How to Be in a Wedding Without Breaking the Bank

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Getting married is a major social event that involves family and friends. Pre-wedding celebrations abound, from the engagement party to the shower to wine and cake tastings. Post-wedding festivities are increasingly in vogue, not to mention destination bachelor/bachelorette parties. While all this adds up to lots more fun, non-stop events also add up to lots more expense.

Relax. Friends and family can keep wedding-related costs under control with a touch of effort and advance planning.

As far as weddings go, the recession is so totally over. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding hovers around $30,000. Members of the wedding party and regular guests are also shelling out. The cost for bridesmaids hit nearly $1,700 way back in 2011, with travel to the shower, bachelorette party, and wedding accounting for 53 percent of the total. A more recent survey by American Express found that the average outlay for a guest jumped 59 percent to $539 between 2012 and 2013 for necessities like travel, clothing, and the gift.

For women, a big chunk of money goes toward personal necessities. Rebecca Sarson, of David's Bridal, says there are many ways to economize on the dress, including determined hunting for sales and discounts. "When the bride purchases a gown from us," she notes, "all bridesmaids get $20 off." Bridesmaid dresses run from $79 to $189 at David's Bridal, which stocks an extensive selection priced at less than $100. The retailer also maintains a large clearance section with new markdowns every week, and offers layaway plans and credit cards with zero interest for six months.

Male members of the wedding party can turn to Men's Wearhouse for their formal attire. The deal at this vendor: If five groomsmen rent their tuxes here, the sixth (usually the groom) gets his at no cost.

Wedding blogs report that each bridesmaid typically spends another $100 on hair, make-up, and nails. But this expense can be pared to the bone by forgoing the experts. Instead, Ms. Sarson suggests that effective use of YouTube and "practice, practice, practice" will turn attendants into experts by the time the wedding day arrives.

Even in the absence of a destination wedding, there are always out-of-town guests. The best way to protect their wallets is for the hosts to book a block of rooms as far in advance as possible and press invitees to lock in the rate ASAP. Some hotels offer reduced rates for guaranteed bookings, but if not, jumping on a reservation at least ensures the price won't rise in the intervening period. If a hotel room at any price is out of range, crashing on a friend's couch or banding together with a group to rent an apartment for the weekend (check Craigslist) are cheap alternatives.

It's possible to hold the line on bachelor and bachelorette parties, too. Wedding etiquette dictates that party-goers divide the cost among themselves. The maid of honor (sometimes the bridesmaids, as well) and the best man usually choose the venues, and everyone else hopes the choice is respectful of their budgets. (Destination weekends for one of these pre-wedding events can cost well over $1,000 a person.) Everyone should be on board about divvying up the cost and about the bottom line, which lets people decline if they can't afford the jaunt. A shower and a bachelorette party held over one weekend, especially for an out-of-town location or if invitees must fly in, minimizes their outlays.

Are bridesmaids/groomsmen obligated to pay for the guest of honor's travel when the party is not local? Wedding experts suggest that a conversation with the bride or groom is in order here, and if travel costs are a hardship, arrange an event in town. Try a relaxing spa treatment, a lively karaoke night, a laid-back bowling competition, or a chill jazz club.

Gifts, particularly from registries, can easily break the bank of wedding party members who have already forked over big bucks for clothing and festivities. To lighten the load, the bridesmaids and/or groomsmen can chip in to buy one fantastic gift.

Friends and family might consider helping defray some wedding costs in lieu of a gift. Michael Benjamin, of Red Table Catering in Brooklyn, New York, says subsidies can be directed toward flowers and other decor -- anything that can be set up ahead of time -- but should not be substitutes for the work of professionals. So no, don't offer to bartend or oversee the buffet. You do want to be a guest, after all.