factor in that folks expect to attend three weddings on average this year and you've got an expense that amounts to roughly 5 percent of the mean income for those age 25 to 34, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Annual wedding attendance costs rival what the typical millennial spends each year on dining out ($2,639), buying clothing ($1,832), health care ($2,189), or entertainment ($2,214).

To keep costs in check, avoid these three spending mistakes that can add hundreds of dollars to your tab:


Committing to too many celebrations

Consider the full cost before saying "I do" to that invitation. Celebrations have expanded, said Thakor. Weddings themselves can span several days with multiple events, and you might also be asked to an engagement party, bridal shower and bachelor or bachelorette party.

Travel, a black-tie dress code or events where kids aren't allowed are all factors that can up your total cost.

"When you're in the stage where all your friends are getting married, you have to set aside a budget for that," she said.

Assess your financial limits to determine the total you're comfortable spending on attendance and gifts for the year overall, and then each wedding individually. Don't be shy about saying no to particular events or saying no, period, said Ivy Jacobson, planning editor for The Knot.

"If you just can't financially afford to go … send a gift, send a card saying how much you love them," she said. "Going to a wedding shouldn't mean going into debt."

Paying registry prices

Don't let smart-shopping strategies go out the window. A June Ebates survey found that women spend less on wedding gifts than men — in the $25 to $100 range, versus $50 to $250 — in part because women are more apt to use coupons and sales to cut their out-of-pocket cost.

Look for opportunities to stack sales, coupons and cash-back portals, said Brent Shelton, a spokesman for FatWallet.com. Hunt around to see if you can find the same gift cheaper elsewhere.

"Most of the registries have an online service where you can go and check off an item as purchased, even if you don't buy it there," Shelton said.

Early birds may see more registry selections in their budget. If you find a picked-over list of out-of-budget items, think about picking up a gift card instead, he said.

Even there, you have opportunities to save by redeeming credit card rewards or buying a discount, second-hand card. Aggregator GiftCardGranny.com lists Bed Bath & Beyond gift cards for up to 11 percent off, and Williams Sonoma, 8 percent off.

Procrastinating on travel bookings

Price out and book arrangements early. That's when you have the most opportunities to explore cost savings from hunting airfare sales to price-comparing lodging and finding other guests to bunk with, said Jacobson.

Check to see if the couple has a room block with discount prices, and compare that price against the going rate for other area lodging.

Holidays and local events can quickly inflate prices. In just one week's time, vacation rental prices in Philadelphia jumped 97 percent, to an average $508 per night, due to demand for housing for the Democratic National Convention, according to Tripping.com. Over the same period, prices in Cleveland rose 14 percent, to an average $332, for the Republican National Convention.

"If it's not a convention, it's a concert, graduation, or something else going on," Jacobson said. "You want to make sure you can get a room, period."